Day 1, Lisbon to Vilafranca de Xira, 45km

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  • June 11th, 2014
  • Vilafranca de Xira: Pensao Ribatejana (€10 for a 4 bed dorm)
  • Weather: Hot, 29 degrees 

I left the hostel at 6:30am and made my way through the quiet streets of Lisbon. The arrows were hard to see and a lot of them were hidden behind the festival stands that had been set up but I knew I basically had to walk north a long way.

After an hour or so, I still hadn’t seen any arrows but I stuck to the river Tejo waterfront esplanade (built for the 1998 Expo), following my guidebook’s instructions. I was surprised that it was already very hot by 7:30am and this didn’t bode well as I had a 40km day ahead of me.

Eventually I found a camino sign (happy moment) and it was the blue and yellow signage; the blue points the way to Fatima and the yellow to Santiago. The route is the same for the first three days before splitting off and I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to take the detour out to Fatima or not.

The path went from a lovely jogging track along the river then abruptly stopped at an intersection where I had to walk along a busy road and then onto a very narrow overgrown dirt track which I didn’t feel so comfortable walking along in shorts because of course I was thinking about snakes! Maybe if the track wasn’t so overgrown it might have afforded lovely views of the river to my left or flowers… or something, but the only views I had were the occasional crumbling ‘quintas’ (old country estates) which were completely vandalised and graffiti’d and gave the area a very rough feel, especially as a single female walker. I hoped to see another pilgrim but I didn’t see anyone at all.

4 hours after setting off and not feeling terribly comfortable in the surrounds I came across a sign showing a small detour to a cafe. I was hot, hungry, thirsty and dripping with sweat when I stumbled into the cafe and ordered a toastie and 2 cans of iced tea for lunch. (I was carrying 1.5l of water in my pack but it had already started to boil about 1hr into the walk!)

After lunch I was back out on the open track, walking past factories and then a few industrial zones. One of the industrial zones was completely abandoned with falling down buildings and one of them was actually industrial. I got lost and walked about a kilometre the wrong way which wasn’t so much fun in the heat… it appears that there’s a relatively new board walk across a wetland, but a little lacking in how to get onto it… The board walk lasted forever with no shade and not a bird in sight because they were all hiding somewhere from the heat. Even the brown snake I saw was in the river, and not basking in the sun where you would expect!

At the point where I saw vultures following me overhead I knew it was time to inject some energy and sugar with some sports jelly beans and a large gulp of hot water… were they a figment of my imagination and was I maybe getting a little too hot?! The board walk was relentless but safer than the next part walking along a busy road with no footpath and crossing numerous roundabouts with no path.

I could have made it a 30km day but the guidebook description of the hotels available in an industrial zone wasn’t so nice, it also included a detour off the camino and I’d read a blog where a man wrote he thought it would be intimidating for a female to stay there. These were the 3 reasons why I had decided to push onto a friendly albergue 10km past the recommended stage.

It feels a little cruel describing today’s walk as ugly, so maybe it’s just the heat stroke and long day confusing me… There was a lovely esplanade to walk along in Lisbon, there was a boardwalk through the wetlands, there were fields, but there was also a lot of industrial zones and dilapidated buildings…

The highlight however was arriving in Vilafranca de Xira and finding a bed at Pensao Ribatejana (€10 for a 4 bed dorm) run by the wonderfully friendly Mariano. He showed me to the dorm but I was the only pilgrim to have arrived and it was after 5pm so I was safe to assume I had the room to myself. He did my washing, took me to a local restaurant and translated the menu then invited me to have wine with his family after dinner. He has just taken over the pension and I wish him all the best.

Apparently Portugal is going through a heat wave. It was certainly a surprise to me as the highs all last week were 23 degrees (perfect for walking) and this week they are 36 degrees (not ideal). I think I’m in for some very early starts!

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