Sunday, May 5, 2013 -- Tamel S. Pedro Fins to Ponte de Lima
I started walking with Andreas and Frank this morning but I parted ways with them at the Ponte das Tábuas along one of the most awful parts of the Camino path in order to visit the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Aparecida in Balugães. On August 15 each year, there is a pilgrimage to this shrine where a miracle happened in 1702 and a young shepherd who was deaf and dumb regained his hearing and speech after an appearance of the Virgin. A chapel was built on the spot where she appeared and according to tradition, if you want to wash your sins away forever, all you need to do is climb through the narrow tunnel left beneath the chapel. Better said than done since both sides of the tunnel were fenced off and locked; I was able to stick my camera inside the metal railing and grab a photograph but I’m not sure what I was supposed to see. Walking around the property, I was pleased to find several water fountains to fill up my drinking bottles before heading out of town to rejoin my comrades. There were no arrows showing me how to get back to the pilgrim path and the directions in my guidebook were practically in Japanese so I just kept walking in the direction that I “thought” I should go until I reached (completely by chance) the old Romanesque church of Balugães. The waymarked route opened up to me there and led through a small woodland of pine trees before reaching the Capela São Sebastião near Lugar do Corgo. I heard the bells ringing for Mass at the church in Vitorino dos Piâes and walked through the busy parking lot filling with church goers. I wanted to stay and attend but I wasn’t sure how much that would put me back so I just explored the local cemetery and the interesting collection of carvings and sarcophagi in the forecourt of the church before moving on. The pilgrim path is just awful. If it isn’t mud and rocks then it is bumpy cobblestones or asphalt. It’s hard to complain when surrounded by such nice scenery as eucalyptus trees, vineyards, orchards and fields of drying hay. Still, I was very hungry and unsure if my companions were ahead of me or somewhere behind. I ended up stopping at a restaurant called the Café Lotus in Seara where I sent a text asking them where they were. Since they were not far behind I just sat down and ordered a beer and a sandwich. This is a busy place with not only thirsty and hungry pilgrims but many locals who crowd around the bar and try to outdo one another by seeing who can talk the loudest. Such a noisy bunch ! When the rest of my group showed up we each had a beer before heading out once again for Ponte de Lima. The remainder of the pilgrim path winds its way through small farming communities and hamlets such as Pedrosa with its famous Cruceiro erected in 1636. This is the medieval Ponte de Barros which crosses the Rio Trovela just before reaching the Capela da Sra. Das Neves outside of Ponte de Lima. The farms along the way were all so nice with their fields rich with green grains and hanging grapevines. There was a spring in my step after lunch and I found myself walking a lot faster than the others. Nearing the Capela de Nossa Senhora da Guia just before Ponte de Lima, I came across several pilgrims who were walking in the opposite direction. When I asked them where they were going, they told me that they had already been to the albergue in town and it wasn’t going to open for pilgrims until 17h00. They didn’t want to wait around all day so they were going to the youth hostel where they could get a bed, a shower and wash some clothes. In hindsight, I should have done the same thing since I really needed to do some laundry and I really needed the sun to dry everything. In a bit of a quandary, I just sat on the steps to the Igreja de S. Francisco e S. António dos Capuchos, a 16th century church turned museum called Museu dos Terceiros with its impressive baroque façade. Although I wanted to go inside, I feared that my friends would pass me by so I decided to wait and go inside later (I never did). Once they showed up, we walked together into a very crowded town filled with visitors. We asked if there was something special going on like a fair or a festival but we were told that it was just a normal, busy weekend. Many of the main sites and buildings of interest are clustered around the town center and were easy to visit on our way in before crossing the medieval bridge to the new albergue. This is the Monumento às Feiras Novas (the new fairs), a tribute to the ethnographic history of the local people who were given royal provision by king Peter IV of Portugal to hold a large fair here every September. To the left, looking across the Rio Lima, is a legion of Roman soldiers a reminder to everyone that Ponte de Lima was historically significant as a Roman settlement along the road from Braga to Santiago de Compostela and Lugo. This is the Torre da Cadeia Velha, a 14th century prison tower which now houses a public library. Behind it is an evocative 18th century statue of a local woman carrying a water jar called the Estatueta uma Cantareira. This is the Igreja Matriz, a 15th century parish church. Since we had so much time on our hands, we stopped at an outdoor café called the Restaurante Parisiense to drink some coffee and watch the tourists walk by. This is the Torre de S. Paulo, part of the original 14th century defensive walls of the town. Occupying the center of the main square is a beautiful fountain called the Chafariz built 1603. It is surrounded by many pleasant cafes and restaurants--a great place to hang out if you want to watch people. We decided that we would come back later in the evening and have a few drinks. The medieval stone bridge was rebuilt in 1368 on Roman foundations. This handsome bridge is 300 meters long and only 4 meters wide forming a pedestrian link between the busy side of town and the quieter northern quarter. We had so much time before the albergue opened up we decided to spend the afternoon lying on the grass in the Jardims Temáticos, a beautiful arrangement of small themed gardens nestled just behind the albergue and the nearby Capela de S. António da Torre Velha. Tommy found a bar nearby and bought several bottles of beer which we drank while waiting for the albergue to open its doors. We were the first ones in line to get our beds when the albergue finally opened but it took almost an hour to sign in as the check-in process was exceptionally slow.The volunteer hospitalero took so much unnecessary time and unimportant information from each of us that by the time we got to our beds and took our showers, it was already past 18h00. I wanted to spend whatever amount of daylight that was left exploring the town so I headed off without everyone else and told them I would meet them on the bridge when they were ready to go to dinner. This is the Capela do Anjo da Guarda or outdoor chapel of the Guardian Angel which sits beside the Lima River. This is the statue of Dona Teresa holding out a scroll of paper (Carta de Foral) which is meant to be the town charter given on March 4, 1125, officially making Ponte de Lima the oldest chartered town in Portugal. I must say that Ponte de Lima is one of the most delightful places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting along the Camino. It is rich with beautiful old buildings and maintains a sleepy medieval atmosphere. Palácio dos Marqueses de Ponte de Lima This is just another church located along the river called the Igreja de São João Baptista. I met the others sometime around 19h00 on the bridge and we all headed to a restaurant called Gaio where we all had the pilgrim menu for only 7 Euros. Afterward, we went to the town square and had a few drinks in a small café. By this time, it was getting dark and the tourists had all left for the day. It was a perfect opportunity to get some nice photos of the sunset and more statues dedicated to the local peasant farmers. In front of the Torre de Cadeia, our shadows stretched long and we thought this would make a nice photo opportunity. I think if I ever do the Camino again, I’d like to spend a lot more time in Ponte de Lima. I never did get to visit the museum or go inside some of the old buildings. Oh well, that’s just how it goes sometimes along the Camino—you don’t get to see everything despite your best intentions.