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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

For whom the bell tolls and the hot chilli.

Today's 23K walk from Caldas de Reis to Padron was, and I hesitate to say it, as near the perfect walk as you can get. Twenty three kilometres of sheer bliss as we went from dirt track to forest paths to rural roads and only with the shortest of road walking. The early morning started well when the hotel gave us a really nice packed lunch of bread, cheese, ham, bananas and water. This was something unexpected and a lovely touch from a very friendly staff. The walk through the twisting and winding streets of old Caldas was like walking through history and several times my curiosity almost caused me to fall as I tripped on the cobble stones. Then we were out of the city and walking along a pathway, through dense vegetation, where the sounds of nature awakening and the sight of early morning farm workers gave me the feeling that we were trespassing and I hoped that our present pilgrim journey would not, in the future, become something that would change this beautiful equilibrium that has withstood the test of time. Footsteps behind us indicated a fellow pilgrim but I didn't expect to be greeted by Marchal, from Holland, a fellow walker from the early Lisbon stage, but whom I hadn't seen for about ten days. At this point in time a bell, a single bell, started to ring out from a distant church and continued to peel for about half an hour. When we approached the medieval church, Santa Marina de Carrecedo, there standing outside was an elderly man pulling slowly and rythmically on a single rope that went high up into the bell tower and outside was the black hearse. As we walked slowly and quietly up the road it was a sobering thought to think that for someone this was the last toll of the bell as it echoed eerily across the valley. These sobering thoughts soon changed when we joined Marchal and two young Italian girls at the cafe Esperon for a nice mug of Cafe con Leche. The owner who is also a camino walker has a side room, painted white, where pilgrims can write their message on the wall and also in a large ledger. Even the climb up to Corgullon seemed relatively easy today. This easy walking could be because the temperature was below 30 for the first time since I left Lisbon, in fact this was the first time I have seen a single cloud in the sky, or it could be because we are so close to the finish. Whatever the reason it was a good feeling that the both of us are going strongly and enjoying the magnificent scenery and the multitude of historical treasures this Portuguese Camino unfurls before us. Just before the village of San Miguel, on a bridge and viewpoint, that looked over the Rio Valga, a local official asked us where we were from and entered this in a large ledger and rewarded us by stamping our Camino passbooks with a lovely stamp. Soon we were in the outskirts of Padron, crossing a stone bridge, with a large statue of Santiago leaning on his staff. We also passed the iconic and elaborate drinking fountain, Fonte do Carme XVIth c, which displays the arrival of St James. You always enter these towns by crossing a bridge and Padron is no exception. Bridge crossed and we were in Padron a town I have waited for and thought about for several weeks and the reason, Padron peppers. I developed a taste for these gorgeous little fried peppers a few years ago and to be in Padron eating a plate of Pemento de Padron, well life couldn't get better. These peppers, first imported by the Franciscan monks, are deliciously sweet with a piquant flesh but with the twist that one in every 30 is chilli hot.The word specialist restaurant for these peppers is Restaurante O Pementeiro in Plaza do Castro so we are making a bee line to it. Almost forgot to say we are now only one day from Santiago, officially stage 23 and final day of the walk, but because we are indeed two days ahead of schedule we are going to break the 28k last stage into two days. This means we arrive in Santiago on Thursday instead of our previously scheduled Friday but fortunately the hotel could give us the extra day. Tomorrow I'll let you know if we got one of the hot chillies or not.

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