Day 4: Best Meal of the Trip

Day 4

Date: Friday, Sep 9, 2016
Start: Azambuja
Stop: Santarem Hostel, Santarem     👍
Dist (Day/Total): 32/92 km
High Temp: 26 C/79 F

I leave at 4 am.  I get dressed in the hallway and put my shoes on outside; on the front steps of the hotel.  I think I startled a baker making deliveries.  Glad I had figured out where the waymarks pick up again and didn’t have to fumble around in the dark.  The path goes across the major highway mentioned in yesterday’s post, up a flight of stairs at the train station and then down a flight of stairs to get across the railroad tracks.  There is a pedestrian bridge at the highway but it is several hundred yards down and would need to back track.  We hate back tracking.  I run across the highway.

For a while the path runs on a dike along the Rio Tejo but then it comes to a spot where it is no longer maintained and is overrun with weeds and brambles.  It becomes impossible to continue and I have to climb back down.  The area is less industrial and more agricultural with the primary product appearing to be tomatoes.

House Next to the Dike

As dawn breaks out, I arrive in Valada.  I see a sign for the Cafe O Bairro, pointing me down a side street.  I want to stop for breakfast and wonder if if it is open. I decide to chance it and do I get lucky.  I have what turns out to be the best meal of the trip.

Cafe O Barrio, Valada

The Cafe O Bairro is a small, hole in the wall place.  It looks brand new.  There are three tables outside and two or three tables inside.  I order with the girl at the counter – a coffee and a tomato and cheese sandwich.  There are some language issues as I fumble with Google Translate.  The owner/chef, a young guy standing nearby, jumps in to make sure he got the order right.  I take my coffee and head to one of the outside tables.  The owner/chef is back asking me a question.  Would I like oranges on my sandwich?  Hmmmmm.  Not really but would I be missing out on some Portuguese treat.  I ponder this for a few seconds.  Does he mean as a garnish?  Realizing my confusion he beckons me into the kitchen.  I follow.  He holds up a small bottle.  I read the label.  Sure, I would love oregano on my sandwich.

When he brings it over, it looks beautiful.  I take a bite and it tastes great.  The bread is fresh and crispy.  The perfect amount of cheese.  The tomatoes taste like tomatoes.  He comes back to check on me.  I am effusive in my praise.  I love this kind of place; where the chef is passionate about his work and even a simple tomato sandwich gets this kind of care.

Santarem is supposed to be a busy place, it’s where the trails to Fatima and Santiago diverge.  Plus it’s the weekend.  The night before I had checked for vacancies and it looks like hotels/hostels are filling up.  Santarem Hostel has a lot of good reviews.  Private rooms are full and I reserve a bed in the dormitory for €15.

Although the hostel is full, it doesn’t have the same camaraderie as the Camino Francis.  I talk to a British couple who live in Cyprus.  They are walking portions of the Caminho Portuguese but readily admit that they are tourists and not pilgrims.  They had always planned on taking taxis and skipping some of the less “interesting” sections but because of the heat have decided to up their taxi usage.  Several other couples were also taking public transportation and heading to Tomar or Coimbra, the next two major tourist towns.


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