Saturday, April 22, 2006

Nazarè-Marinha Grande-Leiria-Pombal-Coimbra

Trip dist: 108 km. Trip time: 8 hrs 17 min. Tot dist: 297 kms.


Note to self: Elisa, beware the Siren's call of the Atlantic.

Going downhill/to the ocean is a bit like buying on credit: very nice now (on the downhills), but you pay (hard) later, should you then head inland.

Anyway, ride to Coimbra was a bit strenuous, mostly because of the climbs from Nazarè, some rather stressful stretches of road (very fast and high volume traffic on IC2 from Leiria to Pombal), and the fact that I stepped up the pace from Pombal to Coimbra (I had arrived to Pombal at 4:00 p.m., and it seemed too early to stop for the day, but Coimbra was 45 kms away, and very tempting given it is a rather big city--internet access ahoy!--but need to get there before the Gremlin hour, so....pedal like a banshee, basically).

Along the way north, starting from Pombal, more or less, I noticed people on my side of the road walking towards me wearing the reflective orange and yellow high-visibility vests that work crews tend to wear when fixing potholes. Only, these people were not work crews, as they were of a rather variegated sort: men, women, some children, but mostly women between the ages of 40-60, with the occasional male escort, always in groups of two to five, and carrying only a water bottle or a sweater, if anything.

I figured they were some volunteer group doing some sort of highway cleanup heading back towards Pombal after a day's work, and didn't give much thought to them, until I was about 20 kms away from the city in question, and a lot closer to some other fairly populous towns, and saw that the groups had not thinned, but continued walking, always in the direction of Pombal, and only on my side of the road.

Now, you'd think that if this were some sort of "keep our highways clean" campaign, they would distribute themselves more or less evenly along the stretch (which by now to me started looking a bit excessively long), with the result that by the end of the day, the volunteers would walk back to the towns they came from, some of them, then, necessarily, in the opposite direction as well, right?

But why were they all walking downhill in the direction of Pombal, then? This seemed a bit too deterministic...

The mystery cleared up 10 kms away from Coimbra, when I stopped briefly at Coninbriga to buy a chocolate bar and drink some juice at a side-street bar. A group of three fluorescent-vested folks had chosen to do the same (substitute Coca-Cola for juice) and I asked them, why was everyone walking southbound?

Turns out, they were pilgrims to Fàtima (which was, by this point, about 100 kms away!), this particular group coming all the way from Aveiro (another 70 or so kms away!), and doing all of the stretch walking, of course. (Does this start to sound like The Canterburry Tales to you yet?) Wow! Nutcases, if you ask me.


Still, these pilgrims are quite a bit smarter than I am. They go southbound, downhill, for their pilgrimage. It is only me who buys on credit, then arrives crawling at the hostel in unforgivingly mountain-encrusted Coimbra regretting every second of it before collapsing onto bed.

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