This narrative is based on e-mails I sent to friends during the walk. The messages were composed on a smart phone using Gmail group messaging. I find writing on a telephone screen to be tedious, and I end up getting impatient and sending the messages without a good proofreading. I have edited these e-mails on a desktop and have elaborated some parts and revised others. Unfortunately, after a career that included writing many policies, procedures, and business memoranda, my editing tends to eliminate some of my more original and creative formulations.
April 16, 2018
We started our Camino this morning, taking the Metro from the neighborhood where we had stayed, and walked to the Lisbon Cathedral (Cathedral Se) to obtain our initial “sello”. A “sello” (in Spain) or “Carimbo” (in Portugal) is a date stamp placed on the “Credencial del Peregrino” that confirms one’s status as a “peregrino” (pilgrim).
We stayed in the cathedral considering the magnitude of the journey we have ahead of us and engaged in varying delaying tactics to forestall beginning the long trek.
Our guide book (A Pilgrims Guide to the Camino Portugues, by John Brierley) indicates that it is nearly 400 miles to our destination, and our intention is to walk the entire distance. After a short contemplation we started out from the Cathedral, heading to the suburb of Oriente stopping near the Park of the Nations near the Vasco de Gama Bridge for a midday snack.
We had made sandwiches in our apartment before leaving, and the last two bottles of beer that were fairly warm by the time we got to them.
Afterwards we trekked northward along the Rio Tejo on a well marked path, first on concrete, then gravel, then a boardwalk crossing a flood plain. Or perhaps it is a tidal basin, since we were not far from the Atlantic Ocean. When we arrived at the mouth of the Rio Trancao we headed west to the municipality of Sacavem where we crossed to the north side of the river.
Waymarking was sufficient to keep us on track but after we crossed the river we missed a turn and suddenly the way making was vague and confusing. We met a young Korean couple who had similarly missed the turn. As Paula and I contemplated the confusing markings, the Koreans found a route on their I-phone app, and headed merrily up the road. Being “old school” we checked our guide book and saw we had overlooked the phrase “imm. left” after the instruction to cross the bridge. We returned to the bridge and saw a very narrow foot path on the other side of the highway and headed that way.
The path hugged the bank of the Rio Trancao past active farms and ruins of old manors. For the next couple of hours both sides of the path contained the most beautiful fields of wild flowers I had ever seen. The extraordinarily long raining season was coming to an end, and the plants were exhibiting the benefits of a good dousing. There were knee high patches of clover with brilliant white. We walked along the path in awe of the bright and dazzling red, blue, yellow, orange, and white blossoms, as well as other colors I can’t name. Reeds and marsh grass towered over us.
The path eventually took us through green meadows and farm land as we headed into Apriate, which we hoped to be end of our first day’s journey. We arrived at the Albergue in mid afternoon and got two of the few remaining beds. An albergue is hostel for exclusively for pilgrims. This one had been open for slightly more than a weekend after a major remodeling funded by Americans on the Camino.
About an hour after we arrived the Korean couple appeared and got the last two spaces, one of which was a folding bed in the reception area. They had a long, difficult walk through city streets and busy roads to get to Apriate. I was glad we had taken the more scenic route.
Our host gave us a quick orientation to the town, including directions to the grocery store and the limited selection of cafes. We walked to the grocery store to get food for the next day, and then went to one of the cafes where we had an incredibly good (and big) meal for a ridiculously low price.
My pedometer indicates we have walked nearly 14 miles today. I must admit walking with a pack is much harder than walking unburdened by life’s necessities. So tonight: early to bed.
April 17, 2018
Terca-feira: third festival day. That’s the literal translation of Portuguese word for Tuesday Paula tells me. She also told me one of the plants we saw frequently is called “Jack in the Pulpit.”
I report, you decide.
The path to Santiago parallels the route to Fatima, and the way marking is shared for the first portion of the trip. The Portuguese have not monetized their primary religious shrine as effectively as have the Spanish. It is interesting that local people ask if we are going to Santiago. None ask if we are going to Fatima, though clearly the way to Fatima is well marked.
Of course I am generalizing from almost no information on this, so perhaps I should not express an opinion on this matter.
We do plan to visit Fatima for a day trip, not for any hoped mystical experience but for the history and architecture. We might also want to stand by slowly shaking our heads as we watch to Fatima pilgrims approach the shrine on hands and knees, muttering to ourselves about the special level of crazy that leads to such devotion.
I can attest, though, that I have personally experienced a minor miracle on this trip. Before retiring last night I put about 20 Euro in change in a pouch that I kept in my sleeping bag. This morning everything was in that pouch except those coins. There is no rational explanation, and it’s clear they were not stolen since the pouch was under my control all night and the Euro notes were not disturbed Appling a particular formulation of Occam’s Razor, the simplest deduced explanation is that the money disappeared to provide a life lesson or to serve some other mystical purpose. If this is an example of what miracles might lay in store for me, I’ll beg off from any big miracles.
I had not slept in a dormitory since my first year in the Army and I had all but forgotten the soothing is affect of snoring bodies. I awoke about midnight, listened to chain saws, locomotives, and truck engines. And there was also the nose from outside the building. I got out of bed and tiptoed downstairs to my pack to retrieve ear plugs and noticed that all of the men were awake and it was the sound of feminine tranquility I was hearing. I did not sleep well.
Today’s hike was an interesting combination of pastoral landscapes, urban industrial zones, hectic highways, and long stretches along the river. Once again the flora was beautiful with multi colored blooms and micro-fauna abounds. The Lisbon suburbs go on forever, it seems, but even in the midst of this heavily populated area there are locations of rural and pastoral charm, seemingly far away from urban life.
I had an interesting encounter with gnats. There was a mile or two when clouds of gnats were coming up out of the flora and surrounding any person on the path. We could see anyone walking the other way sweeping the air in front of their faces to keep gnats away. As I walked I noticed that the gnats would rise like a cloud as I approached, circle around for a while and then dissipate, returning to the plants on the side of the path. It was as though they were just curious or possibly saying hello. I had recently seen a photograph of a cow’s face covered with flies and had thought about the discomfort it must have felt, particularly since it had no hands to brush them off. I decided to try to be like that cow, and just let the gnats do what they will. They did not really bother me. None settled on me, flew in my mouth or got caught in my nose. I continued to suppress my impulse to swat at them and eventually began to view them as temporary companions. I’m not assigning any meaning to the experience, but just found it interesting. When you live in New Mexico you don’t often have that kind of experience.
Alverca do Ribatejo is the end of the first stage of the twenty four stages of the Camino Portuguese, as contained in Bierley’s guide. Since we had stopped short by 6 miles or so yesterday, we just stopped in that city for a short coffee break before heading on to our day’s destination. While Paula went to a local café for coffee, I stayed with our packs n a small dog park. I was approached by an older man who spoke limited English, but certainly more than my Portuguese. He asked about our destination for the day, and when I said Vila Franca de Xira he opened up his satchel and gave me some flyers for various hostels and accommodations, recommended restaurants, then gave me his telephone number in case we needed any further assistance. He introduced himself, cbut I could not catch his first name. His family name was Albuquerque, and when I told him we lived in Albuquerque, he did not seem too impressed. He walked away having done us a good favor, before Paula returned. I had heard that Portuguese people respect those on pilgrimage, and this was a confirmation to me that it is good to be here.
We arrived in Vila Franca de Xira after a fourteen mile walk, and checked in to the Hostal DP, which was high on Sr. Albuquerque’s recommendations. In keeping with the spirit of the Camino, we got a private room with access to a kitchen, clothes washer. two balconies and a television room for 35 Euro. And the price includes breakfast, which we hope is more than a piece of bread and coffee.
Vila Franca de Xira is a quaint city on the river particularly noted for raising and fighting bulls. Bulls are not killed in Portuguese bullfights, only tormented and humiliated. That’s basically the same as killing them, of course, to hear some of my more liberal friends tell it.
We walked around the city for a while and had a drink at Praca Alfonso Albuquerque, just for the heck of it.
We had seen a description of a small café near the river and searched it out. When we got to the railroad tracks the barrier arm was down, with cars and pedestrians waiting for clearance to cross. We checked both directions and there was not a train in sight. We crossed, walked to the café, found it was closed, and returned to the railroad crossing. All the cars and pedestrians were still waiting, so we checked again, found no trains in sight, and crossed. We will find out in the morning as we leave the city if the folks are still waiting patiently for the cross arm to rise.
After a while we settled on a small café that advertised prango (chicken). When we indicated we wanted to eat, the waiter led us through the café into a very nice restaurant where we enjoyed a great dinner featuring Dorado and local wine at an obscenely low price. Two Canadian women who had stayed in the Albergue at Apriate were there as well, One of them apologized for being the guilty party with the cell phone alarm that kept sounding throughout the night.
We really love Portugal.
April 18, 2018
We were pleased to find that breakfast was included with our hotel room, and enjoyed having nourishment and coffee before heading out today. When we first arrived at the breakfast room we were met by a seemingly gruff man who served us coffee and food. He then sat on a tool near us and asked us about our plans. When we mentioned that we might take a day to tour Tomar he began talking about the Knights Templar and their tradition in Tomar. Among the points he made was that the Knights Templar were never really disbanded in Portugal, but that they had reorganized and renamed themselves with permission of the Portuguese king so that the king could report to Rome that the Templar heretics had been eliminated in country. He told us that he was a member of one of the surviving orders of the Templars as he removed a medallion from under his shirt and stated he was of the branch that was not Catholic.
So much for secret fraternities, I thought.
Today after 17 miles we completed the second leg of the Camino and are now 10% of the total distance, though not, by far, the equivalent proportion of effort. The first two legs have virtually no elevation change, and are the last to exhibit that characteristic.
We left Vila Franca da Xira about 830 under clear skies with a cool breeze coming off the river. After a mile or so on asphalt we turned onto a dirt path that meandered for several miles before dumping us into an industrial park with the requisite heavy truck traffic.
While on the path Paula and I travelled at our own paces, and as she has a longer stride and more spunk, she was well out in front for the duration. This was our first real opportunity to walk and think without more distraction than the view.
I thought of the multiple times I’ve been asked “what’s the point of a secular pilgrimage? Why not just go for a hike somewhere?” I’ve mumbled something about coming to understand purpose after retirement, and being reacquainted with life on a human scale. Mostly, however, is about taking an enforced period of time time within a structure that supports inquiry. Taking a pilgrimage, particularly to Santiago, creates a challenging goal that stretches physical ability and emotional endurance within a support system that is centuries old.
On the other hand, as I travelled this path, feeling the weight of my backpack and the growing ache of my aging knees, another question came to mind. To wit, “WTF was I thinking?”
Years ago I took a course that included an examination of fundamental human experiences. One was the experience of having “enough.” Not “enough” like having enough to live on, or having enough to eat, but when something in us says “enough! I will tolerate no more” But where does that arise? Does it come from the mind or the body? Who is making that assertion? And who is it that complies or ignores the entreaty?
We left the dirt path for asphalt and vehicles. Some of the roads were sparsely travelled and others were a continual flood of trucks and cars traveling the speed limit. The speed limit, by the way, is “how fast can you drive?” Pedestrians are not given much quarter, except in crosswalks. Did I say that the roads have no shoulders and the sidewalks are not yet in the consideration phase?
Earlier in the day we dodged mud puddles and noticed the fields at the road side were basically pools of mud. This made me thankful that we were walking in sun and not rain, on a reasonably graded and solid surface. I decided “pavement isn’t such a bad thing after all.”
In Vila Nova Reinha the path took us to a major highway for a few hundred meters before turning onto to a gravel path adjacent to the railroad track for about 5 miles. As we left the village behind us we began to suffer the consequences of not having brought food or refilled our water bottles. By this time the cool breeze was gone leaving behind the burning hot sun, and the equally burning question “WTF was I thinking?”
We made it to Azanbuja by three o’clock, encouraged that we made it through a long hot stage with no hope of shade. We were tired and thirsty, and the last kilometer took us on a meandering path through a field. We stopped at the first café we came to, sat in the shade and quaffed cold draft beer. Afterward were still willing to continue tomorrow when bright sun is in the forecast, perhaps, though better prepared..
We selected the hostel Flor de Primivera as the best chance to find accommodations, and headed there. As we approached the hotel aa young woman waved us into an office where we checked in. I became suspicious as she guided us two blocks away to a shabby looking building, thinking we had been waylaid by a competitor or the hotel. As we went through the entrance we found ourselves in a clean, bright building that had been obviously well maintained. We were taken through several locked doors to a large room with a private bath and a balcony. I checked my credentials and saw the carimbo was truly from the Flor de Primavera.
We washed our clothes and hung them to dry on the patio. Looking over to adjacent patios we saw the two women from Canada and a woman from Brazil who we had been sharing accommodations for the last three nights.
I think this message sounds like a long complaint, but it really isn’t. We saw some great sites, had highs and lows, and there were more than a few times our bodies stopped resisting what we are asking them to do. For increasingly long periods I hardly noticed my pack.
Tomorrow we start leg three, only one day behind the optimal schedule (according to the guide book) our goal is to finish no more than 30 days late, so we’re good.
April 19, 2018
The next stage is a twenty mile walk from Azambuja to Santarem, but we decided to take it easy, walking fourteen miles to a private Albergue some miles north of Porto de Muge. The guide calls for this stage to end at Santarem, but that is another six miles and there are no services or accommodations along the way. A voice called out from the silence: “Enough! There’s no need to push it.” We had planned on staying at an Casa do Rio inn Porto de Muge, but it was closed, and the local people we ran across kept telling us to go north where we will find “Paula” in a Kilometer or so That is how we came to be here.
We headed north, hoping that the last option for lodging would work, since there would be no other options for ten more miles. Rural Portugal is, well, rural.
Today’s walk was really pretty, though mostly on asphalt with a few miles of dirt path. Leaving Azembujo we started out on a tree lined road with light traffic. There was a small river on the right, and increasing amounts of farm land on the left. Eventually we were surrounded by agricultural properties in various stages of growth. Some land was laying fallow, some just recently plowed. Wheat, tomatoes, grapes and other produce filled many acres.
As we walked through this farm country we could see many buildings abandoned and decaying. We assume that it is a consequence of the mechanization of agriculture and the availability of transportation to surrounding villages. We did not see a single peasant struggling behind plow horses.
We reached the Rio Tejo after a while and walked along the flood wall through several small villages, stopping for beer along the way. We have arrived in a Quinta da Burra near the village of Porto de Muge. A quinta is a farm estate, many of which are scattered around the countryside, some of which been transformed into country inns. Paula Castro, the owner of Quinta da Burra, generously supports peregrines by providing lodging and meals. There are 10 pilgrims here tonight, most of whom we have met earlier on the road.
Paula C has been working for several years to restore the Quinta after it had been abandoned for decades. She said it took several days to clear a path to the door, and spent many thousands of Euros making the buildings inhabitable while she continues to work the property. Fortunately she is an architect and has a clear view of future developments.
When we first arrived she told us the only available space was in an outlying building that had previously housed farm animals. We agreed, but before the space was ready she moved a single man (an Italian fellow named David) into that space to give us the private room he had been in. I was mortified. She said it was because she thought married people should have private rooms. It may have been that she could charge more for two people in a private room than two people in the barn. In any event, I felt it necessary to apologize to David for displacing him. I felt so even more so when I found the had also moved another man into the barn; one who David had been avoiding since he was a very loud snorer.
Our host prepared a very good meal that was served family style, at a long table that reminded me of the one in Antonia’s Line.
Tomorrow we walk to Santarem, completing stage 3. We are considering a rest day, though it is unlikely we will need one. However, rain is forecast for Saturday and Sunday so it could be a good time to take a day trip by bus or train to Fatima. Or maybe not.
The route to Santarem includes the first significant elevation change — 135 meters in the last mile. Leaving Santarem for the next stage will drop the same 135 meters. I’m going to call them to see if they would move the city to the valley to save us the effort.
April 20, 2018
Friday on the Camino was a trek in remote farmland on the way to Santarem. It was a long, mostly straight road for the first ten miles, then a paved incline to the city.
During the day we saw lots of open fields of tomatoes, grapes and other produce. Several fields were being planted with tomatoes and were impressed by how few people it took. One person operated the tractor and planter, which simultaneously planted tomato seedlings and laid drip irrigation line. Two or three other people followed behind correcting errors and restocking the planter with seedlings.
Most of the day there was a tall berm on our right that created a flood wall from the river. The impact of rain and river flooding became clear to us when we happened upon a flood level marker that was somewhat sobering. Since the marker was at the base of the only road into Santarem, it was even more impressive. One of the more recent dates showed a level nearly two meters above the road.
Santarem is the capital city of the Rebeira region, and it has a very long history. It was an administrative center during the reign of Julius Caesar, captured by the Moors in the eighth century and was an Islamic center until it was captured recaptured by Dom Afonso in the twelfth century. The moors apparently believed the fortress was impenetrable and I assume they were sorely disappointed to have been wrong.
There was some sort of youth event happen on the weekend and most of the hostels and inns were full. We ended up with a suite in a relatively upscale hostel. A suite, it appears is a room with a private bath. WE had a great view of the city rooftops, and a quite interesting headboard made from a door.
We took a long walk in the cit, checking out the various churches and cathedrals, markets and parks. One of the things we like about Portugal is that whenever there is a park with a scenic overlook there will be a kiosk with coffee, beer, and snacks. We stayed for a while at the ancient ramparts having a beer and listening to covers of American pop songs. After touring the city for the afternoon we returned to the hotel for dinner.
The proprietor prepared an incredibly special meal of traditional Portuguese food for the peregrinos. Joining us for dinner was our Italian companion David, a Brazilian woman named Fatima, s Belgian, a Dutch man, a Swede, a Mormon from Idaho, and another Italian. There was o common language, but it was a fun evening with many rowdy moments. The most interesting was an argument between the Belgian and the Intalian over whether Finisterre or Caba Roca should be considered “the end of the world.” We had a wonderful evening in Dutch, English, Italian and Portuguese.
We finished the day having walked 16 miles, including exploration of the city.
April 21, 2018
W decided to not take a rest day in Santarem and chose instead to walk in the rain. We had watched the weather channel in the hostel lobby for a few minutes and finally concluded that hoping and wishing was not going to stop the rain, so we headed off into the city, then took a very wet and slippery steep path down to the valley floor. Initially the path was wet but passable, on a combination of hard packed gravel and asphalt, and eventually heading into wet and muddy farm roads. It wasn’t simply muddy, but the kind of mud that clings to the shoes and creates a slippery condition where almost every step has a risk of a fall.
On this day we found that the commonly accepted definition of waterproof does not necessarily apply to rain coats and ponchos. After many hours of slogging through extremely slippery and clinging mud we arrived in Azinhaga, soaked and hungry. We will spend the night at Casa de Azzancha, which is in the home of Helena Santos, a long time resident of the area. Sophie, a Belgian woman we have met several times, was in the living room stoking a fire when we arrived.
We stuffed our shoes with newspaper, took showers, put on our sandals and warm clothes and wandered into town looking for a place for dinner. It actually took quite a while but finally found a family restaurant where we had another enormous dinner. Paula ordered much better than I, as usual, having the cod with scalloped potatoes, while I ordered the beef steak that came with house made potato chips and rice. It seemed like they delivered an order for two with each dish, but it seems we finished it all again at a very low price.
As I am writing this I recall that I hardly noticed my pack today.
April 22, 2018
This morning we were up and out early, walking through beautiful farms of wheat, tomatoes, cabbage, figs, potatoes, and more. There were also lots of horses, since this is the principal horse raising region in Portugal. The day started with clouds and haze, but quickly cleared as walked into the quiet and lovely countryside.
We passed through a protected wetland that was swarming with avian life, including storks, crane, and geese.
We continue to see many estates that have fallen to ruin, plus some that have been maintained or restored. Next time I have a couple million to spare I think I’ll get one of those.
Walking was easy. The early morning clouds eventually provided a long, continuous light rain, but the temperature was nice and the roads were firm. We stopped for a break Vila Nova Barquina, and while we considered where we wanted to spend the night the rain stopped amt it got quite sunny. We continued, to Atalaia where we have a room in a lovely quinta.
In the neighborhood that is a small bar that is quite busy on this Sunday afternoon. We had another enormous dinner with wine and beer for the outrageous price of 5.70 Euros. We argued with the waitress that she had not charged enough, but she insisted the bill was right.
Tomorrow we head on to Tomar, which is also the beginning of the climb into the hills of northern Portugal. I’m looking forward to seeing Tomar, which was once the Portuguese center for the Knights Templar. I’ve found the legend of the Knights Templar to be very interesting, including the speculation that they became the original pirates, flying the skull and bones while conducting war in the sho\ips of the Roman church.
April 23, 2018
Before departing on this journey I made quite a study of the path we would take and the many recommendations of others who had or who planned to take similar adventure. An issue frequently addressed was a packing list, designed to ensure unneeded and indeed unnecessary items did not add excessively to the weight of one’s belongings. I am beginning to compile a different list.
This is the list of things one should bring that can add to the enjoyment of the trip, even though they add weight to one’s pack. Items on the list include:
1. A decent coffee maker. Most of the places we have stayed provide instant coffee, and restaurants & cafes serve coffee in such small cups, one can actually forget having finished the drink without remembering. It would be nice to have a good American sized cup of joe, the way God meant it to be.
2. A vitamix or other high speed blender. I miss my vegetable smoothy in the morning. I don’t mind a ham and cheese sandwich for breakfast periodically, but every day? And for lunch too? How about some fiber every once in a while?
3. A toilet seat. Unless you like the feel of cold porcelain, being prepared could provide much comfort in an emergency.
4. A sherpa. You wouldn’t think I’d try to carry that stuff myself, would you?
Today’s hike started with a vigorous climb through eucalyptus forests to the village of Grou, which was a moderate rise of 165 meters on primitive road. The surface was mostly firm, though it was necessary to negotiate wide mud patches sure to the recent rains. We had nice views, fresh air, and sunshine.
The village of Grou is an interesting collection of modern homes and old estates. It has the only church with modern architecture that we’ve seen in Portugal.
In Grit the dirt first road tired to asphalt and were descended into an industrial zone and followed along a major highway for several miles. We then returned to dirt task adjacent to the railway for more miles, then secondary roads to the village of Sao Lourenco. It was at this village that the forces of Dom Joao I, and Dom Periera joined forces to defeat the Spanish, establishing Portugal an an independent state.
From there it was a short walk to Tomar, a city that was founded by the Knights Templar, and which celebrates that legacy to this day. Part of that legacy was the feint by which the Templars simply reconstituted themselves as a different order, and thus abetted further persecution by the Roman church.
We are taking a rest day tomorrow and will spend the day touring Toast and becoming more familiar with is interesting history.
As we walked the city, it was apparent that Paula was not wearing a bra and was summarily punished by some time in stocks.
April 24, 2018
Today we took a rest day in Tomar. We didn’t rest that much. We climbed the hill to the Templar Castle and spent a couple hours checking out the castle and the Convento de Cristo, which is a monastery associated with the Order of Christ, the successor to the Knights Templar in Portugal.
When the pope demanded that the Portuguese king rid the land of the heretical Templars, he had them change their name to the Order of Christ, modify their logo, and that seemed to do the trick. Politics doesn’t really change much, I think.
The castle was founded in the 12th century with many additions and renovations through the sixteenth century.
One of the exhibits in the convent related to the Nursing Madonna, an icon that was popular in the 16-17 centuries. We also saw a nursing Madonna in one of the ancient churches in town. The images and accompanying narrative should put an end to any controversy about women nursing their children in public.
I find it very hard to photograph an enormous monument like this, so have only attached a couple shots.
I’ve added to my list of necessary items to bring a proofreader. I looked over a few of my previous messages and wonder why no-one has asked what language I’m using I suppose I could get the sherpa to progress, but then I’d have to pay more.
Tomorrow we go to Alzaiazere, which will be out first twenty mile day. It’s uphill must of the way, with 1100 meter elevation change. There are limited services in this stretch do we have to f carry food and water for the day.
April 25, 2018
We completed our first twenty mile stage tired but in good form. We left Tomar early under high clouds on a path along side a river for a couple kilometers, then began our uphill/downhill journey.
The first couple hills were fairly steep, though the incline to the higher parts was less challenging. Mostly we were in forests of eucalyptus, pine, and sometimes cork.
We saw scores of small, picturesque villages and hamlets, walking through a number of them. I could imagine that there is some sort of competition for who can have the best gardens, since most homes had lovely flowery displays.
An interesting contrast in many properties is the presence of ruins on the same property of well attended structures. In one case we walked by a building, noticing the fine lace curtains, and then saw the building was a toast ruin.
There was one section of forest where the paths branched off and there were no markers indicating which one to take. Sometimes we’d find a footprint or bicycle track as a clue and we’d go that way hoping it would not lead to the bones of some lost pilgrim. Other times we would just guess. Luckily we found our way through. We meet a young woman from London who had not been as fortunate who had wandered the paths for a long time trying to find the right one.
As we were nearing our destination the making was a little vague, but it was clear, we thought, which way to go. An elderly woman came out of her house and tried to convince us that we should go the other way, but soon gave up since she was not making any headway. She was right, of course, and had we listened the last six kilometers would have been much more scenic. But the road we took, though not a scenic was straight and saved us 20 minutes of walking.
April 26, 2018
Today we took it a bit easy. The walk still “meandered through rolling hills”, and had more elevation drops than gains, but we still climbed several hundred meters during the day. We kept it to ten miles, and that was enough.
We travelled again through forested hills. We’ve found out that the eucalyptus was brought to Portugal from Australia in the 18th century, and it has become one of the country’s most economically important crop, even more than cork. It is harvested for it’s resins but mostly to feed paper mills. A significant down side is that it burns fast and hot due to its oily bark and makes for extreme fire danger
We are in Ansiao, a city of about 8k and surrounded by smaller towns. It’s a really quiet place, and the folks are really friendly and helpful. Earlier this evening we decided to find a laundromat and asked around. We stepped into a cafe and asked the proprietor. Immediately for people began giving us directions, simultaneously, in Portuguese, very loudly. Finally one man actually took us to his car and drive is there.
It is interesting how the network of community forms and transforms among the peregrinos. We’ve met quite a few, some have become almost traveling companions as we frequent stay in the same hostels or hotels. They are from around the world. European, Asian, South American, Canadian. Haven’t met a single pilgrim from the USA.
When we left the cathedral in Lisbon on the first day of our trek we saw a man entering the cathedral who was carrying an enormous backpack. We happened upon him again yesterday and visited for a while. We came to find out that Carlos and his enormous “rucksack” is famous among the folks we have met. We spent some time walking with Carlos for a bit today, and since we stopped in Ansiao, he and his companion moved on ahead of us.
We appear to be taking this journey much slower than others are doing, and I suppose it is unlikely we will see the folks who have moved on ahead of us. Tomorrow we will meet others.
April 27, 2018
Not an exciting day, but we made it to the end of stage 7, Rabacal. It was overcast with the chance of clearing as we left Anziao. It never cleared, only got darker until we ultimately were walking in a slight mist in a very chilly day.
It was forest and farmland with a few villages tossed in. When you walk through a countryside you get to see things you don’t see driving, and on the other hand you don’t see things that would be more accessible driving. We passed up visiting a reportedly well preserved medieval castle that would have added several miles to the daily trek.
Today we met many pilgrims on the way to Fatima. They were coming the opposite direction on our path.
We happened upon an oasis, picnic tables and water fountain in a nice little park. As we had our cheese and sausage we had a good bit of a large building that had returned to forest, and a line shepherd with a small flock ambling slowly along the trail.
We arrived in Rabacal mid afternoon, and probably should have continued a few more miles. We are staying in an albergue right across from the parish church that plays music with the bells on the half hour. I hope they cut it out before it gets too late.
There are those old practices of timekeeping here that I remember from my youth in Missouri. Hourly chimes from the church, the noon siren. Recollection of time before the internet when each town decided what time it was.
Rain is forecasted starting tomorrow afternoon, so we probably will not arrive on Coimbra until Sunday. We will likely hang out there for a day to let the rain end before the 5-6 day journey to Porto.
It’s dormitory time tonight. We’ve had private rooms after our first dormitory experience. I’ll need to remember I’m in the top bunk of I get up in the night.
April 28, 2018
We are in a very cold albergue in Cernache agree a good walk from Rabaçal. As we were coming into the city a man stopped his car and asked us if we were planning to walk to Coimbra, and when we told him we planned to stay here he have is the access to the front door and told us he’d see us later. Several hours and at least a liter of wine we are checked in. We do not have a private room, per se, but close enough. It is a four person room, and it appears we are the only ones in it. We at least have the bottom bunks.
As we expected we have a new group of peregrinos that we have joined. There are two Germans, one Dutch, one Spaniard and an Australian. They are all in love with Paula, so as she charms them in her way, I am spending a few minutes thinking about the day.
It was not a hard walk to get here. Most of my body has given up is resistance to the challenge I have given it. My shoulders have come to terms, and I do not feel the weight of the pack as much as before. Only the knees and hips complain that I ask to much of them, mostly on the frequent uphill stretches.
We stopped in Coimbringa to visit the Roman ruins. The settlement predates the Romans, but was a Roman settlement for 600 years until the 5th century. The artifacts in the museum were amazing. Roman and Visigoth coins. Relics of iron, bronze, clay, and glass. The adjoining of work that was done to assure the proper aesthetic environment is incredible.
On the trail today I thought about how little the modern Camino reflects the earlier experience of the Camino. In the olden times people went on Camino sometimes by choice, but frequently for punishment or penance. Violations of community trust, unwarranted feuding with neighbors, or other transgressions against the peace of the sovereign would earn the sentence to travel to Santiago and return with a Compestelo.
Early pilgrims were required to travel to a foreign land, usually with limited guidance, rely on the good will of strangers, the support of fellow pilgrims and their own wiles. In the process they dealt with the vagaries of the weather, the persistence of bandits, and the many uncertainties of being a stranger in a strange land. That we think a modern Camino is a continuation of an ancient tradition is an indication of how little we understand of what the human experience has been through most of our history.
They had not maps, hotels, gps, atms, email, telephone, engineered hiking equipment, guide books, or the expectation of civil order. A modern Camino is soft by comparison.
And yet, being in the midst of the journey, it seems the experience is unique. The folks we are with now have been on many Caminos, each attests to the value of the Camino, whether spiritual or secular.
Tomorrow we go to Coimbra. Rain is forecast, but our companions do not seem to care. We will not either. At least until it is no longer an abstract possibility.
April 29, 2018
I woke up at 1am listening to the rain beating down on the roof, and again about 3, at which time I lay awake for several hours dwelling on today’s walk. The weather forecast was for heavy rain, and I considered all of the ways we would be soaked and mud bound through the day. I imagined soggy boots, cold feet and blisters.
It actually wasn’t that bad. We had a short period of hail followed by hard rain with a strong wind. It lasted about fifteen minutes during which we made a quick pace on a slightly muddy path. Other than that we mostly had sun and partly cloudy skies.
I had actually been a bit worried about hail, since the space weather report for today showed low solar wind and high cosmic ray flux. The prospect for hail was elevated and lately there have been record and windshield breaking sized hail stones around the world. I didn’t want to be caught in one of those events.
Paula tells me I don’t trust the future. I wonder about that. Doesn’t everyone keep an eye out for solar flares, asteroids, and other potentially calamitous events? Is it really true that I am committed to the prospect that things won’t work out?
I thought of that as we walked in the bright sun this morning, regretting the hours of needless worry and lost sleep. I visited memories decades old of sleepless nights filled with imagined catastrophes. Is it too late to break a habit so long practiced?
The rain was inconvenient, but not burdensome. I asked why it always seems to rain on weekends, and the voice of the Dowager Countess came to me asking “what is a weekend?” Talk about old habits dying hard.
Along the path we again encountered pilgrims on the way to Fatima. Two days ago we began seeing pilgrims walking, perhaps ten in the day. Yesterday there were lots of walkers and many bikers. Today it was a deluge of bikers, more than a hundred is my guess. No-one seems to know what is happening in Fatima that is drawing so many pilgrims, and we are reluctant to flag any down to ask them. They are all in such a frigging hurry. An Australian man speculated that it relates to May Day, which is a national holiday in Portugal.
We arrived in Coimbra a bit tired, but not exhausted. The final kilometer to our hostel was very steep, and included a long stairway with tall risers. The stairs are named “Quebia Costas” which translates to something like “back breaker”. It is aptly named.
On the way into Coimbra we passed by an ancient aquaduct that had been grossly vandalized by the state in order to build a highway. They just plowed right through it. It does give a good cross section view of an aquaduct in case you would like to build one.
The old city of Coimbra is a medieval wonderland, and around each corner are interesting views. I am impressed by the size of the stone buildings and the elaborate ornamentation. Much attention had been given to making the built environment aesthetically pleasing. Considering the amount of added labor to add those flourishes, I think somehow our values have changed a lot from those mute primitive times.
Standing at the entryway of our hostel, the old cathedral (Sé Velha) blocks the view of everything else. The building is enormous and very old, dating to the 12th century. We spent the better part of an hour touring it.
Throughout the city are reminders of the Templars and their successor orders. In Sé Velha there is a 14th century stone crucifix mounted on a Templar icon, including the skull and bones. I read somewhere that the skull and bones was indicative of the reason they were declared heretical. It is their denial of the resurrection. I don’t know the source of that speculation, but it is an interesting interpretation of history.
Not a great day for photography, for me. I did not frame shots well, and the lighting was challenging for a smartphone camera. And three structures in the city are so massive it was a challenge to capture much of it.
Tomorrow we will stay in Coimbra for the day and be tourists. Many of the museums and monuments are closed on Monday, but we are confident there I’d much of interest to see. Our maybe we’ll head on to Mealhada instead. We’ll decide in the morning.
April 30, 2018
After an evening of ambivalence Paula and I decided we would add Coimbra to the growing list of places we might one day revisit. For now we would move on. We had the misfortune to arrive on Coimbra on a Sunday of a four day holiday weekend. Most of the museums and monuments we wanted to visit were closed on Sundays, Monday’s, and holidays, and since Tuesday was a holiday we figured now was not the time to visit.
We left Coimbra under sunny skies, dodging traffic on a circuitous path through the city. Before long we were back in forest on gravel roads and dirt paths. We’d pass through towns and villages along the way, and also catch views of more towns on the hillsides and in valleys. It is interesting that in the rural expanse, Portugal actually seems like a fairly densely populated country.
We continued to meet pilgrims on their way to Fatima and, curiosity getting the best of us, we stopped a few and asked what was going on in Fatima that is drawing so many pilgrims this week. The answer? Nothing. They’re just going to Fatima for no special reason. Sort of like us going to Santiago, I suppose.
Most of the people we meet who are going to Santiago appear to be Camino junkies. All have done at least one of the paths, most at least three, and a German man has done one every spring for 11 years. They get really deeply onto the experience and take it seriously.
We don’t. At least not to the extent. I can’t imagine that we will make these trips a standard part of our lives. For us it’s more like we’re taking a walking tour of the country. We’ve decided we will refer to ourselves as touregrinos going forward. I reserve the right to revise that statement at a later date.
We had rain on the trail. A couple hours over the course of the day. Although we were on trails and paths, the surface was relatively firm and the mud holes were avoidable, so it was actually pretty enjoyable to walk in the rain.
We spent the night in Mealhada at a quite well established hostel. We chose a private room again, spending a bit of extra money to avoid the dorm experience. At the end of two weeks we’ve been in a dorm exactly three nights. I’m not enamored of the experience.
May 1, 2018
Today we walked to Agueda, which is a fairly large city. We had the same exposure to forests, villages, and towns, and had the added pleasure of traversing enormous industrial zones. Fortunately, since today is a national holiday we did not have to deal with the heavy truck traffic that is common in such areas. For the most part the factories and shops were idle.
The cafes were open, though, so we stored a few times to relax and enjoy being in a foreign land and in no particular hurry.
While walking through the villages we noted a number of homes had flowers attached to the door handles. Paula’s inquired about it and learned that it was is a practice on May 1 to ward off evil for the year. The actual details were something like: the flowers tell you that Christ does not live in that house so people will not come on to murder the folks who live there. This claim bears scrutiny.
Not much for photos for today. I’m finding the photos I take are becoming repetitive. I have also lost my eye for a while. Paula is taking much better photos than I.
May 2, 2018
Today we completed stage 11 of 24 stages in the Camino Portuguese. According to the guide we have now walked half of the 397 miles from Lisbon to Santiago.
The journey from Agueda to Abergaria-a-Velha was a short ten miles, mostly on asphalt, and mostly level. The first five miles was through a continual transition of towns with hardly any separation. Once again I am surprised at the density of population. Actually it might be more accurately stated that the density of buildings is surprising since it seemed we were walking through ghost towns. We see few people in the streets, and most of them are in cars, and the houses are shuttered.
There are still lots of buildings that are in various states of decay, but also large estates that are very well maintained. We have looked at sales information for habitable houses, and it appears real estate is quite affordable here by comparison to U.S.prices. I can imagine one can get one of these handyman specials for a song. Put on a couple mil for restoration and you’d have a pretty nice place to live.
We walked through a few miles of woodland, descending into the Vouga river valley, which we crossed on an old Roman bridge.
We also went through a neighborhood that reminded us of Daly City. There was a pink one and a blue one and a green one and a yellow one. Don’t know what they’re made of, but they do all look the same.
The Portuguese people are very friendly and welcoming. It seems that anyone, regardless of demeanor or appearance, is only a word away from a prolonged conversation. We were checking out the library building and one of the women working there seemed concerned that we we lost. When we told her we thought it was an interesting building, she gave is a thirty minute tour, very informative and well worth the time.
This city, Albergaria, gets its name from being a refuge for pilgrims since the 12th century. There is evidence the site has been occupied since the 5th century BCE. Around 1100, DonaTeresa, the first queen of Portugal, took a pilgrimage to Santiago and stayed in this town. She later provided considerable financing to the town, and encouraged local nobles to do the same to establish a hospital and other resources for pilgrims.
At least that’s the story.
It is a pleasant city, with much more to see than we will experience on our short venture. It appears to be preserving its medieval heritage while seeking to be a modern European city.
We are now 41 miles from Porto, which is at the end of stage 13. Our plan is to arrive midday on Saturday, which will make relatively short days. We will likely celebrate that accomplishment with a couple of rest days devoted to touring and sampling the wine.
May 7, 2018
I don’t believe I have ever been in a city on a day when the popular sports team won a national championship. About midnight Saturday night we were awakened by an incredible din of shouting, car horns, fully revved motorcycle engines, and who knows what other cacophony producing devices. It went on for hours. The perspicatious person that I am thought “must be some kind of soccer celebration”, so I looked up the Porto soccer team and saw they were scheduled to play on Sunday. Came to find out that two other teams played to a draw on Saturday night, giving Porto the national championship through the back door.
It has been two days and the shouting and clamoring breaks out frequently during the day. I’m quite impressed by the passion and regional pride these fans have.
Yesterday we had our first rest day, during which we took the metro to the Atlantic coast and walked the beach in bright sun and warm air. We walked to the “foz do Douro”, which is the mouth of the river. It was a beautiful day to be outside, and our bodies hardly protested that we walked twelve miles on our day off. Actually mine did protest, and I think it was more a case of dehydration than overexertion.
We had earlier tried to do some local tourist things, but the city was so crowded we just had to leave for a while. In addition to things of tourists, Porto University held their graduation ceremonies in the city center. There were hundreds of graduates in their black gowns posing for photos with friends and family. It was really nice to observe the excitement and enthusiasm of those young people celebrating a major transition.
Today we actually took it much easier, logging only six miles and staying in the core of the city. The crowds had somewhat abated, though still many tourists, mainly old folks like us.
We have decided to take the coastal route when we leave Porto tomorrow. This is the less popular route, but it will offer a few advantages, even though it is slightly longer. First, it will allow Paula some beach time. We can not be this close to an ocean and not have st least one beach day. Second, there are more options for accommodations and a slower schedule, and third, there is less elevation change. The central route had some killer climbs, including one that rises 400 meters in three kilometers.
We will have more opportunities to climb hills when we get to Spain, so I’m not going to beat myself up for taking the easier path.
May 8, 2018
We departed Porto late, having found a Starbucks coffee shop and lingering over a nice big chop of coffee. We headed out on the Senda Litoral, which is a relatively short stretch along the coast that joins the Coastal Route in Vila do Conde.
The sky was overcast with the promise of sun in the afternoon, with constant wind from the northwest at 30 km/hr. Despite the wind it was an interesting and enjoyable walk.
Most of the day we were on a boardwalk that stretches from Matasinhos to Vila Chã, a small village where we took a room in a pensao attached to a small cafe. The boardwalk may well continue for the remaining five miles to Vila do Conde, but we’ll need to find that out tomorrow.
Our room is very charming, warm and comfortable with a traditional feel and an eclectic decor. There is an antique chandelier fitted with the finest led lights, and a sombrero and a large Asian fan adorns the wall. It has a real homey feel. I know some folks who know me might take the last sentence as a snide critique, but it’s not. I really like it here.
I was somewhat expecting the walk along the beach to be a mostly sensory experience: the smell of the salt water, the sounds, the sight of the waves, the birds, the surrounding vegetation, etc. I was not expecting the celtic runes, the Roman ruins, the monuments to the revolution, the lessons in agricultural methods, the quaint fishing villages.
Again we encountered the hospitality and generosity of Portuguese people. A casual comment turns into a long conversation as someone shares personal history and life stories complete with regrets, loss and celebrations.
Our walk was made even more enjoyable by a young Italian woman from Milan who was staying her first Camino from Porto. She walked along with us until we stopped and she headed on down the way. A interesting companion.
It was challenging walking against the wind today, and tomorrow’s forecast is for stronger wind. We are planning a relatively short day, probably about 9 miles.
May 9, 2018
Today’s journey took us through the coastal cities of Vila do Conde and Póvoa Varzim to the village of Santo André. The trio was slated to be nine miles, but ended up closer to thirteen. We had planned for a short day since the wind forecast was for stronger than yesterday. Unfortunately the wind forecast was accurate and my mileage estimate was not.
Leaving Vila Chã was under sunny sky and along a mixture of streets and boardwalks til arriving at Vila do Conde, which is at the end of stage 14 of 24. The wind had not yet picked up and when we arrived in Vila do Conde, though the sky was dense cloudsand the temperature had dropped.
We were sufficiently energetic to climb the hill to an ancient monastery overlooking the city and a 19th century aquaduct. We then wandered through a few other sites before heading out along the beach. The guide recommends a route a bit further inland, but having the expectation of another interesting day along the beach, we choose the more exposed path. This route was considerably longer than the mileage estimate on our guide, a fact I had not previously considered.
The wind picked up rapidly, again from the north, and the cloud cover did not abate until close to the end of the day.
Today’s lesson was about patience. As the wind increased I stepped out up my stride, vainly trying to hasten the end of the days journey. It did not work. I was soon physical and emotionally drained with still five miles to go.
This was one of those promises of pilgrimage, finding yourself in a situation that will not bend to your desires. As we continued to plod along my spirit sagged and I got increasingly short tempered. We took city streets for a while, allowing the buildings to break the wind, but eventually we ran out of city and were back on the coast.
Two miles from our destination i stopped. There was a small park with a bench facing the sea where I sat for a while facing the waves, pondering the enormity of nature. And then we walked. The sun emerged, the temperature raised, the wind continued, but I no longer felt the need to struggle against it.
Today’s lesson was about patience. I encountered again my preference for living in a dream of the future than the reality of the present. I feel much better when I give up hope.
May 10, 2018
One of the challenges with international travel is understanding cultural differences. Many times I have been a bit confused about expectations, particularly when eating in restaurants. In many of the smaller towns we find there are two choices for dinner: what has been prepared with a bottle of red wine; or what had been prepared with a bottle of white wine. Both choices are great.
When the food arrives I wonder if:
A. We ordered two family meals instead of individual meals
B. We are expected to eat everything,
C. We are expected to share the meal with the folks at the next table
D. We are supposed to eat what we want and take the remainder to the parish church and feed the hungry.
When the the bill comes I’m not sure if I’ve paid enough VAT to subsidize the meal, since obviously someone else is paying for most of it.
Seriously, anyone who thinks there is a food shortage in the world has not been to Portugal.
Today’s walk illustrated for us the richness of Portugal’s agricultural heritage. It took us through agricultural projects of immense proportions. The area north of Santo André to the Rio Cávados is primarily agricultural. The traditional gardens, called masseiras, use a sustainable farming method that uses deep trenches with ground fertilized with sea weed. The trench walls provide protection from the chilled ocean wind and creates a micro environment for optimal growing conditions.
In much of the area these traditional methods are being supplanted. Manure is replacing seaweed for fertilizer, and much of the land is now covered with greenhouses. I do not know the extent of any controversy over these changes, though I hear there is some.
In any event, the amount of produce being shipped from this area is astounding. As we walked through the area we saw trucks carrying giant turnips, lettuce, and beans, and saw huge fields of potatoes, tomatoes, onions and other plants growing.
We saw mostly old people working in the fields, and asked ourselves what will happen if young people don’t return to support the agricultural economy in the future.
The day started well. The wind had abated somewhat overnight, and the dawn broke in a cloudless sky. We took a path a bit more inland today, and found ourselves protected from the light wind. The surface was a combination of boardwalks, forest paths, and cobblestone streets.
My discontent from yesterday had also dissipated overnight and I felt a lightness during the trek that was refreshing. It helped, I suppose, that it was sunny, warm, and we were sheltered from the wind, light though it was.
We passed through quaint villages, including Apulia, with its crucifixes of swords and scales, and Fão, where we stopped in a church yard for lunch. At Fão we crossed an old steel bridge over the Rio Cávado into Esposende, where we are spending the night.
As we passed through villages we saw many images of the scallop shell, an icon associated with the Camino Santiago. Apparently there has been a lot of effort for parishes in the area to restore the legitimacy of the Camino Coastal. Perhaps they have gone a bit overboard, since not all of uses of the scallop shell are completely appropriate.
Esposende is a wonderful city located at the mouth (foz) of the Cávado river at the Atlantic ocean. There is a vibrant city center, and workers throughout the city are preparing for the looming high season.
As we entered the city we were greeted by Antonio, proprietor of the Adega Regionais de Cuco, who guided us to our hostel and invited us to join him at his restaurant, if we chose, for dinner. After touring the city for a bit we decided to take him up on his offer, the result of which was a wonderful meal and the first paragraph of this email.
Tomorrow we will be a bit more challenged in terms of length and terrain. We head inland through forest where we will have some small hills to conquer, and about 15 miles to travel. It should be a pleasant trip, ending in Viana do Castelo, where we expect we should see a castle.
May 11, 2018
One of the last conversations we had before retiring last night was to agree on our route today. The main coastal route that magnets through forestpaths, country roads, small towns and hamlets. The other route is the Senda Litoral, which hugs the coast, mostly on boardwalks, streets and farm roads.
Our preference was to take the Litoral and be by the ocean, but that route is much longer, requiring a lot of backtracking. The guidebook states that it is not an easy route to follow and is poorly waymarked. Since our destination was close to sixteen miles we decided to take the central route.
In the morning, however, we found that the wind speed had fallen to 3mph, the sun was shining, and most of the folks at breakfast were talking excitedly about the Senda Litoral. So we changed our mind last minute and headed out.
I can’t say it was a mistake because we really enjoyed the first couple of miles. Then we found that the latest edition of the guide omits the previous version’s warning that the trail frequently dead end at the beach and requires miles of walking on sand. The guide also does not mention that the boardwalk is under construction and we had to climb over barriers and past the entry forbidden signs to get the few miles we did.
Aside from that the first few miles was a wonderful walk, and with the satellite view on the GPS we made some quick progress. Then we began getting earnings from locals to not proceed that way, and one older woman stopped is an insisted we return to the coastal route, giving us directions in Portuguese how to get there. We finally conceded defeat and headed back to what we had originally planned.
I’m really glad we did for several reasons. First, the forest paths were wonderful, with great views. Plus we were and to see many historic buildings and structures. Second, we began running across a number of the folks who were hell bent on taking the Litoral and also abandoned the plan. Third, the weather changed. It became overcast, cooler, and windier.
The foray to the beach ended up adding the miles to our day, but altogether it was with it.
There were a lot of churches and chapels on they route. We visited a few and were impressed again by how they all are decorated with fresh flowers quite artfully arranged.
The highlight of the day was cruising the spate bridge across the river Neive. You probably know what a spate bridge is, but I had to look it up. It’s basically a bridge that gets flooded during high water. This bridge is wide enough for one person, and a relatively large group of people were needing to cross. When we finally got over it we made our typical lunch sandwich, such included the reddest red pepper in all of creation.
I owe you my take on the food in Portugal. For now I’ll just say that the fruit and vegetables are the freshest, juiciest, and most flavorful that I have eaten in years.
We arrived in Viana do Castelo as it began to rain. After cruising the Rio Lima bridge we stored in a cafe and began searching for a place to stay. We had assumed by the number of hotels in town that it would not be a problem, but all of the recommended places were full. We finally found a nice guest house at a good price and are seeking in.
We decided to take another rest day tomorrow. Both of us have very site feet after today’s walk and do not want to risk an injury.
We are now one day’s walk from the Spanish border, so the end is nearing.
May 12, 2018
A bit of an overstatement, but w actually did rest on our rest day. Not to the point of idleness, mind you, but we did take the time to allow our bodies to heal a bit.
We started the day by sleeping in, followed by a leisurely breakfast. The sun was bright and the sky was clear so we took a leisurely walk to the chapel of Santa Luzia, which stands well above the city in a dominating position. It may be more accurate to say we walked to the funicular that took us to the top of the hill and walked from there. It is a pretty little place with an interior decor as dominating as its place above the city.
I sat in a pew for a bit contemplating the altar. The ceiling is painted with sixteen trumpeting angels, with the all powerful God issuing forth from above. Below is the statue of Christ providing blessings with the assistance of a couple well placed angelic beings. Below that is the altar, facing the congregation as it has since Vatican II.
I remember when Vatican II changes were announced by the church, hire the traditionalist complained and others welcomed the liberalization. It makes sense, of course, to stop using Latin in the mass, but it wasn’t until today that I saw the implication of turning the altar to face the assembly. Instead of the priest leading the congregation in the sacrament of communion, the priest now stands as the spokesman for God. The liberalization of the church in effect reaffirmed the priest’s role as the representative of God on Earth. I recognize that the church has taken that position since the reign of Constantius so that’s no big revelation, but still. . .
We then took a quiet stroll through the city, marveling at the number of fifteenth and sixteenth century buildings. We saw no castles in Viana do Costelo, though from the name of the city I certainly expected one. Didn’t see any on the map, either.
Our hostess had recommended a tavern near the water for lunch, and we followed her advice. It was a great experience, particularly when a local drum corp showed up and serenaded is with their soothing rhythms. Once again we ate too much and had just enough wine.
Afterwards we stopped in a museum with an excellent exhibit on the regional costumes. It was interesting to see how much information was disagreed in these ornate outfits: social status, economic position, marital status, occupational specialties, etc. The amount of labor it takes to create these costumes is amazing.
For the last few days I’ve been noticing how prominent are icons of Mary in the cathedrals, chapels, and churches. It seems that the father, son, and holy spirit seen to be almost spring characters. Through the years Mary has been important to catholic worshippers, but I haven’t noticed the prevalence of the many images. I did an internet search to see if there is any special significant in Portugal, but all I could find was that Madonna bought a house in Sintra in 2017.
Today I was in one of the many ancient churches and was struck by the juxtaposition of a crucifix and state of Mary. The bloody image of the nailed up Christ stood on the background, signifying to me the ideal perfect man, betrayed, beaten, tortured and murdered, and in the foreground Mary stands, representing the mother goddess who gave birth to the world, looking serenely upon the pews, eyes filled with live and compassion.
“Yes”, I heard her saying. “You too will feel the pain of creation. You too well be betrayed, tortured, treated unjustly, suffer the death of those you love and finally suffer death itself. Do not despair. I have given birth to the world and I have seen it die. Everything which to me has been born will someday no longer be. Nor shall I.”
How small my complains seemed at that moment, and how fortunate I have been to choose my suffering myself.
May 13, 2018
We will be crossing the border into Spain at Valença, which is on the Rio Minho roughly twenty miles from the Atlantic coast. The crossing from Valença to Tui, Spain, is about thirty five miles from Viana do Costelo, where we spent the night. We’ve decided to take three days to get there to allow a more leisurely pace.
We checked the guidebook carefully and, based on the author’s implication that the Litoral route is clearly marked and that the weather forecast showed sunny skies and low winds, we planned our first day to be on that route until Vila Praia de Âncora, five miles from the mouth of the Minho.
We headed out on streets wet from the morning rain under partly cloudy skies. It was easy enough to find the start of the trail, and sure enough, the trail was clear enough, for the most part. The less part, however lead to a couple of interesting dilemmas.
At one point the way markings seemed to point in two directions. Paula was convinced we should go left, and I thought we should go right. For some reason we both decided to be stubborn at that time, and with no further planning she headed left and I headed right. After a few minutes I realized that the route I was on was taking me up into town and away from the ocean and figured Paula was on the right path.
I figured that since I wasn’t going the right way, Paula probably was, and if that was the case she would probably stay on that path assuming I’d catch up. So I found a somewhat overgrown trail heading down towards the beach, and sure enough it took me to the Litoral route.
Little did I know that she also determined she was on the wrong path and turned around to catch up with me.
Knowing we hadn’t made any contingency plan, I assumed she would turn on her cell phone and offer of us would call the other. I tried to call her phone and then remembered her phone was forwarded to our European phone that I was using. I didn’t remember that I had put my phone on mute after receiving a butt dialed call at 3 am a couple days ago. Long story shortened a bit, we had a couple miles of solitary travel on separate paths, and it worked out in the end. There’s a couple lessons on that experience.
The day was sunny, cloudy, calm, windy, hot and cold. And it rained. But overall it was good to be outdoors walking on feet that did not hurt and smelling the fresh ocean air.
For the last few days we have come across a number of cylindrical shaped buildings along the coast that appear to have some utility that is unknown to us. I’ve attached some photos, so any input would be appreciated. They look similar to old windmills, but don’t appear to have ever had blades.
I thought about mothers again today, primarily because it is mother’s day in the US. My mother has been gone for 35 years as of ten days from now. I remembered a conversation with a friend on the eve of one of my birthdays over 40 years ago. She asked what time I was born and then pointed out that it was also the anniversary of my mother’s labor. I had never thought of it before but have thought ever since that we honor the wrong person on birthdays. The gifts and cake should go to our mothers. Our birthdays should always be mother’s day.
May 14, 2018
Today’s journey took us from Villa Praia de Ancora on the Atlantic coast, through the city of Caminha to Vila Nova de Cerdeira on the Minho river. It was a relatively long walk, but with no elevation change.
The day started cold and misty, with 15 mph wind from the north. It was actually very pleasant, and we made good progress. Just outside of Caminha we caught our first glimpse of Spain.
Most of the day was off road, on paved bicycle/pedestrian trails near the coast and the river. Even in the morning mist the colors of the flora was quite amazing, and I frequently was surprised by the strong aroma of the earth.
It warmed slowly and the clouds began lifting in the late morning. We found ourselves expressing frustration that it was bright and sunny in Spain, but still overcast in Portugal. By three o’clock the sun was shining and we became thankful for the northern wind.
We arrived at our hotel with enough spare energy to walk around the city for a while.
Tomorrow we will arrive in Valença, and will probably cross the river to Tui, Spain. Or we may stop in Valença and downs the next day touring both cities.
May 15, 2018
We arrived this afternoon in Valença and decided to spend one last night in Portugal before crossing the river into Spain.
Today was the first really sunny day since we were in Porto and it was really nice. There was a slight wind from the north that kept is cool while in the sun. The route was a pedestrian/bicycle path that took us almost the entire way to Valença, keeping close to the river.
It is a beautiful river valley, the path going past wheat fields and through dense forest. It was mostly flat until the last three kilometers took is up about 100 meters into the city.
Valença is a very old city, and was a Roman outpost during the first century. The current fortress was built in the 13th century and reinforced in the 17th and 18th century. Some of the existing structures were started in the 4th century.
We arrived with enough daylight remaining to wander the streets, enter the major monuments, and ramble about the ramparts and bulwarks to view the surrounding area.
We plan to head out relatively early tomorrow, cross the river into Spain, bypass Tui, and make tracks north. We are six days from Santiago.
Photos include a relocated Roman mile post from the period of Caesar Claudius, a Roman bridge, the fortressed city of Valença, a Canon aimed at Tui, and Paula threatening to jump.
May 17, 2018
The Camino is getting crowded. When we started from Lisbon we meet a few people who were starting the Camino Portuguese, and frequently encountered the same folks for a few days as we progressed on our journey. Every day we would me one or two peregrinos.
We expected the trail to be a bit more crowded when we arrived in Porto. In 2017 about 2700 pilgrims arrived in Santiago having started the Camino in Lisbon, and about 16,000 started in Porto.
What we did not realize is that 6800 more joined in Valença, and another 16,000 started in Tui.
That became clear to us when we arrived in Tui. We bypassed the main part of Tui and entered the trail at the end of the city. Immediately we were on the midst of over 30 pilgrims, most of them carrying day packs, since they were in a tour group and their luggage is transported ahead, and ask they need to do is walk. They were in high spirits as they swung their metal tipped hiking poles against the rock street, talking in loud voices.
The claclity clackity clack and the yakkity yakkity yak was a stark contrast to the Camino we had enjoyed up until then. It has taken some adjustment.
it has calmed down somewhat since then. We have prolonged periods where we can walk through the beautiful mountains and really appreciate the experience. Yesterday we spent some time in a park next to the river listening to birds sing. It was actually the first time in many years that my tinnitus had abated you the point where I could actually hear birds.
It has been sunny and warm for the last two days. Although it has been hot at times, the cool breeze and frequent forest shade has been great.
Yesterday we spent the night in O Porriño. It is a nice city with lots of cafes and restaurants, and a pedestrian mall that goes for many blocks. It was pretty lively.
Tonight we are in Rodendela, a not so quiet town. One reason it is not so quiet is that the approach to the Vigo airport is over the city. Vigo, I have been surprised to learn, is a travel hub for Galicia, with many low cost carriers and non stop fights throughout Europe. It has us thinking of possibilities after we finish our walk.
The other reason it is a not so quiet city is that they are in the midst of a week long festival of puppetry. The town is filled with families enjoying the festivities in many locations in the city, and the band just recently stopped playing in the street near our albergue.
We are staying in an albergue tonight because there was nowhere else to stay. The puppet festival draws tens of thousands of people into the city and the hotels are booked.
We only walked ten miles today to get here. We celebrated the short day by walking three miles to the beach so Paula could have her water fix.
The main thing I have noticed in the Spanish countryside that is different from Portugal is the absence of abandoned and collapsing buildings.
We are on track for a Monday arrival in Santiago.
May 20, 2018
We stopped for the night in a hamlet north of Padrón, the last city before reaching Santiago. Padrón is an important spot in the legend of Saint James, supposedly the site where he came on ground on his mission back in the haze of the past. The stone where his boat was secured is under the altar of a church erected on the spot.
Last night we were in Caldas de Reis, “hot springs of the kings.” We had a very comfortable room with a good bit of the cathedral across the street. Unfortunately the hot spring in our hotel was closed.
Many years ago Paula and I were on a train between Granada and Barcelona when a very charming man from New York introduced himself to us. He was an entrepreneur, making his way around Europe trying to sell a product/concept. He had no traveling skills, no sense of direction, no languages, and was very confused. He actually had one skill, which was to find people who could help him. We travelled together and he tagged along to the hotel we found near the cathedral. In the morning he had left a package for us at reception. It contained a book he had finished reading and a three word note: “But the bells!”
This morning the first words I had for Paula, who had slept peacefully and soundly through the night, was “but the bells!”
I did sleep of and on during the night, fitfully as I have done since we arrived in Spain. The hills of Galicia have hard on my legs. My knees ached, my hips hurt, my ankles and feet were sore. The pain would wake me up and keep me awake for prolonged periods. This morning I awoke pain free. It was as though my body has given up its last resistance to the demands I have been making on it. Today we put in fourteen miles, and I could have gone further. The strength had returned to my legs and I could make a brisk pace all day. My pack seemed almost weightless for the first five miles.
Our trail has been mostly on country roads and paths through gorgeous river valleys with thick forest. The days have been sunny with a light wind from the north helping to ease the heat.
The icons in the many churches have a different tone in Spain. The images of Mary, a beacon of love and compassion gives way to a Mary sad and crushed by grief. The passion of Christ is in full display. “Pick up your damned cross and carry it,” he is saying. “The alternative is Hell.”
Thursday night I awoke at 2am and laid awake for an hour before donning my ear phones and turning on a podcast. I have found over the years that the sound of voices sometimes helps with my insomnia.
The podcast was a discussion between Russel Brand and Jordan Peterson on the nature of freedom and tyranny. It was not about political theory about freedom and tyranny ontological states of the individual. Brand is an addict in recovery, and Peterson is a clinical psychologist and lecturer on personal development. The discussion focused on identifying and resolving addictions and habits that prevent personal fulfillment.
For Brand it appears to be a matter of liberation of the spirit. Peterson, a Jungian psychologist, draws heavily on a archetypes and allegories to identify behaviors and mental states that inhibit personal development. At one point as Brand listed a series of behavioral factors that interfered with his recovery Peterson pointed out that he had listed the “seven deadly sins.” The conversation gelled around that concept for a while, using the word “sin” not as a moral judgement but in the sense of an old archery term meaning “to miss the mark.”
For the next three days as I walked I pondered on the “deadly sins” as descriptors of some dysfunctional behaviors that have recurred in my life. It took me a while to remember the entire list and even googled the term. It seemed to me that the one word name for each was insufficient to carried the full meaning. As I examined my past, particularly the turning points, I could recognize how these practices and habits influenced my life choices. I could understand how they have impacted my health: physical, mental, social, economic, spiritual.
Greed does not necessarily mean the desire to accumulate more material good, but could also mean simply not letting go of what we already have. It could mean holding on to something for security that actually hills is back: money, a job, a relationship. It could mean a toxic lack of generosity.
Sloth could be more than laziness. It can include avoidance behaviors and procrastination.
Gluttony is more than overeating, over drinking, or excessive use of estupificantes. It can be any form of intemperance, such as to much television and entertainment.
The others can also be expanded: envy, lust, wrath, and pride.
As I looked through my life I could see that of all the seven, that biggest one is pride. Arrogance and pride keeps me from seeing the extent to which the other drive my life, allowing the animal part of my being to have an inordinate influence.
Tomorrow we will arrive in Santiago. As we near the end I find myself on the Way.
Some random photos