The Camino is a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela which started in the 10th Century and is now walked by pilgrims for all sorts of reasons, religious, spiritual, cultural or just for fitness. The routes to Santiago start from various places, including among others Le Puy, Geneva and Lisbon. We started our Camino in Porto. We are walking up the coast of Portugal – sometimes on boardwalks stretching out all along the beach and at other times inland through villages and pine forests – before moving into Spain.
This is a real adventure for us as we are both doing things which we somehow managed to avoid as students, like staying in youth hostels and trekking long distances day after day with heavy backpacks. Maybe we had more sense back then?!
This Camino is meant to be the easiest of all the different routes as a lot of the terrain is quite flat, yet is still proving to be a long and painful one for us given our condition. Between us, we have four blisters, one broken rib, one dodgy hip and achilles tendonitis in two feet. Walking 20km each day every day feels untenable but, with 100km behind us and just 200km to go, we will battle on. We have decided to manage the pain by sending on our 10k backpacks onto the next hostel by courier and taking a day here and there of complete rest.
The pain is somewhat relieved by the beauty and calm all around us. Walking by the seashore all day long on boardwalks, we hear the waves roll in like a kind of meditational music; we look in amazement at all the spring flowers with their beautuful shapes and colours growing out of the sand; and we breathe in the fresh sea air. The boardwalks have clearly been a great way to protect the dunes and increase bio diversity.
The trail sometimes veers away from the beach into forests and villages. On one of the forest paths there had been a fire among lots of eucalyptus trees. It was possibly a controlled fire to facilitate regeneration, but the smoke and flames made this segment in the mist and silence of the morning a bit eerie. On the same day, we also came across a whole village completely deserted and seemimgly abandoned, leaving behind boarded up homes which looked like they had been built in the 17th Century. If we only had the cash, we would move there and restore the whole village to its former glory.
The warmth and friendliness of everyone is extraordinary. The locals we pass by on the boardwalks, beaches, farms and villages all wish us a ‘Bom Dia’ which feels almost like a blessing and many wish us a ‘Bom Camino’. Their generosity is also amazing. When we go to a market to buy fruit, mostly home grown oranges and strawberries and cherries, which are in season at the moment, the market traders have been giving us other fruit like apricots and peaches for free on top of what we buy.
Meeting other pilgrims or peregrinos has been really interesting. We have met fellow travellers, young and old, from all over the world and from all walks of life, and we share our life stories. After walking with them for just for a couple of hours, we feel they could become friends for life. Yet we quickly part ways mainly because many pilgrims are on tight schedules to arrive in Santiago for their flight back home and must walk faster than us. Besides lacking the ability to walk as fast, we in fact prefer to take in the beauty of the landscape slowly, visit the beautiful churches and read the plaques describing their history. We also dream of owning one of the many astonishingly beautiful quintas which we pass by or buying one of the derelict and abandoned seaside villas and renovating it like Diane Lane did in Under the Tuscan Sun.
Sleeping in dormitories full of bunk beds and sharing showers with a group of strangers, with the resulting enforced intimacy, has taken some getting used to! On our first night, we were asked if we wanted to sleep in a double bed. We had assumed we were being given special treatment as an old married couple but we were led into a dorm which had one double bed among 20 other single bunk beds. We quickly told the hostel owner that there was no way we were sleeping together in a room full of strangers, so we switched to single beds. The worst part has been our fellow pilgrims’ snoring but we have been so shattered from the day’s walk that we have still slept soundly every night. We have, however, so far taken one full day’s rest, checking in to a spa hotel to mend our weary legs and having a bathroom just to ourselves. The best part of the hostels has been the camaraderie felt between everyone as we are all on the same mission to reach Santiago.
We have been sticking mostly to the traditional “pilgrim menu” offered by some restaurants when we arrive at our hostel. The food, like everywhere in Portugal, has been excellent but the pilgrim menu of hake, rice and salad with a giant jug of (remarkably decent) white wine has hardly varied, so we have been seeking out other options, although our dietary restrictions have so far made that search lacking in much success.
“A Day in the Life” as a Peregrino
We wake at 6am and quickly get on our way so that we do not walk in the mid day heat (although we have been lucky in having weather reaching just the mid-20s) and also so that we can find a bed at the hostel in the next town before they are all taken by others.
We like to walk solidly albeit at a slow pace for two hours without a break so that we can get 5-10k (depending on any ascents and descents encountered) under our belts. We then find a beautiful spot on a deserted beach or by a river to enjoy some much needed energy like trail mix, fruit and chocolate.
Thereafter, whenever we have the opportunity, normally when we walk through a village, we stop at its cafe for drinks and cakes and of course for its facilities, which are sorely lacking on the entire trail.
A few more hours and we really start to tire, but we manage to drag ourselves to a hostel normally by 3pm. Once we have secured a bed for the night, it is time to shower and wash our clothes – we brought just one change of clothes in order to limit the weight of our backpacks.
Between 4 and 6pm we walk around the area of the hostel to wind down and also buy provisions for the road in the morning. Our favourite afternoon so far has been having a whole beach in Apulia all to ourselves. Heaven. We felt like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity.
This is followed by an early dinner and lots of laughs with our fellow travellers. Lights out normally by 10pm as everyone is exhausted from the long walk.
Rules of Camino
Borrowing from Fight Club, the first rule of Camino is you do not talk about Camino. At least you should not ask other pilgrims why they are walking as everyone’s journey is a personal one. The second rule of Camino is you do not talk about Camino. Third rule of Camino: someone yells “Stop”, the Camino is over. Maybe not, but after telling others of our ailments, they have kindly given us all sorts of natural remedies to allow us to continue. Fourth rule which we would like to introduce: only two guys maximum walk the Camino together. We have found that a group of four or more tend not to interact with others outside of their group.
We will be heading into Spain shortly and in fact plan to do so by canoeing along the river from Caminha. We will update this blog when we finish the trek by mid June.