I left the lovely albergue at 6 a.m. in the company of Irena from Amsterdam. More about Irena in a minute. This albergue was incredibly spotless and peaceful. One major difference between the Camino Portuguese and the Camino Frances, is that since there are fewer pilgrims, there is no rush for beds at albergues every night, diminishing some of the stress that can occur towards the end of a long day’s journey. It was a municipal albergue, run by the local confraterinity of St. James, and Ricardo, our hospitolaro couldn’t have been sweeter. Laundry was done, with ease, showers were plentiful with hot water and the company was just grand. It was nice to see people and start talking to folks from different places – Ireland, Switzerland, France, the Czech Republic, South Africa, England, California and The Netherlands.
Irena told me on our walk this morning that she had just finished the Camino Frances (walking from St. Jean to Santiago) and she took a train down to Porto to begin the Camino Portuguese. And people think I’m a little nuts for doing two Caminos in one year! When I asked her motivation, she told me that she had basically quit life recently. I love it! What a concept to unpack and mull! Quit her job, her boyfriend and needed a break. In addition to the boyfriend, she was working about 60-70 hours a week as a restaurant manager in Amsterdam and as a skipper on a cruise boat through the famous canals of Amsterdam. I wanted to just lie down on the ground and take a nap after listening to all that she was juggling. So after sleeping for a few weeks she decided to walk the Camino – always a good solution to life’s little and big problems…or even when you don’t have problems as far as I am concerned. She is a very sweet girl – when I say “girl” she’s in her 30’s…so I can say it. We had a lovely conversation about family and work and many things, including religion. Always the working holiday for me! But it was fun, because even though she has been walking the Camino for weeks now, she didn’t know the history of the pilgrimage, so I got to put my professor cap on (unfortunately I left my very cool cap from Fordham that I just recently acquired, at home) and we talked about the history of this particular pilgrimage as well as other pilgrimages. It was a great conversation and helped to make the walk more enjoyable.
Today’s walk, despite being part of what is known as the coastal route was entirely inland. A not unrelated note, it was indeed longer than 17 miles, according to my phone it was 23.6. While I am sure that John Brierley, the author of my guidebook is a lovely gentleman, I think his calculations are really off. Or, perhaps, since my steps are shorter than others, my GPS clocks more mileage. Just ask Mike Ward about our walk around Rome this past Easter. It was also the first day where we had some hills to climb. I won’t go into how I HATE these damn hills. I know I moaned and complained about it enough in posts from previous years. HATE THEM SO MUCH!!!!! However, it was an overcast day, so at least the sun wasn’t beating down on us as we walked through the little villages, towns and eucalyptus forests. As much as the eucalyptus is an invasive plant and drains the water from these parts of Portugal and Spain, I love them because they always remind me of my grandfather. So that always makes for a lovely time to thin about him and remember him.
It seems to be festa season in many of the towns as when you pass through there are lights and signs on all the street lamps. There are kiddie rides set up, food stalls, live music and all the churches are open, filled to the brim with flowers. The statues in the churches are on special stands, wearing special costumes and adorned with more flowers, so they can be carried around the town. Very early this morning one of the villages we walked through had a little band marching around and ringing doorbells to remind people of the festa. I though 7:30 a.m was a wee bit early to be doing this, especially on a Saturday, but no one seemed disturbed. All the cemeteries were being tended to by the towns people, old flowers weeded out and new flowers being put on the gravestones. The nex village we walked through was blaring a recording of traditional Portuguese songs from the bell tower of the church. Seemed a little like what life must have been like in the USSR or Communist China with public loudspeakers blaring propoganda at all hours of the day, but again, no one seemed to be bothered in the least bit.
We bumped into Monika from San Diego, who decided to walk from Porto as well. She has some time before she returns to Phuket, Thailand where she is teaching English. People in this world do the most interesting things.
Across a rather large and long bridge we eventually made it to our destination for the day, Viana do Castelo. I walked the narrow pedestrian part looking straight ahead and never down. It made me a bit nervous. However it became fun when a few Vespas drove by high fiving us!
Because the albergue did not open until 3 p.m. we plopped ourselves in the cafe next door to the albergue only to find the five Irish ladies enjoying coffee, vino and Super Bock, the Portuguese beer, as well as sandwiches. It was great to see all of them. We’re becoming fast friends and they are such a lively and fun bunch.
The albergue we’re staying in tonight is a Carmelite monastery. VERY simple, but very clean. Again, there is no run on beds. There are a total of 15 of us here. The nice priest gave us all sheets, towel, and pillows and told us to leave our keys in the box when we left in the morning.
Tomorrow may very well be my last day of walking in Portugal. My plan is to walk along the seaside (I like this inland route, but I love the seashore more) up to Caminha. From there you can either take the ferry or hire a fishing boat (I think that sounds like fun) to cross into Spain. I may just walk a little farther to try and gain some kilometers in order to arrive in Santiago on the 7th as was my original plan before I was happily side tracked in Porto.
No major insights for today. A good day of walking and talking to people – making new friends and learning more about those I’ve met already. Not sure who’s walking which route tomorrow, so I could very well be on my own again, but that’s just fine. It’s been nice to have some time alone as well as time with others. This Camino is reminding me of the importance to find and enjoy that balance. I do spend a good bit of time alone, but it’s often spent at home working, writing, reading, paying bills, etc. The stuff of life, not really contemplative time. I get that when I’m puttering in my garden at home, but the siren song of obligations and commitments often brings me back inside or out into NYC to do what needs to be done. The Camino is different. My biggest concern is getting up the hill (at least that was today’s concern), taking a shower and washing off the grime and dirt of the day, and truth be told, that is not always 100% successful. Doing my little pile of laundry – today it was by hand in a scrub basin – hanging it to dry and then repacking for tomorrow’s walk. Life is pretty darn simple. Of course I am checking email but trying not to do it as much as I do at home. And I am still teaching an online class, but since I’m only setting aside an allotted period of time in the late afternoon/evening to do this work, it feels really liberating and good. I need to learn how to detach from the web with greater ease at home. I need to bring more of the Camino balance into my daily life at home! Life doesn’t have to be as complicated as I make it.
So that’s it for today. Nothing that exciting to write about, but I’m having a wonderful time. My feet are holding up with no blisters (fingers crossed), my legs feel fine (fingers crossed again) and I’ve been able to schlepp my backpack with no problem. It is a bit heavier that when I left because I’ve been carrying about two liters water with me a day. Motivation to stay hydrated as well as diminish the weight each day!
So perhaps Spain tomorrow or the next day…we’ll see!