Buen Camino by Maria Barros

25 Sep, 2020
Like many of you, I have wanted to walk the “Camino” for some time. In fact, I had everything booked and ready to go last May, but then Covid happened and our trip was postponed to next year. During a recent outing of the Sintra Walks Marsha Turner and Joanne Hokes, both IWP walking leads, […]

Like many of you, I have wanted to walk the “Camino” for some time. In fact, I had everything booked and ready to go last May, but then Covid happened and our trip was postponed to next year. During a recent outing of the Sintra Walks Marsha Turner and Joanne Hokes, both IWP walking leads, started talking about the possibility of taking on a small part of the “Portuguese Coastal Walk”.

[The Camino of Santiago, for those of you who do not know, is a mystical pilgrimage that started over 1000 years ago. It dates to the 8th Century when the remains of St James the Apostle were first discovered in Northern Spain. It is believed that St James preached the Gospel in present day Galicia and on return to Jerusalem he was beheaded by King Herod in 44AD. His followers are said to have transported his remains to Northern Galicia where they lay undiscovered until 813. The discovery of his remains in the 9th Century led to the creation of a religious shrine which marks the beginning of Santiago de Compostela and the Camino de Santiago.]

I got excited, asked to join them, and we started booking our trip. Marsha is a seasoned walker of the Camino and an extremely detailed planner so nothing escaped her; the bus, trains, ferry, hotels… everything was booked even before we left the comforts of home and that was such a blessing.

Next, it was time to pack the bag which had to be carried for the duration of the walk. As it was my first time, it took me several attempts. The experts tell you your bag should not weigh more than 10% of your body weight, so in the end I carried only a change of clothes, a few toiletries and a rain-proof jacket.  That’s it! A big lesson of this trip was learning what really matters…

And then we were off! We first got on the special express bus from Cascais to Porto, which is incredibly inexpensive (22 Euros return), super comfortable, and equipped with toilet and wi-fi. In Porto, we had a quick dinner while on our way to another bus station where we got on another bus to Esposende. It’s worth noting, perhaps, that during all the trips in public transportation, everyone wore a mask for the entire trip and kept reasonable distances from the other travelers.

After checking into a modest 1-star hotel (with mosquitoes) at the edge of Esposende, we looked for a place to celebrate our arrival. It was Sunday and there wasn’t much open so we settled for a simple café by the side of the road where we sipped some red wine and listened to the local gossip.

The following day, we got on a taxi which took us to the Albergue de Peregrinos de Marinhas, where we started our walk to Viana do Castelo. We were all excited and delighted that the morning air was fresh and there was no sign of rain, contrary to what had been in the forecast. We soon left the coast behind and the Camino took us through villages and some delightful sections of woodland and rivers. We stopped for a “café con leche” in one of the small villages and met up with other pilgrims. Different nationalities, different timing, different paces and yet all “on the way.”

When you walk or bike the Camino you do not need directions, a compass, special apps, or any gadgetry that might keep you amused and distracted from what really matters. During the whole way, yellow arrows show you where you must turn so you don’t have to think – you just put one foot in front of the other and let go…

When you walk or bike the Camino you do not need directions, a compass, special apps, or any gadgetry that might keep you amused and distracted from what really matters. During the whole way, yellow arrows show you where you must turn so you don’t have to think – you just put one foot in front of the other and let go…

Our arrival to Viana do Castelo was triumphant! We walked over the Eiffel bridge, which offers magnificent views over the Lima estuary and the distant mountains. We continued on to our hotel via the cobblestoned streets and many architectural delights this city has to offer. After Cascais, Viana do Castelo is possibly my favorite city in Portugal, so far! Here, we stayed in a wonderful pension (Pensao O Laranjeira **), had a delightful dinner and a well-deserved rest. 

The following morning, I visited the Monte de Santa Luzia which has the best views of the entire city but is also a good place to meditate, pray and enjoy the peace in the early morning, as was the case while I was there.

Back at the hotel, the group had breakfast and headed to the train station (which was only 5 minutes away), got on a train to Caminha where we walked to a ferry (a 15 minute walk) that crosses to La Guarda, in Spain. Did I mention to you the detailed, precise and careful planning that went into this trip??? Well, we never waited any more than a few minutes for any transportation, we had all the tickets pre-paid and ready, which minimized all possibilities of distress and delays – so THANK YOU MARSHA!

La Guarda was delightful and the first time we tasted “tortilla,” but not the last! We stopped for a spot of lunch and then got on the Camino, which took us through rugged coastal paths, forest tracks and tarmac roads to reach the small village of Oia, 14 km away. This part of the walk is beautiful and very peaceful, but we were all feeling the fatigue of the walk of the previous day and time went by slowly. We were awfully glad to arrive to Oia, where we got a few supplies from the local supermarket and ended up eating in our rooms, to maximize relaxing and sleeping time.

Day 3 was magic. Perhaps our bodies were adapting, perhaps our group prefers walking in the mornings (we never started before 10:00) but the pace was easy on this 18km stretch of the Camino. We walked across fields and among scattered houses at the foot of cliffs nearing the Lighthouse of Cabo Silleiro.

Then we cut across the mountains of pines and eucalypts. A final descent brought us into the medieval center of Baiona. Interestingly, Baiona was the first port in Europe to receive the news of the discovery of America and a replica of “La Pinta” is a museum for visitors in the marina.

And just like that, we were done! On the following day, we started our long way home; first with a taxi to Vigo, then a bus to Valenca (in Portugal), then a walk over the bridge to Tui (back in Spain again) and then back to Valenca, where we got on a train to Porto, had dinner in the rain (the first rain of the whole trip!) and boarded our luxurious direct bus ride back to Cascais. 

We arrived that evening, tired and filled with the images of our walks, the cities we explored and with a great sense of achievement.  I had walked over 45 miles (70km) in the company of two other great walkers. Am I a pilgrim now? I don’t think so, because in order to receive your “certificate” you need to have walked over 100 km and into Santiago de Compostela. 

But I have learnt a lot, about the Camino, about packing, and about who I am and why I like walking. I certainly got the bug and am looking forward to another walk, even if only a part of the “way”. If you have this in your bucket list, do not hold back. Plan (carefully!) and off you go, and “Buen Camino!”

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