On Sept. 14 I started out on my second Camino pilgrimage, the Camino Portugues.
After an overnight train from Madrid I finally arrived in Porto, the capital of the north and Portugal’s second city. I had hiked in the Swiss and French Alps for two weeks prior to starting my Camino journey and accumulated a few things while in Madrid.
It was important to dispense with any extra weight in my pack that I could do without. I knew I would be adding more weight by carrying necessities like fruit, water and sandwiches required to survive the 15 to 20 miles a day of hiking required to reach Santiago by Sept. 26, the day that marks the seventh year since my mother’s untimely death.
My mother was an inspiration to my family and taken too soon and so suddenly in a distracted driving accident caused by a teenager.
I left Porto to start my Camino after having a hearty breakfast. I left the noise and gritty city behind and began walking along the Rio Douro out of Porto and up along the coast. It was a foggy day with a good breeze coming off the ocean. I felt good about the day because these conditions will allow me to complete even more miles for the day.
The first days along the coast I passed the old lighthouse, Carol da Boa Nova, built to alleviate the shipwrecks along this part of the coast known as the Black Coast, where there are many rocks.
In the next days I passed small fishing villages with traditional stone fisherman’s houses. I began walking on an extensive network of wooden boardwalks that went on for some miles. This was a great relief from the hard pavement and cobblestones in many of the cities and villages.
I also passed through shipyards and wonderful little villages with their medieval quarter built around the harbor. There were many inspiring and beautiful views of the villages and the vast coast.
After only a few days in Portugal I was so taken with the easygoing and friendly Portuguese. I was always greeted with warmth and treated like a family member. I loved the azulejo-tiled houses along the coast and the ever changing weather. I have already met many people from all over and have made friends, shared dinners and enjoyed many great conversations.
As with my first Camino, I have gained new lifelong friends. You always meet people on the Camino journey who will help you and support you in all ways.
The past four days on the Camino Portugues were extremely hot, dry and dusty which made the walk that much harder. It was crucial to start early as there are a thousand foot hills or small mountains in front of you every day. It is crucial to carry more water and fruit which also makes your pack heavier and thus much harder on the back, knees and feet.
Thankfully, there are yellow arrows marked on all branches of the Camino walk to help point you in the right direction along the hike. These arrows are comforting and encouraging as they point the way to Santiago de Compostela, the final destination on the Camino pilgrimage.
The arrows appear on walls, trees, roadside milestones, footpaths and even on the formal sign posts. The direction arrows have been put in place and are repainted by pilgrim support organizations. The original signs have a yellow scallop shell on a blue background that is on a three inch high cairn. The Camino Portugués is well defined and clearly marked. It generally follows along secondary and minor roads with relaxing sections along various farm tracks and through forests.
Another interesting stop was the city of Tui which is in the south of the Pontevedra province and is separated from Portugal by the river Mino. The Portuguese town of Valenca sits on a hill just across the river.
Tui is a well-preserved medieval town. At the center of the old town is the Cathedral de Santa Maria XII dating from 1120. It is the city’s most important stop due to its importance as a crossroads. Walking around you can see how worn the rock is after many century’s of use and weather. Tui has always been an important stage along the way to Santiago de Compostela.
I read that the Portuguese route, which heads north following the Atlantic coast of Portugal and Spain, was used by Queen Isabel of Portugal (1271-1336) to make at least one pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Queen Isabel was canonized in 1626 and this is celebrated on her feast day.
At Vila do Conde I started walking east to the interior of Portugal and now walked on more woodland trails. I really enjoyed meeting pilgrims from all over the world of all ages. Ages ranged from young college students to many people 50 to 80 years old who have read about the Caminos and wanted to walk and for various reasons do a pilgrimage to Santiago.
The Camino Portugues brought back good memories about my first Camino walking across northern Spain. Whenever pilgrims part ways or pass on the trail they often say Buen Camino which means ‘good walk’ or ‘have a good walk.’
However, I later heard a singer say she believes it really means ‘I wish you a wonderful life.’ Whatever the meaning, I continue to find this custom very uplifting on the long journey ahead.
John Larimer is from Camden Point and is 59 years old. This is his second Camino, completing the first the Camino Frances September 26, 2015. He will walk the Camino Portuguese from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain writing each week.