The Portuguese Camino 2014

Walking the Camino

Days: 1   2   3   4   5   6    7   8   9   10   11   12 Slideshows:    Portugal   Spain

We left on 6th May, and took twelve days to cover the 243.5 kilometres I estimated our journey to cover. We navigated using yellow arrows, rather than bothering to look at guide books, but we did have a small description of the route printed from the internet, and this gave us a fair idea of where we were headed each day. We were quite flexible about the walking - for example, we expected to take three days to get to Barcelos, but, in fact, only took two rather longer days. Similarly, we hadn't planned to stay at Casa Fernanda, but fortunately Antonio the barman talked us into it.

I have provided daily route maps - if you click on the small maps they will expand to show more detail. There are two slideshows: one from Portugal, covering the first six days (at the end of day 6) and the other (at the end of the page) showing pictures from Spain, the last six days of the walk.

Day 1 - Porto to Vairão ~27KM 6.75 hours

We intended to get away early, but slept in until 6am and didn't get away until 6:45. Most of the walk was through the suburbs, on sealed roads with narrow or non-existent footpaths. It was very easy to follow the yellow arrows, and very flat, a bit of a surprise in what is really a very hilly city.

We only saw one other pilgrim - a man walking along very determinedly, using sticks. We were walking quite strongly, heading towards Vila do Pinheiro for the night, a distance of about 18 kilometres. Indeed, we were walking so well that we were 1.7km past Vila do Pinheiro before we discovered that we had overshot the mark. We walked on towards Vilarinho, but then saw a sign pointing off to an albergue on a side path to the right. We were a bit confused about what accommodation would be available, and decided to try for that albergue for the night, ending up in the tiny village of Vairão. The sign on the albergue directed us to one of the nearby houses, where we found a care-taker family who book us in and opened up the Mosteiro de Vairão for us.

The albergue had three floors of dormitories, two kitchens and two sitting rooms. It was an old monastery, with a fantastic church and cemetery attached; we were somewhat off the main path, but it was well worth it. I went for an afternoon walk, got a little bit lost, but I walked past a beautiful private orchid garden, where the owner came out to chat when she saw me admiring her blooms. There was a café nearby for afternoon coffee, and we went down to the main road to eat in the evening, an excellent meal. There were only four pilgrims in the albergue that; Helen and me on the first floor, and two men up on the third floor, one of them being the man we had seen earlier in the day as we left Porto

Day 2 - Vairão to Barcelos ~27KM 8.5 hours

This part of Portugal has a distinctive smell - it smells of liquid shit and silage! We walked along lots of little rural roads and tracks, some of the more developed places a bit dangerous, with no shoulder to walk on, and some trails very pretty. All along the way there were farmers cutting silage and spreading liquid manure on the fields, and we were dodging agricultural equipment as we walked.

It felt like a very long day - too long, really. We passed only one other pilgrim and were passed by another one on a bike, otherwise we seemed to have the Camino to ourselves. Approaching Barcelos we ended the day's walk with a bar crawl, including Antonio's Bar, where Antonio gave us shells, a map, and the obligatory stamps. He also insisted that we should break up the 33.5km Barcelos-Ponte de Lima walk by staying at Casa Fernanda - an excellent bit of advice! We were discovering the irony of this walk: all the churches (where you might expect to get stamps) are locked, but all the bars are open and are happy to stamp your book.

We arrived in Barcelos a little bit tired and stopped at the first (closest) hostel, just before the bridge, next to the fire station. After recovering we went off to eat at the home of the Bombeiros (firemen) where we had a huge meal for five euros, complete with a glass of wine and obligatory stamp for our book. I went for my usual walk to explore the town, which is a reasonable size and has some fantastic churches. Barcelos is the site of the famous miracle of the cock, giving Portugal its iconic bird.

Back at the albergue the dormitory had started to fill up. Carlos, the man we had seen along the way, had arrived - he was finding it very tough and was shattered - destroyed! He had taken eleven hours. A number of us discussed the wisdom of walking even further the next day and agreed that a shorter day was required, so Carlos rang through to Casa Fernanda to book beds for all of us. The dormitory at Barcelos was a bit of a shock after the beautiful Mosteiro de Vairão - it had 10 double bunk beds in one room, two loos, one shared shower for 20 people.

Day 3 - Barcelos to Lugo de Corgo (Casa Fernanda) 17.5KM 5.5 hours

Well, I was right about the albergue - the dormitory wasn't a very good place to sleep, with the upper bunks oppressively low over top of the lower bunks. We were happy to get up and go early in the morning, and set off in the mist, which lasted until 9am. We stopped for breakfast (and a stamp) just on the edge of Barcelos then walked on a variety of trails varying from dangerous roads, to very rural rocky tracks with manure-sprayers on them, to drains and forest trails. It was an pleasant walk, and we basically took it easy.

We arrived at Casa Fernanda to find it empty; no other pilgrims and no host family. Everything was open, so we did our washing then made ourselves comfortable, and eventually a few more people trickled in. The family arrived home and made lunch for those of us sitting around, and the cats came over to investigate. During the afternoon more people arrived; it was a wonderful place, a dormitory with proper beds made up with linen., and Fernamda seemed to be able to find space for all of us In the end there were 14 pilgrims.

We were fed dinner, feasting in the kitchen at a huge table, served more food than we could possibly eat. We spent the evening sitting in the courtyard drinking wine, grappa and port, singing and talking into the night. We met some wonderful people including 80 year old Dan from the USA who has been walking the Camino since 2004; Katya from Hamburg, walking with Dan; two young New Zealand teachers on one-year of unpaid leave; Carlos from Lisbon, with great taste in music and books, a pleasure to talk to.

Day 4 - Lugo de Corgo (Casa Fernanda) to Ponte de Lima 16KM 3.5 hours

Wow! Casa Fernanda just got better and better. We left late because we all had breakfast together in the kitchen, along with Fernanda, her husband and daughter. It is all paid for by donation. Fernanda told us how she came to take in pilgrims, and I'll paraphrase her story:

Years ago, late one afternoon a foreign pilgrim stopped at the village, too tired to walk on. She knocked on doors and begged for a place to sleep and something to eat, but no-one wanted to take her in; she didn't speak Portuguese and people were too wary of a needy stranger. Fernanda's father and Fernanda herself were among the people who said no. However, when Fernanda went back inside her home she felt very bad about rejecting the woman's plea for help, so she went back brought her back home, fed her and gave her a bed for the night, and nothing terrible happened - indeed, the woman gave her money to pay for her trouble.

A year later John Brierley turned up at Fernanda's house; the woman had written to him about Fernanda's kindness. John and Fernanda stood in the yard talking; after about two hours Fernanda's father came out and said that if they were going to talk for that long John should come in and drink wine and eat. They talked and talked, and in the end John asked if he could spend the night. Well, she agreed; the first stranger hadn't been a bother, so why not take in another?

That was the catalyst for Fernanda deciding to build a dormitory in the back yard, to take in pilgrims, feed them, and to trust that the pilgrims would donate sufficient funds to cover the costs. It seems to work.

We had only a short distance to cover that morning, and came into Ponte de Lima along a tree-lined park, where all the light posts played music to us. We were too early for the albergue, so we left our packs at a bar across the road, where we had our morning beer. We met Carlos as we were walking back over the bridge, so the three of us explored the town and eventually ate lunch together - a typical regional meal with blood sausage and a thick onion and leek sauce. Then it was back to the café for a stamp and another coffee, waiting until 4pm when the albergue opened.

Ponte de Lima is a beautiful town - the oldest in Portugal - and the bridge was also very eye-catching. The albergue had no blankets, which didn't make me very happy, but I solved the problem by scouring the town for something to act as bedding and found a big beach towel for €15. The albergue had terrible dormitories - big, bare, with lots of beds all covered in vinyl - it didn't bode well, but at least they weren't bunks.

Day 5 - Ponte de Lima to Rubãies 20.5KM 6hours

It was a terrible night - people coughing, snoring, making restless movements on vinyl mattresses, going to the loo, slamming doors, turning lights on and off - appalling! Especially the snoring!

We got up early and were on the road by 6am, glad to get out of the place. My makeshift bedding had worked well, and I managed to roll the towel up and stuff it into my backpack, in case it was needed at other albergues. We had thought this day's walk would be difficult, but we walked through very pleasant country and it wasn't as difficult as we'd anticipated. Along the way we stopped off at the bars, catching up with a few people we'd met before, and even more new friends were at the albergue. We had to wait around until the place opened, but eventually booked in and found beds in the small upstairs dormitory.

I had my normal "post-walk" walk, exploring around the local area, then went down to the closest bar for a beer and a good long talk to Carlos. Later I want back and had dinner with one of the other pilgrims; the people we met were such interesting and friendly company.

I had another terrible night; too much noise from the snoring - I only slept until just after 3am.

Day 6 - Rubãies to Valença 20KM 5.5 hours

Well, it would have been an easy day, but...

We stopped for breakfast at 7:30 then got going again; despite the fact that quite a few people were walking the same path we only saw one other pilgrim, Elisabeth (Hungary), and we soon outpaced her, so we were walking alone. Coming down a slight slope Helen caught her foot on a stick and had a very heavy fall onto her knee and face. She lay there shocked for some time, then slowly got up and checked herself out, diagnosing a broken nose as the outcome. I cleaned the mud off her face, letting her deal with the abrasion on the side of her nose and the slight bloody nose that slamming down onto her face had given her - she was very shaken. It took a while, but she eventually decided that the damage to her nose was the only real outcome of the fall, so we walked on. Helen had a wet handkerchief draped over her nose, sacrificing elegance for expediency.

We stopped for tea and something to eat, then walked into Valance. We had slowed down a lot but Helen wanted to keep going in case her knee seized up. She was doing well, and after we checked into the albergue she joined me to walk around town in the afternoon, exploring the fortress, buying a new hat, and making a side trip out to the supermarket for a bit of shopping.

We made salad and ate at the hostel that evening, then went to bed fairly early, both of us quite worried that Helen would be stiff and sore in the morning, and unable to carry on walking.

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Day 7 - Valença to Porriño 17.8KM 5.5 hours

The Valença albergue dormitory was big and rather uninviting, but I slept for eight hours; my best sleep yet. Despite this, I woke in a disturbed mood, not really keen to walk. Helen was also less keen, but her knee wasn't stiff, her nose was unbruised (she had reset it herself the previous night), and she was able to keep walking, so we carried on.

In truth, it was an easy walk, but things seemed to go wrong right from the start. My camera wouldn't work after someone had messed up my pack and dropped the camera on the floor (it was just the batteries, but at a bad time, when we were just setting out). Then Helen left her small bag with passport, money, credit cards and anything else important in a café and only realized it some distance away. I just about sprinted back up the hill to the café - luckily the Señora had found the bag and put it aside, and all was well, but it could have ended badly.

We seemed to be having a guided tour of Tui - it took a long time to get clear of the town and we felt as though we were being led around in circles by the yellow arrows. On the Spanish side of the border the arrows were more difficult to find, and we were a bit baffled at times. Some of the walk was on roads, but a lot of it was on tracks, and was very pretty. There wasn't much up and down, but we were tired before we reached Porriño. We had made camembert and spinach rolls for lunch and stopped on the way to eat them - this was unprecedented for us - we used bars for this sort of stop, but there were few bars on this part of the trail.

The albergue in Porriño was okay, but the dormitory was hot and crowded. I was sleeping on a top bunk, with almost no air movement, and didn't like it at all. We went out in the afternoon and shared a late lunch of all the foods we shouldn't eat - egg, bacon, chicken, salad and pizza - it was wonderful! I had another walk around town in the late afternoon, buying an ice cream in order to get a spoon. The albergue had a kitchen but absolutely no utensils, plates or cutlery, no way to heat water, and no fridge. Useless. We had dinner of yogurt and cashews, then used the cleaned yogurt pots to drink wine that Stephen and Anne (Capetown) shared with us.

Day 8 - Porriño to Redondela 15.2KM 4.5 hours

Once again I slept very badly - it was very hot and stuffy, and someone went around and shut all the windows in the dormitory once we were all in bed. These poor nights were becoming a recurring theme in my diary; the albergues act as a social focus for the pilgrims, but at quite a cost to our wellbeing.

We thought we were leaving at 6am - actually it was 7am; Spain was on summer time, but it had taken us two days to work it out! This was a good day's walk - a bit up, a bit down, but nothing terrible and we both felt good about it, a big change from the previous day. We arrived in Redondela at the same time as Elizabeth, so we shared a beer, then found somewhere further in town to have lunch together. Later Helen and I went supermarket shopping for the ingredients for one of our now famed sardine salads, and I went for a long walk around town.

I came back to find a group of Spanish men taking photographs of each other posing in front of our knickers, which were strung out to dry. I totally mortified them by taking them to task about their bad behaviour, and one by one they sought us out and apologised, explaining that they were taking photos to show to their wives. Dinner was our lovely salad eaten out in the square, using our fingers; this was followed up by cherries and chocolate, again out in the square. I then met up with Elizabeth - we'd arranged to drink red wine together. We managed to converse in a mixture of English, German and Hungarian, although I know neither of the last two. Elizabeth had to do most of the work, trying to understand and speak English. We came back to a very noisy dormitory and a bad night of little sleep.

Day 9 - Redondela to Pontevedra 20.5KM 5.5 hours

We were up early, well before dawn. Spain's summer time meant we walked the first hour-and-a-half in pre-dawn light. This was one of the most strenuous parts of the Camino, and there was lots of up and down, but despite the long and sometimes steep uphill bits it was really good. We needed direction right at the start because of the lack of light, but the rubbish collectors and the group of Spanish blokes made sure we were on the right route out of town. We cross the long medieval bridge over the River Verdugo and stopped for breakfast; it was a good thing we did - there were no bars until just before the end of the day's walk.

Waiting in the bar across from the albergue, I managed to get my own back on the naughty Spaniards, draping myself around the neck of the one with the difficult wife so that his mate could photograph him in a compromised pose; Helen joined me, and we had him blushing. The albergue was well organised with washing facilities, lots of showers and loos, but a huge 40-bed dormitory, never my favourite place to sleep.

We had a walk around town, but it was all new and uninteresting, so we just shopped for dinner ingredients then went back to eat. The dormitory filled up - far too many of us, and mainly men, a bit daunting for the younger single women. We went over the road for a drink of wine with Elizabeth and Chris (Cologne) before going to bed quite late - all the blokes were watching soccer. I finally got to sleep about 11pm.

At 3am some British idiot came into the room, crashed around, flicked on the lights, then off, then back on, bright as can be. He was drunk, insisting that we had to help him find his bed. Turned out he was in the other dormitory. Someone finally steered him out of the place, but the lights were on a timer switch, and stayed on for a quarter of an hour, ensuring that all 40 of us were wide awake and very unhappy. When the lights had originally come on some people had assumed that it was time to get going and had jumped out of bed and started to get dressed. Most people took the opportunity to go to the loo - it was crazy noisy chaos.

Day 10 - Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis 21.1KM 6 hours

We were up early - everyone was, after the disturbed night. The walk was varied, with a couple of somewhat dangerous bits on roads, but for a lot of the time we were on small tracks.

We stopped for breakfast after seven kilometres. The Spanish men were at the same bar, sharing a bottle of wine for breakfast! We also saw a bunch of wannabe pilgrims dropped off from a car - they were doing their stretches and carrying baby backpacks; one even held his sticks the wrong way up. These people walk a little bit, visit a couple of bars for the stamps, then get back in their cars and race off to the albergue to make sure they get cheap beds for the night.

We had some lovely bits of trail, through vine-covered avenues and along small tracks, finally arriving at the rather lovely town of Caldas de Reis. Having had such terrible sleep the night before, we decided to stay in one of the old spa hotels along the river - the Dávila. We checked in, booked time in the hot pool, then walked up to the albergue just to see it (and to get a stamp). It was in a lovely position, near the Roman bridge, but we weren't sorry to give it a miss. We had an early dinner down by the river and ran into the Spanish men - they were having time out in a hotel as well, but not a posh one like ours.

After visiting the cathedral we had a 30-minute session in the hot pool - too hot for me to stay in all that time. After the pool we were treated to something that reminded me of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" - we went into a bathroom where there was a big marble bathtub with lots of bizarre plumbing and tubing, and the pool attendant then hosed us off (at a distance) with cold water - bliss!

Day 11 - Caldas de Reis to Padrón 17KM 5 hours

I had a wonderful night's sleep; at least six hours contiguous, then lots of dozing until 7am. We stayed at the hotel for breakfast at 8am, but it wasn't very good; indeed, it was the worst breakfast we had on this trip. This was a short day's walk, and a very good one - lots of off-road tracks.

We took the day's walk fairly easy, stopping several just for a rest, and for once we were passed by and passed several groups of other pilgrims. These weren't our usual cohort - we were about two hours later in the day than normal. We stopped for a beer and a stamp at a bar around half way and we arrived in Padrón sooner than I thought we would, crossing the river Ulla just out of town and thinking of our friend Ulla, somewhere behind us.

The albergue wasn't open, so we sat and had a beer at a bar down beside the river, then went and checked in. It looked like a good place, but they all do until they fill up. We went down into town after the usual housekeeping (find a bed, shower, laundry) to find it very quiet; siesta time. We had a big meal at 4pm then I climbed up the hill at the back of the town, behind the cathedral. I ran into Carlos down by the river - it was so good to see him again. We had also unexpectedly seen Elizabeth earlier, and the naughty Spanish men, who were parting ways with us; they were going to Finsterra before finally heading to Santiago.

Helen and I went back into town later in the evening, when there was much more life, and had dessert for dinner. Those disturbed meal times weren't the best for me - I tended to wake up hungry at 2am. I went back to the cathedral in the evening and waited for it to open, then stayed for mass on the off-chance that the nuns would sing. They didn't, so I lasted five minutes, then returned to the albergue. The sun was still up, and I found it very difficult to go to bed, although it was almost 9pm.

Day 12 - Padrón to Santiago de Compostela 23.9KM 6 hours

Another horrible night with little sleep - people talking downstairs until after midnight, then the early risers starting at 4:30am, wanting to get to Santiago in time for the noon mass.

We set out without a definite agenda, just a vague feeling that we would stop short of Santiago; possibly Teo, but maybe the outer suburbs. We stopped more often along the way, drank more beer, and eventually walked into Santiago by default. The way was mainly uphill, but easy, and a lot of it was on small rural roads with some forest paths.

Once in Santiago we registered and received our certificates. Then we had to find a hotel, and eventually we checked into the Last Stamp, and found a bed. Just the one. We agreed to share a double bed because it got us a room to ourselves, rather than taking top bunks in a 10-bed dormitory. That was it - the walk was finished! We had a walk around town, and a sort-of meal (the bar version of salad and sardines) then I did my usual solitary walk, going much further, finding a fun-fair, music, singing, dancing and ice-cream. I went to find the indented stone in the cathedral, but it was encased in scaffolding and no longer touchable - another ritual gone. Santiago felt both new and familiar; I recognised much of it, but couldn't rely on my memory to find everything.

In truth, I would miss the walking - I was really enjoying the rhythm of it, and I could easily have walked another twelve days, but we were off to see Spain.

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