Leaving the city, I once again rejoined the Via Romana / Portuguese Camino
Being a Sunday, the cyclists were out. When you are walking quietly, focusing on the way your feet meet the ground, allowing thoughts to meander in and out, and then a cyclist shoots past your left elbow with a whoosh and, very occassionally, a Buen Camino, it is a shock. When it happens over and over again, it’s more akin to a small trauma and there is no possibility of resting in your rhythm and pace, you must stay alert.
Shortly afterwards, it poured and it was not possible to take photos. Arriving at the hostel of San Marmede de Portela in the middle of the countryside, there was no-one to greet me, just a couple already drying off. Thank goodness the door was open! I was soaking, wet through. It was a large dormitory and I chose a corner away from the door, not knowing that there was no heating and that by the end of the day the room would be completely full to overflowing (there were pilgrims sleeping in the eating room etc). It was also very dark and although some of us tried to open windows, they were always immediately closed by others.
Wet walking clothes are stinky, especially when there is no drying room or anywhere to hang clothes / store boots except narrow corridors. If you sleep on the bottom bunk and they are like drapes all around you, there is no getting away from the smell. People were using one hair drier between 20 or more, but it takes a long time to dry sodden socks with one. There is a big garden and other buildings outside, but the weather was too terrible to contemplate unless you arrived very late in which case I did see folk sloshing across, seemingly with no other opton, but I didn’t know where they were going.
Run by volunteers, this is a donativo hostel and the men who came along later knew what they were doing and were well prepared. Being well away from shops or restaurants, a great meal was produced and tables and chairs arranged and rearranged to fit everyone in. Sitting alongside all nationalities, it was a jolly occassion (there was nowhere to get away from it if you had wanted privacy). There was wine and hot soup, vegetarian tortillas with salad and, if I remember rightly, a desert too. Clearing up was a communal event and the partying went on, as ever, late into the evening.
San Marmede de Portela to Caldas de Reis
The next day it was still raining, but luckily it cleared. Ugh, putting on wet boots and clothes is one of the worst things after a broken night!
I walked through Santa Maria de Alba, A Cancela and Albergue de Briallos.
There was a most unusual cafe where many of us stopped for a hot drink that morning (some were taking shots of orujo (a sort of grappa) with their coffee, perhaps a way of warming up from the inside). There was only one, older and innovative man serving us all. It looked as if he had used his garage for this purpose and, after serving us, I noticed that he disappeared through a side door. On further investigation, I spied huge vats of grapes steeping.
I am always coming across dead animals on the camino, but today’s fox was still alive. I crouched down and whispered to it, knowing that it would not live long, wishing it well on its journey.
I stayed in the private Albergue Peregrinos Posada Doña Urraca and I do not recommend it, despite the fantastic location. It was dirty and crowded, the rooms are almost at the front door so anyone can walk in and out. The photos on the website do not show it as it is – do not be deceived. It is not a municipal one – I have never seen a government-run hostel be filthy like this.
There was some lively conversation around the table, however, from the US as well as Germany, and a crowd of Polish pilgrims (I have not met people from Poland much at all on the Camino) at the hostel.
It’s a busy and normal town despite all of us traipsing through, with friendly local people and lots of facilities – a big supermarket, cafes and loads of banks. I tried the three cashpoints in one street – one was charging 3.50 euros, one 1.50 and the third nil, so watch out for this when getting cash out. It wasn’t my bank which charged me, nothing to do with getting money from a British finance organisation, it was the cashpoint machine company and I found this all over Portugal and in some parts of Spain. (I use a Post Office Travel Money Card via an app on my phone which charges for the exchange, but doesn’t have an additional service charge like the Bank of Scotland does if I use my everyday debit card when I am abroad).
Have you walked the Portuguese Camino? Maybe you are planning to? Leave me a comment to let me know 🙂
Camino Portuguese da Costa – Days 7 and 8, September 25th – 27th 2019
La Guarda / A Guarda, Galicia, Spain
La Guarda is in Spain, even though it is a town on the Portuguese Camino. I was happy to be back in Galicia, one of my favourite parts of Spain. I should have liked to see the Celtic hill fort and village of Castro de Santa Trega which connects with Scottish history (I live in Edinburgh) on the top of the hill that La Guarda sits beside, but I was not comfortably ambulant.
In the morning, I walked a short way (30 minutes, 2 kilometers) from the Albergue Municipal in La Guarda where I had spent the night, to visit the churches, but it was a strain and took me much longer than it should have. As a result of the pain in my foot, I decided to turn back and take a different route.
The two churches (above and below) are almost next to each other and I was the only one there. A few people were on their way to work and school, on the main road, and the churches were closed as they always are unless there is a service on. However, I admired their grandeur and solidity, the Santuario de San Roque having seen many pilgrims over the centuries.
Then I rested for 20 minutes and took the bus. It runs from Salcidos to Tui (get off / on near Repsol gas station (estacion de servicio) on N-550) regularly and takes around an hour. This was the second day that I could not walk, something that had, thankfully, never happened to me before, and it was very hard to accept. The journey took me through urban areas with grey stone buildings boasting elegant balustrades around the windows, along the northern side of the River Miño, and deposited me opposite some public gardens bright with bougainvillea and sporting a grand metal statue of cantering horses, the Monumento al Caballo Salvaje.
Tui is a busy city, full of hustle and bustle and with all facilities you could possible need. There is an excellent market, with cafes and shops galore. Not far from the Albergue is a friendly eating place / hostel (Albergue Ideas Peregrinas – not the cheapest, but with a European atmosphere and great, healthy breakfasts, including vegan food), and that is opposite one selling crêpes, and so on…! All tastes are catered for and many people holiday here even if they are not hiking. There is an extensive Natural Park to the north west with hills, Monte Aloia, for excellent views of Baiona, Vigo and the whole region.
I picked up a copy of Jim Crace’s The Melody in the hostel the night before and made the most of my enforced resting time to have a good read. Described as a meditation on grief, it connects with all my recent writing on the subject – there’s no such thing as a coincidence!
I was early into the town from La Guarda and encountered a difficulty: the hospitalera behind the reception at the hostel was talking animatedly to a gentleman who was lounging nearby. On seeing me, she launched into an attack on pilgrims who pretend to be walking, but actually must have come by public transport because they would never, otherwise, have arrived by this time. She laughed, he laughed, they compared notes and got increasingly irate about such behaviour.
I was dying to get the weight off my back and feet, and trying to explain in Spanish that I had not done this before, but had no choice with my foot pain. She ridiculed me and said I shouldn’t be carrying such a heavy load. It was most upsetting and as I became distressed she started to shout, saying that she wasn’t being nasty, just that ….
It is true that the municipal Xunta (the Galician council) albergues are for the pilgrims and that, increasingly, people are either not carrying their own packs or are taking buses and trains some or all of the way. It may have been an external voice, too, uttering the very words which I was hearing inside my head, and been part of my having to come to terms with being human and not always strong. Anyway, I said I would go away and then she started calming down and took me through the familiar process: passport check, credential stamp, payment (cash), and bedding. I was shaken.
It is a large hostel with solid wooden bunks. Although there is a sitting area where you can eat inside at the back, the kitchen is across the little garden and so I sat there for my tea as the sun set and it cooled down.
You can see the beautiful cloisters and internal gardens of the Santa María Cathedral de Tui in the photos on their website.
The tourist information is also in San Fernando Square and the staff are extremely helpful and kind there.
Tui to Mos
It is 25 kilometers to Mos and even though I had rested up for 2 days (well, a lot less walking than usual), it was too far, so I took a bus part of the way and trekked the rest (only 8 kilometers) to see whether I could manage. It was such a beautiful day and I was so happy to be on my feet again under the blue sky.
I am walking along the Via Romana XIX linking Braga and Astorga, enjoying listening to the birds and smelling the countryside after being in towns for the last few days. Sometimes the signs are hidden amongst pink roses. In the distance the open fields are empty now after harvest.
There is a native, milky coloured drink called horchata de chufa or horchata de Valencia which is the region where I first came across it. It is made from the tubers of the nutsedge (not the type in the photo above). (Thank you to floral_uk on the ‘name that plant’ forum of houzz.com for this information). It is similar to a Mexican version except that the latter is made from rice, not this sedge.
Mos, Galicia (Redondela Region)
I stayed at the Casa Blanca hostel near the Santa Baia church where I sat in the evening. The albergue is new with a bar that serves ice cream and snacks, and there is a restaurant oppostite which cooks wonderful Padron peppers and does breakfast as well as evening meals. The accommodation is in a separate building and all are situated on quite a hill. There is a coin-operated washing machine and I shared a load with others after much negotiation, however there is not enough room to hang the clothes to dry outside and, anyway, it was already cold at night so my things had to come in at bed time to avoid being damp by morning.
I went up looking for a fruit and veg shop. Instead, I saw a man on the top of a ladder picking grapes who told me I had gone in the wrong direction. On the way back down a woman pulled up in her car and spoke to me in French. She took me through to the back of her gradmother’s house (derelict) into the stepped garden full of fruit trees and picked figs. We stood and chatted over these juicy fruits and then she introduced me to her husband. He filled my shopping bag with massive bunches of black grapes for sharing with the other pilgrims back at the hostel. I laid them on large fig leaves in the self-catering kitchens for folk to help themselves.
Camino Portuguese da Costa – Days 5 and 6, September 23rd – 24th 2019
Viana do Castelo
Viana do Castelo to Caminha is 28.2 kms which was too far for me because my left foot hurt, so I stopped in Vila Praia de Ancora instead which was approximately 23 kilometers.
Through Areosa, Afife, then Carreco, and Vilarinho.
This type of circular tower would have been a mill and there is one which still has its four wooden sails, nearby – see below.
Although my foot was painful, it was a wonderful walk across little bridges over the Ria Ancora and its estuary. I sat to look at the map and was bitten again and then kept going around the coast into the next town.
As ever, be careful of automatic translators on your phone / ipad as some of the Portuguese names are also words which mean everyday things and it can be very confusing.
Vila Praia de Ancora
There are separate women’s and men’s dormitories at this hostel. The kitchen is quite sohisticated ie it has utensils and tables and chairs! The next morning I had breakfast in a cafe around the corner, admired the sculpture (see below) and then tried to walk, but could not put any weight on the ball of my foot, despite the pain being on the top around the metatarsal bones of the 4th and 5th toes (TH / GB for those of you who speak Shiatsu).
I took the train (15 minutes) to Caminha (alongside a surpring number of other backpackers) and whiled away the time, first in a cafe and then with a picnic and a good book in the park near the ferry terminal. I was very sorry to have missed the countryside between the two places.
When I arrived I visited the Centro de Saude (Health Centre) in Caminha, using my European Health Card (which will presumably not be valid after we leave the EU – I cannot understand how that will be a good thing). There was a certain amount of hassle with reception photocopying my passport and staff asking each other questions while I waited. The doctor spoke good English and she wiggled my foot, looked at my rucksack disapprovingly, and gave me anti-inflammatory cream and pills. On top of that I had blisters on the other foot, perhaps from the extra pressure I had put on it by limping. One way and another I still had to walk approximately 10 kilometers in all.
The ferry takes 20 minutes, does not sail on Mondays and costs 2 euros.
The time usually changes between Portugal and Spain – one hour difference!
La Guarda / A Guarda (Spain)
Note: there was no need to book at the Municipal Albergues at this stage of the Portuguese Camino, although there were a good number of pilgrims everywhere, but I did book the private hostels via booking.com
It was a further 40 minutes walk to La Guarda (by road), 3 kilometers. I could not walk, so I looked around the car park to see who was getting into their car and then asked the most friendly looking person if he knew whether there was a bus or taxi into the town. He said he didn’t know, but would give me a lift, which was what I was hoping! It only took 10 minutes or so and he kindly put me down close to the Municipal Albergue de Peregrinos (pilgrims), Rua Puerto Rico.
Luckily, it wasn’t far to the shop that evening for ingredients for my tea and I spotted a nearby bakery for the morning.
Camino Portuguese da Costa – Days 3 and 4, September 21st – 22nd 2019.
Vila do Conde
20 kms from Porto; 24.95 kms to Esposende
It was in this cafe that I accepted a cap and guide book which belonged to a woman who I had been seeing at hostels along the way. I assumed I would see here agin and so took it with me for her. Guess what? I carried them to Santiago but never did see her.
Link to the municipal hostel in Esposende/Marinhas. The Albergue San Miguel is one of the hostels that you have to walk through the town and almost out the other side to reach. The building in front, nearest the main road, is not the hostel but the Red Cross centre (the 2 organisations are connected through the Marinhas council) and the people there are used to exhausted pilgrims trekking through by mistake!
Nearby, and within very easy earshot, was an annual festival venue with bands, demonstrations of rural activities such as threshing, and more food than you might have ever seen in one long hall. People flocked from far and wide to sit around long tables in large family groups and have a good time. It was not possible to sleep, so as they say, when you can’t beat em, join em!
I walked through Monte, Lugar de Cima, Outeiro, Barros Sao Fins, Santo Amaro, Estrada,
I am reliably informed that this plant is one of the food plants for the Monarch Butterfly, in Australia. They prefer this, and another alien, over the native milkweeds.
The way was made up of large boulders and unevenly sized stones, some wet. I went fast to keep up with the man in front which was exhilarating, but I wonder if this is where I twisted my ankle without quite noticing.
And then the heavens opened. Before I could find a place to stop and take my backpack off to cover it and myself (even though I had, minutes earlier, been immersed in cool waters), I was soaked through. It was torrential. And steep, uphill. At the top I sheltered in a bus stop and watched the rain running down in torrents. More and more pilgrims joined me in that tiny space. There was a mobile shop on the Green opposite, but it was a bar – alcohol only, no hot drinks.
Despite their appearance, I was assured that they would not be ripe for eating until December at least.
The way into Viana do Castelo is across the Limia via a long, metal bridge. The hikers share it with the vehicles, although there is a narrow shaft where we walked. I could see the water’s of the Lima River far below through the grid I walked on, each step clanging loudly. The width of one person, there was no possibility of stopping to rest and, as I was limping by this time I must have slowed because I was aware of a queue of others behind me, all having to go at my pace. I kept doggedly on with no choice.
I allowed myself to be persuaded to take an extra trip that evening despite my sore feet. What a mistake! Although the sights were inspiring, my physical health suffered and I paid for it for many weeks to come.
Designed by Miguel Ventura Terra, this church venerates St. Lucy of Syracuse.
I am indebted to the people on the houzz.com forum who have an immense wealth of knowledge about plants and are so willing to help.
Porto to Matosinhos to Vila do Conde – days 1 and 2 of my Camino Portuguese Coastal and Littoral routes (280 kms in total) * September 19th and 20th 2019 were the Littoral, that is, they followed the coast with all its ins and outs.
This is a walk from Porto in Portugal to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. There are 3 routes – the quickest is inland, and the other 2 travel along the coast, some more literally than others. It is the second most popular Way – the Camino Frances from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago being the most famous.
I stayed at the Albergue Peregrinos do Porto which was great. There was a friendly welcome from the group at the desk and I was able to buy my Credential (the first of the new version, I was told) which is the folded paper which I carried with me everywhere thereafter, and which had to be stamped twice a day (by hostels, cathedrals or cafes etc) if I was to be able to get a Compostella, which is the certificate you can buy in Santiago de Compostella to prove that you have completed the camino.
There is a beautiful garden which was ideal for me to do peaceful tai chi in and for sitting with a drink in the evenings. The only drawback was that the showers were also outside. Ordinarily this would not bother me at all, but mosquitos adore standing water and I was bitten to within an inch of my life. Not everyone is as delicious as me, and I had taken steps to put them off, but the bites lasted for well over a week and left scars. The bunk bed was 12€ per night/person. (10€ for the Albergue and 2€ for the touristic municipal taxes).
There’s lots to see on your way out of Porto: first along the Douro River, under the bridges, past beaches, restaurants and cafes (especially the Foz district which is smart), the lighthouse (Capel Farol Sao Miguel-do-Anjo), two forts, a helicopter pad, gardens and statues.
If you wanted to get to Labruge, the end of stage one (24.5kms from Porto), but take a shorter walk, you can take the Line 1 tram from Ribeira, with your rucksack, as far as Foz do Douro (remember to sit on the left so you can see the view!). Then you could have a coffee by Jardim do Passeio Alegre (Cheerful Walk Garden, according to Google Translate!) with its fountain and cool shade, before starting to walk. This will save you 6kms (1 hour and 10 minutes at the average walking speed).
The Fort of St Francis (Francisco) Xavier was designed by Miguel l’Ecole (1661). Occupied by Absolutists in 1832, it was badly damaged in a battle with the Liberals and abandoned. Later it was used as the headquarters of the Oporto Naval Brigade’s 1st Company, and is now the Northern Commandos Association
I had a lovely swim. All along here the waves tend to be strong and I noticed that most locals do not take the plunge.
In Matosinhos I stayed at the Hostel Matosinhos Suites, a funny modern block in the heart of this area, a suburb of Porto. The room was small with 6 bunks packed into it. It had a table and 2 chairs (for 6 people), a kettle and mini fridge (but not enough sockets) and it got very hot with us all in. There was a small balcony where we managed to negotiate hanging up the washing by stringing a small rope and sharing pegs – just! It was clean and there were curtains across each bunk. Cost: 22 euros through booking.com.
There are loads of places to eat, including underneath the Suites. Matosinhos is best known as the place where Porto inhabitants leave the city and come to sit in the seaside restaurants to eat the famous shellfish.
There was a diverse range of flowers, mostly growing close to the ground on account of the wind, many of them also fleshy so they can survive without rain.
That night’s rest was in Albergue Santa Clara Albergue de Peregrinos Municipal (which can be found on Facebook). It has a large dining area which was very busy, and a small kitchen. Beware of leaving food out – someone went off with my hard boiled eggs which were in a cup cooling for breakfast 😦
The hostel overlooks the Igreja Sao Joao Baptista (Church of St John the Baptist) and a lively marketplace. There is a cafe just around the corner where you can sit outside with your beer (very good value), and it is in the centre of town for all other amenities.
*There is a variation to the Portuguese Camino da Costa and Litoral (this word has 1 or 2 t’s depending on the language), which is reputedly very, very beautiful, called the Espiritual (Spiritual). It starts in Pontevedra (where the Inland and Coastal routes converge), and ends in Padron. More information here