Can we really call this a Camino?

I first heard about the Camino de Santiago de Compostela from my friend Mark LeBlanc. He took about 30 days to walk the 500-mile trek across northern Spain in 2008, and I helped him write a book about the experience, ​Never Be the Same. My daughter Kelsey read the book, and in 2014, she walked the same 500-mile path known as The French Way in about a month. Mark walked it a second time that same year, missing Kelsey on the steps of the St. James Cathedral only by a few weeks.

On May 21, 2017, I will be walking the Camino with my friend Donna Halker. We’re taking the Portuguese coastal route, starting in Porto, Portugal ending in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, about 200 miles. We will miss seeing Mark complete his third Camino by two days. (He flies out June 3. We arrive June 5.) My husband and his friend Don McMillin will meet Donna and I on the steps, after having explored other parts of Spain on a Tauck guided tour. The next day all four of us fly to Budapest for a Tauck river cruise down the Danube, returning to the U.S. via Prague on June 19. Continue reading “Can we really call this a Camino?”

Yes, it is a Camino! Days 1-3 Summary in Pictures

After three days of walking the Camino de Santiago Portuguese Coastal Route (32, 28 and 28K) I must default to letting pictures be worth more words than I have the energy to write. (Donna’s FitBit records flights of stairs and today we climbed 92 flights.)

It. Is. Hard.

It. Is. Demanding.

It. Is. Beautiful.

Our walking notes for today used the word “steep” way too many times. I thought  I had mentally prepared, and, in fact, Donna and I both enjoyed the trek over two mountains, through villages, in forests, along a gorge and roaring river. Continue reading “Yes, it is a Camino! Days 1-3 Summary in Pictures”

Day 4 Camino Portuguese Coastal Route: Rain, Rain and Still a Great Day

We started Day 4 right on the coast in Viana de Costello, Portugal. Unlike the other mornings, our lodging was right on the Camino. That means you don’t spend X amount of time or–more importantly–mucho kilometers getting to the day’s starting point. Our walking notes start with 0 (zero) K, which today meant, right out the front door.

Within 20 minutes we were giddy. THUNDER. Then lightening. We’d been carrying our rain gear the last 3 days, and when we could see and hear the splats of the raindrops, we huddled next to a high stone wall and under some vines to don our rain gear.

Sooo much better than yesterday’s 92 degree steep accents and decent…on cobblestones.

In our matching Olivia Pope rain gear we, too, can laugh at the rain.

We hiked through neighborhoods cut into the mountain, narrow paths framed by high stone walls covered in moss, and dense wet forest. Because the cobblestones engage muscles I never knew I had, I found immense joy when even the shortest section of the path involved a semi-consistent surface. Like asphalt. Continue reading “Day 4 Camino Portuguese Coastal Route: Rain, Rain and Still a Great Day”

Day 6: Easy Peasey 17K Camino de Santiago Portuguese Coastal Route

From a converted convent in Aguarda, Spain we walked along the coast for most of the day–cutting a long segment of 31 kilometers in half. Yes, it rained, but after what we are now calling Hell Day of 92 degrees, we welcome the rain and clouds over extreme heat and heights.

From our “balcony” at the convent hotel, we aired our shoes and socks. The scallop shell on my pack is the symbol that we are “peregrines” (pilgrims) on the way to Santiago. The silver chain you see was hand made by Donna as our version of a rosary to remind us to pray for friends and family along the way.

The coastal route is special because we get to be on rugged coastline, quaint hillside villages (cobblestones, ugh), and forest, usually in one day.  We do have to spend time along the roads now and then–our least favorite environment. Loud, a bit more nerve racking and despite the smooth walking surface, it definitely changes the mood. Continue reading “Day 6: Easy Peasey 17K Camino de Santiago Portuguese Coastal Route”

Day 7: Oia to Baiona 20K Where We Meet a Friend

When we booked our Camino we had the option of splitting up a long day into two segments. Day 6 and 7 were such days. Instead of walking from Aguarda to Baiona, we stopped in Oia. This means that our Day 7 to Baiona was a reasonable 13 miles instead of a very long 20+ mile day the day before.

Thank goodness we did. We followed the coast for some time, but then it was mountain crossing again, and I would have not liked to be doing those crossings at the end of a day instead of in the middle of one.

As we left the coast to cross a major highway, up into the hills, we noticed a lone young man hanging out by the crosswalk. He said Hello and then walked the rest of the way into Baiona with us.

His name is Ho, from China, and he was finishing his Master’s degree in Management at a University in Lisbon. He decided to come up to Porto and spend a week on the Camino before returning to China.

His English was excellent, and we had wonderful conversations about the U.S. and his world in China.

My favorite moment:  As Donna and I were resting a bit before a steep climb, we took swigs of water from our respective Camelback water bladders inside our backpacks.

“Is that oxygen you’re taking!?” Ho asked, obviously worried.

We laughed and told him it was water. He must have thought we were little old ladies.

We arrived in Baiona before the pouring rain and said our farewells to Ho. He wanted to walk an hour more. We were too embarrassed to tell him that our hotel (not hostel) was off the route and waiting for us.

Here are some pix.

We start every day with a selfie of some kind to mark the beginning of a new day. On this day we met some locals who happily snapped our Sunday morning shot with a field of flowers and the sea as background.
Ho threw on some sneakers, his Dickies long pants, his University book bag as a backpack and headed out. He carried odds and ends in his baseball cap, and collect trash along the way.
Up, up, up we go after our gulp of water/oxygen.
Sometimes the yellow arrows come with emphasis.
Caballo on the Camino!
Hasta Luego Ho!
Hello hotel! And rain, in Spain, but not on the plain!

Thank you for your patience. I write this on Day 10, but will catch up when I can. I am already excited about writing more when I get home and can share more thoughts and insights.

Where did my Camino go? One more sleep to Santiago.

I see that my last post was Day 7. Egad. A week has gone by? I’ve been posting on Facebook…snippets and photos that help me remember what happened when. Today is Day 14, Sunday, June 4.

Here comes the ramble.

Day 7 we walked into Baiona and wondered if we had made a mistake in designating our day off in the next city, Vigo. The blessing of Baiona was that the hotel had a jacuzzi, and gluten-free muffins in the morning.

Ready for the jacuzzi, which we had to reserve in advance.
The fort at Baiona was well guarded. We posed before donning our backpacks for the day.
What is it? We wondered and wondered. Almost every home in so many villages we passed had one.  Eventually I asked a local woman, “Que es eso?” She rattled off something in Spanish, and I asked her to slow down. In Spanish, I asked, “Is to honor God?” “Ha! No!” She laughed. Turns out it’s for storing corn. As in a corn crib!
As we were walking to Vigo, we discovered that we had hit a major Camino milestone. In order to receive your Compostella, you must walk at least 100K and prove it by getting two stamps a day on your pilgrim’s passport along the way. At this point, we had already walked more than 100K, but it’s the last 100K that count!
Winner of the best scarecrow EVER.
Jules Verne, 20 Leagues Under the Sea, lived and wrote in Vigo.
Our Day Off Morning Selfie with Jules.

Vigo is a huge city. Reminded us of Paris, New York, but on the sea. We hiked and climbed (yes, on our day off) to the top of a park that gave us an amazing view of the islands off Vigo (and visible from Baiona) and up the river that empties into the bay.

Leaving Vigo, Day 10, we were also leaving the Coastal Route. We were headed to Redondella, inland, where intersect the main Portuguese Route to Santiago (Central route).

Our selfie on the way to Redondela. Graffiti saved by the Camino arrow.
Snack time in the forest, by a waterfall, in the shade. Perfect.

Wifi is fading, and photo loading is frustrating, so I will have to say adios for now.

Tomorrow morning, Monday, June 5, we will walk a short 12K into Santiago. There is anticipated joy, and a sadness at the same time. Each day has had its physical and mental challenges. Yet the simplicity of waking each morning know that the only thing on your To Do list is to walk–well, there is peace in that alone.

We Arrive. June 5, 2017

We left early (7:30 am for us) and arrived in the square around 10 a.m. Short walking day. High emotions.

We were happy. We were in awe of the energy. We were grateful and prayerful.

Here are some pix from our last day.

We left our lodging in Teo before the other pilgrims were up and moving. (Breakfast was supposed to be served at 8, but we asked for 7 am so that we get get going early.)

Continue reading “We Arrive. June 5, 2017”