My last post finished in Ponte de Lima, a picturesque town on the Rio Lima. When I headed out the next morning, I found myself walking in the first clear day in almost a week. The daily rains had swelled the river tremendously though and, as I walked across the bridge and out of town, a waymark sent me down a back country road where my progress was stalled because a bourgeoning tributary had rendered the road impassable.
I backtracked a bit to the main road and walked through a small village until I found an arrow again. I met a young woman named Francesca (from northeastern Italy, but living in England) that morning. She had not let the water over the back road stop her and had maneuvered her way through a vineyard to go around it. We walked together on and off most of that 11 mile day and what a day it was! In addition to navigating trails with ankle deep mud and others that had become small streams, we climbed more than a thousand feet up the steep Alto de Portela Grande. The path abandoned us on the mountain and we were left to scramble up boulders and washed out cuts through the eucalyptus forests.
Francesca climbing ahead of me
It was an incredibly strenuous day and climbing down the mountain, though not nearly as steep, proved no easier because the massive amount of rain created slippery mud everywhere.
One of the "paths" down the mountain. I was aiming for that small beige slice of road at the bottom!
It was slow going, but I felt triumphant that I'd conquered the highest point of the Portuguese Camino. After parting halfway up the mountain, Francesca and I met up again on the level last miles into Rubiaes. She walked on another mile while I stopped at a pension for the night. After a shower and a short rest, I got a ride to the nearest restaurant for dinner and was happy to see Francesca sitting at a table with two French men just finishing her dinner. She invited me to join them and we enjoyed a spirited conversation - at one point I made an offhand comment and the older Frenchman that was sitting beside me laughed uproariously and grabbed my face in his hands and planted a kiss on my lips! The restaurant was full of pilgrims and I saw a young blonde boy gathering everyone's credentials and bringing them to the counter to be stamped. I also watched an interesting looking older couple a few tables away not knowing how instrumental they would become in the remainder of my Camino.
The next morning was clear again and, although much of the path was still extremely muddy and wet, it started out walking through vineyards and forest trails. On the outskirts of a small village I came across the blonde boy from the restaurant the evening before. He was accompanied by an older woman I thought might be his grandmother, but he called her Margaret. We walked together about a mile, navigating mud and creeks, and he kept up a stream of conversation as he jumped over puddles or clung to a fence line along the edge of the road to avoid the deepest mud. I never got his name, but discovered he was from Washington state and started the Camino in Porto like me.
This was going to be the last day walking in Portugal as the next morning I would cross the bridge over the Rio Minho into Spain. My plan had been to stop at a private albergue halfway to Valença, but when I arrived there it was early and I still felt pretty good so I forged on. By the time I got to Valença, my shin hurt and I was beat. I'd walked two eleven mile days in a row and it had aggravated the shin splint. I decided to stay at the municipal albergue in Valença and as I waited outside for it to open, up walked the older couple from dinner the night before. We started talking and I found out Derek and Liz were from England and also walking from Porto. I liked their calm manner immediately. We signed into the albergue soon after and claimed our beds. After a shower, as I laid in my bed with my aching leg elevated, I heard an American woman speaking to someone. As she walked past my bed, I asked where she was from and she told me Virginia. After a brief conversation, Erica and I decided to head out for dinner together. The first couple places we tried weren't serving food yet (they eat so late in Europe!) and we finally stumbled into a small bar and convinced the owner to make us something. A lot of questions were bantered back and forth and it was decided Erica would have spaghetti and I'd have fish. Something got lost in the translation and we ended up with a platter of spaghetti with fish. It was not great, but filling. Erica had finished college a few months early and, while waiting to graduate, decided to do the Camino Portuguese. She had started in Lisbon and readily admitted she was completely unprepared. Her description of the first week or so made me cringe remembering how hard it was, yet she forged on. She told me how she thought of quitting just a few days in and how she cried herself to sleep in her sleeping bag on the floor of a fire station when she couldn't find someplace to stay. This young woman had grit and I was so inspired by her! She was now walking long stages every day (sometimes twenty miles or more!) and I lamented the fact I might never see her again. That night I was in such pain I thought I might have to stop for a few days again to give my shin time to heal. I texted Lily how bummed I was and she sent me an encouraging text back plus instructions on how to tape my leg. I'll admit that I cried that night so frustrated this wasn't going as smoothly as I planned. The next morning as I hobbled to the bathroom, I passed Liz and she asked where I was walking to that day. I told her I didn't think I could go far and was thinking of simply crossing over the bridge into Tui, Spain and staying there, but I felt guilty. She stopped and looked at me a long time before she spoke. "Guilty?" she asked. "There is nothing to feel guilty about. This is your Camino and you can walk it any way you choose. Everyone's pace is different. Everyone's path is different." Those words carried me all the way to Santiago and may just be my mantra of sorts for the rest of my days. As it turned out, they were only going the few miles into Tui also, maybe we would meet. I went out for coffee and then walked through the quiet cobblestone streets of the fortress in Valença instead of the busy city streets. I saw Liz and Derek at one point and we sat at a cafe and had coffee together. My leg was warming up and feeling a bit better, but I wasn't going to change my plans. We walked through the fortress to the bridge crossing the Rio Minho and crossed into Spain together.
Quiet conviction is stronger than the loudest boast.
They were staying at the municipal albergue in the center of Tui and I had decided to try a private one a bit further on and we parted at the riverfront stairs to the Cathedral. As I walked on I got lost and walked almost two miles past my albergue into the next days stage. I backtracked until I found my albergue and what should have been a walk of about a mile and a half that day turned into five, but I felt better and had a large four bunk room to myself. The next morning when I awakened, I heard a man's voice say "Buenos dias!" and across the room I saw a young man sitting up in bed looking at his phone. I learned he was from Russia and had finished the Camino Francés (almost 500 miles!) about a week before. He dug his Compostela out of his backpack to prove it to me. He loved the walk so much he was now walking Tui to Santiago, a distance of just over 100 kilometers and the shortest walk you can do to be eligible for a Compostela. I've come to realize that this is not as uncommon or as unimaginable as it might seem. A young English man I met at the albergue in Valença, Nathan, walked the Camino Francés and then left Santiago to walk the Camino Portuguese BACKWARDS! He didn't know if he would stop once he reached Lisbon.
The next days walk was over eleven miles before there was a place to stop for the night. I walked with a Korean woman most of the morning. She was 39 and wanting to accomplish this walk before her 40th birthday. A few miles in, my shin splints started demanding attention and I stopped numerous times. She reached in her backpack, took out a small packet and handed it to me. She told me her husband was a doctor and had supplied her with these for pain. I had no idea what it was but unwrapped it and stuck it on my leg. Not long after, she moved on ahead as she had only a few days to reach Santiago before she had to fly back to Korea. I never saw her again. That days walk took me twice as long as it should have because I had to stop so often. At one point I was sitting beside the road on a big chunk of granite and a group of women walked by. Two of them stopped to talk. They were from Australia and one was in her early 60's and the other had just turned 70. They were so cheerful and loving the walk. I felt better just talking with them. They moved on and soon I did too. When I reached the next town, instead of walking through city streets, I took a detour described in my guidebook that followed the river to the albergue. It was a cool shady dirt path beside the Rio Louro with lots of benches to stop and rest. The albergue was closed when I arrived (they seldom open before 2:00 and this one didn't open until 3:00), so I sat on the big deck overlooking the river. Soon Derek and Liz showed up and I was so glad to see them. I discovered there was a laundrymat right on the Camino going out of town so I decided I'd do all my laundry the next morning before I walked that day's short stage. As I sat in the laundrymat the next morning, I watched Derek and Liz walk by. I hoped we'd catch up down the road. It was drizzling that morning and after repacking my backpack with all clean clothes, I headed out to Mos, my stop for that day. Just a note here on laundrymats in Spain and Portugal - all the washers dispense detergent. You don't need to bring your own! Brilliant!
I walked in the drizzle all morning, the group of ladies with the two Australians passed me with hearty good mornings as we walked by a lumberyard. I reached my albergue at 11:00, but it was closed till 2:00. There was supposed to be a cafe across the street, but all I found was a dilapidated bar that looked abandoned. I walked the street beside the albergue and was enthralled by a beautiful garden behind a fence. There was something hanging on a small rope over the garden and I couldn't figure out what it was. I saw many of them hanging and upon closer inspection I realized they were rabbits. Whole unskinned rabbits, their innards removed and stuffed with straw. The rain started coming down harder and I walked to a covered bus stop nearby. A Canadian couple where there getting out of the rain also. I asked them if they'd seen the garden with the hanging rabbits and the man replied it was a way they cure the meat. I was skeptical, but he said they do it that way in France also. I've asked around and have found no one who corroborates his story. I found it really creepy. I walked back up to the albergue and stood under the awning reading my Camino book when I realized I was not at the albergue in Mos! I really wanted to reach Mos that day so I headed out and walked another few miles and the sun came out and it ended up being a beautiful day. Mos was a sweet small village with a fabulous cafe where I ate lunch and dinner with Derek and Liz and a German woman my age named Bridgette. Another short walk the next day (about 6 miles) and I reached Redondela and just over 50 miles left to reach Santiago. I saw Derek and Liz in town and also Bridgette who said she was walking on but would see us all later. I was going to stop halfway through the next stage as it was a 12 mile day, but when I got to the town of Arcade, about 4 miles in, I decided to walk on. I saw Derek and Liz at a cafe and sat with them for coffee. They were staying in Arcade for the night, meaning they would be a days walk behind me. We decided we'd see each other in Santiago in just under a week. Although I spent three days in Santiago and went to the square at the Cathedral every day looking for them, I never saw them again. The next stage was over 13 miles and I split it up by staying at a private albergue in the deep countryside with nothing else around it but a church. When I walked in I heard a "hello" from somewhere inside and followed the voice to the kitchen, where a man about my age sat in a wheelchair painting on a small canvas. He checked me in and showed me the facilities. If I wanted dinner, I was told, it'd be an additional 7€ on top of the 6€ for the bed. I agreed as there was nowhere to eat nearby. I showered, washed a few clothes in the washtub outside and hung them to dry. By this time a few more people had checked in and when I walked into the kitchen, saw that the man had begun prepping dinner. In halting Spanish (northern Spaniards - Galicians - speak a different dialect of Spanish) I offered to help and we soon had a big pan of seafood paella on the stovetop and a fresh salad waiting in the fridge. I discovered my host had been wheelchair bound since he was 14, yet had done the Camino twice - once the Camino Francés and once to Finisterre. Astounding! He'd been painting about 8 years and the albergue was filled with his paintings.
Dinner was wonderful that night. Before we ate, a prayer was read and sent on to the pilgrims who had stayed the night before, their names read off the previous nights check in sheet. It was nice to think the next night whoever sat at that table would bestow a blessing on all of us.
The next day was a long walk of over 10 miles but the walking had become easier and I was feeling better every day. My shin splint had all but disappeared and the only thing that hurt was my feet, which didn't surprise me. I was less than 35 miles away from Santiago! I stopped for the night at a small hotel which my Camino book said had rooms for 25€. When the proprietor filled out the check in form, he handed it to me to sign and said, "Fifty euros." I showed him the guidebook where it said 25€ as I handed him a 50€ bill. He just shook his head, went to the register and brought me back 35€ in change! It was 15€, not 50€! It was a great private room with a huge terrace and and I sat outside all afternoon doing a bit of yoga and reading.
The next day was an 8 mile walk into Padron, which put me less than 16 miles from Santiago. I had reserved this hotel under Elin's recommendation and it was quiet and elegant and only 30€, which left me some money to eat tapas for dinner in the hotel restaurant, where I enjoyed pulpo (octopus) and seafood rice. I was excited as I left Padron the next morning. It was cold - upper 30's - but it would be an easy six mile walk. I checked into Glorioso hostel and it was, by far, the worst place I stayed the entire Camino. For 10€ I had a private room with the bathroom across the hall, but it lacked any sort of comfort or cheer. Since dinner was served so late, I decided to eat a huge lunch and go to bed early for the 10 mile walk to Santiago the next day. I went downstairs to the restaurant and looked at the menu. First an Ensalada Mixta, then a Tortilla. And how about an order of calamari? She looked at me like I'd lost my mind as I'd pretty much ordered three meals. The mixed salads had been great, I'd eaten them every chance I'd had. Piled with tuna, olives and lots of vegetables, it was the only veggies I'd seen on menus. The tortilla is a cross between a crustless potato quiche and a potato omelet and they're terrific. The calamari was tender and tasty. It was all cooked well and I ate every last bit. While I was eating, two women walked in and were speaking English to each other and Spanish to the proprietor. I asked them where they were from and I found out they were Androula from Canada, now living in Crete and Sharon from Canada. We talked for awhile and I joked that I was so glad it was my last day tomorrow because someone was sneaking rocks into my backpack every morning as it just got heavier and heavier! "Why not send it on to the next stop? Its only 5€!" What??? They set it all up and the next morning I put 5€ (about $5.75) in an envelope and attached it to my backpack with a tag stating the name of my hotel in Santiago. I have to admit it felt strange to be walking without my turtle shell, but my back really appreciated it. The almost ten mile walk into Santiago was filled with awe for me. I had done it! When I reached the outskirts of Santiago I came upon this way mark:
What wise guy thought THIS was a good idea?
I headed right through an older neighborhood instead of left into a part of town that had new high rise apartments and it was a good choice. When I got into Santiago proper, I got lost. This close and I lose my way! I had to pull up Google maps to head in the direction of the Cathedral and finally followed a bunch of people wearing backpacks until the square in front of the Cathedral opened up in front of me. And just like that, I was there. I sat on a stone bench and tried not to cry. I texted my sister Dawn in Connecticut and she in turn called my mom. I watched pilgrims arriving and tour groups being led around and just marveled at it all. I found my hotel and my backpack was waiting in my room. I took a long bath and texted friends and family. My grand daughter Natalie texted me, "Congrats Gramma! Now come home!" The next day I went to the square to watch for Liz and Derek. I went to the noon pilgrim mass and saw Herbert and Khiuk, a couple I met from Tucson. At the evening mass they swung the Botafumeiro, the massive incense burner. Pretty impressive. There's a point in the mass, which is all in Spanish, where you turn and shake hands with those around you. At the evening mass it was packed shoulder to shoulder (I never got there early enough to get a seat) and when I grasped the lady's hand in front of me she turned and it was Sharon from Canada. We hugged warmly. I went to the square for a few hours every day and watched reunions and celebrations of completion. My last day, I was sitting there lost in contemplation when someone called out, "Miss Texas!" It was one of the Australian ladies and we sat and reminisced for a bit. She told me she'd been to Finisterre and had seen Erica. Oh how I wish I could've said good bye to her! Just then, Erica walked around the corner and I could've cried! She filled me in on the rest of her walk and told me she was catching a plane to London that afternoon and then home to Virginia the next day. We went to lunch and reflected on what the Camino meant to us, how we felt it changed us and what was next. She was heading home to walk across the stage to receive her diploma and then move to D.C. for her new job. She was such an inspiration to me!
The next morning I took a bus to Finisterre and it was a perfect place to rest and think. Considered the end of the world during Roman times, Finis = End Terre = Earth, it is also considered the end of the Camino.
0.00 KM at the lighthouse
There were fabulous secluded beaches and bright, sunny days.
I ate seafood and walked the back streets of this beautiful seaside village full of pilgrims. I was on a beach having a private moment of contemplation standing in the knee deep surf. When I turned and walked a few steps back to the sand, I found this.
Would I do the Camino again? I'm already planning it. I'd like to do the Portuguese Coastal route or the Porto route again. I wrote in my journal: "How great/difficult/fun/painful/exciting/crazy/ joyous this has been!"
Physically, the Camino was the hardest thing I've ever done, but incredibly rewarding. I feel strong and proud of my 150 mile accomplishment. It has enriched me in so many ways and I have renewed faith in my personal fortitude. I am so grateful for all the magic of the Camino. I am so grateful for this life.