Reflections from the porch

Yesterday we concluded our latest Camino, the Portuguese Coastal Route. It concluded neither with a bang nor a whimper. We just stopped walking. We had arrived.

Our arrivals, over the years, have stoked many strong emotions. The joy of faith reformed, respite from the storm, new friendships formed, older ones rekindled, health reconstituted, fitness reclaimed, and most frequently an abiding sense of well-being. Yesterday, I think our focus was on the last, a pervasive sense of well-being.

We departed Padrón around 8:30 (early for us) without so much as a cafe con leche. I’m not sure why we needed to get going so quickly but out the door we went. Another chilly morning greeted us and windbreakers felt just fine. Shifting along on an empty stomach with a caffeine deficiency felt strangely odd. This was the first time on this Camino that we had skipped breakfast and my body was a bit at odds with that call. But, Santiago was just a few hours away so onward we went. The first handful of kilometers was spent in silent reflection on why I felt so wobbly. Perhaps it was old age just creeping up, or sore muscles trying to sort out a proper walking gait, or God knows what. But, in the end, actually well before the end, things came right and I was walking like I hadn’t been hit by a truck.

Robin and I remembered a nice Casa Rural in a village called Rúa de Franco. We had stopped at its restaurant for a coffee a couple of years back and thought it was quite nice. So as the terrain became familiar we kept a sharp lookout. Sure enough we hauled through a now recognized village and presented ourselves at the door of the Parada de Franco where the lonely barman quickly showed us to a table. Here at last the coffee flowed and a double order of tostadas disappeared in record time. Now things were shaping up and my body offered up quiet thanks for the extra log on the fire.

We carried on, mostly uphill, as some pilgrims passed by and we passed by others. We have become accustomed to a slow and steady wins the race walking strategy, and it works quite well for us. So onward and upward we went drawing Santiago ever closer one step at a time. Great fun.

We are not overly fond of long approaches into any city, including Santiago. Certainly during our early Camino years we felt that the trip had to be door to door. That has been modified somewhat as we now decide on arrival day whether to push through or stop a bit early. Yesterday we arrived at the top of hill in the newer Santiago suburb of O Milladoiro. This was our finish line for today. We finally found, what appeared to be the only bar in the neighborhood and squeezed in. The place was absolutely packed. This is where the locals apparently spend their Sundays. Despite the crowd the lady at the bar kindly called us a taxi, but only after after a couple of cold beers cleared away the trail dust. We got dropped off in Plaza Galicia and made our to our apartment on Rua Vilar. Our arrival plan came together nicely as we punched in various codes and gained access to what was to be our lodging for the next three nights. Our Camino was now officially over.

So as I sit out on our porch above Rua Vilar musing over the events of this latest Camino the rattle and hum from the street below reminds me just how many contrasting motivations dwell in the confusion of pilgrims below. We all are seeking something. Sometimes we sense success and other times we are left scratching our heads wondering just what happened. All I know is that walking the Camino just feels right, whatever that is. For Robin and I that is simply enough, and that is why we keep coming back.

See you next time and thanks for walking with us.

One more day

We had a nice start to today’s walk. It was cooler so light jackets were a welcomed addition to our kit for the day. There was a pretty steady stream of pilgs setting out from Caldas de Reis, but the line stretched out and everyone seemed to find a bit of space which was quite nice. I would rather listen to birdsong and the wind in the trees than be an unwilling participant in a noisy group conversation. People need to learn that silence can be a very important part of the Camino. But, everyone comes at the Camino with their own needs and perspectives. So, I just try to take it all in stride and enjoy each day’s walk as it comes. Admittedly, some days are better than others.

But, today was pretty good. Robin and I felt strong and were walking well. We were not in any hurry but seemed to adopt a nice sustainable pace that ran the kilometers down without diminishing the fun aspect of walking the road to Santiago.

The village bars all seemed to be doing great pilgrim business with all tables filled while the overflow sipped a coffee, juice or beer while leaning against a wall. Lot’s of smiling faces were seen in animated conversations as people probably were realizing what they have almost accomplished. Many Camino journeys would be coming to an end tomorrow, but for some Santiago would just be a waypoint on a longer journey. Well done, in advance, to them all.

Robin and I certainly share those same sentiments, and our minds were also busily shaping our own arrival plans. But, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We still have one day’s walk to go, yet we can’t help but be thankful for the good walk we have enjoyed to date. It has been a wonderful Camino. More from Santiago tomorrow.

P.S. you might have noticed a change in the level of lodging from yesterday to today. It all works, and we are grateful for both. Cheers from Padrón.

La tormenta

As Robin and I were enjoying breakfast I checked today’s weather for the umpteenth time. Yes, it would rain, and yes it would be windy. We walked out of the Parador in Pontevedra and found light rain and light winds. This we could handle. No problema. We set out across the bridge that takes you out of town on the Camino. At the far end a little pilgrim tienda was doing a great business selling flimsy ponchos. Everybody got sorted out as best they could with their new rainwear and the herd headed up and out of town with all sorts of bits and pieces flapping in the yet light wind.

The nice thing about walking out of Pontevedra is that if you leave from where we started close to the Parador it is a quick exit. We soon found ourselves out of the city and on a rural road that became a rural path. All of this was quite nice and easy walking. So onward we went. We pulled over just before noon at a popular bar for a coffee and juice. We sat quite still just enjoying being off our feet as a pool of water gathered around us. The table next to us had three Germans draining very large beers and downing even larger bocadillos. Two were men and one was a lady. They were definitely having fun.

As we settled up and stepped out the door to a change in the weather. The light rain soon became a torrent and the light wind soon became a gale. So for the next two and a half hours we were knocked about with gusty winds and hosed off with heavy showers. Fortunately our gear is pretty watertight and with the addition of our umbrellas we were in as close to a sweet spot as one could hope for. We plowed on in a little cocoon of tranquility created by our umbrellas and a following wind albeit a very strong following wind.

One thing I did notice that folks with umbrellas seemed to keep walking while those without seemed to stop at every available bar. This is purely unscientific survey but an umbrella can be your best friend on the Camino in rain or shine.

About 4 1/2 hours after leaving Pontevedra we arrived in Caldas de Reis dry to the ankles but soaked from there down. We remembered a nice bar from a previous visit and set out for shelter and a bit of lunch. The owner, Claudio whipped up a fresh tortilla, some ham, cheese and a nice tomato salad to fortify us. A couple of beers and a glass of wine later we were in a taxi heading to our hotel, the Torre do Rio. We are now relaxing in splendid luxury with a spiderweb of clotheslines crisscrossing our room. We are here for two days, and the heat is on so things will eventually dry out. Let’s just say today was a bit challenging but was still great fun. Lay day tomorrow and then off to Padron (yes, the same as those peppers you love) on Saturday. This will put us in Santiago the following day, Sunday and bring this Camino to a close. Not there yet, but definitely closer.

Central meets coast

In keeping with my comments from yesterday we are now awash with pilgrims who have joined from the Central Route. The apartment we booked in Redondela was right on the Camino so we got a good view this morning (from above) of the many pilgs setting out. It wasn’t a herd but it was certainly more than just a few.

We had a very quick light breakfast and the headed for the corner bar for tea and coffee. This is how it begins, once again, another day on the Camino. It is a mass of bodies, bicycles, and God knows what all setting out for another day on the road to Santiago. It is truly a colorful and remarkable sight.

Robin and I experienced some déja vu today as we had previously walked the Central Route and many parts of today’s walk flashed back. It was a pleasant day made better by taking the advice of a trinket vendor who recommended taking the alternate route to the left after reaching the Chapel of Santa Marta. This took us under tree cover and followed a stream right into Pontevedra. Brilliant.

Once into the city we googled the Parador and set our sights on a rest and a hot shower. We weren’t disappointed. We have now accomplished all the post walk rituals and even had a nice lunch with an old pilgrim friend from Toronto, who happened to be in town. Tomorrow we are off to Caldas de Reis and a very nice two night stay at the very comfortable Torre de Rios. We could get used to this. More tomorrow after our walk in the rain.

The Senda de Auga

Rain was pouring down as we threw back the drapes this morning, but as luck would have it clearing was on the way. We lingered over breakfast to give the rain a chance to pass through. It worked out just fine. By the time we were ready to get underway there were patches of blue sky emerging.

Again we opted for a lift out of the city center and found ourselves atop a steep hill at an intersection with a walking path marked as the Senda de Auga. Yes that was how it was spelled. Whatever it was called it was our Camino path for today and it was splendid. It basically was a level ridge that went from the eastern edge of Vigo to almost Redondela. It was a stable, well maintained and tree shaded path that made the short walk to Redondela quite pleasant. We had been in Redondela before when we came up the central route, but today’s approach was so much nicer. Close to perfect. We once again checked into the Alvear Suites Apartments and found a lavandaría just around the corner. All is well with laundry and lunch behind us. Now we are in a corner bar a few steps from our apartment catching up with our correspondence and simply relaxing. Off to Pontevedra tomorrow. Lots of pilgrims now joining from the Portuguese central route, fewer ( it seems) from the coastal route.

Off to Vigo

We enjoyed a nice stay in Baiona, had a hearty breakfast and then grabbed a taxi to move along a bit. No particular reason, just felt a bit lazy. We jumped out of the taxi at Priegue, saddled up and started off uphill. We made our way up through a beautiful eucalyptus forest with lots of tree cover. It was just wonderful. This part of today’s walk was, by far, the best. Unfortunately all good things come to an end, so to did the forest path. Now we were entering the outskirts of Vigo, Galicia’s largest city. Onward we trod along city sidewalks that never seemed to end. Eventually we were directed into some quieter areas but in the end it was back pounding out the kms on busy city sidewalks. It took us about 2 hours to get to our hotel from the time we first hit the outer suburbs. So at 2:15 we walked in the door of the NH Hotel Collection Vigo.

This was supposed to be a short day but the city transit sorted that out. None the worse for wear, we checked in, found a lavandaría just around the corner, and still were able to slip into the dining room and order lunch just before the siesta break at 4:00. All went well. We have since strolled about the town, visited the church of Santiago, enjoyed a glass of cava in the leafy Praza Compostela, picked up some water for tomorrow, and finally made our way back to our hotel where we are now horizontal. Another day done. Rain tomorrow for sure, but only in the morning. Having fun, and enjoying this Camino. Talk tomorrow from Redondela.

Race day

Today we set out for the port city of Baiona. It was foggy overnight but it slowly withdrew out to sea as the morning warmed up. We took a little diversion from the main road to Baiona, but rejoined it a half hour later. As we were coming up to the road a few bicycles flew by and then a few more and then a torrent of flashy race bikes crowded the road. We couldn’t quite make out what was going on but the road was closed for whatever this competition was. We carried on along the road’s multi-use path and enjoyed the sights until we departed to head inland over a hill that took us to Baiona.

We enjoyed a cooler day and pleasant walking conditions, chatted briefly with one Australia couple who had a small gas cooker out making tea (go figure), and found ourselves walking into Baiona around 12:30. Once in town it became clear that the bike race was actually just part of a Triathlon competition based in Baiona. We scooted around assorted barricades and taped off areas and climbed the hill leading to the Parador our lodging for tonight. Lots of folks in finery at the Parador. Perhaps it was a wedding. Also there was some classic car rendezvous going on as well.

On a side note the Camino baggage transfer services got jammed up in the Triathlon road closures so a lot of pilgrim luggage was circling Galicia as we headed out to the lavandaría to wash our pilgrim finery. Another fine day. Rain is now in the forecast starting tonight. Tomorrow we shall rig for the rain and head out to Vigo. All is well.

Some quiet time by the sea

We stepped out of our hotel, the Convento San Benito, in A Guarda into another clear morning. A nice cool sea breeze made our departure that much more comfortable as we climbed up and out of town. Today proved to be a very quiet day. We only encountered a few pilgrims and other than a huge motorcycle club (100+) passing by and a rather good sized cycling club all was rather peaceful. A good portion of today’s walk was by the water and that continued to bless us with some cool sea air throughout the day. We chatted with an American from Boston for awhile. He was stopping in Oia for the day so we pulled over for some refreshments as well. It is a pretty, but very small, seaside town that had just absorbed two buses of tourists as we entered the village. It was like an army on maneuvers but less regimented. But the beauty of walking the Camino is that you can just walk on. Which is exactly what we did. An hour later we arrived in Viladesuso, and our hotel for the night, the Casa Verde. We were greeted at the reception by a pleasantly vivacious young lady who spoke excellent English. As she checked us in we inquired about laundry service (fingers crossed) and bingo she gave us the good news that they provide a laundry service for 6 euros. She said it would be done in two hours and it was. When one arrives soaked in sweat finding a lavandaría or a hotel laundry service is a gift from heaven. So far we have been lucky. So no smelly pilgrims. Yea.

While the laundry was being done we slipped into the dining room for a lunch of pulpo (after all we are in Galicia), grilled vegetables, and a grilled veal chop (huge). We are now horizontal waiting for the sun to ease off a bit. I think a stop at the bar, a bit later, for a glass of wine to enjoy while viewing what should be another beautiful sunset is very much in order. Such is the pilgrim life. Buenas noches from Galicia.

Our journey continues

We had a short beautiful day’s walk from Vila Praia de Ãncona to A Guarda. An early morning start helped us with the heat as we made our way out of town towards Caminha where we would cross the Minho into Spain. We moved along enjoying the coastal views as the day progressed. We saw a few pilgrims but not as many as before. But, for us, it was pleasantly quiet. We had the coastal wind keeping us alert, but absent that we had a quiet path to to the Minho ferry.

Arriving in Caminha, a bustling border village, we quickly found the ferry terminal. At the bar we were told we could catch a skiff across the Minho in just a minute for the same price as the ferry. So off we went and a few minutes later were in Spain

Once in Spain we followed the Camino path into A Guarda and settled into our hotel. We have now finished with lunch, our laundry is done and now we are just strolling along the sea front enjoying the end of the day.

Almost into Spain

Today was a hot one with temps finally topping out around 87. We left Viana do Castelo in cooler weather but as we pushed along the side streets out of town the sweat was already trickling down. It was a quiet day with surprisingly few pilgrim encounters, maybe 6 or 8.

Once clear of Viana we found ourselves being directed along a series of connected quiet lanes with a few forest tracks included for good measure. The eucalyptus scent in the forest was ever present and quite pleasant. One thing that seemed a bit odd was during a break in Carreço, at the only bar in town, no one mentioned the fire that was still smoldering along the Camino trail.

We enjoyed our brief rest at the bar and shoved off not expecting anything out of the ordinary. As we entered the forest smoke was visible, hanging close to the ground and then rising with the coastal winds into the trees. It was apparent that a recent wild fire had burned through this area. It was also obvious that at one point the fire had burned right across the trail. All around us the charred landscape was actively smoldering enveloping our path in a smoky haze. It was a bit disconcerting to realize that a major fire had recently burned through and no one thought to mention it to those of us who were about to transit that area.

But, onward we went, now free of the charred and smoking landscape to enjoy the quietude of the lanes and forest paths that eventually led us into Vila Praia de Ãncora, our destination for tonight. We are booked into a basic tourist hotel right on the Atlantic coast about 13 kms south of the River Minho, which is the border between Portugal and Spain. Now with laundry done and dinner settled I am sitting in a seaside restaurant enjoying a final glass of tinto as I write this post. The sun is just slipping below the horizon signaling that another wonderful day on the Coastal Way is now officially over. Hopping over to Spain tomorrow. See you there.