Off to Vila do Conde

Despite yesterday’s scary weather forecast, today turned out to be better than I expected. At first light I could see from our hotel room there was water streaming down through the cobbles of the Plaza da Liberdade No rain but plenty of wind was evident. Robin and I had an early breakfast and were ready to go shortly after 8:00 am. We grabbed a taxi to head out to Matosinhos where we would begin today’s walk to Vila do Conde 22 kms up the coast. Robin was feeling strong and the rain was still hanging offshore so we were off to a good start. We found the boardwalk and lots of Camino signage and off we went. The wind was pretty much just shy of gale force for most of the day. Coming out of the wsw it sort of quartered us on our left side. By snugging our umbrellas close to our shoulders we were able to create a rather snug, calm environment as we were buffeted along by the howling wind. A wide stance was required to keep from going right over in the peak gusts. As we moved along we saw an opportunity to move from the boardwalk to the sidewalk of the coast road. We shifted over and the wind eased off a bit and our footing was much more secure on the cobbles than on the slick boardwalk. 

We carried on throughout the day with a mix of strong winds, heavy downpours and occasional sun breaks. It was a wild rollicking day that proved challenging just trying to stand upright. We took one timely coffee break as a thunderstorm passed over us. We sipped our cortados as hail hammered down on the roof of the dimly lit bar that offered us sanctuary. A kind younger man who had been hanging out at the doorway when we ducked through acted as our translator and organized our coffees. He spoke quite good English, though one never would have guessed it as the bar clientele was very much local and by the looks of it unemployed. Once he kindly sorted out our drinks he quietly resumed his post at the door an continued staring out at the rain. A few moments later I nodded and offered my thanks to him as we slipped back out into the momentarily clearing skies and pushed on towards Vila do Conde. The balance of the day was a mixed bag of cursing speeding drivers who pinned us up against the walls of narrow streets, and unfurling and furling our umbrellas as heavy, but mercifully brief downpours moved onshore as we moved along. But as always there is an arrival, and today was no exception. We crossed the bridge into Vila do Conde and swung left uphill to our hotel, the Hotel Brazao, where we passed through the door at 1:30 pm. Today’s work was officially done. After checking in we took the recommendation of the desk clerk and headed back down the hill to the Restaurante Ramon, a wonderful seafood place that exceeded our expectations. Once again we are back attending to our daily Camino chores, and enjoying have some walls between us and the weather. The forecast shows more of the same for tomorrow, but now we know we are rigged correctly and the wind effect should be much less as we move inland tomorrow. Let’s just leave it at that and we will see what tomorrow brings. All in all it was a great day to be out walking. 

The way to Barcelos

We had a very fun and restful stay in Vila do Conde. Fortified with a healthy breakfast we swung out the door of our hotel and wandered down to a nearby taxi rank. A tap on the window got our driver at the ready and soon we were off to Arcos about 8 kms away. Our driver was a funny and expressive guy. He spoke almost no English but I could follow most of what he was saying in Portuguese. He brought us to the small village of Arcos where we immediately spotted Camino arrows.  We paid our bill, included a nice tip (for the entertainment value if nothing else), and bailed out in front of the church. As our driver blasted off (no one in Portugal drives slowly) we saddled up our packs and set out to follow the yellow arrows to Barcelos where we would spend the night. Weather wise we caught a break. The wind and rain in today’s forecast was now expected to cross our path around 2:00 pm.  We hopefully would be in Barcelos by then. So off we went. No one else in sight. The temperature increased a bit ask we moved through Rates and Robin and I shed our rain jackets. Onward we went enjoying the early rural kilometers. Later in the day we found more road work and more crazy drivers that added a bit of anxiety to walking the shoulder of whatever road we happened to be on. The Portuguese just seem to enjoy driving fast, hugging the inside corner (where we were walking) and leaning on the horn approaching blind turns (not slowing down). But, all in all it was another fun day. Robin did very well and despite a lot of cobblestone walking our feet were none the worse for wear. That was good news. So we plunged on keeping a steady if not breathtaking pace and arrived at our hotel in Barcelos at 1:30 pm. Our habit is now, after making arrival, to go right to lunch. We skip dinner as this just seems more convenient. As it turns out there was a wonderful restaurant right next door to our hotel. In we went and continued to explore the seafood side of the menu. It was grilled sea bass for Robin and grilled salmon for me. Both were superb. But, an unexpected highlight was the grilled octopus salad. Wow, says enough. It was a fantastic meal (no menu del dia) that finished off another fun day on the Camino. Now back in our room the weather has taken a turn for the worse. Heavy rain and strong winds are now lashing our hotel. We arrived just before all this settled in. Perfect timing. We are off to Casa Fernanda tomorrow and God willing the storm will have passed by then. All is well.

The church in Arcos

Getting ready to go

Roosters in a tree. First time for me.

These yellow blossoms smell great.

More eucalyptus. 
At lunch. We did eat.

My happy pilgrim Robin.
Artwork from our hotel. The Portuguese have a major rooster thing going on. 

Watching the weather

We left Barcelos on Saturday morning after deciding that the dire weather forecast for the day would still allow us to walk. The previous night had been stormy indeed with heavy downpours and gale force winds, but come morning things seemed to have eased off a bit. The updated forecast for Saturday was for moderate weather during the day and heavy winds and rain to return mid-afternoon. We felt sure we would be safely ensconced in Casa Fernanda before the weather turned, so off we went. It was the right choice. Strong winds racked through the tree tops but we felt little impact close to the ground. We had a few rain showers but nothing our umbrellas couldn’t handle. So we plunged in enjoying the day’s walk until we reached the “old bridge” about 6kms from Fernanda’s. Here the path, and all the surrounding fields were under water. Opting not to take our boots off we just waded in. The water came to about mid calf and then we were out of it. Surprisingly My boots didn’t fill up. Not sure why but we walked another 6 kms to Fernanda’s with wet feet without incident. We walked into Fernanda’s yard at close to 1:30 pm. She was outside with her husband Jacinto. Before we knew it she had us in a private room and was gathering laundry together and planning for lunch. She is truly a force of nature, but a very caring force of nature. By 2:00 pm we were all in her kitchen, the laundry was in the machine (thank you Jacinto) and a pot of lentil soup was simmering away. She asked us what we would like to drink and so lunch began. The interesting thing is that lunch just sort of ran into dinner. A German lady trailed in after us just catching the change of the weather. It was now really howling. Fernanda got us all settled in with food and drink and then more food and more drink, and then great conversation, and then more food and more drink. At 10:00 pm (after 8 splendid hours of eating, drinking, and talking) we all agreed to call it a night (but not after one last shot of aguardiente) and headed off to our beds. 

Sunday morning dawned with clear skies that lifted our spirits. The previous night’s sleep had been interrupted by rolling thunder and tropical downpours. But that was then and the new day was nothing but peace and tranquility. Jacinto was in the kitchen cooking up eggs and ham, ands anything else that was within reach. I never thought I would eat again after yesterday, but there we were tucking it away. Amazing. In short Fernanda and her husband, Jacinto, are simply two of the finest happiest people we have had the privilege to meet. They showered us with kindness and hospitality and made it all seem normal and natural. We felt so very much at home. What an amazing experience. As sad as we were to leave, the pilgrim road was calling so off we went for a short walk to Ponte do Lima. The path we followed was beautiful, calm, and the weather was perfect. We walked into our hotel in Ponte do Lima close to 1:30 pm. We had a quick shower and then headed across the old bridge to a nice restaurant just opposite the albergue. A bottle of wine, a nice seafood stew, a couple glasses of port and we were ready for a siesta. We are off to Rubiaes tomorrow. 
On the way to Casa Fernanda’s

From the left: Carmen (Berlin), Fernanda, and Robin
Warming up some chorizo
Fernanda and Jacinto
Underway for Ponte do Lima

Entering Ponte do Lima

Back in Spain

We spent a restful night at Casa Capela, and happily awoke to clear skies. Marguerite, our host had breakfast in hand, and our laundry was folded in a basket. We thanked Marguerite for all her many kindnesses and stepped out onto the cobbles, made a left turn and set out for Tui. Nothing much to report as the day was close to being perfect. The weather was dry with temperatures topping out near 60 F. Robin and I simply enjoyed the time on the trail and before we knew it we were moving down the narrow streets of Valença enjoying the old town around the fort. After a few twists and turns and navigating through some shadowy portals we emerged back into the sunlight and headed across the Minho River bridge into the town of Tui and Spain. We stopped at a convenient bar for a cold beer, and to change our SIM cards back to the Spanish ones we had previously purchased. As we were sipping our Estrella Galicia we asked the lady at the bar where our hotel was. She confirmed it was about 5 kms outside of Tui but she felt sure they would come and collect us if we had a reservation, which we did. About 20 minutes later the hotel van arrived and we were off. We are now doing what we always do post walk. Showers, laundry, and lunch. We are staying in the Hotel Alfonso I and although it is outside of town, it has all that we need. As a side note the food in the restaurant was terrific. So we are in the decompression stage and simply relaxing. It was a very fine day and tomorrow promises to be more of the same. What luck.

Leaving Our lodging this morning

Serious horns

Valencã in the distance

Albergue we passed by
The forteleza in Valencã

Tui across the river
The bridge to Tui

Crossing into Spain

And so it began

Robin and I have been walking pilgrim roads for nearly seven years now. As I look back I can see more than just the length and breadth of these experiences. It has been a period of discovery that has often been confounding as well as awakening. When the pilgrim road first called I felt I was responding to a call to find more about my spiritual life. The pilgrim road with its long solitary days seemed perfectly suited to exploring my inner journey towards God. Back then I honestly thought that my relationship with God was sort of like sharing a seat with someone on a bus or train. You are in the same place at the same time, perhaps conversing, perhaps not. When the urge wells up to reach out in response to some inner motivation, then we speak trying to tease out some interesting thread that might be at best instructive (gaining wisdom) or more likely just trying to be present and pleasant. So there the stage is set. It is a belief system that places God somewhere where through prayer you can reach out for comfort, solace, and mercy. You are somewhere in your life and God is out there somewhere waiting for your call.

Today I feel quite differently. Perhaps the many long hours shuffling along the paths, hills and valleys of Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy have created in me a new space where I now believe God simply is. What of this then? How did I arrive here? In my experience, we all set out in life with some goals in mind. I suppose mine were typical. A happy marriage, a good job, able to pay the bills, and perhaps, even then, a sense that a spiritual relationship needed nurturing. So off we go into life following our hearts and most likely our best self interests. We move along discovering that some roads are better for us then others. Let’s say we give the good roads, the ones that affirm our beliefs and reinforce our goals, a bright yellow arrow. These are the paths always to be taken. At other moments we find ourselves on a diversion and quickly realize that we have made a mistake. We sense that we must turn around and recapture the way that we lost. These paths we will award a nice big black X. Do not go there, do not continue, turn back. So it was over the years that I unknowingly created a locus of experiences that shaped many aspects of my life, including my relationship with God. So to the point. It now strikes me that we do not coexist with God side by side, but that God is us. For most of my adult life, being raised Catholic, I had this tortuous belief system that put us as failed sinners in pursuit of a loving forgiving God who would heal us with his mercy. A kind of us and Him relationship. We are here begging for mercy and He is there wondering what we are up to. Over time this belief of an existing separation between God and us changed to a more profound belief in singularity. Meaning that God is us, not just within us like some pleasant passenger sharing a seat, but truly is us as we are Him.

Yes, all this faith stuff is by its very nature mystical. Some people can never get there. It is just too much of a leap, but whether we acknowledge it or not (I believe) God, is there, is us. It also makes sense that this mystical singularity then supports the outpouring of God’s love that is there to lead us beyond all the physical distractions and challenges of daily life. He would never just leave us adrift. He doesn’t have his hands on the wheel. We are still doing the driving and making decisions, but a map is there for us to follow, or not. We decide whether to choose the bright yellow arrow or continue beyond the danger mark of the black X. Just a bit more about God’s love. Remember this excerpt from scripture, “my ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts.” How true it is that we are so different from God, and thus our understanding of His love is limited to the emotional or physical aspect That we as humans know it. But, God’s love is something totally different. Words are difficult to find to explain it. Again this is us, as humans, trying to figure out the nature of God’s unlimited love. I guess we have to allow ourselves some room for error here, but let’s just imagine a love that has no limits that starts from a place absent of self interest or self gratification. It starts from an totally empty space, pure humbleness, that then fills to overflowing with a boundless goodness that is offered to us if we are patient, still, searching, and receptive. We were created in God’s image and likeness as christian teaching tells us, and so therefore as He is, we are also. We just have to try and live a life that reflects His grace. Yes, admittedly that is the tricky bit. But, I believe it is our nature to try to be Christ like. Heady stuff. Keep in mind these are my thoughts on my journey and where it has led me to date in my understanding of my Catholic faith. Your journey may take you someplace totally different, and your peace might be found following some other path. All I know is what I have encountered and related in this post. So, the pilgrim road still beckons. The search for wisdom continues. Admittedly, my faith occasionally runs more on the cooler side than the warmer. But, I now sense a joy, previously unfelt, for this life journey, although difficult at times, is leading me to a place free of darkness, and for that I feel forever blessed.

In closing, I heard Robin practicing this song she will be singing at mass this evening, Two were Bound for Emmaus. This excerpt from that song always touches me as it speaks to the road we all travel, our weariness, and our humanness.

“When the road makes us weary, when our labor seems but loss, when the fire of faith weakens and too high seems the cost, let the Church turn to its risen Lord who for us bore the cross, and we’ll find our hearts burning at the sound of His voice.” The complete song is below. Enjoy.

Nada te turbe

I seem to be on a spiritual roll here so I will offer this powerful prayer from St. Theresa of Avila. I was listening to this at the Chrism mass as it was being sung by the choir from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland. I always find this beautiful prayer reassuring. The text follows.

Nada te turbe;
nada te espante.
Todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda.
La pacienca
todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene,
nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.

Let nothing trouble you;
nothing afright you.
All things are passing;
God never changes.
overcomes all things.
The one who has God
wants for nothing.
God alone is enough.

Below is the recording from the 2016 Chrism Mass at St. Mary’s in Portland. Robin, front row second from right, is singing as well. Beautiful prayer. Beautiful arrangement. Beautiful voices.

Another winter’s walk

Camino Ignaciano: Zumarraga to Arantzazu, Basque mountains

The Advent and Christmas seasons have come and gone and Robin and I have enjoyed them immensely. It is our favorite time of the year. During this period we have looked both inward and outward, and have decided it is now time to get underway once again. We have been home since this past February and are now more than ready to stretch our camino legs once again. We have settled on walking the first week of the Camino Ignaciano, Loiola to Logroño, and then continuing with the Camino Invierno, Ponferrada to Santiago. We will be leaving in early January. The Invierno is a new route for us, and we are anxious to set our feet upon it. But, in truth, the most important thing for us is just to be walking, and enjoying the solitude. We are never lonely during our off season walks. We actually are quite content to embrace the winter weather, the stillness and to marvel at the simple joys that each day provides. I must admit it is all a bit of a mystery. We simply go forward in faith armed with a belief that a journey has been set out before us and we just try to see it through as best we can.

We do share a sense of hope that regardless of what we encounter we will always be able to continue to move along the road to Santiago. It is that hope that brings us peace and joy as we lean into whatever challenges the road presents. God willing it all ends well, and it usually does.

Peace be with you during this wonderful season and may many blessings follow you into the new year.