When I was walking the Camino Portuguese this past May from Porto to Santiago de Compostella, I found myself staying in places where I actually had a view.
I usually don’t care about having a view when I travel (sorry, E.M. Forster), so my view is often of an airshaft or a side street. It doesn’t matter since I tend not to spend a lot of time in the accommodation.
Even though I didn’t seek out a room with a view on the Camino Portugues, I would arrive at a new place at the end of a walking day, look out the window, and marvel at all that I could see. Some of the views were worth a moment’s pause. Look at where I am now. How did I arrive in such a lovely place? Well, I walked here.
Here are some of my views on the Camino Portugues:
When I was walking the Camino Portugues this past May from Porto to Santiago de Compostella, I had no foot problems even though I was ready for any foot emergency. I carried bandaids and tape, but I didn’t use the stuff. My feet stayed blissfully happy for eleven days of walking.
When I walked the Camino Frances back in 2012, I also had no blisters although I lost two toenails (ouch!) on the first and second days. On the Via Francigena in 2014, I had lots of foot pains and a blister because I didn’t properly break in the shoes before the walk.
Before the Camino Portugues, I trained a lot on concrete pavement in the hiking shoes. The pavement training turned out to be important because there was a lot of pavement and stone under the feet on the Portugues. I would even go so far as to say there was more pavement than the other walks, but that is just my completely biased opinion based on memories of walks over a decade ago. I did do a happy dance whenever my feet got to dirt on the Portugues.
So how did my feet stay blister free on the Camino Portugues?
This is what I did every morning:
I would sit and rub my feet. Good morning, feet, I hope you had a good sleep.
I would then rub Body Glide chafing stick all over my feet especially hitting the toes, the soles, the sides. The purpose of the chafing stick is to prevent friction from building up in the sock. You can also use Vaseline.
I would put on one clean dry pair of Smart Wool socks. I had brought five pairs of socks, but in future Caminos, I will only bring three. I always had a pair that was dry and clean. These socks were so comfortable that I would rub my feet again with the socks on.
Finally, I put on my hiking shoes. I had a pair of Columbia waterproof hiking shoes that I bought on sale at an outlet store. These shoes ended up being the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn on a Camino. I wear shoes that are Size 7 ½ to 8 (US sizes). These were Size 8. They never felt too tight or too oversized.
With shoes on, I would stand up, take a few steps, and do a little dance with my hands in the air like I just don’t care. When everything felt good, I would put on the pack and go. Let’s see what the day brings.
During the walk, I would stop frequently to take breaks. If possible, I would try to sit with my feet up. I would keep my shoes and socks on during my breaks. I know some folks like to take their shoes off. I think this is entirely your preference.
At the end of the walking day, when it was time to take the shoes off, I would sit, take off the shoes, take off the socks, check my feet, rub my feet. They were good feet for me.
I had an extra pair of light sneakers as well as a pair of flip-flops, but because my walking shoes were so comfortable, I usually put the Columbias back on for a walk around the town.
Every walk has a beginning. I’m not very ceremonial when I start my walks. I’m usually thinking, okay, let’s get on with it then. When I walked from Porto to Santiago this past May, I decided to start my walk by taking Porto’s Metro.
Porto is a walkable and beautiful Portuguese city. I highly recommend spending a few days there. I walked everywhere in the city center. I went to the Cathedral, the Contemporary Art Museum, restaurants, the river front, and the central market.
Porto also has great public transportation with Metro trains and buses. The Porto Metro is clean, efficient, and not expensive. The Brierley guide mentioned that I could eliminate eighteen kilometers on my first day by taking the metro, and I decided to do just that.
To take the Metro, you need a Metro card with the correct fare on it. You can buy a card at any machine in any Metro station. The Metro card can be refilled and there are all sorts of options like a day pass or a single fare. Metro station machines have an English language option, and they take both cash and card. You can also take the Metro from the airport, and the Metro station is easy to find once you land. There was even a Metro representative helping people get their Metro cards at the machines.
To take the Metro for the Camino Portuguese, you need to get on a B red line train heading to Povoa de Varzim and get off at Vilar do Pinheiro. The entire ride took 45 minutes to an hour from Trindade. I went in the late morning, and the train was not crowded. If you are catching the train in Trindade, several different lines stop at the same platform. Make sure you get the local train going to Povoa de Varzim.
In addition to eliminating the eighteen kilometers, the train will take you out of Porto, past apartment blocks, and urban stuff and deposit you on a country lane with trees.
When you get off the train, you can either go right for the Central Route or left for the Coastal Route. There’s only one road. I had a booking for my first night in Via do Conde, so I went left for the Coastal. There is a map and info about the Camino Portuguese at the station, so my guess is that a lot of pilgrims use the metro option.
I walked about a half kilometer down a paved country road. When I got to the airport (I was at the far end of the runway, not at the terminal), I turned right and sure enough, there was my first Camino marker. I then followed the marks and walked twelve kilometers to Via do Conde.
There were lots of trees but I would describe the way as all road going past farms, a motorway, and an outlet mall. The walk in Azuara and into Via de Conde was lovely, and I easily found my accommodation along with a good pilgrim menu dinner.
Is the Metro option cheating? No, I don’t think there is any cheating on the Camino. I think one can do the best one can with the options available. Do what you have to do to get yourself going.
I was nervous about starting this Camino. I had issues with fatigue, so I wasn’t sure how my body would react. However, once I got myself walking, everything physical, emotional, and mental started feeling good. I was able to build on the 12 km first day with a few more kilometers the next day, then a few more kilometers the day after, and I started feeling stronger. I’m glad I took the Metro option. I felt like I was fired out of a cannon, but I landed on my feet.
This past May, I walked eleven days from Porto to Santiago de Compostella on the Central Route. I had not walked a Camino in nine years, but a Camino is still a Camino. Only now, there are smart phones and apps.
I was walking at the end of May, and there were lots of Pilgrims. In Tui (which is 100 km from Santiago), the number of pilgrims quadrupled. I noticed a lot of day packs and folks took advantage of bag transport. While I carried my full pack the whole time, I did book ahead at most of the places I stayed at.
I chose the Central Route over the Coastal Route because I live in Southern California and see the ocean every day in my work. Also, what I gleaned from YouTube videos was that the Central Route had more variety and history. On the Central, most of the landscape is rolling hills, rivers, and vineyards; then I would stumble across a thousand year old church which was pretty awesome.
I recommend the Camino Portugues Central if you want to do a Camino Quickie in two weeks. Northern Portugal is a beautiful place with great people and great food; then you cross a bridge into Spain, and you are in Galicia. When you get to Santiago, you enter the plaza from the opposite side of the Camino Frances folks, and I really appreciated the different view.
I have so much to say about the Camino Portugues, and I will be saying it in some other blogs I have planned. I look forward to sharing it with you all.
Finally, I just got word that John Brierley has died. I used his guidebook on the Camino Portuguese (as well as the Camino Frances back in 2012). Godspeed Mr. Brierley and may flights of angels sing thee on your next journey.
On November 1, 2012, I took a deep breath and clicked publish for the Slacker Pilgrim Guide on Amazon, Smashwords, and a bunch of other ebook publishers.
I had written plays, screenplays, blogs, and stories. I knew I could not control how others would receive it or if anyone would get it. I just wanted to put my Camino story out there and whatever will be will be.
While walking the Camino, I had found a strange courage and a way of doing what felt right. With the book, I trusted that courage and discovered a whole new way of connecting with fellow pilgrims. I am still in awe that my little guide has resonated with so many people. Yes, walking the Camino can be humorous.
Ten years later, I continue to be both a slacker pilgrim and a racing pilgrim. In the Slacker Pilgrim Guide, slacker pilgrim walks slowly and takes it all in while racing pilgrim walks quickly to get there quick quick quick! Because they both end up in the same place every night, they have long chats and become friends. I believe we all have a bit of the slacker pilgrim and the racing pilgrim in us.
I haven’t done a long walk since 2014, but I have jumped on sailboats and discovered a slow way of voyaging on the water as well as a way to be quick and fast. I enjoy the slow leisurely pace of a cruising sailboat as well as the intense focus of a racing sailboat.
I am ten years older and can feel myself slowing down a bit. Perimenopause is no joke. However, I remain determined to put one foot in front of the other over the next ridge and through the next town.
In honor of the ten-year anniversary, I came up with some merchandise using the Slacker Pilgrim and Racing Pilgrim characters in the book. On any day, you can be a Slacker Pilgrim or a Racing Pilgrim and wear it with pride. Because I still like the black clothes, you can get them in basic black. There are stickers too. You can find the link here.
Ten years ago, on the 6th of April in 2012, D and I walked out of St. Jean Pied de Port on the Camino de Santiago. I remember it was cloudy and cool. The Basque woman in the Camino office told us to go up into the mountains instead of taking the canyon. We followed her advice. We stopped in Orisson and ate soup. We walked all the way to Roncesvalles where I had the greatest shower of my life.
On that day, I did not know that I would write a book about my experience, publish that book as an ebook, and reach a lot of people. On that day, I had no idea where I was going (although there was the distant Santiago de Compostella) on my walk or in life. I was just doing what felt right.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This post is about the beginning of the journey. There is so much joy and giddiness in the beginning of things when some parts of the journey are uncertain. Wow, I’m going to do this. It’s exciting.
I had read books and seen The Way. I had trained and bought a pair of walking shoes. I had a backpack and a guidebook. However, I had no idea what the walk actually was until I was doing it. My Camino experience turned out to be better than watching The Way, and I say that with great love for that film.
I like the not knowing when I embark on something. It’s fun to stumble around, and there’s less pressure to be a certain way. My writing mentor likes to say that in the beginning, anything is possible. I’ve written a lot of beginnings with no middles and ends. Sometimes it takes a while to find the middle. In many ways, I still feel like I’m in the middle after the beginning in St. Jean Pied to Port.
On the 6th, I started walking.
On the 7th, my legs were stiff, but I kept walking.
On Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles there is a movie theatre called The Landmark. I used to go there a lot before the pandemic. The multiplex showed art house films along with mainstream fare and Oscar bait.
The Landmark used to be attached to a mall by a pedestrian bridge, but the mall was closed and is now being converted into tech company offices. There also used to be a giant Barnes and Noble book store right next to the movie theatre, but that moved out and was replaced by a high end furniture store which closed pre-pandemic.
I liked going to the Landmark. Their ticket prices were cheaper than the Arclight. The seats were comfortable. Everyone who worked there was super friendly. I could get a cup of hot tea and a hot dog at the concession stand. If I was early, I could hang out in their bar which had some comfortable lounge couches.
I can’t remember the last movie I saw in the Landmark. Sometimes, I would be super excited about seeing a new film. Sometimes, I didn’t care what I saw. I just wanted to see a movie in a dark theatre filled with strangers. I prefer going to movies by myself. I’ve been let down too many times by close friends who like to comment on the movie while it is playing. I don’t mind laughter or gasps or the occasional HOLY SMOKE! Please, I don’t want to hear an actor’s resume while the movie is playing.
The Landmark like other movie theatres is currently closed due to the pandemic. Even though I have access to tons of movies and TV shows to watch at home, it’s just not the same as going to a movie in the theatre. The tea tastes different. The floor isn’t sticky. I hope the Landmark makes it through this okay.
Since the pandemic started, many worse things than a movie theatre closing have happened to me and to others. If you have experienced a loss of any kind, I am deeply sorry. As for me, I am still mentally and emotionally sorting through my own loss, but I get up every morning and stand on my feet. I make a cup of tea. I keep going. I have realized that loss and grief will take time. Fortunately, now, I have a lot of time.
I’ve also been thinking about boredom. During this current pandemic, I’ve had a few moments of boredom. Okay, I’m bored, I thought. Then I chuckled. Instead of feeling bad about my boredom. I’m actually feeling okay about it. While it’s nice to have few distractions, I don’t want distraction all the time. I just want to enjoy whatever the current moment brings. Sure it’s kind of boring, but that’s the fun and challenge of it.
When did it become not okay to be bored? I remember boring car rides as a kid (they were really boring, we were in the Midwest of the United States). My brothers and I learned to deal with it and not fight all the time. I learned to just sit and look out the window at the dirty snow on the ground. It was what it was. I started to imagine things. I pictured a world without snow. I wondered if I could go somewhere without snow. I started to dream.
In the car, we didn’t have the distraction of DVDs and video. DVDs hadn’t been invented yet, and a VHS tape machine was too clunky for car rides. I couldn’t read books because I got car sick. I did have a Walkman permanently attached to my ears, so my views of snow had an 80s pop soundtrack.
I first realized that boredom was okay when I walked across Spain. The Camino does not pass through beautiful epiphany-filled landscape all the time. Some miles are little boring. Since there was no instant gratification except the occasional café con leche, I developed a patience that wasn’t just virtuous. It was enjoyable. All these years later, I still remember some of the boring bits. They were part of the experience too.
I’ve also done some distance sailing. It might sound glamorous—sailing off into the sunset. However, sailing takes time, and there are a lot of days when you are just looking at water. At first it might seem boring, but then I noticed that the water is constantly changing. Sometimes I spotted a sea turtle or a pod of dolphins. Still, water every day can be a bit maddening, but the mind slows down. It becomes pleasant. We’ll get to where we’re going eventually.
So it’s okay to be bored. I think my mind needs some of the down time anyway. Too much distraction becomes background noise and boring too. So I enjoy the boredom. It’s fun.
Finally, it amuses me that I write about the noise of distraction, but it turns out that I’ve just written a distraction. Bon Appetit!
Tomorrow, April 6th, is the eighth anniversary of the start of my Camino in St. Jean Pied de Porte. I’ve been feeling a little rusty on matters of the Camino; then Covid-19 happened. I watched two beautiful countries, Spain and Italy, which had opened their hearts to me, go into lockdown with many sick and dying. It’s heartbreaking, and I know that’s a cliché, but I have no other word.
In social isolation in Southern California, I found myself feeling calm among the uncertainty. It was okay. I could do this. I started to think about how the Camino had prepared me for Social Isolation. Naturally, I started to make a list:
1. We are still connected whether we want to be or not. On the walk, when I was feeling uncertain or unable, help would come from random people I met. I’m seeing the same thing now. People are kind.
2. Physical challenges. On the Camino, there were some physically challenging days—I’m thinking of you, Pyrenees. Now the challenge is different. I have to be still. I don’t have a gym. As of this writing, I can still walk the dog. I found a bunch a Zumba classes on You Tube. I have to find ways to keep my physical self going even though my mind wants to sit on the computer all day.
3. The Camino was a mind game at times. This is a mind game. It’s okay to feel mentally bad for a little while. Let that pass. It’s okay to be worried. Figure out what you can control and can’t control. If the big picture is too overwhelming, focus on the next step, then take it, then focus on the next step, and the next step. If it’s raining, it’s just the rain.
4. Daily habits. Stay clean, stay fed, sleep as much as you can. Do laundry. It’s the little things. There is power in a shower.
5. I’m a human on a planet full of humans. Be kind.
Back in 2012, I bought an Osprey Hornet 46 backpack
for my upcoming Camino walk. In the outdoor supply shop, the backpack sales guy
put weight in the bag and let me walk around the store. I didn’t need an
enormous bag since I wasn’t going to be tent camping. I needed something light
but durable. I also liked that it was red.
That backpack was on my back for the Camino de
Santiago in 2012 and the Via Francigena in 2014. Because it was a perfect sized
carry-on, it went with me on several plane trips. In the last few years, it
also went on several overnight sailing trips with me. The last time I used it
was on a sailing race from Santa Barbara to Redondo Beach. In addition to
holding my stuff, it also was a nice pillow during the night.
Right after I got on the boat, I discovered that
the backpack’s lining was starting to shred. It was some sort of rubber compound,
and it got on all the stuff in the bag. It appeared to be a reinforcement
layer. Still, the bag came through the trip totally fine.
Back on land, I discovered Osprey had a generous
repair policy. They will repair any Osprey bag. I just had to ship it to Colorado.
I filled out the online form and sent the bag to them. On the online form, I checked
the sentimental value box. This red pack had been my faithful companion on my
long walks and sailing adventures.
A week or so later, Osprey called me. They could
not fix the lining of the bag. I had two options: they could send the bag back
or they could replace the bag. However, they no longer made the Hornet 46, so I
would be given an equivalent. Osprey sent me some options.
I trekked to the local outdoor supply shop to try
out the potential new bag. I put it on, and a different backpack sales guy
helped me adjust the straps. Once again, I walked around the store and went up
and down stairs. It was different but also super comfortable. It was basic
black. The fabric felt different. The straps were wider than the Hornet 46, but
I liked it.
Still, I would be giving up the Hornet 46. Could I
do it? Faithful companion. It didn’t just hold my stuff. It held my hopes and
dreams. We had been through rain and mud together. Then, I remembered something
I learned on the Camino. It was just a thing. Let it go. I am sentimental about
it, but does that mean I have to keep it?
So farewell, Osprey Hornet 46. You served me well.
Hello, Osprey Talon 44. Let’s do some adventuring.
Today, six years ago, I started my Camino. For this last week, I have been blogging about things I have learned from the Camino and how they apply for to my life now.
Or something like that.
I remember the day I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. It was one of the happiest days of my life, and I am someone who doesn’t like to use phrases like happiest day. I was so happy that day. I was reunited with all of my Camino friends. I found a nice place to stay. I went to a friend’s birthday dinner. We stood in the square, and everyone sang Happy Birthday in their native tongue. It was a day of joy. We had arrived.
The next day, I put on my pack and walked out of Santiago. I wanted to go to Finisterre. I wanted to go to the water. I felt that I wasn’t quite done. Even though I felt so much joy arriving in Santiago, I felt even more joy leaving it.
I love watching awards shows like the Oscars. Yes, I like the pretty dresses. At the same time, I like noticing the ones who are happy winning but are also looking toward the next thing, the next project. It’s as if the award is not the end of anything but the beginning of something new. Yes, this is great, but I can’t wait to do the next thing.
When you get there, what’s there? And isn’t the real fun in the going on? So here’s to you all making whatever journey you make. Celebrate when you arrive, then keep going. Isn’t it all so much fun?