Camino Portugues: From Porto to Santiago on the Central Route

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.

Happy Ten Year Anniversary Slacker Pilgrim Guide!

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.

In the meantime, trust the love and keep walking.

Sunshine Jen

In the Beginning. . .ten years ago

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.

How The Camino Prepared Me for Social Isolation

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.

Be well, be happy, and trust the love.


Let It Go

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.

One last curtain call for the Hornet 46. . .


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?

The Camino Provides

I’ve heard this story often. It usually begins with: I was walking the Camino. Then something bad happens: I was hurt, I was hungry, I was tired. Then there’s a miracle: I met a massage therapist, someone gave me a chocolate bar, someone carried my pack.

When I was preparing to walk my Camino six years ago, I had a lot of questions. Would I find food? Would I find a bed at night? How well is the trail marked? I kept hearing, the Camino provides. The Camino Provides. Don’t worry. The Camino Provides.

But what about ladies bathrooms??? Don’t worry. The Camino Provides.

As an American, I pride myself on being active. I set goals, I act, I get results. The Camino Provides is passive. True, the Camino won’t walk the five hundred miles for you, but the Camino will help you along the way.

Twice, on the Camino, I was tired and unsure if I could go on. Twice, someone showed up and walked with me to the next place. When I was hungry, I found a café. One time, I showed up, and the alburgue was full, so I walked another mile or so to the next place. It turned out to be a nice place with a good bed and a hot shower. That night, I had a lovely dinner with the other pilgrims and a great night sleep. I could go on the next day.

I wonder if the Camino Provides can apply to life in general. Maybe I have more resources than I think I do. Sometimes, I just need a little help to get to the next place. I haven’t been there, but I want to go there. Maybe that’s enough. I’ll keep walking. When I need a little help, the Camino will provide.


Who Am I?

This is day five of my week long blog-a-thon where I look back on lessons from the Camino in order to inspire others and myself. It’s my way of reconnecting with my Camino six years after my walk.

Who am I really? Who is this Sunshine Jen person? She seems adventurous. She likes to write. She likes to walk. She likes to sail. But who is she really?

Back in 2004, I was given a blog on the Happy Robot. The owner of the site wanted some west coast flavor. I figured I would write until I ran out of ideas and got bored with it. I took a break in 2016/2017, but the ideas are still coming.

I walked the Camino de Santiago, and I wrote a book which I self-published as an ebook. Then to my shock, people read it. I published another ebook, and I did another walk and wrote a book about it. I learned how to build a website and blog on it.

But who is Jen? How much of me is Sunshine Jen? I like to call Sunshine Jen my internet super heroine. Sunshine Jen just keeps going. I think Sunshine Jen has made Jen a better person. In a way, Sunshine Jen is Jen without the hours of silence spent typing into Microsoft Word documents (I’m a PC user).

Do we recreate ourselves or do we just become more ourselves? I’m in my mid-forties now, and I feel I have recreated my life several times. There have been definite stages. I have no idea how it’s going to turn out, but I am enjoying the journey.

In the last few years, I have felt better about living in my skin. For starters, I don’t have the horrible acne I had as a teenager. I feel more confident. I am still a shy person in many ways, but I’ve turned that into an advantage. I make it a point to be polite and kind to those around me. I’m honest with myself about how I feel about things.

But wait, how can I be honest while being anonymous? In this age, everyone is sincerely themselves. That’s fine too. I just like being Sunshine Jen in the blogging.

At the end of one of the Iron Man movies, Tony Stark stands up and says, I’m Iron Man. It’s as if he’s saying, fine, I am the hero, now can we all move on? I want to go work on my suit.

For the record, as I’m typing this, I’m wearing black pants and a navy blue top. I’m not wearing reading glasses although I need them from time to time. The eyes are starting to go. I have some grey in my hair, but I don’t worry about that. I’ve had grey since my twenties. I like wearing running shoes, and I can no longer wear high heels for long periods of time. When I was walking the Camino, I promised my feet that if they got me through, I would not torture them by wearing heels for a long time.

Also, I am currently eating a snack bag of cheez-its. According to the bag, they were made with real cheese. Would a snack ever admit to being made with fake cheese?


Love Love Love

A phrase that came to me when I was walking the Camino six years ago was: Trust the Love. It’s a phrase that comes back to me again and again.

Trust the Love. It’s a command. You must trust, Jen. I’m a modern city-living lady. I have mastered the squint of distrust. I’ve trusted and been burned. I do get leery. But when she gets leery, try a little tenderness.

Okay, thanks to Google, I learned the lyric is weary, not leery. I apologize for my imperfect lyrical memory and move on.

Trust the love. What is this love that I have to trust? It’s not a tangible thing. It’s not something that has been proven. It’s an act of faith in something bigger than myself, and oh, how hard it was for my ego to think about something bigger than myself.

Trust the love. It’s not just about loving people although it’s good to love those around you, to be kind and generous to those around you. Loving others is good.

So is loving what you do. I have discovered that when I do what I love, I find others who love doing the same thing, and we form a community. On the outside, we might seem different, but together, we have a shared love. We enjoy each other’s company, and isn’t it nice going through life enjoying the company of the people around you. It’s such a pleasant way to be.

Love can lead to courage. I have fears, I can be extremely cautious, but when I’m surrounded by people I love and trust, those fears go away. What am I really fearful of anyway?

Yes, I realize this kind of thinking does not apply to every scenario on planet Earth. When I see a rattle snake on the path, I am not going to pick it up and love it. I’m also not going to give up hiking either.

I’ve also learned from the walking that part of loving is letting go. This can be letting go of fears or insecurities, letting go of a certain self-image you had of yourself, letting go of something that causes unhappiness. It’s okay. I say, it’s okay, to myself a lot.

It’s okay, Jen, you’re still on the planet. You’re still breathing. How can you not love that?

Convenient/Inconvenient Comfortable/Uncomfortable

For all of my adult life, I have lived in cities in the United States. I am used to convenience. I am used to everything moving in a systematic way. I can buy groceries twenty-four hours a day. I like sleeping in a comfortable bed. I like hot showers.

But what if I don’t have that? What if things become unsystematic? What if the shower is cold? What if I’m sleeping in a room full of strangers and one of them is snoring loudly? What if I step away from all my expectations of my daily routine? Could I survive without wifi?

When I walked the Camino, I stepped away from the convenient and the comfortable, and I found I enjoyed the inconvenient and the uncomfortable more than I thought I would. Inconvenience became fun especially after I realized that it was not about me.

Things just are what they are. I decide whether a long wait is a bad thing. I decide whether the snoring in the middle of the night is sooo terrible (although I did have ear plugs which did the trick). If my feet start to ache, I decide whether it is pain easily curable by resting or some terrible suffering.

Since the Camino, I have found m my own way to comfort. A blanket is comfort when I crash on a friend’s couch as cats crawl over me at night. I will sit and have a cup of tea or coffee to take a break from my day.

I like to be comfortable, but I don’t want to comfort to be a reason to not do something. It’s okay if I have to wait for something. It’s okay if I have to sleep on top of sails on a long boat trip. It’s okay if it’s all not perfect. It’s just life.

Recently, I was sailing (which I do a lot). The wind picked up and sea state got choppy. Suddenly, the boat hit a wave wrong, and everyone on the boat was soaked. It was a chilly day, and the water wasn’t very warm. Still, I couldn’t help laughing. Oh well, now I was wet. On a sailboat. What part of that was really truly awful?