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.
This is day two 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. And I like writing.
When folks asked me how many miles I walked in Spain, I would say five hundred. That usually led to a look of shock and awe. I would then reassure the person that I didn’t walk five hundred miles in one day. I walked between twenty and thirty miles each day, went to sleep at night, got up the next day, and walked twenty to thirty more.
My hardest day to get up and walk was Day Two in Roncesvalles, but I got up and walked anyway. What was I going to do? Stay in Roncesvalles and think about walking the next day? Besides, they were kicking us out of the albergue.
When I was training for my Camino, I didn’t focus on being super fit. Instead, I focused on getting up and walking every day. Slowly, I worked my way up to walking five days.
It’s not about the big number, the five hundred miles. It’s about all the little numbers. It’s about the three miles to the next café where I will have a café con leche. It’s about the twenty-three I walked that day. It’s about all the little things that I did every day to get myself to where I wanted to be.
Even though I do not put new words on paper every day, I do work at writing every day. I read. I rewrite. I brainstorm new ideas. I find ways to get my words to readers. I work at it every day. It has become natural to me like walking on the Camino.
I love what I do, most of the time. Sometimes, it’s challenging. Sometimes, I go to sleep at night tired and frustrated. But then I get up the next day and do it all again.
On April 6, 2012, I walked out of St. Jean Pied de Porte and started walking the Camino Frances. I did not know on that cool misty morning that my life or rather my attitude about life would change in the next six years. I did not know that I had everything I needed (too much in fact). I just knew that I was going to walk to Roncesvalles.
Now, six years later, as 2018 starts, I have taken a step back as I ask myself what do I really want to do with my time on the planet. I looked at my website and I asked myself, what do I want to do with it? What do I want to do with my blogs?
I restarted the Happy Robot blog because I enjoy riffing on things that are happening in the ether. It’s fun for me to just throw down some words. It always has been. But what do I want to do with the blog on this website?The answer came easily. My mission on this site is to inspire Camino walkers and other aspiring adventurers.
But how am I going to do that? I soon decided to write a series of blogs about random ideas related to the Camino and to my life. I don’t want to write about the practical. I want to write about those intangible things that keep popping up in my head. Maybe these blogs will help others. Maybe these blogs will help me.
I decided to make it a specific series, so it doesn’t get out of control. I will post a new blog every day between now and April 6th, the 6th anniversary of the start of my Camino.
I can’t always walk forward. Sometimes, I have to take a step back and look around. Sometimes, I need to look at the scenery. Sometimes, I need to drink some water or catch my breath. Then when I’m ready to go again, I’ll start walking forward. Adelante.
The first of November will be the fourth anniversary of the publishing of The Slacker Pilgrim Guide. How did four years go by? It seemed liked not so long ago when I walked into Santiago de Compostella on a cloudy morning. I had no lodging booked. I just knew I had done what I set out to do, and I was so happy that I had done it. And the next day, I walked out of Santiago to go to Finisterra.
In my Osprey pack, I also had a notebook filled with notes and ramblings that I hoped to make into a book. The journey from notebook to ebook was as long as the Camino. I had to learn a whole new form and new way of writing. I also would discover a whole new way of connecting with the world. . .but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Recently the question of why I write these walking books was posed to me. I’m not completely sure why I write these books. I just do. Maybe if I talk about how I write the books, the why will become evident to me.
The Slacker Pilgrim Guide began simply. I was walking the Camino and thought, what if I wrote a book about the Camino. What if I wrote about all the little details—like Ladies Rooms and Café Con Leche. Instead of talking about the life changing epiphanies, what if I talked about the human and the humorous.
In 2012, the Camino was becoming more popular because of the film, The Way, and thanks to ebooks and the internet, one could learn about it. I knew that I had to get my book out quickly because the information in it was timely. I learned about ebooks and how to put a book up on Amazon.
The Camino had given me a certain courage to just put the book out there, but as a failed playwright, I was prepared for silence. I was prepared for only friends reading it. I was not prepared for the book to spread far and wide and for the book to connect me with so many people I had never met.
I became a Camino cheerleader. You can do it. Yes, you can do it. Sure, it’s gonna hurt. Sure, it might get uncomfortable. Go for it. I had never been a cheerleader. Cheerleaders did not appeal to my absurdist view of things, but I do know that a positive voice is what you need when you’re about to do something that might be a little crazy.
Through these books I have connected with folks. My story and my perspective have led me to hearing other stories and other perspectives. There was an exchange.
So why did I write the walking book and why do I continue to write walking books? At first, it was just an idea I had. But it was an idea that has developed into something larger. It is an idea that goes around the world and back again. It’s an idea that leads to connection and community. It’s an idea that makes me a better human.
I am not a super hiker. I am not a superior human being. I am just a person. I have faults. I get angry and upset and worried and scared like everyone else. But I have had moments when I see the good in myself and the world. I can walk for long distances (with cafes along the way) and everything starts to look good.
I like that you can go to a country and walk through it. I live in a country that is huge, and there are parts where that is difficult to do. I like seeing a place one step at a time. I like the slowness of a walking pace. I like it when I get a beautiful view after a little bit of work. All I had to do was start.
From late October through November this year, my partner and I walked for 28 days on the Via Francigena from Fidenza (an hour and a half train ride out of Milan) to Rome. Because we both worked in the summer months, we had to wait until the end of October to start our walk, so we were walking offseason.
With almost no knowledge of Italian, we stumbled through Italy for 600 kilometers through sun, rain, and mud. We had done the Camino Frances in Spain, but the Via Francigena in November was tougher. The route was well-marked and sign posted, but the infrastructure was not as strong as in Spain. In some places the accommodations were limited. Also, the route could go a whole day without passing into a town although the cappuccino was consistently excellent.
Still, I liked walking the Via Francigena. It was like the Camino Italian Style. On our walk, we went over the Cissa Pass and into Tuscany with some beautiful landscape. There were also some amazing churches along the route especially in Lucca and Siena. After Tuscany, we went into Lazio, walked through Bolsena, Viterbo, and finally into St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
Like the Camino, pilgrims carry a credential which gets stamped at every stop. Then, you can get a testimonium if you walk more than a hundred kilometers. Even though I was focused on getting to Rome for most of the walk, I did not pursue the mighty testimonium. I guess it wasn’t important to me anymore. Maybe I really am a slacker pilgrim at heart.
If you are thinking of walking offseason on the Via Francigena, there are both advantages and disadvantages. There were no crowds of pilgrims on the Via Francigena and no crowds of tourists in Tuscany. We only met only one other walking pilgrim in our month on the road although we did see pilgrims a few days ahead had left notes in the books at the osperias (pilgrim accommodations).
In November, many of the osperias were closed, but in the ones that were opened, we were the only pilgrims in the place. When there were no osperias, we stayed in B&Bs which were around 45 euro for the night for both of us while the osperias ranged in price from donation to 40 euro for both us. Also, most of the osperias had no heat, so it got mighty cold at night.
Speaking of heat, it was never too hot or too cold for walking. When it rained (and it rained a lot), the temperature stayed warm. It would be cold in the morning and after the sun went down (which was early, usually by 5pm). We walked north to south, so temperatures got warmer as we went.
When we finally made it to St. Peter’s Square, we were able to sit in the sun and soak up the heat like the little lizards we had seen on our walk. We had also gotten to see an Italy that most tourists don’t see.