Day 4 (March 13) 18 miles. Ups and Downs

The hotel staff is so important in helping us smoothly transition from hotel to walk to the next hotel. Marta at Suave Mar helped me with my internet connection as well. Without her, Day 3’s blog would still be stored on my iPhone. Thank you Marta.

Marta at Suave Mar, Esposende

We walked along the shore and then turned inland. I stopped to take the photo below when Laird asked if we were hiking over those hills in the background. I was puzzled. Aren’t we on the coastal route? The coastal route that should be mostly at sea level. What I didn’t know is that he had read the route notes for the day. I was in for a surprise.

Hills?

On these walks, one also depends on the kindness of strangers. As we exited the town, we were marching straight north. Then, we stopped because we had not seen a yellow arrow indicating the Camino’s path. We turned and a woman was pointing – go this way – to the right. People must be used to seeing wandering pilgrims. Odete saved us from some unnecessary steps that one appreciates by the end of a walk.

Odete

We crossed a main highway (N13) that the guidebook warned as dangerous. A short climb similar to halfway up South Mountain (200 feet) was easy. Shortly, a distance pole appeared – 208 km to Santiago. I am skeptical of such signs because every leg of our walk has been longer than the stated distance. But so be it – that’s still 125 miles, of course, flat miles.

Cute Camino Signpost

On the path, we also stop for puppy love.

Puppy Love

Whether on the 88 or this walk, resting stops afford welcome relief. We saw a sign – Cafe I Museu O Lampiao – 90 meters to the left off the path. The sign had the magic word – some of you have walked with me, what do you think? Wrong. It had printed in red – carimbo/stamp that pilgrims eagerly collect to show that they have walked the Camino.

Although Laird thought what you were thinking was my motivation, he later admitted – what the heck, we can get the stamp. O Lampiao turned out to be wildest stop that I have experienced while walking.

The owner apparently loves Che. Pictures, posters, souvenirs of Che were everywhere. On top of that, FC Porto and other football memorabilia hung everywhere. We were in a shrine.

For the Love of Che
FC Porto!

Our host made us comfortable from the get go. Two orders of cafe with milk, we asked. Yes, and then came the peanuts in the shell, tiny kumquats, and crackers with local honey. Laird was in heaven – peanuts in the shell, his favorite hiking snack. Who knew and for 1.60 Euros – the two cafes only. The stop also magically helped me.

Laird and His Peanuts

On we went along cobblestone and dirt paths until we reached a small white church. After passing the church, we zigzagged for a bit until the paved dirt road dove into a forest. What happened to the waves and the flat boardwalk? We were hiking on narrow muddy ruts on the side of a hill with a steep slope to a roaring stream below. The rocks were slippery and we encountered a rock slide – a potential widow maker. The operative word is potential because we could climb over them. We finally reached the stream and crossed it.

Small White Church
Slippery Rocks
Stream Crossing

Coming down the hill, meant going back up. Climb we did up a steep grade until we reached the Church of Santiago do Castelo. I guessed that we were up 600 – 750 feet because the ocean was far in the distance. Santiago greeted us. He seemed so serious. I would have preferred a more jolly appearance welcoming the pilgrims who struggled up the mountain – note, not hill.

The magic words were there – carimbo inside. Once inside, we were trying to identity the person stamping passports. It was an awkward situation. About 30 people were in the church, almost all women, sitting in the pews. I did notice two people walking up to the alter, kneeling down, and bowing before stepping into their pews. My Catholic alter boy training kicked in. I whispered to Laird to look up at the monstrance above the alter. The monstrance holds the consecrated host which most of the time is hidden in a tabernacle requiring a one knee genuflection. When it is exposed, double genuflection is dictated meaning “on the knees,” as Sister Mary Elva admonished in second grade. Years of Catholic training came in a flash. I felt satisfied interpreting this action to Laird, an Episcopalian. Laird hadn’t even noticed.

We were feeling disappointed – no stamp. As we were exiting, a worshipper came up to us and pointed to a dimly lit table over on the far side of the church. Luckily, she pointed because my Portuguese is nil. A self-service station. My stamp ended up fuzzy unlike those clear one from practiced hands of Camino professionals.

We left the church on a paved road with dark skies behind us. If it rained, we had excellent walking conditions. It was not meant to be. Into the woods we went – muddy, pools of water, slippery rocks, branches across the path – until we reached the bottom where pilgrims have left stones and other objects on top of a wall. Another ritual of giving thanks, I guess.

Coming Down the Mountain
At the Eastern Wall

Will you indulge me with this diversion? Some of the 88 temples on the Shikoku walk are located in the mountains. They were my favorites because of how they were situated. Sometimes, after walking up 2,500 feet to sanmon, the entrance to the temple, one still had to climb hundreds of stairs to reach the hondo, the main building of the temple to say prayers. You can imagine the feeling.

While descending, Laird and I came upon this chapel at the top of a long climb. And, yes, we did not climb the stairs but opted to stay on our downward course.

Climb to Heaven

We were now about 4 miles from our destination, Viana do Castelo, with dreams of warm rooms, hot showers, and belly warming dinners dancing in our heads. Santiago must have a twisted mind – is he the minder of purgatory? We still had to climb another mountain! We ended in driving rain as we crossed the Rio Limia. However, our dreams came true.

Climb Every Mountain
Ford Every Stream
Dream Fulfilled

Day 3 (12 March) 15 Miles. A Wedding, Cemetery, and Golf Too

Even behind the mask, we could see Mariana’s smile. She was our receptionist at the Hotel Costa Marine in Póvoa de Varzim. Our rooms were very comfortable, the breakfast tasty, and Mariana made sure that our baggage was ready to go to our next hotel. Our hotels have met our expectations so far – comfortable, excellent WIFI, and a superb staff. Thumbs up for Camino Ways’ choices.

Mariane

From the warm confines of our hotel, we were literally hit with driving rain and 40+ mph winds from the south. We were lucky that the winds were at our backs. The winds pushed us along while the rain hit our backs. Laird took a moment to look back at the camera. He spent the next minutes wiping rain from his face.

Laird Courageously Facing Into the Wind

We continued along the boardwalk as it wound its way around the dunes. Shortly after walking this long straight section, we came upon several holes of the Estrela Golf Club. The course is right along the ocean. With the rain and wind, we could have been in Scotland. Note the flagstick that was flying stiffly. No golfers were seen.

The Long Straightaway
Estrela Club Green

After the boardwalk ended, we were on dirt roads with puddles galore. We waved at farmers planting what looked like scallions. I can’t imagine the pressure on farmers to plant their crops in weather like this. We got the thumbs up from them – we guessed for being hearty pilgrims.

Farmers Planting

Such unexpected moments continued when we entered the town of Apulia. We correctly identified as the main church. We decided to try for a passport stamp because the side door of the church was open. When I went through the door, the church was filled with well dressed adults and children. We should have guessed what was happening because a vintage Rolls Royce was parked at the main entrance. Yes, it was a wedding. The rituals of life go on.

Flower Girl

What is a beginning is balanced with the ending. We passed a cemetery. You can see the tiny blue Camino sign signaling for us to go left. But the yellow sign had more meaning — alternative exit. Ah, stage left.

It was now 1 PM. Time for lunch. We ducked into Chale on the Camino. We opted for Francesinha (a traditional Portuguese sandwich of slice pork, ham, cheese, egg, that is often covered with sauce). We opted for a full sandwich Chale style though a half portion was offered. Our eyes popped when we were served. We included a group photo of the cooking and serving staff who helped these pilgrims refuel their tanks. They also graciously stamped our passports.

Franchisena Chale Style
The Chale Staff

One might expect that every day will be a Groundhog Day – the same old. However, today brought the gifts of new experiences with more to come. We can’t wait.

Day 2 (11 March) 20 Miles. A New Club Member

Laird Evans is officially a member of the 20 miler club after his second day. He has two blisters, some aching muscles and bones to show for it but he is smiling because of the honor. The blisters? He didn’t prime his toes with the foot glide. The good news was no rain but winds up to 25 mph. Congratulations.

Although this day was listed as 25 km or 15 miles, how did we end with 20? I have found that these distance specs are usually rough estimates. They don’t account for walkers wandering here and there looking for local floral and fauna. Challenging situations arise such as the map showing a path where it dead ends in a nature preserve and one has to improvise finding the way to an alternative route. Or, construction necessitates a detour and backtracking. We experienced it all.

Unlike the 88 temple walk, dinner starts much later in Portugal. When we arrived at 6 PM, we would have been late – a faux pas on the 88. Imagine the polite but downward look and sigh from your Japanese host. Not here! Also, no need to rise before the sun to make 6 AM breakfast. Tomorrow, breakfast at 8:15.

We encountered several different walking conditions on this day. After leaving the Metro, we walked through the port smelling newly caught seafood being processed and shipped. Here are the gloves of the ladies who were cleaning the fish. Note the sign above the gloves about masking. We observed 100% mask wearing on the Metro and in indoor areas. About 40 – 50% wear masks outside. Almost all Portuguese are vaccinated. We had to be particularly alert to wear masks when indoors. I’ll add another helpful hint. Be sure to buy your Metro ticket in Porto. On our ride to the port, agents came through the train to zap tickets. Avoid the embarrassment and fines.

Ladies Gloves At Port
Masked Metro Riders

After we crossed the bridge to leave the port, blue skies and brisk winds faced us along this beautifully laid out beachfront. Some people were out jogging, walking their dogs, or finding a sheltered spot on the beach.

Upscale Beachfront
The Beach

Further on we enjoyed the boardwalk that stretched about 8 -10 miles up the coast. The area has beautiful dunes and wetlands. People can walk through them without damaging the environment especially the delicate dune grasses. We liked it for its softer surface; the stone sidewalks were hard on the body. Here is Laird walking on one of the boardwalks.

Down on the Boardwalk

Even on a supposedly 15 mile walk, we needed a break. We came upon one of several beachfront restaurants. Here’s our view just before we sipped (really after walking eight miles?) and dug into our wraps and pommes frites.

Lunch

Another type of trail was this “marked” road that eventually lead to a dead end. Enough said.

The “Marked” Road

But then again after we walked through the dunes, we found a boardwalk that brought us to this beach.

Dune Beach

After two more construction detours, we were back in an urban area. Much of the Camino is idyllic and pastoral. Like pilgrims of old, one still had to traverse towns and cities.

Near a Roundabout

We made it to the bridge that brought us about three miles from our hotel. We thought about what Ukrainians are experiencing and how fortunate we are to be walking this Camino.

The Blue and Yellow

Day 1 (March 10) 9 Miles. Around Porto

Our Camino begins.

We got our passports stamped at the Cathedral do Porto – an imposing building overlooking the roofs of historic Porto (UNESCO World Heritage site). Finding a yellow arrow, we started down the stone stairway to the River Douro.

We were following one of the branches of the Coastal route that is about nine miles. We chose to do this segment on our first day because tomorrow we will have a 15 mile walk. We will take the Metro to the stop that we reached this afternoon, Matosinhos Sul, and continue the Camino. Twenty-four miles on the first day would have been a real stretch.

We walked along the quay passing a tram that begins near the Sao Francisco church and ends at a park near the lighthouse marking where the Douro and the Atlantic Ocean meet. Here’s Laird and I at the Atlantic Ocean with the lighthouse in the background.

The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying a menu of dishes composed of black truffles and its wine pairing at Indiferente. Michelin designated it as a superb restaurant at a good price. We agree and recommend anyone in Porto, locals and tourists alike, to journey here! Below is the menu and photos of the duck magret and the accompanying 1997 Dao. Imagine a small puff of chocolate infused with black truffles.

What makes for such a wonderful experience are the people who created the magical moments. Here is the chef and Hugo who guided us through the dishes and upgraded some of the wines in our pairing.

As I wrote in my 88 temple blog, meeting people along the way is what makes these walks so special. We met this trio walking in front us. As we were passing them, we complimented the dog who was skittish. They stopped and thanked us. We introduced ourselves and found out that they were brother and sister walking their mother’s dog. Their mother had passed away two days before. We gave our condolences and went on our way to find the Metro for the ride back to the hotel. An early night – 15 miles tomorrow.

Travel Days (8 – 9 March) Getting to the Route

For those of us who live in the Lehigh Valley, we oftentimes take the bus to Newark Airport. Transbridge is back in business though only four routes during the weekdays drop of passengers at EWR. Plan accordingly.

United provides a “travel ready” link that asks international travelers to upload various documents days before travel like passports, vaccination card and test results, and for us, the Portugal Locator form. Uploading these items was a real challenge. Not to worry. Carry your original CDC vaccination card and printouts of your Covid test results and Portugal Locator form. An agent at the check-in counter quickly reviewed them and voila, our boarding passes were printed. No need to deal with more angst.

But a twist in the boarding routine awaited us. A few weeks before, we were re-routed from EWR to Dulles and then to Munich from our original direct non-stop to Munich. When we reached the gate at Dulles, we had to get into another line at the gate to have our documents reviewed again. This step was unexpected. Check when you get to a gate whether you need to do this.

Upon arrival in Munich, going through passport control was a breeze. We showed only our passports and boarding passes to Porto. We were in transit so we don’t know if what we experienced applies when entering Germany. N95 masks are required in the airport. I had to switch from my daily blues.

When we boarded our flight to Porto, we had to wait in a line for our documents to be checked AGAIN. My advice is to keep every piece of paper at the ready. With papers in hand when arriving in Porto, the unexpected happened. Since we went through passport control in Munich, we were waved through.

Keeping eyes forward, we picked up our bags, paid for our metro tickets (2,60 E). Within 45 minutes, we were walking to our hotel in central Porto in pouring rain. We made it though not on dry land.

After unpacking, Laird and I carefully walked on slippery cobblestone downhill to Porto’s riverwalk. You’ll see Laird standing in front of Sao Nicolau Church just out the rain. Remember the Morton’s Salt slogan? ”When it rains it pours.”

We moved on across the street to Sao Francisco – the local home of the Franciscans dating from the 14th C. Sharon and I toured the church before. I was still struck by the ornateness of the Baroque style on this second visit.

I had forgotten the sculpture below of Mary above the alter of the side chapel. I cannot recall ever seeing an image of Mary with swords piercing her. Can you state the title of this depiction of Mary? (Answer at the end of this entry.)

We finished our tour in the basement known as the catacombs that started in the 1830’s. What you don’t see are the remains buried under the floor, a large cavernous chamber littered with clusters of remains.

It was time to live in the present. Up a block towards our hotel was the conveniently located Institute of Port. Besides housing an informative exhibit, a tasting room awaited with a range of offerings. We tried a dry white, a 10 and 30 year tawny. The pours were just enough to restore our good spirits. Note Laird’s expression before the first taste – perhaps he was thinking about Mary whose name is yet to be revealed to you.

The Tasting Room

Smiles restored, we freshened up for dinner at a local restaurant, the Infante, right in our neighborhood. It was open at 7:30 with one couple dining. Laird had the sea bass while I could not resist the sardines – delicious and what I considered very basic, down home Portuguese cooking. We ended with a dessert pairing that the owner suggested. When we left at 9:15, the restaurant was filled with locals and a few fellow tourists. I surmised that the fellows on the walls were Infante, sons of some long ago King of Portugal.

Answer: Our Lady of Sorrow. After all of these centuries, perhaps we should add Perpetual.

Prologue (8 March) Why the Coastal Camino?

During my 88 Temple walk, I met Kondo-san who volunteered to share ohenro for three days including the climb up to Unpen-ji, Temple 66, the temple situated on the highest mountain on the route. He was the most fit 77 year old whom I have ever met. Walking 18 miles, no problem. Downing two ”nama-chu” (medium sized) beers at an izakaya (Japanese pub) afterwards followed by glasses of sochu, no problem. He preferred the nama-chu because the beer stayed cold while drinking – the lower cost per liter of the supersized pour versus the ice cold beer of the medium, no discussion.

We shared thoughts about history. He described how his city, Imabari, was firebombed during WW2 because it was a key port for supplying the army. He was a little boy but remembered the flames lighting the sky. He talked about searching for food and begging in the streets.

He quickly pivoted to his upcoming trip on the Camino with Spaniards whom he had first met eight years before. Every year thereafter, he joined them on the many paths that lead to Santiago. I could feel the camaraderie and deep feelings that he had for these men. He was one of them. Every year they renewed their friendships.

I had known about the Camino but never had a desire to walk it. Here again was someone inspiring me to follow a pilgrim’s path. Was it Kukai’s hand pushing me to Spain?

A year later with Covid raging, Diane LaBelle mentioned that friends of a friend had walked the Camino coastal route. The fire was lit. Alas, Diane could not make this trip. But Laird, my Mt Washington climbing buddy, felt the flame; he’s 78. Through Delta, boosters, Omicron, ever changing travel rules, we had faith or was it forlorn hope that this trip would go. We finally felt relief when our televideo Covid testing session yielded two negative results. We were on our way to experience the Camino – almost three years in the making.