Walking the Caminho Portugues

A year ago today, my sister Samantha and I landed in Portugal, ready to start our 12-day adventure walking the Caminho Portugues, the Portuguese route of the Camino de Santiago, and ancient pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. James.

At the time, I updated fairly regularly on Instagram and Facebook, and meant to write about it when we got back, but I got swept up in this civic participation thing that I was doing last Summer and never got around to it.

Now that we’re all unable to travel, I’ve been thinking a lot about the trip, and about the many photos and experiences I’ve never shared. So I’m going to try to keep pace with the trip over the next 12 days (I mean, give or take – I may take breaks), and tell you about our adventures. Since the only voyage we can take is in our minds, let’s do this one together.

So the Caminho de Santiago is a long walk, along Medieval pilgrim routes. It starts wherever you are in the world, and it ends at Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where the bones of St. James rest in a shrine. Leaving aside the historical question of whether or not those actually are the bones of St. James and how they ended up in the place that eventually bore his name (Sant Iago – ‘Iago’ is the Spanish version of the name James), it’s a spiritual journey for Catholics, often undertaken to ask for something from God, or to thank God for something. The difficulty and danger of travelling a long distance was part of the point, and though you may take many different types of transportation to get there, the last 100km should be done on foot (or a slightly longer distance on horse, or on bicycle), if you want to get the certificate issued by the pilgrim’s office in Santiago.

So if you’re going to be walking that much every day, often in the range of 20km, though sometimes more, you need to train. Very few of us spend that many hours on our feet in any given day, let alone walking with a full pack on your back. So I trained on my own in Toronto, as well as with my sisters in Peterborough – you can see a picture of a very snowy walk last April from peterborough to Lakefield. I’d try to walk about 6 or 7 hours in a day, at least a few times a week, to break in my gear and get myself used to the idea. I didn’t do it as often as I ought to, and never did it with the full pack, which in hindsight was a mistake, though not the worst. I think even if I’d trained more, it was always going to be harder than anticipated.

While there are services that will transport your pack for you from one overnight stop to the next, Sammi and I felt that the price was a bit too steep, and so we tried to pack as lightly as possible while still bringing along all of the necessities. There are about six million sites that will give you advice on what to pack, and I’m not going to go through the whole list here as there’s plenty of good advice to be had elsewhere. I will say that I got very sick of my clothing options about halfway through, and wished I had something nicer to wear when we weren’t walking, but was also glad I hadn’t brought anything extra.

We chose to fly from Toronto to Lisbon, and then take the train to Porto, as the flight was cheaper; I don’t recommend this, as it’s just a bit of a hassle and not really worthwhile – that was my fault, not Sammi’s! Once we landed and sorted out our phones (stop at the Vodafone kiosk in the airport and get a European SM card; it’s so much cheaper and easier than using your Canadian plan). We missed the first train to Porto while we were locating the train station, and ended up loafing around a mall in Lisbon waiting for the next one. Then, of course, we were a bit uncertain, and ended up getting off at a train station one stop before we meant to, which was still in Porto, but a slightly longer walk than we’d planned for. Adventure!

Walking across the Douro River was a beautiful introduction to the city, though, and as we walked past sidewalk restaurants and across the bridge towards our hostel, I think we both felt pretty excited about Porto. And it’s a beautiful town, with lots of cool stuff, but with an early-ish start in the morning, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore. We found Blue Socks Hostel, where we’d booked the night, and then wandered out into the city to find somewhere to eat. After a while looking for a place that could accommodate a vegetarian, a waiter at one of the restaurants recommended a vegan place, and so we went to DaTerra Vegetariano for a delicious vegan buffet. The small baked potatoes were the best baked potatoes I’ve ever eaten.

After dinner we took a little walk around the city, finding our first waymarker on the Caminho – the yellow arrow, often on a blue background and accompanied by a pilgrim’s shell. The one below points to the cathedral, where we’d formally start our pilgrimage the next morning.

We headed back to the hostel, and down to the cafe in the crypt where we each had a glass of port before heading to bed.

Follow our Caminho Portugues adventure!

Landing Day in Porto (You are here)
Day 1 – Porto to Vila Cha
Day 2 – Vila Cha to Rates
Day 3 – Rates to Barcelos
Day 4 – Barcelos to Ponte de Lima
Day 5 – Ponte de Lima to Rubiaes
Day 6 – Rubiaes to Tui
Day 7 – Tui to Porriño
Day 8 – Porrino to Redondela
Day 9 – Redondela to Pontevedra
Day 10 – Pontevedra to Caldas des Reies
Day 11 – Caldas des Reies to Padrón
Day 12 – Padron to Santiago de Compostela

At the same time as writing this travelogue, I’m writing an article with practical advice for people planning on taking the walk themselves, when we can travel again, and when I post it, I’ll link it here.

Recommended in Porto

We did come back to Porto for the last few days of our trip, so I’ll add some recommendations when I write about that and link to them here, but here are things I liked that were mentioned in this post:

Blue Socks Hostel Porto – a very comfortable hostel that’s affordable and has all the things you could wish for in a hostel – good blackout curtains on your bunk, as well as a small shelf, a reading light, and most importantly a plug so that you can charge your phone overnight. it’s very welcoming and clean.

DaTerra Vegetariano – A great vegan buffet in Porto; the prices are fairly reasonable, and the food is good, varied, and plentiful. It’s busy, so be sure to give yourself time to wait.

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