Day 7: Mos to Arcade

12 miles walked

7:45 am to 1:30 pm walking time

Today was the shortest day yet and it was much needed for all of us. I’ve felt good walking the past couple of days but having a lighter day now means I’ll be more likely to enjoy the rest of the walk. The original plan was to head 15 kilometers to a private albergue about 4 kilometers past Redondela. Which is almost what we did.

This morning started off foggy and a little misty. Perfect conditions for heading up a big hill to start the day. Sergio and I walked together most of the morning, occasionally chatting with pilgrims we knew or were just meeting for the first time including a friendly group from Korea.

After a break in Redondela for snacks, stocking up on cash from ATMs and a stop at a Farmacia, all four of headed off toward a recommended albergue a little before Arcade.

All day today I was worried about finding a geocache. I needed one to finish off “Streak Week” and earn my digital souvenir. I kept striking out though. There were very few caches along the way and most had logs indicating they were missing. I checked anyway and sure enough it seemed like they were really gone. Finally I realized that I’d have no choice but to walk extra just to get one. Much easier to do without a backpack though. So I planned that I’d take a walk for a cache after we got settled into our albergue.

We arrived at the recommended albergue at 1pm and the sign on the door said it wouldn’t open for another hour. There was no shade nearby and no cafes or bars either. After a couple minutes I suggested we consider going all the way to Arcade to find an albergue there. At least there we’d have a place to wait out of the sun until an albergue opened. After discussing the distance to there we decided to head on down the Camino. After another kilometer we were checking into a fairly nice albergue.

I failed to mention one of the errands we did in Redondela was picking up a couple bottles of wine for our dinner tonight. Just what you need – an extra bottle of wine worth of weight in your bag. ­čś│ But at least it is Peregrino wine! Oh, and a bag of Ruffles! I don’t eat Ruffles at home very often but I crave them on the Camino.

After my shower and laundry, I headed out for a two mile walk to find my geocache. Essentially I followed tomorrow’s Camino route to the cache. At least it’s a pretty section of the way so I’m ok with seeing it several times.

Not sure where we will head tomorrow. But we only have to average about 20km a day to reach Santiago. For the rest of today we are enjoying Arcade and Stefano and Sergio will make us all a pasta dinner. Can’t wait for a home cooked meal. However, a nice couple from Slovenia just shared their pork ribs with me and they were pretty tasty! You definitely eat well on the Camino!

Day 6: Tui to Mos

15.5 miles

6:00am to 1pm walking time

We hit under the 100km mark today!

It’s weird to already have less than a 100km to walk. The time always goes by faster than you realize even if your body hurts from the walking. Today I felt some knee pain at one point and later foot pain. But the last 6km from O Porrino to Mos, I was feeling good. Even so, I was so happy to see Mos when we arrived.

We started at 6am, which was actually 5am Portugal time. So it felt early and the sky matched how early it felt. It was us and the stars as we left Tui.

It was very peaceful walking so early even if you couldn’t see much for views along the way. Even better it was a comfortable temperature to walk in. Being late in summer, it’s been getting almost unbearably warm for walking around noon or 1pm.

At one point of the walk a busker was getting ready to start their day next to a stream. We sat there while he warmed up and took in a few songs before we headed on our way.

Sometimes it’s these little moments on the Camino that make you realize that you’re in the place you should be. These moments are what make the Camino so special.

Other than some neat old Roman paths and bridges I’d say today wasn’t one of the better scenery days, but even the meh days on the Camino still have their beauty.

Now that we are in Spain, things are more expensive. Though compared to the United States, still extremely affordable. But often beverages come with snack food (same in Portugal). At our last stop today, for every beverage we ordered, we got a slice of Spanish tortilla. It’s a traditional Spanish dish of egg, potatoes and onions. By the time we done ordering our beverages we had about two slices of tortilla per person. It’s an easy way to not go hungry on the Camino!

Our albergue tonight is really nice and our room even has its own balcony looking over the “city.” Downtown Mos seems to consist of about 10-15 buildings so there’s not much to do here and that’s kinda nice. We got to wash our clothes in a real washer. Much better than hand washing any day! Sometimes it’s the little things.

Tomorrow there’s talk of a pretty short day. I think we are all ready for that. As for now, we’re sitting on a patio with our Estrella Galicia beer and chatting. Loving it!

Day 5: Labruja to Tui

19 miles

6:25 am to 5:00pm walking time

Originally I thought I wouldn’t make it to Spain today. I thought I’d have one more night in the north of Portugal. But then my legs felt good and Stefano from Italy had a strong desire to stay in Tui. Since we all had a great time together at the albergue last night, I don’t think any of us really wanted to part ways. So we walked the extra 3.4 kilometers to Tui.

Today ended up being an easier day that I imagined and it started out perfectly. We left the albergue while it was still dark out. We made it up to highest point of the walk just before sunrise. I remember the climb being brutal last year since it was later in the day and hot out. Today it was easy and much quicker than I remembered.

It’s actually one of the most peaceful trails of the Camino. And even more so being that we were the only pilgrims we saw until we got to the top. Even then, only two other pilgrims showed up before we left.

After reaching the summit it was literally almost all downhill from there for the rest of the day, until the end when you have to climb the hills to the town center of Tui.

Before reaching Tui we took a few rest stops including lunch in Valen├ža, Portugal. The last stop before the border. Along the way we started to see more and more pilgrims than we have before. That’s generally the case the closer you get to Santiago, as you only have to walk 100km to earn your compostela. I also met the first Americans today on the trail, all of which were part of a Camino tour group.

It’s good to be back in Tui, but since we arrived at 5pm Spain time, we ended up with the last four beds at the albergue – all four top bunks. This is one of my bigger fears of the Camino since I have a fear of falling. The albergue also has another thing I’ve hated the idea of my whole life – shared showers. The kind with no walls. ­čś│ But the Camino is supposed to test you, right? Consider me tested.

Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to reach an albergue before it fills up. Or I just might have to search out another “suite” again. ­čÖé All in all, it was a great day on the Camino. My body is starting to feel in the Camino groove, which makes it almost feel easy to walk 19 miles in a day!

Day 4: Vilhadiz to Labruja

16 miles

7:45 am to 2:45 pm walk time

This is my current view at my albergue…

I guess that view will have to do for the night. Yesterday Lena gave me a tip for a new albergue that was past Ponte de Lima but before the “big mountain.” Right now I’m pretty happy that I followed that tip. I actually splurged the extra 7 euros to book the “suite” in the albergue. Luxury pilgrim. ­čÖé

Today’s start was later than I generally leave, as Casa Fernanda doesn’t start breakfast until 7:30. Though I didn’t want breakfast, I did need my stamp in my credential and I needed to pay for my stay. So I got up with everyone else and then went on my way. Though I didn’t leave before saying goodbye to some of the cats at Casa Fernanda.

It was overcast and a bit foggy for much of the morning – perfect walking weather. Other than two pilgrims, I didn’t see much of anyone but locals for the 8 mile walk into Ponte De Lima.

Even though it was still early on in my Camino day, my legs felt tired. All the hard rocks and cobblestones really take a toll on your legs and feet, especially after three days of already wearing your body out on the Camino. But you continue on.

Upon arriving in Ponte de Lima I was happy to finally see more pilgrims. Laurent and Ralph from Luxembourg waved me down, so I joined them at a cafe for a few minutes before they took off again. They still had 20km and the “big mountain” to walk today. As I was about to leave the cafe, Lena along with Stefano from Italy and Sergio from Sweden arrived. I took off to find a geocache because it’s streak week for geocaching and I need to try to find one every day for the rest of August. After finding it, I headed off for Labruja.

Again, walking alone and not seeing any pilgrims, I started to think how I was never alone or far from other pilgrims on my past two Caminos. I like the quiet time to think and enjoy nature, but I like being social and meeting people from around the world. It’s probably my favorite aspect of the Camino to be honest. Any loneliness that might have started to set in was quickly avoided for today after making my next stop at a cafe where there were familiar faces.

With only about six kilometers left to walk, we were hitting the prettiest scenery of the day.

So far no other pilgrims other than Lena, Stefano and Sergio are here at the albergue. There’s another albergue next door where we know some other pilgrims. There’s pretty much nothing to do here except sit and enjoy the view and the company. Ah the Camino!

Day 3: Barcelos to Vilhadiz

13 miles

8:25am to 1:50pm walk time

The “easiest” days on the Camino tend to be the hardest. I don’t know if it’s your mindset thinking it’s going to be so easy, but the reality of walking the distance of a half marathon up and down hills while the day gets hotter and hotter makes the short days feel just as brutal as the long days. Every time you check your guidebook, there happens to still be 5km left. And today was only 17-18km (11 miles) according to the guidebook. Though the gps in my Fitbit says it was just over 13. But eventually you get there. And it’s so great when you finally do.

Especially today when several doggies and kitties came out to greet my arrival at Casa Fernanda. This albergue is legendary on the Camino Portugu├ęs. Everyone who has stayed there raves about it online. Even my friend Bruno said Fernanda was wonderful and he didn’t even get to stay there. I’m told there are seven Germans, someone from Spain, someone from the UK and me staying there today. It’s one big room with 10 beds (no bunk beds!) and two bathrooms in the back yard of Fernanda’s house. I look forward to the communal dinner later this evening.

Today started off fairly bland as it takes a while to leave the city and outskirts of Barcelos. There were lots of pilgrims out as I was leaving town. At one point I got stopped by a local farmer who jumped out of his tractor to tell me in Portugu├ęs and hand signs that I should stop at the next cafe that was about 100 meters ahead and that the next cafe was 5km away. After that I think he said if I didn’t stop I would have my arm sliced off and I’d have to pray to get into heaven. At least that’s what I think he said to me. And then it looked like he was saying the same to the next pilgrim.

So I stopped at the cafe. Turns out Lena from Germany who I met in Vila do Conde was there. She said she had also booked Casa Fernanda, so we spent the day walking to the albergue together.

Today offered pretty views but a lot more hills than my legs really wanted to handle. I think walking 64+ km in the past two days is catching up with me. I knew today would include lots of vineyards and farm country and I remember enjoying the scenery from last year. I do think the arrows make you automatically go for the more scenic but more strenuous hillside route that takes longer, which is why it was over 21 km when the walk was completed.

Anyway, tomorrow may end up for real being a short day. Fernanda serves breakfast at 7:30. Ponte de Lima should only be about 8 miles away and I think I’ll plan to stay there. Having an easier day may help me regain some energy in my legs to help with the biggest climb of this Camino the day after.

Day 2: Vila do Conde to Barcelos

19.5 miles

6:30am to 3pm walking time

I’m borderline hangry right now. I realized after walking around Barcelos for the past hour that the town doesn’t seem to think people want to eat anything other than pastries. I wanted pasta. Some spaghetti sounds amazing right now. But it’s no where to be found in a half mile radius of where I’m staying. I finally landed at a place that has soups and sandwiches in addition to pastries. I don’t know what’s in this soup and to be honest it doesn’t smell very good, but I’m so hungry that I don’t care.

Despite my food struggles at the moment, it’s been another great day on the Camino! I started early again at 6:30am, but with company this time. A mom and daughter from Slovenia wanted to join me since I had walked the connection from the Coastal to the Central Route last year. One thing I noticed today was how few pilgrims were starting early. Normally in the albergues, you hear people waking up and getting ready at 5am or earlier. Anyway, Sasa, Ema and I took off before sunrise with perfect weather.

I had forgotten that my Camino family and I had taken a shortcut one of the guidebooks recommended. It got us to Rates faster but today after not taking the shortcut, I realized that we had missed out on some cute countryside.

I stopped a couple times to find some caches and show Sasa what the game was about. We made our way to Arcos for a first break of the day. I guess mothers think that I’m a good choice to walk the Camino with for their daughters. It was my cousin Justine last year and this year Sasa sent Ema to walk with me to the next break spot.

After the break, it was time to say goodbye to Sasa and Ema. Our paths may not cross again on the Camino but hopefully it works out that I’ll see them again.

The rest of the walk was as beautiful and long as I remember it from last year. The outskirts of Barcelos seem to take forever to walk through, especially when you’re approaching 19+ miles of walking.

Barcelos is super charming. But like I said, it could be that much better if someone put in a few more restaurants that serve something other than pastries.

Tonight I opted for a private room in a hostel due to the fact that I have a short walk tomorrow and can opt to sleep in a bit. Yay for my own bathroom with full sized towels! Tomorrow I have a reservation at Casa Fernanda which is supposed to be the best albergue on the Portugu├ęs Camino.

By the way, the soup was pretty meh.

Day 1: Porto to Vila do Conde

21+ miles

6:30am to 3pm walking time

I remember this feeling like a long walk last year when I was on the same route. Even though this year’s hotel location meant about a mile less of walking, those 22 miles and counting today can be felt in my legs and feet. Overall though it was a great day on the Camino!

I left my hotel at 6:30am, before it was completely light out. Some folks in Porto were just headed home from their night out and the trash crew was making its way through the neighborhood. It was a peaceful morning and provided slightly better views than the walk out of Porto last year. Originally I was planning to take a train to Matosinhos to cut off about six miles of walking. But the stubborn side of me prevailed and I started my Camino from my hotel.

After about two to three miles of walking I made it to the coast. Since I’m pretty sure I was a mermaid in a past life, seeing the ocean always makes me instantly happy. That’s actually the main reason I decided to take the same exact route as last year. Had I changed it up and done the Central the whole way I wouldn’t have gotten to see the ocean waves I’m always longing for.

The first part of the day is slightly less scenic than the second part. The ocean beaches get prettier and prettier the farther north you head. About 14 miles in I could tell I had at least one blister so the shoes came off and the flip flops went on. My feet have almost never been happier. I took a short break at a cafe for my usual soda and beer, where I was joined by two ladies from Norway. This is their sixth Camino. Give me a few more years and I may be in the same boat.

After the break I decided to do what I regretted not doing last year…putting my feet in the ocean! That seemed to do the trick to give me energy to finish the day. Though I saw several pilgrims, I haven’t met that many yet. Once I arrived at the Santa Clara albergue, I met others from Luxembourg, Germany, Ireland, Slovenia and the ladies from Norway even showed up.

I realized when I got to the albergue that the only thing I ate all day was a granola bar. Definitely not normal for a pilgrim! There’s supposed to be first breakfast, second breakfast, a snack and then lunch on a typical Camino day. As soon as I settled in at the albergue I hobbled my way to a local bar for a bacon cheeseburger and fries.

I’ll be headed back to albergue soon to check on my laundry and plan out my day tomorrow. Due to the extra day I added, I might have a choice to make tomorrow a shorter day than last year and try staying in a different town. I may just have to wait and see how I’m feeling tomorrow.

The day before.

I would hate to ever say that going to the Camino is old hat for me. And I’d be lying if I said it was. I’m filled with excitement and a little nervousness. Perhaps a little less nervousness than my first, but definitely the same amount of being excited. Having signs all over Porto of the Camino just makes me downright giddy. My knee pain from a soccer injury last Tuesday is no longer hindering my walking. I picked up some cheap trekking poles at Decathlon today and I got my first stamp in my passport at the cathedral – essentially the starting point of the Camino in Porto.

But let’s rewind a bit. Yesterday I wrote my blog before the day was complete. I still had a flight to Lisbon that ended up being an hour late. But luckily for me, a friend from the geocaching world was there to greet me at the airport even though it was late at night. He and I met up with another friend and had a great time catching up over beers. Who could ask for a better welcome to Portugal?

Today, after not nearly enough sleep, I caught the train from Lisbon to Porto. The train ride was easy and uneventful, to the point it helped me catch up on some of the missing sleep. I arrived in Porto at 1pm ready to do as much exploring of the city as I could. Friends from Lisbon, don’t get me wrong, your city is amazing but Porto is one of the coolest cities I’ve been to in my travels. Going around every corner just feels magical. The steep hillsides provide some spectacular views of the river drowning in the sea of the orange roof buildings.

I spent the afternoon “running errands.” That is, getting the new trekking poles and getting my passport stamped, along with geocaching my way through the city. I revisited a lot of the amazing places I visited last year and even found some hidden viewpoints I hadn’t seen before.

One of the amazing things to discover in Porto is all of the murals you see walking around. I’d probably run out of digital film if I tried to capture them all. They just add so much character to the city.

I ended my day the same way I ended yesterday – having beers with a friend from the geocaching world. A great benefit to having friends all over the world!

So now I’m back at the charming hotel I’m staying at to get one of my last night’s sleep without sharing a room with other pilgrims. I was fully set on taking a train or bus to the location many pilgrims start from on the Portugu├ęs Camino but now knowing that might knee is better I just might walk that six extra miles tomorrow. It’ll be a game time decision in the morning, so we’ll see what I decide.

Go with the flow…

Sometimes plans don’t worked out as planned. Like right now I should be in Dublin sharing a pint with Irish John. Instead I’m getting my daily steps in at Heathrow in London.

Yesterday around 12:30 I got a text message that said my Seattle to Dublin flight had been canceled and I needed to call a number to get rescheduled. “No no no no no” I think I said out loud in my office. Despite mildly freaking out, I instantly went into fixit mode. I got on a very long hold with Aer Lingus, but at the same time I looked through flights on Expedia to see if there were any other options for getting to Lisbon. Booking through there would have been a minimum of $1100 for a one way flight. I was prepared to pay that much but then I remembered that I have a lot of miles saved up with Alaska Airlines.

So I cached in a bunch of miles and $100 and had a flight to Heathrow. At the same time of booking that I was looking up TAP airlines from London to Lisbon. Another $400 later I was all set. From freak out to solved travel issue in about 45 minutes. Phew!

While the flights get me into Lisbon around the same time this evening I am pretty bummed about not getting to meet up with John in Ireland.

I actually think I have my first Camino to thank for staying relatively calm when learning the news of the flight cancellation. A lot of times you see first time pilgrims worried about how they’ll find a bed each night. I too had that same anxiety in planning for my first Camino. But I soon realized that it was easy to find beds and if for some reason I ever couldn’t, I could easily call a taxi to head to another town that might have a bed. If you stay calm and take a few minutes to think of a solution to a problem you often can solve it.

Today is the day…

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. 
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”

-Walt Whitman

I’m all packed to and ready to go! Making my last walk to work before my Camino begins. After I finish my workday today, I’ll be headed to the airport to start my journey. My trip to Portugal will include a layover in Dublin long enough to meet up with “Irish John.” I’ve known John almost my entire Camino career. I have fond memories of him singing for fellow pilgrims at albergues on both of my walks. It’s a fitting way to start my journey by sharing stories over a Guinness with him in Ireland.

I’ll end my long travel day meeting up with another friend in Lisbon. I love that my job and my Camino walks have provided connections for me all over the world. For some the idea of traveling alone to other parts of the world can be nerve wracking, but for me it’s often a chance to connect with friends I haven’t seen in a while.

I’m hopeful that this journey will provide new friendships and connections from other corners of the world.