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 Portugués 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.

The signs of the Camino

When I start walking this coming Sunday I’ll be taking pictures along the way of the different signs of the Camino. Sometimes they are a yellow arrow. Sometimes a scallop shell. Sometimes the sign includes both. These help you guide your way to Santiago. For some routes of the Camino the signs mean you never need to consult the map in your guidebook to know the way.

Just because you leave the Camino after finishing your walk, the Camino does not leave you. Nor do the signs. You may not see those signs daily, but they’re there. Sometimes they pop up at a moment when you really need them. They immediately transport you back to The Way.

After my first Camino I decided that I wanted to see a sign of the Camino every day. I wanted to be able to have something to instantly inspire thoughts of the Camino. Something to signify the pride I felt in completing a 500 mile walk and to remind me of the amazing people I met along the way. My sign – my tattoo makes me happy every time I look at it.

The other signs that aren’t always so easy to see might be right in front of your eyes. They’re there waiting to surprise you. A church I had walked past probably 100 times had a sign I had never noticed. Until one day I finally looked up and saw what had been there all along. Beautiful scallop shells on each of the doors.

My job at Geocaching HQ has been in the same office for the past eight years. For eight years I’ve been walking past the St. James condo complex. It has a big sign with its name on it. It was only two weeks ago that I realized my daily walk (my daily Camino) into the office ends right across the street from St. James!

People often come back from the Camino (The Way of St. James) and shortly after fall into a slight depression. The post Camino blues. Someone asked on a Facebook group how to deal with the sadness of not being on the Camino. Sometimes I think it’s just a matter of opening your eyes and noticing the signs of the Camino all around you. Let them take you back through fond memories or let them inspire you to return to the Camino.

Sometimes you just want something new…

As this is my third Camino, I already own all the clothes and gear I need for the trek. But part of the fun of planning for my next adventure is finding fun new gear for it. It could be as simple as new socks, but putting those new socks on for the first time can add a smile to your face. At least for me, trying out new gear makes me happy and inspires me to get outside more.

IMG_8533.jpg

I’m not adding much new to my collection, but I couldn’t avoid taking advantage of a good deal on a new rain jacket that happened to be 50% off the other day. It’s not the ultimate rain jacket, not even goretex, but it’s lighter weight than any others I’ve owned and more importantly, it’s a pretty color. 🙂

IMG_8525 (1).jpg

Along with a nice Patagonia hoody (I LOVE hoodies) and new flip flops (how could I not??), the only other new piece of gear for this Camino is – you guessed it – a new pair of socks!

Last night, I tried putting all my items in my Camino pack to see what I might be missing or how I was doing for weight in the pack. I don’t know if it’s just the smaller hoody (ditching the warm thick jacket since I’m walking at the hottest time of year), but my pack has a lot of room left in it and feels lighter than ever. This is good since I haven’t had as much time for serious training for this Camino and may need all the breaks I can get. 🙂

The other factor in planning this trip is similar to last year, as I’ll be heading up to the UK after the walk and need my clothes to work in a variety of climates. I also need my official Geocaching HQ staff shirt as I’ll be headed to a geocaching Mega-Event in Manchester for work.

This year’s list:

  • Arcteryx 37 liter backpack
  • REI backpack rain cover
  • Brooks Cascadia trail runner shoes – goretex
  • Havaiana Flip flops
  • Trekking poles
  • Columbia water bottle
  • Platypus foldable water bottle
  • Black Diamond throw blanket
  • Lightweight blow up pillow (splurge item)
  • North Face rain jacket
  • Patagonia hoody
  • 1 pair of yoga pants
  • 1 pair North Face hiking pants
  • 1 pair of North Face hiking shorts
  • 1 skort
  • 1 pairs of Darn Tough wool socks
  • 2 pair of Smartwool socks
  • 1 Geocaching HQ cotton t-shirt
  • 2 quick dry shirts
  • 1 quick dry long sleeve shirt
  • 1 tank top
  • Ball cap
  • Lightweight poncho
  • 3-4 pairs of undies
  • Backpacking quick dry towel
  • Toiletries including mini shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.
  • Fingernail clippers
  • Fingernail polish (splurge item)
  • Minimal first aid kit including band-aids, moleskin and Compeed
  • Advil, Advil PM, Vitamins
  • Mini toilet paper roll
  • Needles with thread
  • Extra chapstick
  • Mini sunscreen
  • IPhone
  • Fitbit
  • Battery charger for iPhone
  • Charging cables for iPhone, Fitbit and battery charger
  • 3 International plug-ins (Spain/Portugal and UK)
  • USB charger plug with two USB ports (charge two things at once)
  • Camino Portuguese guidebook
  • Small carabiners to hang things from backpack
  • Lightweight purse or fanny pack with passport, cards and euros
  • Mini roll of duct tape
  • Clothes pins for drying clothes
  • 2 Reusable shopping bags (for storing clothes)
  • 1 organization compartments
  • Buff scarf
  • Sounders FC Scarf (splurge item)
  • Camino cinch pack
  • Snacks including beef jerky, granola bars and energy jelly beans
  • Scallop shell

Knowing that you can purchase almost anything you need on the Camino is something you hear the first time you go but you still overpack anyway. Being a bit more seasoned pilgrim, I know I can trust that I can find anything I might need along the way. Keeping things simple with packing helps keep things less complicated – perhaps one could say that for many things in life.

The Camino is calling and I must go…again. :)

I had different plans for later this summer of walking over the Alps in Germany and Austria headed toward Italy. Walking the first third of a roughly 30 day walk from Munich to Venice on a path known as the Dream Way. But the Camino was calling me. So instead of flying into one of my favorite cities in Germany, I’ll be flying into one of my favorite cities in Portugal, Lisbon. From there I’ll take a train up to another favorite city and start my walk from Porto.

If that sounds familiar to you, that’s because it’s exactly what I did just over a year ago with 6 other friends or family members. Just scroll through the history of this blog and you’ll see pictures from the adventure I’m planning to embark on again.

I thought about doing the Camino Primitivo from Northern Spain but with only having 11 walking days available, I didn’t want to cut that route short or try to cram 12+ days of walking into 11 days. With 11 days available this time, I can also add one extra day of walking to the Portuguese route, which will allow me to change up where I stay along the way. Heck, I might even consider staying on the coastal route longer.

I loved walking the Portuguese Camino last year. So many charming villages along the way and beautiful countryside. I also loved splitting up the walking between two countries and getting to experience the differences those countries offered.

I’ll be taking off in late August and finishing in Santiago in early September. I’m hoping this 11 day walk helps strengthen my heart again. It’s been hard to watch the division here at home and human rights atrocities due to the recent political climate. What I love about the Camino is how it brings people from different backgrounds together. We all have a common goal and there’s a spirit of helping each other reach that goal. I wish everyone could experience this and learn from it.

While in a way I’m always training for my next Camino, tomorrow officially starts my training with a long urban walk around Seattle. As my dad said, “just put one foot in front of the other.”

Last day of the Camino and Santiago

I meant to write this two days ago when I had just completed my second Camino. But things always get crazy in Santiago. I say “always”, but really it was only my second time arriving there from a Camino. But I imagine the next time I go it’ll be the same too. 🙂

Anyway, the day we arrived there we had gotten up earlier than usual. We had a 24 km long walk into Santiago and wanted to try to get there before the pilgrim’s mass at noon. According to the official Camino sign posts, we were on target for getting there in time.

The countdown seemed right and seemed like we would actually get in a bit before the mass. All was good until I was expecting to see a Camino marker under 6km. They had been placed about every half kilometer and the closer we got, the distance between them was less. Instead of seeing one starting with a 5, we saw it jump up to 7. Talk about aggravating! We wondered if we had taken a wrong turn and ended up on one of the variations, but we hadn’t. Anyway, we arrived in Santiago as the church bell was sounding off at noon. Since we couldn’t take our backpacks into the cathedral, Rachel and I grabbed all four bags and told Nina and Justine to head in. They only got to see the tail end of the mass and didn’t get to see the Botafumeiro. This only happens once a week, or if someone pays 400 euros for it to happen. Either way, seeing the mass at the end in the beautiful cathedral makes for a good end to your Camino whether you’re religious or not.

After we had all arrived we checked into our hotels and just enjoyed Santiago. It’s a pilgrim city and a tourist city. During the day the streets are packed with both. My favorite thing to see is the pilgrims just arriving…laying on the ground with friends new and old just soaking in the moment.

As my Camino family last time told me, the rooftop tour of the cathedral is amazing. Whether you’re a pilgrim or a tourist I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Santiago. Five of us went on the tour after a day of shopping and exploring.

After the tour it was our last dinner together. The goodbyes are hard, but as I had learned after my first Camino, you stay in touch. Also most of this family was people I already knew, so it’ll be even easier for me to stay in touch. 🙂

Day 9 – Caldas de Reis to Padrón

A member of my family told me I should try liquor 43 while I was in Spain. I hadn’t been able to find it until 8am this morning at our “first breakfast” stop. That was a bit too early to try it, considering we still had 16km to walk. Luckily the bar attached to the pension we are staying at tonight had it, so Maurice and I are blogging/journaling and trying liquor 43. It’s pretty tasty but would make better for a dessert drink.

I’m told John decided to walk despite his three broken ribs and broken toe. At least Rachel and Nina are with him in case he needs any help. We were all prepared for him to take a taxi today and meet us at the pension we booked. But leave it to the stubborn Irishman to sway from the plan. To be honest, this close to Santiago, I likely would have made the same decision. John does live in the part Ireland where my ancestors on my dad’s side come from, so maybe we are related. This would explain the common stubbornness.

Today started off with a misty morning. Luckily it only turned into a real rain one time during our walk. The moment I put my poncho on, it faded to a mist again. Though the mist can be annoying, it’s also a bit refreshing. You must walk on despite the weather, so you just have to decide to make the most of it. Justine and I definitely make the most of it.

Today went pretty quickly since it was only about 20km. It was nice running into our German friends Anna and Markus who we hadn’t seen in a couple days. Always good to see the smile on a familiar Camino face. It doesn’t matter if you only smiled at the person once before, that simple recognition of a face is enough to help a pilgrim light up. There are two women that we’ve never talked to but the smiles on their faces grow each time we run into them. I don’t think they speak English and I’m not sure where they are from, but that doesn’t matter. We are all pilgrims on this journey together.

About 2/3rds of the way into our walk today, Justine asked when the “big hill” was coming. I told her that according to the guidebook we were already on our way down from it. I think she and I both have hit the point of being in shape enough that hills aren’t something you dread anymore. This is good, because in a few days I’ll be climbing the highest “hill” in the United Kingdom (Ben Nevis).

While I’m partial to everyone in my Camino family, I must say that I’m so incredibly proud of my cousin Justine. She has been the ultimate trooper on this walk. It’s not easy to be a teenager walking with a group of adults but she has taken everything in stride. She’s pushed through blisters, long days, random types of shoes and rainy days and always manages a smile even if she’s feeling pain with every step. I’m so glad she choose to join me on this adventure. It’s been so much fun to get to know the young woman she has become. I’ll be so happy to walk into Santiago with her and the rest of our Camino family.

We are staying on the outskirts of Padrón on the Santiago side to help give us a slight advantage on our final walk tomorrow. I believe we are about 24km out from the cathedral in Santiago. As with the last time walking into Santiago, there are mixed emotions. My body feels like it could use a rest even though I wake up each morning ready for another day but I know the bottoms of my feet are longing for a day where I walk less that 13 miles.