Surprisingly, unlike the other posts on the blog, I actually wrote all the Camino posts sometime in March, a couple of weeks after returning. So why wait so long to post them? Well one thing was, I was too lazy to go over 1500 photos and try to find the best ones, secondly I wanted to post in chronological order, so quite a few posts from year(s) before had to be done before. So TLDR, most of the text was written right after returning, when the feelings and memories were most fresh, now (in October) when I updated the posts with photos, I only fixed some grammar mistakes (or made some new) and inserted the photos.
Now (October) it’s more than half a year after we returned from our trip, my world irreversibly turned upside down by now, and I often find myself remembering about the happier times, when the three friends went on an amazing journey both spiritual and physical. It brought us closer together than anyone could imagine, it tested our physical limits and sometimes patience, but in the end it was one of the best experiences of my (our) lives. We still often talk about some peculiar situations that happened to us on the trip with a big smile on our faces. Today, it feels almost like remembering my lovely Luleå.
The question that comes out of this is, why even go on such a journey? Is it really so great walking in bad weather for hours, that one should go and do the pilgrimage? Are there any religious motives behind it? Thinking about it, it’s not that easy to answer. For me, at least at the beginning, it was about the challenge, the ability that I can later say to my grandkids, “When I was young, I walked for 350 km through Portugal and Spain”. However, later I discovered it’s not about the destination, but about the journey. The distance at the end is just a point on paper, but the journey, the memories, the experience is what stays with you forever.
In the beginning, for the first couple of days I was still under the mindset of walking the furthest distance in the shortest amount of time, but at some point on the journey this changed. I started enjoying being in nature, chatting with Jakob and Aljoša and other friends we made on the journey and also about being with my thoughts. It is hard to imagine how calming it is to walk through rural Portugal and Spain, between pastures, past orchards of lemons, oranges and mandarins, over the rivers and through the forests. Being able to disconnect from the digital world, to leave all the worries behind and just do one thing day after day is priceless.
Besides getting to know my friends better, it turned out I learned more about myself. Walking for hours on end, gave me time to think about my life, what I am doing with it, what I am happy about and what I would like to change. The journey gave me new motivation, new goals and ideals to strive for, for when I came home. The trip was truly priceless for me.
In the end each individual has his own goals, desires and expectations of the pilgrimage. I would say that majority of pilgrims don’t go on it because of the religion. But in the end, the journey is about what you make of it. For me, as it turned out, it was about finding myself and spending incredible time with my friends. I am profoundly thankful, that they invited me on this trip, shared their thoughts, food and wine with me. It’s true what they say, you can buy a lot of things but not friendship.
I wrote most of the short summaries in the posts before, but here or there I might have forgotten something, or it just didn’t feel like the best place to put it, so I’ll write it here.
In general, you can get very cheap food from the restaurants along the rout by procuring your pilgrims credentials. The prices range from 5-15 €, depending on the location, quality and quantity of food. You can get as little as a toast with a drink, or several course meal with wine. I’ve read that in some albergues it is also possible to get food included in the price of the sleepover, but I guess this is in private albergues as for the public ones, no-one offered it.
In general, you can cook food in most of the albergues, all of them have kitchens and kitchen utensils, except the first few at Spanish (see my previous post). There are small shops and supermarkets in most of the towns and villages, although some are really basic and you will be struggling to get anything that is useful for the road, so in the bigger towns I recommend buying a bit more, although you have to remember, that you will be carrying it with you. We (I) usually tried to find a supermarket each morning and buy some fresh fruits for the day, I also bought and carried some nuts, as they don’t spoil are relatively light and provide you with tons of calories. Each morning I also tried to buy some yogurt or fitness drink based on yogurt. For some reason they had a really large variety of them and extra proteins don’t hurt if you are walking the whole day.
As far as the cooking goes, if you are in a larger group it’s easier to manage as you can cook together, if you are travelling alone this might be a bit more tedious, but still doable. I cooked for myself a couple of times when Aljoša and Jakob went out to eat and I didn’t feel like eating out. Usually pasta will be your friend, although sky and budget is the limit.
I would say that the prices for groceries are a bit cheaper than in Slovenia, at least in Portugal, but the difference is minimal. There are some types of food that are much cheaper in both Portugal and Spain, mostly fresh fruits, vegetables and as I mentioned before wine is super cheap.
The tap water is drinkable along the whole way, both in Portugal and Spain. While the water in Spain is not drinkable in the whole country the North and North-West is considered to have the best water, so you really don’t have to worry about it. Just bring a bottle or two with you in order to refill them. I would say that we drank about 2-3l during each leg, I would assume that during the summer you can easily double this.
Protip: You can eat tons of oranges, mandarins and lemons that are everywhere along the path in Portugal. 🙂 I’m not sure when is the perfect time for them, but looks like February is.
Some other delicious things I’ve tried and haven’t posted in the main story.
The public albergues are really cheap, €5 per night in Portugal and €8 per night in Spain. I would really recommend visiting the public ones as they are cheaper and cleaner. Ok, we haven’t visited any expensive (and by expensive I mean €15+ per night) private hostels, so maybe those are better. In general, I was really pleasantly surprised by them. I was really afraid of the bed bugs and I think at one point this was really a problem, but not anymore. None of the albergues have standard mattresses but some kind of plastic mattress for lack of better word. The bed bugs can’t live in them, on the other hand you sweat like crazy on them, especially during the summer. You always need to have your own sleeping bag with you, there are no covers. In Spain, they also give you a one-time paper cover for the mattress, so it’s a bit better with the squeaking each time you turn. Buy ear plugs!!!
While we had no problem finding the albergues and there was always room in them, during the peak season I’ve heard you have to get up at 5am to reach the next albergue by 12-14h in order to get a free bed. It is also impossible to make reservations in any of them (regardless of the month of traveling).
For easy planning and to get the latest information about the albergues I recommend app Camino Ninja.
If you are travelling in a group, I recommend using app Splitwise, it makes it so much easier to track who paid how much and when. It also automatically calculates who owns who and offers much flexibility, really great tool.
Bring cash! For some reason it is impossible to pay with credit card in most of the albergues, even some restaurants don’t accept it. In our group Jakob had only cash with him, so he ended up paying for the majority of albergues for all of us, while Aljoša and I paid in the stores and where credit cards were accepted.
In total, I spent €350 during my 18-day stay in Portugal, which brings an average of €20 per day. I spent a bit more toward the end while being in Porto, but I would say the average is quite close. If I had to assess what my spending would be, I would say I was more toward the lower end, I rarely ate outside, most of the costs came from the fresh fruits and a bit richer yogurts that I drank several per day. I think Jakob and Aljoša spent about twice as much, mostly because they ate out much more.
If you are really on a budget, I think it is possible to spent less than €15 per day, but you will mostly eat pasta for each meal.
Just to add everything up, my plane ticket was about €60, so in total 18-day trip to Portugal cost me €410. If I didn’t have to pay bills here in Slovenia, while I was away, it would actually be one pair with the daily expenses I have here.
Some other tips worth mentioning
Pack lightly, literary 3 pairs of underwear are enough, wear some sports clothes that dry quickly. In total, I was quite happy with my packing, while we had to bring a bit more, since we were traveling during colder and wetter months, my whole backpack including some food weighted in at 30 kg. Couple of times I bought a bit larger amounts of food, so I have a feeling that at times it was 40 kg, and I can tell you after carrying it for a whole day each kg counts!
You can wash clothes in washing machines in most of the albergues (albeit you have to pay 1-2 € for it. If you are alone, you might have some trouble filling up the drum, us 3 put all our clothes together and it was perfect. In total, I think we washed our clothes 3 times (besides handwashing).
Friendly natives,I was surprised how friendly the people we met were. Almost everyone said “Bon Camino” as they saw us, and if we needed any help (mostly with directions) everyone tried their best to help us.
Don’t overdo it, the only reason to walk for 20h is that you can say, “When I was young, I walked for 60 km straight!”. Seriously, take it easy, enjoy the journey, enjoy the nature, take a break, take in that nice view. I found out that for me Camino was more about self reflection, thinking about this or that and relaxing in nice company for the duration of the trip. It really is about the journey, not destination!
Choosing the route, there are several ways you can get to Camino. Even coming from Portugal you can take central (the one we took), oceanic or literal way. I must say I was a bit disappointed about our route, as it was about 75% through villages, roads and towns. We could always see civilization in front of us.Jakob also did the Spanish (the traditional) way a couple of years ago, that starts in France, and he says that that one is more than 60% through the nature, over fields and forests. It is something worth considering. If you are not limited with the time, I would suggest that one. The part we did from Santiago to Finisterra was much more enjoyable for me, as it was mostly through the nature.
Mobile connectivity is generally great, we had 4G for most of the time.
During summer, you can also buy luggage transport, where they pick up your luggage and bring it to the next stop on your destination, so you don’t have to carry it on your back. I personally don’t think its worth it, if you go during summer you really can get away with less than 15 kg backpack. You only need 2 shirts, pants and socks. You can handwash them in the evening, and they will be dry till morning.
Red Porto wine sucks.
Try some local food, the have very good deserts and pastries in Portugal, and sometimes while you walk by the pastry shop the smell alone will pulls you into the store.
Other people on the way, you will meet with a lot of other pilgrims, especially during the summer. With several of them you will synchronize the speed so you will encounter them repeatedly each evening in alberuges. Remember, that some are there for other reason and goals as you, don’t try to enforce and walk together with everyone as they might want to be alone with their own thoughts. The evenings in the albergues are perfect for socializing, each one has a kitchen or some common area, just go there and talk to people, if you feel like it.
Almost forgot about an important info, stamps!When you get your credentials, you need to put a stamp in it each day. You can find stamps in most restaurants and all albergues on the way. At the beginning you need 1 stamp per day, while when you get to Spain you need 2 stamps per day! However, they can be from the same town, so you can just get it in the albergue and then go out for dinner and get it at the restaurant as well. For us it was fun gathering stamps, so in the end, we got one at every chance we had. It also serves as a nice souveneer.
Next morning (Saturday) it was time to return to Porto, but not before Jakob tried to persuade me for at least half an hour to go swimming with him. Needless to say it was cloudy, rainy and there were 2m waves., luckily in the end he didn’t do it, but it was close.
After a failed attempt at swimming and yummy breakfast on the beach we took a bus to Santiago. In short what took us 13 days to walk, we did in 8 hours with a bus, train and another bus. Well all in all with waiting for the next form of transport and moving from one bus to another it did take us whole day to get back to Porto. Though I must say that the train ride from Santiago to Nigran (near Redondela) was really special, as we could watch the villages and fields that we encountered while walking. Now that I think about it, the hiking path follows the train line quite closely.
After arriving to Porto, at around 10pm, we only had time to walk to the closest hostel, take a shower and go to sleep. After so many days sleeping in hostels one would think you get used to them, well, not true. We actually had a talk with Aljoša, a couple of days ago while hiking, how cool the hostels are, and that from then on we’re going to try to book them more often, when travelling privately. Well the impression was from albergues, where firstly they were half empty and secondly everyone in albergue was there for the exact same reason as everyone else, what’s more we actually befriended a couple of travelers so it was more like an extended group of friends. The hostel in Porto, however was the standard, soulless hostel, I imagined before. There were 18 other strangers, from all over the world who were also older than what we encountered on Camino (40+). I’m sure I must have imagined it, but it felt like everyone was looking at me (us) and I was just waiting when someone is going to try and stab us during the night. Well we survived the night, but for the next two nights I persuaded Jakob to book a private room in a guest house. It actually wasn’t much more expensive than the hostel and the location was even better.
So enough about sleeping arrangements. We arrived to Porto on Saturday evening and left it on Tuesday afternoon, so we had a couple of days to explore it. Despite being February, the city was full of tourists, the sun was shining and it was nice and warm. I’ve spent hours just walking through the streets, admiring the old buildings and vistas, while Jakob went to visit a couple of the museums. He bought the “tourist ticket”, which grants you free entrance to some museums and galleries and some discounts in wine cellars. Although I don’t think it was really worth it, from what I gathered from Jakob, he paid more for it than he would if he just paid normal entrance fees. I guess it depends on how quick you are in visiting and how many you visit.
What is Porto most known for? Well, Porto wine. If I understood correctly the grapes only ferment for a day, then they mix it with strong spirit that kills all the yeast (or something), and then age it in barrels. You can get is as cheaply as €5 on one hand, while the sky is the limit for really limited and aged ones. Jakob actually went to visit a royal wine cellar where he had a chance to try a sip of Porto wine from 1850 or something like that. For me, I’m not sure I’m such a fan of them, I really don’t like the red / rose ones, I can tolerate the white ones but prefer the normal wine.
Besides wine, we also tried several local delicacies such as pasteis de nata, it’s actually very good, I must have eaten a dozen of them over the days, goes well with coffee or for breakfast with juice. Its some puff pastry with egg yolk cream, if my taste buds are to be believed.
But the most interesting was the dish called francesinha. By description, you would think that this is the worst thing ever, the looks don’t help either, but the taste is actually surprisingly good. So what is it? Well, it’s a toast, with meat and egg, inside a spicy tomato goulash topped with french fries. I know how it sounds, but believe me, it actually is really fantastic.
Besides traditional food, we also found some really cheap fruits and vegetables, for example they were selling strawberries for less than a €1.5 per kilo, so naturally I bought a whole box of them.
So what else did we saw in Porto, that is worth mentioning? Well, they have peacocks walking around in the parks, a big house that celebrates cans of sardines, a library that was used for shooting, or was at least inspiration, for Harry Potter movies, oh and the most interesting one, an ancient book store, something from 19th century if I remember correctly, where instead of selling books they focus on selling Porto wine and some baked potatoes things while a guy plays organs (instrument) live. Everything is absurdly extravagant, haha anyway I really recommend visiting.
Besides that you can take a gondola from the bridge to the winery, visit the beach and if you are lucky it’s open. When I was there the waves were so high that the whole beach was closed for public. Me, being me, instead of taking a tourist bus to go sightseeing I just went for a long run and saw most of the city. The city as a whole is really nice, lots of interesting old buildings, lots parks, coffee shops, pastry shops and in the end lots of tourists.
After four days of exploring Porto and stuffing ourselves with their delicious food it was time to return to Slovenia. The whole trip was truly amazing, and the time (and kilometers) just flew by. I’m really hoping on doing something similar again.
We are still debating, how lucky we were with the timing. Firstly, we hit the jackpot with the weather, February is considered the rainiest month, on average it’s pouring rain every day and it was up to a day before we arrived and it started again as we left, secondly we made it back just in time to escape Covid-19, as I think a week later the whole Veneto region went into quarantine.
Well, remember how I said I went to sleep, when we returned from the restaurant at about 11pm and how Jakob decided it is better to party with the rest of the guys instead?
The first day we actually did 2 stages, to Negreira (~30km) and then continue to Caminos Chans (~28km). In order to do it in time, we woke up at 5 am, ate breakfast (I finally bought some strawberries, I found in store the previous day! :D). The weather forecast was not the best, and it was pouring rain, so we improvised a bit with our shoes and were off at about 5.45am. It was completely dark and soon we were out of the Santiago, so headlamps came in really handy.
Despite bad weather, it was interchanging between pouring, light rain and even some sunny hours, I really enjoyed this leg of the race. We started going quite strong and everything was more or less fine, until we reached the first climb after about 3 hours of walking. Then it finally showed how important the sleep is. I literarily didn’t know what to do, if we should turn back, continue forward or what, Jakob looked like sad pile of misery. I still don’t know how, but after an hour or two of miserly slow pace, a couple of rests and a bit larger meal he somehow pulled it together, and we were flying through the countryside again.
The path was mainly going through the forests, fields and pastures, with almost no civilization. At one point I think it took us almost 3h to get from one house till we reached the next one. This was certainly my favorite part of the Camino, at least path wise.
We calculated that we should walk at pace around 5.30/km in order to reach our destination in reasonable time, with only one longer stop (about 30 minutes) for lunch, the rest was walking or short stops for walking. Well because of reasons mentioned before it didn’t go exactly as planned, at least the first half, but we picked it up a bit on the second half. I believe it’s not hard to imagine, our legs toward the end felt like cement. All in all it took us about 13 hours to finish, about 11h of pure walking. I’m still amazed how Jakob managed to do it, I mean I was dead tired at the end, had much more stamina and slept at least a couple of hours the night before. If I didn’t know better, I would say it was a miracle that he made it.
The village at the end was tiny, it didn’t even have a store, just a small restaurant, that actually sold some basic food ingredients like pasta, bread and tomato sauce. We were more than happy to buy it, despite costing more than double, what would in “normal” store. But after walking whole day, the last thing we wanted to do was go sleep hungry. (Also, pasta for breakfast next day!)
The next day was a bit more reasonable, only 35 kilometers. The weather was also better, partly cloudy with no rain. First half of the path took us through some valleys and forests. At one point a dog, that was watching over some kettle joined us and walked with us for about an hour or so, it was quite fun at the beginning, but toward the end we were beginning to worry he wouldn’t leave.
After about 4 hours we reached the shoreline, where we had the biggest doughnut I have ever saw. The rest of the way was alongside beach and more or less civilized areas, since I guess during summer there are a lot of tourists here. It wasn’t as fun as walking through the fields, at least in this weather, and we started constantly looking how much more, how far is it. At one point, you can already see the end, but the path winds along the coast and seems to go on forever.
In the late afternoon we finally reached Fisterra! Yeey, our journey was finally over, well almost. We first checked in the albuerge, where we also got another certificate for finishing this Finisterra part of the pilgrimage, then the only thing left was to reach the end point – the lighthouse about 4 km out of the town.
We reached it right in time, when sun was starting to set, our journey was actually over, nowhere further to go, unless we wanted to swim to America., but that is a challenge for another time.
We sat in silence at the lighthouse looking as the sun went below horizon, and thought about the journey in silence. It’s hard to describe how we felt, well tired but also proud, or more than that, something deeper. The whole journey actually touches you on some deeper level, as cheesy as it might sound.
We returned to the Albergue, where we had a nice dinner. I know what you will be thinking, ah pasta again, but wait no! Since it was such a special occasion, we decided to have tortellini instead!
With this, our pilgrimage was over, the only thing left was to return back to Porto for couple of days and then back in Slovenia, just in time, to escape Covid-19 epidemic in Italy.
We started the day as you should, with a plate full of pasta, of course. It might sound weird, but we actually noticed we had more energy after eating like this. Guess walking the whole day burns some calories (although not as much as people seem to believe). 🙂
This was the last stage (or was it?), of our Camino de Portuguese journey. The day was nice and sunny, and we just breezed over the landmarks showing 20, 15, 10, 5 and finally 0 km to the cathedral. Well, that is not exactly true, there is no 0 km sign at the cathedral. The path, especially toward the end was a bit tedious, as the last couple of hours were through the big city. About an hour before the end we saw the cathedral in the distance and in the early afternoon we reached it!
It is hard to describe, how we felt! It actually is somewhat of an achievement what we did, in total the distance we hiked was 260 km, and we did it in 11 days, through sun, rain, over the hills and rivers, the experience was truly magical. I’m probably going to make another post about the psychological aspect of the journey – pilgrimage.
The cathedral was truly amazing, enormous, sadly the front was being renovated, so our final photo was a bit screwed, but it didn’t matter in the end, the important thing for us was that we did it. The only thing left was to go to the official Camino office, where we got our final stamp and certificates of the taken journey. After paying about 10 € for two pieces of paper, we were proud owners of the official certificate, written in Latin, with our Latin names.
We hanged out a bit more in front of the cathedral, after a while we came across some other pill grams, that we knew from the journey before. The only thing left now was find a place to sleep for the night, strangely there were no official albergues in the Santiago, but we found a really nice hostel, that was more or less used only by the pilgrims. It was even better than albergue and the cost was only 10 €.
The only thing left now, was to have an official last dinner, to celebrate our journey. In the evening we met up with two of the girls we befriended during the journey and went into a restaurant in the city centre, which after a lot of googling I determined is the best place to have paella in.
We felt a bit out of place, as the restaurant was moderately fancy, and we were all wearing sports clothes, since we didn’t have anything else, but the waiters didn’t care, I guess they were used to pilgrims coming to eat there. Oh yea, one more thing I forgot to mention, if you are not familiar with Spain, Spaniards have weird habits of eating really late, so most restaurants open after 8 or 9 pm.
The traditional food of Galicia is octopus. We tried it for the appetizer and I must say, it was truly amazing. It was served with baked potatoes and garlic. Really a must-try. The main dish was paella, not really traditional for Galicia, but more around the Valencia, but as it is one of my favorite dishes, I managed to persuade all the others to have it. To be honest, it wasn’t that hard, a big plate of rice, after eating so much pasta sounded great! 🙂 Sadly, it was just ok, nothing truly amazing. One of the reasons might be, that they made it in one pan for 5 people, so the rice didn’t cook enough / properly. For dessert, we decided that we need to go back to traditional food and what can be more traditional than Tarta de Santiago?! Again, we weren’t sorry, it was really excellent, or maybe we were in dire need of sugar in any case. All in all the price for all together was much steeper, than what we got used to, about 25 €/person, but hey it was last dinner. (Now that I’m writing this, I’m sorry we didn’t try to take a photo posing as last dinner).
This was our last day that we were all together, Aljoša sadly had to leave next day, as he had baby on the way, while Jakob and I could afford to stay for couple more days. We decided that since we were here already, we will try to reach the Fisterra. This is regarded as an extension of the Camino de Santiago, the last leg, where you walk to the ocean. It is about 90 km from Santiago, and we decided that we want to do it in 2 days.