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.
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.
We started the day with a nice breakfast in the historical center of Pontevedra. I wanted to try churros for quite some time and finally got the chance to do so. Hm, what can I say about them? They were very good, as all fatty and sweet food is :). I was wondering what it was, but after trying it, I’m sure it’s something my grandma calls “štraube”, and usually makes them around Mardi Gras (pustni torek), although to be fair, they do look a bit better than my grandma’s but in the end it’s just fried dough. So while we were sitting in the coffee place and dunking churros into the hot chocolate it started to rain, again, so another day of walking in the rain ahead of us. The path on this stage was nice, it was mostly out of the urban area.
Around noon, we walked through some small village, and like in a cartoon, amazing smell of roasted pork, flew around the corner. It was like in cartoons, when smell actually calls people inside, haha. Aljoša is still joking about it today (October). After smelling it, we couldn’t help but follow the smell back 100 m and enter the restaurant, that looked like the likeliest candidate of being the source of the smell. I’m mentioning this, because this was probably the best price/performance of any restaurant that I have been in past 10 years if no more. For merely 10 € you got the following:
Hot soup with vegetables
Roasted pork ribs with baked potatoes
1l of wine (yes, each one got a bottle of whine, haha)
The restaurant is called As Eiras, if you are in the vicinity, by all means go try it out.
You know, how they say the world looks better with a full belly? In our case it actually was true, the weather cleared, and we reached our next destination in Caldas de Reis early afternoon. There is no official albuerge there, but a private one, for the same price (8€ in Spain) was waiting for us. The town is known for its hot springs, but I think everything was closed at that time of the year.
The town had several stores, so we were able to raid the necessary supplies, including some super cheap, but good (ish) wine. Before we started preparing dinner Jakob tried his best to persuade anyone, who would listen to him to go swim with him to the hots pings – basically it looked like random fountain outside, in the end surprisingly he didn’t persuade anyone but managed to annoy everyone, so he actually went alone. While Jakob was swimming in the rain I did other stupid extreme and went for a run, well at least I didn’t try to persuade anyone to follow me.
After good lunch it’s only natural that even better dinner follows. Well, I can’t say about the quality, but I can definitely testify about the quantity. This became the day, know as the day, the three of us, ate 1kg of pasta in one sitting. I’m not sure, if we should be proud of this or not, but damn haha, it really gives you energy.
Next morning we were flying toward Padron, the last stop before Santiago. We barely made one short stop in the middle, to eat a snack on this 19 km stage. This leg of the journey was one of the best, most of the path was going through the forest and fields, if it wasn’t raining again, it would have been perfect. The albergue in the town was in an old monastery beside the church and it was again really nicely maintained. It must have been renovated not so long ago, the interior was mostly wooden and there were plenty of heaters provided so it was nice and warm.
All in all I have to say that albergues in Spain are really superb. Especially if you account that they only cost 8 € a night, but more on this later.
Next morning Jakob and I went through the old city again, as I didn’t saw it yet. It was truly magnificent, haven’t seen fortress on so many levels before. After about an hour of walking on the high wall and through some tunnels and underpass we were on the other side, the only thing separating us from Spain was a long bridge over the river. Soon after we were able to say ¡Hola Espagne!
It took us 5 days to reach Spain, about 125 km were behind us and about 140 ahead of us. The first city on Spanish side was Tui, we didn’t spend much time there but continued walking. We were pretty lucky with the weather so far, it has been more or less clear sky, well until now. The weather forecast for today was some scattered storms, luckily it wasn’t as bad as we were afraid. It only rained on us enough, so we unpacked all our rain coats and waterproof gear and then it stopped after about 10 minutes. Still, we were happy when we reached our destination, O Pporino, it was relatively easy day, just 20 km.
This was an optional stop, which at the beginning we weren’t planning to make, but since the weather wasn’t the best and the next stop Redondela, was additional 15 km away, we decided there was no point in hurrying and stopped here, and wow, we weren’t sorry.
The albergue in O Pporino was amazing, it must have been quite new, no more than 10 years old, had actual floor heating! The downside was, that it had no kitchen utensils. Supposedly people didn’t clean them enough and people started to get sick, so there was some law, that forbade albergues from having them, supposedly for whole Galicia – which is basically the whole north-western part of Spain. Luckily in a couple of days, this turned out not to be true. Though we were quite sad about it, and since we knew that Spain was more expensive than Portugal, I was already carrying couple kgs of pasta.
Next day was nothing truly remarkable, the weather was so-so, so we had to walk a bit in the rain, nothing too bad though. We reached our next destination Redondela in early afternoon. What was exciting about it was that the albergue was in an old defence tower in the city centre. We were quite excited to sleep in it, although to be fair, when we actually saw it, it wasn’t as poetic as it sounded.
The albergue was without kitchen utensils again, so we decided to try to buy a pot or at least pan in the local supermarket. As it turned out, it was mission impossible. As it seems in Spain they only sell kitchen utensils in some specialized stores, and since it was Saturday afternoon when we went on this mission they were all closed, as opposed to the supermarkets that are open until 9 or 10 pm. I must say, I was really annoyed but it, much more than Aljoša and Jakob, maybe it was that kg of pasta that I was carrying for 35 km already.
Since it was still early afternoon, and the sky cleared up, I again went for a run on a nearby hill with nice views. In the evening we sat down the table and played some games – yes, Jakob actually brought Settlers of the Catan board game with him, not the whole box, but just playing pieces. We were laughing at him about it at the beginning, but I must admit, it felt pretty awesome to play the game, in the following days we actually managed to though the game to some other pilgrims.
The next day was nothing exceptional either, the path lead us through some villages, near the coast. It rained for most of the day, so that took all the joy from the hike that day. When we reached Pontevedra in about 20 km. The albergue was again very nice, with floor heating, but what was even better, it had kitchen utensils! I don’t remember, when was the last time I was so happy to eat pasta – plain pasta without a sauce that is. Note:I have (or rather had) something of begrudge against it (all kinds of pasta), since in my childhood, we ate it literary every other day... We spend the evening playing the board games again and talking with our friends, it was a nice end to a mediocre day. Also, Aljoša bought a couple of slices of the expensive Iberrian prosciutto in Redondela and today was the day we tried it!
We arrived to Porto in the late evening and were in our hostel in around 11PM. To ease into the hiking culture, we decided to make a ho(s)tel reservation for the first night, with a private room for the three of us.
Next day (Sunday), we got up at 9, went to the main cathedral in Porto, where we got our pilgrim’s credentials. With the credentials you get the “ability” to sleep in special hostels called Albergues, that are open only for the pilgrims and are very cheap 6€ in Portugal and 8€ in Spain, that is at least for the state run ones. Of course, you can go into the private ones that give you more amenities but are much more expensive. The problem is, however, as the February is the least touristy month of the year – it’s supposed to be the rainiest month in Portugal/Spain of the year, most of the privately owned Albergues are closed, so the only choice are the state ones.
After getting our credentials, the journey started, we were at km 0.
In general the way is well-marked with the yellow arrows, and blue seashells – emblem of the pilgrimage., despite it, it can be a bit confusing in some places, so not long after starting we got lost a bit but with today’s phones it was not too hard to find our way back on track. Ah, one more thing I should mention, on the last day, we found out a great app for the pilgrims, that shows you the different paths you can take, information about albergues and such – Kamino Ninja.
There are 3 ways to reach Santiago from Porto, Costal, spiritual and central path – because of the month we were travelling we took the central path, as it is the most popular, so basically the only one where even the state Albergues are open (more or less). Although from the information we read the coastal one might be the most interesting/beautiful.
On the first day we walked for about 26km, so when we arrived at the monastery in Vairao, it was already dark. We were lucky, as we found the woman, who was taking care of the Albergue – in this case monastery, already preparing to go home. As it turned out, we were the only ones sleeping there for that night. It was an interesting experience all in all. The monastery was not heated, the walls were thick at least 2 m, so it was cold and moist inside. It was actually warmer outside, so we let the window open during the night, but I was really really happy I had my warm sleeping bag with me.
So how to Albergues even work? This mainly applies to the state ones, although the private ones do not differ much. You can only stay in them for 1 night, you get a stamp in your pilgrims credentials and then you have to move on. They are basically a stripped version of ho(s)tels, normally with bare beds, so you have to have sleeping bag with you, and the majority of them have kitchenet with kitchen utensils (however, this does not apply to the first couple of them in Spain, as there are some laws that prohibit them from having kitchens utensils in hostels – something about people not cleaning after themselves and then getting sick). During the summer, in the most popular months they get full quickly, so people usually get up in the middle of the night, so they can arrive at the next albergue before 14.00, when they usually open. It is impossible to make a reservation in advance so if it’s full you are basically left with not much choice but to continue until the next town (which can be 10s of km away) or go into a private one – if they still have some room. Luckily in our case we were at most 10 people, usually even less. And despite having to sleep with total strangers, it doesn’t feel that weird or bad, you are all there with the same reason – pilgrimage, so it’s easy to talk to others, meet new people and you don’t feel like someone is going to murder or rob you in the middle of the night .
After surviving our first freezing night we continued to Barcelos. The path took us over some picturesque bridges and villages, but the vast majority was done on the roads through some urban areas. After about 28h we arrived to Barcelos, where it was dark again. Due to some miscommunication, or maybe because we were tired, who knows, we decided to just find the first Albergue we could and sleep there – as it turned out this was a privately owned on. It cost 10€ / night and I can’t really say it was much better than the state owned ones. Here we also met with another pilgrim, Nina, from Germany, with whom we basically synchronized our walking stages almost until Santiago, but more on this later. Since it was late, we went out for a quick bite and then quickly fallen asleep. Waking the whole day really tires you and the next day was supposed to be a hard one.
The path on the third day was a bit more convoluted thorough side roads and paths, so it was nice to walk, as opposed to walking the whole day on the main road. What I really liked about it was how the natives were used to the pilgrims and everyone you saw greeted you with “Bon Camino”. Some even left some fruit / water in their yards for the pilgrims and there were plenty of orange, tangerine and lemon trees along the road, full of ripe fruit, just asking for the taking. During the first days, we must have eaten kilos of oranges and tangerines.
We continued walking for the better part of the day, until we reached Vitorino dos Piaes, where the next albergue was supposed to be. We must have read the information wrongly, as the town only had privately owned albergue, which was closed on that day. So with terror, at 5pm, we realized we need to make it to the next town – Ponte de Lima, about 15 km further and over a hill. This was by far the hardest day we did, for the last 2 hours we were walking in the dark, luckily we had some flashlights with us. We barely reached the albergue, again, just before it closed, and I must say my legs really really hurt after the whole day of walking, I can’t imagine how Aljoša and Jakob must have felt, not to brag- but I was by far in the best shape of the three of us. In total, we were on our legs for about 13 hours and did about 36 km.
The hardest part of the Camino was behind us – or so we thought.