Camino Portuguese….check!

Returning to south west Europe for us is never hard.  Not sure if it is the richness of the food, the onslaught of the ridiculously cheap wine, the beautiful landscapes or the ancientness of it’s villages, but it’s fast becoming a tradition of ours to spend our June walking a portion of the Camino de Santiago in this corner of the world.  This June was no different as we set out on the Camino Portuguese to both spread the good word of Ohenro and to get a little bit of pilgrimage in us ourselves.  360km, 12 full days of walking, whiningwineing  to the western most tip of continental Europe, Finisterre.


We had 1 night each in Lisboa and Porto before starting the walk, which is a damn shame, because both cities deserve so much more time.  For Lisboa, it was our first meal which won us over- just amazing seafood at this crazy hectic restaurant recommended by a couple of our best guests.


Of course the city too is really beautiful.


After an afternoon and following morning of exploring, we headed out on the train to Porto. It’s hard to describe just how evocative this city is- and as these things go, the pictures don’t really help much either.  It has this medieval core straddling this beautiful river long used as the main transport hub of the city’s most famous export, port wine.  Again, just didn’t have time to do it justice but got enough to KNOW we will go back someday.


After picking up our credentials at the cathedral in Porto, we headed out, via the beach for the 1st couple of days, which ended up being a pretty brutal slog along the coast and non-stop rain.  Sort of a weird start; no arrows, almost no other pilgrims- we saw 2 others, mainly walking along hammered boardwalks and newer buildings.  We later talked to a Portuguese women on the last days of our pilgrimage to Finisterre who told us about the massive waves, and destruction that the north coast of Portugal received last winter.  If you remember, the biggest wave ever ridden was last winter on this very coast.


We finally started getting our groove, and into the pilgrimage when we cut inland from Vila do Conde.  We started walking through some beautiful country side and some amazing little villages-all the while staying at some of the best albuergues on the camino.


We both really like Portugal, Noriko especially like the food- less rich than Spanish food with possibly a more nuanced flavor.  Walking in Portugal was really quite interesting, and crossing over the border from Valenca (Portugal) to Tui (Spain), one can sense an immediate difference. It’s almost as if there is a layer of development, infrastructure and wealth that Spain has that Portugal is missing.  Portuguese people are great, quick to say hello and smile; all with a humble quality to them.  


One of the highlights for us, was the fortaleza (fortress) area of Valenca.  It is another world filled with bulwarks, towers, massive walls, tiny winding alley ways, churches and great places to sit and watch the sunset (with a bottle of vinho verde) with a surly Irish man that happens to be walking/riding the pilgrimage at the same times as us.

Crossing into Spain, well, Galicia, was pretty dramatic-the towns are much more substantial, the people are definitely busier with more attitude and the camino starts to have more people. Of course, nowhere near the amount of people that we encountered on the Camino Frances last year, but still more.  It also started warming up significantly and we started putting in some long days.  I certainly felt like I was back in my element; speaking very broken Spanish, eating chorizo like I had a tapeworm (I didn’t) and bathing in wine.  Nori’s obsession was Pulpo Gallego (Galician style Octopus) the whole time we were in Galicia-rightfully so, pretty delicious.


It was a bit surreal to return to Santiago, especially from the south this time- actually a much better approach than the Camino Frances; way less urban and offering some nice views.  As opposed to our past caminos, we didn’t see anyone that we walked with, at all, we didn’t do the mass and we really just treated it like another stage of the pilgrimage.  Because we knew we were headed for Finisterre this time, it didn’t feel like the destination, just another beautiful city on the camino, albeit with many many tourists, both walkers and non.


The Camino Finisterre was really wonderful, neither of us had much of an idea what it would be like and we didn’t have a guide book.  Of course, as these things do, it worked out perfectly- we had one morning without our requisite cafe con leche but…was a small price to pay for the freedom and spontaneity of not carrying a guide.  Definitely gorgeous Galician trails through moss covered walls, stone hamlets, amazing food/wine but the nail in the coffin were the sick views of the coast from the tops of the mountains.  Of course, that first view of cabo Fisterre is something I’ll never forget.


One thing we were particularly blown away by was how beautiful the water and beaches were in and around Finisterre…it really was like Thailand or the Caribbean.  Soft, pure white sound, multi-shaded turquoise water were definitely an inviting site on our approach to the (previously, errounously  thought of) end of the world.


After getting a cheap room and a little nap in, we hit the port for pulpo and paella.  It was a great way to end the day and the pilgrimage.  That evening, we (along with about 50 other pilgrims) went to light house that is at the western most tip of Europe, about 3.5km from town, to watch the sunset.


Easy to get superlative about the moment, but it was one of those times in life where you are just mindful of the moment, grateful to be there, witnessing something important.  It really added a component of  “finishing” to the pilgrimage also that I haven’t felt before on my other pilgrimages.  I find something lacking when arriving at Santiago; it’s a great city, it’s dramatic, you get to meet up and hug some of the people that you met along the way, but, it all feels a bit rushed, as if you skipped the last part of a great film.  Walking the 3 days to Finisterre not only gives you time to reflect on your walk, the things you have brooded over, the places and people you have met, it also gives you the ultimate closure in the form of that sunset.