Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués
Tuy, Spain – May 9, 2014
I spent last night across the river in Valença (pronounced "valensha") and this morning with a certain wistfulness said goodbye to Portugal, the ancient and charming country that had hosted me for six full weeks, and crossed the river that separates Spain from Portugal. The Rio Munho becomes the Rio Miño somewhere in the middle of the crossing! Today is a recovery day for me and I am enjoying the sights of Tuy (Tui). As you would expect, the churches in Spain are every bit as awe-inspiring as those in Portugal.
As I reported in the last FCB entry, Porto was a watershed in my Camino travels. As anticipated, the Camino experience evolved and resembles more closely that reported by Lin, Elizabeth, and other veterans of the Camino Frances. There are many more pilgrims on the Way and in the hostleries they frequent. I have fallen in with a contingent of Germans who are pleased to let me practice my German which long has suffered from disuse. The Way north of Porto has been the predicted experience of walking with a few peregrinos, separating, and reconnecting a day or so later.
Most of the peregrinos on the way now are my contemporaries, or nearly so. The younger pilgrims will come along later in the year for the most part. About half the peregrinos now are German, I think. A handful of other nationalities are represented – Irish, Australians, Canadians, a couple from the Netherlands, a couple of Frenchmen, a quad of peregrinos from Poland, a couple of Russians (let’s not talk about politics or world affairs right now – this is the Camino), and just a few Americans. I met three women from Phoenix several days ago and walked with them for several hours before our respective gaits and styles brought a separation. But, hey, Santiago is a week away.
I again have met peregrinos with an agenda – a timetable for completion of their walk. Nothing wrong with that, I have one, too. But mine is not as demanding as some of these folk’s. Two fellows hope to do the entire 240 kilometers from Porto to Santiago in 8 days. They have a plane to catch! I am allowing 17 days, which includes the recovery day I am presently enjoying. I wish them well.
I enjoyed a night in an alberque in San Pedro de Rates, but the next day when I got to Barcelos, the alberque was already full at 1:30 in the afternoon! So I have spent several nights in hotels and pensions favored by peregrinos, and am none the worse for wear. The same comaradarie exists in those venues as is present in the alberques. And you don’t have to listen to the guy(s) in the other bunk(s) snore all night.
Here are some highlights of the Way from Porto to my entry today into Galicia.
Leaving Porto to take the Coastal alternative from Matosinhos to Vila do Conde (before turning inland to rejoin the principal Camino Portugues) takes one past a modern indoor farmers’ (and fishermen’s) market in Matosinhos. I got my credencial stamped at a butcher’s stall in the market. The proprietor was so excited to stamp it that he stamped it twice!
Matosinhos is the harbor city for Porto. The ships are real and run the gamut from container to bulkers to tankers, but are nothing like the size of those calling in San Francisco Bay. I searched in vain for a small boat bearing a red and white penant. I am sure there is a bar off the entrance to the harbor (there is an estuary), but it may be that the masters do their own piloting, or perhaps there simply wasn’t a ship to be moved as I crossed the bridge over the harbor to continue my Camino.
I enjoyed the walk along the coast the most of all the hiking I have done. The weather was favorable, but of course, it was the beaches and the proximity to the ocean that reminded me of home.
The day was clear and the sun on my right side as I walked north that morning. I looked left and searched the horizon for the Faralones but could not see them. I know they are there, if just over the horizon.
What I did see perplexed me, though. Three vessels – a bulker riding high, a laden container ship, and a tanker riding high appeared to be stationary some distance off shore. I observed them for a couple of hours as I walked. None moved. They were all stem to the north. I suspect that they were at anchor and that there was a current from the north. And none moved. I infer that there is a broad and shallow "shelf" off the coast at that point and that the ships were lying at anchor. But why? Awaiting orders for the next voyage? Awaiting a final transit to a beach hosting a shipbreaker? (Is the parking lot off Singapore still full?) I will never know.
The coastal Way traverses handsome boardwalks much of the distance I traveled and provided a welcome footing and vantage point. Also, the community has provided dozens of interpretive placards touching on history, flora and fauna en route.
Vila do Conde is a pleasant town with squares and cafes, a Roman aquaduct, all dominated by the Church and Convent of Santa Clara, the convent now vacant and abandoned. It seems too grand to be allowed to simply fall apart. It would no doubt make a great parador.
After my walk that day, I relaxed at a cafe and contemplated the Convent and also the pigeons in the town square. It seemed to me that the amorous males cooed to the females with a Portuguese accent. After another glass of wine, I contemplated whether these pigeons would communicate successfully with the ones back home in San Francisco, particularly those in Washington Square. I concluded that they would not. These pigeons speak Portugues. The ones in Washington Square speak Cantonese.
The next day brought me to Bercelos which was having an annual religious and civic celebration. The whole community turned out for what would pass for an itinerant carnie anywhere in the States, combined with an Asian night market!
The day from Ponte de Lima to Rubiaes was the most strenuous of all days on the Way thus far. The day started with a pleasant stroll across a stone bridge (image immediately above) and became more challenging after that! There is a climb of about 300 meters within the space of three kilometers and much of it is over large, slick boulders that comprised some kind of an ancient road but today simply form a test of a peregrino’s strength, endurance, commitment and will power.
Climbing with tired legs.
Nearing the Alto Portela Grande and continuing on the way down, there are a series of peregrino monuments to the Way and the journey thus far. Pinecones and small rocks have been placed by travelers as a testiment to their experiences. Daughter Elizabeth prompted me to bring with me a rock from home. (It is from Ginna’s dish garden in front of our home in San Francisco.)
Pic of rock.
I contributed this little stone to one of the monuments – a new one just starting out, but one that will endure and grow with the passage of time, and of peregrinos.
Another day, this one much less taxing than the previous one, brought country roads, and many wayside shrines. Eventually I reached the walled city of Valençia and enjoyed walking the peremiter and imagining the military planning that went into its constructon.
And today brought me to Tuy – my entry into Galecia.
The language changed abruptly to Spanish, and the license plates have an extra digit relative too those in Portugal. And cobblestone streets and sidewalks, though present on this side of the river, are not ubiquitous as they are on the other.
Tomorrow I set out on the final leg of my Camino.
With that, I’m off.