Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués
San Francisco, California – June 19, 2014
Home again, home again. It is one month since I arrived in Santiago and completed the Camino Portugues.
Ginna and I enjoyed several days in Santiago, took a very long train ride that eventually deposited us in Bilbao (a city on the Camino del Norte, though we looked in vain for way marks), and after two nights, boarded a Brittany Ferry for Portsmouth. We had almost a week in London. Time to visit friends there, and to bridge from Camino to the joys and challenges of being home again.
That said, I’m glad to be home! I lost about 8 pounds over the 46 days of the Camino, but arrived at my destination in good health. I am fuzzier than I was when I departed San Francisco three months ago – referring to my physiognomy, hopefully not my intellect. My electric shaver and charging cord weigh a bit more than a half pound. I didn’t want to carry the extra weight, so I left it at home!
Selfie #1 was taken in Vila Franca de Xira five days after departing San Francisco.
Selfie #2 was taken in London five days after arriving in Santiago.
This post will serve several purposes.
I use it to address a number of issues, observations, and experiences that I did not include in earlier posts, and it will serve as what the Army would term an “After Action Report.” I have included a number of assessments about my Camino, my preparation for it, and the gear I took with me in hopes that it will be of use to a future peregrino who might read this blog. The blog is a public blog, available to anyone. It will stay on the web for a while (and likely be added to as future adventures unfold).
I conclude this posting with a video and audio of the swinging of the botafumeiro at the Cathedral in Santiago.
First, I wish to acknowledge the many comments I received to the several postings. I did read them all but was unable to acknowledge them while en route. They were encouraging and I appreciate them!
Next, I wish to thank those who helped prepare me for the Camino: in particular, daughter Elizabeth, friend Lin, friend Joan. And Jim.
And now to the substance of the post!
- A way mark that didn’t post.
The picture I took in Viriville, France several years ago did not post successfully when I published Fog City Boy (FCB) #2. I had to return home in order to upload it properly. Here it is.
Old salts (San Francisco Bar Pilots) may seek it out the next time they train at Port Revel.
- Corrections and amplifications.
In FCB #1, I wrote that the Camino de Santiago is thought to be the most important pilgrimage in the Roman Catholic communion. I stand corrected. The pilgrimages to Jerusalem and to Rome are of a higher order. The pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal also ranks high in the hierarchy of pilgrimages.
In FCB #7, I reported that the outdoor community laundries all had a similar design. In fact that turned out not to be the case as I made my way north. I found the laundries in Spain, as well as in Portugal. One constructed quite recently had individual “stations” for the townsfolk using the facility.
In FCB #3, I reported that a pickpocket in Lisbon had relieved me of my wallet. When I returned to San Francisco and sorted through the boxes of mail that had arrived, I found a small white package from France addressed to me. Lo and behold, it was my wallet – with driver’s license, military i.d. card, credit and debit cards (long since canceled and replaced), and US dollars placed in the “side pockets” of the wallet. The euros, of course, were gone. The pickpocket wanted only the cash, and none of the other items that would have been incriminating in his (or her) possession. A vacationing Frenchman found it on the floor of the tram where the larceny occurred, and very kindly sent it to me with a note explaining how it came to be in his possession. How very thoughtful.
In FCB #8, I included a reference to a World War II German submarine that was scuttled by its crew after the secession of hostilities. Here is the plaque again, and English description:
The German Submarine U1277
At this spot, about 30 meters deep, lies a sunken German submarine of World War II, the U1277. On the 3th [sic] of June 1945, almost a month after the Germany capitulation, the crew of the war vessel decided to simulate a fault and sank the submarine in Portuguese waters. This would prevent the vessel from falling into Allies’ hands as well as returning to its home harbor, taken by the Soviet army. The crew surrendered at the Angeiras Maritime Police headquarters and was imprisoned at the Sao Joao da Foz Fort before being handed over to the British. The U1277, built at the Bremen shipyards and inaugurated on the 18th of March 1944, provides today shelter for a rich sea fauna and flora, and is considered one of the main underwater diving sites in this coast.
I couldn’t help but notice the young women in Portugal, the majority of whom dressed a la mode, which is to say that their pants appeared to be spray painted on in solid colors (usually black or denim blue) or displaying outrageous floral or geometric patterns. And many wore 5 inch heels, supported by 1 1/2 inch platform soles. These presentation choices were ubiquitous both in large cities and small towns. The platform shoes increased in frequency as I headed north, likely because of the passage of time (time to “get with it”) rather than changed geography. Spain was no different!
When I got to London – all the world was there in Picadilly and in Mayfair – attire was the same, only more so: a fashionista every three meters.
The older women in Portugal and some of the younger married women as well, often wore black skirts and tops, or a black house dress. It was not unlike the images from post-World War II movies set in southern Europe. This attire was particularly the case in smaller towns along the way, but even in the cities, most older women dressed quite conservatively – in deep blue if not in black.
The professional men and women I encountered along the Way (including a substantial number of women who were advogados) would have been quite at home dressing for a court appearance in the States. All wore conservative dark colored suits. And all business people in Portugal seem to carry an obligatory, if small, briefcase to and from the office. Whether the briefcases contain homework, or lunch, or simply are a convenient way to cart one’s ipad, I don’t know.
The young guys along the way dressed the same as their counterparts in the States: Lots of athletic jerseys and t-shirts. The older, apparently retired gentlemen wore tired looking trousers and sport jackets, often with a cap or other headgear.
Not surprisingly, the young guys in London were just as fashion conscious as the young ladies.
- Dogs and Cats
I believe that I was barked at by every dog in Portugal north of Lisbon (except two). With few exceptions, all the farm houses in the rural areas, and many of the houses in the residential sections of the cities and towns through which I passed, had guard dogs. Generally they were tethered to a post or a stake in the ground. But that did not stop them from barking and growling menacingly and leaping in my direction only to be constrained by the tether.
The first dog to espy this peregrino would bark furiously and, as I passed, the duties were transferred to the dog next door, and then to the dog further on. This process often went on for a dozen or more houses or farms.
Occasionally the dogs were not tethered but were allowed to roam freely behind a high or relatively high wall surrounding a pleasant house. That circumstance often was anxiety-provoking because any of many large, loud, and angry dogs could have leapt over the wall and taken a bite out of my neck had they wanted to.
One small terrier that was not tethered and was free to roam the street in fact did take a nip at my heel – likely incensed that I had simply ignored him while passing by his house. No harm done but, though ineffectually attacked, I turned and faced my attacker, leveling my walking sticks in his direction. That kept him at bay but the ensuing cacophony emanating from the outraged mutt eventually brought forth his owner, who silenced the dog, and apologized to me for his behavior. I went on my way.
The only two dogs that didn’t bark at me were both Labrador retrievers! They ignored the uproar in their neighborhood as I passed through it, and in typical lab fashion, smiled at me as I walked by.
As to cats, it may have been my imagination, but it seemed that there were an unusual number of Siamese cats in Portugal – running free in the vicinity of their owners’ homes. Most Siamese cats of my acquaintance in the US have been “indoor” cats. Not so in Portugal.
- Nutrition, hydration, and electrolytes.
Some time ago I embraced the notion that food should be viewed as fuel for the body and that fuel intake and processing need to be harmonized with the demands placed on the body. In the context of the Camino, that meant what, when, and how much I ate needed to be reconciled with the endurance efforts I would ask my body to do that day.
Don’t come to me with nothing in the tank.
On mornings when I had access to a hot meal at breakfast (typically scrambled eggs and bacon, cheese, ham, and sausages, too) or when breakfast went beyond white bread, butter and jam, and coffee or tea – the basic European “continental breakfast” – my walking pace and stamina were noticeably better than on those mornings when bread, butter, and jam were all that was available. On those occasions (four of them), I sought out a cafe as early as possible and loaded a pastry of some sort. That and a cafe con leche would get me up and moving – but I knew that the sucrose/lactose/caffeine boost would burn off in two hours or less, so I kept looking for something solid to eat before it got too late in the morning. I carried two tins of sardines with me to serve as emergency rations. I’m glad I had them along, though I never had to resort to them.
I had some good meals in Portugal, but most of the simple restaurants along the way served a large slice of meat (roasted previously and reheated upon order) or fish, with a scoop of white rice, a small salad of chopped lettuce, shredded carrots, and a tomato slice – and a half plate of soggy french fries. Chicken was more frequently available as I walked north. Fresh fish, squid, and octopus were available in the larger coastal towns, and in Santiago. I saw goat on the menu from time to time. I had cabrito a couple of times.
Bacalhau (dried and salted cod fish) is ubiquitous in Portugal and often available in Spain. There are as many recipes for reconstituting the salt cod as there are cooks in that part of the world. I had it a couple of times and lived to tell the tale. But it certainly wasn’t my favorite repast.
What was lacking in virtually all meals in Portugal was a fresh vegetable. I know that they grow veggies in Portugal and Spain because I have seen them in the farmers’ markets, but the restaurants patronized by the common folk apparently haven’t gotten the word yet. I completed the Camino suffering from serious veggie deficit. On two occasions when I told the waiter “no batata – legume si” I was able to avoid another round of soggy french fries, but what came in their stead was a mound of soggy broccoli florets.
Most of the shops and public offices are closed from noon until 2:00 p.m. or so. The siesta lives! Lunch is the major meal of the day in Portugal and lunch time is usually about 1:00 pm. I discovered that it is possible to order a “1/2 dose” for many items on a typical (but limited) menu. But even the reduced serving size was easily enough lunch for two people – even peregrinos who had walked all morning. Most meals at lunch and dinner begin with a plate of olives, white bread, and a bowl of thick orange soup of indeterminate composition. If you order vegetable soup, they put some cabbage or white beans or carrots into the orange base. If you order fish soup, they put some fish of indeterminate species into the soup of indeterminate composition. These soups actually taste pretty good, notwithstanding uncertainties about composition. I found that simply ordering a soup and some bread along with the olives did nicely for me at lunch.
Proper hydration is critical to success in any athletic endeavor, so much the more so when it is an endurance trial. There were a few days when the Way was long and the sun was hot and I became mildly dehydrated. No harm came of it, but after my woosie arrival at my destination on that first long hot day, I packed a standby bottle of still water inside my pack just in case. In addition to carrying and refilling my water bottle, I typically ordered a bottle of water (still or con gas) at the cafes where I stopped to rest and use the available facilities. There are fontes in every town and along the roads in both Portugal and Spain. However, most bear signage warning that the water is not potable, or at least, not controlled. I avoided the water from those sources, and had no gastric issues on the Camino.
Electrolyte management also is important. Eventually, I found myself getting a bit light headed early in the afternoons. I didn’t have the presence of mind to go to one of the ubiquitous Farmacias and ask for an appropriate supplement, but I did combat the problem by salting my food moderately heavily, which normally I wouldn’t do. I survived the challenge, but would recommend that peregrinos take with them a supply of supplements designed to manage electrolyte imbalances.
- Injuries, aches, and pains.
I was quite fortunate not to suffer any injuries and only had a single, very small blister which I drained, cleansed, and bandaged. It healed in two days and there was no recurrence. My legs got sunburned on the first day I walked without the lower leg portions of my convertible hiking pants. And, I did experience shin splints. Typically they came on at night but abated immediately when I walked a few steps. I was quite faithful about doing my AI (active isolated) stretches each morning before I set out. That discipline prepared my whole body (not just my legs – I was carrying a pack, after all) for the miles ahead of me. Also, before setting out each morning, I applied BenGay lotion to my lower legs, rubbing it in thoroughly, as suggested by friend Joan. That was most helpful in preparing my legs for the challenge of the day. I ran out of BenGay but found a similar camphor-menthol preparation at a Farmacia along the Way.
As an experienced peregrino from North Carolina explained to me, most hikers think that having good shoes is the way to avoid blisters. But actually it is more than just shoes. He pointed out that the shoe, the sock, and the foot together constitute a “system.” And all parts of the system have to work together properly in support of the hiker. I had great hiking shoe from a manufacturer named Asolo, socks from Tilley that were woven in such a way as to provide support to the instep and lower leg above the ankles, and two feet that have been with me for a long time. All three pair worked well together with the result that my feet never hurt and blisters were never a concern. My feet were snug in the hiking shoes. There was no rubbing – the source of most blisters. I had a second pair of shoes – feather weight – that I carried in my pack and wore around town after getting off the trail. They are the barefoot line from Merrell. That allowed my hiking shoes – damp from perspiration – to dry out daily.
The other key to avoiding injury was my decision to carry two walking poles. I got carbon poles from REI that are strong and lightweight. Those poles saved me from falling any number of times on rough terrain and on steep grades. Most injuries on the Way occur when descending a grade. I would urge all peregrinos to take two poles on their Camino – not just one. You can be sure that if you have only one pole, it will be in your right hand when you loose your balance to the left – and vice versa!
- What to take and what not to take.
The many Camino guidebooks provide lists of things a peregrino should take. Inevitably, a first time peregrino will bring more “stuff” than he or she will actually need on the Way. The solution is to mail the unneeded “stuff” to yourself at the post office in Santiago and collect it after you arrive. The Spanish post offices can help with this. One way to minimize excess “stuff” is to be sure not to have more than one item of a particular sort. I started out with two flashlights (albeit of different designs). I sent one on to Santiago. I had a first aid kit with lots of contents when I started. I sent a number of duplicate items on to Santiago. The Farmacias along the Way can provide whatever might be needed from time to time. I had a set of long-johns when I started, but it wasn’t at all cold when I arrived. I sent those on to Santiago. All in, all done, it reduced the weight of my pack from 17 pounds to 15. The change was noticeable!
One thing that proved invaluable, and that was suggested by my guidebook, was a sink stopper. I did laundry almost every afternoon when I got off the trail. Typically in an alberque/pension/hotel bathroom sink. Not all bathroom sinks had stoppers, but I was prepared!
I carried a small notebook and a ballpoint pen in my shirt pocket. It was hugely helpful to have it close at hand.
My smartphone had two apps that were extremely helpful. The first was a mapping function with GPS capability. It got me un-lost a number of times. The other was a translator app. It has capabilities that go well beyond English, Spanish, and Portuguese. When I shopped in the Chinese bazaars along the Way, I explained what I needed by translating from English into Chinese characters on my phone!
A thoroughly researched and easy to read guidebook is a must. I had a guidebook, of course. John Brierley’s “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Portugues” – carried by virtually all peregrinos whose first language is English. The edition I purchased was the most recent at that time. However, unbeknownst to me, a later edition was published before I set out on my Camino. Especially because of the rapidly developing infrastructure on the Camino Portugues, the changes to the guidebook were many and important. Had I had the 2014 edition, I would have avoided a number of wrong turns and been apprised of a number of alberque options that eluded me. I looked for a copy of the 2014 edition several times along the Way, but didn’t find one until I had completed myperegrenacion! So, I’ll just have to make do with the memories that accompany the one I had with me.
Choose your backpack carefully and learn how to pack it and cinch it before you go. It sounds obvious, but in my case, learning how to arrange the contents of the pack, and how to adjust the many straps so as to adjust the weight and shape of my pack to my back, shoulders, and hips took longer than I care to admit. I would recommend peregrinos do a “dress rehearsal.” Pack your bag so that it is comfortable and the weight distributed evenly. Then go to the shop where you bought it and have an expert adjust the straps for you so that it “sits right” on you. I did eventually get it right, but there were some painful miles while I was trying to figure it out. I had an Osprey back pack. I was extremely happy with it. It had a 35 liter capacity – a beneficial constraint that forced me to adhere to good packing discipline. Finally, take to heart the advice I was given – limit the weight of your pack to 10 percent of your body weight. No more! Travel light! Schooner rig!
- Whatever happened to . . .
On the Way, the peregrino meets others headed to the same destination. While each pilgrimage is its own story, some of the stories are particularly compelling. Unfortunately, because peregrinos progress at their own paces, it is not always possible to know the outcome of some especially poignant stories. Here are three:
Whatever happened to “Santiago?”
I spent one night at a rural casa called Casas Do Rio – houses of the river.
A lovely and serene estate with historic accommodations for peregrinos and others located in Cossourado, Portugal. (I highly recommend this rural casa.) There were three women peregrinos from Phoenix who over-nighted there, and five young German peregrinos – one guy and four women. And a very nice stray dog that had followed the Germans for much of the day. One of the German women decided to adopt the pooch. They were very devoted to each other. She spent considerable time on her cell phone determining the requirements to take him home to Germany with her after the Camino. Next morning, the women from Phoenix and I left before the Germans did. We walked together for several hours. One of the women announced that they had decided that the dog should be named “Santiago.” None of us knew what “Santiago’s” new mistress would actually call him. And we had concerns for him, too. He had a bit of a limp and appeared to have been separated from his original family. Walking all the way to “Santiago” might have been as difficult for him as it was for us. And it is not clear where he would overnight along the Way. Would the alberques along the Way take them both in? We did not see the cohort of Germans again, and never learned what happened to “Santiago.”
Whatever happened to Gisela?
(Not her real name.) Gisela was a lovely, young, very intelligent, very blond, very sunburned German peregrino who, with a group of other Germans, were walking the Way for several days in tandem with my own progress. As a group we had gathered together at cafes along the Way, and dined together and they had been very tolerant of my very awkward, mostly forgotten, gesprochenen Deutsch. We had dinner one night at a pleasant restaurant in Ponte De Lima. The conversation was casual all around. We returned to our respective lodging, with Gisela and another woman returning to the alberque via the bridge crossing the Rio Lima.
I learned the next morning that half way across, Gisela produced a notebook in which she had written of all the troubles she had had with her family. She tore the pages out of the book, tore them in pieces, and threw them all into the river. And watched them float away. “Now I am free,” she announced. “I am going to get to Santiago as quickly as I can, and go home. I’ll make 30 kilometers a day.” Apparently she was up and out of the alberque and on her way at 6:30 the next morning. She was a very nice girl, and I hope that the Camino had given her the freedom she had sought and believed she had found. We did not see her again.
Whatever happened to Richard from England?
(Not his real name.) Now in Spain, one morning I met a peregrino from Ireland named Richard. (Not his real name, either!) He was a bit older than I and on his 10th Camino. He said he walks two Caminos each year. We walked together for a time, and then I went on ahead. I passed through Redondela and spent the night at a pension four or five kilometers further along the Way. The vista from the pension was wonderful. I thought that I had found California poppies when I looked out the window. Close, but clearly a different species.
Both Richard from Ireland and another peregrino, Richard from England, spent the night at an alberque in Redondela. That alberque is reputed to be quite comfortable, albeit located close to a nightclub that is noisy into the wee hours of the morning. Though a long way from that alberque, I got a late start the next morning, forgot my hat and had to go back to the pension to retrieve it. In due course, I saw Richard from Ireland and others some distance ahead of me. I paused at a fonte for a snack and noted a passing peregrino – a burly fellow with a wooden staff for a walking stick, walking in sandals without socks (guaranteed to bring you many blisters), and sporting a swetty red shirt. I wished him buen Camino but he didn’t acknowledge me.
Farther down the road, I came upon Richard from Ireland sitting in front of a cafe drinking a beer. I tossed down my pack and decided it was time for a break and a bite. “Did you see a pilgrim in a red shirt today?” asked Richard from Ireland. I said that I did but that he had gone on ahead of me. Richard said that the pilgrim in the red shirt was inside the cafe, also was named Richard, and would be out in time. He then went on to say that last night, Richard from England had been in the other of the two bunk rooms in the alberque (each with about 10 bunk beds), and that when they met at the cafe a bit ago, Richard from England said to him, “Did you hear the commotion last night?” Richard from Ireland had not heard it. “Well, I urinated on a woman in the alberque, and she complained to the hospitalero. He called the Spanish police, who came to the alberque and threw me and my stuff out into the street. I spent half the night on the street.”
About that time, Richard from England appeared. We introduced ourselves and I told him I was from San Francisco. “Ya been up to the jail yet?” I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, so he clarified, “Alcatraz.” Ahhhh. That was easier to deal with. Yes, I have visited Alcatraz. I considered asking him which jails he had been “up to.” But I decided against it.
I got up to go get a sandwich. “Buy me a beer,” he directed. “I’ll pay you back.” Well, this might have been my first Camino, but it wasn’t my first time around the block. I got him his beer, assumed I would never be repaid, and was not disappointed. Richard from England downed his beer and went back into the cafe. I turned to Richard from Ireland and said, “He is a strange fellow.” Richard responded, “you forgot one word.” . . . “What’s that?” . . . “Very!” I ate half of my sandwich, finished a bottle of water, and headed on. I didn’t see either peregrino again. I wonder what kind of trouble Richard from England got into later on his Camino.
- Way marks.
I know that the blog has included images of a number of way marks I encountered. But here are several more that I found particularly noteworthy.
And the prizewinner is . . .
This way mark was atop a boxlike structure in a clearing in a wooded area shortly before descending into one urban town or another. The Way at this point is shared by the Camino de Santiago and the pilgrimage to Fatima. The pilgrimages head in opposite directions through most of Portugal, though they share the same trails. The Fatima way marks are painted in blue; the Camino’s in yellow. This way mark is composed of two hiking shoes pointed in opposite directions – one in blue, pointed toward Fatima, and one in yellow, pointed toward Santiago.
As I consider the Camino – my Camino – I am reminded of many acts of kindness of which I was the beneficiary. The locals who showed me the right way, when I was headed the wrong way. The fellow who offered me a lift when I was exhausted and in difficulty. The British ex-pats living in Portugal whom I met in a rural cafe who helped me order a toasted ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, and then bought me lunch! The hospitalero who was prepared to collect me some distance away from her pension and find me a place to stay, if the next pension on my way was closed or full. Another hospitalero who, rather than rely on my comprehension of his directions, drove me to a bus stop to be sure I knew where to catch a bus the next morning. The restaurateur who gave me a tour of the town after I finished dinner one night. The peregrinos I met along the way, especially Monika and Siegwart from Germany, who – fearing that the alberque they had found would not have space for me should I arrive later that evening – prepared a window cushion mattress for me in their room so I would have a place to stay. In fact, I was safe and slept well at the Casas do Rio that night. And the French vacationer who mailed my wallet back to me.
And so, as I contemplate my Camino now, a month after my arrival in Santiago, I again find myself thinking of gratitude. Gratitude for the fitness and strength to begin and complete the peregrinacion. Gratitude for the kindnesses shown me so frequently on the Way. Gratitude for the Camino itself.
- The Pilgrims’ Mass and the swinging of the botafumeiro.
The Cathedral de Santiago is great and magnificant. It harbors many examples of extraordinary religious art commissioned over hundreds of years. Here are images from one of the chapels around the walls of the church.
Ginna and I attended the Pilgrims’ Mass shortly after my arrival in Santiago. As I reported in FCB #9, I was not able to upload my video and audio recording of the swinging of the botafumeiro incensor (which concludes the mass) at the time I completed that posting. I have since been able (with some help from Ginna) to achieve that feat.
The swinging of the botafumeiro marks the end of the pilgrims’ mass at the Cathedral, and in so many ways brings closure to the many peregrinaciones that conclude in Santiago. The swinging of the botafumeiro seems to be an especially appropriate conclusion to this chronicle of the Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugues. I hope you will watch it and enjoy. The video is almost 6 minutes long and includes words from the celebrant setting the context before the actual the introduction of the botafumeiro. The audio is important, too. Peace be with you.
Thank you for following this chronicle.
And with that, the boots are off. My feet are up.
And I’m not off to anywhere just now. . . but stay tuned!