All posts by fogcityboy

I'm Mike Miller and I established this blog in 2014 to chronicle my progress in walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (Portuges). I am continuing to post entries to the blog to chronicle my progress in walking the Camino Frances in 2015 and the Camino Primitivo in 2016. I was unable to complete the Primitivo in 2016 due to seriously challenging weather (both heat and deluge) and was constrained to fly home using the ticket I had purchased. I returned to the Camino Primitivo by way of the West Highland Way in Scotland, and the Napoleon Route from St. Jean to Pamplona - and finished what I started last year. In 2018 I walked the Camino de la Costa in Portugal and Spain . . . and I completed the Way from Santiago to Finesterre. This year - 2019 - I walked the Cotswold Way and the Thames Path in England. Both are part of the UK National Trails network. And then, the Camino Ingles. I am a native of San Francisco, California but lived and worked in Washington, DC for many years. I am walking the Camino for the views, the endurance challenge that it poses, and for some spiritual reasons as well.

Fog City Boy #10

 

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.

  • Fashionistas.

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.

bacalhau+%25281%2529.jpg

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.

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTIXxTXcaW4lt9zqPSP5x8uzb_MrVJMpaRbXbGa2BpYcHMkdGbR6A

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.

  •  Kindnesses.

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!

Buen Camino!

 

Knute Michael

Fog City Boy #9

Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués

Santiago de Compostela, Spain – May 19, 2014


This blog posting is written in two segments – the first is from Padron, "on the Way," and the second from Santiago upon conclusion of my peregrenacion.

* * * * *


Padron, Spain – May 15, 2014

The Way from Tui has been one filled with a certain excitement as I approach the last two days of the pilgrimage. There are many more peregrinos on the Way now. The majority are Germans, as before. But also Spaniards, Canadians, Australians, and yes, a handful of Americans (clearly in the minority). I had a nice conversation with a woman from Redlands, California wherein we lamented the limited representation by our countrmen. "Americans don’t walk anywhere," she observed. "That’s why there are so few of us on the Camino." True enough, but distance from home also is a factor. That said, distance never stopped an Aussie from going anywhere! And they are prominent in the mix of peregrinos.


There is an expectation that a peregrino will collect two stamps in his or her Credencial each day during the walk through Galicia. I have secured stamps not only from those pensions and hotels where I have spent the night, but also I have my assortment of stamps from restaurants, museums, chapels en route and one from the Galician public safety folks who were parked along the Way yesterday collecting statistics about who was on the Way and where we were from. I had a conversation en route with a delightful girl who works for a Futbol Club in Malaga. She and her Espana-born parents visiting from Venezuela were making their first Camino walk. Her boyfriend is from Oklahoma and wants to join a police force in Silicon Valley. It’s a small world.


The cohort of peregrinos headed to Santiago of which I am a part has coalesced into a friendly gaggle of walkers, if not a Camino family per se. We find ourselves at breakfast in the mornings, having checked into the same habitacion but not knowing until the next morning. Stops at cafes en route are also sites for reunions.


After crossing into Spain from Portugal, my first night was spent in Tui. I explored the town (it was a Friday night) and in the early evening many of the denizens and their families turned out to enjoy the pleasant weather. One plaza boasted four sidewalk cafes and a bandstand. A young ensemble was singing popular Spanish ballads but eventually made a break with tradition and covered a dozen American rock and roll classics.

The next day I had a good breakfast and met a trio just starting their Camino. Mom was from the Central Valley in California, and her son and his girlfriend claimed Oakland, California as their present domicile. We left at different times but caught up with each other at a cafe along the Way. Haven’t seen them since, but hope to meet up in Santiago. I have had a pleasant time walking with and talking with a couple from Alberta, Canada. I saw them at breakfast this morning, but since today is a recovery day for me, and they are going on – again – I hope to meet up in Santiago.


The Way from Tui to Porrino traverses an uninteresting industrial park, but also meanders through woodlands for much of the way. One somber stretch passes the Cruceiro San Telmo and then crosses the Puente das Febres.


The Cruceiro and adjacent monument and bridge memorialize the sad death of San Telmo (Saint Elmo) in 1251 who was returning from a pilgrimage to Santiago, but succombed to a fever just a few kilometers before reaching his home, and origin of his pilgrimage, in Tui. Nearby, a circle of dressed stones in the shaded wood offers passing peregrinos the opportunity for rest and contemplation. Many peregrinos leave a small stone at the monument as recognition and to honor the pilgrimage of San Telmo.


As the Way takes the peregrino further north, it follows the ancient Roman military road, Via Romana XIX, which was part of the original Camino Portugues. Those who determine the way marked routes of the modern day Caminos try to remain faithful to the original paths laid out hundreds of years ago. Modern highway construction and urban development does not always make this possible, however. Fortunately, the Via Romana survives well in these parts. The cylindrical way mark is a Roman original.


The Way from Lisbon did not suffer from a lack of cruceiros. But the reminder of the faith, and the implicit blessing of the traveler, are increasingly frequent as the Way approaches Santiago.


The yellow arrow that has led the way for three hundred miles apparently is being supplemented in Spain by an arrow best described as florescent chartreuse. Certainly they are easy to spot – not a bad thing at all – but time will tell how they weather and age.


Departing the town of Arcade and crossing the Rio Verdugo takes the peregrino across the Ponte Sampaio, dating from 1795 and still very much in use by local pedestrians and vehicles. It is only one lane wide.


The days of late have been a bit longer (in distance and in hours of sunshine) and the temperature a bit warmer than most days in Portugal. Shortly after arriving in Pontevedra, I took advantage of the hot springs there, allowing my tired feet to experience the curative waters at a local fonte.


And yesterday brought me to Padron where Santiago began his ministry in Spain. The Convento do Carme (from the 18th century) dominates the horizon and provides a backdrop to the Fonte do Carme (from the 13th century).


At least two other features of the town deserve attention: The first is a statue in the town square of a peregrino earnestly pressing forward on his Camino. (Note the rock pathway.)


The second is the gastronomic wonder – pementos padron. (I believe the spelling is Galician, not Spanish.) Although native to South America, these mild peppers flourish in the soil and weather in the region of Padron. Lightly sauteed in olive oil and dashed with seasalt, they are a wonderful addition to a meal here, or anywhere else. (They are now available fresh in San Francisco.) When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Padron . . . .


Public art is common along the Way. The statue of a peasant woman selling her produce graced the front of the Restaurante O’Pementeiro where I enjoyed the house specialty (above). Note the detail on the back as well as the front of the statue. The neighborhood kids loved to climb all over this plaza resident!

I have composed this post during my day of recovery before comencing the last two days of my Camino first thing tomorrow morning. The day today has provided the opportunity for reflection on the six weeks that have elapsed since I began my Camino in Lisbon. Where I have been, and where I am going. Peregrinos and others I have met along the Way. Some with stories told, and others with stories hinted at but not fully told. It has been a good day, with further reflection to come as I complete the Camino Portugues.

* * * * *

Santiago, Galicia – May 18, 2014

I had intended to be up early and out the door of my lodging in Padron not later than 7 am. However, about 2 am I determined to turn off the alarm clock and simply wake up naturally. Which I did about 8:15. The net result was a departure on my relatively short next-to-the-last day at 9:15 – not an auspicious beginning to the last two days of the Camino! But, hey! I planned the last two days on the Way to be restful ones.

The Way wound its way through lovely vineyards and haphazard byways in old towns. It was a pleasant reminder of my earlier travels along the Way.

I had intended to stay the evening at a rural casa – a small country hotel about half way between Padron and Santiago, and continue the final push to Santiago early the next morning. But, as luck would have it, I didn’t recognize the Casa when I passed it and only discovered my mistake when I reached a small town (that wasn’t supposed to be there) four kilometers later. I didn’t feel like going back, so I kept going, intending to check in to a hostel on the outskirts of Santiago still some distance from the historic town center.

En route, I passed a way mark showing slightly greater than 10 kilometers to Santiago. An obliging peregrino from Argentina took a picture of me showing off my trusty water bottle that had kept me hydrated on this endurance event, and others before it.

Shortly after that break, I came upon another way mark, this time showing 9.8 kilometers to Santiago. Another peregrino passing this way had left a small bouquet in celebration and anticipation.

photo5
photo5

I walked on and headed slightly off the Way toward the hostel shown in my guidebook. When I got there, I noted the "Vende"sign in the window, and the very locked gate to what had been the hotel restaurant/cafe. As with other endeavors, one learns to expect the unexpected.

There was but one choice: Press on, peregrino, press on.

This last day would be an 16 mile day, considerably longer than my usual 8-13 mile days, and all this with a late start in the morning. The sun was high and the temperature rising.

I called Ginna, who had been in Santiago for a day, and alerted her to my unexpected progress. At this point, the Way was mostly through developed suburbs south of Santiago. But there were wooded areas and parks as well.

The last few kilometers descended into a ravine, climbed up and out, across a bridge over the railway mainline, and then up a steep section of urban asphalt past a major hospital complex, and eventually, to the historic section of Santiago.

I stopped at the traditional city gate used by peregrinos completing the Camino Portugues, the Porto Faxeira. Ginna was on her way to meet me there. I was hot and tired. My legs hurt. My shoulders hurt. My clothes needed a bath worse than I did.

The Italian cyclists told me never to look tired when you finish a ride. . . .

I composed myself, settled into a chair at a nearby cafe, enjoyed a cerveza. Ginna arrived soon thereafter.

After another cerveza, we walked a few minutes more through the old town, arriving at the Cathedral early in the evening. There was a pilgrims´ mass that evening and it was one that included the swinging of the Botafumeiro insenser, which I was able to capture on my cell phone. (Unfortunately, I can’t upload the video to this blog from this location.)

The Cathedral is grand, and it was standing room only. Many peregrinos packed in that evening.

After mass, we went to our hotel, and I got the shower I craved, and so richly deserved!

The next morning, I had a good breakfast and headed off the the Pilgrim Office which is just a few meters from the Cathedral. A representative of the Cathedral checked my Credencials (two of them – I ran out of space in the one issued by the American confraturnity) and determined that I had, in fact, walked all the way from Lisbon, and issued me a Compostela that attested to that fact. The Compostela is printed in Latin, and she had inscribed a Latin translation of my name thereon as Dnum Canutum Michaelem Miller.

At noon, Ginna and I attended the daily pilgrims’ mass and a celebrant read out a list of the nationalities and departure points of peregrinos who had arrived that morning, including one from California who had begun in Lisbon.

The physical journey is complete.

But the Camino continues within the peregrino. And it continues within me. Reflections continue.

Now in Santiago, I have come upon quite a number of peregrinos I encountered along the Way. Not all of those whom I had hoped to see, but fortunately I have contact information for many.

Ginna and I are enjoying an extra day or so in Santiago and then will go by train to Bilbao, by overnight ferry to Portsmouth, and on to London for several days. And then back to Fog City. I’ll post the blog once more after returning to San Francisco.

The traditional peregrino parting acknowledgment is, "buen Camino!"

Forty-six days from Lisbon to Santiago. Three hundred seventy-six miles. Good days, all. For me, it truly has been a buen Camino!


* * * * *

Is there another walk of exploration in my future? The answer is, yes. The follow-on question, is "where to?" Camino Frances? Del Norte? Finisterre? Mt. Kilimanjaro? New Zealand?

Time will tell.


And with that, I’m off.

Knute Michael


Fog City Boy #8

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.

Knute Michael

Fog City Boy #7

Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués

Porto, Portugal – May 1, 2014

Hello from Porto – home of port wine, a harbor, and lots of statues celebrating Portugal’s glorious past. Here’s a statue that particularly caught my eye.

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, after Lisbon. It is a bustling, successful commercial center. More about Porto later.

The Way from Coimbra required 8 days (at least at the pace I have embraced). Here are some highlights:

I walked from Coimbra to Mealhada on Easter Sunday and was charmed by the custom still observed here of distributing greens on the paths to the parish churches and to the homes of the faithful. Flowers decorated monuments, shrines on roadsides, and memorials at the cemetaries en route.

The Way also took me past a tile painting that struck my interest because it did not have a religious theme or commemorate a local event. It just celebrated a local product!

Toward Mealhada I came upon an advertisment for an alberque that was opened a year or so ago. That is a first for me. Because I was still staging from Coimbra I did not check into the alberque, or check it out. But clearly from the "billboard" the hospitaleros understood what peregrinos need after a long, hot day on the Way. I passed the alberque on the next day. It is a newly constructed facility and clear evidence that the Camino infrastructure is developing in Portugal.

The next day took me from Mealhada to Anadia. As I head further north on the Way, I have come upon an increasing number of way marks placed by the local municipalities – further evidence of the developing infrastructure. Usually the mark is a blue tile with a yellow concha and a yellow arrow pointing the way. Generally these are glued to walls or posts driven into the ground. They are a welcome addition to the yellow arrows that have traditionally pointed the Way.

But these handsome way marks likely won’t replace the yellow arrows that adorn utility poles and various street furniture (sometimes curbs on the streets) for several reasons. First, the municipalities likely can’t afford to place a tile adjacent to every yellow arrow in Portugal. Second, painted arrows can be placed higher on a pole than the municipalities want to place their tiles, and accordingly, the yellow arrow can be seen at a greater distance. And third, another critical way mark, as I discovered and reported several weeks ago, is the yellow X – alerting the peregrino not to follow the wrong path. I haven’t seen a municipality-placed yellow X yet. All that said, here is a very substantial and elegant municipal way mark I encountered along the way.

This day was a short if hot day and I was quite pleased with both the 3-star Hotel Cabecinho in Anadia, and also the Restaurante d’Avenida next door. The restaurant is a new venture, a buffet style but full service restaurant. The entrepreneurs are the charming and effervescent Michelle (an Australian ex-pat) and her husband Dino Santos. Both are hospitality professionals and bring their skills to this new venture. It was a blessing to be able to construct one’s own lunch (and dinner) to reflect the tastes and needs of the individual peregrino.

The Way from Anadia to Agueda includes some country track, but also some serious highway treking. I spared the gentle reader images of those segments of the trek, but in the spirit of full disclosure, here is an image from this day’s walk. The lorrie is not stationary!

Here’s another stretch of the Way. The roadway below cuts through a Roman Aquaduct, the access road above runs under one of the arches.

Further along, I captured two way marks of interest – the first one showing the distance remaining to Santiago de Compostela, and another marking the Way to Fatima, which follows the Camino though at this point in the opposite direction.

On the way into Agueda, I found yet another fountain of note. The Fonte do Atalho dates from 1467.

Rain was predicted for the day from Agueda to Albergaria-a-Velha. And for once the weatherman’s prediction was accurate. The rain started exactly one minute after I left the hotel. It was gentle – at first. And then, as I headed out of town, the heavens opened up and I was drenched. Fortunately, I had protected my pack in advance. In due course, I found a doorway to dodge the rain until it faded, briefly. I set out again. And the rain returned, receded, and returned again. And then windchill took over. Fingers were numb and purple.

It’s not that it doesn’t hurt. It’s just that it doesn’t matter.

OK, I get that. I have been getting that for a while now! But does that extend to. . . "it’s not that you aren’t wet, it’s not that you aren’t cold, it’s not that you aren’t covered with mud. . . it’s just that it doesn’t matter?"

The answer, of course, is yes.

Clear your mind, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. You will make it. You will arrive at your destination for the day.

Eventually, quite damp, I arrived in Albergaria and checked in to a 1-star pension that for all its limitations, was much more commodious than the dump in Santarem. I treated myself to a hot shower in the WC down the hall. At least the water was hot when I stepped in and lathered up. . . . Well, you can figure out what happened next. I survived the experience but never got around to washing my hair.

The next day’s destination was Oliveira de Azemais. I treated myself to a 4-star hotel that had a special rate of €35 for peregrinos. That was a deal much too good to pass up. And there was plenty of hot water.

There are lots of eucalyptus trees in Portugal, which surprised me but also pleased me. They reminded me of the ones back home in San Francisco. Those in the City and nearby were planted, many by Adolph Sutro, in the expectation that they would make good building material because they grow fast, tall, and straight. Unfortunately, when eucalyptus dries, it tends to split, and so the stands planted in the Bay Area never became a commercial success.

But the Portuguese must know something because the eucalyptus here is clearly farmed and harvested when the trees are relatively young. Here’s an image of a eucalyptus plantation I passed through. Note that the trees are planted in straight lines and equidistant one from another.

After passing through the plantation, I imerged on a country lane graced with a lovely statute.

After another woodland trek, I emerged to discover a narrow guage railroad that I would follow (for a time literally) for the rest of this day and much of the next. The Portuguese National Railway actually operates a small commuter train several times a day on this little railroad. The ties, rails, and ballast have been replaced recently, judging from their appearance. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the little train in operation because it was the weekend, and no trains were running that day!

A little after noon I came upon a cafe in Pinheiro da Bemposta and decided it was time for lunch. Not all cafes actually provide "real" meals, but I was pleased to learn that this one did. There was a pleasant 20-something young lady who spoke a few words of English and explained the menu. They had meat, eggs, potato, and salad. I said, "ok, but not too much!" That is a concept that is not associated with lunch in Portugal. What arrived, and what the young lady herself had prepared, was a breaded veal steak atop two slices of ham with a fried egg on top, a lovely composed salad of lettuce, tomato, onion, and red and green bell peppers. . . and a half a plate of french fries. As I said, "not too much" is a concept not associated with lunch in Portugal.

The meal was well-prepared and tasty. I did pretty well in demolishing the lunch, except for the french fries. Yes, I ate about one-third of them, but not the whole portion. When the young lady saw that I hadn’t finished the fries, she got a stricken look on her face – clearly quite worried – "not good?" she asked. I explained that I just couldn’t eat them all. She accepted the explanation but I don’t think she was convinced. I think she thought she failed in some way. I gave her a nice tip when I paid the bill, and her face brightened. I think she was relieved that she really hadn’t failed after all.

The next image is of a public laundry. I have seen a number of them along the Way. They are still used by women [sic] doing the family’s laundry. The design of all of the outdoor laundries is similar. First, there is a source of swiftly moving water nearby. The laundry is placed nearby and water directed into the structure. There are two compartments (presumably one for washing and one for rinsing) and around the borders are smooth but gently sloped "ledges" on which to work the laundry. I think the design is borrowed from an earlier time when women went down to the river and beat the laundry on a rock. The one below had a plaque stating that it was constructed in 1956, and another plaque stating that it had been rebuilt in 1994.

The Way from Oliveira to Sao Joao de Madeira boasted a midieval bridge that is maintained and is still in use.

The next day took me to Grijo. Part of the Way traverses a Roman highway and judging from the looks of some of the stones, many likely are original.

As has been the case every single day I have been in Portugal, I have been treated to the solar clothes dryers in use throughout the country.

So, when I got in that evening, I decided that if all of Portugal could let it all hang out, this peregrino could use a solar clothes dryer, too.

The day from Grijo to Porto was pleasant and generally uneventful. I came upon some interesting water management structures along the way. An architecht of my acquaintance told me once that in designing a structure, you only have to worry about two things: Gravity and water.

Portugal has the same gravity issues as the rest of the world. But Portugal has a lot more water to deal with than most of the world. The sound of rushing water is with me on the Way almost daily – sometimes heard but not seen. Here is a charming catchment channel along the Way. The water is channeled into a culvert under the road and into a gutter that abruptly disappears into someone’s backyard garden!

Arrival in Porto a couple of days ago was kind of a watershed for my Camino. Arrival here completes the first "half" of my Camino pilgrimage. The distance from Lisbon to Porto is actually somewhat over half the distance from Lisbon to Santiago (376.0 of 616.6 kilometers, or 233.1 of 382.3 miles). These statistics do not include the many kilometers walked while lost, which is a recurring fact of life for all peregrinos!

But also, Porto concludes the largely solitary trek from Lisbon. I only met 9 peregrinos along the way. Since I have been here in Porto, I have met more than that already!

Porto is the site of many grand buildings, broad plazas, and the Cathedral from which most peregrinos on the Camino Portugues begin their journey. Here’s a picture of the Cathedral and one of me in front of it.

And with that, I’m off.

Knute Michael

Fog City Boy #6

Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués

Coimbra, Portugal – April 21, 2014


First a note to express my dismay that the images I had hoped you would be able to enjoy have not posted (consistently) with the rest of the blog. Son Noah has been instrumental in helping me improve my skills in utilizing the WordPress platform for the blog, and hopefully this post will show better results than earlier ones. If I am able to amend earlier posts to include the images consistently, I will post you to that effect.


Tomar proved to be a wonderful location for a recovery day. An ancient city and a home to the Knights Templar order in Portugal of the 12th and 13th century. That heritage is a matter of great local pride and the Templar cross is displayed ubiquitously in that town, including on the cobblestone sidewalks.


The Convent of Christ and the Templar castle overlook the city and dominate the horizon. I strolled up the mountain and enjoyed touring the historic site which is astonishingly well preserved. Here are several images from that visit.

photo 2
photo 2


As it happened, my visit coincided with the running of the annual Rali Tomar, and the castle was a waypoint on that rallye. All manner and vintage of vehicles had been tricked out for racing safety and operability and all mufflers had been removed. Among the 40 or so participating vehicles, I saw a VW bug, a Porche 912, and sundry others, but no Fords, Chevys, or Dodges. Sure are a lot of foreign cars in this country.



The Way from Tomar to Alvaiazere is just about 20 miles. It was a long day, to say the least. As I made my way out of Tomar, I came upon two other peregrinos – two Italian guys who looked to be in their 40s – who were studying the same guidebook I carry, albeit a later edition. They were cordial (haven’t met a pilgrim yet who hasn’t been) and we collectively figured out where we were supposed to go next. Sometimes neither the way marks nor the guidebook make clear the path. And there are places where the Way has been re-waymarked to accommodate changes to the landscape or for other reasons. Fortunately Gilberto was able to converse with a local denizen who pointed us in the right direction.


Gilberto and his buddy were intrepid and committed walkers. I kept up with them for a couple of hours, and then decided to chill for a while before pressing on. They had an agenda – to be to Santiago about three weeks before I intend to arrive. Given the choice between taking a break and keeping on walking, they kept on walking. As luck would have it, I caught up with them at the albuerque in Alvaiazere. That proved to be the first true albuerque I stayed at and it was a delightful experience. In addition to Gilberto and his friend, there was a couple from Dublin, Ireland. We had a nice dinner together and in time, Gilberto, his fellow pilgrim, and two other Italian perigrinos appeared at the neighborhood restaurant we had found, and we all had some laughs. Such is the society of peregrinos!


I allowed two days from Alvaiazere, through Ansaio and Rabacal, to Coimbra. There was some good country walking along this route. It was pleasant to be away from asphalt pavement for much of these two days.



Coimbra is an ancient university town and I have had the good fortune to be here for the Easter weekend. On the evening of Good Friday, I attended a mass at the old cathedral which featured classical vocal accompanyment to the intonations of the celebrants. It was lovely. The church was standing room only. On Saturday, I wandered up the hill to the university which occupies a number of blocks each of which houses a separate faculdade. By chance, I happened into one of the churches that are part of the university complex. The Archbishop of Coimbra was celebrating mass that morning.


The views from the university are remarkable, as is the statuary that adorns the campus. The statue is of D. Dinis (King Dennis) who was responsible for the university’s early development.



The seal of the university is recreated in stone cobbles within the main quadrangle.



I have had the opportunity to reflect on some of what I have seen in the three weeks I have been on the Way. Though the people seem to be pleased with life in general, the underlying economic problems are a stark reality. By this time I have seen literally hundreds of old and new houses for sale – the new ones the subject of foreclosures. RE/MAX and ERA signs abound, as do simple "VENDE-SE" pleas written in paint on the sides of buildings, with a phone number to call. Many small businesses are shuttered, likely for failure to pay the rent. Many old masonry buildings are in disrepair or collapse with the pensive "VENDE-SE" inscription affixed. The reality likely is that many of the older buildings have a negative present value. That is, their value is the cost of demolishing the structure and returning the underlying land to some productive use. A sad thing.



Yesterday, using Coimbra as my base of operations, I walked the 22 kilometers to Mealhada, returning to Coimbra in the late afternoon by rail. I’ll reverse that later today and continue north. The long treks are taxing, to be sure, but manageable. Break each piece into its smallest element and focus on each one, without concern for the last stroke or the next stroke. On the Camino, I think that means walk the Way today, one kilometer at a time.


With that, I’m off.


Knute Michael


Fog City Boy #5.1 (republished)

Fog City Boy on the Camino Português

Condeixa-a-Nova, Portugal – April 17, 2014

Dear readers, it has been nine days since I last posted, but not for lack of interest and resolve on my part. The Way has taken me to various locales that either lacked a facility that sported on-line capability, or in one case, had the capacity but had no connectivity. Quite frustrating.

I will not tell all the tales of my adventures since Santarem, but will save some for a future post.

Vilafranca de Xira and Santarem have served as two staging points for me during the early phase of the Camino Portugues. Finding a suitable location and hunkering down there for a day or two or more has been a practical solution for me in a locale that does not yet sport the infrastructure to support a Camino in the style of the Camino Frances. That Camino generally has albuerques every few kilometers where a weary perigrino can just give it up for the day, get a bunk and a shower (assuming there is space), or go on a few more kilometers to the next alberque if availability is lacking or if energy permits. Such is not yet the case south of Porto on the Camino Portugues. So using one town where lodging can be found as a base of operations – traveling by train or bus to start a day’s hike (beginning where one left off the day before and returning to base to begin again on the next day) has proved a workable solution to the infrastructure challenge.

Arriving in Santarem was instructional for me. I had walked a long way the day before and taken the train from Vilafranca to establish a new base of operations in Santarem. I noted a pension near the railroad station, inquired about availability, and was shown a room. I gave it a cursory look, agreed to stay for three nights at €10 per night (I should have awakened at that point), put down my pack and went back to the station to head back south and start my day’s hike. I got rained on most of the day, was tired, and ferociously in need of a shower. I had the key to the room in the pension, walked in, looked around, noted that there was no heat, checked the facility down the hall (toilet was clean but no toilet seat available) observed the pillows stored in the wardrobe to be about as solid as a dustmop . . . and was appalled that I had booked myself into this dump.

Fast forward, I found a cafe, had a glass of wine, and asked the keeper where there was a hotel in the neighborhood. He obliged and . . . fast forward again . . . I recovered my pack, abandoned the pension and had a nice stay in the clean, heated, well-located hotel (toilet seat included at no extra charge). And an added benefit – there was a very good Chinese restaurant near by! Why eat Chinese when Portuguese is available? Frankly, it is because the Chinese know about vegetables and don’t include fried potatoes with every lunch and dinner. Sadly, Portuguese cuisine does not (at least so far).

A key takeaway from this experience was that I must take pains not to fall vicitim to an impatience to "get on with it – move ahead – don’t delay."

The good news is that I haven’t booked myself into a dump since.

On the morning of my departure from Santarem, I made my way down a steep two-lane and heavily traveled winding road past a mideval fort that guarded one of the approaches to Santarem, the regional headquarters of the Roman administration centuries ago. Look closely in the dense foliage.

Eventually I arrived at the train station and back tracked just a bit to a little hamlet (Ribeira de Santarem) hovering over the Portuguese National Railway mainline to the north where I picked up the familiar yellow arrows and crossed into lovely agricultural territory making use of a midieval stone bridge that has been maintained, updated, and is in regular daily use.

In passing I feel compelled to note that the little hamlet sports a grade crossing on the heavily traveled mainline. Yes, there are warning bells and safety barriers on each side of the crossing, but it is a miracle that the local cemetary is not filled with unfortunates who didn’t make it across. And let me speak specifically to the high speed trains that use the line. I don’t mean the regional and long haul trains that fly by at 100-120 km/hour. I mean bullet trains that can achieve speeds of 220 km/hr. I’ve had several fly by when I was standing on a station platform adjacent to the track they used, and it’s a bit scarry as those trains travel past in a blur.

The land in the plains surrounding Santarem is fertile and the farmers seem prosperous – both large and small. Planting was underway as I passed through. Some established crops were starting to respond to the springtime weather. Commercial size vineyards were common along the way, and small ones in backyards were too. As were the occasional orange and lemon trees in both town and country sideyards. Olive orchards are ubiquitous.

Until I embarked upon this phase of the Way, I was really traversing Lisbon and its far flung suburbs and exurbs. The feeling now is quite different. Sure, there are some towns of noticable size, but the villages and hamlets between them, and even the architechture in those larger towns, is different – less urban, more traditional: Older construction with whitewashed walls and red terracota tile roofs.

And barking dogs both in the country and in the towns. Some leashed, some not! Fountains are common though likely not used as much as historically was the case.

The bell in the church tower announces each passing hour. (The image below is actually in Golega, one of the not-so-small – pop. 6000 – towns where I overnighted. The church is a 14th century parish church noted for its Manueline door.)

And monuments, large and small, to Portugal’s heroic past keep the present in a perspective with the past, both with respect to religion, and the expulsion of the Moors and the establishment of Portugal as a nation in its own right.

I made my way north to Golegã which is a pleasant town famous for its horses and horsetraining activities. The town has determined to popularize doing the Camino Portuguese on horseback! Which is all well and good, but the way marks they have established are for cavaleiros, not for peregrinos on foot! I got thoroughly lost entering town, but luckily found my way to a pleasant pension/alberque with quite elaborate facilities in what had been the town home of a family of considerable means.

I was directed to the location by the Bombieros Voluntarios – the volunteer firemen – volunteers because they volunteer for the servise, not because they are uncompensated. They have firetrucks and ambulances and would be quite at home in a large or small town in the US. They were kind and sent me to my destination swiftly. They recommended a restaurant across the street from the pension, which I explored and where I had dinner. The entrepreneur showed me around the facility which was quite stubstantial, and sadly, quite devoid of other guests. A large oven facility for roasting pigs, storage for the wood chips he uses for heat and for flavoring, and lockers to store his inventory. His English was ok and my Portuguese, of course, non-existant. But we made ourselves understood. After my dinner and when his wife came home and took charge of their young daughter, he insisted that I go with him in his car to see the town. I agreed, and away we went. His tour was quite throrough and included the horse-training academy as well as substantial municipal structures. He complained about the economy and the belt-tightening measures that have been imposed by the government at the behest of other members of the Eurozone. And clearly, his business has suffered as have those of many other small business people in all the towns through which I have passed.

On the next day, I made it to my destination timely, but I had had concerns that I would not find lodging there. The proprietress of the pension where I stayed in Golega had offered to drive to my destination, collect me, and take me somewhere that would provide lodging, if I could not stay where I intended. That turned out not to be a problem. But what struck me about her kindess, and that of the restauranteur who gave me a tour of the town, not to mention motorists stopping to offer me a lift from time to time, is the genuine friendly offers extended by the Portuguese people directed at this perigrino, and I am sure, all others. Quite heartening.

I celebrated finding lodging in Vila Nova Barquina (between Golega and Tomar) by hiring a taxi and inspecting a Knights Templar castle not far away.

With that, I’m off.

Knute Michael

Fog City Boy #4.1 (republished)

 

Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués

Dear friends, I hope that this republished version of Fog City Boy #4 captured the images successfully. If so, the credit goes to son Noah. If not, the blame is mine. FCB

Santarem, Portugal – April 8, 2014

I did not remark it in my previous post, but for the record, I started the first day of the Camino (before sending Fog City Boy #3 to print) by doing my AI (active isolated) stretches to prepare body, mind and spirit for the endurance event upon which I was about to embark. Boy was I happy that I did so. The muscles were tight and happy for the attention! And for you doubters out there, yes I did a two minute forward plank. (Technical note: An AI stretch is the opposite of a static stretch, often used in yoga and pose-oriented endeavors.)

On the first day’s journey, I got the first stamp in my Credencial de Pregrino, crossed the street to my pension (where the matron of the house insisted on stamping my Credencial with the stamp of the house, donned my back pack and my Tilley (broad brimmed hat) and stepped out into the rain.

Portugal has a maritime climate so rain is hardly unusual, especially in the spring and fall. The rain was gentle and I blithely headed out in to it. I deviated from the way marked path to visit the railroad station to pick up a timetable for later use (which it turned out they didn’t have) and returned to my travels, only to discover that I had lost my way and I hadn’t even gotten a half kilometer from my point of origin!

I was able to intuit where I ought to be and headed in that direction, but realized that I had gotten it wrong. So I made a new choice of corrective direction, proceeded, and in several blocks saw . . . a small yellow arrow indicating that peregrinos should continue on that street in the same direction.

There were several times that afternoon when I was uncertain of my path. I back tracked and determined that even if there wasn’t a confirming way mark, at least I hadn’t missed one along the way. Eventually another discrete little arrow showed me the way.

The Camino follows the River Tejo for some distance, heading northeasterly from Lisbon. The area through which I passed on that first day was given to light industry and manufacturing. There was a small container cargo terminal with a small (say 500 foot) container ship underway. It had equipment to work its own cargo but appeared to be leaving the berth. I’m not sure why a ship of that size needed a tug tethered to the stern as opposed to the stern quarter, but that was the case. I’m sure the pilot knew how to do the job.

The rain came and went but it was not an impediment to forward progress.

At the end of the long street among the working and abandoned manufactories, I came upon a grand structure that must have housed the offices controlling the factory spread out behind.

The building faced a small balloon shaped park dividing traffic on the thoroughfare. The park serves today as the terminus of a bus line. Narrow gauge tracks poking through the pavement at the top of the balloon confessed its earlier history as the terminus of one of the many tram lines that blanketed Lisbon in days gone by. This one built, no doubt, to carry workers to and from their respective places of employment.

I headed on, eventually passing under a highway viaduct and was pleased to see a yellow X on the back of a street sign, just adjacent to a zebra walk. How thoughtful, thought I, that the Confraternity alerted me to cross the street at this point! I did, and continued on, eventually inspecting the back sides of elegant apartment houses with their loading docks and trash bins. I pressed on.

Eventually, it occurred to me that I was again lost. Had I misinterpreted the yellow X? Well. . . yep. The yellow X means, “Pilgrim, don’t go this way.” I had missed the intended way mark and wandered off in my own direction. But all was not lost. I found myself at the Oriente Station of the Lisbon Metro and the Portuguese Railways. I consulted my guide book and discovered that notwithstanding my blunders, I was where I was supposed to be anyway (almost).

Fast forward, I found my destination for the day, a youth hostel maintained by the Portuguese government and offering lodging to peregrinos not normally accommodated in the youth hostel system. Nice clean bed, hot shower, two-bunk room, a good dinner near by, and off to slumberland.

Then the kids arrived. At 11 pm. There were 56 of them at breakfast the next morning. They were having a good time, so I cut them some space. I nodded off at 12:30. Then at 1 am there was a gentle knock at the door. A pleasant Italian gentlemen headed home to Italy from Morocco was to be my roommate tonight. We shook hands, he went off to find a sandwich, and I went back to bed.

The end of this story is pleasant enough. He was a polite fellow and went on his way. I slept three hours later than I intended, which got me off to a late start on my second day, but the Camino was just beginning.

Once I was up and out the door on my second day of the Camino, things went well enough in terms of progress until after about an hour of walking I missed a way mark and headed up a grade to join the A-1 – the Portuguese equivalent of an Interstate highway. I swiftly concluded that I had screwed up again, reversed course, found the way mark I had missed, and headed into a tranquil if soggy valley along a sandy trail.

Most observers will agree that the Camino is about discoveries. Many discoveries. I made one this day.

A dog may be man’s best friend, but a little yellow arrow is a peregrino’s best friend. Pointing the way. Leading the pilgrim. Reassuring that the way forward is exactly that. You are not lost.

I had neglected to get any lunch, and breakfast hadn’t been all that substantial. I had persuaded myself that there was a cafe just around the corner. But it was not to be.

Understand that as I commenced this section of the day’s endeavors, it had rained steadily for four days – heavily in the morning of the day before. The ground was sodden – not really a problem where the ground was of course sand, shells, and pebbles. They make for good drainage. The principal problem initially was diverting around small puddles that had formed in depressions along the way.

The rain began. Gentle. Not a problem for a hearty peregrino. I noted a number of things along the path. Horseshoe prints headed whence I had come. Cloven hoof prints headed the same way. And droppings of a quadruped that looked like little black marbles. From my heritage in Collinsville, Texas, I recognized those droppings as the product of a goat or a sheep. Both were raised in little fenced pastures along the way. There were rabbits and hawks along the way. Cocks crowed in the distance.

And, I noted two sets of shoe prints headed in the same direction that I was headed. One set smaller, one larger. The larger sinking a little deeper into the soil. A couple out for a hike? Peregrinos? They could not have been more than a couple of hours ahead of me.

The way became a bit more challenging as the ruts in the path deepened and became more frequent. Sometimes, and more frequently with forward progress, one had to walk on the “bank” of the puddle in order to get by.

I became quite impressed with my ability to read the condition of the way and the impressions and accumulations upon it. I fancied myself El Peregrino Forense!

And then, abruptly, the soil changed. The way passes through an opening in a wire fence, and the coarse sand disappeared to be replaced by much finer sand with probably a higher clay content. The soil had retained water from the last four days and drainage was often non-existant. The ruts were deeper. The puddles wider. The foot prints before me seemed to choose the same bank or center high point from which to jump and to which to jump. The slides when balance was lost were chronicled in the deep impressions in the mud. He first, she following his footfalls. And I in turn.

The guide book identified a bridge to cross. I found it. The bed had collapsed and I saw it two meters below in the channel. Fortunately, the chasm was only a meter wide and the leap of faith not too great.

By this time, there was no hope of enjoying the scenery. My focus was down, on the path, avoiding the puddles that seemed to be getting larger with each turn.

Even so, I got a few shots to remember the scenery for later inspection. A lovely, if soggy, valley. The ruins of an abandoned quinta.

And my pack was heavy. No place to sit down and rest for a while. No timely lunch. I was able to hydrate, but nothing else.

I started thinking about things in my pack that I could eliminate so it wouldn’t weigh so much. Do I really need the shower shoes? What about the pillow I got for the alberques? Do I really need that? What about the vitamins and meds? Couldn’t I just swallow them all tomorrow, toss the pill bottles, and go on without the extra weight? How about the walking sticks? Haven’t used them yet. And the long johns I brought in case it got cold. (It hasn’t and it doesn’t look like it will.) I started composing the customs declaration for the impedimenta’s trip back home.

The goop on the road was now adhering to my hiking shoes. Yuck. I had kicked up mud all over the lower sections of both pant legs. But so far I hadn’t fallen into one of these puddles. That was a good thing. So far so good. But would my luck last?

In due course I got through the path and emerged at a small town with a cheerful little cafe and enjoyed their “menu” – a plate lunch of fish, potatoes, rice, and copious array of overdone vegetables. It was late for lunch (about 1430) and the veggies had been in the pot for too long. No matter. I was happy to see a vegetable of any kind. It had been a while.

After lunch, I pressed on and came to the village of Alpriate.

The regional government has provided way marks for pilgrims passing through the county that complement the traditional yellow arrows (to Santiago) or blue ones (to Fatima). The path to Fatima begins on the shore of the River Tejo and follows the Camino de Santiago for quite a distance before separating sometime after passing through Santarem. The way marks are elegant and welcome.

I continued on the paths and the paved rural roads and entered a stretch of the way described in my guide book as, “rejoin farm track through cornfields and market gardens . . .” Well, I found the farm track and proceeded along it. Then I noticed the tread of the man’s hiking shoes I had seen this morning. No companion’s, though. Had she had enough of the mud and sludge? The puddles were longer and wider now than before. Then I saw clearly that the boot marks were headed toward my direction, not from! OJO! (The Spanish equivalent of “Uh, oh.”) Two minutes later I saw the reason why. The puddle ahead looked to me to be the size of Lake Michigan and clearly was impassible. I agreed with my “advance party” and sought an alternative.

I ventured into the farmer’s field to my left, hoping to skirt Lake Michigan and continue on my way. Unfortunately, the plowed and planted earth was even softer than anything I had seen yet that day. I lost my balance repeatedly and only recovered with the help of my (now) trusty walking pole. I eventually made it to asphalt paving and exited the quagmire. My boots were inundated in agricultural soil that was as saturated as it could be without flowing off on its own to the Rio Tejo. My light weight boots now weighed at least four times their actual weight, making trekking further most problematic.

But, I persevered. And I crossed my walking poles off the manifest for the shipment home. But for them, I would have looked like the tar baby in the briar patch.

To make a long story a bit shorter, I found my way through the rough foliage described in my guidebook. It was pleasant enough, though I overshot my intended destination for the day by about 4 kilometers, making for a total trek for the day of about 20.5 meters – about 13 miles.

Although quite proud of myself for having accomplished 13 plus miles today, I was concerned. Don’t go out of the box too fast. Endurance athletes don’t mind expending energy, but they do mind wasting energy. I had intended the first several days to be easier than the norm in order to prepare myself for longer days to follow. But the day just didn’t work out that way. I’ll take tomorrow more liesurely.

I have had many more adventures and misadventures since then. I won’t regale the gentle reader with all those stories. But I will share an acknowledgment and few sights from Vilafranca de Xira, the town I used as a base of operations for two nights, and from Santarem which I will have used as a base for five nights. [I will explain in the next blog posting.]

I want to acknowledge the very crucial and gratefully accepted help I received from Mariano, the owner of the Pensao Ribatejana on Rua de Pracia adjoining the railway station. He was most gracious in providing me with the tools to clean my boots which were caked with mud and which, if not treated timely, would have been permanently reshaped and treacherous to walk in. I recommend his pensao without reservation.

Portugal is committed to handsome tile work and other architectural statements reflecting the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula for over four decades. Artistic tile work is common. I have not known seeing the same design twice! One building in Vilafranca was faced entirely in tile. If you can’t make out the sign above the blue doors, it sports the hammer and cicle and the initials PCP. Posters with their demands are common hereabouts.

The next day on the (asphalt) trail, I rested at a bus shelter and captured the advertisements that flanked the bench.

A Big Mack will cost you € 5.00, fries and a coke are extra. The blouse is € 19.99. Both prices include the VAT.

The plaza at twilight before the Municipal Building in Vilafranca and the Plaza in front of its railroad station. Vilafranca is proud of its bullfighters and that it is an important location for training bulls for the ring. Likenesses of famous bull fighters from Vilafranca adorn the walls of cafes and bars.

On the road from Azambuja to Santarem.

Santarem is a lovely small city with many historic churches and fortifications. The old town commands a 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside. A consideration not lost on Julius Caesar, who designated it as his regional administrative headquarters. Two views of Sao Francis de Assis and the convent, and church that bear his name:

Yesterday was a recovery day for me. The blog received considerable attention but was completed today after completing the first leg of my next trek north on the Camino. I’ll write about that in the next blog entry.

With that, I´m off.

Knute Michael