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

Fog City Boy #3.1 (Republished)

Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués

Lisbon, Portugal – April 1, 2014

The transit from San Francisco to Lisbon was pleasant enough. Virgin Atlantic and TAP (the Portuguese airline) did everything they could to make airline travel what it used to be! Both flights met my definition of "good flights." In my lexicon, "good flight" translates as "uneventful."

When I arrived at Lisbon, I cleared immigration and customs quickly, found a cambio and exchanged USD 50 for € 28 and change. The 10 percent commission charged by the cambio (this in addition to the spread on the transaction) was exorbitant but I accepted it as a necessary evil. I didn’t want to get caught without at least a few euros in my pocket until I could find an ATM that would provide exchange at a more reasonable rate. And a good thing, too. The kiosk at the entrance to the Lisbon Metro would not accept a charge to my US issued charge or debit cards because neither sports a smart chip that is universal now with European issued cards. Most businesses and ATMs still accept the US based swipe card technology, but kiosks don’t. I understand that US banks and card issuers will go to smart chip technology within the next 48 months. So, using some of my euros, I bought a transit pass and loaded it with € 10 to get me into town and around town for the next couple of days.

The Metro got me to Santa Apolonia Station swiftly enough. It was late afternoon and I walked the short distance to my pension through a charming section of Old Lisbon, a rabbits’ warren of streets, alleys, stairways, and passages. The last image is the entrance to my pension (on the left).

I checked in at the pension and was taken to my room, small but comfortable, with a clean bed, a shower and a sink to myself. Other needs were met down the hall. The building was certainly over 100 years old and was built before electricity and other amenties were commonplace. Water pipes poked through the ceiling and after serving my sink and shower continued through an adjacent wall to serve another room. A perfectly satisfactory, even elegant, setting for a peregrino to begin his Camino!

I flopped down, showing the signs of sleep deficit and transmeridian travel – aka jetlag. In due course, I got up and wandered outside. I found an ATM that happily vended me € 200 and tapped my bank account back home. It was Saturday evening and I wandered the central part of the old city. There were many folks – old and young – out enjoying the evening. There was a bit of rain, but nothing troubling. Many broad plazas and streets that had been turned into nicely paved "malls" sported outdoor cafes. I wandered back toward my pension and found an inviting restaurant that featured fish for dinner (essentially all restaurants in Lisbon feature fish all day) but it also had live entertainment. A guitarist, a fellow playing what I take to be an early form of mandolin, and a middle aged woman who sang Portuguese songs with gusto. She didn’t need a microphone to fill the room! The food and the entertainment were good, and appreciated by the crowd.

The next day I rode one of the little yelow trams that are the Lisbon equivalent of cable cars in San Francisco. The traditional trams are single-truck and very narrow guage. They ascend and descend the hills of this very hilly city at high speed. They don’t slow much for blind intersections. They are crowded at all times and a fun experience. Lisbon gift shops all carry a supply of models, drawings, and figurines celebrating the little yellow trams.

In the old part of Lisbon, streets and sidewalks are made of cobble stone. Often with interesting designs in black and white stone.

Because Portugal and Spain were neutral during World War II, many historic structures remain to be enjoyed today.

Again, Lisbon is a city of hills. Entrepreneurs built elevators to service the hill climbing and hill descending population charging more to ride up than the fare to ride down! Here’s a famous one built early in the 20th century. There is an observation deck at the top. I rode it up for a normal fare on my metro card. (The elevators are reminiscent of the esclators Ginna and I found in Hong Kong several years ago – serving the same purpose for the populace, though using different technology, and for free!)

The people seem busy and happy and quite fit, though there are signs of discontent with the economy and the austerity measures demanded by Portugal’s EU partners. Graffiti is ubiquitous and even more common than in San Francisco. Most is simply in the form of individual tagging and thus quite oppressive, but some carries a political message. Here’s a government office building that has been pelted by bags of red paint, reflecting some of the discontent.

I have had a good time in Lisbon and am ready to set out on my Camino in an hour or so, after posting this chapter to the blog. Not all the experiences in Lisbon have been positive, though. I was pickpocketed on one of the trams on Sunday and spent part of Monday cancelling a credit card and a debit card. Fortunately, my passport was in the safe at the pension, and I have a standby debit and a standby credit card that will get me through until the replacements arrive. I bought a new sim card for my cell phone which gets be connected to the web – that’s the good news. The other news is that calls to and from the US cost € 0.60 per minute (that’s about 78 cents per minute). I’ve instructed my family not to call to tell me they love me. Just think good thoughts!

And it has rained every day, not alot though, until yesterday. And there was a robust thunderstorm last night. But, hey, I haven’t melted yet. And I have a poncho to protect me and my backpack.

And then there was the couple next door to me in the pension. An older couple and no doubt quite deaf. They spoke loudly to each other, and through the thin wall, to me. They talked all night long (or at least until 3 a.m. on Sunday night). I didn’t go to sleep until 5 a.m. and then slept only until 10:30. The same had been true on Saturday night, though they knocked off early – about 1:00 a.m. Yesterday I asked for a different room and the house responded graciously. I slept well last night.

Part of the pilgrimage is encountering adversity, accepting it, and continuing on the journey. Row all the way to the finish.

Here are pictures of the Lisbon Cathedral Se, the starting point for my Camino. Last night I asked a passer by to take my picture standing by the first way mark on the Camino Portugues. It is rather unobtrusive, So I have included a closeup.

As soon as I post to the blog, I will head to the Cathedral to get the first stamp on my Credencial del Pregrino.

With that, I’m off!

Knute Michael

Fog City Boy #2

 

Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués

San Francisco, California – March 28, 2014

Today is the big day. I leave for Lisbon from SFO (by way of London Heathrow) in just a few hours. I’ll arrive there about 4:00 pm tomorrow local time and then make my way to the small pension not far from the Cathedral from which I will begin my Camino three days later. (35 euros per night gets me my own room with a bathroom and shower! Does it get any better than that?)

And so it begins.

The question arises for all peregrinos, “When did you actually begin your Camino?” In my case, the practical answer is that I will begin the Camino when I get the first stamp in my Credencial del Peregrino (the pilgrim’s passport) at the Lisboa Cathedral Se and take the first step on the 613 kilometer Way to Santiago. [I am training myself to think in kilometers rather than miles.]

But as our daughter who has walked the Camino wisely observed, you begin your Camino when you form the intention to do so. That is when the spiritual journey begins.

Thus, my Camino begins Tuesday next, but also began about one year ago.

I had mulled the idea of walking the Camino ever since we met Elizabeth in Santiago at the conclusion of her Camino in 2010. We heard the many stories of her experiences. I was intrigued, but could not imagine breaking away from my duties as a member and president of the California Board of Pilot Commissioners to take a lengthy hike. But, on March 1, 2013 I was termed out and by statute could not be reappointed. That freed me to consider undertakings of greater duration than had been possible for the previous eight years. Shortly after that, I determined to walk the Camino.

Preparing for the Camino has been a journey in itself. Part physical, part intellectual, part practical.

I have done a fair amount of walking, with my pack and in proper hiking shoes. I have kept up my aerobics regimen. Not as much as I had intended, though.

I read a history of Portugal and surfed the web a lot. And I enrolled in a beginning Spanish class at San Francisco City College. I was not able to finish the semester, of course, the Camino holding sway. But the weeks I spent in that class will prove invaluable on my Camino. Muchas, muchas gracias, Profesora Babylon.

And I have collected all the stuff that I think I will need. A trip to REI is great fun!

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The scallop shell – la concha – is the best known symbol of El Camino de Santiago – the Way of St. James. The striations on the surface of the shell begin at various points on the periphery but converge at a single point – as do the several Camino ways. Some begin at multiple origins in Spain and Portugal. Others begin in France, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe. But all the Caminos end in exactly the same place – the plaza before the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

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There are other symbols of the Camino. The yellow arrow as a way marker along the chosen route. The Cross of Santiago which can be traced to the time of the Crusades. And thebotafumeiro in the Cathedral of Santiago. At a pilgrim mass held on Friday evenings at 7:30, the botafumeiro is swung across the transept, high above the congregants and dispenses incense that permeates the Cathedral. For the peregrinos who have just completed their Camino, the incense wafts around them, signifying an embrace, welcome, and blessings.

In 2011, Ginna and I traveled to France, Norway, and Russia. While taking a hike from Viriville in France (about half way between Lyon and Grenoble), I came upon the way marker below. Apparently the Camino in question led down the stone steps out of the picture to the left. The way marker instructs peregrinos to continue to the right up the country lane. At the crest of the hill is a church and an alberque.

I am encouraged to find that a Camino runs through that part of the world because certain old salts of my acquaintance, when engaged in ship handling training at a nearby lake, might consider jumping ship and setting out on a Camino of their own. From Viriville, it is only 1400 kilometers to Santiago. It can be walked in 291 hours. . . if you don’t stop.

So now, as I embark on a wholly new experience, I think about how best to relate to a new challenge, a physical, endurance challenge. This won’t be a sprint. I don’t do sprints. I don’t have the explosiveness to do sprints. This is an endurance challenge. And, I’m fine with that.

But, how to relate to the physical challenge? To the mental challenge? And the spiritual overlay?

Jim is with me. I recall his training me for the Peninsula Indoor Rowing Championships (PIRC) several years ago (a 2000 meter rowing time trial). On the last day of the training, three days before the event, I asked him, “when I am sitting on the erg, waiting for the starting horn, what should I be thinking about?”

“Gratitude,” he responded.

Yes. Gratitude. It worked for me at the PIRC. I didn’t bring home any metal, and didn’t expect to. What I did bring home was a new PR – a new personal record. And memories of the experience.

So now, as I ready my pack, and prepare to leave for SFO and the adventures that will follow, I think about gratitude. Gratitude that I am strong enough to undertake this journey. Gratitude for family and so many friends who have supported me in this quest. Gratitude to have the opportunity to walk the Camino.

With that, I’m off.

Knute Michael

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Fog City Boy #1

Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués

San Francisco, California – March 18, 2014

Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you will return to it follow my progress on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (Portugués)!

I depart San Francisco on Friday, March 28th. I will fly to London and then on to Lisbon. The total travel time will be about 34 hours. I have a room reserved in a small pension in Lisbon, near the river and in the historic district. I will spend three nights and two days there, recovering from jet lag (aka transmeridian travel). And then on March 32nd (I have been cautioned not to tell people I am starting a 400 mile hike on April 1st), I’ll be off.

The Camino is a pilgrimage that many thousands of people from all over the world have made. There are many routes with waymarkers in stone, or simply painted yellow arrows, starting in different locations, but all ending in exactly the same place: The plaza in front of the Cathedral de Santiago in Santiago, Spain.

Most peregrinos (pilgrims) walk the Camino Francés, usually starting in St. Jean Pied de Port in southwest France, as did our daughter, Elizabeth, in May, 2010. That route is 500 miles. She did it in 35 days. I am planning to do my 400 mile pilgrimage in 45 days, more or less. (Elizabeth is somewhat younger than I.) I will stay in the albergues (pilgrim hostels) where they are available and in inexpensive lodging when not. I’m packing two changes of clothes (one on my back, the other in the pack), three sets of underwear, four pairs of socks, two pairs of shoes (one to walk in and one to walk about in after arriving at the day’s destination) and assorted other impedimenta – all of which will be useful, but all of which weigh something. I will do my laundry nightly in a sink wherever I am staying – usually washing with shampoo. It will dry overnight. My pack and contents will weigh no more than 17 pounds – 10 percent of my body weight.

Peregrinos undertake the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) for differing reasons. Many do so for religious reasons. The Camino de Santiago is often thought to be the most important pilgrimage in the Roman Catholic communion. Others undertake it for other spiritual reasons. And many do it for the sightseeing it offers.

My motivations are a mixture of the latter two reasons. I enjoyed riding my motorcycle through Spain and Portugal some 48 years ago and wanted to go back and see more of those countries again. But there are other reasons, reasons that are related to an athletic, physical, and spiritual journey I have experienced over the last seven plus years. Without too much elaboration, suffice it to say that upon returning to my native San Francisco from Washington, D.C. in 2004, I discovered that I had gained an uncomfortable number of pounds and I decided to do something about it. I got into a program that was quite holistic, involving strenuous but enjoyable exercise based on an athletic training model, combined with nutritional counseling and behavior modification counseling.

I am pleased to report that in 11 months I lost over 10 percent of my bodyweight (net of increased musculature) and have kept it off. But there is another aspect to the program as I and others experienced it. There was a philosophical element, indeed a spiritual element, with which our trainer imbued us. And that spiritual element will be an important part of my Camino.

Our trainer’s name was Jim. He’s not with us here on earth now. But there is good reason to believe that he is in heaven – training the angels and the cherubs to ride celestial double centuries and row 2Ks and marathon rows on the erg – the indoor rowing machine. (My friend Bob would dispute the latter report. He believes that ergs only exist in the other place, where they were invented to train the boatmen who rowed the unfortunates across the River Styx. But no matter.) Jim will be with me on my Camino.

You can learn more about the Camino de Santiago by searching on that name on your search engine of choice. You will get many thousands of hits. Martin Sheen made a very good movie about the Camino called “The Way.” I commend it to you. A good and funny book about the Camino is “I’m Off Then” by Hape Kerkeling. Also, there is a recent and good documentary showing in theatres from time to time called “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago.”

As I write this, I am 10 days from getting on the big bird and heading off to the Camino. I’ll post again on March 28th before I head to SFO. Hope to see you here! If you wish, you can toggle on and my posts will be sent directly to your email when I click on “publish.”

With that, I’m off.

Knute Michael

Fog City Boy showing off his backpack stance!

Fog City Boy on the Camino Primativo