PORTO – two Ways head north…
The day that decided our route…
Agueda – Albergaria A-Velha
The day started like every other day, strapping feet, squeezing swollen soles into shoes, repacking backpacks, finding a cafe, followed by the first café con leche and pastry of the day.
With a relatively easy day in front of us and the prospect of stopping every 5kms, it was going to be a great day. Even more so as after a rest day, the swelling in my big toe had subsided and my brand new sneakers had enough give in them to make walking the fifteen-kilometre stage viable. The day was overcast and cool and the pathway took us out into the countryside through small villages of decaying mansions, passing winter stockpiles of autumn crops flat.
Halfway through the walk a moss green Monet picture unfolded. Asphalt gave way to an old dirt Roman road which leads us across a restored medieval bridge. While there was none of the vibrancy of Giverny, the blanket covered stream conveyed the tranquillity of Monet’s garden.
The serenity of this scene was quickly replaced by a steep hill wending its way past a Church and cemetery. To the left of us the N-1 motorway. At the bottom of the hill yellow arrows beckoned us across the N-1. With no other option in sight, we crossed and began walking alongside the motorway on a narrow pedestrian pathway. Within minutes we found ourselves on a flyover bridge.
Partway across the bridge, we saw the reason why. The original bridge over the river Vouga at Pontilhao had a section missing. Had it been bombed? Was there an earthquake? Why did our guidebook apparently recently updated have us walking over it?
The questions remained on my lips when I saw the yellow arrows indicated the Way crossed the N-1. Suddenly this highway had turned into a race track complete with convoys of trucks, north and southbound at speeds not less than 120Km/h.
Finally, there was a gap in the traffic. My heart still racing I started the ascent to the village of Serém de Cima. We stopped for a break, I settled for iced lemon tea however, the beer a fellow pilgrim was downing seemed a better idea.
From here the Way was supposed to be a tranquil journey [0.9km] through a eucalyptus forest. The seemingly straight-line pathway once again meandered in different directions, leaving us confused and directionless. Eventually, we emerged into suburban streets, energy levels faded, as walked towards a town center; hopefully Albergaria-a-Velha.
The deciding factors…
Ahead of us lay soulless stretches of industrial areas occupying most of the remaining original medieval pilgrim route into and out of Porto.
The heat from the asphalt roads continually siphoned our energy. While the constant search for yellow arrows left us little time to enjoy the fleeting picturesque moments.
The likelihood of Atlantic onshore winds and sand storms seemed more appealing than “more of the same” pathways on the interior route. Hence we all opted to walk the lesser-known Way from Porto – Camino Portuguese Coastal Way (Caminho da Costa).
Caminho da Costa – the friendly way…
Our guide book only covered the first day of the Coastal route, however, knowing we were following in the footsteps of Queen Isabel of Portugal (1271 – 1336) added a certain je ne sais quoi to the route. All we really had to do was keep the Atlantic Ocean on our left and where possible avoid getting our shoes full of sand.
The route is weather dependent…
We departed Porto from Trindade metro station. At Mercado an outlying suburb of Porto we crossed the Matoshinos Ponte Móvel, which serves as a symbolic farewell to city life. Only to find ourselves walking through suburban streets towards the ocean with overzealous pilgrims and local exercise groups.
Arriving at the wide promontory built on the seawall rocks, I stopped and devoured the vast Atlantic ocean view. My shoulders relaxed. The remaining tension departed when we reached the first board-walk. Lisa had stopped and was smiling. Finally official Camino markings.
This was the first time we encountered local people who had walked the Camino, the first time we had heard the words Bom Caminho, finally Chrissy was getting a taste of our Camino Frances experience.
We also discovered that we were on the route the Portuguese took to Santiago de Compostela. The route they called “the friendly” Way.
The board-walk took us into Casa do Mar a traditional fishing village, where outdoor steel drums with grills were firing up for the mid-day meal.
We continued to walk. Once again our guide book was out of date, for the first time without a negative impact. The Portuguese have invested in the health of their people and built board-walks around the rocky shoreline. The long remote beaches where walking was one prohibited due to sensitive and endangered sand dunes now had long high board-walks punctuated with pathways down to local villages.
For the elderly people, these board-walks were their promenade, for the younger they provided running tracks. Bicycles were prohibited however, that didn’t stop cycling pilgrims from ignoring the signpost and nearly pushing us off the narrow board-walk as we approached Vila do Conde.
Given how close we were to the wild and unpredictable Atlantic Ocean I would urge fellow pilgrims to check the weather before walking this route.
The pilgrim experience…
The Vila do Conde tourism office was closed when we arrived. It had been a 22.1km walk so we needed showers and to do laundry. Thankfully we found the local Albergue and secured a room with four bunks and quickly took over the lower beds.
Finally, accommodation where the laundry was not an outside stone basin or a long walk to a laundromat.
Another first was the need to use the towels and sleeping bags we’d carried from Lisboa. Lastly, a first for Chrissy, the Albergue experience.
At Viana do Castelo both Chrissy and myself had our very first convent experience when we stayed at Albergue São João da Cruz Dos Caminhos.
Once again the laundry facilities were a stone basin outside, given we’d arrived late in the day the only option was to recycle our walking gear. Thank goodness it was all made of high tech anti-wicking materials. Oddly though we were given clean sheets and a pillowcase.
As our host walked us from the front of the convent to the Albergue he beckoned me up the stairs of the church and pointed out the time for mass. Only one of our Camino family is catholic however, we all attended. We were the only pilgrims in the packed church. The priest delivered his sermon, which my non-lingual brain easily translated as a special pilgrim speech, leaving us feeling very blessed.
My highlight – the small fishing port, Viana do Castelo…
As we endeavoured to navigate ourselves out of Vaina do Castelo and onto the coastal boardwalks and roads that would hopefully take us up to Caminha, we stumbled upon this small fishing port.
Chrissy and I then wandered out past the port and around an old fort that sat on the headland, here we found this most magnificent monument to the sea.
The greatest gift…
It is these unexpected discoveries. Along with the hilarity of the moments like the local waiter telling us that previous evening his boss was a motherf***ker because he did not care for people only the money, which makes the sore feet, the aching back palatable.
The “we’re in this together” attitude of comradery is I believe the greatest gift of walking the Camino.