Walking to Santigo de Compostela has been one of the most popular pilgrimages since medieval times. There are several paths to Compostela, all ending at the Cathedral where the tomb of St James the Great, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, is located.
In September 2017 I did the “Camino del Norte”, from Irún to Santiago de Compostela, a little more than 800 km in 28 days, 25 of which were spent actually walking.
Now I decided to try another way, the Portuguese Central route, and so I took advantage of the fact that I was in Oporto, at the wedding of two beautiful people, Julia and Ricardo, who I had met in India on a trip led by me, when I was a leader of The Wanderlust travel agency, to walk the more than 200 km that took me to Santiago.
I started on Sunday at lunch time, late, but not because I had drunk too much at the wedding, which was in fact the case (!), but because I had arranged a breakfast with some people who travelled with me in late 2017 to Vietnam.
Less than 10 minutes after being left by Patrícia, Cristina, Rui and Tiago at my point of departure, Oporto Cathedral, I was already lost and that continued for at least half an hour. The centre of the city of Oporto is under construction, so I did not find the yellow arrow to turn right and as is normal for me, I turned left, in the opposite direction!
To be honest, the first day was very bad, at least after leaving the city centre, all of it in an industrial zone, always on the road, and very hot, especially as I had only slept three hours and was completely dehydrated, but also because I already had blisters on my feet. It is true! When I bought my clothes for the wedding I left the shoes until last. I found some that I loved because they had colours to match the clothes – “43 is the largest size we have,” they said at the store, (I usually wear size 44, and some brands even have to be 45). What was my answer?! “Okay, I’ll take those.” And then, a few hours after I had put them on, I already had blisters all over my toes, I had danced for a while in them and the rest of the night I had to go barefoot. I left them with my nephew, who is 12 years old and wears size 43.
The second day was more fun. I started walking at 6 in the morning and less than a kilometre later I was already crossing a stone bridge in the middle of nature. The days were generally very similar, I never started walking later than 6 am or so, and averaged 35 km per day, stopping every 10 kilometres. The first stop was for breakfast, the second just to rest and the last for lunch, and during all of them I would take off my shoes and socks, and put my legs up on my backpack to rest them a bit. During the day I did not really talk to people, I went past many, but I usually just asked if everything was okay, smiled, and offered the famous “Buen Camino” as I carried on with my own life. Of course there were exceptions, like Yope, an 80 year old Dutch youngster who had an incredible energy, had already done this same path the previous year, as well as several other paths. Also Kora, a German who needed some time just for herself, so decided to go it alone. Or Pedro and Salva, father and son respectively, the son wanted to make the trip, and so the father came with him. I would love my parents to be like that, if I wanted to go get a tattoo or a piercing they would do it too. My father with a ring in his nose and my mother with a heart on her neck saying “son’s love”! Don’t get me wrong, my parents are the best, there’s no doubt about that! But I liked them a lot, even more so because the father was in serious difficulties but still wanted to accompany his son.
Life in the refuges was crazy, with so many people, but the one I maybe liked the most was Pontevedra, with its inter cultural evening, everything (well) washed down with Spanish wine in the words of Vanessa, a nurse from Lisbon who was travelling with two colleagues, Vânia and Ivo. Alongside us were other Portuguese, Spanish and some other nationalities, and in my opinion the best of the group was a Mexican, whose name I can’t remember, once again the oldest and the one with the best energy, besides having a very beautiful way of talking about life.
The worst thing about the refuges is the number of people sleeping in the same room, as it is not easy to sleep 7 nights in dormitories with more than 30 people. On the last night there were 50 of us under one roof and many of them snored. Some stayed awake and talked amongst themselves and believe it or not, others had sex. In the beginning I just felt someone touching my pillow and heard horny noises, but before I knew it my bed was moving in such a way I thought I was on a roller coaster! I raised my head and, not 10 centrimetres from me, a couple were going for it, without a care in the world! With nothing covering them, he was on his back and she was on top, riding him with reckless abandon/for all she was worth! I thought about taking a selfie with them, or even simply asking if they wanted to try a ménage-a-trois/threesome, but as soon as I turned on the screen of the phone, they stopped. She climbed off and went to the bathroom, and 5 minutes later he fell asleep and was one more person snoring, heavily. Excuse the graphic description, but it seemed necessary for you to understand what truly took place) If this happened in a hotel it would be one thing, but in a religious refuge full of much older people, it’s completely disrespectful/unacceptable.
And so was the walk from Oporto to Santiago: some walk for religious reasons, others for the cultural and gastronomic experiences, and some for no reason, just because. I did it to see how my body was and, I’m pleased to say, it was good!
Beautiful things are going to happen soon, and I am thinking about what to call my next book…
*This as all the other articles on this site are translated by my good friend Devo Forbes!!