It has been a busy time in Santiago. The Amigos project is well under way and tonight Mildred and Elizabeth, or “Amigos 7 and 8” arrive. They take over from William and Mario, who themselves took over from Patro and Laraine two weeks ago. The number of pilgrims arriving is increasing daily and regularly now we receive around 1000 pilgrims in the day. Many have questions or simply want to talk about their Camino. The Amigos provide a ready listening ear. The Amigos are recognised easily by their distinctive blue Tshirts. This is having the added and welcome consequence that they are easily recognised in the streets on their way home when pilgrims who have been welcomed by them return the compliment with waves, greetings and even more questions.
|Amigos Patro and Laraine meeting Eduardo and D. Jenaro from the Pilgrims' Office|
As well as Amigos arriving so too did a group of 15 members and associates of one of the City of London Livery Companies, the Tylers and Bricklayers. They elect a “Master” each year who can mount a special project to mark their term of office. This year’s Master is Piers Nicholson, Camino addict and owner of the popular website http://www.santiago-compostela.net/ So it was no surprise that his project was leading a group walking the Camino Inglés from Ferrol. I helped them organise things on the ground including identifying “pick up points” where they could be assisted by car if it all became too much! However they didn’t need this safety net very much and they duly made a triumphant entry into the city. They were very pleased with themselves.
They were quickly followed by old friend Rebekah who had walked the Camino Portugese with Kathy Gower of the American Pilgrims and friend Phillip from Belgium. It was great seeing them and meeting Kathy at long last. They arrived at the same time as George Greenia and Kay Jenkins both professors from the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg University. There they have an Institute of Pilgrimage Studies and they were in Santiago with a group of students before starting to walk the Camino Francés with them. All these folk in one place was a good excuse for a party and we had a wonderful dinner together.
Then I had a visit from old friends Jenny and Graham from Edinburgh who were the very first people to introduce me to the Camino. I explained this to friends in the Pilgrims’ Office who immediately retorted “you have created a monster!”
|Vila do Conde|
After the first groups of Amigos arriving and all of carousing with visiting friends I was feeling the pressure and looming large is the 9 Day Novena held annually in the church in A Coruña where I am playing. There are 2 services a day for the 9 days starting from Tuesday...more of that later. Yes, overwork and stress can happen even here in Santiago. Fortunately a cure is at hand and with the Big Man who will sing during the 9 Day Novena I set off on the Camino Portugese. There are a number of routes through Portugal and I have walked the “interior route” from Oporto to Tui to Santiago before. This time I wanted something completely different and so we decided to explore the route along the coast from Oporto.
|Karla making sardines|
It seems there are two costal routes in Portugal we decided to try and find our way along the very coast of Portugal and Spain until we joined with the interior route at Redondela. Time constraints meant we started in Vila do Conde which can be reached either by walking along the coast from Oporto or by Metro. I’ve stayed in Vila do Conde before and I think it is beautiful town. With rooms in a harbour side hostal we were perfectly located to see the locals buying fish straight from the arriving fishermen. When Karla who runs the hostal presented me with a chilled glass of white wine and grilled sardines which had come out of the sea only hours earlier I was in heaven.
Next day we set out with only a map of the coast of Portugal. We had been told that there was some waymarking but that the arrows might be yellow, green or red. No matter. We were determined to see if we could walk as close to the sea as possible and in doing so end up in Vigo or Redondela. Shortly after setting off we discovered some yellow arrows which we followed. These took us along beach side promenades, boardwalks and paths always within sight of the sea. Had we tried to walk on the sand it would not only have made walking difficult but we would have missed the arrows which as it turned out were plentiful and very helpful. Some 24 kms of good walking later despite some rain we arrived in Esposende. As we entered the town the rain got heavier and we were glad when we got to the hotel which had been recommended. Only it was full. There was a huge wedding in progress. The receptionist took pity on the hungry and very wet pilgrims and telephoned the three other hotels in town. All full. Undeterred she phoned more until she found us rooms at almost half the price 10 kms out of town. The “taxi for Walker” was duly organised. Next day we set out early from Viana do Costela to walk the 27 kms to Caminha. Although the weather was mixed this was stage where this route really revealed itself.
Following clear waymarks we made our way mile after mile along paths just by the side of the ocean. We passed people collecting shellfish from the rocks and fishermen with long rods impossibly perched on the rocks as the waves crashed around them. With the smell of the sea in my nostrils and occasionally the spray from the waves dotting my spectacles I fell in love with this route. I love the sea and in this stage of the route there was plenty of it. Once or twice we had to work out where the arrows were going. But we found the way forward without much difficulty and we arrived in Caminha tired but full of anticipation for the ferry journey the next day which would take us to A Guarda across the river to continue on to Baiona 36 kms to the north. Down where the ferry leaves there is a very good rooftop restaurant looking out over the water. The dinner was excellent. Not so was the news from the waiter that the ferry had broken down and might not be replaced for some days. “Taxi for Walker” was the only answer if we wanted to continue on the route along the coast without a 22 kms detour walking on the road. Soon we were in A Guarda and we set off following the arrows along seaside paths with magnificent views of the ocean. Sail boats sailed passed way out at sea. The breeze carried the sea spray and the only sound was from the huge waves crashing on the rocks. I found the beauty of all of this almost overwhelming and I resolved that day to produce a guide to this particular route. It has so much to offer.
We decided to split the stage in two and walk 19 kms to Oia then move on next day to Baiona. This was a wise decision because we were so enjoying walking close to the sea we missed the waymark which takes the route up onto a path then road looking down on the rocks. As we found ourselves scrambling over rocks thinking “this can’t be right” a man appeared pulling on his clothes from bathing in a sea pool and he happily gave us directions and all was well.
Arriving in Oia was for me once of those magical Camino moments. We passed a small chapel at the entrance to the village which sits on a beautiful bay. Soon we passed the mighty 12 century church and monastery which dominates the seafront. We booked rooms in the local hotel which cost 35€ for lunch, dinner, bed and breakfast. Moncho the son of the family is profoundly deaf but we all found a way of communicating. He showed us our rooms and also a terrace where he asked us to wait. As we looked out over the bay Moncho arrived with a huge jug of beer, a plate piled high with steaming hot roast beef and a fresh loaf. The walking, the beer, the beef, the scenery.Wonderful.
Next day as we continued the rest of the stage to Baiona the sun came out and temperatures soared. The route remained at the water’s edge for many kilometres taking us all the way into the seaside resort. Baiona is very picturesque but because of the proximity of Vigo airport with flights to the UK it has also become a popular holiday destination and for the first time I heard English voices and saw pubs advertising English beer. I wouldn’t have been surprised if there were boards next morning advertising “Full English Breakfasts”. But it was a useful stopping point and early next day we were off to Vigo where this few days break would soon end.
The route from Baiona to Vigo basically follows a number of beaches before heading inland on a peaceful and long forest path. The longest beach before reaching the path for Vigo is the Playa América which stretched for miles before us. Totally relaxed and recovered by this point I made two decisions. The first is to return and produce a guide from Oporto all the way up the edge of the sea to Redondela. The second was to take off my boots and socks and walk as far as I could in the water. Just what the doctor ordered.