Our names are Adela and Veronika and we decided to walk Portuguese road to Santiago from Barcelos, a small city of Portugal. Camino de Santiago is name of pilgrimage routes (also known as St. James´ Path or Route of Santiago de Compostela). It belongs to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Nowadays thousands of Christian pilgrims and also other tourists do Camino across the Europe. They usually use just their feet, some of them a bicycle, rarely a horse. They follow various reasons, religious pilgrimage or just non-religious reasons (travelling, sport, hiking, keeping their bodies in a good shape, adventure, getting to know new people and so on). Pilgrims from many countries peregrinate to the city Santiago de Compostela in Spain. During the route they pass villages, cities and many interesting places. They have possibilities to socialize not only with tourists, but also experience the hospitality of wonderful local inhabitants. The most popular and promoted all over the world is The French Way (Camino Francés). Another popular route is the Portuguese part, which starts either at the cathedral in Lisbon, which has 610 km or at the cathedral in Porto in the north of Portugal with a distance 227 km. On the score of our living in Barcelos we have chosen Portugal way, started from Barcelos and made over 200 kilometres.
Every pilgrim carries a document called the credencial. You can buy it for a few euros from a tourist agency or in a church on the route. We can describe it as a pass which gives access to cheaper overnight accommodation in albergue (a special “hostel” for pilgrims). During the journey pilgrims collect the stamps of each town, albergue, coffee- bar, bar, restaurant at which they have stayed. The Credencial represents a list of places where they ate or slept or sometimes there is a city worker doing statistics offering a stamp in exchange for your data. It is necessary for obtaining a certificate of pilgrims, which is given in Santiago de Compostela.
Any pilgrim cannot leave without a shell, which is possible to find in every souvenir’s shops. The shell is seen on signs (together with yellow arrow) along the Camino in order to guide pilgrims along the way. The shell is even more commonly seen on the pilgrims themselves. It denotes that you are a traveller on the Camino de Santiago. Scallop presents symbol of Camino de Santiago with mythical but also practical meaning. There are many legends explaining the story about death of Saint James, who was martyred by beheading. One of them says that after St. James’ death, his disciples shipped his body to be buried in Santiago. Off the coast of Spain, a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After few days it washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops. The shells had also practical purposes for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. They served as the right size for gathering water to drink or for eating out of as a makeshift bowl. But all these information you can find on plenty of websites already created about Camino: many useful information or exact details.
But every Camino is different same as every person doing it…
As we mentioned, we have chosen Portugal route and we have started from our city- Barcelos. Let’s introduce you our wandering in a group of 2 Slovak, 4 Italian girls and our 2 Italian gentlemen 🙂
Even one day before the trip we were not 100% sure if it is possible for us to participate this experience. That basically means we were not the typical pilgrims preparing ourselves at least one week before beginning. Any weather checking, big shopping, etc. We both had some hiking shoes, waterproof jacket or raincoat and desire to go so we just made decision and that was it – our preparation.
The weather was awful! It was raining and cloudy. But it didn’t steel us our good mood and our pleasure of an approaching adventure. Our first stop we wanted to reach was Ponte de Lima. Full of energy we walked very fast even though the rain. On a way we met and talked to many kind tourists from all over the world (Brazil, Germany, Australia, Czech Republic and so on). They were always waving and greeting. We arrived in late afternoon tired and all sweaty. Already before crossing the bridge to reach albergue we were told it is completely full. So we started to ask and find some alternative option. We were negatively surprised of behaviour of local people. They recommend us only expensive accommodation, just to make a good business for them, not to help. We felt so exhausted and lost, we wanted to take the shoes of and relax (finally). Surprisingly, it was a police, who saved us. They called to albergue and found out we could still sleep there on the floor in our sleeping bags. Moreover, we did not have to pay anything and still could enjoy all the services they offer such as shower or kitchen. After we let hot water treat our tired muscles we went to restaurant for a hot meal (it was necessary after walking in a bad weather) and had a good fun all together. Because of tiredness we slept very deeply.
Route of our second day was so beautiful, full of nice nature, forests and hills. We liked it so much even terrene was more difficult to pass and almost all way we had to climb as we needed to cross a mountain. But we enjoyed. After coming back down to valley we made a break in a small open bar waiting to each other drinking a deserved bottle of Super Bock (popular Portuguese beer) and talked to our new friend from Indonesia who is living in Holland. After few meters we entered an albergue in Rubiaes. In few seconds the receptionist destroyed our positive energy. We were so surprised how awful she behaved. Maybe you know that feeling when you greet somebody and he/she doesn’t even turn to show his/her face and answer. Any interests in us, poor, tired pilgrims and she snubbed us by one sentence: “No free places.” So there is an unanswered question: ”Why do such a rude people work in a field of tourism?” These employees must be kind, friendly and always ready to help, because they are one of the most important parts of tourists´ satisfaction. Finally we have found a place to sleep thanks to local people that or had compassion with us or only didn’t want to miss a chance to earn some money from tourists? Even we had to use ground of the *doña Maria’s kitchen we spent funny time over there. And “only” for 8 Euros (after discussion about discount) without breakfast, kitchen spider included. However during the Camino we met many wonderful pilgrims, who became our friends and who we spent warm nights in next albergues with.
* Doña Maria= local hospitable woman :).
Next point which we wanted to achieve was Valenca. By reason that it was not such a long distance and we woke up very early, we got the beds in albergue. We already understood better the system of catching places to sleep 🙂 and also wanted to be prepared for the next day that was supposed to be the hardest one. Valenca is last Portuguese stop before crossing the border. Many pilgrims continue 2-3km more and sleep already in Spain in Tui. Anyway, we took a shower had some snack and left our stuff next our beds to explore the beauty of Valenca that called us since we had enter. So we climbed the hill with the ruins of the castle, right next to our sleeping place. We really enjoyed the atmosphere in albergue of s. Teotonio. The pilgrims got to know each other. Everybody was very opened and sociable. And we were celebrating the birthday of German girl, named Miriam and listened to experience of Slovenian woman doing her Camino next to coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
Early in the morning with flashlights and shining mobile phones we tried to follow yellow arrows across the historical centre. With loooong bridge over Minho River we also crossed the border of Spain. Immediately we noticed that marks (arrows and shells) were not as punctual as in Portugal part. While on Portuguese part they were literally on every corner on Spanish side they sometimes disappeared and we lost the right way. On the other hand we have to mention the hospitality and kindness of people working in the enterprises of tourism, especially in the restaurants. We made a break for coffee and they immediately offered us snacks for a breakfast for free. Thanks to them! :). Full of energy we continued walking further, because it was the most difficult part of Camino in front of us. During the route to Redondela we tried lovely draft beer. In comparison with Slovakia it was more expensive but we got a pieces of tortilla or chips or fresh piece of bread and it was all price included (I did not remark it in any other countries, only in Spain and Portugal). On that part of Camino more serious problems with the legs of our Italian friends began and we divided in groups of two. Two of us had to take a bus which was not that bad because they could find a nice hostel for all of us to sleep there. Me (Adela) and Italian friend with leg troubles we took different way that seemed simpler. Older local man made our hard day pleasant. He offered us refreshment in his house and gave us a bottle of homemade wine. Even though we were so exhausted and painful, we went out all together in Redondela. We were discovering the beauties of picturesque town and we had one of the funniest evening ever :).
At the beginning of our fifth day we have noticed the hospitality of local inhabitants. By reason that we needed to buy an arch supporter we visited the shop of shoemaker. He didn’t give us only a discount, but he also protected the shoes of whole Slovak- Italian group by waterproof spray for free. Wonderful! On a way to our next stop (Pontevedra) we met Pablo, a talented Spanish musician. He was selling water and beer on the top of a small hill, playing a guitar and singing. Of course we joined him, sang danced and made ourselves unforgettable experience of Camino de Santiago. He advised us an alternative way for part of Camino following greet arrows for a while, where we could see more beautiful nature, walk through the forest, near the river. In that anything cannot be so positive the end of the day became worse. Illness visited us and destroyed the healthy of one of our Italian gentleman. But we didn’t give up!
Our 6th was one of the worst one. As we mentioned some of us had problems with the legs, especially with the feet and knee and one of us was a bit ill. The Italian girl had to go to hospital. She took a bus and later booked an accommodation for our group in albergue in Caldas de Reis. Nobody can imagine how angry the pilgrims were with us (surprisingly one priest was the most obnoxious). We understood them, but on the other hand we did not do it purposely. Pilgrims, there is a message for all o us: “We should think sometimes, what is the Camino the Santiago really about!”
Padron, next planned albergue, wasn’t so far away from Caldas de Reis, so we were walking calmly and were not in a hurry at all. We afforded more breaks, rest and food. We knew our target was near at hand. We were enjoying and laughing a lot. When we arrived to Padron, we (Slovak part of crew) decided to continue further unless our feet will be available to fulfil one of our “caminho dreams” to sleep outdoors. Italians stayed in an albergue, which seemed like a castle and we continued and stopped around 8 kilometres far away from Santiago. Afraid of falling nuts we prepared our “beds” (raincoats with sleeping bags on it) in a small forest in the middle of nowhere and spent wonderful night under the stars.
We survived our adventurous night under the sky, woke up before the sunrise and full of positive feelings we started our last part of Camino de Santiago. As we became a “family” during doing the Camino, we (Slovak girls) made a surprise for our Italians. It was a message inside of the heart, which we drew on a road. We were sure we will make them smiles on their faces. When we finally achieved the town Santiago de Compostela we realized our hunger. So we stopped in a coffee bar, ate the breakfast, drank a coffee, secretly took a “shower” in a bathroom and charged our mobile phones. And we paid only 2, 20 € per person :). We arrived to cathedral in Santiago de Compostela clean and powerful, ready to enjoy the mass and the town as well. We saw the famous botafumeiro swinging over our heads and ate a big big dinner (normal Spanish size consisting of 2 plates and dessert) from what we all had a stomach ache. If you have ever visited some place of pilgrimage the city itself will not surprise you with all its souvenir shops. But the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is really worth to see it. After 8 days of walking is so easy to spend an afternoon doing nothing just enjoying company of friends having rest. In the evening people from Intercultural Association Mobility Friends picked us up and drove us directly to our houses.
We were thinking to continue directly to Finisterre, which Latin’s name means “Land’s End”. The Land’s End was a symbolic place where the sun was diving every day into the ocean but finally we decided to organize another trip there and experience it later.
Camino de Santiago was one of the lessons of our lives. That adventure meant so much for us and maybe changed our minds a little bit. We became a family, made beautiful relationships and found new friends among the pilgrims. And with a smile on our faces we can say: “We’ve got it. We are pilgrims!” 🙂