Started at Santiago train station before sunrise. Traveling back over the way we had walked was strangely moving. Memories flooded back and we talked. I also wrote the following little summary of our Camino experience for anyone who might be thinking of doing it themselves.
Doing the Camino Portuguese was a spontaneous decision for us. We are familiar enough with camino-ing now that we could pack our bags and be off in no time at all. When we first decided to walk again, we thought we’d do the Camino Madrid, but the kids urged us to go somewhere different and we listened. However, we did very little planning and other than knowing that many people have walked this route and loved it, we did not have much idea what was involved. We glanced at a guide, but elected to just read the relevant pages each evening before walking rather than reading up before we left.
So there were a lot of surprises for us.
First of all, the good……
The food was very inexpensive, very tasty and the variety of pastries outshone Spanish ones. Not that the Spanish ones are bad, but they are largely limited to croissants or chocolate napolitanas, whereas along the Portuguese there are all sorts. Add to that a wide range of seafood, from Rob’s favourite word “chiperones” (squid) to cod, from octopus to whole sardines. And then there’s pig in all its forms (bacon, ham, smokey, not, shaved, thick, roast, you name it!) And don’t forget the fruit – right now berries and cherries, peaches (especially flattos), melons – and the promise of a grape harvest to come. In fact, at the end of the day, we will remember this as a Food Camino. That’s how good it was!
Likewise, the albergues were good to exceptional. Being a less busy route than the Frances, there was no rush to get a bed, and there was only one night that every bed in the municipal albergue was taken (at O Porinno). They were also cheap – usually 5 euros per person. Additionally, there is quite some variety. In only twelve days of walking we stayed in two monasteries and two family homes as well as the more “standard” accommodations. If anyone were contemplating this route, I would recommend they make an effort to stop at these places – the monasteries at Vairoa and Herbon, Casa de Fernanda at XXX and Quinta Estrada Romana just after XXX. Another fantastic albergue, which has only just opened and has the most amazing facilities we came across is at Arcade. There are also private pensions and hotels in many towns. The accommodations may not appear as frequently as on the Framces, but they were close enough to provide flexibility. It must have worked out about half the time that we tentatively headed for one location, but ended up walking on further without the distances being too excessive (33km was our longest day and that included wandering round a town).
The way marking is faultless and so frequent (almost to the point of excessive in places) that there is no room for doubt.* In fact, if way markings were the only consideration, this would be an excellent first Camino.
However, there are a couple of other factors that make me hesitant to unreservedly recommend this route, especially to a first-timer.
Firstly, this route begins in Portugal (being called the Portuguese-n-all) and that means there are Portuguese drivers. Now before you accuse me of being too harsh or making too broad a generalization, I will admit my observations are based on only one week’s walking in the country. However, I will add that everyone we have spoken with reached the same conclusion. A Swiss gentleman we met succinctly stated, “The Portuguese drive fast and don’t give a damn!” In other (more polite) words, drivers show complete disregard for pedestrians. They drive fast, even on the narrow lanes that wind through villages. This is in total contrast to Spanish drivers, who slow down as they approach, possibly give you a wave, and definitely stop if you are standing anywhere near a pedestrian crossing.
Additionally, this route has quite a bit of road walking, and in places where there is little or no shoulder. While we did not mention it in earlier blogposts so that no-one would worry, there were sections that felt (or were) dangerous.
Another drawback to this route is the relative lack of scenic interest. Of the seven routes I have now done, this is the least stunning. The others were spectacular, and the Portuguese just cannot compete. There are very few long stretches in nature – mostly you are walking from one village or town that fairly seamlessly merges into the next one. We even felt at times that the nature trails were an ideal place for weirdos (for lack of a better word) to hang out – conveniently close to residential areas, but providing cover. (On the other hand, there are women who have walked this route solo and never felt in danger).
Finally, the cobblestones. From Porto to Xxxxx (check location and insert – Barcelos? Tui?) there are long punishing stretches of uneven blister-causing soul-destroying cobbles. Consider yourself warned!
By now I must sound like a real cheer germ! I don’t mean to dissuade you from choosing this path, but to highlight what you might encounter. Actually, if you are someone who wants to use English as the lingua franca, this could be the perfect Camino – almost everyone speaks at least some – and often excellent – English. If you want a Camino that you don’t need to carry food on, this would be ideal (that is, the Central route is well-littered with bars; the coastal route not so much). And if you want a Camino where you meet all sorts of interesting people, then chances are high this route would provide – that was certainly our experience! (Just make sure you have well-cushioned shoes or sandals and a high visibility vest)
* faultless way marking comment: the exception that proves the rule here is O Porinno, where the locals have blacked out the arrows – just follow the black and you’ll be right. Then when you get to the River versus Bridge option immediately before the town, take the river again – it will take you directly to the Municipal Albergue.
Question for the kids: what is the precious metal associated with a 25th wedding anniversary? (Answer will appear in tomorrow’s post, along with some commentary!)
As we walked round Lisbon in the afternoon-which-dragged-past-sunset we found more yellow arrows. We also clocked up well over 20km, which is not bad when you consider we also had eight hours on three trains today!