Getting Back in Touch

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 6: Viana do Castelo to Vila Praia de Ancora
Stage 7: Vila Praia de Ancora to A Guarda, Galacia-Spain

walking to Caminha with Spain’s Mount Santa Tecla in the background

“Soulful travel is the art of finding beauty even in ruins, even in inclement weather, even in foul moods. Like art, pilgrimage cannot wait for the right mood to appear. Like poetry, pilgrimage is beyond time and space. It happens now, or it doesn’t happen at all.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

“Inclement weather.” And so it begins.

Walking, I’d noticed a pattern where several days of sunshine and warm, verging on hot temperatures would then be followed by socked-in skies, rain, and wind. We were due. Since arriving in Lisbon two weeks prior, we had walked in fog and heavy clouds threatening to burst, but we’d not yet walked in rain.

From my journal, Monday, May 15, 2022, STAGE 6: Viana do Castelo to Vila Praia de Ancora: “Wow! What a day! Left Viana do Castelo in the rain and walked most of six hours, over 20 km, in the rain. Thankfully sheltered by the stone walls. Thinking of the ‘Litoral’ route along the coast would have been very wet, and even more windy than we experienced, being in the open, in the elements. Met Michael from Munich walking ahead – a young fellow whose red rain poncho was like mine. His ‘sloshy’ shoes were the dream I’d had that made me rethink my footwear. Grateful for gators and my ALTHUS rain poncho – though I wished it was vented like Michael’s…”

wet and whimsical yard art, and yes, the ocean’s out there somewhere

An ordeal for some, oddly enough, I was looking forward to walking in the rain, curious to see if my preparations would pay off. Last fall, one Saturday walking my local Camino de Edmonton, it poured rain the entire morning, soon enough showing me that all my so-called waterproof wear was not. I promptly researched and invested in new boots, and waterproofing wash and spray for my pants and jacket. In the new year, deposit paid to Portugal Green Walks for this Camino, scrolling though one of the Facebook Camino groups, I learned about ALTUS lightweight, breathable raincoats fitted to backpacks, long length with sleeves, remedying the blowing out in wind which often renders useless more typical poncho styles. I knew walking on the coast would be windy, so with a quick search, discovered Spain’s Deporvillage stocked and shipped, I made the investment and within four days had mine for just over $100 CAD all in – the duties as much as the coat, but far less than the $200+ quoted then on Amazon.

Ordering footwear – ten pair at one point – varying in makes (Merrell and Keen), styles, sizes, and widths – I finally settled on the pair that met my criteria, but weren’t waterproof. (I’d read walking in warmer weather feet get too hot in waterproof footwear – hence go up a half to a full size to compensate for swelling – and add to blister risks.) Then the gift of my nighttime dream…seeing myself in these boots, hearing and feeling my feet sloshing in the rain…and I woke knowing I had to rethink my footwear choices. My waterproof Merrell Moab hikers bought last fall gave me ankle and foot support especially on the stoned paths, and stayed dry inside.

Again part of the weather pattern, by mid afternoon, with temperatures rising and wind blowing apart the cloud cover, sunshine and blue sky made for a welcoming arrival into Vila Praia de Ancora. Once checked into the hotel, wet clothing and boots laid out to dry, I discovered the unsightly but painless hiker’s rash on my lower legs, the result of overheating from wearing gators. I’d recalled and found the photo another “camiga” had posted of the same, with comments as to probable diagnosis -“vasculitis”- and went to the pharmacy for treatment – a chestnut-based cooling cream. Within a few days, and forever dispensing with gators, it healed completely.

Wandering around town, finally rested enough to eat, I discovered a restaurant, empty except for a local nursing his beer. The hostess welcomed me in and yes, dinner could be served to me at this early hour of 7:00 (both the Portuguese and Spanish restaurants are notable in their late dinner hours, where 8:00 pm is often early!) From my journal: “I went my own way for dinner and did I receive! All women cooking…the hostess, in between preparing a rear room for a large party of diners – a group of walkers I’d see the next morning at breakfast – poured me a huge glass of a beautiful Portuguese red and took my order: a grilled veal steak, served flambé, with roasted potatoes, rice and EVOO drizzled greens. A rich and silky homemade chocolate mousse for dessert. I was in heaven. The women and I exchanged blown kisses in appreciation. Such a marvelous night being fed and tended to by these kind women.”

En route back to the hotel, I walked to the town’s namesake beach – “praia” in Portuguese – to take in the sea and sky and ready myself for the next day’s walk.

Tuesday, May 16, STAGE 7: Vila Praia de Ancora to A Guarda, Galacia-Spain -A shorter stage where we’d be making our way into Spain, crossing the River Minho at Caminha. Inclement weather returned. From my journal: “Another overcast, windy walk along the coast, but not as hot as ‘sans’ rain poncho and gators. Feet are doing well. Pretty straightforward into Caminha, through its old gates, lovely square, and then it started to rain in earnest. See the clouds rolling down the mountains and by the time we join the family of three on the outboard water taxi, the wind and surf and rain were coming down soaking us. I loved it! Could hardly see in the storm, but I’d fortified with a trick I’d learned in Capri, an ‘espresso corretto’ made with that terrific Portuguese brandy, minutes before boarding.”

“Then in Spain – Galacia – and through forests, the still quiet and birdsong into the walled fishing port of A Guarda. Another nondescript hotel, lunch sandwich made from breakfast’s offerings. Slim pickings for dinner as many restaurants close on Mondays and Tuesdays. I’ll assume vinho verde now gives way to vermut and manzanilla, roija and tempranillo. Walked to the port for tapas of fresh seafood: steamed mussels, A Guarda’s specialty – langoustines split and fried with sea salt and chiles, and crispy calamari.”

“For many women, going on a sacred journey means getting back in touch with what is sacred in the earth.”

Joan Marler in The Art of Pilgrimage,1998

Yes, and I would add to that, getting back in touch with and staying present to what is sacred in one’s self – one’s needs, one’s knowing, one’s intuition.

Thinking back, that dinner in Vila Praia de Ancora stays with me, deep within my heart and mind and belly. Not only because it so simply and deliciously satisfied my knowing and need for a good, hot meal after a long day of walking face first in the elements, but also because I was tended to with such simple love and kindness, in the most fundamental ways, by the women in that restaurant. Even now, I’m moved to tears thinking back to that evening…what it gave me…how it sustained me.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Wings I’ve Grown

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 5: Castelo do Neiva to Viana do Castelo
(In lieu of Friday’s regular photo and poem feature.)

Viana do Castelo across the River Lima and Eiffel Bridge, with Santa Luzia Basilica on the hilltop

“…But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things
have gone with others.
Unfold your own myth, without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage,
“We have opened you.”
Start walking toward Shams. Your legs will get heavy
and tired. Then comes a moment
of feeling the wings you’ve grown,
lifting.”

Rumi, “Who?” in The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Prior to departure, I had indicated that while I’d not be posting stories nor photos on social media, nor blogging, I would select and schedule posting my weekly Friday photo and poem features during my walk. That I’d be curious once home and looking back at my choices to see what, if any, correspondence they had to my actual experience. Rumi’s “Who?”– excerpt above – coincided with the day before our shorter fifth stage, walked again in heat though now with humidity thanks to early morning rain. Coupled with a particularly intense climb on tarmac, giving us the first view of our next destination, Viana do Castelo, “heavy and tired legs” were a reality. But first, breakfast at Quinta do Montevedra…


Waking to steady showers and seeing heavy clouds rolling down the hills to the sea, we opted for a leisurely breakfast in another of the Quinta’s beautifully appointed spaces, hoping an hour or two would bring sunshine. Delicious hot coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and other fruits, creamy scrambled eggs, an assortment of fine sausages – chorizo and Iberian ham – and cheeses – soft brie, aged sheep and fresh creamed – crusty bread, crispy croissants, flaky pain au chocolate, and soft Portuguese pastries. Yes, to linger enveloped in such sumptuousness…listening to music that evoked the memory of a recently passed friend who would have loved this walk, in this way…“we have opened you.”

The sun eventually broke through. Cozy warm and waterproof layers dispensed. The cab called to take us the few kilometers to the stage’s beginning. “Obrigadas” and gratitude gifts exchanged with our host, Fatima. And we set off. Through the forest, with the ocean in the distance to our left, on paths of glittering stone and mud; cobbled roads through villages and vineyards, to the 11th C Sao Romao de Neiva monastery where not a moment’s pause was given to consider climbing this 186 step stairway to heaven!

Once across another Eiffel Bridge – the first we had cruised under on Porto’s Douro River the week before – we passed the city’s cathedral en route to the what, in hindsight, would be an adequate, but least favourite hotel.

Since medieval times, Viana do Castelo has been a pilgrimage stop en route to Santiago. Rich with history, architecture, and culture, we took a “rest day” to more fully appreciate its credentials. The next morning, Sunday, after waking to the news of the race-related mass shooting in my birthplace, Buffalo NY, rain threatened to fall from heavy clouds as we rode the funicular up the hillside to the famous landmark towering over the city, Santa Luzia Basilica. Foreboding weather and gloomy vistas were an apt reflection of grief.

The city’s annual floral festival where gerbera blossoms festooned the riverside plaza, echoed the colors and designs in the embroidery and weaving of the region’s traditional clothing seen in the local museum.

Finding color on a dreary day was surprisingly easy wandering through the historic centre, past the floral embellished 16th C Praca da Republica Fountain to a children’s art gallery, and then onto a side street festive with suspended umbrellas which held the day’s delight. Waiting in line, a fellow “peregrino” from Colorado invited us to share a table with him and his sister and brother-in-law at a restaurant favoured by locals for their traditional Sunday lunch. Served family style, platters of grilled bachalau with braised carrots, cabbage and potatoes, and again, the beverage of choice – tinto verde. Being the only one game to accept the owner’s invitation to sample an after dinner brandy, he placed the snifter and bottle – Aguardente Velha – beside me while the others wished they’d said yes! Remedied, he brought them small glasses and another Portuguese liqueur – all his way of saying “obrigado” to us for eating at his restaurant. Flan to follow, sated, warmed, and smiling…I wrote later in my journal: “a true Camino experience of sharing a meal with others. I hope it is the first of more to come, being in community, on The Way.”

Bordering the journal pages of this day’s entry I wrote a quote, which like the scheduled poem, had been chosen many days before, and yet too, was on point: “There are times in your life you are flung into an undiscovered country of being, a place beyond time and tide and details, the full magical breath of you heaving with the joy of being, and you realize then, that parts of you exist in exile and completeness is journeying to bring them home.”

Such synchronicities become that “moment of feeling the wings I’ve grown lifting,” bringing me home.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Language of the Present Moment

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 3: Apulia to Esposende
Stage 4: Esposende to Castelo do Neiva

abandoned house, abundant flora – Fao, Portugal

I’m glad you are writing in this form. And, woo, there is a book in this also, given the insights you share.”

A friend emailed me this note after reading these photo stories on my walk. Kindred in our love of a good poem to now penning and publishing our own, and in looking at life in a way I describe as “before, beneath, and beyond words,” I appreciated and felt encouraged by Tenneson’s words. He recognized that “this form” is my way to access, coalesce, and give words to sensory impressions gathered along the Way…to all that is before, beneath, and beyond words…necessary to the further distillation that is poetry.

“Since time immemorial, there has been a belief that language is one power that can tap, even trigger, ‘divine events,’ and that pilgrimage, what was called in old Gaelic turas, ritual circuits, was a way to participate in the flow of energy between the two worlds.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Another gift of “this form” has been the invitation to remain in this flow of energy between two worlds. I’ve long noted how when traveling by plane, it takes several days for all of me to arrive home. I’ve learned to give myself transition time, realizing a threshold is crossed too, when returning to my everyday life, with its signature rhythms and patterns. Particularly mindful this time, given both the nature and length of time away, I kept my calendar clear for June. Coming home sick with a chest cold and cough that became Covid-19, has meant for an even longer, slower reengagement. Writing here, I re-read my journals, and skim through books that inspired my preparation. Editing photos – this time going beyond cropping and straightening to applying creative filters (a shoutout to “camiga” Elizabeth Cheung whose Camino Facebook posts and photos attract hundreds of followers) – I re-immerse body, mind and soul-sole, and relive my walk.

From my journal, Thursday, May 12, 2022, STAGE 3: Apulia to Esposende:“Leisurely start after a deep, physically tired sleep. Walked to see the beach at Apulia: fishermen coming ashore, surfers, and to the north, in the morning haze, windmills. Retraced our steps though the still quiet main street to find The Way. Corrected by the older woman who had just stepped out of her home, we walked, as the guide book described, past garden plots and through forests to the school yard with children playing at recess, and the football stadium in Fao. Sat by the river a bit, then through the urban to the beach front hotel in Esposende where its azure pool beckoned, and I made my first pen and ink water colour sketch.”

“The beginning of wisdom is the same as its attainment: wonder…
In the presence of that wonder, the head has no answers and the heart has no questions…”

Quote written on the page of my journal, Thursday, May 12, 2022, STAGE 3: Apulia to Esposende

Friday, May 13th, the fourth stage to Castelo do Neiva, was sunny and hot as we walked inland, with only brief glimpses of the ocean. That dark chocolate bar I’d purchased at the grocery store en route to satisfy a hankering, and wisely put in a ziploc bag, became a melted mess within minutes. Cafes along the way made for cool respites where café con leche chased with icy fruit juice refreshed. (For some it was a beer mixed with coke – an international iteration of the shanty, I suppose.) More evident along the route were various styles of markers, including statuary and the ubiquitous scallop shell, pointing the way.

Crossing an old stone bridge on the River Neiva, we began climbing in earnest.

pilgrims crossing the River Neiva

Arriving at this stage’s lodging took some doing. The guidebook, customized for our stages and accommodations, gave clear directions, but obviously not for us. Maybe it was the heat, or misinterpreting distance given in meters, but we found ourselves going in circles, despite asking for help at the local garden centre, consulting my GPS and notes. Walking further, now into what more closely resembled a village, I was just about to enter the local school to once again ask for directions, when a woman walked by and pointed out, off in the distance, the church steeple beside our destination, Quinta do Monteverde. Approaching, where was the entrance????? The old locked gate by the vacant church? Walking around the corner, which by this point felt a long distance, we finally arrived at a more formal entrance with a buzzer. Pressed, the heavy door silently opened to reveal the magnificent grounds and mansion.


From my journal: “Heaven on Earth. Quinta do Monteverde. Country manor home to Fatima and her family since the late 1400s. So as da Gama and Colombus were off “discovering” North America and the Caribbean, this elegant Portuguese home was already standing and lived in…Splendidly, we have rooms in the manor house vs the more modern apartment suites alongside the pool. I selected the twin room, beautifully furnished with a full, spacious bath, the window seat. Could anything be more elegant??? Surrounded by exquisite antiques, sumptuous linens and scents, plush towels and robes, tea, cookies, port. Another azure pool, quiet except for birdsong…”

As dinner wasn’t offered, our host Fatima suggested we either walk the kilometer or so into town (no way as it was still hot!), or down the road to the local tapas bar most of her guests opt for, O Tasco Regional. WOW! The best meal to date, with the first of what would be several samplings of pimientos de padron and, too, razor clams simply prepared with garlic, EVOO and lemon to enhance their sweet, fresh sea brininess; tomato salad; perfectly grilled octopus; coquille with salsa; bread, and that Portuguese signature tinto verde, the best wine with fresh seafood. So enjoying our dinner and the owner’s hospitality, we reserved for the next night once we learned a cab drive would be only 15 minutes from our next destination.

Quinta do Monteverde wall mount

The seventeenth century Japanese poet Basho, renowned master of haiku, devoted his adult life to writing poetry and walking pilgrimages. Contained within the form’s seventeen syllables, he synthesized the art of pilgrimage’s “skill of observation, soul of attention, and heart of intention.” (Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998)

While certainly not haiku, “this form” here attempts to echo that of Basho. By making the ineffable conscious and evident through my words and photos, making what another poet, James Wright calls “the language of the present moment.”

And that melted chocolate bar…soon enough hardened in the cool of my room at the quinta, it became the perfect after dinner complement to the port! A perfect present moment!

Esposende at sunset

“Make the universe your companion, always bearing in mind the true nature of all creation – mountains and rivers, trees and grasses, and humankind…”

Basho in Phi Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Camino’s Ordeals and Offerings

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 2: Vila do Conde to Apulia

(This post in lieu of Friday’s usual photo and poem.)

“Travel is travail.
The ancient Greeks taught that obstacles were the tests of gods, and the medieval Japanese believed that the sorrows of travel were challenges to overcome and transform into poetry and song.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Quest. Pilgrimage. Hero’s journey. Each entails encountering and overcoming challenges and ordeals. Religious historian Huston Smith in Phil Cousineau’s The Art of Pilgrimage (1998) describes four aspects to pilgrimage: singleness of purpose; freedom from distraction; ordeal or penance; and offerings.

And so it was that on this 20 km, second stage to Apulia, blisters made their appearance. Given my feet would walk me to Santiago, I took their care seriously, each day rubbing them with foot glide, taping hot spots, and yes, even talking to them with words of encouragement and gratitude for their strength and resiliency. The last time I’d travelled internationally, I was recovering from an excruciating case of plantar fasciitis. Then, working with my chiropractor, putting indoor pickleball on hiatus, and packing a couple of pairs of shoes and Yamuna foot balls, I succeeded in walking pain free for three weeks. So yes, I took my feet and their care seriously.

This time I’d bought and broken in shoes a half size larger to account for swelling, and brought umpteen pairs of socks, finally arriving at the right combination of cushion, wicking, and comfort with Darn Tough merino light-weight hikers, socks that arrived just days before departure. My hefty but compact “foot care” kit included several sizes of COMPEED plasters, Rock Tape, moleskin, needles and thread, tweezers, scissors, antiseptic wipes, polysporin, bandaids, and while I was prepared, short of entirely taping each foot, I had no idea until that day of walking across varied surfaces, in growing heat, for six hours, what would be the rub and where the result. Rub identified – the outside heel edge of my insoles – and resolved with moleskin, several days later I was pain free and simply needed the COMPEED to do its work.

Apart from myriad details, and the hours and energy involved in planning and preparing for this first post pandemic international trip – researching equipment and resources, designing my packing systems for easy access, “rehearsing” during my Saturday Camino walks – I made sure to reserve time the week before departure for two vivifying activities: embellishing the pages of my travel journal with washi tape borders (tape I’d found resembling Portuguese tiles) and “touchstone” inspirational quotes; and preparing tokens of gratitude to gift people along the Way, to enact and realize my intention of walking in appreciation and gratitude.

“When you leave home, you are a stranger, and a stranger is always feared. That is why the wise traveler carries gifts. To make a peace offering at every stop of a pilgrimage is to recognize the sacred nature of the journey with a deep personal purpose.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

I had discovered a collection of bronzed metal maple leaves – what could be more Canadian! – and golden elm leaves in my craft kit, a couple of cool swag pins from my radio station, and some other small tokens that I wrapped in colorful tissue and a sealed with floral stickers, making for little lightweight packets.

Paula fitting me

After returning to Lisbon’s famous glove store, Luvaria Ulisses (1925), to gift Paula, the delightful saleswoman who the day before had spent a good hour fitting and teaching us about the shop’s exquisite handmade collection – and making two sales! – I learned to always have some packets tucked in my purse to gift to the right person at the right time.

From my journal, May 11, 2022, STAGE 2: Vila do Conde to Apulia: “Another beautiful walk, so diverse as we passed thru morning residential neighborhoods with kids going to school, people stopping for morning coffee; then along the beach and back on the boardwalks. Delighted to meet some local women sitting in the sand, plucking and cleaning their harvest of sage-like greens (though not for eating, indicated with head shakes), and the kind fellow who interrupted painting the beach W/C for me to use (that morning coffee!). Learning I was walking the Camino, he regaled me with his own Camino stories and phone photos. I gifted him with a ‘Keep the Circle Strong’ pin which delighted me as much as him, seeing his surprise and joy. ‘I’ll put this on my Camino shelf,’ he smiled, wishing me ‘Bom Caminho.'”

I wrote Monday’s post days before the US Supreme Court voted to overrule Roe vs Wade, the historic federal legislation ensuring and safeguarding a woman’s right to choose. While I live in Canada, I know it to be both naïve and privileged to think such matters don’t affect me. The personal is political, a truth ever and exceedingly so.

When a friend said she couldn’t wait to begin her Camino to get away from it all – not an uncommon urge – her words gave me pause to consider. I knew I wasn’t walking to get away but rather to deepen into life as it presented itself. And so with “singleness of purpose,” and “freedom from distraction,” I remained tuned in enough to know about and walk with my feelings and prayers for:

  • the millions of people affected by storms that devastated Ontario and Quebec, news of which reached Portugal and Spain. I knew my nephew, a supervisor with Hydro One, would be leaving his young family to head up a team and taking as long as needed, would together undertake significant safety risks to repair transmission towers and poles to restore power.
  • the people of Buffalo, New York in the aftermath of a strategic, race related mass shooting. As my birthplace and always visually present in my childhood and youth having grown up across the river, and with family who have always lived there, the shock and grief felt by its people carried across the sea to me.
  • the families and community of Uvalde, Texas. What can I say that hasn’t been said, watching Americans I met walking the Way shake their heads in grief, with shame for the hundreds of school shootings and children killed in their country?
  • the ongoing devastation caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Again, no words.

Many mornings I’d be awakened early with powerful dreams seeded by the previous day’s events – near and far – and the “loosening” created by walking kilometers by and in the elements. Deserving of my attention, I’d be preoccupied and silent during breakfast and as I walked, working through to their wisdom. Too, daily tending to my body’s aches and blisters…navigating long distance family matters…and weighing heavy, the worry and risks of misjudged and insufficient preparations rubbed, creating its own blisters: insomnia, injury, illness…

Given my intention, walking the Camino – and now writing about it – I couldn’t disconnect from life, people, and the world around me. The paradoxical gift being that the weight of these ordeals kept me present in my body, on the path, in my life, and in the world I inhabit. Now home, some blisters have healed, some are callused. Others remain tender to the touch.

From my journal: “I wondered this morning that if by walking shorter stages, by ‘sauntering,’ enjoying the vistas, meeting people, taking it all in, if this is enough? Should I be carrying a full pack, walking longer stages? If that by allowing one to encounter and deepen into oneself, easefully, is this the true Camino experience? But as I write, I am answering my own question, and go back to why now and in this way? To walk in love and appreciation. To notice the beauty and encounter people. To go slow and easy…with de-light and in joy. And while I’ve yet to write a poem or paint a picture, I’m gathering the pearls of impressions to string together a beauty.”

“Only through a journey such as this could I come full circle in my life and touch something sacred that could revitalize my life.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Crossing Camino’s Threshold

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 1: Porto/Labruge to Vila do Conde

stage 1 – beach flowers along the northern Portuguese coast

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

Thich Nhat Hahn

I wrote those words at the top of my journal page dated Tuesday, May 10, 2022, The Beginning – STAGE 1: LaBruge to Vila do Conde. Over the nearly 280 km I walked, those words would become my mantra – spoken aloud to the surf and sky, whispered on the wind and in the woods, eventually woven into the song I sang to myself and the Earth to keep the rhythm of my footsteps in sync with my breath and heartbeat.

At some point along the Way, I said to myself, “This an introvert’s paradise!” as for at least 250 of those 280 km, I walked alone in silence (except for singing and chanting and talking to myself and what was around me). Despite having the gadgets to listen to music or podcasts, and a few attempts to talk with fellow walkers whose long and steady stride matched mine, I became so filled with, enamored of, and enthralled by the ambient soundscape, that I quickly found conversation tedious, tiring, and distracting. Admittedly I didn’t always make for good company, but I had at the outset clarified my need to walk my own Camino. After all, how else would one walk?

“It’s your road and yours alone.
Others may walk it with you,
but no one can walk it for you.”

Rumi

I haven’t quite sorted out how I’ll write about the stages of my Portuguese Coastal Camino. As I had posted prior to my departure, often this route is walked over 12-14 stages/days, whereas I opted for a bespoke “easy walk,” stretched over 19 stages, including some “rest” days. Granted, 19 posts might be a bit much, so for now I’ll begin with how we started, quoting from my journal, trusting the pattern and rhythm will emerge, as it did walking:
“The Fair Weather Goddess shone on us – not because it was sunny. Not at all. We woke in Porto to pea soup fog and cool. After breakfast, our bags packed waiting in the lobby to be transferred to the first stage’s lodging, our backpacks with us waiting for the taxi to drive us out of Porto, north to the beach at LaBruge. While the boardwalk was visible, and we could smell the fresh brininess of the sea and hear the surf, visibility was very poor. Though it made for a very pleasant walk – bundled in my fleece, Eddie Bauer rain jacket and hat. Flat walking, through some sand swept paths, and the wonderful flowers!”

Praia LaBruge

Past the near deserted fishing village of Vila Cha, its morning catch already sorted for market.

Then the morning sun burned off the fog and this appeared as if a mirage…

For the remainder of the stage, the sun rose higher, the sky shone bluer, bringing our destination, Vila do Conde, into view.

Vila do Conde

Dating back to 953, the town’s history revolved around building wooden ships and making bobbin lace. Once checked in and settled, a mid-afternoon of meandering and we made our way to the Bobbin Lace Museum, where the lovely receptionist-host ensured we saw its exhibits and contemporary fashion applications; popped into the weekly class to watch the townswomen learn this honoured craft; and purchased just the right souvenirs.

After a curiously named, apparently lost in translation, but delicious soupy shrimp and rice concoction – “Wake Up Shrimp” – served in a bread bowl with a fresh saffron egg yolk stirred in for thickening, we rested up to begin the next day’s 20 km stage to Apulia. The sunrise from my room and early morning photos of Vila do Conde’s ancient Roman aqueduct (one of several we’d encounter) and 15th century church made for a beautiful farewell.

In hindsight, I’ve thought many times how perfect those fog enshrouded sights, sounds and feelings during that first stage. Evoked was my memory, preparation and experience of questing. I realized I had crossed a threshold into the liminal, sacred space that would be my Camino.

My subconscious must have grokked the significance because after a few steps down the boardwalk, I returned to the beginning to make a photo of our first Camino marker.

“A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier
that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres.
Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensifies toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up…
…listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.”

John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Yes, after years of dreaming and months of earnest effort and preparation, my time had come to cross.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

You Start Dying Slowly

Portuguese Coastal Camino, from Oia to Baiona


YOU START DYING SLOWLY

You start dying slowly
if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
if you do not listen to the sounds of life,
if you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly
When you kill your self-esteem;
When you do not let others help you.
You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine,
If you do not wear different colors
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly
If you avoid to feel passion
And their turbulent emotions;
Those which make your eyes glisten
And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice.

– Martha Medeiros –

This says it all.
Why I took five weeks to walk everyday on different paths.
To travel, and be enthralled with the sounds of life.
To remember, to embody, that life is short, energy is precious, and that it is up to me to go after my dream, and appreciate myself.
To feel turbulent emotions which make my eyes glisten and break my heart.
To ask for help and let others help me.

Not to delude myself that I won’t die, but
to live my life well.
And in this way, to prepare for a good death.

Thanks to my friend, writer-poet Shawna Lemay for quickly advising me of this poem’s common misattribution to Pablo Neruda, who I had originally credited.

Porto, Oporto

Rua Santa Catarina tile facades

“What’s needed are eyes that focus with the soul.
What’s needed are spirits open to everything.
What’s needed are the belief that wonder is the glue of the universe and the desire to seek more of it.
Be filled with wonder!”

Richard Wagamese, Embers, 2016

Wonder companioned me throughout my five weeks in Portugal and Spain. Wonder guided my visit to Porto – what the locals prefer calling their city – the second largest in Portugal, with its historic centre, including its cathedral, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (I can’t believe we never made it up to the cathedral, the heat being a factor, and too, that Portugal Green Walks would be providing our Camino credentials during our orientation the eve before setting out. In hindsight, one of travel’s “shoulda woulda coulda” misses.)

Porto’s Cathedral – the “official” start of the Coastal Camino

We arrived via a three hour train trip from Lisbon early Saturday afternoon, time enough to settle into the Hotel Porto Trinidade and make our way to Rua Santa Catarina to meet up with a Taste Porto food tour, one I’d learned about from Monday Night Travels with Rick Steves. Iconic azulejos – those blue glazed ceramic tiles – of the Ingreja do Carmo shone brilliant against an azure sky and marked our rendezvous spot.

Ingreja do Carmo

Travelling solo, I often book a food tour when I land to learn about the city’s food and culture from a local perspective, become oriented, discover places to eat during my stay, and get my first meal. This four-hour, small group “walk, talk and taste,” expertly hosted by Miguel, whose joie de vivre for his adopted city and its local foods and wines, did not disappoint. From sampling one of Portugal’s most popular culinary exports – canned fish – with its signature tinto verde; to munching on savory Chaves pastries filled with ground seasoned veal; to the marinated slow-cooked pulled pork and smoked ham double layered “sandes terylene” sandwich accompanied by a red sparkling wine; sipping espresso with a square of fine dark chocolate at the art deco Cafe Guarany; and ending the feast with shredded cod fritters and “naughty” rice, we left sated with stories, fine local food and wine, and a glimpse into Porto’s rich architectural history and beauty.

Livraria Lello Bookstore

Sunday shone sunny and fresh, with the morning cool a deception for what would become a 30+ C day. Ambling towards the Douro River, we encountered a line of people waiting patiently outside building.
“Sunday brunch?” I wondered. Approaching, I realized this was the famous bookstore that inspired JK Rowling’s Hogwart’s library in the Harry Potter series. Once free to the public, now the thousands that descend daily to visit are charged 5 Euro per person for the privilege, reimbursed with a minimum purchase.

Bookstore Interior, second floor

Passing more colourful tiles and street art, now early afternoon, it proved prescient to have pre-booked tickets to sit outside on the upper deck of a boat for an hour’s sailing up and down the Douro to see Porto’s six bridges. The Puente Maria Pia, attributed to Gustav Eiffel, is one of several bridges built in Portugal by Eiffel. We’d walk across another in an early stage of the Camino.

Eiffel’s Puente Maria Pia

I’d learned about the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum from my co-editor, Karen, who with her husband and a group of fourteen others earlier in the spring had walked the Portuguese Central Camino from Lisbon. Featuring an expanse of park with outdoor metal installations by Ai WeiWei, and a Joan Miro exhibition in the Art Deco building, meandering inside and outside the foundation’s buildings and grounds, with a delicious buffet lunch on the roof top terrace, was a perfect transition from the heat and crush of the “peopley” urban centres and sights of Lisbon and Porto. The following day, a week after having arrived in Portugal, we’d be delivered to the beach and boardwalk to begin stage one of nineteen of the Coastal Camino, where once again, wonder would be my guide and companion.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Mysteries, Yes

MYSTERIES, YES

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
 to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

– Mary Oliver –

For twenty days as I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino, I beheld mysteries “too marvelous to be understood.” Nature reminded me daily that I simply needed to be enthralled in its presence…filled with gratitude for a sunset or sunrise…the profusion of roses spilling over ancient stone walls and through fences…the myriad shades of blue in surf and sky.

And so I was. Allowing what shimmered to fill me, to sing me with joy, to laugh out loud in astonishment.

I bow.

Home Coming

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb, born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It’s ok I know nothing’s wrong… nothing

Hi yo I got plenty of time
Hi yo you got light in your eyes
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love
Cover up and say goodnight… say goodnight

Home is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from the other
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be

Hi yo we drift in and out
Hi yo sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You’ve got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home
And share the same space for a minute or two

You love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head ah ooh

Talking Heads: C. Frantz / T. Weymouth / D. Byrne / J. Harrison

“Home is where I want to be,” and now I am. After nearly five weeks away, realizing that 20+ year dream of walking a camino to Santiago de Compostela, I arrived home last Friday after seeing the sun travel full circle, rising in Madrid and setting in Edmonton. Two noneventful flights, albeit with significant delays, but a remarkably quick passage through Toronto, our Canadian port of entry, where within thirty minutes we had disembarked, cleared customs, walked the length of the terminal to be sitting at our gate for the final leg.

During May’s last Sunday afternoon, wafting through the open window of the guest house in Rua de Francos, Galacia, Spain – the resting spot for our “penultimate stage” to Santiago (quoting from Portugal Green Walk’s guidebook ) – I heard a woman’s beautiful voice singing this Talking Head’s classic accompanied by light acoustic strumming. Straining to hear, I rose from the bed where I’d been dozing, and pressed the voice recorder on my phone hoping to include it in the soundscapes I had been creating along the Way.

A gift of prescience, I thought, as a few years ago for my birthday, my husband created a playlist featuring this song, saying for him I’ve always had “a face with a view.” Later I dressed and went to sit in the yard, to warm myself from the chest and head cold that had walked with me the last couple of stages. There, I met Heidi from Portland, Oregon who with her “guitalele” – a slightly larger, more resonant version of a ukelele – was the source of my “homecoming gift.”

“And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time…”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

The Layers

THE LAYERS

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

– Stanley Kunitz –

Today I make my way home via a day layover in Madrid. Enough time to visit the Prado Museum and see a bit of the city centre. Last time I visited was again a layover just as Covid was beginning to take hold, soon making Madrid the Spanish epicentre.

Given I’m writing this post days before I actually depart for Portugal, I really have no idea what this journey has entailed, and will no doubt “lack the art to decipher it” for much time to come. I do, however, trust “I am not done with my changes.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

%d bloggers like this: