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 flambĂ©, 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.

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