“Bom dia. Bom Camino,” she replies.
My first acknowledgement as a pilgrim, half an hour into my 261 km trek along the Camino Portuguese, bound for Santiago de Compostella in Spain.
I was on my way. Finally. It had already taken me more than an hour just to get to the starting point.
It’s my first day of my Camino trek and I can’t even find my way out of Porto!
My GPS insists this is where the metro entrance is meant to be. I walk around the block again, but definitely no entrance to be found. I guess I’d better ask someone.
“It’s the next block,” the policeman explains in English, pointing. “Behind that church over there.”
And there it was: Trindade Metro Station, offering a 30-minute tram ride bypassing an unnecessary 12km of uninspiring industrial areas and busy roads.
Alighting at Matosinhos, I flex my trekking poles, set the timer on my Fitbit and set off, following the yellow arrows along the Camino. How unlike those devout pilgrims who walked to Santiago more than 1200 years ago to cleanse their sins.
St James and the scallop shell
The scallop shell is associated with St James and the Camino (the Way). Medieval pilgrims wore a scallop shell during their journey to Santiago, not only as proof of their pilgrimage, but also as a handy utensil to hold their food and drink.
Political unrest, the plague and the Protestant reformation led to a decline in pilgrimages across Europe in the 16th century. After the Camino de Santiago was proclaimed a European Cultural Itinerary in 1987 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, it re-ignited that romantic appeal of a religious / spiritual pilgrimage.
As a digital pilgrim of the 21st century, however, there is no longer a need for pain and suffering. Many fellow pilgrims I spoke with along the way were walking the Portuguese Camino for enjoyment. In comfort. With trip notes and GPS. It’s the sensible way.
The modern pilgrim's checklist
Rugged coastlines, seafood and pastel de natas
And although there’s less Camino signage in Portugal (enough to point you in the right direction), you really can’t get lost as long as you keep the wild Atlantic Ocean to your left. You can start from Lisbon if you’ve got 35 days to spare (620km), or Porto (approx. 260km) which is walkable in about two weeks.
It was the allure of fishing villages, abundance of seafood and those tantalising Portuguese tarts (pastel de natas) which caught my attention. That, and not having to traverse any mountain ranges.
Part 2: I’m with my day pack, on the road again
Part 3: Finding my way along the path