For several days throughout my two-week pilgrimage, I had the path to myself all morning, and even all day. I had a fleeting thought that perhaps I started way later than others, or – surprisingly and not impossible – I’ve left before everyone else.
With daylight breaking around 8am in Portugal and Spain during September, I was usually on the road between 8.30am - 9.30am depending on how many kilometres I was walking that day. Knowing where I was staying each night meant I could head off whenever I was ready and it didn't matter what time I arrived at that day’s destination – unless it rained, of course. Then it was a beeline to my final stop and no thought of scenic detours.
There were also many days spent walking in the company of fellow pilgrims - the best conversations were had with those not burdened by heavy backpacks or rushing to find their next accommodation. And it didn’t take long before I heard increasingly familiar sounds as I approached a café or came around a corner in the forest: "Hola, Hari. Come join us for a coffee and snack." I was beginning to think those Canadians were following me.
It was inevitable that our paths would cross throughout the Camino, as we were all travelling the same path to Santiago de Compostella.
The road to Santiago
- Central Camino – the historic inland route.
- Coastal Camino – slightly inland from the coast.
- Seashore Path (Senda Litoral) – hugs the coastline and interconnects with the Coastal.
Day 1: Matosinhos – Povoa de Varzim 28km
Leisurely stroll along boardwalks and seaside promenades following the Senda Litoral, passing through quaint fishing villages. (46,126 steps)
Day 2: Povoa – Esposende 21km
Misty and muggy morning. More wooden boardwalks along the coast, country roads through small farms and villages, alternating between the Senda Litoral and Coastal Paths. (33,048 steps)
Day 3: Esposende – Viana do Castelo 25km
Inland walk through rural villages due to lack of waymarking along the coast. Morning tea stop at Café Limpiao, featuring wall to wall Che Guevara memorabilia. Forest trails (mud) and dirt roads (mud) due to persistent rain all the way. (39,917 steps)
Day 4: Rest day
Sunshine as I clock up 11km exploring the town’s little alleys. Boots drying on the windowsill. (20,448 steps)
Day 5: Viana – Caminha 27km
Farms, villages and cobblestone roads along the inland Coastal Way before joining the Senda Litoral back along the coastline. (39,869 steps)
Day 6: Caminha – A Guarda 6km
Free morning walking around town before 10 minute ferry ride to Spain. Passengers rush ahead so I have the scenic peninsular path to myself. Tonight's lodgings in a former convent dating from the 1500s, now known as the Hotel Monumento Convento de San Benito. (11,339 steps)
Day 7: A Guarda – Oia 14km
Another (relatively) short walking day following the rocky shoreline. I'm approximately halfway through the Camino. (19,613 steps)
Day 8: Oia – Baiona 17km
Back onto the Coastal Way through the forest with views over the coast. Arrive in glorious sunshine so walk another 7km around the seaside town and Monterreal Fortress. Local festival in progress with market stalls and music. (34,372 steps)
Day 9: Baiona – Vigo 23km
Poncho weather. Pedestrian walkways and boardwalks. Scenic walk along a river before reaching the suburban and industrial outskirts of Vigo. Taxi ride into town, avoiding highways and busy roads. (35,720 steps)
Day 10: Rest day
Sleep in and late breakfast. The old town features narrow streets and traditional buildings. (16,926 steps)
Day 11: Vigo – Redondela 14km
Rain on and off all morning. Taxi back to the Camino path bypassing major roads and intersections. Walking along the old Senda da Auga (aqueduct trail) through wooded hillside with views of the coast. (20,800 steps)
Day 12: Redondela – Pontevedra 21km
Rain. Again. Once most of the crowds powered ahead I had the trail to myself for a few hours along cobblestone roads, forest paths and walkways along main roads. (32,508 steps)
Day 13: Pontevedra – Caldas de Reis 21km
Forest paths, vineyards and country lanes. Great excitement as we passed the 50km to go marker. Short taxi ride to tonight’s lodgings – the best of the whole trip – Torre do Rio, a rustic boutique hotel built on the ruins of an ancient textile complex dating from the 18th century. (32,508 steps)
Day 14: Caldas de Reis – Padron 19km
Strolling through pine forests and rural areas. (28,389 steps)
Day 15: Padron – Santiago 25km
Back onto paved roads and cobblestone paths, passing through woodland trails. Even more excitement as we’re now into single digits. And then, the finish line: the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella. (37,519 steps)
Day 16: Rest day
Tranquil morning walk through the nearby park, overlooking the Cathedral and meandering through the historic town ( 9460 steps).
After two weeks of walking 261 km (411,328 steps) I arrived in Santiago blister-free, thanks to several months of training and preparation and - most importantly - hiker's wool protecting my toes.