Step one — gettin’ outta Dodge
My Camino — day 1
The Caminho Português de Santiago (or Portuguese Way), is a Christian pilgrimage trail that starts at the cathedral in Porto, Portugal and ends at it’s architectural namesake at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. However, it isn’t just for the dogmatically inclined, as it’s also traversed by people of all backgrounds and for all kinds of different reasons, though commonly in connection with personal growth — but also just because it’s simply an interesting and scenic long walk!
My own specific reasons were threefold and were covered in the prologue of this ‘My Camino’ article series. The moment for the start the walk was the 16th March at high noon. That was my only pre-planned certainty about this journey. I didn’t know how far I was going to walk that first day, nor was I sure where I was going to stay at night. All I knew was the time and place of my very first step. After that, the plan was to simply see how I felt from moment to moment, and take each and every situation as it came along. Prior to heading out away from the cathedral, all I had to do was to get a pilgrim’s passport (Credencial del Peregrino), which is necessary for collecting the official stamps (from pilgrim’s hostels, churches cafés etc) along the route to prove that you’ve completed the journey. I was expecting for it to be a bit more of time consuming task than it was. It took just 2 min and 2€ before I was at the starting marker ready to rock. So much for planning, as my only pre-determined decision to start at high noon had already not worked out — though getting away a half an hour earlier could hardly be considered a failure?
The route was marked with the camino’s well known yellow arrows showing the way. Heading away from the cathedral area was a breeze with arrows at almost every corner and intersection, but then they just stopped. I just couldn’t find the next one, which resulted in me getting lost in the very first kilometer of the trail! Now that, Jyri, was a great start! However, as I knew the general direction to head in, and thanks to my iPhone and Google maps, I was still able to navigate myself out of the problem fairly well. After some 30 minutes of meandering through a random selection of streets to reach the main road heading out of Porto towards the first smaller town on the route, I came across the next yellow route marker painted on the side of a light pole, and I instantly felt so much better. So strange how knowing for sure where you are can bring such a profound sense of relief, even though there was really nothing to be worried or stressed about in that first half hour. It seems the mind has no problem becoming unnecessarily sensitive and reactive to even the most minor of uncertainties.
My comfort was to soon turn to a kind of mind-numbing boredom, as I walked (worked?) my way out of Dodge. I was met by what seemed to be an endless chain of suburban streets that gradually gave way to busy roads lined by commercial establishments, including a rather ugly and noisy industrial area. Oh, such eye candy. It certainly wasn’t what I had expected to see on a pilgrimage trail. Not until I’d walked over 20km did I start to sense a more pleasant and relaxing rural vibe, with some quieter roads and the occasional dirt path. Though I had no specific plan, I knew that there was a pilgrim hostel at São Pedro de Rates, which was around the 35–36km mark. I figured I could make that before dark, and so I made the decision to go there for my first overnight stay. While I did (eventually) get there, I didn’t quite make it by dark, actually not even close. This was the result of a decision I made a crossroads where there was a route detour option. Basically, it presented me with a choice of the shortest route, which would have required walking along the shoulder of a busy main road, or to, alternately, take the more ‘scenic route’, and we all know what that means. Well, since I was still feeling pretty good, I opted for the latter. As it turned out, I certainly got to see some amazing scenery, and in almost complete silence, but at the expense of an extra 5 kilometers! This lead to me having to walk the last hour and a half in not just complete silence, but also in complete darkness. Fortunately, I had at least prepared for this possibility, and with my reflectors and headlamp, at least safety was not at risk. No big deal really. However, during this final push into Rates, I was beginning to feel some discomfort, a kind of heating of the layers of skin on the soles of my feet. Now what could that mean?
As I arrived in Rates, I wasn’t quite sure where the hostel was, but I figured I’d just head down the main street and ask someone if I didn’t come across it easily. I soon saw a man standing outside a doorway and so walked towards him to ask for directions. He spoke to me before I could even get my first word out, “Good evening, we’ve been expecting you! You’ve had a long day it seems. Please come in.” Well, I guess I had found the pilgrim’s hostel! He directed me upstairs where his co-manager signed me in and stamped by credential. The stamp was of two red feet, which turned out to be quite prophetic immediately upon waking the following morning, but we’ll get to that in the next blog. All the while I was wondering how they had known I was coming. Apparently, they had heard from someone somewhere that a pilgrim was coming from Porto. I had also been spotted walking in the darkness on the outskirts of town by one of the staff on their way home, who had then driven back to the hostel to pass on the information. I couldn’t believe it, but the thought that my journey was already in someone else’s consciousness, and that they had waited for my arrival in that way felt truly amazing. After a quick shower I chowed down on an evening meal consisting of a few bread rolls, muesli bars and several cups of tea that I was able to get from the hostel kitchen (as the local supermarket was already closed). I then headed to the dormitory and wiggled into my sleeping bag. I’m sure I nodded off, into a what ended up being an incredibly deep slumber, with a massive smile on my face. I just couldn’t imagine how my first day couldn’t have gone much better, and all felt right with the world.
You can also view a playlist of videos covering the entire 7 day trek here.