Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘over the hill and still travelling’

It’s exactly 2 months ago today since I arrived in Porto and although it’s taken a lot longer than I expected, I’ve now written about my fantastic stay in Porto, a wonderful day visit to Coimbra (recommended) and the first 6 days of my Camino 2017 from Porto to Valenca. Before I continue writing about the final 5 days walking in Spain, I thought I’d pause for reflection and consider what I learned and discovered along The Way on the Portuguese Coastal Route and The Portuguese Central Way (via Tui) from Porto to Santiago.

portuguese coastal route mapacoastal

The Portuguese Coastal and Central routes; Porto to Santiago de Compostela

Firstly I must just clarify that I didn’t walk the Camino for religious reasons, but rather to learn more about myself, and for the sheer adventure. I love walking and I love travelling, so the Camino was the perfect opportunity for me to combine the two. I’ve wanted to visit Portugal for ever such a long time and Porto was my desired destination, as well as which I love the ocean, so it made sense to start there and walk the Portuguese Coastal Route. But because I wanted to visit the walled town of Valenca and of course cross the famous bridge that I’d seen in photos and to also visit Tui, I decided to start off on the coastal route to Caminha and then head inland to Valenca and finish off along the Central Portuguese route to Santiago.

inspirational quotes

I just wanna go on more adventures….

My goal was all about discovery. I wanted to see if this was something I could actually do. I’m a creature of habit and I love my home comforts. I get really grumpy when I have to get up early and/or go without my first cup of tea (usually preferred while relaxing in bed – with a couple of biscuits).

 

So it was going to be interesting to see how I would respond to both rising early and forgoing my cup of tea. I did take a packet of teabags with me….but in all the 21 days I was in Portugal and Spain I only used 6 teabags, and 4 of those were in Barcelona AFTER I finished the Camino 😉 So teabags won’t be on my packing list for 2018 then!

So although I didn’t walk for ‘religious’ reasons, I walked in the ‘spirit of learning’; about adventure and discovery, about what I can or cannot cope with, about the countries I walked through, and about their history. I walked with the aim of finding out how walking long distance, under sometimes challenging circumstances would affect me relating to my human spirit/spirituality or soul as opposed to relying on the usual material or physical things and my comfort zones. I could have planned a similar long walk in the UK but that would have fit in with my comfort zone….so Camino it had to be.

inspirational quotes

When it feel scary to jump….

I knew of and had read about the Camino in the past. My father had cycled various routes in his 70’s and 80’s and in 2005 we had toyed with the idea of doing a Camino together – except he wanted to cycle and I wanted to walk. So that never got off the ground. He died a couple of years ago, so that’s that in that area. In retrospect though, I doubt we would have made a success of it, we never really got on very well most of my life and being together day after day would not have been a picnic. However, my younger brother and one of my many younger sisters have cycled The Camino with my father, which is good. I have of course watched the 2010 film, The Way, with Martin Sheen and loved the idea of, but had no desire to walk the Camino Frances (then). Besides all that, I had been inspired to walk the Camino by someone I knew from 2009/2010; a lady in her mid 60’s who had walked the Camino Frances a few years before and loved it.

But because I planned on walking a different route, I didn’t have any preconceptions of how or what the route would be like beyond the fantastic photos I had seen on facebook and the many blogs I read before my September trip. I had read about how some people have major insights, or epiphanies, or religious experiences that changed their lives in a big way, but I wasn’t anticipating any of those and as it turns out, I didn’t have any.

But what I did have, was the joy of walking and being alone. I am a loner, I don’t have a large circle of friends and I am most certainly not a social butterfly; preferring my own company, social events are anathema to me. Even a tea-party or dinner out with a crowd gets me hot under the collar and I’d rather be ill in bed than have to attend a party. LOL

I had read that at certain points you encounter large crowds of people and apparently at the 100km mark (minimum distance required for the Compostela), the route is inundated with other walkers, but I didn’t find that at all, except for one day in Spain when I encountered a group of oldies on the way to Mos. But we soon parted company and in fact at many times I walked for up to 3-4 hours without seeing a soul except the odd local as I meandered by, or the occasional walker who whizzed on by at speed. So in all, the hours that I walked completely on my own suited me perfectly.

However, I did meet some wonderful people along the route in Portugal and spent an hour or so walking with a lovely couple from Poland; Jakob and Agata between Vila do Conde and Esposende. I was really sorry to lose touch with them after we parted ways for breakfast. But as mentioned in the blog, they were a lot younger than me, walked faster and were with a group of friends, and I dawdled a lot taking photos.

It was also going to be really interesting to find out how I felt about not having much by way of home comforts, about wearing the same clothes, not having the convenience of a washing machine, and carrying my belongings on my back day after day. My day job takes me all over the UK and I often get fed up with living out of a suitcase, so living out the backpack for 11 days was going to be a challenge…could I cope? How would I feel about not eating a proper breakfast? (you know what us English folks are like!! Full English and all that, or scrambled egg on marmite toast, but if not possible then oats and fruit, or granola and yoghurt with banana etc etc LOL). And I am not usually a coffee drinker…although the thought of pastries for breakfast every day filled me with joy!! 🙂 🙂 How would I manage? Weirdly it was these type of thoughts that I fretted about most prior to my Camino. Not would I be safe, not would I get blisters, not would I mind a mix-sex bathroom. No. My biggest worry was food!!

I am a magpie and a hoarder. I collect stuff all the time. I love books and am continually buying them (or should I say used to). Apparently my wealth profile is: ‘Accumulator’ – just a shame that didn’t apply to money!! If you saw my house in South Africa in 2001 pre UK, you’d know for sure that I collected ‘stuff’ – a lot of stuff. Since living in the UK the last 16 years, things carried on much the same…even though I arrived with very little, before long I was accumulating stuff; mementos, household items, linen, clothes and books; home comforts. But since I arrived back from my Camino, that has changed substantially. I had already started a few years ago cutting back on ‘buying’ and rather spent my money on travel and experiences like zip-lining. 🙂 which is quite simply awesome, and a must do again.

zip lining with zip world in london

zip lining with zip world in London. My daughter and I had so much fun

Cutting back on spending last year is the reason I had money for my Camino Journey, but now I’ve become quite militant about it. My daughter had already been discouraged from buying me things and has now been seriously encouraged/reminded to not buy me anything that I can’t eat, wear or experience.

inspirational quotes

Take a walk, not a pill….

So what did I learn along The Way?

  1. I can get up early and manage to not die without my first cup of tea…or any tea AT ALL for that matter. For someone who usually drinks 5-6 mugs full a day…
  2. I am fitter than I thought and certainly more agile.
  3. I can climb a mountain and survive.
  4. I can walk in the rain and survive, and I still loathe temperatures above 20 degrees centigrade.
  5. I really do love just being on my own and never once did I get lonely.
  6. I am not afraid.
  7. The scenery and the history of the places I walked through was more amazing than I imagined.
  8. I didn’t have any major epiphanies or insights or spiritual experiences.
  9. I’m still not religious.
  10. Although….I do and did love visiting the many churches along the two routes – so peaceful, real repositories of history, with a strong sense of spirituality.
  11. I can manage to live with only a bare minimum of life’s ‘necessities’.
  12. I loved calling out ‘Bom Caminho’ in Portugal and ‘Buen Camino’ in Spain, and getting a response in return…usually with a smile, especially from the locals.
  13. I enjoyed the brief connections I made with fellow pilgrims and locals; just enough to be fun, but not that long it got tedious.
  14. I can, if I make the effort, learn more of the native languages and managed to pick up quite a lot of extra words enroute. I’m currently learning more Spanish and my daughter is going to teach me to speak and listen comfortably before I go next year.
  15. I’m still an accumulator…..over 5,500 photos between 7-28th September bears witness to that LOL At least they’re light, albeit filling up my Dropbox.
  16. I really don’t want all the stuff I still have in my storage – in fact I nearly had a nervous breakdown when I returned home and saw all the boxes waiting. urgh.
  17. Food wise, I still stuck to what I know – like eating ‘tosta misto’ just about every day because I knew what was in it. And because I’m a ‘food coward’ I didn’t try the local ‘pulpo’ or anything too adventurous. LOL
  18. I left the maps behind, found my ‘Camino eyes’ on day 3 and never looked back.
  19. Despite my initial dislike of them, my walking poles became my best friend and my #1 item for future walks.
  20. After I reached Santiago, I could quite literally have just carried on walking…a bit like Forrest Gump, except I had a ticket to Barcelona booked for the 24th 😦
  21. Although it was tough at times, I loved every minute of the journey and even though I had NO PLANS AT ALL to walk a 2nd Camino before I started, I’m already planning for 2018, 2019 and 2020 – Camino Ingles, Camino Norte and Camino Frances respectively. Oh and not forgetting The Portuguese Central Route…I’m guessing that will have to be in 2021 hahahaha. Then there’s the Primitivo Route to think about…..hmmmm. The Camino bug has bitten.

So, having walked 240 kms through Portugal and Spain, would I recommend walking the Camino? Oh absolutely YES!!!! Is it for the faint-hearted? It can be if you allow yourself to open up and experience all it has to offer. It’s not a ‘walk in the park’, it’s tiring, and tiresome, it’s exhausting (especially if you mistakenly plan for long days e.g. 32 kms), but it’s interesting – the history is phenomenal and I really wish I’d had time to explore some of the towns more thoroughly. I’m planning shorter days for 2018. I have read about two nonagenarians (91 and 93 respectively) who have recently walked the Camino Frances, so pretty much anyone can walk it if they are of a mind to.

inspirational quotes

You are not too old and it is not too late

I would recommend packing light – somehow I managed to pack 11kgs which increased to 13kgs with my water-bladder filled. I don’t know how this came about as I weighed everything so carefully and totted it all up. But somehow I think in the final packing frenzy I bunged in a whole lot of stuff I really didn’t need. I won’t make the same mistake again and next Camino I will be militant about packing a maximum of 8kgs. In fact Pepe (my backpack) is already packed and ready for 2018. This is still to be reviewed.

I would recommend training first before setting off. You may think you’re fit. You may think it’s adventurous and fun to set off impulsively without proper preparation, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I’ve read of walkers getting severe blisters, straining their knees or ligaments, damaging their feet or backs and one gentleman I met in Portugal actually had his stomach lining suddenly tear a few days into his walk which landed him in hospital for 6 weeks. It’s not just the distance you walk, it’s also the weight of the backpack that can cause injury.

Personally, I think the reason my walk went so well is because I spent 18 months in training prior to setting off and walked a total of over 800 miles in the 8 months preceding my Camino. Besides my almost daily 5 mile walks, I did two long walks; 1 of 60 miles and 1 of 19 miles in July before I left, and those gave me a really good insight into what I could cope with, how much I could comfortably carry and taught me to 90% read a map. The other 10% I made my own route when I got lost LOL. I also learned that it’s not a good idea to walk in wet socks!!!

I would recommend buying good equipment; a light-weight backpack – I bought the Osprey Tempest 30 L that weighs only 1.01kgs, the right shoes (I tested 3 pairs over the 18 months before leaving), 3 or 4 pairs of really good socks and 2 pairs of inner socks, and my absolute Number 1 essential – a good pair of light-weight walking poles. I absolutely would not have had as good a walk as I did or been able to negotiate those cobbled streets, sandy roads, steep inclines and declines without my walking poles. I most certainly would not have been able to climb those mountains in Spain.

As mentioned, some days were exceptionally long, and by the end of those days I was practically using my poles like crutches. Of all the equipment and gear I had, those would be the one thing I would recommend most highly.

portuguese coastal route from porto to santiago

a tad overloaded would you say? Laundry drying, my food bag…I looked like a bag lady!! LOL

I would even recommend walking The Camino to people who are afraid of being alone, of walking in a foreign country, or just fearful of travelling beyond the borders of their own country. The whole experience was wonderful. I was exceptionally lucky in that I didn’t have any unpleasant experiences, no illness, no tummy bugs, no bed bugs, no bites (despite an encounter with a very small snake in a Spanish vineyard), no theft of personal belongings, no dehydration (although I did get very thirsty on one day after running out of water), no sunburn, and only one small issue with my right ankle, a contracted muscle acquired while climbing those mountains in Spain, that soon righted itself after being massaged and strapped up. One thing I did suffer with, was swollen ankles. This unfortunately was not a new issue as I generally get swollen ankles when I’m at home too, but it was exacerbated by the heat and being on my feet the whole day, so by the time I reached my accommodation each night, they didn’t look good – however, I survived!! A hot bath/shower and a good sleep does wonders.

How did I feel when returning to ‘civilisation’? Overwhelmed!! I recall with clarity the shock and horror I felt as I entered the old city of Santiago.

I arrived at the old town via the Parque de Alameda and approached the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela and the Praza do Obradoiro via Rúa do Franco. The sea of pedestrians walking towards me, the crowds bumping against me, the beggars shoving cardboard in my face asking for money, and the sheer volume of noise was overwhelming. I was already exhausted, extremely emotional at having finally arrived, struggling to hold back my tears, and the noise and sounds were too just too much. I nearly turned and ran.

arriving in santiago, santiago de compostela, walking to camino, porto to santiago

arriving in Santiago old town

I stayed in bed, in my hotel room the next day until I was starving and had to get out for something to eat. It took a lot of energy just to face the crowds of people again. If you’re expecting peace and tranquillity when you reach Santiago…dispel the thought. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like at the height of summer.

When I got to Barcelona 3 days later, once again I was overwhelmed at the crowds and the traffic noise of the big city. It nearly spoiled my visit on the first day, fortunately I immersed myself slowly and with 4 days to explore I didn’t rush about too much, sticking to quieter roads and areas where possible.

Arriving back in the UK was also overwhelming. The rush and the crush of commuters at the airport, on the trains; being on the tube between stations was a living nightmare. Oh where was the wonderful peace and tranquillity of walking through forests and along deserted roads, the sounds of the ocean as I strolled along the boardwalks, sorely missed.

camino 2017, viana do castelo, camino de santiago, portuguese coastal route, porto to santiago, viana do castelo to caminha, visit portugal

a good ocean breeze and a tumble down fort…what more could I ask for?

Thankfully my base is in a fairly quiet seaside town and the house in a cul-de-sac.

broadstairs, viking bay, isle of thanet, english coast, seaside towns of britain

a winter’s sunrise – Viking Bay, Isle of Thanet

Even so, being back in civilisation was a shock to the system. And as for my store-room; I took one look at all my possessions and nearly had a nervous-breakdown. Time to downsize once again.

The most important lesson of all that I learned on the Camino? I didn’t need 99.9% of the possessions I own in order to survive and be contented and happy.

Bring on Camino 2018.

To read more about my #Camino2017 adventures, my journey started here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »