Camino Portugues Part IV

Moving on from the incredible place that is the O Ninho in Rubiães, I was back on the road and walking ever closer to Santiago. With only around 90 miles left to my chosen end point, the thought of the finish line changed from a distant idea to a very real, impending possibility.

Leaving the lush Pilgrim’s Nest O Ninho after a rest day; on the top bunk: sorting out my pack for the next day

I believe that most medium to long distance hikers will agree that while we use the imaginary finish line to motivate us to keep moving in a certain direction, and while we might even believe ourselves when we say that we are walking to get to this very geographical point, none of us actually hike to arrive. The mere concept of arrival, of having an arbitrary end point, seems very abstract and can almost become a nuisance, a reminder of the necessity to return to “normal life”[1] after having spent so much valuable time on your own just walking, thinking, admiring nature, reconnecting with the environment, yourself and likeminded individuals who, for some reason, decided to become pilgrims instead of spending more time inside sheltered buildings and built-up cities. Post-trail blues, or even post-trail depression, is a thing and the common treatment for it is planning new hikes and adventures[2]. But I wasn’t quite there yet.

Enchanting and peaceful: this place in Rubiães was a hidden gem on my way

While I was well rested after a day without walking, I decided on a short day fairly early on, exploring the border towns of Valença on the Portuguese side and Tui on the Spanish side and idly chatting away with Pia, a lovely woman and midwife that I had met a few days prior.

I found it astounding that whenever I walked and talked with a fellow pilgrim on the Camino, the topic would soon revert to a personal issue that had been very present in both our lives and hikes, something that was on our minds and needed resolving, such as relationship troubles, divorce/break-up, vulnerability or general feeling of being lost, to name just a few. These conversations were never forced, they simply seemed to happen naturally, organically, like wounds slowly beginning to heal upon contact with oxygen.

In need of a therapeutic chat? I know this couch in the woods…

What’s more, little things, interactions, flirts, discomforts, rewards, would occur when and as they were needed. On a tough day, a café or gas station would appear where I couldn’t have persevered any further without a coffee and a short break. When I craved companionship in the middle of nowhere, another pilgrim would be just around the next bend in the path. When I got complacent, my ankle would start hurting, reminding me to stay humble and pace myself. When I discarded human relationships as unnecessarily difficult, a new alluring pair of eyes and a friendly voice would remind me that there was more to be had than trouble. On trail, one could almost believe in fate, or, whether a believer or not, just be open to it and let it happen.

This peculiar shop on the way through the border town Valença stocks everything for your daily taxidermy AND cooking needs!

So on the way to Spain, Pia and I chatted, and had coffee, and walked, and had more coffee and pastries, and chatted. Usually, I stuck to my own pace and solitude as I didn’t have the patience for frequent breaks and constant chatter, but there and then, it was exactly what I needed and it felt good to hear that none of us have this figured out, not in our twenties, nor our thirties, nor our forties or fifties. We are all just little humans on one big journey, and while as a kid I was sure that I would have it all sorted by the time I officially became an adult, I have yet to meet an adult who has.

Another advantage of having someone around was that I didn’t have to take selfies anymore if I wanted a decent picture!

Literally handstanding on the road, I took advantage of having a photographer between Valença and Tui

Caught up in conversation and browsing through market stalls and little shops in Valença, we nearly missed the most unofficial border crossing imaginable and it was only when looking back at the ornamented façade of a small building that I realized we were about to leave Portugal behind.

Crossing the river Minho into Spain

However, this big bridge did give us a clue that we were about to randomly lose an hour of our time[3] as well as move into a new country!

And this piece of street art right behind the border informed us in friendly colours about the history of Tui

Getting up early the next morning, the time zone change meant that at my usual start time at around 6.20am, it was still dark outside, the streetlights in Tui were still on and it was harder to find the waymarks. The lingering darkness, high air pressure and strange humidity despite the chilly morning had a negative effect on my mood. I felt low as I was trodding behind Sam, a funny Canadian pilgrim whom I had previously met. After a while, I zoned out and, in a semi-awake state, pondered the loss of my last relationship and all the emotions that came with it, again, processing and analyzing repetitive patterns in my life, and slowly but surely waking up, finding my daily pace in moving forward. It began to dawn on me that my arrival in Santiago would never mean that anything was resolved, but as a friend had told me before, I still hoped I might feel more relaxed about not knowing the answers.

The sun breaks through the clouds on the Camino Portugues, somewhere between Tui and Redondela

The landscape did its best to cheer me up, and the Camino, once again, threw – quite literally – some interesting signs my way.

When I was confronted with an explosion of conflicting waymarks, I consulted my guide book by John Brierley, an authority in Camino guidebooks, who elaborates on the matter:

“Sign for scenic route left may have been obliterated (again) and you will note arrows on the road have been erased. (cafés along the original route still want your custom!).

And I immediately fell in love with those Camino rebels who kept painting and repainting waymarks to guide me to a scenic path along a river instead of feeding the local economy by depriving tourists of the more beautiful landscapes! What dedication to creating the best hike possible, even if it meant returning with the yellow paint time and again.

A fight over waymarks: local businesses don’t want tourists to choose the scenic paths over those leading past their cafés and shops

As I didn’t particulary crave a coffee at this point, I felt compelled to follow the obliterated waymarks along the river and it turned out to be well worth it…!

Stay tuned for the next (and last) blog post on the Camino Portugues.




PS: If you read my last blog post and remember me saying I would write about my arrival in Santiago in part IV, just bear with me for one more post. You know how, on the trail, you can’t always calculate when exactly you arrive somewhere? It turns out to be the same with these blog posts… so just keeping it authentic!

[1] I struggle to find a definition for what that entails – I for one have certainly not lived a ”normal“ life in a while – but I guess a return to some form of civilization, to staying in one spot and having to make a certain amount of money to pay a certain amount of bills and to dealing with duties and people who were not part of my hike, instead of hiding in the woods and just walking in peace and solace, seems nuisance enough.

[2] I confess that I have been doing the same. I try to stay in one place, but I get itchy feet and dromomania kicks right back in. Once I have decided on the next trail, I’ll let you know.

[3] While being directly in line with Portugal, the Galician part of Spain still shares its time zone with the rest of Spain. It is therefore an hour later in Galicia than it is in Portugal. I don’t think I have ever crossed a timezone by walking before and the loss of an hour reinforced my decision to have a shorter walking day.

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