Here we are. Walking our second Camino de Santiago. Why you ask? Why not? It just seemed like we should. Six months ago when we were planning our fall itinerary we were looking at being in Madagascar in October. Until we looked at the airfare. Yikes. Madagascar will need to stay on the bucket list for a while longer. So we turned our attention back to one of our favorite countries, Portugal. And well, here we are.
Having completed the 486 mile Camino Frances last September, I wasnt sure if the Camino Portuguese would be different.
It is different. While also being somewhat similar. One week into the Camino Portuguese, I don’t think I can say I prefer one over the other (yet), because each is special in its own way. But I have found myself during week one on the Portuguese Way comparing it to the Frances Way.
Here are my thoughts so far after one week of walking;
Distances are Different
Of course the biggest difference between the two walks is the distance. When setting out to walk the most popular Camino Frances many people begin in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France. This is where we began on September 1, 2017. Forty-one days and 486 miles later we arrived in Santiago, Spain.
On the Camino Portuguese we started in Porto, Portugal on October 21, 2018. We plan to walk to Santiago and then beyond to Muxia on the Atlantic Ocean. This walk will take us about 15 days and will be 217 miles.
It is a significant difference in distance and days walked – making some of the comparisons here not really fair.
We are Different
We are not the same people we were a year ago. And so this is another major difference. A year ago we had never tackled anything like walking the Camino de Santiago. We were a bit frightened, naive and apprehensive. I think we over trained and over planned and over stressed. I spent too much time reading what other people thought was best. Ultimately most of that wasn’t best for me.
This time we hardly trained, barely planned and did almost zero research. In fact I stayed away from the Camino Facebook pages (which I found last year too judgmental) and just went with what felt good for us. We did use the John Brierley books again – a valuable resource for any Camino pilgrim.
We also don’t feel any pressure this time to “succeed”. We are just enjoying it. If we don’t finish – no worries. If it pours down rain and we hop on a train, so be it. If we get sick or tired and decide to sleep all day – well Buen Camino. Our Camino, our way.
Our Bags are Different
Last year I walked the first 100 miles with a 15 pound pack. But eventually it was too much for my plantar fasciitis and I began shipping my pack ahead each day. This year I decided to do it from the very start. It’s so much better. I last longer and feel better at the end of the day. My Camino, my way.
The Terrain is Different
Over these past six days we have seen quite different terrain than what we enjoyed walking across Spain. We have spent a lot of time in beautiful wooded areas of eucalyptus, cork and pine trees. We have also spent a lot of time on rocky paths climbing over mountains. In Portugal in the suburban areas, and even on country roads, we were forced to walk on difficult cobblestones – both ancient and new.
Similar to the Frances we have also spent a lot of time in bucolic farmland with cows, sheep, horses and goats (there is a distinct Camino aroma!). Most enjoyable is passing miles of vineyards, corn fields, chestnuts, vegetables of all kinds and many fruit and nut trees. Here along the Portuguese way these things are grown altogether. In Spain there were more distinctive sections of types of agriculture.
We left Portugal and entered Spain on day five. Here the path meandered through lovely creek-side shaded paths before we had a major climb with a very steep descent into Redondela. We are now in Spain’s Galicia region, one of our favorite areas last year on our walk. The mountains bring cooler weather, and marine air from the ocean just 8 miles away.
On both routes we enjoy the incredible medieval villages, most fully functional and still living, breathing towns – on the Camino Frances it felt like many of these towns were only there because of the Camino – not so much on the Portuguese. For someone from the USA where old is 200 years, seeing 900 year old villages and 2000 year old Roman bridges and roads still in use is just mind-boggling.
The Portuguese People are Different
Perhaps because the Portuguese Way is not as popular as the Frances, or perhaps because the Portuguese people are only beginning to learn how to be Camino entrepreneurs as The Way becomes more popular; for whatever reason there just are not as many businesses catering to pilgrims.
The accommodations are fewer, the food is definitely not as available and we never encountered anyone just trying to make a buck off of the pilgrims. Last year in Spain it was a normal sight for someone to be set up on the side of the road selling things to pilgrims. Restaurants, bars, cafes were abundant.
But we have found the Portuguese Camino much less developed for pilgrim services.
The Portuguese people are a bit more shy and quiet. They nod and say Bom Dia but keep more to themselves than most of the Spanish we encountered on the Frances.
We expect this to change now that we have arrived in Spain.
Vandalism is Present
The first day we entered Spain our guide-book gave us a choice on routes. We could take the shorter “industrial” route or the slightly longer “scenic” route. We chose the scenic route.
Immediately, and for the first time on either the Portuguese or the Frances, we began to see a clear effort to vandalize signage, misdirect pilgrims and disrupt progress on the “scenic” route. Beautiful granite markers splattered with paint, arrows blacked out and other arrows trying to get walkers to go another way. We stayed the course using the map on our phone.
Our assumption is there are locals not wanting pilgrims to go this way. I’m sure it’s not all locals, but it was a disappointment to us. On the Francis we always felt welcome.
The Pilgrims are Fewer
The most striking difference to us in week one is how few pilgrims there are. Last year we found ourselves on the Camino Frances during its busiest September ever. We had chosen to walk in September because we had read it was a time with fewer pilgrims than in summer but still with good weather.
Well clearly we were not the only ones who had read this recommendation. It was very crowded.
Most days it didn’t matter, but as we got closer to Santiago it was busy and not very peaceful. Rooms were hard to come by and so we started booking several days and even weeks ahead.
Late October on the Portuguese Way is very quiet. On our first day we did not see any other pilgrims. That night at dinner we met a man from Holland. We have now seen him several times. We also have often seen a young couple from Italy/Australia and few others along the way. But until day five the total number was only about a dozen.
On day five we began to encounter more Pilgrims. We learned many start walking in Valenca, the border between Portugal and Spain. We met a woman from Seattle (who had heard about us), another woman from Ottawa and another woman from Russia. We met a group from Australia, a couple from Germany and a couple from Mexico. We have also seen two young men walking with a dog, several cyclists and a handful of people walking the other direction. The Portuguese Camino also supports the route to Fatima going south. Some people walk south from Santiago to Fatima Portugal, a town between Porto and Lisbon where an apparition of the Virgin Mary was considered a miracle and brings pilgrims.
We have enjoyed week one. We feel healthy and capable. The forecast for the week ahead has much rain, and we will take it day by day to see how we proceed. Meanwhile, I am very happy to be here, experiencing once again the magic of the Camino de Santiago.
More soon, from the Way of Saint James. Buen Camino!
Read about our Camino Frances last year here.
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