I woke up the next morning and still dragged my feet but confident that I could get through day one. 27km (16 miles) was on list of things to do — easy peasy, since I walk that on average most days. The Camino technically starts from the Cathedral in the center of town but the directions to get out of the tourist area made my head want to explode into tiny little pieces, so I took the metro to the outskirts of town to Matosinhos to follow the alternate route along the coast. After talking to the Tourism office, I decided I would stop in Angeiras — a small little beach-side village with a great camping area.
Best part of this leg of the walk: I couldn’t get lost. As long as the Atlantic was on my left side, I was heading the right direction. I walked along coast through beach-goers and restaurants and boardwalks and occasional (okay, more like three) Camino-walkers. Not bad for a first day. My pack was heavy but manageable. I ate the random assortment of food I brought with me while overlooking the coast and listening to some kick ass, girl power Alanis Morissette. Hour four was exhausting, as most road- and board- walking is hard on feet anyway, but then a sign for the campground appeared. I honestly couldn’t believe that was it. This Camino thing isn’t nearly as hard as I worked it up to be!
I made it to the campsite, sweaty yet happy, and was greeted by the German staff that stamped my credencial and showed me to the shed-turned-bungalow that I would be sharing with another German woman on her second Camino adventure. We talked a while, I laid by the amazing pool, I napped, I stayed up too late while resting my feet. Pretty dang awesome, if you ask me.
I’ve fully embraced the Spanish lifestyle of staying up far too late and waking up equally as late, so I started out around 10sh. I had to walk another 4km (2.5 miles) north to Vila de Conde, then turn inland to join the main route. It was another 27km day but easily doable. I followed the unreliable arrows for a while, knowing that I need to hit Vila eventually and go east. One hour turned into three and the one hour walk to town took far, far too long. Turns out, following the coast wasnot the route on day two. This stretch of the coast was so desolate and empty. Somehow, I got lost in a forest (how, I’ll never know) and in farmland. I walked 10km (6mi) and was exhausted from everything yet nothing at all. The next discounted pilgrim’s hostel was in Rates and I refused to pay for an expensive hotel. I realized I could sit around and put it off for longer or just bite the bullet and start walking. Surprisingly, the guide mentioned that this was the most difficult stretch of the route to follow but I found it fairly easy to spot the arrows.
Step by step, I walked through forests and streams and hills and sleepy towns and small highways with the fastest cars. I was too focused on making sure I didn’t trip or get rammed by a car to think about anything else. I obsessively checked my Health app on my iPhone to see how far I walked; by midpoint of my exhaustion and my adventure, I walked 25,000 steps — meaning I had at least another 15,000 more to go before nightfall. 25,000 turned into 30, 30 turned into 35, and by that point I stopped focusing on getting killed and focused more on which agriculture field I could sleep in without being noticed. I hadn’t eaten much but was in no mood to eat. I made it to yet another sleepy town and stopped at an empty church to take a nap. This was exhaustion.
I woke up and felt immensely better, ready to finish the last two hours of walking to Rates. I made it to the town before my last stop, only about 3km (1.5mi) away, to drink an espresso and do nothing. By then I was at hour 9 of my day’s journey, not really remembering what happened earlier in the day nor seeing a single other pilgrim. Dusk hit and I knew I could mentally (and possibly physically) make it to Rates to sleep in a bed. I eventually made it there as the volunteer family was leaving and they gave me an entire dorm room to myself. 40 damn kilometers. 25 damn miles. I still don’t understand how it took me so long or why I didn’t see any other pilgrim along the way, but I was happy to be in a place where I could sleep peacefully.
Lawd almighty above me, I’ve never had my body feel this sore before. It was more of a dull pain where everything made me feel like the Tin Man and didn’t work properly. I made it out of the hostel and up to the only cafe in town around 9:30 and dreaded the day ahead of me. Finally I got enough strength to get up and go, still by myself and no one around, toward the fields before me. Every single step felt like hell. Physical hell. I stopped every twenty minutes because my feet couldn’t take any more stress.
The only thing I could think of was the reoccurring scene in the book I read previously about the Camino (and one of my favorite books I’ve read in a very long time) — A Sense of Direction by Gideon Lewis-Krauss — where he had to coax his friend Tom constantly to keep going forward while Tom had blistery feet and wanted to just take a damn bus. I was Tom with every single step. I thought of all the emails I was going to send to Gideon about how he should still be apologizing to Tom even if it’s been a full 7 years since they embarked on the Camino together. I laid in the muddy grass for a while after only walking for an hour. This was supposed to be my short day and I physically couldn’t even walk a mile. If I spoke any Portuguese whatsoever, I would have given the tractor driver I passed earlier that day at least 100 euros to take me to Barcelinos.
Somehow or another, I made it through the day. Every five minutes changes my mood changes drastically from “oh my god, what am I doing” to “I can get through this…I think” to “where is the next bus stop?” to “if I lay in the middle of the street, will someone stop and give me a ride?”.
Finally, I made it to the outskirts of Barcelos where I would be sleeping that night. I started crying, overwhelmed with everything, while I hobbled into town. Each day I wonder why I never see any pilgrims (then again, really anyone) along the way but I’m still so engulfed with my thoughts of physically and mentally taking the next step to fully embrace the silence. I was the first one at the hostel once again and passed out the minute I arrived. Sleeping while physically exhausted is more difficult than I imagined.
Soon, other pilgrims arrive but none speak English nor Spanish — or perhaps, don’t want to speak English with me. All that I can think about is how in the world am I doing this SO wrong? Everyone speaks about the nice people and friends and the journey they encounter along the Way, and all I can think about is the six blisters I have on my right foot and the snoring German next to me.
The next morning, I decide to take the day off. To do more than go just through a painful walk that takes up my entire day. To eat real food instead of Portuguese pastries and coffee. To actually sleep instead of pass out on the closest bed to me. I spent most of the day resting and casually walking through town and sleeping some more. After looking at my itinerary again, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll take a bus in the morning to the next destination — Ponte de Lima, a challenging 33.5km (20 mi) away — if only to not kill myself along this route. Still, not a single person to talk to, to say hi to, to make small talk about the challenging (or not-so-challenging journey) about the day before.
And then I realized that buses don’t run during the weekends in small towns. So I’ve been holed up in the coffee shop facing the main plaza for the weekend, calmed from the past few days. I’m feeling physically better after a much-needed carb binge and bandaged feet. I’m feeling emotionally better and ready to tackle the rest of the route. Tomorrow, I still plan to take the bus to Ponte de Lima and possibly further to save some time and my feet. Cheating? Maybe. But I’ve found that this Camino is going to be more of an emotional journey than writing a Facebook post about how I’ve walked 250km.