I have always been a sucker for inspirational films that include travel across foreign lands. Especially those films where the protagonist hikes, sails, or bicycles the globe and along the way finds the insight, strength and courage to complete their journey and reach an elevated level of peace and self awareness. On rainy winter nights those movies can have powerful effects on me.
One wet night a few months back while my wife was away in New York, I watched the movie ‘The Way’ with Martin Sheen. The movie is about a doctor overcoming the death of his son and in the process he also discovers a new self. He achieves that by walking the five hundred mile trail across Spain that his son perished on. Time passes at a sluggish pace on such walks while relationships speed ahead and strangers with different accents and world views progress from acquaintances to friends in the time it takes to walk to the next hostel. The movie illustrates this phenomenon well. This is not unique to the Camino, I saw it happen on the Appalachian Trail too but it is seldom seen in our busy, multitasking, routine everyday lives.
Three years ago my wife and I walked ‘The Way’ or Camino Frances as it’s also called and after watching that movie I decided I needed to walk another Camino. There are at least a dozen Camino routes throughout Europe starting as far away as Budapest but they all end at the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela in Spain. There some believe the remains of the apostle James can be found. Hence the full name of ‘The Way’ is, ‘The Way of Saint James’.
In 2015 over a quarter million people finished their pilgrimage at the Cathedral and earned a Compostela. A Compostela is a certificate given by the Catholic Church to pilgrims who have walked at least the last sixty miles of the trail. Two-thirds of those pilgrims traveled along the Camino Frances.
I wanted to hike a less crowded Camino and see a different country. The Camino Portuguese which starts in Lisbon Portugal seemed like a good choice, only forty-thousand walked it in 2015 and of those only a few started as far south as Lisbon. One of the reasons it is less popular than the Camino Frances, especially the southern half below Porto, is you have to hike longer distances between food, water and hostels. Instead of hiking twelve or fifteen miles a day, you may have to hike twenty to twenty-five miles a day. But the issue that is more concerning to me is you have to do more road walking, some along highways with scant or nonexistent shoulders. Pilgrims I spoke to that hiked such sections talked of near collisions with trucks and said, “I would never walk that again.” The guide book recommends taking a train around the most dangerous sections.
Despite the short comings of the Camino Portuguese that movie was just too powerful to ignore and soon my wife and I had tickets to Portugal. We both agreed we needed a long walk and some adventure. We would start in Lisbon but decide the specifics of our route as we hiked. If it was too dodgy or not worth our time we would hop a train and head to a safer, more fulfilling section. The posts and photo essays that will appear here in the weeks ahead will describe some of the places we visited and people we met along the Camino Portuguese and Camino Finisterre to Muxia in Spain. I hope you enjoy them.