On the Way to Portugal

Day 10: Porto Day

Hi friends,

It’s been 3 days since my last entry because I didn’t have the energy at to do so. After my idyllic high from my first days in Portugal the weather changed and so did my experience. The morning I left Ponte de Lima it was drizzling and I knew the inclement rain that been forecast but kept not showing up had finally arrived.

By 10:00 it was blowing and raining hard. The temperature which was warm when I left at 7:00 turned cold and I was going from minimal to maximum clothing, changing in a roadside bus stop that I was so grateful to find. The guide book proffered that this particular day, though the longest of the suggested hikes on this Camino, was perhaps the most beautiful. Sadly the beauty was mostly lost on me as I was battling the elements or so it seemed.

I crossed paths with several pilgrims going the other way and felt compassion for my friends of the night before who not only were dealing with this storm but also having to ascend a horrendously steeply narrow rocky mountain forest path that would be gushing torrents of water down on them. One of the pilgrims I met told me of a cafe at the next village and I was grateful for the respite from the rain and a “gallao,” a Portuguese latte. I was drinking these gallaos as a teenager, long before Starbucks existed, and I was glad to remember how to order one.

John, of the prior evening, had suggested breaking up the day and staying half way to the recommended next stop in the popular guide book which everyone seemed to be using. Though this would’ve put me in Porto a day later still I thought this might be a good idea. However, the rain put me in the mood of pressing on and I arrived in Barcelos around 5:00, a 36k day with 9 hours of walking.

Fortunately, I found accommodations easily, at Residencial which, like a Pension has rooms at reasonable rates. It came with a bathroom and best of all a portable electric heater, the kind that looks like a radiator on wheels. Lilly will especially appreciate this as it was perfect for drying out my soaking wet boots. I cranked it up and set them on top and by morning even the insides were bone dry! I was so pooped when I arrived I lay down and fell asleep even before taking off my clothes.

The next day I headed to Vila de Conde, a seaside town that was a detour from the regular Camino but would allow a walk to Porto by way of the coastline. The weather looked iffy and to start I had my rain gear on. I was tired from the previous day?s exertions and knew I wasn’t getting the most out of my experience. However, there really wasn’t any earlier place of interest worth stopping at so I kept on. As it was an alternate route I had a harder time finding my backwards and half way though the day ended up off course. This was frustrating and as I was already tired – aggravating. I’d stopped by the road trying to figure out where I was vis a vis the guide book when a car pulled over and a woman asked me in Portuguese if I needed help? I told her I was trying to find the Way to Vila de Conde. The long and the short of it was she was going there herself and offered me a ride. And then not only was she heading to my destination but she owned a Pension and when we arrived offered me accommodations for a very nice room at a very reasonable rate. All of which I accepted.

I ended up in Vila de Conde earlier because of my good forturne and enjoyed a wonderful late lunch at the restaurant she and her family ran nearby. It was authentic Portuguese cuisine and was delicious. With my meal I had half a bottle of the best Vinho Verde wine I’ve yet tasted. Vinho Verde is a varietal wine from this region (Minho) of Portugal. It literally translates to “green wine” and has a refreshing effervescence that’s wonderful especially on a hot summer day.

After my big meal I took a long nap before going out to explore the city, once a famous seafaring town. Even an old 15th century ship was in harbor which I tried to board but was too late as it was closed. I was still so full from my meal that I wasn’t interested in eating again and a couple of hours later went back to my room and watched American movies in English on the TV. Here in Portugal unlike Spain where they are dubbed, the movies are subtitled in Portuguese so I had no problem enjoying them. It was the perfect way to chill.

When I left Spain the time moved back an hour. However, my body clock has remained the same so I’m waking up at 5:30 which was 6:30 in Spain. I try to sleep later but can’t and so have been getting up earlier. This morning I left my Hospitalaria at 6:30 heading south along the coast to Porto. The guide book said one could basically follow the coastline through a series of villages to get there, sometimes walking on the beach sometimes on the road or a boardwalk.

The walk started out well enough, though the only place on the whole Iberian peninsula that showed bad weather today was between Vila de Conde and Porto! It was going to be another stormy day perhaps. I had my rain gear ready especially as I was on the coast with the weather being more intensified.

When I was on the second stage of the trek, a stretch along the beach, I ran into trouble. I was making my way across the beach for a few kilometers to the next village when I heard a growl behind me and turned to see a big black dog with barred teeth barking viciously at me. It shocked me but as I had my walking sticks I thought I could fend him off if needed. Then a second dog joined him barking and growling and then a third, then a fourth and finally a fifth dog! A whole pack of vicious canines all acting like they wanted to tear me limb to limb coming closer and closer.

Fortunately I’ve been learning a lot about how to be with barking dogs these last 10 days. I pass them every day all day and though usually they’re behind a fence or wall sometimes they run free. My experience has taught me the best thing to do is remain neutral and not engage or even look at them. This seems to quiet them faster and if free they’re quicker to leave off. If I look at them or make eye contact it seems fuels their ire.

So as I was semi – surrounded by this pack of dogs I looked over them rather than at them. As soon as I looked at them they lunged closer and I’d then brandish my poles to keep them at bay. However, we were at a stalemate and I couldn’t go forward or back and they weren’t going to let me pass. With my back to the sea and no one else around I wondered how long we’d be there. After a few minutes of this that I heard a message from within saying to look away from them, to turn my head to the left looking back in the direction I’d started from. I did this and they were no longer in my sight. I heard one of them whine but they stopped barking. After a minute in looked up and they were gone. A miracle I thought! Boy what a story I’d have to tell!

I started down the beach again when over the dunes they all came back lunging barking even more violently and closer then before. Oh, shit! I thought, I’m not out of hot water…. I’m deeper in it!

This time I repeated looking away and again they retreated but this time to where I could see them. I then knew I’d not be able to go forward and would have to go back and find my way by road rather than by beach. I waited a few minutes and started back.

However, these dogs were not going to let me go and as soon as I moved they came back with an even greater vengeance and pinning me back against the crashing waves. There was no one around (it was 7:30) except in the far distance I could see one person with a dog himself and I didn’t know if he could see my predicament. I pictured myself trapped by these dogs all day and this got me angry. As that happened I brandished my poles at the dogs and yelled “LEAVE ME ALONE!”

With that they backed off and went to their perch on the dunes. I returned the way I came, all the while wondering if they’d try to attack me from behind. They didn’t and I made it back to the road where interestingly the man I saw in the distance was still there with his big German Sheppard. We greeted each other and I had the sense he’d seen what transpired. But there was little he could have done especially as he had a dog with him himself.

This event gave me a lot to think about for the rest of my day’s walk. I had already been pondering the symbolism of barking dogs which I see it as related to anger. And I’ve been reflecting on my own relationship with anger. So when the pack of dogs was surrounding me I was facing anger, raw and undulated. When I confronted it directly it fueled itself, becoming more intense. When I looked away it had nothing to hold onto and faded into the background. When I was scared it attacked seeing my vulnerability. Yet when I was trapped and in a corner myself, some inner force, that was different from their energy, emerged and vanquished that power.

The lesson I think I have from this is when I was engaged with their force ie anger and tried to use that same energy to be angrier than they it only fueled the fire making it worse. When I disengaged there was nothing to meet it. Yet, when they wouldn’t leave me alone some other force, different than their anger, emerged from me, a force of self preservation perhaps, and was more powerful than their violence and “saved” me. Interestingly too, though I was scared I never panicked and felt calm through the whole experience. I “knew” I’d be okay though didn’t know how.

The rest of the walk was long with intermittent stormy weather putting on and taking off layers of clothes and rain gear. I stopped at 4 different caf?s to have a hot drink or food to keep me going. I met a few more pilgrims heading north as they commenced their pilgrimage to Santiago. It’s been fun seeing pilgrims at different stages of their journey, from those completing to those beginning. Also of note was that almost all of the pilgrims I talked to had already completed the Camino Francais and doing the Camino Portuguese was a second or third Camino for them.

Around 3:00 I arrived at my destination, a suburb of Porto, where I caught a tram into the city avoiding walking through a major metropolitan area. Once in town I found the tourist office and got a map and sights to see. I had recommendations for various price ranges of hotels, from both the tourist office and guidebook, but I ended up find one on my own. A very nice mid ranged hotel for 45 Euros with a big buffet breakfast included. My room has a big bathtub and I took a long soak on arrival.

I also decided to give myself two rest days and really see this beautiful city. The next part of the walk may not be as appealing as the northern route so I’m going to enjoy now and see what I feel like doing later when it comes.

Today is the last day of my 7th week since Lil and I left Pamplona and my 5th rest day on this Camino. Tomorrow will be day 50, an equal number to my last pilgrimage two years ago, though not as many kilometers as that Camino, at least not yet! 🙂

It has been a great experience and I’ve loved most of it. Even the challenges added contrast to the joys which made it all the more interesting. I am in a very different place from my last walk at this time and feel free to make any shifts or changes as I wish to the rest of this adventure.

I think after a couple of days of solid rest I’ll be ready to recommence the journey, though feel no compulsion to complete it this time. I’m already thinking about coming back and starting in Lisbon and going north next time. I imagine walking with my brother Jamie and think how much he would like it as he loves both hiking and Portugal.

Well friends time for rest and sightseeing tomorrow. With that I did you:

A teo logo!

Back in the country again! Beautious. Early morning in Barcelos and first rainbow. Grateful to be safe and sound! Porto.

My old explores’ ship. Shy friend.

They’re everywhere! This side of the Atlantic. Three workers having a morning chat.

Vila de Conde on my way to meet my canine destiny. View of aqueduct from room in Vila de Conde. Vila de Conde.

More Pictures Coming!!

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