Monday May 14 Porto to Vila do Conde (Day 1)

We left our Porto inn at 6.20am, heading for the riverfront. The plan was 34.9 km along the coastal route, per Brierley’s guidebook. The day turned out to be overcast, with isolated spots of drizzle (if you are used to Seattle’s rainy weather, this was like a little brother act). This unusual weather pattern made it cooler and created a subdued scenery all morning into early afternoon. I had anticipated about 9-10 hours walk, allocating a couple of hours for lunch and stops. So, we should have reached Vila Do Conde by 3.30-4.30pm.

Probably at least 10 Camino walkers passed us, only a few exchanged Bom Camino greetings. Everyone has their own pace, and we settled into our rhythm. We were willing to linger at various points along the route, as the Camino is about the journey, not the destination.

Landscapes in the morning, lose its harsh lines and tones that we typically see in the afternoon sun. The cool air also makes the going much easier.

River front in the morning. At one stage, it was difficult to discern the waters from the sky.

An area along river front set aside as a wild birds sanctuary.

Sanctuary area. At about 9 o’clock, you can spot someone hunting for clams/crabs?

As we walked further from the core of Porto, we started seeing several men fishing from the river Duoro. Further up, there were 4 men sorting prawns in some baskets. I guessed it was sorting by size, so they can price and sell appropriately. It took us about 2.5 hours to reach the river mouth with the sea. So, we were looking for a cafe before we got too far away from Porto, fearing there will be very few cafes. It took us a while, before we spotted one that was opened. After that breakfast stop, we decided that plain croissants with sesame seeds were the best option for breakfast. None of the sweet breads for breakfast (Portugal is famous for its sweet breads and pastries. Our favorite is the Portuguese egg tart that we had on Sunday).

While we both enjoying taking pictures of landscapes, we each also have our niche interests. Joon goes for flowers, trees and plaques. I tend to go for monuments, art and interesting street scenes. So, our picture taking complements each other. We probably took more pictures than the other Camino pilgrims that passed us! This is worth mentioning for reasons detailed shortly.

As we had mentioned in an earlier Camino post, we decided that we would focus on a daily objective. Strengthening our bonds and relationships was paramount for both of us. So, it made sense to ask how we could achieve that. Joon’s response to how I could better the relationship was for me to be more understanding and considerate. Innocuous adjectives, but it caused me to reflect on ways that I had not been so, and obviously, to imprint these requests internally within my forehead. So, if you see me hitting my forehead periodically, it’s to further imprint it as I probably slipped!

At Matosinhos, we chanced upon a Tourism Center at the corner, before turning onto the broad sidewalk along the ocean. Joao was extremely helpful. He pointed out where we could buy our Camino shells, showed us pictures on his monitor of various seafood dishes, and pointed out where we could have lunch. This center also has a great stamp, with an outline of the Camino shell! TIPS – Join the wooden boardwalk after the car park, as sections of the boardwalk before that, are covered with sand. Locals go for plain grilled fishes and the octopus rice. We enjoyed the latter at a great Yelp find in Porto, so, we heartily concurred with this recommendation.

We saw more sea gulls on the beach than people throughout the walk all day. The waves and swells were spectacular, crashing upon the rocks and beach. It was high tide, but the waves and swells were driven by persistent northerly wind. Brrr……our rain jackets acted as a wind breaker. While our bodies were protected, our faces were subjected to this wind. And its very likely this non-stop wind slowed down our walking pace.

At one stage, we diverted into the inner roads (as I used GPS to navigate). It helped a bit but the winds still blew at us as we were walking north on the inner roads. Eventually, we got back to the boardwalk along the ocean as the dirt path we got onto, ran into some impassable bushes.

Every Camino has its tests. On our first day, we faced a couple. On page 120 of Brierley’s 2018 CP guidebook, we thought we were following the Seashore Sendra Litoral route, which constitutes the 34.9 km that I had calculated. We were comfortable skirting the coast line and following the Yellow Arrows that we were on auto-pilot, never referring to the PDF guide during the walk. BIG mistake. After reaching Vila do Conde, we re-read the guide. On page 120, it’s clearly stated that the Seashore Sendra Litora is ‘distinct from the Coastal Way Caminho da Coasta’. Yes, we had walked the latter, not the former. We reached Vila do Conde at 7.00pm! We couldn’t believe how a planned 34.9 km could have taken us 12+ hours (perhaps 2.5 hours for lunch, breakfast, picture taking, cafe stops). Joon’s Fitbit estimated we had walked 56.0 km (35 miles) instead! Couple of learnings – not knowing beforehand actually allowed us to accomplish this distance. Secondly, slow and steady does allow one to finish the task.

This un-planned longer route imposed a greater burden than expected. Joon really showed her mettle, turning down my offer to carry her backpack in the later stages. She really wanted to make it on her own steam. Needless to say, I was extremely proud of her, though at times, it was painful to see how she was struggling. On my part, my left hip acted up (as noted in previous post on preparing for Camino).

Ben: Me thinks – “Wow, it’s great to be able to sit down without a backpack at lunch”.

Left Hip: “Hmm….we have to remind Ben to take care of us”.

Ben: Getting up to go to bathroom after lunch. Ouch….lurching back and forward between the 2 legs. Walking to the bathroom like someone who needs a crutch.

LH: “He better take care of us the next time round”.

Above scenario played out similarly after dinner too! 😦

Here are some pictures of the coastal scenery.

Imagine the winds driving that level of surf/swells!

Notice the smooth texture of rocks, not jagged/rough.

Nice mix of rockery and ocean.

Sylvia from Cologne, Germany took this picture for us. We traded picture taking services!

The beach stretched for km and km. We started from beyond the horizon part of the beach.

After such a gruelling day, we opted for an early night. We applied some muscle relaxing lotion that Joon’s aunt gave us. And we took an ibuprofen.

Next morning, both of us work up, refreshed and ready to go. The Camino Provides!

Author: Ben & Joon

Residents in the great Pacific North West. Living life as it happens, learning our purpose and trail blazing our own paths. Namaste.

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