Camino de Santiago

This was popularized among Americans by the 2010 movie, ‘The Way’, directed, produced and written by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen. We heard of it years ago, but it first came onto our radar when my best friend, Sim, mentioned he walked it in 2016. But the trigger for us to consider it, was when our friends, Meg and Shawn, invited us to visit Fatima in October 2017 with their church group, for Fatima’s 100th anniversary. So the seed for a pilgrimage was planted and germinated.

As we started considering Fatima in our travel plans, the brain worked mysteriously and associated the Camino de Santiago. I came across a wonderful Camino UK blog, and the many postings by hikers and pilgrims shaped and solidified our thoughts and plans in this area. We decided to make the Camino de Santiago the focal point of our pilgrimage, with a pre-Camino visit to Fatima.

There are as many reasons to walk the Camino as there are hikers/pilgrims (277.7K in 2016). For us, it’s part of our ‘journey within’, seeking to elevate our spiritual self, and strengthening our bonds. I personally expect that I will learn to listen more, learn to see beyond the surface, and to fine tune some of my deepest convictions and values as they are challenged on the trail.

For those wishing to prepare spiritually, Sandy Brown had three inspiring posts at this blog page.

Our Camino walk will be in May 2018. But the preparation has started and will continue before we board our flights.


Making the Camino Decision

There are as many decision triggers for walking the Camino, as there are hikers, cyclists and pilgrims that have undertaken this journey. One trigger that’s common, is the 2010 movie, The Way, starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son, Emillio Estevez.

We knew our good friend, Sim had walked it in 2016. As Catholics, we had come across this before but I had never seriously looked into it. Then, in the summer of 2017, our friends Meg and Shawn, who lived in Barcelona but were back for the summer, asked whether we would be interested in joining their parish group visiting Fatima for the 100th anniversary of the apparitions. We declined due to our travel schedules to Asia.

Like all good ideas, it percolated and bubbled. Then one day, I decided to start reading about it on the Net. And the more I read, especially the posts and sharing on a Camino UK blog, the more it drew me in. Eventually, we discussed doing this Camino and Fatima as a pilgrimage in 2018, and we both enthusiastically embraced it. We subsequently borrowed the DVD, The Way. In addition, we read several books, and everything solidified the decision.

Our reading list includes:

  • In movement, there is peace – Elaine & Joseph Foster
  • Field of Stars – Kevin A Codd (author is a Catholic priest in Spokane WA)
  • I’m off then – Hape Kerkeling (just started on this book)

To sum it up, we decided to walk the Camino:

  • To nourish and enrich our spiritual life.
  • To seek God in the people and events that will unfold.
  • To strengthen the bonds between us.
  • To experience a pilgrimage with our feet.

IMHO, any reason or motivation is a good one, as many have testified that the Camino experience has changed their outlook, their approach to life. The pilgrims/peregrine say, the “Camino provides”.

Buen Camino.



For me, going to walk the Camino seems to be like going on a grand adventure! When the idea first percolated, I obviously had no idea what I was signing up for… sure, traveling to Portugal and Spain fits me perfectly. I do love to see different countries, experience different ways of life and all that, but walking hundreds of kilometers with my own backpack no less, kinda brought me back to reality a little. But, what is life if one doesn’t challenge oneself and do things one might never have a chance to do again? Still, I must admit I do have reservations…

Firstly, I don’t really enjoy hiking all that much. Uphill treks are the worst, I do NOT like climbing hills and with a backpack, I will be complaining all the way. Seriously, our ‘pristine’ 33 year marriage might be ending on the Camino. Sigh. Anyway, I am willing to give it a try with as much grace as I can. I suppose I could limit myself to whining only once a day.

Secondly, I am such a worrier and I will imagine all sorts of scenarios that can happen (and probably will) … getting lost, getting sick, getting injured. Surrendering to the will of God is probably the wisest thing to do in these circumstances and that’s what I’ll have to learn to do.

Thirdly, the accommodations along the way will be ‘rustic’ I gather, and what is worrisome (ah, that word again!) is that we probably need to have good rest and sleep nightly in order to successfully complete the daily journey. And I already know I don’t really sleep well in unfamiliar surroundings, unlike my dear other half who can drop off to sleep in a wink of an eye (yes, even sitting upright!). Me, I have to toss and turn, mind racing all the time, willing myself to sleep while being totally  envious on  hearing the sonorous deep breaths of my beloved. I look forward to being so very tired after a day of walking that I won’t care if my bed is just a thin mattress.  See, I am already becoming a more positive person!

So yes, I have my reservations but ultimately, I am positive that what we achieve out of this experience will be a deeper, fuller understanding of self, our relationship with each other and most importantly, with God. I have always pondered the question,  ‘Why am I on this Earth?’  I may never find my answer, but I would sure like to try to find out. Doing the Camino is my one step in that direction.

Buen Camino.


Preparing for Camino – Part 1

As with any significant undertaking, planning and preparation helps increase the odds of a desirable outcome. Planning and preparing for a Camino has basic commonalities with other travel adventures, but it does involve its own unique dimensions (if so chosen).

Our Camino planning and preparation can be considered in several categories.

  1. Awareness and understanding of the Camino journey and experience.
  2. Equipping oneself with the right gear for such a hike.
  3. Physical preparation of one’s own bodily endurance, stamina and strength.
  4. Mental preparation, including picking up Spanish.
  5. Planning the travel, transportation, accommodation options.

There’s so much resources and content on the Net, that spending a few hours and several days/weeks, will richly arm one with information of the Camino. Here I would share the two Net resources that proved most invaluable to me. First is a UK blog-forum that has literally hundreds and thousands of postings from hikers and pilgrims over the years, organized by trails and other subject areas.  I learned so much from the selfless sharing, about items to pack, about the optimal weight to carry (10% of body weight), about the trade offs between hiking boots, hiking shoes, trail shoes, etc. The various ways to prevent and address blisters. The alberques to avoid. Learnings, mistakes, tips from seasoned Camino peregrines who have walked several times on various trails. There’s no better resource for someone who wants to understand how to plan and prepare for the Camino.

The second online resource is the various blogs written by the various hikers/pilgrims. Each blogger has their own distinctive style and perspective. All have pictures along the trail, and thus, one does get a good picture of the Camino journey. I was struck by one blogger who took pictures of rain drops on flowers/plants. What beauty that can only be seen when one slows down, and seeks such around us. Several of the previously mentioned UK blog-forum posters have indicated their own personal blogs in their signature line, and the blog-forum administrator, Leslie had compiled a short list of blogs in 2015 –

We intend to blog about our Camino, but will likely have a different take/slant to most. Thus, this blog itself is the first step to familiarize ourselves with this media, and more importantly, to help us build our own individual ‘voice’.

For me, the FUN & ENJOYABLE part of reading all this Camino content, is the beginning visualization of what the Camino is about. Building the anticipation. How I will enjoy the scenery, the slow pace of walking and being in the moment. Being un-plugged from all the distractions and electronic devices that’s part of modern life. Being dis-engaged from the need to know the latest real time news. Just being alone with my thoughts, having deep conversations with my partner Joon, and engaging with other fellow hikers/pilgrims that cross our paths. Of course, I am sure there will be moments (hours?) of discomfort and pain as we trudged on. But mentally, attitude-wise, I view it as just being in touch with my body. Understanding what my body is capable of, and having the certainty of a good rest/sleep at the end of the day.

Stephen Covey’s second habit of highly effective people is ‘Begin with the End in Mind’. That every physical creation, every manifestation starts first in the mind before it comes into being. In that way, part of our preparation will happen on the trail itself, not at home. When we dialog about our intent for that day, prior to starting off. Perhaps a relationship aspect that needs to be deepened/strengthened. Perhaps creating a new shared dream or goal. Perhaps reflecting and being thankful for our shared journey to date. What a wonderful thought, that the day’s walk can lead to a burst of re-creation, of positivism charging through and energizing our full selves – bodies, soul and spirit. Truly a ‘journey within’ to live life as fully as possible.

Buen Camino.


3/22/18 update. For American pilgrims, there’s an association web site with lots of materials and resources –    This same association hosts a very active Facebook group among American Camino walkers/pilgrims at 


Preparing for Camino – Part 2

A travel experience can be undertaken in good or not-so-good health. The choice is ours. However, when the travel adventure requires a level of physical exertion and effort, I will need to ‘up’ my usual exercise regime. Our Camino Portugues will be approximately 274 km/164 miles of back packing. Our longest walk will be 34km/20.4miles on Day 1 (when we are fresh, ‘naïve’ and bursting with energy). This Camino will take us 11 days/10 nights on the trail. Our target back packing weight is about 10% of our body weight. So, the target for the physical conditioning has been established. As of late Jan 2018, we will have about 3.5 months before our Camino walk.

Unbeknown to us at that time (of the impact of this on our Camino), we had switched to a mainly pescatarian diet about 3 months prior to deciding to walk the Camino. That nutritional change came about for health reasons, Joon wanting to manage her blood pressure, while I was seeking to manage my cholesterol levels. A couple of documentaries recommended by our son, Matt, was the trigger. This may be a future post. By also eliminating dairy and going gluten free, we both found that we were able to lose about 12 pounds each! Our BMI has always been in the normal range. This dietary change is going to give us a leg up over our old selves.

The primary focus was on building our cardio vascular endurance. We have different approaches, so, I will share mine. I picked the rowing machine, as I know a CEO who took that up. Rowing is reputed to be a complete exercise, similar to swimming. Rowing exercises the arms, legs and the core. Being a Virgoan-analytical, I found a YouTube video that showed the proper and improper ways to row. That visualization became a challenge to me, to see if I can emulate and execute the perfect set of movements in a fluid fashion. During rowing, I can close my eyes, focus on various body parts and movements, and get my breathing into a rhythm. I can adjust the intensity and speed of my rows. Sometimes, I push for longer rowing sessions, but after losing all the pounds, the ‘natural cushion’ on my buttocks starts to wear thin after an hour’s rowing.  😊

There’s also a need to switch one’s routine to avoid boredom, and keep the interest commitment in going to the Y three times a week. The elliptical machine is one of my favorites as it mimics the walking motions without the impact on the knees. I love how I can vary the incline as well as the resistance. The last machine that I use occasionally, is the stair master. This is probably the hardest as it works the glutes and calves. On rare occasions, I carry my back pack as I use the stair master. If we ever walk the Camino Frances, which requires crossing the Pyrenes mountains, this will be a must-do machine.

Most adults achieve their peak muscle mass during their late 30s to early 40s. After middle age, adults lose 3% of their muscle strength every year, on average. So, we consulted a trainer to help show/demo the machines to build/maintain our muscles, and we now fit that routine in during our visits to the Y. Interestingly, I heard from a friend, who swears that one has to pick increasing weighted dumb bells so that one can only do 6 reps. If one can do more than 6 reps, the bar bells are not heavy enough. The belief is that the 6th attempt will result in some micro-tears in muscle tissue, thereby encouraging more tissue build up. I couldn’t find anything to substantiate this on the Net.

Some other routines that our trainer got us doing were planks, lunges, squats. The movements and routines are easy, but doing three sets of 10 reps, is not a walk in the park.

We have started taking hour-long walks in the hiking shoes that we intend to use on the Camino. And that’s when the hip discomfort struck me during one of these walks. It had happened many months ago, during a trail walk and on a golf course. Clearly, there was some mis-alignment and stiffening joints. This prompted us to sign up for a Yoga class at the Y. It was my first Yoga class and it was like, my first ice cream! Or so I imagined. How my joints really relished the treat of being stretched. Straightening the ‘bends’ that had slowly crept into my knees over time. Feeling the ligaments, the muscles getting pulled, like stretching one’s back after hunching over a laptop. A release of accumulated knots hiding in the joints. During Yoga, the breathing, the relaxing and freeing of the mind is the icing on the cake. Flexibility, balance and mental calmness are just as important as the hard regimen of cardio vascular and muscular maintenance.


2/3/18 update. Our Yoga teacher, Alisa, recommended David Procyshyn’s videos on Youtube. Seems he has one for runners/walkers. Here’s a link.


Preparing for Camino – Part 3

In this post, I will address our preparations in learning Spanish, and a change in how we are approaching our accommodation plans on the Camino.

While we will be starting our Camino in Porto, Portugal, we decided to learn Spanish as we figured we can continue to use it in other countries that we may later visit. We will learn and memorize some Portuguese phrases to get by.

How are we learning Spanish? We looked into two modalities – books and software language programs. We did not consider classes at local colleges/language institutes. We initially tried the books, but it was too difficult as we did not have any audio. In addition, the organization of the books required them to go into the full details for any specific topic. Which is more than a beginner can typically handle.

Searching online, I found a list of the top 10 Spanish language software programs. I read the reviews, pros/cons and as usual, there was a wide variety of approaches and adherents. I then decided to ping friends who had moved to Barcelona in 2016, Meg & Shawn, who recommended Fluenz (this was typically in the top 3 of the various lists). When we made the Fluenz purchase, it was during the holiday season, and we were able to get some discounts.

Fluenz Spanish was promoted as designed for English speakers. Interestingly, because of our Bahasa Malaysia language heritage, some of the sentence structures were similar, and thus, parts of it was easier for us to understand and align. Example, in English, the adjective comes before the noun. But in Bahasa Malaysia and Spanish, the adjective is after the noun.

  • The big car (English)
  • El coche grande (Spanish)
  • Kereta besar (Bahasa Malaysia)
  • Car = coche = kereta
  • Big = grande = besar

I find the Fluenz lessons structured in a way to ease one’s learning and comprehension. Their lessons are structured around various scenarios, e.g. in a café. They have a video of two persons having a conversation, with captions in Spanish/English and English. And finally, the same conversation without captions. They also have various exercises to match the Spanish phrases to English phrases. They have an exercise where someone speaks in Spanish, and you then have to write out in Spanish (I found this difficult but effective as it really trains one’s ears). They have an instructor that decomposes and goes through the scenario dialog. They have an exercise where one can listen to the 2 speakers, and subsequently, one can record one’s voice, standing in for one of the 2 speakers. One could ‘turn off’ the Spanish phrases if one has truly memorized the dialog (which is still a stretch for me). Net, plenty of learning stimulation.

Fluenz has the ability to support multiple devices. So, I have this on my Windows laptop, Joon has it on her iPad, and we intend to also have it on our Android smartphones (space permitting).

Learning Spanish is a delightful experience. We make every effort to put in an hour each weekday, though we have missed some weekdays. It does take some effort and concentration, especially to memorize the spellings, the grammatical structure, the masculinity vs femininity. Joon has a better ear and intonation than me, so, this is something that I have to work a bit harder at. And put in more hours!

This might seem to be a digression, but bear with me. When Joon was expecting, and we were walking around, we seem to be aware and noticing other pregnant ladies walking around. Likewise, as we are learning Spanish, all of a sudden, we are spotting Spanish signs and trying to decipher the new words. Funny how the brain/mind works!

We know that the brain decreases in size as we age. And I guess we accept it as part of the aging process. Well, I found out that learning a new language actually increases the size of the brain! Imagine that! Here’s the ARTICLE.

One of my bucket list items is to live several months in another country. Per article, it looks like having an immersive learning experience in a Spanish-speaking country may just align with that bucket item! As Col. John “Hannibal” Smith of the A-Team says, ‘I love how the plan comes together’.

What I would like to share next is how my thoughts and plans about accommodation on the Camino has evolved. My initial instincts on accommodation were two-fold; these go against my natural travel planning but I initially wanted it as part and parcel of the Camino experience.

  1. Other than the start/end of the Camino, I wanted to let each day on the trail un-fold as it will, and let God/fate decide where we will put up for the night. To surrender, to not be in total control.
  2. I wanted to have the communal experience of lodging and dining with fellow pilgrims at (municipal) albergues de peregrinos (latter do not accept reservations but are on a first come, first serve basis). This lodging comprises many bunk beds in dormitories, and thus, ear plugs are highly recommended!

And then, we read Hape Kerkeling’s Camino book, ‘I’m off then’. Hape (aka Hans Peter) is a famous German comedian, who backpacked his way on the Camino Frances. He too initially lodged at an albergue, but he found that he wasn’t getting enough sleep/rest. He’s not an early bird, and the need to rush to the next town, was impacting his Camino experience. He aptly put it that if he could afford alternative accommodation, why didn’t he? That rationale, plus the fact that Joon is a light sleeper, swung the deal. I decided to book every night on the trail, alternating between Airbnb, and  I found that in some smaller towns, the Airbnb properties were more centrally located than those on hotel/ Airbnb also provided the ability to interact with the local hosts! We will still have a night’s experience at a newer albergue which took reservations!! The act of booking our accommodation liberated our daily schedule – rising when we wish, the freedom to pace as the day unfolds, visit places/sights between stops, not being concerned when we reach our day’s stop. This will be the approach we undertake Our Camino.


River focus

White River

Preparing for Camino – Part 4

During this morning’s training hike, the thought occurred to Ben that it might be useful to consider and draft a number of ‘principles’ for our Camino walk.

For this article, our definition of principles is a set of guidance for our attitudes and behaviors, leading to a desired state. That desired state is ‘our’ painted canvas.

To some, this approach seems intuitive, just like how the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People resonated with them. To others, this may appear to constrain life, to limit its serendipitous nature. For the latter group, we offer this thought – consider principles to be like sextants which sailors of olden days used to navigate by the celestial stars.


Our principles for our Camino:

  1. Slow down ….…. my pace, my actions, my thoughts

Our normal world is hurly burly, ruled by clocks. We multi-task, believing we are being very productive and accomplished. Our brains and minds race at the speed of light, to the point that rarely are we able to be present and smell the roses. As we step onto the Camino, let’s dial down our internal speed dial, way down. Smell the café con leche, swirl and taste the sips. Explore, linger, probe and touch, taste, smell, hear. There are cultures galore around us, the culture of the village, the culture of the marketplace, the culture of foods. ‘Once I stopped rushing through life, I was amazed at how much life I had time for’. Perhaps slowing the actions, the pace, will slow the mind.


  1. Listen intently ……… with my heart

Let me practice daily with my walking partner. Firstly, let me hear every single word spoken. Then, let me hear more than the words. Let me hear the hurts, pains, the happiness, the expectations. And as my ears hear all these, let my heart join in, so I know that words spoken sometimes are wrongly chosen. Listening with the heart motivates me to encourage the hopes and dreams left hanging at the tip of the tongue. Perhaps a simple 5 minutes hearing drill (and test) over breakfast will set the ears on the right path for the day. And no judgements…


  1. Be authentic ……… to and for myself

There’s no one to please, no one to compare, no one to compete against. There is only me. And the Camino. A Camino that slowly un-wraps the onion layers on oneself. Let’s get past the layers dealing with employment, residence, nationality, names, age, ethnicity, marital status. Let’s get to the heart of the onion. Based on actual perceptions, behaviors, decisions and actions in life situations, what do these collectively reveal my deepest values to be? Is there anything that I want to tweak or change? Who we are right now, isn’t who we can become. Perhaps allocating specific journey stages to shape and strengthen certain values, with feedback and encouragement from one’s Camino partner, will help in that maturing authenticity.


  1. Be grateful ….…. and express it

Is my life situation perfect? No. Can I imagine some worse case scenarios for my current life situation? Yes, most definitely yes. So, I have a choice. Burden myself with worry and anxiety over the possibility of these worse case scenarios, or be grateful that I am where I am. It’s like a kindergarten question – there’s no way I can get this choice wrong.

Gratefulness is both an attitude and a heart. One can choose to either see a half glass full or focus on the half glass empty. The reality of the half glass is the same, but the perception cum-attitude is a choice. When that attitude moves to the heart, then, it becomes gratitude as it cannot but express itself outwards, in our words, actions and outlook. Perhaps a simple first step is to approach all these testing life scenarios with a song in our heart. And dance a bit, or sing out loud along the Camino while you are at it!


  1. Practice RAK …….. (Random Acts of Kindness)

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a RAK? Didn’t that moment, change the day for you? If you haven’t, don’t worry, kindness is like a boomerang. Being kind just attracts kindness. It’s like the law of gravity, one cannot escape it.

It’s amazing how you can change your day by plotting, like supervillain Gru in Despicable Me, to perform a RAK. It’s like you are planting a smile-seed around you, as you visualize how the recipient’s day will unfold after that RAK moment. You have the power! Use it or lose it!


Pause here. Will these five principles change our Camino? Undoubtedly. Do some of these principles come naturally, and some need a bit of work? Undoubtedly. Will other principles strike us while we are on the Camino?  Most certainly. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t get it perfect. Life isn’t.


Create your own principles list to guide you on your Camino. And we aren’t waiting till the Camino to apply these principles.  😊


B & J

Preparation for Camino – Part 5

This piece is all about the spiritual preparation that we are undertaking for the Camino. It’s 20 days before we depart, and 26 days before we step on the Camino.

We are approaching this Camino as a pilgrimage. I wasn’t satisfied with the various dictionaries’ definitions of ‘pilgrimage’. Let me put forward an expansive personal definition, as follows. It’s a journey undertaken for spiritual reasons. A pilgrimage is expressly for one’s soul. People, places and events will play an important role in shaping the pilgrim’s experience, but it is the heart and soul encounters that will shape the pilgrim’s spiritual self.

Our approach is also intentional. Ask and it will be given you; Search and you will find; Knock and the door will open for you.

Given this perspective, I undertook several spiritual preparation steps:

  1. Step up my spiritual & Bible readings
  2. Self-correct my un-Christian attitudes & behaviors
  3. Increase the depth of my prayers
  4. Ponder, contemplate Biblical verses that spoke to me
  5. Prepare for ‘on the Camino’ – spiritual intent, prayers, verses
  6. Install some Christian songs on my smartphone, to place us in a spiritually contemplative state

Just as I am conditioning my body to be in shape for the rigors of the Camino walk, I am conditioning my soul for this pilgrimage. Per the parable of the Sower, I am preparing the soil so that it will bear fruit when God’s words speak to me on the Camino.

I can net it out all the above efforts to this, that I am in a process to “Purify My Soul” so that it will be receptive to what God will reveal to me on the Camino.

“……He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through His Spirit that dwells in you”.    Romans 8:11

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes (for you) with sighs too deep for words”.   Romans 8:26

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.    Romans 8:14

Thus, this on-going, unceasing efforts to purify my soul, is to strive to be in a state of grace, a state that encourages the Holy Spirit that dwells in me, to intercede and guide me to be attentive to God’s presence and promptings.

Prior to stepping out on the Camino Portuguese from Porto, we will make a pilgrimage to Fatima. Let me frame Fatima. This is a spiritual event blessing that occurred in the 20th century, in 1917. God continues to reach out to us via Mother Mary, St. Joseph and Jesus.

Jean Wysocki recommended reading “Fatima in Lucia’s own words”. I was touched very deeply by this. It is the most moving read I had in recent times. Mother Mary’s words ‘challenges’ me to the core, the three children’s total acceptance and compliance is a blessing (example) to the rest of us. It awakens in me, the desire to do what Mother Mary has asked. It awakens in me the need to be more consistent with the Rosary. It stirs my soul.

What remains as the clock counts down to our departure are these:

  • Getting the Pilgrim Blessing from our Parish Priest
  • Drafting ‘some’ of the Camino’s intentional focus. To illustrate:
    • Day 1 – Being at Peace, Being Present to Each Other, to Fellow Pilgrims/Neighbors
    • Day 2 – Praise & Thanksgiving for the Blessings, the Pains/Hurts
    • Day 3 – What am I Struggling With?
    • Day x – Start the Weeding (preparation for confession in Santiago)
    • Day x – Sharing Our Dreams
    • Day x – Praying for God’s Intervention
  • ….. and so on. It’s likely the list will change, as it’s not meant to box us in. But having a draft creates the ‘guard rails’ so that we can discuss and achieve our respective Camino intent. And some days may start as a blank canvass for the Good Lord to paint as He Wills.
  • Compiling some prayers for the Camino walk. Not to pass the time or occupy our minds during a long boring stretch, but intentional prayers for our current life situations.

We do want to explicitly share that we do expect God to reach out to us, via our fellow pilgrims and neighbors that we meet on the Camino. We look forward to that fellowship, guided by the Holy Spirit.

The Peace of the Lord be with you.



Friday May 11 Pre-Camino

We flew into Lisbon on Wed May 9, arriving at our lodgings in the late afternoon. Due to the longish transit time at Amsterdam, the elapsed time from stepping out of our house into our lodgings was almost 20 hours (almost as long as our typical 24 hours flights to Asia). An hour’s delay was part and parcel of the air traveling experience. Unbeknown to me at that time, my Camino ‘test’ had started at the Amsterdam gate for the flight to Lisbon. Generally, I travel well and un-flustered, having logged many miles. But this time, I had let the circumstances get the better of me. How did that happen? Well, when they announced the boarding for the flight to Lisbon, they also called our names (plus many others) to get our passports verified prior to boarding. So, visualize this – you are in a line to verify your passports, while there’s another line being boarded. And of course, we have our backpacks with us, as we followed the advice of seasoned Camino walkers to not check those in. Flashes of concern that we might not have overhead cabin space appeared as unwelcomed guests. Of course, the fact that most of us had been waiting at the gate 45-60 minutes prior to boarding, raised the question why the airline staff didn’t call us earlier to verify our passports, but only did so, at boarding time? Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the staff seemed oblivious to the need to expeditiously validate the passports and issue the new boarding passes (latter did not have the disbarring statement that passports needed to be verified). If I had been more observant, I should have seen said text on passport needing to be verified on my electronic boarding pass on my smartphone. Rather the staff was chatting with the passengers she was serving. The second staff was engrossed on the phone (which I later overhead, was trying to get members of another party boarded). No excuses, but I started venting to Joon in the line, and I ‘know’ the people around me could hear my vents. Fortunately, my vents weren’t loud or full of emotional derision, but it wasn’t my finest hour. Much later, I realized that I could have better manage myself during this. If you are wondering whether we had problems with overhead space for our two backpacks, the answer is, The Camino Provided! A tip – booking seats at the back of the plane is counter-intuitive as one disembarks last, but it seems to have less competition for overhead cabin space. We also lucked out as it was just the 2 of us, in a 3 seat configuration in our row. Finally, if you ever check in online at home for a Delta international flight, it seems there are self service kiosks at the airport to validate one’s passport. Live and learn.

This first day was just getting over the jet lag. Perhaps we could be macho about it, but the reality is that the body stores up all the stresses that we put on it, and there will be a payback time. We didn’t want latter to happen when we are on the Camino trail. So, let’s be the tortoise, rather than the hare with jet lag!

We really didn’t do much in Lisbon on arrival, as we will have two nights in Lisbon after the Camino. We opted for a cafe/restaurant that was just next to our lodging. Joon had the grilled sardines, and this was the first time I had seen whole sardines (being a city boy). Usually, I see pieces of sardines in a can! I had a grilled octopus. Both were delicious! This neighborhood cafe was also a great people watching spot. I observed that guys tended to catch up for drinks after their work day at the counter. Thus, they stand at the counter, drinking. They didn’t work at the same company as they drifted in and out at different times, wearing different clothes. One even had his soup at the counter!

We had an early night on Wed May 9 in Lisbon. And slept like babies, as most are wont to, after a 20+ hours travel.

While we were waiting for our Lisbon flight (4.5 hours transit) at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I was able to surf the Net and book our train tickets from Lisbon to Tomar.

The train ride comprised an Inter-City and a Regional train service. Which means changing trains in between. The web site is quite clear on that! The fares were reasonable, Euro 13.80 per person from Lisbon to Tomar, which is about 140km/84 miles. I love the train network and system in Europe. The best part is that the European train stations are invariably located in the center of town, or near the historical center. Thus, most lodgings and attractions are all within walking distance. Contrast that if you fly into airports!

Tomar was a change/addition to our original plan. It is where the Knights of Templar had their headquarters. Our lodging, which is a private albergue, is located within 15 mins walk from the Templar’s Castelo and Convento de Cristo.

We arrived at the Tomar train station at about 11am Thursday. I noted the bus/coach depot was located adjacent to the train station. So, a quick detour to the coach ticketing office provided us the schedule info for coaches from Tomar to Fatima, our next stop. I tried unsuccessfully to book the coach on my phone (somehow, the site for one of the coach companies was not set up for e-commerce, and it was difficult navigating the other coach company’s web site). When I tried to book the coach ticket to Fatima for the next day, the ticketing rep responded that I can buy the tickets on the day of travel, that it was not necessary to purchase in advance. Thus, I had to subdue the concern that the seats will be sold out, or the desire to insist on buying there and then. Another lesson on adapting to the local culture. Thus, it was prudent to plan ahead, but one should also accept that one doesn’t need to be in total control of every step ahead. A small lesson that will probably be magnified on the Camino trail looming ahead.

During our walk from the train station to our lodging, I spotted a neighborhood mercado. We stopped there, as I had forgotten to pack shaving cream (it was painful trying to shave with just soap that morning when we departed from Lisbon). We also bought a bar of dark chocolate, 72% cocoa. I have to admit that European chocolates are in a class of their own. They have less sugar content and a richer texture compared to American ‘chocolate-candy’.

Since our lodging’s check in time was 2pm, we decided to eat first. I called up my friend, Senor Yelp on my phone. He provided a list of restaurants and the top 2 appeared to be in the vicinity of our lodging. I browsed the reviews of the restaurants, and was initially uncomfortable with the paucity of and very dated reviews (2015, 2016). Regardless, we decided to frequent the restaurant at the top of the list since it was in the general vicinity of our lodging.

As we neared this restaurant, there was a cafe nearby. Joon did not take a fancy to any of the cafe offerings. One thing we quickly learned is that restaurant names are not necessarily displayed prominently on the walls. So, we spotted the Yelp restaurant’s name on a chalk board standing on the ground. We entered the restaurant, and spotted two diners sitting at their respective tables. The owner/chef came out and greeted us. She explained that she only had two dishes at that time (I gathered somewhat that the other ingredients will arrive later in the day), ribs and veal. While we try our best to keep to a pescatarian diet, we are not dogmatic about it. We believe that when we travel, we need to experience the local cultures as best as we can, and all cultures, express themselves in their cuisine. So, we ordered both entrees. Both were delicious, and came with rice, fries, salad and bread. We noted the three different options for carbohydrates! We left the bread totally un-touched. By the way, we haven’t eaten fries for many moons. Our stomachs were happy. We turned down the desserts initially. I checked the time and noted we had an hour to go before check in. So, changing our mind, we decided to go with coffee and the most requested (and sweeter) dessert. What clinched the dessert option was when the chef informed us that on a prior occasion, a group of diners were willing to wait for her to make the dessert from scratch. If it was that good, we should try it. She also told us how she ate it, which was, to take a small teaspoon of the dessert and dip/spoon it with the (unsweetened) coffee. The dessert was a combination of a creme brulee (without the layer of caramelized sugar) and tiramisu-like dough. It was really good. Another adaption to European culture, having coffee at the end of a meal, even at lunch time! This restaurant was a gem in disguise when the bill was presented. It was probably the best valued meal we had in Europe or in USA, even going back a decade or so, before inflation took its toll.

Our lodging was located within a pedestrian retail area, with various shops and restaurants/cafes. We were obviously not intending to shop for anything before our Camino, despite the various attractive Templar-designed offerings. that caught our eyes. We did succumb to a couple of pins that we pin onto our cap/hat respectively. It will help us recall our time in Tomar without excessively adding to our material possessions!

I must share that our bedroom in Tomar was unusually decorated. One wall had many hand drawn handkerchiefs pinned. An adjacent wall described the old tradition where girls would hand over their hand drawn handkerchiefs to the young men they were interested in. Check out the pictures below (may need to fix upload of these pics later if it doesn’t appear).

A close up of one handkerchief. Truly a labor of love.

Our afternoon outing was to the Convento de Cristo. We stopped by St John the Baptist church, and spent some prayerful time inside. I lighted some (electrically charged) candles for family members and intentions. It was a great spiritual start to our travels.

The walk to the Convento was along a rocky path, which we could easily accept had been there over the centuries. The Convento was a 12th century was a Templar stronghold. When the Templars was dissolved in the 14th century, this Portuguese branch became the Knights of the Order of Christ, which subsequently supported the famed Portuguese maritime travels. We spend an easy 1.5 hours visiting. Some highlights included the Tree of Life mural, inside chapel and the exhibition. Re latter, this was the first time I had seen figurines depicting the Holy Trinity – Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

The inside chapel. Beautiful wooden mural panels, statutes. Soak that in, and don’t rush through like a tour group did, when we were there!

One of the wooden panel murals. This depicts Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

The Tree of Life mural on exterior wall. The base is the tree trunk, and branches on the sides.

One of many Trinity figurines. The Holy Spirit is depicted as a dove. Note the globe of the earth at the base.

This Friday morning will be an easy one before we catch a coach to Fatima just past noon.

We learned quickly that having our private room next to the kitchen meant that we woke up with the earliest risers having their breakfast. Several of these early risers were Camino walkers. At breakfast, I chatted with various guests, a Canadian couple walking the Camino from Lisbon. Others were just vacationing in the area (Irish guys, Swiss girl by herself). The subject of stamps for the credential came up, and one of the guests shared that it was available at the front desk.

Joon had previously asked a FB group, so, we knew we could collect stamps in our credentials even outside our Camino route. We didn’t have time to visit the cathedral in Lisbon before catching the train to Tomar. That’s when the thought struck me that we should try as much as possible to have stamps from churches or other notable locations. Thus, our first stamp is from St. John the Baptist Church in Tomar. Is it a total co-incidence that our parish back in USA is also John the Baptist? Divine sign?

Dinner on Thu night was probably a desperate attempt to get to bed early, eating at a nearby modernized hamburger joint. Our stomachs have not been subjected to hamburgers for many years in USA, so, it was definitely asking a lot from mine, to accept this.

It’s probably where Joon’s salmon salad led to some tummy upset, causing her to throw up on the coach journey to Fatima the next Fri morning.

On appearances, Fatima has transformed into a pilgrims destination. There were a number of high rise hotels and apartment blocks. Not to mention the numerous shops selling all Fatima related items. Despite this, the people that one meets, in the cafes, in the shops, none of them exhibited any arrogance or distaste at the influx of tourists and pilgrims. Unlike a city which will remain nameless where I felt that everyone was trying to ‘fleece’ every non-resident. Their friendliness was genuine and I appreciated that it was way of making a living for them.

Clearly, Mother Mary’s appearances to the three children has helped transform and elevate the living standards in this area. This can be seen in the infrastructure, the quality and size of homes, the general well being of the peoples. But it takes perhaps a deeper look, to see the depth and strength of their spiritual faith. This was clear to us, as we approached the Basilica. There were numerous caravans, trailers, tents set up as people flocked to Fatima for the anniversary celebrations this coming Sunday, May 13 (the first appearance by Mother Mary).

We desired a spiritual start to our Camino, and Fatima was the spark to the tinder. We said rosaries for our intentions in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. Fortunately, or perhaps some spiritual happenstance, as we ended our prayers, we could see the church attendants clearing the front of the church. A short service was then conducted in Portuguese by the pastor, with the organ player and a singer in attendance. The acoustics were absolutely phenomenal.

This basilica also housed the mortal remains of the three children, Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia. Their souls are already in heaven, as promised by Mother Mary. It’s comforting to know they are praying for us.

Postscript – I revised this post several times as I realized that it’s much harder to record one’s contemplations, as the first draft invariably defaulted into a chronological accounting. Which was not really the intent of the blog.

Rome2rio app was invaluable for checking the various local transport options from town to town.

Saturday May 12 Fatima

A number have expressed their difficulty in sensing the spiritual, when they see an over-load of commercialism around the Basilica and Fatima. A number have shared too, that visiting the locations where the Angel appeared, where the children grew up, provides a grounding for their own Fatima experience.

How do I approach this challenge? We know from magicians and their illusions, that our eyes can be easily tricked. Perhaps the famous line from The Little Prince illuminates the path to a more spiritual experience of Fatma – “…it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”.

If the preceding seems too pretentious, consider this. Parents, coaches, mentors all seek to inculcate a positive attitude with those that they are responsible for and helping. They reinforce the importance of seeing the half glass full over the half glass empty. This attitude affects the actions one will take, and the resulting consequences that one experiences. But attitudes cannot be seen, they cannot be examined by any known instrumentation. Yet, they have real life consequences as any tangible concrete object. Likewise, with the heart, the soul, the spirit being the key channels for how we perceive and respond. Let these experience Fatima, and not just the eyes. Just like listening to a soaring opera moves the spirit and heart.

We spent the last couple of hours at the Basilica, to still our minds, to soak in the spirituality. I am humbled when I consider there are thousands around me that are praying for specific intentions. There’s probably a good number that are also thanking and praising for answered prayers.

As we were walking in the sanctuary grounds, we saw a family, father, mother and son, heading towards the Basilica too. The parents had deep tans on their faces, and it was easy for us to perceive they were likely to live on a farm. The boy was carrying a bouquet of flowers. They were humbly visiting the sanctuary, without dangling cameras, without smartphones in their hands. Just with their offering in hand and in their hearts. Weren’t shepherds the first to be told by angels of Christ’s birth? Weren’t the three Fatima children from farming families? Perhaps it’s we who live in towns and cities, that are the dis-advantaged?

In the courtyard before the Chapel of Apparitions, we noticed many acts of devotion. How would you demonstrate an act of devotion to your parents, who have sacrificed to raise you as best as they can? Ponder this before reading further.

What we witnessed were people walking on their knees to the Chapel. They were praying as they did so. Many were accompanied by a loved one walking by their side.

I call them pilgrims. They have spiritual intentions. They are not sight seeing.

As I previously mentioned, I was and continue to be moved by what Lucia wrote in her memoirs. May is the Marian month when rosaries are prayed in earnest. I prayed a rosary and Divine Mercy at the Chapel, for my mother. I had promised her in person a week ago that I would do so.

As we prepared to depart the Basilica grounds, Joon & I lit candles for our families and intentions. We leave Fatima, with peace in our hearts.

No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on a lamp stand where it gives light to every one in the house. Matthew 5:15

Sunday May 13 Porto

We arrived in Porto on the 12th at about 1.40pm via bus/coach. The freeways were paved very well, so it was a smoother and quieter ride. Timing worked perfectly as check in was from 2pm.

Porto is a lovely city. The cobblestoned roads and paths lulls the mind into the past. The old storefront and building facades are aesticallly pleasing to the eyes. There is an energy to it, conveyed by the youthful residents.

These two young men, Sorin & Sergio, were out all Saturday night, celebrating the Porto soccer team’s national championship victory! Taken at about 6.20am, Sunday.

Maria and her friends were also out all night celebrating the championship victory.

Both Sorin & Maria asked me to take their pictures. Lovely youths!

I took advantage of the early morning sun to capture some softer images of the cityscape from the 3rd floor of our lodging.

The twin towers on left are the Porto Cathedral.

The river front, famous for its port houses. A bit of morning mist.

We caught the 11am Mass service at the Porto Cathedral. It was in Portuguese. We were able to check for the May 13 mass readings on my smartphone, and thus, at least were able to reflect with the rest of the congregation. And we collected our 4th stamp from this Cathedral.

Porto Cathedrals altar.

We won’t bore you with the details of our sight seeing, suffice to say that Porto is like San Francisco and Seattle, with hilly streets as we work our way to the water front. The river cruise and the limited hop on, hop off bus circuit was a special treat to our feet before the Camino start tomorrow. Below are some pictures of our day in Porto.

Portuguese love the sun. And they will lounge in deck chairs in squares too!

Overlooking the Riberia Square, Douro’s Edge water front.

Another view of waterfront.

Joon spotted this street artwork in a side alley, off the port houses waterfront.

Turning the clock back one day……..

We took in some sight seeing on the 12th. And we committed a cardinal sin of a Camino walker during one of these sight seeing stops.

Livraria Lello, the bookstore that inspired JK Rowling to write the library moving stairscases in the Harry Potter books, was just 5 minutes away from our lodging. So, with ‘arms twisted around our backs’, we lined up for the Euro 5 entry coupon per person.

This is the only bookstore where probably 90% of visitors are taking pictures. Smartphones clicking away abound, with a smattering of DSLRs with their zoom lenses. It was crowded, and most gravitated to the spiral staircases. We did our own share of picture taking.

Facade of Livraria Lello, in the early morning. Crowds abound on weekends.

I am holding up the book I purchased at Livraria Lello, and will carry with me to Santiago! The book is ‘The Devil & Miss Prym’. Interesting premise – a stranger promises a village enough gold bars to change every single person’s life for the better. But to get the gold, they have to commit an unthinkable crime. Should be an interesting read on the Camino.

The staircase.

Intricate woodwork on the ceilings.

Characters from the Harry Potter movies.

In 11-12 hours time, our Camino walk begins. We now rest our bodies, we quiet our inner spirits and we await the morning sun. Bom Camino.