Wednesday May 16 Esposende to Vila do Castelo (Day 3)

I woke up and checked my feet. Happy happy, the swelling had disappeared. I kept to my decision to wear sandals. And diligently applied Foot Glide. The swelling didn’t not reappear at days end.

The distance today was 25.6km, similar somewhat to yesterday, Day 2. We had the best breakfast spread at the hotel, and chatted with Tom & Debra from Australia. They were on a 8 week extended holiday, having spent 2 weeks in Israel earlier. They opted for an organized itinerary for their Camino, since anyone would have difficulty trying to plan 8 weeks. It’s unlikely we will run into each other as their Camino is all along the coast, while we will head inland at Caminha. We started at 9am and reached Vila do Castelo at 7pm. We must have wandered into the Twilight Zone without realizing it! There’s a logical reason for the time – there were a few, no, make that, many uphill stretches. At least three of them were on hard tarred roads/concrete sidewalks. At least three of them were uphill on dirt trails, which are un-even. And of course, there were rocky down hill stretches that one had to be careful to avoid twisting the ankle. TIP: Check the elevation map for the day’s route. We knew beforehand this was an up and down walking day.

Within 5 minutes of leaving our hotel, we couldn’t pass up this photo-op.

Today is our lucky Irish Day. We met 3 different groups of Camino walkers from Ireland. A couple, a group of 3 ladies and a solitary guy. We need to phone our kids to buy a lottery ticket for us! More about some of them later.

We walked through a residential area for about 30 mins before reaching a cobble path with trees on one side, and open ground on the other. We took the opportunity to sun my socks which had not dried.

We finally used the safety pin that’s recommended in the forums! And yes, I am wearing the 4th pair (for the bean counters among you). 🙂

This section is not a trail through a forest, more a cobble stone path. So, nothing really attractive and most would speed by it. But Eagle Eye Joon spotted two creatures on the trees. Here they are.

The only family members who will know the name of this green adorable Pokemon are my kids.

Hello Kitty, fancy meeting you here!

I am sure you can draw your own Camino lesson from this. The pace of life that we choose, can cause us to miss things.

As we headed into a residential estate, we could not avoid this chapel built between the entrance and exit roads. The residents probably contributed to it, a testimony of the community coming together.

Inside this tiny chapel.

We were looking forward to getting our stamp at Iglesia Marinhas, but unfortunately, there was no one around. It was a lovely church and I attach one of my favorite interior picture.

Under-exposed to create the dark edges, and highlight Mother Mary.

We met the Irish couple at a cafe near this church (the first group of 3 ladies had zoomed by us on a hill earlier). Tom suffered from arthritis but had recovered sufficiently to do the Camino with his partner, Siobhan. They are cyclists but decided to walk. Siobhan promised Tom that they would stop every hour and a half, which explained our leap frogging back and forth. Mind you, despite his arthritis, they put on a mean pace while we tortoised on. They are both on the Camino for spiritual reasons but they were turned off by the commercialism they experienced in some pilgrimage sites and routes. And they are totally leaving their accommodation unplanned, trusting and looking forward to the adventures they will find.

My mother’s favorite prayer is the Divine Mercy, which we picked up two years ago when we visited her. I promised her that we would say it on the Camino for her. As I mentioned yesterday, my eyes have already become attuned to the various pictorial tiles placed on house and building walls. Imagine my surprise when Eagle Eye Joon (she was walking behind me!) pointed out this Divine Mercy picture of Jesus, which is the only one we had seen throughout these 2 days. Unfortunately, it was blocked by the lamp as you can see below.

Best angled picture I could take from the road.

As I was standing outside the wall taking the picture, a lady driving a car slowly pulls up and asks Joon who was further ahead at the house gate, what was I doing. Joon explained that I was taking a picture of the Divine Mercy tile. Well, it turned out that this lady was the house owner! I wasn’t going to be shy if the Spirit was intervening. So, I asked her if it was okay for me to enter the garden to take a close up. Now, realize I am speaking English, and she’s not entirely fluent in English. She nodded her agreement and opened the gate. I entered the house compound and approached the garden but I backed away as I realized there was no path to the front of the house without going inside the house itself. The owner kindly showed me how to get through her flower bed as there was one small section which had been pushed away. Here’s the close up of this tile.

The two rays represent the Blood and Water gushing from the heart of Jesus.

Is this just a co-incidence? If the owner was a minute earlier, she would be in the house, oblivious to us outside. If she was a minute later, we would have walked further away from her house, satisfied with the first picture. As we are on a spiritual pilgrimage, we believe its the Sprit that is accompanying us. Joon commented that this morning’s walk is unusual too, in that the bells have rung as we approached or were just minutes earlier. One church rang its bell as we literally pulled up at its entrance, at high noon. Discerning the Spirit requires Faith, but also an open heart, and open mind.

One thing I must highlight about some of these residential estates is this. They keep to their agricultural and farming roots. Namely, we will at times, see sizable vegetable plots among houses. In fact, the cobble stone road took us to a plot where sheep were grazing.

I did not carry a telephoto lens to take this picture!

Note the vegetable plots being grown next to residences, not farm houses!

In USA, we use the term, ‘curb/kerb appeal’ to denote the visual attractiveness of the house from the road. The Portuguese homes here win hands and feet down. And yes, you wine lovers, you spotted your favorite fruit.

This was actually taken the day before (Day 2) when we used Dr. Google Maps to navigate a shorter route through agricultural land than through residential streets. I was struck by the manual implement being used to bore some holes in the ground to plant the seedlings. As we walked further from here, we met a lady farmer on her tractor. She thought we had lost our way, and pointed to a direction back to the paved roads. We persisted with Dr G, and continued down more dirt paths. And shorten our route. And arrived to continue down the Yellow Arrowed Road.

This was our first wooded section (may add names of location/district after we return to Seattle). There was a nice monument to depict the Santiago route.

I am pointing to Porto, where we started from.

Talented Joon wrote on this nice pebble she found in the vicinity. We subsequently placed it in a niche in the monument (after adding the word ‘Seattle).

This stretch was no longer the Yellow Arrowed Road but the Dangling Caution Tape Paths as they were draped from trees, branches along the way to show the way forward. The trails reminded us a lot of the Pacific NorthWest trails. Lightly packed dirt trails, not much undergrowth hampering one’s walk, sunlight streaming through the trees.

This was also where magic occured. Magic as in un-explained, not as in sleight of hands illusions. Deeper into the trails, we came to a stretch where it seemed powerful magic had occurred before. The remnants seeped into my body. I was possessed.

As Beloved Joon caught up with me, I took her hands and looked into her eyes. And I apologized three times to her. Three times I asked for forgiveness, and three times she forgave. So, the slate is renewed as we approach our 34th anniversary, on the same day that Prince Harry and Meghan undertake their wedding vows.

To be truthfully, it wasn’t magic, but the Holy Spirit.

This stretch skirts along Rio (River) Nieve near the end. We could hear the river falling over. As we paused, Irishman Eamon turned up. We merely greeted each other before we moved on. We would chat more and walk together later.

This wooded trail ends in a delightful stone bridge. It’s really refreshing and we rested to have a snack, as we had powered on without lunch.

Extremely restful spot; budget time to soak in the beauty and tranquility of this spot!

It was probably 10 mins after we had reached this spot when Eamon turned up (by then, I had assume he had gone into the river at the spot we first greeted him). He took some pictures and laid on the bridge, sun bathing. Later we would find out from Tom that Eamon had a bad back, and needed to relax it.

Regardless whether Eamon’s back was acting up, this was a terrific way to do the Camino. Eamon lying on the bridge, with the sun, rushing waters, ionised air. Creating special memories, not achieving a speed record.

Tom & Siobahn properly introduced Eamon to us in front of an alberque further up, where they had a sign for a self service stamp. Eamon and us walked a bit together and chatted.

Eamon has the ability to travel now, and he had heard about the Camino from his sister who had done it two years ago. We got to chatting in general. Then without any prompting from us, Eamon brought up a point of view that for some couples, it’s better they do the Camino separately. That was an un-expected topic. I reflected on that, and responded as follows. It may be that couples might have to do the Camino separately at first but when each person changes as a result of the Camino, they should do it as a couple, to enhance the relationship. He reflected on what I said. My impression was he had other couples in mind, but Intuitive Joon thought otherwise. Who knows.

There was an uphill stretch over a pebbled path. If one is heads down or eyes straight ahead, one will miss this nice tiled picture of St. James (St. Tiago) as one has to look sideways/backwards to see it.

This is why I carry my point and shoot camera, as this picture is an aspect ratio of 1:1. In other words, Instagram sizing.

To end the Irish story, as we exited one of the forested trails, and rested a bit, the first lady of the 3 Irish gals bounded by. When I inquired, she said her two friends were behind. Those two other Irish gals caught up with us as we were re-filling our water bottles and water bladder. One of them provided us this great idea. TIP: Cool the water bladder in the refrigerator beforehand!

We chose an Airbnb for the night in Viana do Castelo due to its more central location. In addition, we wanted to meet some locals. This intuition turned out to be a blessing. Joanna the host was away in Italy and her best friend Guido hosted us instead. The house is a beauty, filled and decorated with art and artefacts. The wooden floors were covered with rugs and carpets. The fixtures were period pieces. It was a wonderul ambience.

Guido is an artist, a theraputist.

Guido near his ceramic art work.

Guido passed us some of his pieces to spread human caring. While we will keep two pieces for ourselves, we are to pass the others on via a hug and the story. How lovely.

Well, we have to hit the road….so, I will end today’s post though I may have more to write.

Blessings be with you, as they have been with us.

p/s. Joanna had walked the Camino several times. She had this book in the guest bathroom that we used. Co-incidence or a sign?

Tuesday May 15 Villa do Conde to Esposende (Day 2)

We slept very well, the aches and pains from yesterday were a distant memory. This doesn’t mean a sleep-in, as I got up from bed at 6am, washed up, prepared instant coffee in the kitchen and completed the previous day’s blog. A rhythm that seems to work, first draft in the evening and completion the following morning.

Today’s walk is 24.2 km. Based on our actual arrival time this evening, we are averaging about 4 km per hour. Lunch plus rest stops plus photographic lingering is adding another 2 hours. That’s how the numbers added up today. I am about to name ourselves the Strolling Camino Pilgrims, or the Ambling Camino Pilgrims!

Near our lodging was a sculpture park. We took the opportunity to pass through it. I am always in awe of the inspired works of artists. It’s a talent that I was not blessed with.

This was the piece that I spotted through the fence, that brought us into the sculpture gardens.

A cleaner noticed I was taking pictures, and pointed this piece to me at the end of a wall as we were exiting! How helpful of her.

Aqueduct for Vila do Conde.

We decided to get our Villa do Condo stamp at Igreja Matriz, which opened at 10am. Breakfast was at a nearby cafe, we tried rice cake which was sumptous.

Exterior of Igreja Matriz.

I was moved to take the interior pictures in B&W.

Oh, we should share that our Camino theme is Faith, Fellowship & Food. Why food? Because it reflects the cultures of the regions and countries we visit.

We set off at about 10.40am, a late start. The initial stages of the Yellow Arrowed Road were through residential areas. There are several common strategies that one can employ when walking through stretches of the Camino that can dull the eyes/mind. Especially when one goes through a part of the city that is largely non-descript, say an industrial or residential area.

  1. Talk to one’s walking partners/companions
  2. Listen to music
  3. Medidate/contemplate/pray
  4. Increase the walking pace to get this stretch over quickly
  5. Zone out

I am sure we have employed all or a mix of such strategies, depending on the stretch. How about augmenting this list?

Well, it took me a bit to trigger my creative juices, walking by all the various and largely non-descript houses. However, I noticed quite a number of houses displayed pictorial tiles on the walls of their houses. In addition, a number of houses also tiled their external walls facing the road. Net, I decided to start my own ‘collection’ of such pictures. I am putting a small sample here, as I am quite limited in the ability to post-edit these pictures.

While most tiles are typically 1.5 feet by 1 feet (guestimate), there were some were significant in size.


It was a sunnier day today, no overcast skies. Thus, the Atlantic ocean reflected the blue skies (that plus the setting on my X100F. It’s beyond comprehension how long the beach stretches, given this is the 2nd day of walking along the coastline.

Fortunately, the wind was resting today. The boardwalk stretches alongside the beach for the most part.

Wild flowers of various colors were blooming in spring. There were stretches with multi-colored flowers.

Unlike yesterday, we started seeing people sun-bathe today. Note the panels to help shield them from the wind (& sand blowing into them).

We have come across locks of love, padlocked on fences, bridges, etc. Here’s one of sea shells!

On the back, some of them inscribe their wishes/intentions.

At one stage of the walk along the coastline, I was reflecting on all the sounds I was hearing. The ocean waves, the blowing wind, the birds chirping. There was absolutely no man-made noise. And I was reflecting on how the people in the area, enjoyed such beauty but lived very simple lives. One did not see the massive condo blocks that one would see in Miami or Hawaii along these beaches. And the question formed in my mind, “How can we further simplify our lives?” Joon agreed it was a good question to contemplate for the walk today.

The stopping to take pictures was obviously slowing our journey. Even though I had said to myself earlier, that was the last picture of the ocean I was taking, below is the final picture that I took (that I recall, as I am working off two albums – one on the phone, one on the camera). I am wirelessly transmitting a subset of pics from camera to phone for this blog updates.

Every action, every thought on the Camino tends to raise more contemplation for me. This persistence to continue taking pictures of the same subject seems almost OCD-like. We may have different ‘subjects’ where we have OCD compulsions, but rather than psycho-analyzing this, I turned it around. How can I harness this same photographic mania/OCD for my spiritual life? How can I pray with the same OCD-like compulsion as I love to take photographs? This question need not be spiritual, it could be something as simple as deepening the relationship with someone, harnessing that OCD impulses that lie with most every one!

The final stretch into Esposende was along the sidewalks. We could see kite surfers taking advantage of the winds blowing in from the ocean. Harnessing nature, enjoying the winds.

Coming back to the theme of Fellowship, we met Andrea on the boardwalks along the beach. She engaged in a discussion with us. She requested two things from us, a small donation and a prayer (for a good man). We happily obliged.

Andrea & Joon on the boardwalk. She was an expressive character!

We also came across Petra, fellow Camino pilgrim. She was resting by the roadside, and we struck up a conversation. Petra is young, she’s doing the Camino care free, without a plan or schedule. Example, she took the time to sun bathe on the beach. The weight of her backpack floored me – 10 kilos or 22 pouunds! And she was wearing sandals to ease a blister that had formed. Needless to say, after chatting for a bit while walking together, she pulled away as we normalized to our usual pace. 🙂

We checked into a hotel, where there was an elevator and an attached bathroom. We met an Australian couple, Tom & Debra. Debra advised us to soak into the bath tub of warm water. It forces the blood circulation to rise to the skin, and helps one recover and rejuvenate. Joon took the advice. I showered. It was a question of time efficiency. 🙂

As I took off my shoes, I noticed the start of blisters being formed under both my feet, under the fleshy part of the big toe. I had neglected to apply Foot Glide like I did on the first day. I contemplated bursting the swollen area to drain the liquid, but Joon advised to sleep on it. Let’s see what happens tomorrow, but I made the decision to wear my sandals instead of my shoes.

I convinced Joon to venture a bit beyond the hotel for dinner. Our first suggestion from Senor Yelp was closed (this was after a 15 min walk). We were heading to the second suggestion, when Joon spotted a restaurant that was about 15 metres before it. It was filled with diners. In we went. We ordered a seafood rice and fried octopus. It was beyond our expectations.

Before ending today’s post, I am sure you are wondering how we will further simplify our lives. We had already downsized more than 2 summers ago. The question has also morphed from simplification to something more. Here are our thoughts from today:

  1. Reduce screen time. For us, it’s less the television but our electronic devices and phones.
  2. Live in the moment. The Camino is teaching us to appreciate every moment, every experience. It’s the journey, not just the destination.
  3. Commune with nature. Increase our outdoor time. City life can become the “matrix”, as we chase the latest restaurant, the latest in-thing, etc. As Neo was asked, the red or blue pill?
  4. Pray more as time frees up from some of above. You can interpret ‘pray’ as medidate or contemplate more.

p/s. The floor tiles in the bathroom were heated! How we are subjected to temptations, tsk tsk.

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!

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.

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

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.

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.



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

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 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.