A month ago I had the opportunity to take part in La Luz del Camino initiative.
But what is La Luz del Camino?
After the confinamiento (lockdown), some peregrinos (pilgrims) decided to start a Camino from Roncesvalles, on the Camino Francés, carrying a special mochila (backpack) with a light on. The purpose of this pilgrimage was to remember all those people who have died of covid-19. The idea was for the backpack to be carried in relays, by different pilgrims, all the way to Santiago.
Once that backpack was on its way to Santiago, the question was “why not do the same on a different Camino? And that’s how La Luz del Camino Portugués originated. Plans were made to start a pilgrimage from Porto, in Portugal, along the central route of the Camino Portugués. Also, both pilgrimages were coordinated so that the 2 mochilas would enter Santiago on the same day, July 24, the day before the festivity of st. James.
Oihana, someone I’ve met online and hope to meet in person soon, was one of the people involved in the organisation of La Luz del Camino Portugués. She invited me to participate and I immediately said yes!
First, because it was a very thoughtful project in general. But also because it gave me the chance to do something meaningful for my friend and fellow Spanish teacher Inés, who lost both her parents to coronavirus.
Inés is from Madrid but lives in the US with her American husband. Her parents died in April and, 5 months later, she still hasn’t been able to travel to Spain, which is making her grieving process harder. Her parents, Vicente and Carmen, were deeply religious and also had a strong interest in art and history. They never walked the Camino, but they did visit the cathedral in Santiago, as well as many other places along the Caminos.
So, going back to the light of the Camino, our special mochila left Porto on July 11, after a blessing at the cathedral. It made its way to Spain on the central route and reached Tui a few days later. You can follow the journey on this Facebook group, which has plenty of photos and an account of each day’s walk.
From Pontevedra to Caldas
On Tuesday July 21 the backpack travelled from Pontevedra, my home town, to Caldas de Reis. And that’s where I came in. I didn’t know who I was going to walk with or how many people I was going to meet.
Arrangements were made to leave very early, at 6.00am, because the weather had been particularly hot that week; the maximum expected temperature for that day was around 40ºC (104ºF). ¡Mucho calor!
We met outside the Peregrina church, with our mascarillas (facemasks), as the “new normal” requires, and we started walking. It turned out there were 5 of us in total. It was still oscuro (dark) but at least the temperature was nice and fresh.
We left Pontevedra in the dark, making good speed to try and beat the heat, and continued on to Alba, San Amaro and A Portela. After a while, we started distancing from each other so we could remove our masks. We saw one or 2 pilgrims along the way and a couple of locals too as we passed through villages. But, in general, we were on our own.
The bares and cafeterías we passed were closed. Maybe it was too early, or maybe it was one of the side effects of covid-19. I’d say it was the latter, because we didn’t find anything open until we got to Caldas, which means… we were not able to have café con leche or tortilla!
As I mentioned before, the backpack was carrying a light, but that was not the only thing:
There was also una concha de vieira (scallop shell) hand-painted by Julia, the same girl who later carried the backpack into the cathedral in Santiago, as well as different items added by different people at different stages.
I added a yellow knitted shell, for all of those who had plans to walk this year and had to cancel (myself included).
There was also un bordón (a staff), that was especially made for the occasion and that you can see in the video.
Inside the bag, there was a notebook where anyone could write about their experience accompanying the light of the Camino, a special message for a loved one, etc. So I asked my friend Inés if she would like me to write something on her behalf.
After walking through forests and villages for a while, the Camino joins the busy N-550 road. At this point, if you look across the road, you’ll see a sign saying “Parque Natural Río Barosa”. It’s a beautiful place with waterfalls and old watermills. It’s about 500m off the Camino, but it’s well worth the detour. Whenever you find yourself walking the Camino Portugués, if you have the time, please stop by. You won’t regret it.
We chose this place for a break (sadly, café con leche was not an option, as I mentioned, because everything was closed); we were all carrying snacks, but a colleague of one of the people walking met us there with donuts, cereal bars, nuts and drinks! The Camino provides, right?
I also chose this place to write Inés’ message on the notebook. It’s beautiful, it’s peaceful… I couldn’t think of a better spot to complete my mission.
Writing on behalf of my friend
So we had a break, I wrote on the special notebook and we continued our way to Caldas de Reis, which was not too far away.
That meant back to busy N-550. I’ve travelled that stretch of the road on numerous occasions (by car) and I often see pilgrims walking on the side of the road. I wasn’t looking forward to this part of the walk. But I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there’s actually no need to do this. The Camino runs more or less parallel to the road, but you don’t actually have to walk on the hard shoulder.
Not walking on a busy road
Getting close to Caldas de Reis
There’s around 5-6km between Barosa and Caldas, so most of our walking was done by the time we took our break. We entered Caldas before 11.30am… and before the worst of the heat!
Caldas de Reis is nice little town well known for its hot springs and spa. We had no time to enjoy any of it on this occasion, because we were going back home. But if you’re ever staying in Caldas, make sure you don’t miss it. Your feet will thank you for it.
Work commitments meant we couldn’t keep on walking to Santiago. It would have been great to see that mochila enter Santiago and the cathedral; but I’m happy and grateful I was able to be a part of this initiative (even if it was a small one).
Today’s Spanish words
Concha de vieira
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