La Luz del Camino

La Luz del Camino

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.

 

La Luz del Camino en la Peregrina
La Luz del Camino
Leaving Pontevedra

 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! 

Luz del Camino

La mochila

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.

La mochila de la luz del Camino

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.

El cuaderno

The notebook

Mensaje de la luz del Camino

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.

 

After Barosa

Not walking on a busy road

Getting close to Caldas

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.

En Caldas de Reis

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

Camino Portugués: de Redondela a Pontevedra

Camino Portugués: de Redondela a Pontevedra

Camino Portugués: de Redondela a Pontevedra |

One of the advantages of living on the Camino is that you can walk the Camino every day. OK, it’s kind of a Groundhog Day situation: you walk the same stretch over and over and you never make it to Santiago de Compostela. But I must confess that I sometimes change my route so I can follow the flechas amarillas (yellow arrows) for a bit.

 

There’s something about following those arrows… If only every decision in life was so easy! You think “Should I do this or that?” And boom! A yellow arrow or concha de vieira (scallop shell) magically appears and shows you the way.

 

Another advantage of living on the Camino is that you can train for your next Camino… on the Camino. The Ruta da Pedra e da Auga, on the Variante Espiritual of the Camino Portugués, for instance, is a favourite route of ours.

 

The plan for the recent Carnival break was to walk 2 or 3 stages of the Camino Portugués. Life had other plans, however. That meant we could walk one stage only. We picked Redondela-Pontevedra because we could easily get to Redondela to start walking and we would finish at home. Not much planning required.

 

So el lunes (Monday) we took an early tren (train) to Redondela, had some café con leche and started walking. 

 

Redondela

One of the most characteristic features of Redondela are the two viaductos (viaduct) that cross town. They both date back to the 19th century.

 

Recently, I accidentally found out that there are two pieces of the Berlin Wall in Redondela. For more info check this article

 

I would have liked to walk around Redondela a bit, but by the time we got there and had breakfast it was already 9:00am. Great excuse to go back.

 

So, we set of from Praza da Constitución 1812, up rúa Cruceiro and past hórreo da Esfarrapada.

 

Hórreo. De Redondela a Pontevedra

 

Hórreos are a constant feature in Galician rural landscape. They are used to store grain. The pillars that raise them from the ground are ended in flat stones that prevent access by rodents. They are usually made of stone or a combination of stone and wood.

Soon we were out of town, walking on paved roads with little traffic. And after crossing a busy road we got to a pleasant picnic area with a fuente (fountain).

 

After that you walk mostly away from traffic, through forests. There’s an area where you get a nice view of the Ría de Vigo on your left. Right before that, there’s a display of shells, on your left too. I must say I was surprised by the number of these kinds of displays on this stage only. I don’t think I saw any on the whole Camino Inglés last year.

 

Another difference I noticed was that we never saw another pilgrim on the Inglés around the same time a year ago. On this one stage of the Camino Portugués from Redondela to Pontevedra we saw between 10 and 15 other people walking.

 

De Redondela a Pontevedra

Into Arcade

The worst part of the stage, for me, came right before Arcade. This stretch probably feels longer than it actually is, because you’re walking on a busy national road with cars, trucks and buses flying past you. But you are soon in Arcade, a nice little town famous for its ostras (oysters). In fact, every year, in the month of April, they celebrate an oyster festival.

 

Arcade has bars, restaurants, banks, shops… any service you may need.

 

Right after Arcade you pass Pontesampaio… and one of the most photographed bridges on this route. A plaque on one of the sides reminds us of the historical relevance of Pontesampaio: in June 1809, during the Independence War, the Spanish troops defeated the Napoleon’s army and thus ended the French occupation in Galicia.

 

Historical events aside, this is a beautiful spot.

 

After that, you continue through rural areas and forests for most of the way until Pontevedra.

 

The weather was nice, dry and sunny but not too warm and I found most of the stage quite a pleasant walk. There are some uphills, although they are not very demanding.

 

The most difficult part of the stage came after Pontesampaio, with a section on stone paths. Although it wasn’t raining that day, it has rained a lot this winter, so there was a lot of water and mud in between the stones, making the walk a bit trickier. Our bastones (hiking poles) came in quite handy here.

Entering Pontevedra

There is an alternative route or camino complementario into Pontevedra. After a small chapel (Capilla de Santa Marta in Tomeza). I was really looking forward to this section, after seeing photos and comments from other pilgrims. This camino complementario is longer than the official one but you get to walk in nature, surrounded by trees and with a river flowing by your side. Quite idyllic, as opposed to walking on the side of a road.

 

Well, the beginning of this alternative route is clearly marked but we had to skip it because there was also a sign saying that it was closed. A couple of months ago we had a few storms with heavy rain and strong winds. As a result, the small bridge over the river disappeared. I remember reading about this at the time but I had forgotten about it. So, we had to stick to the road. Not as scenic.

 

And we were finally home. One of the first things you see when you enter Pontevedra is the albergue. It’s right beside the train station and quite close to the bus station too. But you still have to walk a bit more to get to the city centre and see the famous church in the shape of a scallop shell: iglesia de la Virgen Peregrina, patron saint of the Camino Portugués.

 

I think Pontevedra well deserves a post. And you can find it here.

If you’d like to read about the previous stage, Porriño-Redondela, you can do so here.

 

Today’s Spanish words for the Camino

 

For the pronunciation of Redondela, Arcade, Pontevedra and Variante Espiritual, you can check this post about the Camino Portugués.

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Variante Espiritual

Variante Espiritual

When I wrote about the Camino Portugués a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the Variante Espiritual. This route variation starts from Pontevedra and takes you to Padrón,  where it joins the traditional Portuguese route.

 

The Variante Espiritual is a very recent route. It was created around 5 or 6 years ago, connecting places that were historically related to the Camino.

 

  • The initial part of the Variante Espiritual is based on the pilgrimage taken by Padre Sarmiento in 1745. Fray Martín Sarmiento, or Padre Sarmiento, was a Spanish scholar and monk. He wrote on a variety of subjects, including his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. In his record of this pilgrimage he mentions some of the places along the Variante Espiritual.

 

  • The third stage follows the same route as the remains of St. James on arrival to Galicia, across the Ría de Arousa and up the river Ulla.

 

Where does it start?

The starting point for the Variante Espiritual is clearly marked with two big signs.

Variante Espiritual

At this point, you can decide to go right under the bridge and follow the traditional Camino Portugués. Or you can go left and follow the Variante Espiritual.

Variante espiritual sign outside Pontevedra

The old signs

Variante espiritual new sign

New sign (2021)

A few days ago I walked more or less half of the first stage (from Pontevedra to Combarro), with my marido (husband) and our two hijas (daughters), aged doce (12) and diez (10). Have you done it with family, or are you planning to? With children? I’d love to hear your experiences!

 

The reason why we chose to walk this part is mainly that it is very convenient for us. We packed some agua (water) and snacks in a mochila and we started walking. Once we reached our destination, we simply took an autobús back home. Also, the climb up to Armenteira is hard and we didn’t want to get the kids too tired and/or bored.

 

Leaving Pontevedra 

After we left Pontevedra, we walked through rural areas until we reached the monasterio (monastery) in Poio. You can actually spend the night there, since they have an area for guests. For more info, you can check their website: http://monasteriodepoio.es

 

Variante Espiritual
On the Variante Espiritual

After Poio, you go down to sea level and walk a stretch along the coast of the Ría de Pontevedra before you reach Combarro.

 

There is also a couple of small sections on the main road, but there is plenty of space to walk. It might not be so good during the summer, since this is a touristic area, the road gets very busy and there are cars parked everywhere. But it was fine the other day. 

 

Combarro

Combarro is a beautiful fishing town, famous for its hórreos (granary), a typical Galician construction. Hórreos are used to store grain; they are raised from the ground by pillars ended in flat stones that prevent access by rodents. They are made of stone or a combination of stone and wood.

You enter Combarro through the beach

Combarro, on the Variante Espiritual

One of the many hórreos you will see

And that’s where we finished our walk this time. Maybe next time we will start here and walk up to Armenteira. The climb is hard, but the views of the Ría are amazing.

 

Armenteira

There’s another monasterio in Armenteira, where you can also spend the night. More info on their website: https://www.monasteriodearmenteira.es/ There’s an albergue too.

View of the Ría

View of the ría

Armenteira, on the Variante Espiritual

Monasterio de Armenteira

Ruta da Pedra e da Auga

The section after Armenteira is one of great natural beauty. It’s called Ruta da Pedra e da Auga (route of stone and water) and it goes along a river where you can see the remains of many old water mills.

This second stage ends in Vilanova de Arousa, from where you will take a boat to Pontecesures, right beside Padrón. Alternatively, you can walk for 28km.

 

The boat trip takes about an hour and you need to arrange it in advance. The boat departures depend on the tides, so there are no fixed times. If you decide to take the boat, you will see the only maritime Via Crucis in the world, 17 stone crosses identifying the way followed by St. James’s remains.

 

After this third stage, you just join the traditional Camino Portugués in Padrón.

 

I found the section we did was very well signed. We didn’t have any maps with us, but we didn’t miss them. We had our phones, which we could have used if we got lost, but that was not necessary either.

 

It’s a very quiet route, even during busier times of the year. The day we walked, we didn’t meet anybody walking. We saw a couple of young men leaving Pontevedra, but they took the Portuguese route. That was it.

Today’s Spanish words

 

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¡Buen Camino!

El Camino Portugués

El Camino Portugués

For the second Camino in this series I’ve chosen el Camino Portugués (Portuguese Way). It’s the second most popular route to Santiago de Compostela, after the Camino Francés. And also, it is where I live.

As the name suggests, the Camino Portugués goes to Santiago de Compostela from Portugal, but there are a couple of route variations to choose from:

  • The best known one is the central route. The most popular starting point for the Camino Central Portugués is Porto (Oporto in Spanish), which is 240 km from Santiago. If you walk 25 km per day on average, you will need around 10 days to complete it.

 

 Some people start their pilgrimage from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon (Lisboa in Spanish), which is further south. In this case, you will have to cover a distance of around 600 km. You will need approximately 25 days to complete it.

 

  • If you decide to start from Lisboa, you could also take el Camino Portugués interior once you reach Coimbra. This route will take you through the Portuguese towns of Viseu, Vila Real and Chaves. Once you enter Galicia the Camino Portugués interior joins the Vía de la Plata.

 

  • After Oporto, you have two options too: you can continue on the central route through Barcelos, Ponte de Lima and Valença. Or you can take the Camino Portugués por la costa (coastal route).

 

The Camino Portugués in Spain

 

If you follow the central route, Tui will be the first Spanish town you will encounter after crossing the bridge over the river Miño, which serves as a natural border between both countries.

  • Tui was a very important town in medieval times and you can still see many buildings dating back to 15-16th centuries, including its cathedral.

 

  • Porriño is at the centre of an important industrial area. It is one of the world’s biggest granite producers. More on the Porriño-Redondela stage here.

 

  • Redondela. This is where the central and coastal routes meet.

 

  • Arcade is a small coastal town famous for its oysters. Every year, at the beginning of April, Arcade celebrates an oyster festival.

 

  • Pontevedra has one of the most important historical centres in Galicia, after Santiago de Compostela. Most of the city centre has been pedestrianised and Pontevedra has become an internationally acclaimed city, winning awards such as the UN Habitat Award and the Active Design Award.

Pontevedra is also the starting point of the last of the route variations on el Camino Portugués: variante espiritual, which includes a boat ride and joins the central route in Padrón.

 

  • Caldas de Reis is well-known for its thermal waters.

 

  • Padrón is the home of the famous Padrón peppers. If you haven’t heard about them yet, don’t worry! I’m sure you will get the chance to taste them when you do your Camino.

 

 

 

Coastal route of the Camino Portugués

 

If you follow the coastal route, you will have to take a ferry from Caminha to A Guarda. From A Guarda, you will continue along the coast towards Vigo, which is the biggest Spanish town on this Camino. After Vigo, the coastal route joins the central route in Redondela.

There is also a variation of this coastal route, going from Caminha to Valença, along the river Minho. After Valença you then continue on to Tui.

If you don’t have enough time, you can do the Spanish section of this Camino, from Tui. It’s 119 km, enough to get a compostela and easily done in less than a week.

**Update: Regardless of the route you choose, you should know that Spain and Portugal are on different time zones. Once you cross over to Spain, you will be one hour ahead.

This document lists all available accommodations along this route. It’s a great resource.

In a previous post, I shared pilgrims recommendations about accommodation on the Camino Portugués. You can read it here. And if you would like to add any further recommendations (accommodation, food…), I’d love to hear your suggestions.

 

For more details on some of the stages of the Camino Portugués in Spain:

 

Today’s Spanish words

 

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¡Buen Camino!