It is pitch black. I am somewhere in Porto. The bus station is only a bus parking area. No building, no all night café. Nothing. It is 6:30 in the morning. I collect my backpack and reorganize it. I am trying to think of what to do between now and 2pm when the albergue opens. I get my now working phone out to figure out where I am and somewhere to go when I realize with horror that my recently fixed Phone is not connecting up to a network! There is a man with a backpack looking at his phone with a stunned expression too. He is very good looking in a George Clooney way except of course for the look of shock. He recognizes me as a pilgrim- my scallop shell gives me away. He goes off to talk to a taxi driver while I wander down some stairs to a metro and find a map which doesn’t help much. I am just killing time, stalling, waiting for an idea of what to do.
The Good looking man finds me and waving a map asks if I am going to the cathedral? Sounds like a plan. Then we both notice our phones are now working and we turn on the directions to the cathedral. 31 minutes. That will get us there two hours before it is open and we can get our stamps for our Camino passports. We introduce ourselves. His name is Angel. Of course it is! This is the Camino and there is a saying ‘ The Camino provides’.
Angel recently retired as head of a Spanish banks’ Banking division for South America. He lives 4 months of the year in Madrid and the rest of the time in Chile where he has some investment interests. After walking the wrong way for 20 minutes we reverse and find a place open for coffee. Having killed more time we eventually end up with ten others waiting for the cathedral to open. I meet two other women there, one from Latvia, let’s call her Issy which is close enough, and Olympia from Greece (no kidding) but who lives in Germany. The four of us start walking but Angel quickly leaves us. Maybe we scared him or maybe I made an impression of the wrong kind or not an impression of the right kind. Whatever, Angel disappeared but I was now on one of the Portuguese Caminos.
The plan was to take the Coastal route. Go down to the river Douro, keep it on your left and keep walking. At one stage the highway came right to the rivers edge and a walkway grill was added for pedestrians. 18″ wide. With the river below. This went on for 1/4 mile. I didn’t enjoy this section.
After four hours, we were still in Porto! Albeit a nice section but still too busy. A wide path along the waterfront, but loads of tourists and a noisy street running alongside. The sun was out and it was starting to get hot but a nice breeze off the ocean kept it comfortable. Izzy wore plaid trousers rolled up and a 3/4 length raincoat! She said it was very comfortable. She was tall and thin. Probably no body fat.
We ended up separating when I stopped for coffee…it fuels me. I was feeling aches and pains today. It could be the all night bus ride and snoozing in a seat but my hips and ankles were aching. There are few albergue/hostels on this route. There are some small somewhat expensive hotels @$100/night but compare that to the pilgrim hostels at $7.50 night. One night in a hotel is equivalent to ten nights with coffee at hostels and hostels have a vibrant social life. Even Angel had mentioned this. His first Camino was hotel to hotel but this time, the man with I suspect very deep pockets was planning on staying at hostels.
Six hours and three coffee stops later I am finally out of Porto into the hinterlands. I didn’t think I could make the 24k to the hostel and would have taken a bus or taxi but there were no signs of either. The coastal path was beautiful, wandering alongside the sand dunes, rocks and the odd marsh on a boardwalk.
I finally made it to the albergue grateful to be there, resentful that it was 1k into town away from the beach which meant another extra 1k just to get back on the trail. I was looking forward to a shower and snooze but five minutes later Issy turned up and another ten minutes Olympia did too.
Olympia is about 30. Drop dead gorgeous with long wavy hair tied up and a lot of energy. I am about ready, more than ready for a late siesta but Olympia suggests we go for an early dinner. She had heard there was a good restaurant that served fish down at the beach. Inwardly I groan, another 1k there and 1k back. However, since we didn’t have any options the three of us headed back to the beach.
It turns out Olympia is a doctor, specializing in general family practice. Seems an oxymoron ‘specializing in general’ practice but I bet she is very good at it. She sees patients as people not problems to be solved.
Izzy has a florist shop and loves her job. She is in her mid-fifties and her 4 grown children bought her a backpack for her last birthday.
We discuss tomorrow. Izzy wants to continue on up the coast but the next section looks touristy again. Olympia is going to head inland to join the central or interior traditional Portuguese Camino. I am unsure as I leave them to enjoy the sunset and trudge back uphill 1k to finally sleep.