While the Camino experience is most uplifting it is not devoid of challenges. The coastal route of the Camino Portugues is now well signposted but at times the path ends abruptly at a sandy beach where signage is absent or has been washed away. On occasion the familiar yellow arrows are difficult to find. It’s important to keep looking – generally they are not that far away! Sometimes however there are choices with signs pointing in two opposite directions. A guidebook with detailed maps of pathway options and the varying terrain can help to avoid walking many unnecessary kilometres on already tired feet.
Our second week along this lesser travelled route began in the cosmopolitan city of Vigo situated on one of the deepest harbours in Europe. In 1702 this was the site of a famous naval battle led by invading Anglo-Dutch forces against a Spanish treasure fleet returning with silver from the Americas. Many galleons were lost and their sunken bounty still remains in the depths of Vigo Bay. Today This city is better known as the largest fishing port in the world with the estuary especially famous for farming high quality oysters and muscles.
Midway through our tour we enjoy a well-earned break from long distance walking to take a one-hour ferry ride to the Cies Islands. This world renowned national marine-terrestrial park is acclaimed for its crystal clear turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. Although the day is wet and overcast we spend a few hours exploring, finally reaching a highly sited lighthouse almost hidden in the mist. Along the way we enjoy the beauty of the landscape and are amazed by the prolific bird life. Large gulls nest beside our path, some nests home to new born chicks. Other ‘scout’ and ‘bodyguard’ gulls keep a watchful eye on our movements and call out to warn us to keep our distance.
Beyond Vigo the coastal Camino joins the traditional Portugues Way and many more people join us on our journey to Santiago. Highlights of the next few days include crossing the medieval Pontesampaio bridge near the seaside town of Arcade; arriving in Pontedevedra where in the late afternoon and evening pedestrianised streets and plazas are filled with families and the sound of children’s laughter; and simply walking through the ever-changing landscape witnessing the daily life of the Galician people.
Almost at our journey’s end we reach the small town of Caldas de Rei, known otherwise as ‘the hot waters of the Kings’. We enjoy a complimentary thermal spa offered by our hotel. One of us indulges further with a hydrotherapy bath followed by a back massage. Next day our delight is somewhat short lived by the prospect of walking in the rain! Although our spirits are not dampened we are pleased to reach a signpost junction informing us that as well as the Camino we are on the ancient Roman road – and now only 40 kms from Santiago.
Undaunted by the weather the intrepid band who complete the final stretch are enlivened by the camaraderie of new friends from many different countries made along The Way. Those who attend the midday Pilgrim mass are fortunate to witness the theatrical swinging of the giant thurible known as the Botafumeiro that dispenses thick clouds of incense across its 65 metre wide arch across the transept. And finally there’s time to relax and enjoy the lively ambience of this historic city and to reflect on personal discoveries and achievements before heading off on our separate ways.
Special thanks to Christine G., Catherine T. and Philip P. for their photo contributions.