Mid September marked the start of our long awaited European Autumn tour along the Camino Portugues. In Oporto a panoramic photo of the city skyline sparks memories of our initial day spent exploring the city’s fascinating medieval core.
Next morning we set off under blue skies on our 10 day journey travelling in the footsteps of countless pilgrims past who walked this Way to Santiago de Compostela. Traditional scallop shells on our day-packs and pilgrim passports in our pockets we soon learnt to find and follow the emblematic yellow arrows. Our regular mantra of ‘Bom Caminho’ when in Portugal and ‘Buen Camino’ in Spain was eagerly reciprocated by all who passed us by.
Our path in northern Portugal and in the Spanish province of Galicia led us through picturesque rural landscapes and via peaceful villages. Most days we walked beside late summer fields resplendent with colourful foliage and fruit ready for the harvest. As if by magic, just when shade was needed, leafy paths through forests of pine and eucalyptus trees provided welcome relief from the afternoon sun.
Particular highlights included a chance encounter with hundreds of primary school children from Portugal and Spain who had gathered beside the river in the historic small town of Ponte de Lima. It seems that our visit coincided with a festival to celebrate the passage of the Rio Lima through both countries, this symbolising the friendship that now exists between these once warring nations.
Mid way, a day free of long distance walking provided some interesting attractions of another kind. We enjoyed a bus trip to the mouth of the Rio Minho that marks the border between Portugal and Spain then travelled beside the Atlantic Ocean in the southern most part of Galicia. A visit to a highly sited ancient Celtic settlement called Santa Trega provided spectacular views of the township of A Guardia and along the rugged coastline. Further on at the historic waterfront monastery of Oia, a village band wound its way through the narrow cobbled laneways musically rallying local residents to Sunday Mass.
Perhaps an unexpected highlight was the chance to interact with like-minded travellers from other countries, sharing stories and sometimes songs created along The Way. With a spring in our step, we sang our own rendition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ inviting others to ‘Come walk the Portuguese Camino with me’! As the days passed these and other recollections merged into a rich tapestry that represented our own unique pilgrimage experience.
And finally, each one having walked more than 100kms, we reached the World Heritage listed city of Santiago! Here one can’t miss the buzz in the air as people from around the world celebrate the end of their journey. As if to further reward our efforts those who attended the Pilgrim Mass in the Cathedral joined in another special experience. They witnessed the ancient tradition in which a giant botafumeiro swings across the width of the Sanctuary spreading incense on the congregation. In earlier times this helped to clear the air of the smell of unwashed pilgrims. These days it provides a symbolic and often emotive end to a sometimes challenging, but personally rewarding journey.