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Relief

[Friday 8th September; Portugal Day 8, Camino Porto Day 3. Walking distance 35.4 klms (according to Strava)]


Those of you who have followed my previous travel blogs may recall that I start a walk without a particular blog theme or name for the day in mind – some might say with an empty head! In some ways the notion of an empty head is a pretty good analogy, in that it enables the day to unfold as it will.


So after a couple of hours the blog theme of Avalokiteshvara emerged. Avalokiteshvara is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas – in simpler English Avalokiteshvara is the Buddhist god of compassion. During my first few kilometres of walking out of Porto I found myself pre-occupied with a series of non-compassionate thoughts, and it was from this that the theme emerged. It’s handy having a team psychologist along with us (my daughter Natalie for those not in the know), so I chatted to her a little about my lack of compassion and this helped put things into perspective. And then a little later in the day I saw a lovely sign, extolling me to “Walk with your heart; and embrace our Camino”.


I have to say that this Day 1 has not felt all that “Caminoy”. I still remember very clearly the excitement, joy, wonder as Janet and I strode out onto the Camino Frances just over 3 years ago. I recall too the doubts – would I be capable of walking 800 kilometres across Spain and all that that entails – but the excitement as we charged off into the unknown was the dominant emotion. Today, sadly, that was missing. Nat and I talked about this too, me wondering whether it was because it is impossible to re-create the feeling of awe which the Frances held, because this walk isn’t truly new in that sense. And I wondered whether the very different group composition this time (there are 6, or 7, depending which way you count it, this time, as opposed to just the 2 of us before). That changes the dynamic a lot.

It was with these thoughts that the day started.


But what sometimes something happens which causes a new theme to emerge, and so it was today. I will come back to this.


Today was a huge day’s walking. Strava records that it was a 35.4 klm walk – a tad longer than expected and my biggest walking day ever. So it was a relief to finally arrive at tonight’s accommodation some 9½ hours after we started walking this morning (again, relying on Strava, of that 9½ hours my moving time was just under 7 hours).


But the actual relief came a little earlier in the day … but stand by as that story will emerge a bit later.


We left last night’s accommodation, which was in the centre of Porto, a little after 8am, and headed off to the Cathedral to start the walk. The Brierly guidebook describes the walk out of Porto and eventually into Matosinhos in less than flattering terms. I think that he’s fully wrong. He talks about the walk through unattractive industrial sites along the river; I must have missed them. The nearest thing I recall was when I walked past the “doof doof” music emerging from a warehouse type place – an 8:30 am nightclub obviously hung over from last night! The walk along the river was delightful. Old men fishing. Cruise boats waking up. A mere whisper of a wind across the Douro River. The gulls, wheeling, calling, swimming. What not to like?


A few shots follow:


The starting point …




The evolution of Pedro?



Foz do Douro …



An ancient tie point for a boat long past ….


Part way between Foz do Douro and Matosinhos, just a few hundred metres north of Castelo do Queijo, I had to stop for a coffee and rest. The others were some way ahead, and I had no way of contacting them, so I parked myself at a coffee shop and rested the feet and enjoy both the coffee and the view.


At the bridge over the river at Matosinhos a big container ship was coming in, and so the bridge was opened. The others had been waiting for me nearby.



A few more sights ….




One of the most unexpected sights came a little after 3pm, out of the little locale of Praia do Puço, near Vila Chã. On 17th September 1943 an injured Lancaster bomber landed on the beach after attempting to find refuge in Gibraltar. All crew survived, having been cared for by the local fishermen. The plane had bene stationed at Woodhall Spa base, a mere 18 kilometres from my father’s base at East Kirky, which I will be visiting later this trip. This was a most unexpected discovery, and one of the day’s highlights.


I could go on and on, so a photo and then then the cause of the relief …



Because I stop quite often to take photos, I often find myself way behind the main group. It took me a little while today to process this, but I now have that sorted. About 6klms our of Vila do Conde Nat and I were strolling along, and we heard a call from the others, who had found a beachside bar. The first thing they said was “where’s Janet”. I said “she’s with you”. Ahh, no she’s not. Nat and I had seen her off in the distance, on a slightly off-course path, and I had assumed that she was following the “wrong” path with the others. At that moment it dawned on me that she had taken a wrong turn and would not know to reconnect (I had seen an “x-ed out” yellow arrow – a malicious change I assume – and quickly worked out that she had been wrongly diverted). Because I had thought that she was with the others I was not concerned about this. And now she was lost. All this through my head in a nano-second. I chucked my walking poles to Nat with a brusque “wait here” sprinted about 500 metres up to the cross road where I figured she would be. Nada! I charged back and forth along neighbouring roads looking for her in all directions. Still nada! A friendly couple came up to me, seeing my lost and slightly panicky disposition, and enquired “Santiago?”, meaning “do you want to know the way …?” In my best non-Portuguese I managed to blurt out “mi epsosa … lost”. I guess they got the picture from my mixture of Spanish and English. Of course, they couldn’t help, and so they headed on down to the beach and I waited a little longer until deciding to dejectedly wander back to the others. In the distance I could see David waving his arms around to signal me, and immediately I knew that that meant that she had re-appeared. Panic over. (It turned out later that she had seen Nat and I on the parallel beach path and had crossed back to join the group.) I got back to the group a few minutes later and we hugged, and her first words to me were “now, don’t you cry”, which is of course what I was already doing. Relief!


We got into the accommodation around 6pm, and after a quick shower and clothes wash I headed off to explore the town. The Santa Clara Aqueduct, some 4 kilometres long, is a wonderful construction and site. I sat on top of the town for a long time, watching the sunset and the light playing on the monastery, church and aqueduct.






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Peter Campbell is a traveller, photographer, author.  He lives in the south-west corner of Western Australia with his wife Janet and golden retriever Peggy alongside the Indian and Great Southern oceans, in a peaceful rural setting surrounded by tall trees and in the company of kangaroos and kookaburras.  He can be contacted at this email address.

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