Day one of the pilgrimage

After a packed day of sightseeing in Porto, it was time to begin our pilgrimage to Spain.

In the 9th century the tomb of St John was discovered in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Following this the Romans built a network of roads leading the way from Portugal and France to the tomb in Spain.

Today, thousands of pilgrims walk these routes, visiting religious sites, historic buildings and stopping in quaint towns before reaching Santiago de Compostela. People embark on the journey for many reasons; religious, spiritual, emotional, the list goes on. For me, I’m a keen walker, many people had recommended the journey and when I posed the idea to my brother he said; ‘sure, why not’. Plus any excuse to go to Spain and practice my Spanish is a win.

Consqeuently, we found ourselves leaving the lovely hostel in Porto at around 9.30 am. Armed with cheese sandwiches and water we headed out for our adventure.

To begin, we walked to the main cathedral in Porto to purchase a pilgrimage passport and get our first stamp. Getting two stamps per day in this passport enables you to get discounts at hostels and restaurants. It also means you can receive your certificate at the end of the journey in Santiago. It is easy enough to get stamps: hostels, restaurants, cafes and churches all have them available.

With this vital new purchase we headed to the metro station. A friendly gentleman helped us to buy tickets from the self-service machine. You need to work out which zone you would like to reach in order to get the correct ticket. No one checked ours and there were no barriers – so don’t worry too much if you are unsure about what you have purchased. We paid €6.80 each, I think this was right (or slightly higher than it should have been).

We boarded the train at Trindade (Porto) and approximately 40/50 minutes later we pulled up at Villa Do Conde, where we began our 223 km hike. To begin with we walked west, in order to find the sea. We passed a historic aqueduct (a Roman invention used to purify water, making it suitable for drinking) and some bakeries and shops.

A little while later we reached the ocean. We then began walking north, keeping the sea on our left. After a while we began seeing blue and yellow arrows – so we knew, despite not having a map, that we were on the correct coastal Camino path.

A mist swept in brining cool air and a couple of drops of precipitation. We welcomed the chilled weather. It was a refreshing change from the 28 degree heat we had experienced the day before.

Our view was hazy. The outline of jagged rocks jutting out of the ocean could just about be discerned.

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Our path began next to a road, with the beach on the other side of us. Cafes and shops lined the street. Further on we stepped onto a boardwalk.

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This was magical, as we were able to bid farewell to the traffic on the road and enjoyed the tranquility. All we could hear were the waves crashing on the shore.

We found a climbing wall to try out too.

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After a while we reached a cafe on the seafront. Here we stopped for an iced coffee and read our books. We appreciated the break. The kind waitress gave us a stamp on our pilgrimage passports.

Feeling refreshed, we set off once more. The coastal camino path veered away from the ocean. Following signs, we strolled up quiet roads, which took us through farms.

Onions, tomatoes, corn, lettuce, beans and many other crops were in abundance here. We nosed into huge greenhouses, where lines of saplings grew. Farmers wearing masks were walking up and down the aisles, spraying the crops.

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We walked through woodland before reaching small, villages.

Finding an impressive cathedral with open doors, we ventured inside. No one was present but there was a stamp press, so we took one for our passports.

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Walking further, we decided to look for somewhere to sleep and eat, we were starving, it was dinner time. We reached a village called Fao were there was a Camino house. Showing our passports, the receptionist told us a dorm room would be €11.90 each, the pilgrim price. We showered and met at 6.30pm to find food.

We explored Foa for a place to eat; we were now desperately hungry. However, everywhere was empty, overpriced or closed. There were cafes and bakeries open but they didn’t serve dinner, and a pastry was not going to do the job.

We stumbled upon a fire station with an old fire engine inside (model from 1931). It had a bell that the passenger would ring rather than the automatic siren we hear today. There were modern vehicles too.

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We couldn’t work out what this place was. The area seemed like a ghost town. It was beautiful but devoid of humans.

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We ended up walking back to the first place we walked into opposite our accommodation. By this time – 7.30pm it was somewhat busier, so we took a seat.

By the time the waitress brought us our food, our eyes popped out of their sockets. It looked delicious. Costing just €15.50 for a huge plate of mixed tapas and a giant bowl of pasta, we could not complain.

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Almost all of it got demolished. Feeling very satisfied, we turned in for the night.

We had completed 23km – not too shabby. It was a wonderful first day.

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