David, USA (2019)

"Within the first day I could tell that this portion of the Portugues was not going to be like the Norte or Frances. It was very flat, it was very industrial, it was repetitive, it was hot, and it was a lot of concrete. But somehow I still enjoyed it."

I began the travels of 2019 hoping to gain clarity on what I wanted to do longer term in my life, and although I can’t say more clarity was gained, I can say the Camino Portugues was challenging and fulfilling in its own way. Included in what was a total of three months traveling in Europe, my walk was one of the most memorable parts of it. After finishing, I didn’t know what I learned from it, but I knew in time that I would.

In late June 2019 I left the refuge of Lisbon behind and hit the road to see the Portuguese countryside. There was not a lot of information on starting from Lisbon so the unexpected awaited me. What I did know is that I’ve come to find that I feel at home being on the road. Seeing new things daily while being physically tested is something I enjoy very much. It also gives me a sense of purpose and direction that is hard to find sometimes. The Camino just feels comfortable to me. Being this was my third one, the novelty is less, but the experience is memorable nonetheless for the same reasons I wrote in my first story.

Within the first day I could tell that this portion of the Portugues was not going to be like the Norte or Frances. It was very flat, it was very industrial, it was repetitive, it was hot, and it was a lot of concrete. At times I struggled to find enjoyment in the days walking long distances alongside roads and through industrial areas as the sun beat down. It just didn’t feel like the pleasant Caminos I had done in the past, but somehow it never ceases to amaze. You can read through the journey day by day here.

Fortunately I could share the struggle with some great people along the way. Early on out of Lisbon I came across Lis and Finn from Denmark. They were a little unsure of the path and I was able to help with a phone app. As they skeptically watched my technological prowess, I slowly gained their trust to lead the way. Although we added and lost people, we ended up walking the next thirty days together through the lows and the highs of it all. I called them my Camino parents.

Along with sharing the hardships with friends, they helped me appreciate the little positive things that you come across. These were things like coming off of a highway and into a forest, if only for a few kilometers, before returning to it. Or being gifted water and fruit by generous locals. It’s similar to everyday life in that regard, sometimes you need the bad to appreciate the good. In some of the tough times where it was hard to go on, I remember Lis’ pragmatic and stoic words, “we can and we will.”

Although the trails weren’t always great, the one thing the Portugues does have is amazing cities. I think the places you go through rival any on the other Caminos. Lisbon, Santarem, Tomar, Coimbra, and Porto are all memorable and worth seeing. With some incredible logistics planning and luck, we made it to Porto on time to have a rest day and meet up with Nilanj. He joined us to walk the final stretch to Santiago. It was great to have him around as we shared past Camino memories and made new ones along the way. From Porto the trails are more enjoyable and more like the other Caminos. We met so many great people along this stretch and had an all around enjoyable and fun time. I wish it lasted a bit longer but we made the most of it.

No matter how many times you reach the end, Santiago always seems to have a tranquil aura about it. It stays the same over the years, as you change. Each time you arrive, you’re a slightly different person than the years before. It’s a consistent place you can count on. Each Camino has been special in its own way and it’s impossible for me to compare them. I even got to see the cathedral without the scaffolding for the first time! After celebrating into the night and saying our farewells, it was time to sleep.

Nilanj and I decided once again to walk the final three days from Santiago to the coast, and I’m glad we did. Not only is it nice closure to the journey, but there is something special about retracing your steps on the same route as the years go by. It encourages reflection on the past and the events that led to you being on the same trail once again. There was one moment I can remember during the second day where I imagined seeing my two past selves walking along side me. I tried to remember what I was thinking about in those times, and I wondered what they would think of me currently. As I was doing this I saw an older figure approaching from the opposite direction and as he passed, he said, “you’re doing great, buen camino.” It was almost like my future self was reassuring me on any of life doubts I might have.

I never would have imagined doing three full Caminos in five years, but I can now say I’ve done it. I’m happy that I’ve made the life sacrifices to make my travels possible. Time constantly reminds us of our own mortality and I’m glad to be making the most of what I have.

Share Story:

Related Stories