November 4, 2019 – Fisterra, Spain
For six weeks and 550 miles I’d been perfectly healthy (outside of a few blisters) walking across Spain. But I wake on the morning J’Nell and I are to leave for Portugal feverish and nauseous. With 6 hours of bus rides ahead of me, this is no bueno. It feels like someone elbowed me in the back of the head, and a bunch of imaginary thumbs are pressing on my stomach from the inside.
Getting out of bed is almost impossible.
A stomach bug was going around towards the end of the Camino and hit several of our friends. But in the four days we had been in Fisterra, I was high energy and didn’t interact with anyone who seemed remotely sick. Illness was the last thing on my mind.
But now, I don’t know how I will be able to walk across the street to the bus stop. Thankfully J’Nell goes to the pharmacy and gets medicine. Neither of us know exactly what the pills are, but I’m eager to gobble down anything to ease the pain in my gut.
We have two bus rides today, the first to Santiago and then we switch for Porto. I put my headphones in my ears, and the only track I listen to is calming rain sounds. I meditate, control my breath, and as the wheels go round and round, I mostly keep my eyes closed.
I am glad to open them as we’re about to cross the Ponte Infante D Henriques bridge into Porto.
First I see the red tiled roofs of the Gaia de Nova, where the port warehouses and tasting rooms are located, then the gorgeous steel arched Luis I Bridge that stylistically seems a cousin of the Eiffel Tower. It is a grand entrance and introduction to the city. At 3:30 pm we arrive at Garagem Atlântico, and I am truly thankful I did not throw-up on the bus.
J’Nell maps out the route to our Airbnb on Avenue Santa Catarina, and it’s about a 20 minute walk away. I still feel awful, but after being cooped up for so long I need fresh air. Though my 20 pound backpack seems like 100 when I strap it on, and it is a struggle to put one foot in front of the other.
As sick as I feel, I smile getting my first glimpses of Porto’s famous blue and white mosaic tiled buildings and its black and white tiled pavements. But each step makes me wearier. We finally make it to our apartment and meet our Airbnb host, and upon discovering we have to walk up four flights, I want to curl into a ball in the stairwell.
But I endure, and trudge up to our residence for the next week. While the nice gentleman explains all the features, all I want to do is find the bed. The second he leaves I am under the covers, hoping a couple hours of napping might give me enough energy to make it out for dinner.
I won’t leave the bed until the next morning.
November 5, 2019 – Porto, Portugal
I have weird fever dreams all night, but upon awakening I miraculously feel much better. Still weary and not cured, but I have enough energy to try some exploring. I figure if I can stay on my feet for two or three hours, that will be respectable.
J’Nell and I are out and about all day.
With every enchanting street meandering to cool buildings, squares, churches, shops, restaurants and bars, my energy level is boosted. The people we meet are wonderful and welcoming. Just 24 hours ago I couldn’t even drink a cup of tea without wincing, and today I’m trying fried Bacalhau (cod) and sampling port and various wines from the Douro Valley.
Normally before visiting anywhere, I research for weeks and it gives me great pleasure to learn as much as I can about my destination. But with the Camino being the main focus of our trip, I wasn’t able to immerse myself in the cities and culture of Portugal. I bought a book before we left for Europe (by Rick Steves), but I shipped it ahead to Santiago soon after we began hiking to keep the weight in my backpack down. I’ve only glanced at it.
But we are lucky to have plenty of time in Portugal, and there is no pressure to buzz about town to cram in as many sights, sounds, smells, and tastes as possible. In Rick’s guide he recommends 1-2 day in Porto if you have a 2 week trip; we have 7 and nearly one month in the country.
After sleeping in a new place almost every night on the Camino, I’m looking forward to staying put and exploring at a leisurely pace. I’ll eventually read the Portugal book and make notes on Rick’s tips and recommendations, but I know we’ll discover much more simply wandering on our own.
After just one full day here, I cannot wait to experience more of Porto.
Flash forward to May 31, 2020.
Unlike the 6 week walk across Spain, I didn’t keep a daily journal while I was in Portugal and only scribbled down notes intermittently. I think by the time we got there I needed a break from that routine, and morphing from pilgrim to tourist made me feel less inclined to carve out the time to write.
And in many ways, I was too busy enjoying the here and now. Our Camino friend Jeremy joined us for the beginning of our new adventure, and the three of us had so much fun. I also think to what Thomas Mann once said: “I would rather participate in life than write a hundred stories.”
But now six months later, I have a lot I want to write about Porto and the rest of our time in Portugal. In addition, I took some amazing photos I’d love to share with you. So with my upcoming posts, I’ll cover the highlights of our nearly one month there the best I can and write about what I thought made the places we visited so special.
Hope you will keep following along. Obrigado!