Walking Back to Happiness
I am done. I am wet and cold and thoroughly pissed off. It is day 6 and we have now realised we have another 5km to walk, and I don’t want to.
More than that, I refuse to. I’ll sit here all night if I have to, that’s how angry I am. You see, we have already walked 30km, and the last 10km have been along the side of the road through wind and horizontal salty rain, blowing straight in off the Atlantic, and straight into my face.
And I am wetter than I ever thought possible, and the only thing keeping me going was the knowledge that the town in the distance was our stop for the night, and now we’ve realised it’s not. It’s the next one, round the bend, that shimmer that you can just about make out on the horizon, and my feet are throbbing from the cold and wet, and my pack is heavier than ever, and I don’t care how far we’ve come, I am done.
So I do what any mature, nearly 40 year old woman would do in this situation. I refuse to walk any further. I sit on the sea wall and sulk. I swing my feet backwards and forwards, banging them against the wall. Then I cry. Then I grab Fred, my beloved stick that I found on day 3, the last time I wanted to cry, halfway up a mountain in the midday heat, and start to walk again, because let’s face it, what else am I going to do?
Alex meanwhile just walks along beside me, equally pissed off, but handling it in the much more masculine way of clamming up, and saying nothing. Meanwhile, poor old Fred is taking the brunt of it all, but you know what as I bang, and cry, and stomp, and well lets face it, act like a bit of an arse, I somehow start to feel better. All that banging has worked and now its not 5km, but 4km, then 3km, then 2km, then 1km, then finally the town, we’ve reached the town.
Beautiful Baiona, with its medieval fortress and pretty winding streets, is a wonderful place to wile away a few hours in an enchanting square. No time for that tonight though. All I want is my room, a hot shower and bed. And I couldn’t care less that the shower is tiny, and the towels are paper thin. Or that the room is barely big enough for our two day packs, and now resembles a jumble sale, our various items of wet clothing, strewn across every available dry surface. No, tonight this place is heaven, because it’s dry, and the lovely little landlady has even offered to put an extra heater in our room, and I can finally lie down, raise my puckered white feet in the air, my whole body throbbing with exhaustion, and sleep. Because like it or not, we’ve got to do it all again tomorrow.
We never intended to walk the Coastal Camino Portuguese, a 260km trek from Porto in Portugal to Santiago in Spain . It wasn’t on my list of things to do, or even on my general radar until a year earlier, when we had taken a road trip through Spain, and noticed the yellow arrows, scallop shells and groups of tired looking backpackers, occasionally limping their way along the side of the road. Bloody crazy, we thought, until April this year when we found ourselves, well a little lost as it happens. Life on the road had its ups and downs, and we were still trying to find our way, and if I’m honest, probably still hadn’t fully grieved for the love we had lost, and the life we had chosen to walk away from. We needed to get away for a while, to be together, to think and talk, to just be.
Our first plan was to flop on a Greek ferry and be carried away to some of our favourite islands, but that just seemed too easy. Then I remembered those yellow arrows, and scallop shells, and the idea of suddenly taking off with even fewer possessions then we already had seemed alluring.
So with a few days planning, and absolutely no preparation, we found ourselves in Porto, drinking Mateus Rose while the sun dipped, and counting down the hours until the alarm went off at 5am, and our walk commenced. We had no idea what we were doing, how hard it would be, or even what it felt like to carry 10kg on your back, day in day out. Hell, we hadn’t even broken in our walking boots. But you know what, sometimes in life, you can make all the plans, do all the right things, and it will still fuck up. So, as ever, we were winging it.
The morning came, and feeling like a nervy kid at Christmas, we strapped ourselves in and off we went. Following the Camino is fairly straightforward, just look for the yellow arrows. And in our case, as we were following the coastal Camino, as long as the sea was on our left, we were generally heading in the right direction. Boardwalks and sand dunes defined our first day, and it was only after 15km or so that my feet started to question what the hell I was doing, just before my shoulders, lower back and hip piped up as well. We practically limped into our basic pension room, and as I lay on the bed, feet in the air, the smell of muscle relaxant cream stinging my nostrils, I wondered, not for the first time, why the hell we were there. Then we went out for squid, and hake and a couple of beers, and although my feet hadn’t yet forgiven me, I knew I wanted to carry on.
And so it went, each day different, but equally as beautiful. Wake up, pack up and carry on, knowing where we needed to get to, but never sure of what we would find on the way.
The windswept Portuguese coast is stunning, small fishing towns spaced at perfect distances to stop and grab a fresh orange and a Pastel de Nata, or later in the day a cold glass of Bock beer. We soon got used to hearing ‘Bom Caminho’ from not just fellow walkers, but locals, one lady even stopping to attach a small flower to the outside of our packs. We were living the simple life, and we were loving it. We did choose to stay in small hotels or pensions, rather than the traditional pilgrim hostels, though I have no regrets on spending the few extra euros, particularly when slipping into clean cotton sheets at the end of each day. Weather wise it was perfect, lots of lovely May sunshine, warm but not hot, at least until that fateful day six.
But then guess what, the next day, the sun shone twice as hard, and we laced up our slightly soggy boots and we carried on. Because that’s what you do, not just on the Camino, but in life. When it all gets too much, just remember one foot in front of the other, and sooner or later you’ll get there. We did. And as for Fred, well of course we flew him home with us. We may not have a lot of possessions anymore, but what we do have is priceless.
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