Friends from the Camino de Santiago trail. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Santiago, Spain to Portugal

After I finished walking the el Camino in fall 2014, there were ties to keep the experience fresh in my mind. Paddy was an Irish hiker I met the last day on the trail; he and I spent the day walking around the historic, world heritage site of Santiago de Compostela. The architecture of the old Spanish buildings is grand and elegant. There has been a great effort to maintain and restore historical sites here and all along the el Camino trail. I really never tire of history.

After a long and exciting day of finishing the el Camino, visiting the historic sites, and receiving my official documents, I finished my day with dinner in an outdoor café in a plaza near my place for the night. My room overlooked a central plaza behind the great cathedral, and from the window that opens onto a balcony, I was entertained all night with the music, laughter, and the sounds of the city.

I had an early departure on the train, but during the night I hardly slept. At 4 am I looked at my watch, and again at 4:30, and by 5:00 I couldn’t lay in bed any longer, so I got up, showered, dressed, and packed the remaining few things. I was ready to depart when Paddy knocked on my door: he had planned to walk me to the train station. He was concerned for my safety, walking alone on the city streets at that hour in the dark. The only people out at that hour were the young people leaving the bars at 5:15 in the morning.

We entered the large, central lobby of the train station, which was practically empty— perhaps 8 or 10 people—and directly across the large empty floor was a couple sitting on a bench. As soon as I entered they both jumped up, started waving, and walked towards us. They were Marta and Alberto, the Brazilian couple who spent so much time together on the el Camino. They didn’t know I had finished, and we were so happy for each other that we had safely completed the el Camino. You can see them in my photo at the top of this blog post.

I gave Paddy a hug, said my goodbyes, and thanked him for all the kindness and support he had given me: on that last day on the trail, in Santiago, and finally this morning, when he got up early to walk me to the train station. He is a true example of the great people who make up the el Camino family.

Marta and Alberto were taking the same two trains to Porto. We sat together on the bench, recapping our experiences in some of the albergues, on the hot dry Meseta, and over the mountain ranges. I noticed Alberto had a different walking stick, which was broken and held together with duct tape. The first time I met them, he had a beautifully carved stick, that was a special gift, and I had complimented him on it. He opened his pack: his stick was broken, but he still treasured it. Two broken walking sticks is a reminder that the el Camino is not for the fainthearted, that is for sure.

When the train arrived, we each went to our assigned car, and later, after boarding a second train, we had time to sit at the station and have a quick espresso together. As I was sitting there, I thought that the trains are a great way to travel in Europe. I always felt safe and clean. I looked out the window as we headed south, along the shoreline of Spain, into Portugal.

The train made a few stops, and after a few hours we arrived in Porto, a large city. At the station, Alberto and Marta were waiting to say good bye for the final time. After a quick hug, I headed to one of the ticket stations to buy a ticket to Lisbon, in hopes that I could get to Lisbon today.

There is no guarantee that they are not sold out. I waited in a long line and purchased a ticket. It was a big station and I had to hurry to catch the train. I was happy to find the right train car and my assigned seat. Now I could relax, and I had reservations for the night at a luxurious hotel on Praca Marques de Pombal, the most prominent place in Lisbon, Portugal. For me, this was a drastic change from the albergues I had slept in for a month. This was my ultimate treat before heading home.

(posted July 21, 2015)