• Theresa Fersch

25kms to Povoa de Varzim

By 7 AM, we were well on our way. It was still dark out and fairly cool. I began walking in my jacket and my shorts, at first thinking I would soon be too warm, but once we reached for shore, and the cold wind hit us, I was happy for my decision.

We walked along what is considered one of the most dangerous shorelines on the coast, having taken the lives of thousands of sailors over the years. We also passed a refinery on our right. there were many plaques with historical info and details about local plant life and wildlife. 

The guys were chatting this morning about how the Camino is actually more difficult on their feet than the AT because you’re walking on much harder surfaces than the soft dirt and blanket of pine needles the Appalachian Trail provides.

I could see the boardwalk stretched miles in front of me and I recalled that when I was on my first Camino, I reached a point where seeing a long path in front of me was comforting. I knew what I would be doing for the next several hours. This morning, I searched deep within me and tried to find that same feeling. I think though because this walk is still new for me, today it does not bring a great deal of comfort.

There was a section of the boardwalk that jetted away from the coast and pointed inland. It then turned back towards the coast and then down the shore again. I said “am I the only one who feels like the last three minutes of our life was a total waste of energy?“ And Brian said “we were just talking about that!“ Any step that does not put us closer to Santiago is a waste. So much that even though we were starving 1.5 hours into our hike, when we saw a sign for a pilgrims menu for five euros, we did not want to take the chance of walking the extra 100meters to the restaurant, only to find out it was not open yet. Laziest hikers ever! By this point we were ravenous though and no restaurants were open yet.

We considered getting off the boardwalk to find a breakfast place in town but it would require a solid 3km walk off the trail. So instead we just continued to walk until Brian found a breakfast place further down the coast and only slightly off the path. We sat outside in the shade and had sweet  croissants with ham and cheese and cappuccino. We also kicked off our shoes and rested our feet. My feet were screaming and actually hurt more for a bit after removing my shoes. 

We pulled out our map and considered our options which are plenty on this trail. At many points, we can head inland and walk through towns rather than along the coast. Honestly though, I have paid very little attention to routes, towns, and mileage. Brian is on top of all that. He’s also on top of his blisters. He grossed Vegemite out by popping one right at the table. V was no amused. 

We got off the coast and passed through Cimo de Vila which was a fabulous little town. It had a clothing store, a toy store, retired people were riding their bikes, children were running around on the playground. We stopped here for second breakfast and I told the guys this makes me want to walk inland a bit more so we can explore the towns. 

Leading into our 5th hour of walking on our second day, I was really beginning to struggle. It started to feel like a death march along that long stinking boardwalk and I knew if I didn’t stop, soon, I’d begin to hate the trip. I figured the guys could probably keep going but I’ve learned through experience that not walking at my own pace can ruin your trip. So I told the guys I had to stop but they could keep going. but they agreed to stop too. We found a big patio right off the ocean, took off our shoes and socks and inspected our feet. Vegemite has some intense heat rash, Brian has blisters and mine are in decent shape except for the extreme mysterious foot pain I always get when I hike. We agreed that since our destination was only about an hour away and it was only noon, that we should push on an additional four kms which will shorten the distance we’ll have to walk tomorrow. We rested for a solid 20 minutes which gave my feet a good break however the second I pulled on my pack and got up, my feet said “oh crap, you’re standing again aren’t you?“

The next time we were pushed off the shore and into a town, we must’ve been walking to the neighborhood where the rich people live. Beautifully manicured yards, big iron gates, cameras on the roofs. This also happened to be the neighborhood where the guys decided they needed to use the bathroom. They climbed up into some massive bamboo field and went there. I have been ever so slightly been dehydrating myself so I can avoid such instances. This route has much longer stretches between stops than my previous Camino.

We arrived in Vila do Conde which is actually the first stop our guidebook recommends after Porto. That means the books recommend walking 35km the first day! We stopped much earlier the first day because we’ve learned that you need to break yourself in. 35km on your first day can potentially break you and once you break on a long distance hike, you never fully recover. You’re weak and lame for the remainder of your trip. It can also break your spirit to start with a slog like that. People do it. But I don’t recommend it.

Despite the usual pains of breaking into a hike, I arrived feeling pretty good. This is a beautiful town with a river running through it and quaint European buildings. We stopped at a restaurant with outdoor seating by a large water fountain and I had pasta for the first time in over two years. As the afternoon got hotter, we relaxed comfortably in the shade for quite some time. Taking breaks like this is what makes the experience of hiking most enjoyable. I did notice as each of us got up from our table to use the restroom, we all had a slight stiffness to our walk. My muscles are starting to tighten up. By this time tomorrow, whenever I stop, my muscles will constrict so tightly on themselves that it will be less painful if I just keep moving. Eventually my body will adjust, but in the meantime, the next few days will not feel amazing.

We spotted our first pilgrims of the day at our late lunch. The guy was super stylish in his jeans minus the fact he had a wide cowboy walk which suggests serious chafing. We cringed just looking at how uncomfortable he must be. 

Speaking of pilgrims, I knew this Camino Route is very quiet but we don’t see ANYONE. We saw several people heading south which was interesting but we are very much alone heading to Santiago. 

Although we didn’t have much farther to go for the day, we stopped yet again in the same town on a park bench to rest. Although it was the same town where we had lunch in the adorable square, this section of town was not so cute. The guys joked that there must not be many architects in Portugal because everything looks the same, there’s not much creativity, and it reminds them of Soviet Russia. 

Friends, if you hike the Portuguese Camino, PLEASE be mindful of the cars! even when you feel as though you’re in a sleepy town, there aren’t always paths for pedestrians, there are no speed limits, and the drivers easily go 50 miles an hour even down the tiny streets. I nearly got clocked a couple of times. They will not wait for you to move to a safer place. I will post some pictures. 

We stopped at a pharmacy just minutes from arriving at our destination. Vegemite’s heat rash is getting worse so he bought some medicine for it. Both guys also have very mild sunburn too but nothing serious. Brian spent the afternoon looking for the most shaded path. 

The pharmacy had a cake and cookies in celebration of being open for 107 years!

It’s almost as old as our entire country!

Our albergue was in Povoa de Varzim which is a busy town and the Camino runs right through a large shopping district with mid to high end stores. It always amazes me how quickly your surroundings change when you walk from town to town. When we arrived, no one was at the front counter so we sat and patiently awaited their return with another much older pilgrim. When the nice young man arrived, he checked us in, gave us sheets, and keys to room 4. But when we walked all the way up to room 4, it was clear the beds were already taken. So we marched back downstairs with our gear only to find the man left already! So Vegemite ran down the street to the church where we thought we saw him go.

While waiting for him to return, I met a Canadian named Cathy who had a negative experience with some drunk guys last night so the albergue put her in her own room. After talking to her for a bit, she invited the 3 of us to stay in her room. I didn’t want her to be uncomfortable but at the same time, I know how rare it is to have a room with only  4 beds so I jumped on the opportunity. Eventually we all began settling in her room. The guys were cracking me up. At first they were like “it’s cool. We can stay in the larger rooms with more people” but when the time came to settle in, they were so agitated. They didn’t like the bunks, they didn’t like sharing the room. They kept talking about how we’ll do Airbnbs from now on. I was laughing because 1) I suggested we get an Airbnb to Brian before we got here and he didn’t think it was a good idea then and 2) this place is a Hilton! Compared to some albergues Ive been in, I’m not too upset. But I won’t complain if they want to rent private rooms from now on.

The guys showered but by the time I got to the shower, there wasn’t hot water so I decided I’d shower later or just hold off until tomorrow. Meanwhile, the guys read the guidebooks and planned our trip. As they looked at the routes moving forward, they said they did not enjoy walking through the towns we passed today. I enjoy seeing the different ways people live but they are missing the soft dirt path of the AT and they want to see the more historic things...ok now they’re going back to their original plan...I have no idea what’s going on. I figure there are enough opinions going around so I told them I’m ok with whatever they want to do. 

We invited Kathy to join us for dinner so we all walked out to the shore to watch the sunset and then found a kabob place nearby. I ate an entire pizza by myself. 

I’m exhausted now so I’m off to sleep. 




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