As was semi-expected leaving Santiago, I found myself on a four hour bus ride to the bustling city of Porto, Portugal wondering what the rest of my trip would be like now that I had “finished” the walking part of my Camino. While Porto has so much to offer in history and sites to see, I immediately felt a longing to be back with “my people” and the shared experience of camaraderie, struggle, and the jubilation that such experiences create in my heart of hearts.
Upon arriving at the bus station in Porto (a 34 euro fare from Santiago), I immediately felt a sense of loss, almost regretting my departure, even going so far as to wonder if the lovely staff at the albergue Roots & Boots, my favorite place I encountered during the entirety of my stay in Santiago, would perhaps let me come back and volunteer as a “hospitalero,” a person who works at an Albergue, maintaining the facilities, greeting and serving the guests in exchange for free room and board.
But alas, there is no going back, or at least not for a few years as I can definitely see myself doing yet another Camino when the time presents itself. However, my longing to stay isn’t unusual, as I heard tales of pilgrims never leaving the trail, finding that life on the Camino in all its simplicity made more sense than anything they had ever found at home.
Some might say that it’s just another way to “walk away” from “real life” but I understand the impulse to be more about “walking away” from all that life is not really about… working long days, long hours, knowing the people you work with better than your own family. Instead, the Camino offers a way of reconnecting with the earth and like-minded people from all over the world; a way of living that simply requires one to walk, talk, listen, and meditate on the meaning(s) of life.
I’ll admit that part of me, when booking my first plane ticket a year ago, contemplated never coming back to the U.S. at all. However, I was surprised to find plenty of reasons to return home; renewing my commitment to family, friends, and a brand new beginning at life. Whereas before the trip, I felt somewhat lost in the world, now I have relocated the basic unwritten laws of what it is to be human: to quote my father right before he passed, “Just love”.
A fundamental compass, love can easily be anyone’s guide for the toughest questions life presents: for me, the big mystery is what I’ll be doing after the Camino. While I have ideas, I hold no certainties at this juncture. But whatever it ends up being, and maybe it won’t just be one thing… but whatever it is, I will just ask the question “does it bring me more or does it take away from the feelings of love I have for life RIGHT NOW???
As for the “Comedown of the Camino,” its only temporary or maybe that’s easy for me to say because I don’t actually come home until September; I’ll “cross that bridge when I get to it! Good news is, after a few days of needed rest (don’t expect to sleep much on the Camino), I finally found myself enjoying being a “tourist” again. Porto and Lisbon were beautiful cities, reminiscent of the San Francisco coast with warmer weather and prices way more reasonable.
My first hostel in the heart of Porto was called Light Point https://m.facebook.com/lightpointoporto/. LP outdid my expectations and the bar/cafe has amazing, reasonably priced food; my fav was the salmon guacamole tostada! Only a thirty-five min walk or 20 min metro ride and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the downtown shopping district, historic sites and monuments, the massive Douro River and all it’s river front shops, restaurants, and live music, and tons of cool after-hour hang outs near the university.
Check out the area of Matosinhos if you’re looking for Porto-light; Matosinhos gives you easy access to the city (via metro) as well as the beach. I recommend the Fishtail hostel: they have free bike rentals and its only a 25 minute ride to Piscinas des Mares, man-made pools built into the existing rocks that are fed by the Atlantic Ocean. Only 5 euros and the water is a bit warmer than the actual ocean (brrr). But I was fortunate enough to locate surfing lessons on the other side of the port and they provided a wet suit! Surfing was 20 euro for two hours and well worth it!
If you’re in the Lisbon area, plenty of things to see/do! If you’re young and in the mood for fun….late, late night fun… there is “Pink Street” a district everyone out after 2a.m. ends up dancing the night away till 6a.m.! I wouldn’t know myself but I have it on good authority from a bunch of 20 somethings that 1. Barrio Alto for pre-night (12a.m.- 2a.m.); 2. Walk the five minutes to “Pink Street” and good luck getting up early!
If you’re a little more…mature…or not… there is a great beach front that is easy to get to by metro. Just a forty minute ride from Lisbon, the quaint little beachtown of Cascais is a fun 1/2 day trip. It’s a busier beach but compensates with a walk up bar and paddle board rental; cute boutique “touristy” shops line the streets nearby; and awesome food! If you are craving Indian food after a long Camino (like I was), try out Masala, “literally” one of the best Indian restaurants I ever been to and if you go for lunch; super affordable!
For a more picturesque way to pre-party for the night to come, I suggest a sunset sail: try Sailing with Nigel http://www.sailingwithnigel.com/, a tour you can also find through TripAdvisor. The crew was awesome: They informed us on Lisbon’s history; mingled and provided food which included Portugal’s famous pastry, Pastel de Nata; and never left our glasses empty! I was definitely my preferred way “to see” Lisbon, and they even let me steer the boat! Thanks to Allie and Kristen for inviting me 🙂
Allie and Kristen are (much younger!) friends I made at Impact Hostel, an awesome stay that supports volunteer trips (if you ever feeling like traveling with more of a purpose – and they really do take all ages, even though you might feel like you’re back at camp :). The staff and guests alike were truly a great group of people of all backgrounds who share a common desire to help!
Allie had already been in Lisbon for three weeks working with ReFeed, an organization that collects left over food from restaurants and bakeries; repackages and hand-delivers to low-income families. Kristen had just arrived in Lisbon to begin a stint with a conversation group that provides protected land for wolves who can’t return to the wild due to injury or previously inefficient captive conditions.
If you are in the mood for less hustle and bustle, I suggest checking out the seaside town of Setubal, an hour train ride from Lisbon. Thanks to Ricardo, an awesome guy I met at a cafe across the street from my hostel, Arrabid’in, I was able to hire a water taxi arranged by Ricardo, who called on my behalf, and was nice enough to drive me to the harbor and even lent me his beach umbrella.
While the beach in walking distance from downtown Setubal is also pretty awesome, the water taxi took me to Coelhos Beach, a much more secluded “Praia” with clear waters and plenty of space to stretch out or “frolic” near the ocean. Coehlos Beach is the sister beach of Galapinhos, a previous winner of best beaches of all of Europe. Apparently the word is out but if you like more people and a beachside bar and restaurant, Galapinhos is the winner, but why settle for just one: Coelhos and Galapinhos are linked by a trail with a short (but steep) walk. And the water taxi will arrange a pick up time for safe travel back to Setubal.
My last week in Portugal will be spent in Lagos, the beachside resort that offers great weather, a happening night life, and plenty of water/land sports. As soon as I arrived I made sure to fill my week up with plenty of outdoor adventure! Today I rented a motor scooter and visited the neighboring city of Sagres, the “end of the known world” in Portugal.
In Sagres, you can find more beaches, surfing and other water sports, a historic light house, an old fortress, great seafood and cool bars: I visited the bar Dromedario https://www.tripadvisor.pt/Restaurant_Review-g189121-d1928289-Reviews-Dromedario_Bar_Sagres-Sagres_Faro_District_Algarve.html, where I had the best mojito of my life (yeah, not Cuba, but still!) created by a skilled bartender that brings all of the Hollywood artistry I remember wanting to learn from Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail!
Tomorrow I’m off for a kayaking trip of the famous ocean caves that line the coast of Lagos! So that’s it for now and I’ll keep you posted on how the rest of my week in Lagos goes! Thanks for reading! 🙂