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Walking the Camino Portugues to Santiago, Spain

May 5, 2015

“Step back in faith and let truth lead the way. . . One Who knows goes with you . . We walk to God.” – A Course in Miracles

The ancient, beloved and still immensely popular pilgrimage trail known as the Camino de Santiago first came onto my personal radar fifteen years ago.

While touring Europe my daughter Alexandra wanted to find me a medallion to wear symbolizing my new status as an Interfaith minister. In Spain she started seeing the shell symbol associated with St. James and the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and the cathedral there where his remains are enshrined and his role in spreading the Christian message is honored. That’s it, she thought. For years, I have worn the silver shell necklace she gave me, for the rounded shell with prongs pointing outward is a broader symbol of the idea that all roads lead to God, by whatever name or form, or “Many paths, one God.”

It wasn’t until about four years ago that I started being interested in walking a portion of the Camino myself. Like many modern pilgrims on the Camino, my interest was piqued by the film The Way starring Martin Sheen as a stodgy dentist who finds his outlook expanding when he decides to fulfill his late son’s desire to walk the Camino, on the main trail from the French border across Spain. (I wish the film had come out some years earlier, before the publication of my book Reel Spirit: A Guide to Movies That Inspire, Explore and Empower, but movies still have those effects on me.)

And then Alexandra and her husband Dylan last summer followed in the footsteps of The Way, backpacking 500 miles in five weeks – and loving, if not quite every (sometimes painful) step of the way, at least the overall experience. I heard their stories, saw their pictures, and became totally inspired: The Camino was definitely calling me!

A friend who also had seen the film started talking about walking what today is the second most popular Camino route, the Camino Portugues. Together we spurred each other on, and settled on the final part of the Camino Portugues, beginning in Valenca, Portugal, near the Spanish town of Tui, and continuing north about 72 miles or 115 km to Santiago. Being men of a certain age we felt more comfortable with 70+ miles than 500 miles.

Map of pilgrimage

Map of pilgrimage

Leaving California on April 1, we flew into Madrid, then flew over to Vigo on the Spanish coast, and took a taxi to Valenca, where we got our “pilgrim’s passports” (Credencial del Peregrino) stamped with the first of the required two-a-day stamps along the way to prove upon arrival in Santiago that we had indeed walked the required distance to receive a certificate and attend a daily pilgrims’ mass in the grand cathedral.

pilgrim's passport

Credencial del Peregrino, the pilgrim passport


Walking the Camino, which since the 10th century has been an inspiring pilgrimage route, and absorbing its history, mystique and life lessons, is very much an individual experience. It is not at all unusual for people to start the Camino together and then decide to go their separate ways (as my partner and I did); nor is it unusual for people to go alone and then find a like-minded soul to share the route.

Personally, I had a marvelous time on my own on the Camino. I loved the pilgrimage walk itself — seven days with beautiful, sunny weather, averaging 10 miles a day, up to 15 or more a few days. It was fun following the yellow arrows and yellow shells directing the way as the ancient trail zigzagged north to Santiago on country roads, woodland paths, highways, alleys, old Roman roads, all sorts of spaces. The walk was like being in an enormous maze (the maze actually being a few miles in Portugal and then the rest in the Galicia region of Spain, ending of course in Santiago). I savored the sense of adventure, the up-close-and-personal look at how and where people live, and even the confusion sometimes of not knowing which way to go and what was coming next. It was fun meeting, passing and sometimes walking a while with other pilgrims from all over the world. The traditional pilgrim’s greeting of “Buen Camino” was always a joy to hear and to say; I felt a real camaraderie with fellow trekkers. And I cherished the tranquility and the frequent silence; the spiritual bliss of being the lone walker, the solitary thinker/meditator. Be aware, though, pilgrimages – inherently metaphors for life — are apt to do a bit of internal and external clearing and cleansing. It’s all good.

 The pilgrimage

Please join me for a shortened view of the Camino, beginning with one of the first traditional waymarkers near the border with Portugal and Spain (the little figure behind the arrow adds a nontraditional but nicely whimsical flare):


A view from the imposing, expansive “Magical Fortress” in Valenca, Portugal.


A new pilgrim (me) sits after walking into Spain.



The yellow arrow and shell prongs point the pilgrim’s way. At this marker there is perhaps a suggestion of a pot of gold at the end of the road.


Who could resist getting into this cut-out sculpture of St. James (note his staff on the left and distinctive hat)? Not I!


Sometimes the yellow arrows are on the road itself. A nearby marker tells us that this is an ancient Roman road.


Lovely spring vegetation in Spain’s most verdant region.


Locals of all kinds seem to enjoy pilgrims passing in their midst.


The various styles of haystacks around the world have always fascinated me. This was the style observed throughout Galicia.


“Horreos,” like the one below, are shrine-like storage sheds, originally granaries, regarded as unofficial symbols of Galicia. Many are quite old, some are new. They come in many sizes, and I was told it is illegal to tear them down.



An impressive collection of shells, some written on by pilgrims.


View from hotel balcony in seaside town of Arcade.


Route out of Arcade passes over this 1795 stone bridge. Napoleon’s troops were defeated here once upon a time.



Morning sun on a handsome church front.


An especially smooth-stoned walkway on the Camino.


Specially chosen rocks making cairns like this one often adorn tops of waymarkers.


Vineyards, hill towns and mountains, oh my!


My backpack (with sturdy waist and chest straps and good back support, much needed for the Camino journey). The tradition is for pilgrims to tie a shell, specially chosen at some point along the way, onto their backpacks, as I have.


Next, two views of the medieval town center of Pontevedra at dawn’s early light:



A tile likeness of St. James on a concrete fence. Notice that the yellow shell points to the Santiago cathedral. A blue arrow along the Camino does not point to Santiago, but rather belongs to the pilgrimage route of Fatima in Portugal.


In contrast to the above image of St. James, a modern pilgrim, with walking stick, fanny pack and backpack, bears a strong likeness to the author, Raymond James (really).



According to John Brierley’s excellent guidebook, the Camino Portugues consists of one third earthen tracks and woodland pathways. Here is a fine, shady example of such a pathway:


A typical lunch, this at Meson Don Pulpo in San Amaro de Portela. The fork is stuck in a very common dish called a tortilla, which in Spain usually means a simple, thin potato and egg quiche-like dish. Not always. Once I had a truly gourmet tortilla. Twice I had tortillas that came out in the form of two fried eggs and French fries.


An embellished trail arrow, on a steel utility pole and meaning “straight ahead.”


Fresh water is often available for pilgrims from fonts, sometimes simple and sometimes elaborate, like the one below. Note the shell atop.


Imagine, at the end of a long day of walking, finding a private hot springs fountain to soothe my feet! Hotel Davila in Caldas de Reis provides the fountain free. Since early Celtic times and the Romans, the town’s thermal waters have been legendary.


Two more views of daybreak, these during a most pleasant vineyard walk:



St. James sculpture at a church.


Pension Jardin and the botanical gardens across the street in Padron, a city especially famous for its peppers.



It’s official – I’m a credentialed, certificated pilgrim, beaming outside the Santiago Cathedral.


While steeped in much spiritual tradition, the Camino attracts not just those with spiritual bents, but also people who simply love to hike and backpack, who look for new adventures, who like to get away from all sorts of daily grinds, those who like to sink their hearts into different foods, languages, cultures.

Two fellow pilgrims from Germany, Sigrid (left) and Eva, with whom I celebrated finishing the Camino Portugues at a small café near the cathedral, having tea/coffee and the also celebrated tart de Santiago (almond cake). I later returned to the café on my own for more merriment with another slice of the tart.


The horse fountain square (not its real name), one of several squares around the cathedral.


View outside my monkish room at the San Martin Pinario, an interesting combination of monastery and modern hotel, on the cathedral grounds.


A tower and clock, part of the cathedral.


Fanciful artwork of a minstrel angel, near a directional arrow on a bridge. He makes me think of the minstrels (called tunas) around Santiago Cathedral who perform medieval and other melodies. I heard bagpipes, guitar, violin, drums, and an amazing soprano named Paola Sperberg.


From Santiago, I took a day trip to Finisterre on the coast; the Romans believed the location to be the end of the known world. Its beaches and harbor, below, are beautiful. Some pilgrims to Santiago go on to make the three-day walk to Finisterre. I took the bus.


The Camino adventure came to a close for me with a lovely bullet train ride to Madrid and two days in Madrid, which is a vibrant city filled with art (including the Prado museum and statues and fountains everywhere), greenery, amazing architecture, and thick Spanish hot chocolate at outdoor cafes. A few gems of Madrid, taken one by foot (trying to rest the feet somewhat) and four by City Tour bus.






Post trip, advice for would-be Camino pilgrims? Plan your trip to suit your desires, time and abilities (Brierley has guides for all the major routes); get a good backpack with straps (a Kelty Redwing had my back) and a good pair of walking/hiking shoes; use a walking stick or staff, practice walking with your gear before the trip; cover your feet with Vaseline every night on the trail, carry water, be open to whatever comes, be observant and have a joyful attitude.

Most important life lessons learned from the Camino walk? Watch for those “yellow arrows” that Consciousness continually provides to navigate life. Be flexible to course correct whenever you realize you’ve missed an arrow. It’s okay, you’re never really lost, just exploring.

So, “Buen Camino,” wherever, whatever your personal pilgrimage may be. Gently, lovingly persevere on your outer walk to inner peace.

About Raymond

Raymond Teague has worn a number of hats in this life go-around, other than the venerable Tilley sported as a Camino pilgrim. He has been a longtime professional writer and editor, minister, chaplain, and wedding officiant ( . Born and raised in Texas, he has lived in Arkansas and Missouri, and now California (near the lovely Pacific with his lovely wife Bonnie). He is an avid traveler, and has walked pilgrimage from Paris to Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy and several times has circumnavigated the holy mountain Arunachala in south India. In addition, he has been spotted at sacred sites in such places as Bali (even riding a bike from near a volcano top), Cambodia, Japan, Thailand, Scandinavia, England and Mexico. Frequently he may be found at the Society of Abidance in Truth in Santa Cruz, CA. He also enjoys the role of proud father to his daughter, Alexandra Teague, a university professor and award-winning poet whose new book of poetry is The Wise and Foolish Builders.

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