Matosinhos and the meeting of River, Sea and Pilgrim Identity

It’s a perfect Friday, walking from Porto to Matosinhos and back to my Albergue, The Poets Inn. A round trip. The negative ions wash over us, healing, cleansing, renewing humor and gladness. Sounds like a pre-technology advertisement! But I’m excited to be back on the Camino!

I’m dressed in my well worn Camino clothes, from the pack I filled to walk later in the month, after my volunteer commitment with Habitat for Humanity in Amarante outside of Porto on the old Central route of the Caminho de Portuguese.

The same clothes I first wore in 2016 to Santiago. My backpack is in my Albergue and I have only my waist pack and a super light pack in my pocket. Just in case!

This is the Camino section that disappeared from my “plans” September 2018, when I started my Caminho Senda Litoral from Porto to Matosinhos, but that’s another story.

My Fitbit says 14.6 miles round trip, like walking this stage twice. And my iPhone Health ❤️ app, 24 kms. Conversion: 1.609 kms = 1 mile. They’re close. I love kilometers.

Don’t let anyone tell you there are no do-overs! Just ask me! And I hope to walk more of the Senda Litoral mid September starting in Caminha and taking the ferry to Spain. I say hope because Plan B is a possibility on and off the Camino routes.

I walked twice on the Caminho Portuguese last summer: in September, Senda Litoral Porto to Caminha, then following the River Miño to Valença and earlier in June, on the Central, Valença to Santiago.

Matosinhos isn’t far from Porto depending on your departure location, about 10 or 12 kms. It’s often skipped as first stage, which surprises me, as this route is one of my favorites and I wouldn’t want to intentionally bypass any of the spectacular Portuguese coast. But I noticed in the Camino Forum and pilgrim Facebook pages that more people are walking this route.

Douro River, boats, Atlantic Ocean Sandy beaches, surfers, sunbathers, sunburners, cafes and restaurants and ice cream stands, rocky shores, fisher people, sculptures, strollers, walkers, sidewalks, boardwalks, parks, runners, bikers, and areas of high density housing, businesses and tourist accommodations. And pilgrims.

What a great first day of walking the Camino Portuguese from Porto, for any of the routes, Coastal, Central or Senda Litoral.

Check out a map or ask for starting point directions. I knew it had to be down the hill since that’s the location of the Douro River. Some people leave from the Cathedral. I just walked from my Albergue on streets that wound down to the river.

This is a simple walk, hard to get lost. The advice is keep the River on your left. Pay attention if you’re crossing the road, use crosswalks and lights.

Meeting New Friends

I stayed in Poets Inn, perfect for me. The London (Jack London) room with shared bath, simple breakfast and a mix of pilgrims and other travelers in a central location.

I’m so happy to have a chance to meet other pilgrims and travelers. I had dinner with Gythlian and Elizabeth, pilgrims from New Zealand, who had started their Camino in Lisbon. One of the duo, who had walked the Camino Francés together, was ill and had visited three hospitals on the way. They were planning to see a doctor on Monday to decide if she could wait to walk until she recovered in Portugal or return home. Both social workers with so much to share about the services and programs and people and politics in their country. Disappointed but hopeful; after flying from NZ, who would want to return home without walking?

Gelato and a surprise stop at my new favorite Manteigeria for freshly made pastéis de nata. Not warm, but creamy and sweet enough to put me into a long, deep sleep.

Earlier in the day, as I was scoping out my Habitat for Humanity meeting place, deeply absorbed in the directions, my two Australian friends from the Lisbon-Sintra tour that I lost in a cave, (story too long to tell) found me and we shared more stories and a drink. Always the Camino magic, to meet people along the way. And the drink at 15:00? The best sweet and freshly squeezed orange juice, suco de laranja. They start their Caminho on the coast in two days. Both have walked together on the Le Puy and the Francés.

I met more travelers in the hostel, grateful for the opportunity to meet and learn more about people from different countries, Greece, Netherlands, England, Latvia, Poland. And USA.

Pilgrim Identity

Staying in accommodations that are known to pilgrims means we have a chance to meet people who are usually friendly, with similar interests and experiences. But once I left Poets Inn for my day walk to Matosinhos on the Camino route, alone and without a pack, I seemed not to belong to that group of walkers, Caminho pilgrims.

So I called on my human development intuition. Think about the different roles and personal identities we claim in our lives. There is usually an identity connected to what we do and who we are. That’s Psych 101! Culture, ethnicity, religion or not, gender, self image, work, hobbies, school, family roles, you can continue the list.

Consider that once you begin to explore and then prepare and walk a Camino, you may belong to a new identity group. Are you a pilgrim? If you wear your shell and backpack in the airport before you even board the plane, you may be part of a Camino conversation. And of course walking on the Camino, whether you send your bag on or carry/wear it, or if you stay in accommodations with other pilgrims, you meet other pilgrims. Yes, you are a pilgrim.

The dictionary defines pilgrim as someone who journeys to a sacred place. If you’re in Santiago be sure to visit the Museum of Pilgrimage for an exploration and history of this worldwide phenomena. I’ve been searching for years to see how I fit into the Camino. I found stories, myth and magic, as well as religion and history. My spiritual beliefs are not the religious identity some or many pilgrims identify. Still, because I walk the Camino and feel it spiritually enriching, I was granted a Compostela. Twice. So I am a pilgrim.

Your identity as a pilgrim is part of what nurtures those intense or close conversations and friendships for many walkers. Some pilgrims attend every mass and others never step into a church. And some, like me, believe somewhere in our past, ancestors might have crossed the Iberian Peninsula and we are related, no matter what religion is dominant today. I am a pilgrim.

Coming Home

If you now identify as a pilgrim are you always a pilgrim?

Was I a pilgrim when I walked to Matosinhos since I plan to walk more of the Senda Litoral in two weeks and today I added this stage onto last year’s walk?

Is the identity an inner process that doesn’t depend on the reaction or opinion of others? Is it, “once a pilgrim, always a pilgrim”? An inner identity?

There are some questions, debates, judgements on forums and pilgrim FB pages about “real” pilgrims. As simple as carrying your own pack or having it transported; or starting in SJPdP or on a route 100 kms away from Santiago. Either way, pilgrims can earn a Compostela. But still, there’s disagreement.

That’s the question of the day.

To the point, I’ll share my experience. As I mentioned I wore my broken-in Camino clothes and a waist pack with my water bottle. I didn’t have on a backpack or a shell. Maybe I just looked like a short woman of a certain age with a hat on, out for a walk. I said “Bom Caminho ” numerous times to Pilgrims with packs and few even acknowledged me.

I’m short , yes, but not as short as I look next to this giant welcome sign.

For a few minutes I walked with and engaged in conversation with a young woman from Germany who stopped at the mercado and I walked on. I did ask some walkers who had stopped, about their Camino.

And one young pilgrim with a guidebook advised crossing the street. I thought to myself this pilgrim will go places in life. She’s following a map in her hand, to get to her destination. Not wandering like me. Not needing those yellow arrows and landmarks and intuition to find my way.

A few times when I thought we had enough in common, I shared that I had walked this route last year. I usually ask pilgrims about their Caminos, where they’re from, listen more than talk. Yes, really!

It seems to me that Pilgrims who walk solo were more likely to engage in conversation. Just my unscientific research.

Here’s a circular puzzle: If you’re a pilgrim and are walking on the Camino, but don’t look like a pilgrim, are you still a pilgrim?

¡Bom Caminho! Irene on the Way