Starting the Camino Portuguese
Lisbon is a beautiful town. Don’t get me wrong, if my trip to Europe was only to visit and stay here, I’m sure it would be great.
The town is lively, the food is plentiful and really good. The people are friendly and you can’t turn a corner without finding some museum or statue, who’s history is breath taking. It’s truly an amazing European town, and I’ve seen a lot of them.
But the blog isn’t just about Lisbon, it’s about the Camino Portuguese and for me that starts here.
First day I arrived, I headed down to purchase my “pilgrim credentials” at the Cathedral of Lisbon and to see where my camino will start.
In St. Jean Pied de Port, the start of the Camino Frances, the town is filled with camino merchandise, services and support, you find very little if anything here. It’s really desolate for pilgrim support.
You ask an average person in Lisbon, and they won’t know what you are talking about. I kind of like that.
Granted, I had to use a ziplock bag to protect my “pilgrim credential” from the weather and don’t have a sea shell to signify that I’m a pilgrim, but why not?
Although nice, those are things you really don’t need to walk.
Leaving Lisbon and City Walking
The day before I kicked off my camino, I spent the whole day touring the city with Inside Lisbon Tours. It was great to see the many historical landmarks.
What was not so great, is that the post office was closed before my tour ended, so my extra clothes, shoes, protein bars and such couldn’t be mailed until the day I wanted to leave. (I’ll discuss this later in preparing for the Camino, as well as planning fringe days.)
Long story short, I left around noon from the Cathedral, which is a little late, especially seeing that I wanted to walk 25 miles to Vila Franca de Xira.
Leaving the town means city street walking. I enjoyed it because it gave me a little glimpse into the life of Lisbon. You walk by military installations, schools, everything you can think of and not all of it’s pretty, but most of it is.
Finding Your Way
At times, it was difficult to find directions.
It’s like playing “Where’s Waldo,” with yellow arrow signs. For the most part, you can see them, but a couple of the turns and streets were puzzling.
It’s a good idea to have a guide that can help you if the way is not adequetly marked.
I eventually found my way out of town, but some of the streets are not marked at all. And it’s truly a guessing game.
The yellow arrows come in many forms: stickers, spray paint, yellow tape and more. The arrows are also applied to many surfaces too: on a building, garbage can, back of a stop sign, on a wall, over a poster, on the ground, on the gutter and more.
Grab Lunch While You Can
One thing I found during my time on the Camino Frances last year, restaurants don’t always stay open during typical dinner times for Americans.
Dinner at 5pm to 7pm may not always be an option.
Typical Spanish/Portuguese families have a big lunch and eat dinner much later—like 7 to 9pm.
With this mind, I now grab lunch and make it my large meal.
So on my first day I walked about 2-3 hours and decided to check out TripAdvisor for any recommendations.
It suggested a sushi restaurant called Sushi Time. Wow was it good.
Walking through the Lisbon’s Expo space
Lisbon hosted the world expo in 1998. Even during my city tour they brought the expo up multiple times. I’m not sure how cool that is now, but the remains of parks, buildings and water ways are pretty.
The road points forward in this section, but I veered off to the right and walked by the water. If you need a place to rest and people watch, this would be a good choice.
I think by going so late in the day, I hit this area after lunch, so it was extremely crowded…or maybe because it was a Friday. Whatever the reason, this is a busy part of town with many museums, restaurants, cafes and attractions.
I missed out on a building that I wanted to visit. It was in the middle of the water, with Air Gondolas going to and from its core. There were huge trees and plants inside a large glass structure. When I imagine a forest in outer space, that is what it looked like.
Waterfront walking through the city park
The boardwalk takes you from a humungous hotel that looks like a radio tower on for a few miles up the coast. It’s a beautiful walk that many locals frequent.
There are a few restaurants and cafes—maybe a nice place to rest but I hurried forward, as my day started late, and I had much walking to do.
There is an interior and waterfront walk possible. I chose the water. The wind and breeze were just amazing. I got looks as I packed an umbrella both for the rain and heat of the sun.
This day, I was lucky to have it. It hit 80 degrees out in the sun and it felt hotter.
The wood boardwalk in sections has not been kept up, but don’t worry, you should be fine. I made it. Towards the end of the walk you get a great glimpse of the containers across the bay. Portugal is really the port of Europe and it shows with the thousands and thousands of containers.
The dirt road ahead
The peace and quiet of the waterfront path quickly ends and you are left with a long windy dirt road hugging a water way.
No one in sight but sounds of dogs barking and cars rumbling in the distance.
It looked like the path was recently created, you walk around Sixt storage area for its vehicles. Thousands of vehicles line up and are inspected.
They leave the back trunk on a few of them open. I wonder what that signifies.
This goes on forever and you get really dusty. No food or water for a while so make sure you packed some for this stage.
Meeting my first “Pilgrim” on the road
Just as I almost gave up on seeing another person, I turned a bend and saw some boots resting on the ground under a tree.
So I knew he was a hiker but then I spotted his overloaded bag—Merik from Czech Republic just quit his job in finance to trek. It was his first Camino and he was tired.
We walked a few hours together to the next cafe. The cafe was more a trailer for warehouse workers. No English spoken but luckily I can say water, cold water good enough.
We chatted for a while and a great conversation. He was planning to stop earlier than I so we kept each other company until we hit his alburge.
Walking with Others
I always find walking with others helps the time pass by. There’s nothing like learning about someone new and their reasons for walking the camino. Some people you walk a long time with, others will be just a few minutes.
For me part of the experience is taking the time to listen and get to know people. It’s one of the more rewarding part of the trips. Last Camino, I walked with Helmut from Wisconsin. We had dinner the first night in France together and then had dinner with his wife on our last night in Santiago de Compostela.
The camino is about many things to many people, but one might be learning more about friendships and how important it is to make time for people you care about.
Checking out another Hostel
The town was pretty desolate. Not much to do and I learned later that the city council only allowed one hostel, so my new friends hopes of stopping here made a slight detour.
We stopped and were quickly told that they were booked. The nice hostiliera, the concierge of sorts, was super friendly. She was from Colorado and really liked to give her opinion.
Having a talkative hospiliera is always nice. You really get to learn what’s up and what to do or not do.
She offered us cold water while we waited, she said he could rest for a bit before he left. This was great for him because by the time the owners came back, another room appeared. Or ground mat. I’m not sure as I grabbed the water and headed out. I still had 10 miles to go.
She did say that I shouldn’t walk so much. I should take my time. And I agree, you should definitely take your time and stop and smell the roses. It just happens on this day, my roses are 10 miles further down the road.
This is also something I’ve learned from my previous Camino. You can make suggestions to people, but you have to let them live their life. People need to make their own mistakes to enjoy their own success.
Determined to make it to my hostel
The way from the hostel was some of the most rural and beautiful stretch for me. We walk through a corn field that was recently chopped. It was awesome. Although I constantly was reminded of my doctors warning about Portugal.
“Ticks are amongst us and you have to be careful.”
I haven’t seen one yet, and I hope I never do. Last year on the Camino Frances, a friend of mine from South Africa got bed bugs. We both stayed at the albergue, but my sleeping shell was treated with anti-bug spray.
However you sleep, either with a bag or a liner, I suggest treating it with it as well. It’s no fun to get bed bugs. It ultimately will slow you down and be a horrible experience for sure.
Portuguese love their parks and cafes
It’s kind of ironic that the containers are used to transport all of the goods into and out of Portugal, because a cafe I crossed, if open, is an oasis before the beating sun.
The cafe is at the head of a massive nature reserve.
I stopped to purchase a water bottle. The waiter was really kind and gave me the directions needed to proceed.
He discouraged me to go as far as I did, but that is something you encounter in life and on the camino. People like to tell you what to do, but it is your choice to listen.
Walking at night
The road is weary. It was about 7:30pm and the light started to fade. Luckily I brought a headlamp. The last part up to my destination was all road with little or no walk way.
It wasn’t the smartest to walk but I feel that the headlamp makes more of a impression than just me during the day.
If you chose to walk at night like I did, make sure you wear bright colors and have lights to signify you are there. Don’t wear headphones and stay off your phone. Be safe. I met a friend on the Camino Frances last year that was hit on the Portuguese and she had months of rehabilitation.
Also, bring snacks and water. I ate something every two hours and kept up the energy to get to my destination and even walk the next day and the next.
Injury is the enemy of the Camino. Keep it at bay by waking to your comfort level and stop and smell the roses.
First night in the hostel
25 miles did me in. But I get amazing. I use Fitbit and I walked 55k steps that day. Too bad I wasn’t competing with any of my friends back home.
For some reason, booking.com cancelled my reservation but luckily they had enough rooms available. The hostel is call Hostel Dp.
I shared a room with a pilgrim walking back to Lisbon. He is French and seemed to do Camino’s all the time. He didn’t talk much as I arrived around 9:30pm.
The other two roommates were from England and Amsterdam. Both of them rode their bikes and were frustrated with road driving. But they talked and were very friendly.
The room was nice. I felt like I was in an IKEA catalog. Also, each dormitory had its own bathroom and shower so you only had to compete with 3 others for time.
Luckily I can sleep through anything, because there was a crew of smokers and laughers downstairs, just outside our window. Bring earplugs if you need them.
After 9.5 hours of waking the Camino from Lisbon, I slept like a baby.