Porto to Balugäes

Sunday, 26 March, 2017

It is now five days since I left Porto, spending the nights in Matosinhos, Vila do Conde, Arcos, Barcelos and tonight in Balugäes.  In total I have walked about 86 km so far.

It was a blustery day when I set out last Wednesday.  Overhead the clouds were moving rapidly, but down below, along the river, all was relatively calm.  In the distance, I could see the spray of huge waves smashing against the sea wall.  I had a sinking feeling that I was going to experience a reminder of what an angry North Atlantic can be like.  And how could I ever forget; I grew up in its full blast on the north coast of Ireland.

The relative calm of the river valley

As I reached the coast to turn north, the rain started.  It was like having a pressure hose aimed straight in your face.  When I first had a warning of the coming storm, I quickly donned my poncho, but it proved to be next to useless; it filled with air and threatened to lift me off, like Mary Poppins.  I scuttled along the promenade desperately looking for shelter, and finally escaped the storm into a passing coffee shop, where I spent an enjoyable time chatting with the owner.  I finally emerged, totally convinced that the Portuguese were my kind of people.  At least that lady was.

But the relative calm did not last for long, when another storm hit; one could see them coming in the distance; a huge threatening black mass, preceded by cold winds.  And for the rest of the day I was repeatedly hit, sometimes sheltered, other times totally exposed, until I finally reached my destination, feeling thoroughly beaten up.

Another pending storm

The next day the sea was still thundering against the coast, but on land all was relatively calm.

Not a day for swimming

I continued north along the coast, much of the time on an elevated boardwalk.  The coastal scenery was beautiful.  I was completely alone; I never saw another walker.

Much of the coastal walk was on board walks such as this

I spent the night in a beautiful old hotel in Vila do Conde.

Crossing the bridge into Vila do Conde

The next morning, I set off late, for it promised to be an easy day.  I headed inland along a very busy minor road, through village after village, until I reached the few houses that consisted of Arcos.

The churches look quite different to those of neighbouring Spain

Finally back in the countryside at Arcos


I found the walk to Barcelos to be rather challenging.  Much of it was on roads paved with cobblestones, and they are unforgiving on the feet, knees and hips.  There was no escaping them, and by the time I limped into Barcelos, I felt thoroughly beaten up.  I recall that the London Marathon has a short stretch of cobblestones in front of the Tower of London and for the race, the organizers  cover it with thick carpet to ease the impact on the runners.  There is a good reason for having that carpet.

Last night the rain started again and it rained heavily all night, with intermittent thunderstorms.  This morning it was still thumping down, so I had a late breakfast, and started out after 10:00 when the rain finally ceased and the sun started to shine.

For much of the route a cross-country cycling race was taking place and the backs of the competitors were plastered with mud.


And finally one for my sons, who once claimed that only bulls could have horns.  You can just about see the tiny calf behind its mother.


This has not been an easy camino so far, but sometimes I have to remind myself that a pilgrimage can turn out to be a physical and mental challenge.  It is not a short stroll in the countryside.  I have not been walking comfortably – my leg is not happy, but in my head and in my heart, I feel good.

Algo es algo, peor es nada.


Today finds me in Porto, in northern Portugal.  I arrived two days ago from Cape Town, via London Heathrow and Gatwick.  I did not want to leave the beautiful weather and wonderful people of Cape Town, but needs must; my visa would have expired the next day.  I will soon return.

In the meantime I intended to undertake another of my annual walks in the direction of Santiago de Compostela, this time from Porto.

But just prior to leaving Cape Town, I learned of the serious illness of an old lady, for whom I had a huge respect.  She was my former mother-in-law, but I have never ever thought of her as an ‘ex’.  From day one, she welcomed me into her extended family.  They were exiles from Castro’s Cuba – some prospered, some struggled.  She was an elegant woman with artistic talents.  Her paintings are witness to that.  On many occasions she even cut my hair.

A few years ago I walked part of the pilgrimage coastal  path from Bayonne across Northern Spain and diverted to Mundaka, from where her Lázaga ancestors originated.  I sent her an account of what I had seen.  Perhaps I will re-publish that account.

To say that I loved the woman would be an understatement.

Norma Suárez Lázaga on the right, with her older sister Dinorah
And in recent years

I did not learn of her death until I arrived here.  It greatly saddened me and I felt no enthusiasm for my planned walk.  I always have problems with my partially paralysed foot and leg after a long overnight flight, but this time I was struggling more than normal.  I was sorely tempted to abandon my plan and do whatever old farts do, but then that would not be me.

So tomorrow morning, in the forecast rain and wind, I will set off north, one step at a time.

In the meantime I have had a long walk around the old city, up and down steep hills, through a maze of narrow lanes.

The Rio Douro looking west from the Luis I bridge
And looking east


Looking east from the river to the Luis I bridge

Norma Suárez Lázaga – this pilgrimage will be for you…  🙂



Madrid, 1987

It was late evening when I checked into my hotel in Madrid.  I had flown in from London Heathrow and was staying near the Nuevos Ministerios metro station.  It was my first visit to Madrid.  I had recently been given the additional responsibility of my company’s international business, which included a minority shareholding in a small Spanish recruitment company, and I was looking forward to once more having the opportunity of operating in a Spanish environment.

I had two meetings arranged for the next day, the first not until lunchtime, so I settled down in my hotel room, wine glass in hand, to watch some television and attempt to tune my ear to the Castellano of Madrid.  Flicking through the channels, I stumbled on a concert, that seemed to have just begun, and the music of many guitars, the raucous singing, the rhythms, the relentless beat, held my attention for the next more than an hour. It was like a mix of flamenco and salsa.  It was a group known as The Gypsy Kings..


I had never heard of them before then, despite my enthusiasm for most things Latin.  The next morning I called in at a nearby Corte Inglés, to see if they had a copy of a Gypsy Kings recording, and I was not disappointed.  The salesman told me that they were the current rage in Spain, but that they were not from Spain,but from the French south-west.  There were two brothers and several other cousins and that their parents were gypsies who had fled Catalonia during the 1930s Spanish Civil War.   They sang flamenco and salsa with an Andalusian accent.  I still have my original purchase.

My lunch appointment was most interesting.  My host was a consultant, who wanted to be considered as a junior partner in international projects that we undertook from time to time, and where we might have need of Spanish market expertise.  He was not comfortable in English, but we managed to converse in Spanish, with no obvious problems.

The owner of the restaurant was a friend of my host, and when he was taking the order, he suggested that I try his speciality.  ‘Por qué no’ is a response that has got me into trouble many times, and this was to be no exception.  The dish came in a wooden bowl with a top, and when I removed the latter, the contents heaved and wriggled. They were baby eels from Bilbao. I was assured that they were well cooked and it was the cooler air that caused them to contract and move when not alive, just like the huge rattlesnake that I once killed in California, that roamed around the yard for at least half- an-hour after I had chopped it in half.  But that is another story for another day.

The anguilas were surprisingly quite tasty

After the lunch – by then it was nearly five o’clock, I walked over to the nearby office of our recruitment consultancy, to meet with Antonio ‘Tony’ Ares de Paz, the main shareholder.  Tony proved to be a most charming man, aristocratic, and with faultless English, albeit with a heavy Spanish underlay.  During the Spanish Civil War, his father had moved his family to the relative safety of Mexico City.  I could not swear to it, but I believe that he said that after their exile, he did not see his father again.

Later in the evening, Tony and his wife picked me up at my hotel and took to his club on Gran Via, or Broadway as Tony called it, and from there to an intimate restaurant near the Royal Palace, and my introduction to Pata Negra, the revered ham of the free range black pigs, mostly reared in the western Spanish provinces of Extremadura and Cáceres. and fed on acorns and olives.jamon_recien_cortado

After the meal, the owner offered to show me the tunnel in the basement, that the randy royal males used to use in order to slip out of the palace for a night of debauchery.  Of course, the tunnel was blocked with a locked door.  I never did get a straight answer as to if the then-royal-family still used the tunnel.

I felt quite tired when I finally got back to my hotel room.  Two large meals, a lot of wine, and stimulating conversation; my mind was in a whirl.

And the music of The Gypsy Kings and Volare was still throbbing in my head.

It was the end of the first of very many visits to Spain to come.

Life felt good that night.