and hopefully there’ll be many more again’s in the future …. evermore, evermore. I am back on Camino de Santiago
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. Such a simple sentence doesn’t begin to hint at the sheer joy that it signifies. It is difficult to explain it to people that haven’t had the opportunity (yet) to experience the wonder of the Camino. But over the next few dozen posts I’ll sure give it a try. This time I plan to add more photos and enough videos to make a movie twice the length of Ben-Hur (the old version). So onward we go… Ultreia!
Finally (thank God) I managed to return to the Camino. This time I am taking Camino Portuges from Lisbon with a detour to Fatima. Various routes lead to Santiago de Compostela. Camino Frances, which I took two years ago, is the most popular, but its not the only one.
From Lisbon to Santarém the Way is shared by Caminho Português and Caminho de Fatima. My plan is to go to Fatima than return to Caminho Portuges via Tomar.
My journey starts at the airport. The first thing I did was to weigh my backpack. Last time it was about 8.5 kg, but this time I am wiser and more experienced.. I’ve also advised hundreds of pilgrims to carry less…anyway… this time my pack should be lighter… let’s see what the weight display shows … 8.4 kg?! (add 1.5 kg of water to this) Alas… when I started calculating all the items, I realised the display is not lying.. but, but, but I really neeeed all this stuff … well in that case, feel free to play the mule, a wiser inner voice responds.
I landed in Lisbon late in the evening, to discover that time is lagging behind one hour here. I ordered a car via Uber and R2-D2 (the license plates were similar) arrived to pick me up. Had a nice chat with my Uber driver. The forecast for next week is not too hot … great … I checked the pronunciation of several Portuguese words (I took Portuguese lessons on Duolingo). The driver’s wife visited Croatia and she also walked on Caminho de Fatima. After a bit of “Camino evangelism” the driver seemed to have liked the idea of doing a Camino from Porto with his wife (less than two weeks walk). Great, another peregrino recruited … if you are reading this you are probably aware that resistance is futile.
I arrived at the hostel to discover it’s slightly smaller than the photos would have you believe. Had the similar experience the first time I saw an actual (so called) Big Mac at the McDonald’s. Since my day started early I went to sleep immediately. Unfortunately a few hours later my roommates returned after a night on the town. Talking … a lot … whispering at first, than quickly going full blast. Decided to apply the tactics of “ignore it and it’ll go away”… eventually falling asleep again.
Naturally in the morning they are all sleeping late. Since the neighbourhood we are in has Misericórdia in its name and so does the year, I left the room. .. quietly … and stepped out to the streets of Lisbon.
The first thing that greeted me was one of the symbols of Lisbon.. nice little yellow tram. I head towards the cathedral, a starting point for the Camino with the first yellow arrows. Here is the cathedral.. but no arrows. It appears some reconstruction work has covered the right side of the building, hiding the arrows. Fortunately there is one at the back of the traffic sign… only its a white one on a blue surface (Caminho Fatima marker). There is another at the next traffic sign as well … together with… <break for trumpet sound >… a yellow arrow. True it is tiny and barely noticeable, but its there … all shiny and glowing.
There is a church of St. James nearby, so I dropped by to say hi. There the sign is faded but gigantic … “This is where the Camino starts” it proclaimed in large letters, showing a 615 km distance to Santiago.
Now that I know the starting point for tomorrow I head on to get the hiking poles and Portuguese SIM card. First stop, Dechatlon store is a bit away from the city center. First I considered taking a metro but the morning is nice and fresh … so I decided to do it on foot … to warm up. After reaching Dechatlon an hour before opening time I parked myself in a nearby cafe. Although I generally approach trying out unknown local specialities with the same enthusiasm that the fish approaches a warm grill … I decided to try out pastel de nata, a kind of custard tart that was prominently featured in most of the blogs I’ve read about Caminho Português. As it turns out its not bad, not bad at all … in fact I’d go as far and say its actually quite nice.
After getting the needed supplies at Dechatlon I strolled back to the hostel. The streets of Lisbon are filled with tourists and beggars, street musicians and homeless people. Lots of colours of life are present here… in different shades. At one of the main squares I’ve passed a guy offering me hashish and/or marijuana … since I’m very much high on the Camino experience (already) I guess it was an understandable misjudgement of a prospective customer on his part.
Down the street an old-timer van is parked in the middle of the street with loudspeakers playing fado (a traditional melancholic Portuguese music). At the corner near the hostel a sign for the oldest bookstore in the world. Inside is the official certification from the Guinness book of records … continuously operating since 1732, interesting.
At another corner a street musician is playing a soundtrack from “The Mission”.
I’ve nearly given up on my Portuguese since for almost every question of “fala inglés” I get an affirmative reply.
As I was looking for a place to have lunch I came across a schoolgirls band… nice tune.. check it out.
After lunch next stop is the cathedral, for the first stamp (or carimbo in Portugese) for my Camino credential. A guy at the souvenir stand says “sure we have it here” and stamps my credential with less ceremony than a postal clerk stamping envelopes at the end of his shift. OK I guess I can do without the trumpets (it plays loud enough inside my soul anyway) but I’d have nothing against a “Bom Caminho”. I remember a nice send-off that I got at pilgrims office in St. Jean two years ago. I got a Bon chemin, preceded by a torrent of advice on the route in French … some of which I even managed to understand.
Later I learned that the guy who usually works in Lisbon cathedral is a peregrino and offers a completely different send-off from Lisbon … he took some overdue vacation.
The cathedral is massive, and since it’s Romanesque it has tiny windows and massive supporting pillars. The courtyard has some faded stone tomb effigies of kings and queens … once mighty and powerful and now barely a side note in a brochure … sic transit gloria mundi.
I got a reminder just how a tiny ball this world is, when I read that Lisbon has something in common with my hometown of Split, Croatia. Both have patron saints martyred by the same emperor – Diocletian. The only emperor in history who retired voluntarily, at the height of his power. He was also a smart ruler … since he built his retirement palace at the most beautiful place in the world. But he did engage in intense prosecution of Christians. In an interesting historical irony, his final resting place, a spectacular mausoleum, became the oldest cathedral in Europe.
Lisbon has plenty of churches and unlike my experience in Spain, a lot of them have regular weekday mass. I went to one dedicated to martyrs and found a statue of St. James next to the door.
Back at the hostel my roommates are a bunch of Italian girls. I bet they’ll be all quiet and pianissimo tonight… just like any large group of girls from my own part of the world.
That was D-1 day. Tomorrow we start for real.