Hiking the Camino Portugués

My walk into “what’s next?”
By Connie Larson

The Spanish noun “camino” translates as “path” or “journey”. The verb “caminar” is “to walk”. That sums up my March 2019. I walked from Porto, Portugal to Santiago, Spain (280 km) following the Camino pilgrimage route.  


In 2013, I was invited to join a friend on her walk into retirement. Now in 2019, I, too, needed a transitional marker. After teaching French for 40 years, I needed my “What will I do next?” trek and time to ponder. Who will I be without a classroom? Is this the right timing? I needed time to ask big questions and time for those questions to rattle around in my brain. And so, my friend and I walked together once again.


The Portuguese coast is gorgeous. March is early for a hike; we were expecting rain and temperatures in the upper 50s so we packed accordingly. When an intense blue sky greeted us nearly every morning, we celebrated the weather minute by minute. A cool sea breeze kept us moving, and I felt gratitude and sunshine down deep in my bones. 

We followed a path that has been walked for centuries. Orange and lemon trees were heavy with fruit, cabbage and kale were in season and gardens were being fertilized with seaweed. This Portuguese route is less traveled, but still we met people from all nationalities, faiths and ages walking the same path for their own reasons. 

We recognized each other by our backpacks and our greeting “Bom caminho.” At the border into Spain we crossed the Minho in a small fishing boat and turned inland towards Santiago. Our greeting changed to Spanish, “Buen camino.”


Packing for the hike forced me to evaluate my needs and prioritize the comforts. I packed two t-shirts, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks. I had miniature everything—toothbrush, moleskin, etc. I asked: Do I need this, or is this just-in-case? How much weight can I carry? Bottom line: I could carry 12 pounds. 

The clutter of everyday life disappeared. Our walking days were simple. We woke up, put on the same t-shirt, same shoes and started walking. When we stopped walking, we washed out our t-shirt, ate a wonderful meal (no scrimping on cuisine, we were by the sea), played cards, went to bed and started over the next day. 

Imagine unpacking three weeks later. My backpack was unloaded in three minutes and my stuffed closet looked ridiculous. Re-entering a complicated rhythm of multitasking and multiple hats (wife, mother, teacher, daughter and friend) made me feel awkward and clumsy. I longed to put my backpack back on with only enough room for one hat.


First choose shoes and then begin walking. These words—choice, walking, path, journey —are the same words often used for personal reflection. Is beginning a spiritual walk just as simple? St. Augustine wrote, “Go forth on your path, as it exists only through your walking.” Wise words even in a literal translation. 

My intention for meditation while walking rarely happened, and no big questions found answers. Instead I chatted with my walking partners; we told jokes, shared stories and played word games while ignoring blisters and pushing up hills. However, now that I’m home, I’m finding metaphors that silently crept in through the soles of my shoes and into my heart. Acceptance, courage and wisdom were under my feet on gentle paths through eucalyptus forest, uneven cobblestone and steep uphill climbs. Am I paying attention to the paths I choose? Do I notice the markers along the way? Are my knees up to it? Is my heart in it? The physical path is becoming a reference for my life journey, and I love this connection. Keep it simple, just walk…every day.

“Walking outside in the fresh air is better than trudging around inside your brain” (unknown author.)

Connie Larson lives north of Rochester and loves riding horses, swimming and traveling. She is rediscovering her life path.