Part 2: September 30, 2019
It is dark in my room when I wake up. The curtains are closed but I can’t see what time it is outside. Is it Tuesday? Or has only a half hour passed? My earplugs, still saturated from my post-shower hair, have expanded in my ears, and for a solid 15 seconds, and I cannot get them out. I am in darkness, I cannot hear, and I have no idea where I am. I paw desperately at the squishy earplugs. I am off to a great start.
I finally dislodge them and sit up, a new woman. I slept! It is 6pm, a perfectly rational and safe time to still go outside without knowing where I’m going. My anxiety about getting lost in the city in the dark is still too strong, so I decide to trace my pre-memorized route from my hotel to the Camino itself. I pocket my whistle, just in case (of what? I’m not so sure.)
The Camino, no matter the route, is famously marked with painted yellow arrows. In some areas, the road includes blue-and-yellow scallop shells–the symbol of the ancient hike. Finding a yellow arrow sends comfort down your spine. It is a reminder that you didn’t goof up, that you’re still headed in the right direction. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve zoned out on the trail, only to come back to reality 20 minutes later, terrified that I missed a turn. Arrows are great.
The hotel outside my room looks much less Twilight Zone-y after a bit of sleep. I hop into one of the bump ’em cars and take a selfie for Ben. I appear to be the only person on my floor at the moment so I get to be a weirdo tourist. The elevator looks horrifying–another form of transportation I’m not fond of–so I follow the winding steps downward, lit in green and red, into the lobby.
The autumn air outside is cool and welcoming and reminds me of going back to school. The city has started to wind down for the night and flame-filled heat lamps light up down the alleyways outside romantic restaurants.
I walk up the hill past the cafe from this morning, around the corner by a university art store, and past a beautifully painted building which turns out, oddly enough, to be a Steak-and-Shake. It is, without question, the most stunning Steak-and-Shake on the planet.
I turn the corner, and voila! There it is! The first arrow! It is painted next to a storm drain and is pointed in the direction of the main shopping street, undoubtably north. Walking the Camino through a city is notoriously difficult since you’re not following a hiking trail, but instead, are typically winding through a pre-determined route that takes you past the church. This is not often a straight shot, and it’s easy to get lost.
The first day of hiking will be hard; I’ve prepared myself for this. Getting into and out of city on foot can be frustrating. Think about the area that surrounds your favorite city. Industrial and weird, right? Full of highway exits and car dealerships? That’s what it’s like on the Camino too. Getting to the woods and rolling fields in most of my photos takes time.
It’s only been 20 minutes and my one plan for the evening is complete. I look around for any pilgrims headed up the road–though it’s quite late for anyone to still be walking–but I hope anyway. Spotting the first fellow pilgrim is just as exciting as spotting the first arrow. You feel less crazy when you see another human in cargo pants, hiking boots, and a Buff headband. I am also desperate to not feel alone in this.
When you walk the Camino Frances, the first town is packed with pilgrims, it’s like the first day of summer camp. But here? The Camino Portugues is less popular and the season is coming to an end. So, I’ll have to wait.
I’m still too stuffed to consider dinner so I stroll for a block or two to find a drink. I know I’m never gonna be able to get to bed at a normal hour so I might as well get tipsy. And then, right in front of me, I found Cervejaria do Carmo: a craft beer bar! There are two people sitting outside but all the other tables are open. It is a journaling dream!
The sweet owners–a husband and wife–speak English and explain the different local beers to me. I think about all my friends and family members who love craft beer and I don’t know how I’m going to explain this to them. We talk about the Camino and how I’ll spend the next two weeks walking north. I explain that I will be back in Porto afterwards for my flight home, though I’ll take a bus back down. The woman of the couple, kind and comforting, tells me to stop in and tell her about my adventure when I return. I wonder if that will actually happen.
They pour me a pint, hand me a plate of chips, and I settle into a cafe chair to watch the tourists wander around a plaza.
I write in my journal, “The pigeons here aren’t very smart, but the people are.” This is in response to pigeons scattering spastically away from some bikes. I am biased toward NYC pigeons, after all. I then catch two guys staring at me and I’m worried they want to talk, or worse, flirt. I write, “Look gloomy about your writing, that will scare them away.” I furrow my brown and look up, thinking about something lofty and disturbing. They go back to their beer.
“I like the seagulls here. They have moxie. I love that word,” I write. “For some reason, I feel like I’m needed back at the hotel–the call of false responsibility. Donde estan los peregrinos?” My handwriting gets more flat and distorted as I get on a roll, and I can’t read most of it now–usually a good sign of helpful writing. I jump back and forth between giant life questions and notes about the birds in the street.
“The Camino sends me what I really need, not what I think I need…I look forward to being a pilgrim again…Am I part of the club yet? Will I be?…There are fewer pigeons, maybe that’s why they’re so dumb. They don’t learn from one another…The seagulls here seem to run the city…The blue ink on the church is so stark against the white tiles.”
Journaling doesn’t always make sense. My mind is all over the place.
My anxiety starts to spike again and all I want to do is hide in my room. I’m ready to wake up here, to greet a bright Porto morning! But it’s only 8pm. Still, my brain and my soul need to hide. There is plenty of adventure up ahead, so I close out my tab and head home. Home. My temporary bed–the only type of bed I’ll have for two weeks–is here.
Before I head back for good, I look on to the street that will be the start of my Camino the day after tomorrow. It’s filled with college students having beer and standing in packs. I can’t see past the curve in the road. Probably best. I am equally terrified and excited to begin.
When I get back to the hotel, I call Ben one more time to chat and show him my hotel room. I break open the chips, bar of chocolate, and bottle of port sweetly left by the hotel for me and settle down with a book. I stay up, confused and disoriented until 2am. At last, I fall asleep, ready for one last day as a normal human.