Stage Three- Esposende to Viana Do Castelo, 17 miles


As we set out this morning, I have an uneasy sense of having forgotten something. Emily left a shirt and her bamboo staff in the hotel room. Was it by accident or had it been a decision? I’d left a pair of brand new hiking pants and a guide book at the last hotel. Those had been intentional. Un-necessaries unloaded. Fears unpacked. Now, Emily immediately turns any sense of regret into intention and offers both shirt and staff up to the next Pilgrim who finds them.

My unease walks along with us for a while. I feel uncharacteristically nervous that I’ll become dehydrated and get baked by the early sun. My right hip already holds the nagging ache that didn’t creep in until our last mile on the first two days. My pack feels bumpy lumpy and my hydration pack is showing the first signs of being temperamental. I cannot imagine walking the half marathon distance ahead when I this crappy already.

Today, our route will be inland. Just as we turn away from the sea toward stone, a thin golden lab trots by, tail waving, on some sort of very happy mission. Joi in Portugal. My heart skips a beat as I glimpse her- a golden ray crossing our path ahead. I know this seems strange but over the next few minutes, my hip pain disappears. My pack snugs into place. And my water starts flowing easily. We find an energetic spring in our unified stride that is probably uncharacteristic for any pilgrim on day three. Joi has gifted us her “joie de vivre”. Call me crazy. But if you pay attention, joy can find you wherever you are, whenever you need it. Gah! (If you don’t know Joi’s story, she is the special soul in the body of a golden lab with a waving tail who adopted my family in Thailand six years ago.)



It is amazing to me that we can walk far enough in one day to witness so much diversity. We walk through villages first- dotted with locals engaged in passionate discourse who most often pause to wish us “Buen Camino.” Pretty soon, cobbled lanes give way to dirt roads through farmland that reminds me of the village where I lived in Thailand- super green crops, red roofs, orange trees and bamboo. Then forest paths lined with rock walls climb up into familiar, cool air and we’re treated to waterfalls and rivers. We take a break at a shady pool under a waterfall that might as well be in the North Cascades.

This is our first day with elevation gain. We trudge rhythmically up hot roads, then forest trails. I pause at a beautiful, love laden shrine. At its base, lay stones, soul sayings, old letters, photographs, memories and prayers. Not for the first time, I wish I’d saved some of my sister’s ashes to scatter along The Way. I leave the little shell I’d picked up on day one and tuck some regret I have in my pocket under a stone. Earlier, Emily and I had been contemplating leaving things you love- that somehow giving away what you love can be as meaningful as releasing what you no longer want to carry. I rested my attention on each photo before I carried on.


For a time, we walk a dirt road that is cut deeply into the earth. It’s lined with the roots of trees that begin above the level of our heads. Maybe giving new meaning to the phrase, discovering your roots?

We seem to be going up and up. I start to feel the weight of my pack and Emily laments the lack of a coffee stop. This is about the time each day when the Math starts. How many miles have we walked according to my watch? How many steps have we taken according to Emily’s phone? How many more kilometers according to the map? And BOOM. There it appears, suddenly from around a wooded turn. An oasis! Cold fruit, a cooler of ice with juice, beer and yogurt surrounded by chairs in a friendly circle. There is a book full of elated thank you notes, a little boom box, napkins to wipe the watermelon juice from our faces and best of all- a miniature coffee maker. All covered by a shady tarp. Just in time. We tuck a few euros in the donation box and share in this glorious good fortune with Claudia and Sydney from California before moving on- our pesky math is left sitting in the shade.