I recently had a chance to photograph and walk the Camino de Santiago in Portugal & Spain with Backroads. Walking and hiking is something I enjoy doing but I’ve never experienced anything quite like the Camino de Santiago. If you’re not familiar with the Camino aka. The Way of St. James then I would suggest watching, “The Way“, on Netflix. Though much of that movie was based on the popular Camino Frances rather than from Portugal and coastal Spain Way that we did, I think the movie does a good job at capturing the essence of Camino de Santiago.
There are many ways to walk to Santiago de Compostela, some people choose to backpack 500km from France and stay at hostels while others do shorter routes and drink Portugese wine at luxury boutique hotels. Both approaches are rewarding in their own right.
Ponte de Lima was the first town we encountered along the Camino de Portugues. It’s notable for being the oldest town in Portugal. The architecture was beautiful and the scenery around the Lima River was beautiful.
One of the things I really liked about walking the Camino de Santiago was seeing different slices of life in Portugal & Spain; from gravediggers to eating lunch with the Conde (Count) de Calheiros to buying souvenirs from small-town shopkeepers who don’t speak a word of English. Coming from the Bay Area, it was a refreshing change of pace. If we don’t travel and seek out new experiences then we’re just living in our own little bubbles. For every wealthy tech yuppie who got rich on IPO money there are many more people in the world who get by with much less material wealth. It’s good to get exposed to all walks of life.
I’ll admit to cheating a little bit during the Labruja Mountains route. It was a hot day with my allergies out in full force so I rode the support van up to the top then met the rest of the group 1/3 of the way down where I found this interesting Camino shrine along the hiking trail.
We had completely different weather in Spain; more along the lines of what I’m used to hiking in the Bay Area. The fog was very thick the entire hike up to Santa Tecla. Loved it! Perfect weather as far as I’m concerned and made for some atmospheric photography conditions.
The challenge for me as someone who enjoys landscape & nature photography more than anything else is wishing I could stop every five seconds with a tripod and photograph all day to my hearts content. But the nature of adventure group travel is being constantly on the move. It’s an acceptable trade-off though because I probably never would have attempted the Camino de Santiago on my own anyway.
The story of Santa Tecla is quite interesting. I’ve linked to Wikipedia for more info.
I honestly did not expect the scenery on the Camino de Santiago to be as beautiful as it was. Some of these places like Santa Tecla, Baiona, and the Cies Islands (the following photos) are world-class scenery in my opinion. I did a lot of walking on this day and concluded with photographing a beautiful sunset at 10 pm! on the scenic coastal bluffs of Parador de Baiona, an old forgotten castle or fort I think that was purchased by the Spanish government whom then turned it into a luxury hotel.
The following morning we woke up early and took a 45 minute boat ride out to the Cies Islands which is part of Spain’s National Parks system. I would describe the Cies Islands as the Channel Islands (a California National Park) but way more beautiful.
The one downside to this excursion was that my trusty travel camera, a Fujifilm XE-1, drowned in the Atlantic Ocean during a sneaker wave. The camera no longer works. Thankfully the memory card was fine otherwise I would be really depressed but what I was most frustrated about was missing out on two potentially great street photography scenes. I had what I thought was going to be a really intense up-close beach rugby action photo framed up but my shutter wouldn’t fire on me. It turns out that the photo below was the last photo I was able to shoot on this excursion (my Sony A7R was with my luggage on the mainland). Later as I was walking dejectedly back to the dock to meet up with the rest of the group, a group of young women playing in the ocean were insisting that I photograph them with my camera. Unfortunately the camera was no longer functional so I had to explain to them multiple times (they spoke broken english) that I couldn’t because the camera got wet so they were disappointed. I’m always looking to add to my “editorial portfolio” but no such luck on this day and totally my fault.
On the next part of the trip, we walked the last few stages of the Camino Francés (French Way) which is the most popular route of the Camino de Santiago. There were many pilgrims on this route from backpackers to cyclists and musicians. It was quite an eclectic mix of people.
Santiago de Compostela’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is definitely a happening place. There’s a certain energy here that is quite alluring. I can see why some people trek a very long way to do this pilgrimmage. I walked about 60 miles in total during my trip but that is nothing compared to 500km. 60 miles was enough for me to get a taste of the Camino de Santiago. During the first night in Santiago, I was able to attend the Pilgrim’s Mass which featured the famous botafumeiro, a swinging cauldron of burning incense. See the video below (not mine).
I’m actually not religious at all and do not believe in any specific faith but I’ve visited two of the three holiest sites (Vatican City & Santiago de Compostela) in the Catholic religion now. I’ve also photographed all 21 California Missions. I find religious artwork and cultures to be fascinating perhaps in part because I don’t really understand religion. The other holy site, Old Jerusalem, is also on my bucket list.
Though most pilgrims end their Camino journey at Santiago de Compostela, the traditional pilgrimmage route actually ends at the Atlantic Ocean via Camino Finisterre aka. The Finisterre Way or The End of the World.