The cats had gone into the cattery the day before, my bag was packed and standing by my front door and the much anticipated morning finally arrived. Sleep had been minimal and my excitement in overdrive. I rolled out of bed before my alarm even sounded and drank a cup of coffee while distracting myself with some random episodes of something forgettable on Netflix. Finally, I could switch off the lights, throw my bag in the car and fetch Kim.
I’d been to hers the night before to help her decide on what to take. I knew that my own pack was too heavy and needed a culling. But I thought to defer that until I’d helped Kim with hers. It was definitely a pot-calling-the-kettle-black moment. I sat with Kim on her bedroom floor and tossed things into a discard pile until eventually she had had enough and declared herself already done with the whole trip. Chastened, I left to focus on my own pack.
The next morning, I collected Kim, threw her oversized bag next to my equally oversized one in the boot and we drove to Stansted airport where we parked and caught a bus to the entrance of the airport.
We had decided when booking to check in only the one bag with the tracking poles and liquids, afraid something might be confiscated. But the bag check-in automatic system didn’t register the bag booking and advised us to see someone official. So we queued for help. Standing there, we wondered aloud why the Ryan Air employees always look so harassed and unhappy. The young woman at the desk looked hopelessly at us and clicked away at her screen before excusing herself, leaving my passport on the desk and disappearing for 15 minutes. Eventually she came back, saying she couldn’t print out the label for our bag but to go to the automatic booth again. This we did.
‘See someone at the check-in desk.’ Flashed up again.
Standing in another queue was not helping my anxiety levels and I began to seriously worry about missing the flight as we still needed to go through security.
‘I see what has happen, Ma’am.’
‘Your bag is already on the plane. It been here since your cancelled flight yesterday.’
I’m sorry?! What?! Almost in tears, I couldn’t cope. Kim took over, explaining how this could not be possible as this was our flight and we had not been booked for the day before.
‘Well then, someone taken your booking.’
At this point I did break: ‘Well, in that case, shouldn’t you find who this person is, take the unknown bag off the plane and allow us to get onboard because I am the ticket holder, this is my bag and I need to fly to Porto NOW!’
Within minutes we were through security and running for our boarding gates. I’ve yet to book with Ryan Air since.
Porto is a beautiful city. We arrived and hopped on a bus with a gorgeous man playing host to everyone on board. His bus took us within ten-minutes walk of the Porto Downton Hostel where we had booked accommodation for the night. But the streets were confusing and I kept taking us down wrong turns while doing a terrible job of googlemap reading. Roads seemed to go everywhere and all those roads are on different hills. Porto is a city of many ups and downs. We hadn’t even started the camino and our legs were already aching.
After finding the hostel at last, we tossed our heavy bags into our room and left to find the cathedral where we had our pilgrims’ passports stamped. A service was due to begin later, so we passed the time in a cafe at the bottom of the hill that the cathedral was perched on. Looking down from outside the cathedral, you get a wonderful view of the city and by the entrance is a massive statue of a man on a horse. It’s very anatomically representative and very masculine in its energy.
Kim and I sat under a large umbrella on metal chairs drinking Portuguese wine and eating Natas. Meanwhile the rain pounded down around us and the sky cracked with flashing lightening bolts and crashing thunder. It was surreal and dramatically invigorating. The waiter zipped about through all this attending to his patrons’ needs and communicated with us by use of his hands and the few single English words that he knew.
We returned to the cathedral for mass which was an interesting experience as I am not catholic and nor do I attend church regularly. But spiritual joy is not the preserve of one denomination nor ones uncertain convictions. It is an experience and listening to the choir sing and the acoustics of the interior swell with the interweaving harmonies stirred me to tears. I looked at Kim and saw that she too was profoundly moved. It was at that moment that I think the Camino became something real – a true pilgrimage of the self – and not just a holiday adventure.
We finished our day exploring the bridges and shops before returning to the hostel and finding a restaurant to have dinner. Tired, we decided to have make tea in the hostel kitchen. Here we met up with Joanna who was looking after the front desk and some North Americans. We drank our tea right there, chatting and shared white port before finally going to bed.