Portugal Part 1: On My Way to the Motherland

Tuesday, March 18, 2014: Over one hundred and thirty years ago, my maternal side of the family immigrated from the Portuguese island colony of Madeira to what was then known as British Guiana (now modern-day Guyana). They were part of a large wave of Portuguese immigrants who headed to South America to work as indentured labourers in the sugar cane fields.

For the first twenty or so years of my life, if someone ever asked me where my family was from I’d say we’re “Portuguese-Guyanese mixed with Scottish-Canadian”. However, I didn’t really identity with our Portuguese roots. Despite the surnames on my mother’s side being quite exotic sounding (D’Ornellas, Fernandes, Gonsalves, Velloza), I saw us as being more Guyanese than European. We didn’t speak the native tongue, we didn’t know anything of our origins, and for generations my family had been raised as West Indians. Our Portuguese culture had been lost.

In recent years I’ve done some extensive research into my father’s side of the family. Once I started to unravel our Scottish roots, I became intrigued to learn more about the mysterious island of Madeira that mothered the other half of my family history. Madeira was then added to my Travel Bucket List.

After I completed my Camino de Santiago, I played with the idea of visiting Madeira during the free days I had before I flew back to Toronto. Madeira is actually closer to Morocco than it is to Portugal, so to get there from where I was in Spain I’d have to add another roundtrip flight to my itinerary, or book a one-way to the island and change my flight home (I was scheduled to fly out of Santiago de Compostela on my return flight).

Once I looked into how difficult (i.e. expensive) it would be to get there and I realized that it wasn’t an option, I decided to do the next best thing — visit mainland Portugal. Lucky for me there was a roundtrip bus from Santiago to Porto for about 50€. I’ll admit right now that I didn’t know anything about Porto prior to booking my ticket, and as a travel enthusiast I feel quite ignorant about this seeing how popular Porto is. However, in my defence I haven’t done much research into Portuguese travel as I’d never planned a trip to the motherland in the past. It was all very exciting and adventurous for me to make this spur of the moment travel booking to a place I knew nothing about.

My decision to go to Porto was based on three factors:

  1. It was the cheapest ticket. I can’t even sugar-coat this.
  2. It was the closest to Santiago de Compostela, which meant that I didn’t have to waste a lot of time on travelling. I could have gone to Lisbon or Fatima, but that would have doubled my time on the bus.
  3. The Google image search I did produced a gallery of pictures showing a beautiful looking town with colourful buildings on a river with large boats. I’m a sucker for port towns and harbour cities. I was immediately sold.

After our stay at Monte de Gozo, Adriana and I took the local bus back into the heart of Santiago. Adri was going to start her hike to Finisterre by rejoining the Camino where we had stopped a few days before — from the Prazo do Obradoiro in front of the cathedral. I was going to chaperone her to where she had to go, then be on my way to buy my ticket and catch the bus at the regional terminal.

We were both very emotional when it came time to say goodbye. We couldn’t really say much to be honest. Adriana is gifted like her mother, in that she can leave quite the impression on you with her parting words: “I love you. You have a huge, loving heart and you deserve to find someone who actually deserves your love.” Even now she’s making me emotional without trying. Between her and her mother, I swear they turn me into a blubbery mess.

I stood in place while Adriana walked away, watching her leave until I couldn’t see her anymore, then I started my trek in the opposite direction to the bus station. I ended up taking the long way (might have gotten a wee lost), but eventually I found myself waiting in line to buy my ticket to the Motherland.

I was in the process of making myself adjust to being alone again when I noticed one of the other people in the bus terminal. In a quick glance you could tell she was a pilgrim, but this particular pilgrim I had seen more than once along the Camino. She was the only tanned, blond-haired pilgrim I came across that wore a bright pink jacket with a bright purple backpack to match. I had seen her when I got off the train in León, then I met up with her again during my first stay at Monte de Gozo (she was actually in the same dorm room as Richard). Despite our run-ins, we never introduced ourselves, yet once we noticed each other in the bus station we acted like old friends.

I found out her name is Dany, hailing from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Turns out we were taking the exact same bus, both to and from Portugal, except she was continuing on to sacred Fatima. She’s a baker and a cake decorator like myself (although she’s actually professionally trained), who was also going through some relationship woes of her own. Needless to say, we conversed the whole way to Porto and never ran out of anything to talk about. We even discovered that we were both flying out of Santiago on the same day and at a similar time. Plans were made to hang out once we were back in Spain, and Dany was going to help me celebrate my 30th birthday.

After a few hours on the bus I found myself disembarking in Porto, saying a “ta ta for now” to Dany. This was it. I was on Portuguese soil. The air even felt different.

After being in Spain for a week and a half I had grown accustomed to speaking in Spanglish, but now I was in new territory. I reverted back to my “tourist” persona and spoke only English, managing to grab a cab to my hostel (I wasn’t going to risk walking or taking the local bus because I frankly had no clue about where I was or where I was going). After a quick ride I arrived at my accommodations, tired but ready to discover this port town.

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I wanted to share some photos that I received from Adriana once she arrived in Finisterre. I had given her my hiking poles and a plastic spoon that she could use, as she was still in pilgrim mode and I had officially reverted back to tourist (tourists don’t need to carry their own cutlery). She knew I had wanted to go to Finisterre with her but needed some time in Portugal instead, so she took these photos to show me that although I wasn’t with her, my belongings were, providing her companionship in my place.

adri01

adri02

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