“On the way” with Anselmo

In October 2021, Anselmo made his way to the Portuguese Way of the Coast. With him went his lifelong friend Pedro, and together they began an adventure of overcoming, friendship and conviviality for 10 days. Along the way, he encountered obstacles and nature that he will never forget. In this interview, you will get to know a unique personality that inspires us every day.   

Why did you take the road to Santiago?
Anselmo: My scream of Ipiranga! I had already planned to do the Way before my illness, there was never a promise or a bet in that sense, but, through some conversations with people I know and publications on social networks, the thing started getting into me. Several times I did the Way to Fatima, but I was always told that Santiago was another dimension. From the beginning of my illness (2018) until October 2021 (beginning of the Way), three and a half years had passed.

Those were terrible years: I broke my back three times, had two back surgeries, had chemo for eight months, had my first autotransplant in August 2019, which went very well and brought me back to life – although I lost 40 kilos in weight. Convalescence, after a year, and with an amazing recovery, I am called to the IPO of Porto, for a meeting where I was “invited” to participate in a study. This study, which besides new drugs, included a new autotransplantation. I accepted, for my own good and for all those who suffer from this disease (multiple myeloma).

August 2019: another month locked in isolation, this time without the morphine doses, as in the first one – it was a bit violent, but once again I got through it. What is certain is that after a year (August 2021) I internalized that I had to do the Way. I needed to test myself! It was three terrible years closed at home due to the infections and the pandemic. Was I a walking corpse or was I ready to give wings to my dream? I was fine physically and mentally.

Initially, my idea was to go alone, but I am glad I did not. After some conversations with my friend and companion, Pedro Lascasas, who had the same dream as me, we agreed that we would leave at the beginning of October. The only thing we planned was that the Way would always be close to the coast.

How many days did it take you and what steps did you take?
Day 1 – October 21- Porto Cathedral – Povoa de Varzim – After two false starts (due to my friend Pedro’s professional obligations), we finally started our Way: backpacks on our backs and we set off from Oporto’s Cathedral, with full courage and confidence. It was an excellent day for walking, but if it hadn’t been for the famous northerlies from time to time it would have been perfect.

We managed to walk to Póvoa de Varzim and arrived at the end of the afternoon. I went into a real estate office and politely asked if they knew of a place where we could spend the night. They indicated a local accommodation nearby and when we got there, the phone number was on the door. We called lots of times, without success, until a man who was passing by told us that it was closed because the lady was ill. However, he kindly informed us of another one, about 1 KM away.

We arrived there, right in front of the Municipal Market “Réve D’or”, as the place was called. We were welcomed by a lady with a French accent, very friendly. Right at the reception, we were delighted! The decoration was allusive to Santiago, which meant that it was already used to be frequented by pilgrims, as the lady confirmed – the best facilities – we paid 20 euros.

Day 2 – October 22 – Póvoa de Varzim – Chafé – Eight o’clock in the morning. Time to wind up the “vitorinos”. We walked down the street to the beach and had breakfast. Another wonderful day. It’s amazing the miles of walkway we walked alone – I would never have imagined: golf courses, protected areas for nesting and bird watching, something wonderful. So far, we were radiantly happy that we chose to walk along the coast. We had lunch right at the entrance of the bridge over the Fão River. After lunch, we rested for a while and were on our way. After crossing Esposende, we started to see indications for a hostel in Marinhas.

Following the yellow arrows, we arrived at the hostel. We were amazed, a new building, and then when we entered: Wow. We were welcomed by a Red Cross volunteer. The hostel smelt new, was super clean, and the windows let in the wonderful sunshine. The lady kindly washed my feet (she couldn’t do anything for the blisters), and since it was still very early, we decided to go on our way (to our great regret, because the hostel was inviting for a nap). We ended the day in Chafé. We stayed in a local accommodation called “Casa do Campo do Forno”, 20€, super spectacular.

Day 3 – October 23rd – Chafé – Carreço Again, eight in the morning and well recovered, we had no date nor time set. Our desire was to do the Way that had already begun to make its own way! In fact, the spirit of the Path had already began rooting in us. A beautiful stage, we had lunch at the entrance of the bridge in Viana do Castelo, at a barbecue grill with super nice people, very pleasant, who even invited us to go there during the Senhora da Agonia festivities. They have a boat and we went with them to the Sea procession. It was one of the most beautiful and striking stages. We were arriving in Carreço when we started to see indications for a hostel (Albergue do Sardão).

We stopped at a small coffee shop to ask if it was still far away. We were kindly informed and the man even called the Hostel, because he knew the person in charge. There, he spoke with him to say that there were two pilgrims who needed lodging.

Meanwhile, he gave me the phone to talk to Mr. Nuno, responsible for the Hostel. The news was not the best (or was it?). We were informed that the Hostel was full, not by pilgrims, but by a group of Spanish people who had gathered there for the weekend. Nuno kindly asked: do you want to take a shower and stay overnight? If you want, my friend Ana, who likes to help pilgrims, is here at the Hostel, and I know that there are already two Spaniards there, but there is still room for two more people. O Saint of the Lord, that’s exactly what we want!

We arrived at the lady’s house and Nuno was already there. He introduced us and we stayed there for the night, 10 euros, a super spectacular villa. But what left us speechless was the lady, I thought there were no more people like that.

Day 4 – 24th October – Carreço – Caminha Today we left half an hour earlier. It just happened. It was when we woke up. The lady had put a pot of coffee at the door, so that when we left, we could warm our stomachs. My friend Pedro and I were happy, things (apart from my blisters) were going so well. The people were so nice, the sun was still shining. What more could we ask for? We didn’t ask, but we were treated to a beautiful, wonderfully relaxing stage. We had lunch in Vila Praia de Âncora, but after a beautiful morning, for the first time since our departure, the rain showed up. We put on our kispos, we had no raincoats, and marched off.

We got soaked. It is not easy to walk by the sea under the rain, but we managed to walk to Caminha. We tried to find the hostel, but it was hopeless. Close to the Caminha exit, we found a local accommodation. It was a basement and we paid 20 Euros, but we were so wet that we could even stay under a bridge. We took a nice bath that made us forget the rain. We went looking for something to eat and found a little cafe nearby. We put something small in our stomachs and went to rest, tired but happy.

5th Day – 25 October – Caminha – Mougás – Oiá At eight in the morning, with dry clothes and a damp sock, we set off again on our way. We were going with some discomfort, but when we arrived at the camping site in Caminha, we were already warm. We were the first of the day to make the boat crossing to Guarda. We were leaving Portugal, and up to this point things had gone very well. For someone who had come completely at random, the balance was extremely positive, the spirit of the Way had taken over us. We were no longer us!

The only thing that made us pensive was that, up to this point, we had come across few pilgrims and those we had met were of other nationalities. After asking, they indicated a café about three kilometers away. We had not had breakfast yet. A very beautiful stage that took us to Mougás. Once again, we were navigating in the direction of the lodging, but in the meantime, indications of the Lodging (Aguncheiro) began to appear.

Once again, the Way was guiding us! The Lodging had opened precisely that day, which had been closed due to the pandemic – very good, we paid 12 Euros! There was a café next door, but it was closed. We were prepared not to eat that day, but the person in charge of the Hostel got us a pie and two beers. I still don’t know where he got them from, but we ate, drank, and had a fantastic night, rocked by the sea right in front of us.

Day 6 – October 26 – Mougás – Oiá – Vigo The longest and most “violent” stage. After leaving the hostel, with a radiant sun, we wanted to have breakfast, but there was no place to do it. After half a dozen km, a café-restaurant appeared, but apparently it was closed.

In Spain, nothing was open before ten o’clock in the morning, but this time we were in for a surprise: despite the absence of customers, it was open. We asked if we could go inside, and the answer was yes. When we started to order, the man said: “Are you Portuguese?” We said yes, and then the man said, “So am I! I’ve been here for eighteen years. I’m the only one that opens early in the morning. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have breakfast so early.” It was nice to hear spoken Portuguese.

Once we were done, the gentleman wished us a good trip and off we went. The most beautiful part of this stage was Bayonne, a lot of magnificent things to see. We had a picnic on the beach and enjoyed all the amazing things that kept showing up to us. The hardest part was at the entrance to Vigo. Due to us being tired, we got lost and drove unnecessary kilometers inside the city of Vigo. We finally arrived at the hostel at around 9:30. The hostel closed at ten. Here, we paid ten euros. Very good (being municipal).

Downstairs was the reception; and the living and dining room. The rooms were upstairs, but it had an elevator. I was so tired and drained that I didn’t even have dinner; however, Pedro still went to the street to get a pizza (Pedro held up very well today, his support was crucial). When he came back, I was already asleep, clothes on and everything. Early in the morning, I spent about half an hour under the shower, it was worth it, I was as good as new.

Day 7 – October 27 – Vigo – Pontevedra Here, we had a specific time we had to leave the Hostel (7 am). When we got to the street, it was still as dark as night. We even thought we had gotten the time wrong. It turned out to be good, because we left Vigo without traffic and without the confusion of the previous day. Only when we arrived in Redondela and began to see that the panorama was going to changethat we became happier. So yes, it was already the Way!

Beautiful places, the fields, the horses. Here, we already crossed paths with many pilgrims. The funny thing was that we didn’t meet any Portuguese. We walked to Pontevedra and managed to find a local accommodation, at A Loxa. Good, 15 euros. It was still enough to walk around the old part of town and buy dinner.

Day 8 – October 28 – Pontevedra – Valga – This one will go down in history. We left early, well rested. We had already forgotten Vigo. Eight in the morning, we were crossing the Burgo bridge – dark dawn – and started to walk up the avenue. At a certain point, we noticed another pilgrim coming up a short way behind us. Pedro and I were so distracted with our conversation that, if it hadn’t been for a lady walking her dog, we would have continued going straight ahead.

We should have turned left about twenty meters before, but the funny thing is that the other gentleman was also following us! Of course, we started a conversation: “So, my friend, were you also thinking about life? The truth is, I was looking at you and I didn’t even notice the detour!” he says, in perfect Portuguese. It was so nice, we hadn’t spoken to a Portuguese person for some time. After the introductions, we went on our way. There was no longer two of us, now there were three: Anselmo, Pedro and João.

Another wonderful day with fantastic landscapes. We were accompanied by João up to the Barros waterfalls, which we didn’t know about. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have discovered it, as you have to leave the Way to visit the park and the waterfalls. João, who was already an experienced pilgrim, told us to enjoy it. He was going to go ahead and try to reach Valga to find lodgings, because no one was answering the phone at the hostel, and it was going to start raining. After some rest, we got back on the Way.

Around 5:00 p.m., João gave us a feeling of relief with a call saying he was in Valga and had booked us an accommodation. Great! We arrived around 7:00 PM at the Hostel. We were warmly welcomed by the person in charge, who immediately directed us to a room where João was already waiting for us. Very good, especially for 12 euros. We packed everything, took a nice shower, and had dinner right in front of the Hostel. As we were leaving dinner, it started to rain. A lot. Pedro and I were all happy because we could now wear the ponchos we had bought in Bayonne for the first time.

Day 9 – October 29 – Valga – Milladoiro We left at seven in the morning, João’s orders! We had breakfast on the other side of the road, and were off. At mid-morning, João left us and set off again. There was a stage that he had left undone, because he had to guide a Brazilian couple, so he wanted to go to Santiago to catch the bus back to do the missing stage and later come to meet us.

We passed Padrón, making a visit there. We picked up at Padronela and went on to Milladoiro – at João’s recommendation, of course. We didn’t know where Milladoiro was or if it had a hostel. What is certain is that, at the end of the afternoon, we arrived there. Man, this looked like a hotel. What a level, 12 euros. A new and modern building, with all the best: baths, beds. The living room had a fireplace and how good it felt when, late at night, it rained again.

We were having dinner, and today we were able to stay a while longer and have a conversation. We had made friends with a Peruvian, a Korean, and a Ukrainian whom we had already met in Vigo. We were the only occupants of the hostel. It was agreed that we would all go together the next day.

Day 10 – October 30 – Milladoiro – Santiago – At 8am after breakfast, we set off for the last and final stage. This stage is hard to describe, a whirlwind of feelings: the will to arrive and the nostalgia for what was left behind. Today, October 30, I was celebrating my 60th birthday. I had, after so many privations and uncertainties, achieved one of my dreams. When we arrived in Santiago, we went to the pilgrim’s store to pick up the Compostela and get the password to attend the sermon.

João had asked me to wait for him because he would be there in the afternoon, but when the sermon was over, he had already found us. The three of us hugged and it was an explosion of feelings. Pedro and João hugged me and congratulated me on my birthday. It was a special moment.

Being that you are an oncology patient, did you take any extra care to prepare the way?
Anselmo: No. Being an oncology patient didn’t limit me. However, for the first two days I was walking and kept thinking about how things were going to go: would I be able to handle it? Because, on the very first day, I got blisters. I know that at home everyone was glued to their cell phones, watching to see when I would call to come and get me.

I also didn’t want to leave my friend Pedro hanging, after we had postponed the departure twice. Of course, my doctor at the IPO didn’t even dream of it. I had already told her about it and she said she would send me to see a psychiatrist. The only time I was more afraid was in Vigo, because I almost fainted from exhaustion.

How was it to travel 280 km always with the same person by your side?
Anselmo: To have walked the road with my friend Pedro was the best thing that could have happened, I’m sure the feeling is mutual. We were born 500 m from each other and have been buddies since we were kids. We were schoolmates. Only after the wedding we became more distant. We had different professional lives, and didn’t get to see each other so regularly, but, without a doubt, Pedro was the right person to do the Way with, for 10 days and 280 km. We were in a phase in which we both needed to get things off our chests, so no one was better than Pedro.

What was your most difficult moment?
Anselmo: The most difficult moment was, without a doubt, Vigo. The stage was very long and exhausting, and when we arrived in Vigo, it was like a bucket of cold water! So many people. So many cars, motorcycles, bicycles. Until then we had walked through Paradise, but we had to go through Hell. It was a real test.

We made a point of going to the hostel, but until we found it, more than once, I felt like fainting. Always with the support of my great companion, who was also tired, we went there walking and asking around, stopping sometimes to rest. Here, people were already completely different. When we asked for information, some didn’t even stop.

Without a doubt, this stage was calling into question everything we had felt up to this point. When we found the hostel, we went in, checked in – I didn’t even eat or take off my clothes – I laid down and switched off completely. Early in the morning, I took an invigorating shower and we set off. My friend Pedro was telling me to slow down, but I just wanted to get out of that place (Vigo) before everything started moving again.

What surprised you the most on the journey? 
Anselmo: What surprised me on the route was the kindness of the people. If we were all pilgrims, there would be no evil in the world! Of course, no one picked us up, we didn’t stay for free anywhere. We paid for what we ate. But there is a different feeling in people. For a moment, all the malevolence disappears. This was the first Way, I still don’t know how the others’ [paths] are, but perhaps because it’s my first, I think it’s impossible to find another path as beautiful. I have been in places and seen things that not even in dreams would I ever see. It’s impossible to live life (I dare say every day) without thinking about the Way.

What was the most comfortable hostel you stayed in?
Anselmo: The most comfortable hostel I found was, without a doubt, Milladoiro. It impressed me in all aspects: cleanliness, comfort, space. I was completely overwhelmed, I never imagined a hostel like this on the Path. I think it was a treat after Vigo .

Which one was the most beautiful route? Portugal or Spain?
Anselmo: I saw such beautiful and unforgettable things, both in Portugal and in Spain, that it would be dishonest of me to individualize. What is beautiful, in fact, is the Way as a whole. If I hadn’t passed through Vigo I wouldn’t have even noticed the difference between both countries. The Way isolates us from the rest of the world.

Who did you meet on the road that you will never forget?
Anselmo: João! He will remain in our lives forever. Both me and my friend Pedro adopted him as a brother and I think João adopted us too.

What can’t be missing in a pilgrim’s suitcase?
Anselmo: Everything and nothing! I can say that I took the bare minimum. However, in Angeiras, on the very first day, we met a friend of mine to whom I left half of the things I was carrying. Every day I wore the same thing: elastic shorts, cloth shorts on top, a t-shirt and, if it felt cold, I always had a kispo; and now I also had a poncho for the rain, which I bought in Bayonne. What I consider essential: clean underwear and socks every day. The rest, anything will do. But what no one, really no one, can lack: resilience, faith, determination and hope. Without this, the backpack will always be empty.

If you could give only one tip to people who are thinking about doing the path, what would it be?
Anselmo: The tip I can give to those who are going, for the first time, on the Way is: Go! Nothing will you be missing. Just go. Let things flow. I believe you might be scared, but don’t fear, the transformation you will feel will make it that nothing will stop you! Of course, everyone knows who they are, but I am absolutely sure that what transforms us is the unknown. It’s letting it happen, backpack on your back and feet on the road. Because marked hotels, sending your backpack in vans, I don’t know, I don’t think that’s the spirit, but ………

What was your reaction when you arrived in Santiago?
Anselmo: When Pedro and I arrived in Santiago (João had gone to do a stage that he had missed), there was a mix of emotions. The joy that we had arrived and the sadness that it was over! We just hugged. Pedro congratulated me for my birthday and we went to the pilgrim’s office to pick up our Compostela as well as the password to attend the sermon. We still went to the Church of S. Francisco, because João had explained to us that there they would also stamp our passport and give us a diploma (like the Compostela): so we did it. When we passed Padrón, we went to pick up Padronela, because João had told us, otherwise we probably would have passed it without noticing it. The high moment of the arrival was reserved for when João arrived, it was uncontrollable. The three of us hugged each other, expressing our feelings. It was indeed a remarkable moment, and even more remarkable when João gave me a birthday present. A wooden arrow with the engraving of a pilgrim. He said he found it when he was walking the Path and thought: here is the present for Anselmo. We had lunch together and walked the Way back together. João stayed in Guimarães, where he lives. It was hard to say goodbye, but it wouldn’t be forever (we had already met again during Christmas week), and my friend Pedro and I made our way to S. Pedro da Cova – Gondomar – where everyone was waiting for us.

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