MINI WALKING STORIES
Mini Walking Stories is a project I’m doing this month to catalog what has been an AMAZING year of walking. Every day during December, I’m going to choose one photo and invite you to come along with me for a few minutes on one of the walks I took in 2022. Read more stories here.
Casa Fernanda on The Portuguese Way
Some people are just naturally hospitable.
Some folks have the gift of being able to make you feel at home.
And then there is Fernanda, and also her husband, Jacinto, who have turned the act of simple hospitality into an art form.
They run a small pilgrim’s hostel (or albergue) at their home: Casa Fernanda, which is on the Portuguese Camino between the city of Porto and Portugal’s northern border with Spain.
From the moment our small band of five walkers arrived at Casa Fernanda, we forgot the twelve miles we had walked in the rain, because we were immediately swept up into the sheer delight of being in Fernanda’s welcoming orbit.
She ushered us onto her covered porch to escape the rain, where those who had arrived before us were already sitting and chatting. Fernanda’s easy manner with everyone made us all feel like long lost friends, both hers and each other’s.
She brought out drinks and glasses, and then she started making snacks for us in her outdoor kitchen. I wasn’t even hungry but the fried croquettes and skillet-sizzled Padron peppers smelled so good that when she set them on the table before us, I happily did my part to help make them disappear.
The whole time she was cooking, Fernanda was answering her phone to tell folks that she was full for the night. She hates disappointing folks but she only has 10 beds, 11 in a pinch. But when a man showed up with a giant backpack hoping to camp in her garden for the night, she squeezed him in as well. On the phone, she would tell people about other places that they could stay, trying to help everyone have a bed for the night.
We all took turns using the two showers in between chats on the porch and quick naps in the cabin that sits in Fernanda’s back garden. It is lined with two rows of quilt-covered twin beds, five on each side, and reminds me of summers at my grandparents’ house in the country.
For dinner, Fernanda cooked us a beautiful meal inside her house. We started with vegetable soup and a salad made with lettuce from her garden. Then the family style dishes just kept coming. We passed bowls of food and bottles of wine up and down the long table that lines her kitchen. Her husband Jacinto came in as we were eating and he exchanged his work jacket for an apron and started serving as well. Fernanda slipped out for a little while to go and help an older neighbor up the road from her, because of course her care for others extends beyond her own walls and into her community.
Those of us around the table started out fairly quiet but gradually became animated around the table as the food and wine kept coming. We were all becoming fast friends under Casa Fernanda’s spell, learning each other’s names and where each pilgrim was from. Seven countries were represented among our small group. There were five of us from the States, and then the backpacker from Germany. Two dear friends from the Canary Islands were walking together. A gal from Germany we had met the day before had claimed the extra porch bed. And then three ladies from three different countries, who had met each other on a previous Camino, had reunited to walk together again.
Jacinto joked that we couldn’t leave the table until we finished all the plates of food, which we couldn’t do, but we came close. He also refused to let us help clean up, telling us to just relax at the table. Just enjoy yourself. We had dessert accompanied by his homemade schnapps, a drink he makes from the peels of grapes and is not for the faint of heart.
And then just when I thought the evening was winding down, Jacinto asked,
Does anyone know how to play the guitar?
And it just so happened that yes, someone did.
Alex, my friend Diane’s son and our youngest companion on the Way, knows how to play the guitar quite well.
And so Jacinto brought out a guitar and we asked for a song. And then another. And another.
Everyone was requesting songs and pulling up lyrics so we could all sing along.
Fernanda came back from helping her neighbor into bed and joined in the singing. At the end of the night, she said, okay, one more! Do you know Hallelujah?
And everyone knew it and sang along. It was our good night serenade.
It was time for bed, which was heavy sleeping for some and lying awake listening to snores for others.
I was too wired to sleep, amazed that Fernanda and Jacinto do this every single day and night! The steady stream of pilgrims means that they are constantly engaged in this welcoming dance! They told a few stories of some of the adventures they have had hosting pilgrims for so many years. For example, when the pandemic hit, they had a man from Germany who ended up staying with them for two months as all the other pilgrim’s hostels closed overnight.
People return to the Portuguese Camino over and over to stay with them again, and I can see why.
The next morning they filled us with a generous breakfast and sent us on our way with blessings. They have a jar on the kitchen counter where you can leave a donation, but they don’t keep track of who pays what. They just trust that it will all come out in the wash.
In fact, even the guitar came from a guest who suggested that they should have a guitar, and then he later sent the money for them to buy one.
Fernanda and Jacinto embody the Spirit of the Camino, part of which is knowing that whatever you need will be provided when you need it. You can just trust. Just keep walking the way, one foot in front of the other.
What a privilege it was to stay with them!
What a wonderful way to end a long hard day of walking. You have brought these two hosts to life, and what an extraordinary life that is. Thanks for sharing Alison.
Loved reading this story. So precious.
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