Monthly Archives: May 2011

Days 40 to 42 on the Vía de la Plata


Well, here I am, two days away from Santiago. I’ve been dawdling lately. I have time, after all.

I don’t, however, have time to catch you up all the way. So I’ll take you to Ourense, and write about the past few days a little later (quite possibly from Santiago).

Day 40: Laza to Alberguería (13 km)

[Scenery]

It was rather uphill from Laza to Alberguería.

Right after I complained about not having anyone to talk with, things improved, of course. I ate dinner with a young German woman, her parents, and a family friend who happened to be a doctor. We had a nice discussion, and he gave me some wonderful concoction for my back that seemed to work wonders.

The next morning when I left Laza, I meant to do a 30-plus kilometre day, but obviously didn’t succeed.

The day started out with some very steep but beautiful climbs. As I walked, I saw some signs for a bar coming up, but didn’t pay much attention. I’d had my chocolate and peanut break, and didn’t need to stop at a bar.

But I was seduced by Leonard Cohen, walls full of shells, an albergue with personality, and two glasses of wine (in that order).

As I came up to the bar in Alberguería, I heard a song that seemed familiar. It took me a moment to realize it was a Leonard Cohen song. Now, since Leonard Cohen has provided the soundtrack (in my head) for a lot of my Camino, I thought I should probably stopped.

[Shells]

A few of the many, many shells in the Rincon del Peregrino bar.

Then I noticed the scallop shells covering the walls. Each had at least one name, often a country, and a date—pilgrims who’d passed through since 2004. Of course I needed a photo, and wanted to add my own name. I joined a few other pilgrims I knew for a cafe con leche, and wrote my name on a scallop shell.

I’d thought the music must be some sort of mix, but the next song was by Leonard Cohen as well. I commented to Luis, the bar owner, about how much I liked the music. As it turned out, he was a total fan of “El Cohen” and had been to several of his concerts. I asked if he had the song Hallelujah.

He did, but his remote wasn’t working and he couldn’t advance the CD. I’d have to stick around for a while.

So I waited. I chatted with a local man, who insisted on buying me two glasses of wine. I tried to help a Dutch pilgrim find her friend’s name. I went across the street to a new albergue I hadn’t known existed to use the washroom.

And at some point I decided to stay. The albergue wasn’t the cleanest I’d ever been in (though it was better after I gave it a serious sweeping) but it was free, I had it all to myself (!), and I got to hang out with Luis and listen to Leonard Cohen. I do believe Alberguería is my favourite place on this route.

Day 41: Alberguería to Xunqueira de Ambía (20 km)

[Donkey]

I saw a number of working animals along the route. This donkey was on its way to plough a field.

The day got off to a bad start, as I sprained my ankle falling down the last few stairs at the albergue. But I could still walk, so I listened to some final Leonard Cohen (fittingly, I walked out to the sound of the same song that had been playing as I walked in), had a quick breakfast, and took off.

It was mostly downhill to Vilar do Barrio, about 7 kilometres away. After I took my boots off I realized my ankle was seriously swollen, and considered staying.

But it was early, and I wanted to walk. So I kept going. It was a very pilgrim decision, I realized after a little while. I mean, in real life if you said you were just going to walk another 13 kilometres on an injured foot, people would think you were crazy. On the Camino, 13 kilometres really isn’t so much.

I passed through a bunch of small villages where I was wished buen viaje several times, and out into a valley full of farmland. It was flat, which was exciting.

[Valley]

Flatness! Briefly, anyway. The day began and ended with mountains.

I met my second Canadian pilgrim (both come from Quebec) while sitting behind a bush eating lunch. When I continued, I found that the valley ended, ad the last part of the route involved some more up-ing and down-ing, often through forest.

I had dinner that night with Antonio from Spain and a man from Switzerland. We spoke Spanish the whole time, and it was exciting to realize I could hold such a long conversation in Spanish, even if my tenses are a serious mess.

The albergue, like many in Galicia, was very nice, very clean, and rather institutional-feeling.

Day 42: Xunqueira de Ambía to Ourense (22 km)

[Arrow]

Wim decided to take the upward-pointing arrow literally.

This wasn’t the nicest walk, but I had a good day walking with a Belgian named Wim. We took it slowly, stopping at a few bars for coffee or juice. The industrial zone wasn’t as bad as I’d feared from walking into Burgos and León on the Camino Francés, and was actually followed by a very pretty little village on the outskirts of Ourense.

The way marking wasn’t very good into Ourense, but we followed the city centre signs and made it to the main plaza without problems. There, of course, we found pilgrims lounging outside bars who could direct us to the albergue.

The albergue is beautiful. Unfortunately, both large dorms and the common area downstairs share a roof, with ceilings that don’t go all the way up. So when the light goes on in one place everywhere is more or less lit up, and if there’s a conversation in the common room, you can hear it clearly in the dorms.

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If you’ve enjoyed this, you may want to read more of my Live from the Vía de la Plata posts.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 9:32 am
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Days 37 to 39 on the Vía de la Plata


About a week away from Santiago, I’m now among the walking wounded. It’s not that bad, though. And the mountains are beautiful.

Day 37: Lubián to A Gudiña (24 km)

[Mud]

This sort of mud was quite common on much of the route—the stepping stones weren't.

I met Steffen and Thomas, two young-ish German guys (one’s a bit older than I am; the other’s a bit younger), within half an hour of writing my last blog post. They were just finishing off dinner as I made a sandwich for my own meal.

As we ate, they told me about their Camino. Every day they get up at 7 a.m., have a leisurely breakfast, and leave around 8 a.m., after the sun comes up over the mountains and it’s no longer freezing.

After a few hours of walking, it’s time for their second breakfast, which is occasionally followed by a third breakfast. And then there’s lunch, and its accompanying siesta. Then they cook dinner in the albergue every night.

If they get lost, they used Steffen’s GPS to locate the next town (it would be no fun having all the Camino co-ordinates), and crash off in that direction.

They’d been walking from Salamanca, and planned to walk to A Gudiña the next day. From there, they’d take the train to Ourense, so they could walk into Santiago within their two-week deadline.

They invited me to walk with them to A Gudiña. I said yes—purely out of academic interest in such a hedonistic schedule, of course.

And so when everyone else was getting up around 6:30 a.m., I nestled deeper in my sleeping bag, re-applied my ear plugs, and stayed in bed until 7. Then it was time for First Breakfast and scrounging for food left by more weight-conscious pilgrims. And Steffen and Thomas were right—when we set out at 8 a.m., it wasn’t as horribly cold as it had been for the last few days, when I’d left earlier in the morning.

The walking was beautiful but seriously muddy, and in some cases the entire path had turned into a stream. The guys splashed through the water and laughed at me for my un-waterproof boots. It was also quite steeply uphill at times, but the ensuing views were more than worth it.

[Siesta]

Siesta time.

The guys gave me lunch from their vast stores—Coke, bread, sausage (for them), boiled eggs, cheese. We only had a brief siesta because the sky looked rather threatening.

After that the route went downhill, then up again into A Gudiña (after a scenic detour for an aerial view of the town).

The albergue was relatively big, with a huge dorm room, a well-equipped kitchen (surprising since we were now in the final province of Galicia), and no shower curtains (not surprising in Galicia).

Steffen and Thomas took off for the train station after farewells. I hadn’t even known them for 24 hours, but it was sad to see them go. I actually saw them again, though: a little later, I went for a walk, and saw them sitting at the station. It turned out the train wasn’t going to leave for over an hour, so I waited with them and chatted until the train pulled up.

Day 38: A Gudiña to Campobecerros (19 km)

[Horse]

The mountains were beautiful, but rather, well, mountainous.

This was another beautiful mountain-y day, also with rain in the afternoon/evening after I arrived. It went partly along a small almost traffic-less road, occasionally leaving the road for more rugged, higher paths.

I stayed on the road at the end because my back was suddenly quite sore. I’d actually meant to do the 35 kilometres to Laza, which would’ve meant I could’ve been in Ourense in time to meet up with Bob (the American I’d walked with before) and his sons (he’s had several changes of walking partners over the route). But with my sore back, there was no way I was walking farther.

The Campobecerros albergue is in the train station, 500 metres up a very steep hill—the worst walking of the day. It’s very new and clean, though, and although it doesn’t have shower curtains (so the floor gets ridiculously wet when you shower), it does have shower stalls. There’s no kitchen, though. Although it holds about 30 people, there were only six of us—I guess most go on to Laza.

The little bar/shop in town is great. The owners told me about the town (about 90 people; most commute to bigger places to work) and some of the pilgrims who’d passed through. The woman even took me on a five-minute walk to see a local statue.

Day 39: Campobecerros to Laza (16 km)

[Near Campobecerros]

Near Campobecerros.

It was a short walk along a road with nice views. I could almost have been in Canada, apart from the red-roofed houses and the trucks going around blaring political ads for the coming election.

My back wasn’t as sore as yesterday, but doing 20 more kilometres seemed stupid, especially with the looming dark clouds. (Apparently, Rob, I’m being forced into doing a slow Camino.) So I’ve now lost hope of catching up with Bob and his sons, which is sad.

The albergue is big and clean and institutional, with keys for the door of each small dorm (you get your key when you check in at the local police station). It’s also a little ways out of the town, which I quite like (the town, not being outside of it).

When I was in one of the small supermarkets and asked about a bakery, the only other customer volunteered to take me there … and brought me up the street to a van where I could buy a loaf of bread. We chatted a bit—I think she was talking a mixture of Spanish and Gallego. She was shocked that I had walked from Sevilla on my own, and told me that most people in Laza commute to other places to work, even though it’s bigger than the surrounding towns.

[Arrow]

Along the Vía de la Plata in Laza.

Antonio and Flo, the Spanish man and German woman I’ve mentioned before, appeared at the albergue, having skipped a few kilometres by train. I don’t know them well, but it was exciting to see familiar faces. I seem to have lost most people I know again, and am now surrounded by large numbers of German couples.

Really, I’m at the stage where I’m tired of meeting people—especially people it’s hard to communicate with. I wasn’t sure if I should mention that, because it sounds so anti-social, but I never pretended to be perfect, and I think this is a valid Camino phenomenon that’s worth talking about.

It hit me at about this distance last time, too. I’ve met so so many people, and it’s starting to be a lot of work to meet new people. I’m tired of the whole where-are-you-from where-did-you-start conversation with people I won’t necessarily see again.

I don’t know if this affects people who only walk the Camino Francés so much—after all, distance-wise, if I’d been there I’d have arrived in Santiago already.

“Why do you write so much?” an inquisitive German man I met this afternoon asked, as I was sitting at the common room table writing in my journal.

“Um, because I like to.”

He nodded, a little skeptically. “It’s like you’re talking to yourself.”

“I guess,” I said. “After all, I’m the only one I can speak a lot of English with.” I said it like a joke, but it’s really true.

I haven’t met any native English-speakers since I lost Bob and Greg (though Thomas and Steffen were great to talk with), and with such large numbers of pilgrims now, they tend to congregate by language: German, French, and Spanish. And while I can speak French and Spanish, I can’t follow much of a rapid-fire group conversation. So ironically, since as an English-speaker I’m supposed to be able to communicate with just about everyone, I’m the odd one out.

Anyway, I’ll get over it. I have before. Remind me to give you my “ups and downs” speech later, which I’ve had cause to give to a few people here and more often myself. (In a nutshell: There are a lot of ups and downs on the Camino both in terms of terrain and yourself—physically and mentally. And after the downs, the ups will come. Really.)

And of course my smaller walking stages combined with my current bout of anti-social feelings mean my blog posts are getting more detailed and, I hope, interesting.

* * *

If you’ve enjoyed this, you may want to read more of my Live from the Vía de la Plata posts.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 8:33 am
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Days 32 to 36 on the Vía de la Plata


[Bercianos de Valverde]

Walking up to a bar in Bercianos de Valverde (Day 32). The bar owner told us to take a particular (marked) route out of town. The group of Germans and a solo Frenchman who left before us took the other route, since their books said it was better. We followed the bar owner's advice. I have no idea which route was ultimately the best.

I don’t have many more than 200 kilometres to go to get to Santiago (exactly how many depends on which source you consult). Crazy.

My last Camino took much longer than I thought it would—I ended up arriving in Santiago four days after my flight home would have left from Paris, had my airline not died. This time, barring unfortunate mishaps or serious physical problems, I should be in Santiago well over a week before my flight home, leaving lots of time for Finisterre and, maybe, more.

Day 32: Tábara to Santa Croya de Tera (22 km)

[Santiago in Santa Marta]

The famous 11th-century statue of Santiago on the outside of the church in Santa Marta (about 500 metres from the albergue in Santa Croya). As I understand it, this is the earliest representation of Santiago Peregrino.

I should probably mention that the night before, Didi the chef from Austria, cooked a bunch of us an incredible seafood pasta in the albergue. I think there were about ten of us and four different languages. It was a lot of fun.

The next morning I walked with Didi, and Bob and Greg from the U.S. We up-ed and down-ed through fields, with a few somewhat serious climbs, and stopped at a bar for a cafe con leche.

The food and water situation has been improving as towns have been getting closer together. Most towns have fuentes (literally fountains; often a tap), many have bars, and some have food shops, so we now don’t have to carry nearly as much. I haven’t used my second water bottle in ages.

Bar-hopping is now becoming almost as easy as on the Camino Francés, and pilgrims tend to congregate at bars along the route. (I think I mentioned before that Spanish bars are a kind of cross between a pub and a café.) Alcohol is optional … although I have had at least a glass of wine a day for the last while.

I stayed at Casa Anita, which I’d read was a must-visit, and it lived up to its billing. It’s a wonderful place, run by wonderful people. The food was great, the dorm rooms were nice if rather large, and the courtyard was a perfect place for everyone to bask in the sun.

Although the albergue is technically in Santa Croya, it’s actually about 300 metres from Santa Marta, which has a beautiful little church with the oldest ever stone representation of Santiago Peregrino. You pay €1 to get in, and the friendly receptionist then gives a tour.

Day 33: Santa Croya de Tera to Ríonegro del Puente (28 km)

The walking day began with a foggy walk along a river. Bob, Greg and I eventually ended up on the highway because we thought the Camino might be muddy, and Bob wasn’t up for that. I haven’t mentioned his continuing boot saga, but basically one of his boots doesn’t have a heel, and of course he discovered this right after the last big town, Zamora.

I should probably also mention here that the minor highway the Vía de la Plata route followed, and the new minor highway the Camino Sanabrés is following, tend to have very little traffic. For some reason I don’t understand, there are these small highways running basically parallel with a much larger highway, so of course most cars are on the huge highway. This makes the small highways ideal for walking on, when necessary.

Anyway, if we hadn’t been on the highway, we wouldn’t have run into a procession of people carrying a Mary statue and singing Ave Maria, which was a definite highlight of the day.

[Rionegro del Puente]

Ríonegro del Puente, as seen from a church tower. This was my favourite town in a while.

We rejoined the Camino route right before Ríonegro, and walked into town through a park that centred on a river, with a small waterfall. My feelings about a town are often based on first impressions, and that was a great one.

The impression was confirmed by the albergue, which is new and beautiful. The dorm rooms are on the large side, but everything was nice and clean, and there was a whole mini-library in the huge common room.

(It’s funny the things that can make you happy when you’re travelling. Oooh, I get to share a dorm room with a bunch of snoring people. But it’s a beautiful dorm room.)

After studying my guidebook, I got rather unhappy. There were a lot of people in Ríonegro, and the bed situation for the next day didn’t look good. And for whatever reason, I can face that kind of uncertainty better if I’m with other people, and I would be on my own the next day. Bob and Greg were going to take the bus as part of getting Bob’s boot fixed.

So I went for a walk, and marched around town feeling teary.

Now, I tend to be skeptical of epiphanies, but on the way back to the albergue, I had a sudden thought that’s helped me through the last few days.

Who do you want to be? I asked myself. The person who worries about things that may never happen and goes off crying to someone else about it? Or the one who faces up to problems as they arise?

The answer was pretty obvious, and it’s helped me deal with the albergue uncertainty over the last few days.

I also went to my first Mass along this route. At a few pilgrims’ request, Andreas, an Austrian pilgrim who’s also a priest, said Mass in the albergue courtyard, with the birds singing and the occasional truck roaring by. His liturgical light was a little lamp on a keychain, and he wore a ribbon that’s some sort of priestly garment (I’m very ignorant on this matters) over his polar fleece.

Day 34: Ríonegro del Puente to Asturianos (26 km)

[Detour sign]

Which way to go? I didn't know what "desvio" meant, so I followed the stone marker and soon arrived at a sign warning me of explosives ahead. I decided "desvio" meant detour and took that route.

I walked as far as Mombuey with Bob and Greg, before saying goodbye to them. After that there were a bunch of pretty little towns, each with a plaque with an inspirational message for pilgrims by its church.

I was hoping to stay at a six-person albergue in Asturianos, but I knew most pilgrims from Ríonegro were ahead of me so didn’t know if it would be possible. I was actually surprisingly calm, after my thoughts from the night before.

About an hour before Asturianos, I was sitting by the side of the route eating lunch when Nicole and Cécile, two French pilgrims I’d thought were going to stay in the previous town, walked by. They said no one could find the key to the albergue, so they’d also decided to go on to Asturianos. At that point I figured I was doomed, and would have to walk a total of over 40 kilometres to Puebla de Sanabria.

[Bell tower]

I climbed a lot of bell towers in this area. It made for some great photos.

Then, walking into Asturianos, I passed Nicole and Cécile. Cécile was lagging, and told me if there was no room in the albergue, she was going to collapse right there on the street. So I knew I’d face an ethical dilemma if there were only two spaces left in the albergue.

But as I walked up, another French pilgrim I know told me there were three beds left. Absolutely perfect … and I got to practice my French, since I was surrounded by French people.

The albergue was basic (a room with beds, a big empty hallway, and a washroom) but very clean, with a bar conveniently located next door and a bunch of picnic tables outside. If you stay there and hear a sudden loud spurt of gunfire, don’t panic. The firing range is right next door.

There wasn’t much to do but write in my journal, walk around, and go to one of the town’s three bars with Nicole, a world traveller with a lot of great stories.

(I figure you can judge the size of a French town by the number of bakeries, and a Spanish town by the number of bars. Three is really quite small.)

Day 35: Asturianos to Requejo de Sanabria (27 km)

[Puebla de Sanabria]

Puebla de Sanabria, a beautiful little hilltop town.

The day got off to a freezing start, with frost covering everything. After wading through mud at the beginning, I lost the arrows one town past Asturianos, and the only person around directed me to the highway.

[Intersection with lots of arrows]

Some intersections had no arrows, or ambiguous marking. Others were like this.

The Camino route wasn’t actually on the highway, but it was the only thing I could find, and I was supposed to take to the highway a little later anyway to avoid serious water between two towns up ahead, so I ended up on the highway all the way to Puebla de Sanabria.

Puebla is a gorgeous, touristy town with a walled area high above the river, and a castle and church you can see from kilometres away. I puffed my way into town, found a grocery store that was open on a Sunday, and made my way to the castle, because I have a thing about castles.

I should say here that I love Spain. I really do. But something I can’t understand is the tendency here to sanitize ruins.

I mean, you walk into a town and often a serious proportion of the buildings are falling apart—likely in a seriously unsafe way. There are numerous places in small towns where you can climb (and of course I always do) dangerous staircases with lopsided stairs and no railings.

And then you visit a castle, where you (or at least, I) want some serious ruins, and the thing has been rebuilt and turned into an interpretation centre without a single atmospheric corner. The castle in Zamora was just as sanitized as the one in Puebla, but lacked interpretive displays.

Okay, I’ll stop ranting now.

The woman at the tourist information desk/castle entry told me to take the route that ran somewhat along the highway, as the other was unsafe. So I did, and alternated between the highway and a beautiful river walk.

The last two kilometres were lovely and foresty, but also seriously muddy and winding and not always well way marked, so if you’re feeling tired at this point the highway is probably your best bet.

[Requejo]

One of Requejo's "canals."

I got to Requejo and found it full of water. There was water coming out of ornamental pipes, and little streams running along beside and under the streets. In places, it would be hard to escape the sound of rushing water. I really enjoyed it.

I went to the private albergue first because I’d read the public one was dirty. But there was only one pilgrim at the private one and she didn’t seem very friendly, so I went to check out the public one.

It definitely wasn’t as nice as the private albergue, and it didn’t have pillows, but it was clean enough, and had two people I knew: Santi from Cataluña (when he says “my country” he means Cataluña, not Spain) and Andreas the Austrian priest, as well as two Dutchwomen I hadn’t met before.

The hospitalera told me later that few pilgrims stop in Requejo, so the large albergue is almost never full.

Anyway, I had dinner with Santi and Andreas (got to say, I’ve never hung out with a priest before), and that was pretty much it for the day.

Day 36: Requejo de Sanabria to Lubián (18 km)

[Wind turbines]

After leaving Requejo, I spent a lot of time watching this wind turbines growing larger, until I finally passed them.

That would be today. I somehow missed the Camino turnoff and ended up on the highway (what is it about highways, lately?), going gradually up into the mountains—or rather, I suppose, a mountain pass. It was cold again, but not as bad as yesterday.

After about an hour, I turned off onto a side road to try to figure out if there was any way on to the Camino that wouldn’t require mountain goat skills (I figured it was far below me). But to my surprise, I found a yellow arrow right away, so I sat down on some rocks to eat some celebratory dried dates.

[Overpass in the mountains]

The highway, running through the mountains. The route I took went under it.

The route was often rocky—one of the worst walking surfaces—but, at least on the part I walked, there was only one serious climb.

Just before the little town of Padornelo, I ran into a German couple I know coming from a different route. It turned out (as Andreas explained later) that if I’d have been on the Camino from the beginning, I would’ve had two options. The one the Germans and Andreas took was more difficult but beautiful—like walking in Austria, Andreas said. Oh, well.

In Padornelo I stopped for coffee at a wonderful little shop with a bar section, a butcher’s counter complete with the huge pig legs that are so popular here, and a bunch of little items for sale, from earrings to folding knives to glass figurines. Andreas showed up after a little while, and then Santi.

[Forest]

The gorgeous foresty part of the walk.

The last section of the walk, which I luckily didn’t miss, was gorgeous. Much of it was a hike rather than a walk, and a long section of the path had turned into a stream (with sort of convenient stepping stones), but it was worth it. There were lots of trees and stone walls, and a few little waterfalls, with a river rushing along the bottom of the valley—my kind of scenery.

I’d thought I might go farther today, but I fell in love with Lubián and decided to stay. It’s a pretty little town with friendly people (though I’ve usually found people friendly). I spent a relaxing afternoon picnicking and writing.

I also met up with a few people I haven’t seen in a few days and—just before coming here—Marcos, the young German I met the first day. I hadn’t seen him since around Zafra, and he’s the first person who started the same day I did who I’ve seen since Mérida. He’s also the only other pilgrim under 40 I’ve seen since leaving Maria and Sanna in Salamanca.

Anyway, things are beautiful here and Santiago is scarily close, and I think I might get kicked off the Internet pretty soon so I’d better sign off.

I hope you’re all doing wonderfully. Muchas gracias for the comments!

* * *

If you’ve enjoyed this, you may want to read more of my Live from the Vía de la Plata posts.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 9:50 am
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Days 26 to 31 on the Vía de la Plata


[Poppies]

The beautiful landscape between Roales de Pan and Montamarta (Day 29).

It’s busy, busy, busy on the Vía de la Plata. Actually, I technically left the main Vía de la Plata route this morning and am now on the Camino Sanabrés variant, which will take me to Santiago without joining up with the Camino Francés in the north.

Day 26: Salamanca (0 km)

[Salamanca]

In Salamanca, everything from building names to excerpts from Don Quixote (shown here) are written on the walls. It's beautiful!

Yes, terrible pilgrim that I am, I took a second rest day. Maria and Sanna, the friends I was sharing a room with, were both ending their trips in Salamanca, so I stayed around an extra day to hang out with them some more.

The night before, Maria and I found a wonderful little restaurant called Mandala with atypical Spanish food and some very good vegetarian dishes. I can’t remember the name of the street it’s on any more, but if you turn off the Rúa Mayor by the tourist office, it’s quite close. We also had lunch at the university cafeteria, which had a substantial amount of quite reasonable food for under €5.

I wasn’t a very good tourist—I spent more time hanging around squares and on the Internet and talking in cafés than I did sightseeing. I did pay to go into the Old Cathedral (which is attached to the New Cathedral), and quite enjoyed the oldness of the murals etc. there.

Day 27: Salamanca to El Cubo del Vino (36 km)

[Castellanos de Villiquera]

There's no doubt about where the route goes ... here. There were a few ambiguous intersections in this area. Amazingly enough, I managed to navigate them successfully, though I had a few friends who got lost.

It felt rather strange to be a pilgrim again, after two days off hanging out with my no-longer-pilgrim friends. I’d thought about staying in Calzada de Valdunciel, a short 16 kilometres from Salamanca, but I got there around 11 a.m. and had no friends to do things with, so it seemed pointless to stay. I ran into Bob and Greg, two American men, just before town, and walked on with them.

The first stretch out of Salamanca was the usual leaving-a-city stretch of awful highway, but that soon turned into undulating fields—patches of red soil mixed with the green of some sort of grain. It was almost prairie-like, but I don’t know if prairie rolls quite so much—it certainly doesn’t in Manitoba, where I come from. Later the scenery stayed the same, but the path ran close to the highway.

[Me]

Me, sheltering from the rain.

It was quite windy all day and at one point started to rain. Bob, Greg and I took shelter in a sort of large pipe that runs under the highway, and feasted on fruit, chocolate and cookies.

It was my longest day so far, and toward the end it felt very long, but my feet held up nicely.

The albergue was quite decent, with small rooms and a helpful hospitalero. I ended up having breakfast there for an extra €2.

Day 28: El Cubo del Vino to Zamora (32 km)

[Approaching Zamora]

Approaching Zamora.

The landscape was beautiful—a patchwork of rolling farmland. I walked with Bob and Greg again, and we could see Zamora long before we got there, initiating another common Camino discussion on whether it’s better psychologically to see a town long before you get there (in which case it seems to never get bigger), or to have it pop up on you suddenly from behind a hill (the downside being that you start to suspect it doesn’t actually exist).

[Flowers in Zamora]

Zamora. The arch at the back is the Portillo de la Traición (Portal of Betrayal), through which, according to legend, El Cid pursued the man who killed his king.

Zamora is gorgeous, with its walled centre up on a hill beside a river. It’s also eerily quiet for a Spanish city, where the default noise volume is usually super high. I wandered around visiting obscure sites related to El Cid, before bumping into Keith, whom I hadn’t seen in a few days, and going out to dinner with him.

(I should mention here that Keith is the one who turned that stick I picked up on my third day into a proper walking stick. He shaved off the excess wood as we walked along a road, sanded off the edges by dragging it along the highway, and added a hole at the top with a loop of string.)

The albergue in Zamora is also beautiful—very big and clean with a well-furnished kitchen, relatively small rooms with extremely high top bunks, and at the moment at least, a very friendly French volunteer hospitalero.

Day 29: Zamora to Montamarta (20 km)

It started getting hot again, though not as much as at the beginning of the trip—or at least, not until I’d finished walking for the day. The walk started out with not-so-nice street walking, which turned into not-so-nice highway walking, before changing back into the now-normal rolling fields.

[Sculptures]

Two of the many sculptures in a sculpture garden in Roales de Pan.

In Roales del Pan, the first little town I passed through, I stopped to photograph a yard with a bizarre mix of sculptures: a giraffe, two pilgrims, and various scenes from Greek myths and Bible stories. A little old woman came by me and told me to come in, come in. It turned out her husband made the bright cement sculptures.

The albergue in Montamarta had one huge dorm room and water labelled “non potable,” but the hospitalero told us later that’s just because it doesn’t have chlorine; he drinks it all the time. It’s just outside of town, and most of the pilgrims (lots) gathered in the yard to sit in the sun or the shade. I’d read because it’s a little isolated, theft can be a problem, but that certainly wasn’t an issue the other day—there are so many pilgrims that there was always someone who would’ve noticed intruders.

That said, a Danish woman got her camera and sunglasses stolen in the Zamora albergue the other day, and the most likely suspect would unfortunately be another pilgrim.

Day 30: Montamarta to Granja de Moruela (23 km)

[Storks]

I don't think I've mentioned the storks yet. They were on many, many tall buildings (particularly churches), power lines, and anything else high up, for much of the Vía de la Plata.

It took me a while to figure out what was going on when my yellow arrows led to what seemed to be a lake, but it turned out the Vía de la Plata route out of Montamarta was flooded—I had to cross on the highway bridge and then it was fairly well way marked from there.

I wasn’t in much of a walking mood, and couldn’t seem to settle into it. The Camino criss-crossed the highway a lot at the beginning, and I had trouble seeing all the arrows. At one point I started down the wrong highway, before I noticed its number. I have a love-hate relationship with the N-630, which up till now has paralleled the Camino route. I hate having to walk on it, but it can be a serious help with navigation.

[Castillo Castrotorafe]

The 12th-13th-century castle, Castillo Castrotorafe—the part round the back.

Eventually I came to some castle ruins. I almost walked past, after a couple of photos, of course, but then I went right into the castle. There didn’t seem to be anything spectacular, so I was about to leave when a Spanish man drove up. He asked me if I’d seen the impressive ruins at the back, and showed me some photos. So I followed the road all the way back to the river, and came across a set of perfect ruins. (Perfect for me means it still has recognizable structures, but is also falling apart. Atmosphere is important.)

I ended up getting into Granja late, and all the beds at the albergue were taken, and the only other accommodation, the casa rural, was full. After extended negotiations, the owner of the casa rural let me sleep on the floor of the common area, after its wonderful Danish and German inhabitants—all pilgrims I’d met before—said they didn’t mind.

Of course, I found out later that there were mattresses available for the floor of the albergue. But I think I got the better deal. My floor accommodation was actually quite comfortable and solitary, and I didn’t need to use my earplugs.

In any case, I highly recommend the casa rural, which is beautiful (if rather expensive for a typical pilgrim budget) and has a wonderful owner.

Day 31: Granja de Moruela to Tábara (25 km)

[Rocks]

Scrambling over rocks.

I can’t believe I’ve been walking for a month!

In Granja, the route splits: one way leads to Astorga and the Camino Francés, and the other goes through Orense and will eventually lead us straight into Santiago.

The walk out of town was nothing special, but then the route took to the highway, passed over a bridge, and turned off to the left. There it turned into a real hike, which involved clambering over stones beside a river (this can be bypassed using the highway). After maybe half an hour there was a meadow full of flowers with a wonderful view, and roads surrounded by flowers, before the route changed back to the usual rolling fields.

[Hills]

Before Faramontanos de Tábara.

Outside Faramontanos de Tábara, an older Spanish man stopped his car in the road in front of me. He wanted to know where I was from, and if I knew Caroline from Montreal, who’d come this way twice. He says he always stops to talk to pilgrims, and offered me water. It was very nice.

The walk to Tábara was less nice. Dump trucks rolled by constantly, sending up clouds of dust. I actually almost missed Tábara, since the route doesn’t actually pass through it. I started to blindly follow the arrows before realizing I was heading straight away from town.

I got the last bed at the albergue. I hear the local hotel is also full. Beds are starting to be a serious problem, which is irritating—I really don’t want this to turn into a race.

To get to the albergue, I had to follow signs through town and out the other side. It’s another one with huge dorm rooms, but it seems to have a good kitchen.

Physically, I’m doing great. My feet started to hurt a little bit yesterday, but it’s nothing compared to my last Camino. If it wasn’t for this heat, I could put in some serious kilometres, if I wanted to. Which I don’t particularly, as if all goes well I’ll be in Santiago with plenty of time to spare.

Mentally, I’m tired. I’ve also lost a lot of friends, who are either behind me, or have left the Camino. But there are some great people here, and an Austrian chef is making us dinner tonight, and I’m sure things will look better in the morning.

* * *

If you’ve enjoyed this, you may want to read more of my Live from the Vía de la Plata posts.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 9:34 am
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Days 17-25 on the Vía de la Plata


[Aldeanueva]

The town of Aldeanueva. I really loved the mixture of Spanish houses and roses and palm trees and mountains.

Hola hola. It seems I’ve been rather a terrible blogger lately—so sorry. Sometimes it seems hard to live and write about living at the same time, and I haven’t done a good job of seeking out libraries and Internet cafés lately.

So where was I?

Day 17: Casar de Cáceres to Cañaveral (33 km)

[Mist]

A misty morning, just past Casar de Cáceres.

I walked a fair bit of this with Ron and Keith and a Frenchman named Jacques. It started out with a gorgeous hilly walk over farmland. Later, though, the Camino was running alongside the highway, and the Camino was extremely hilly and the highway wasn’t, so we ended up on the highway, which had a shoulder for most of the route, though not at the end.

Honestly, the distance would’ve been really difficult for me on the Camino route at that point, though I hear it was beautiful. It got quite hot, too, and there was a fairly gradual but long hill at the end that wasn’t so much fun.

[Embalse]

The embalse (reservoir) the Vía de la Plata route runs near.

The albergue is at the far end of Cañaveral, a very long town with the highest number of bars per capita I’ve yet encountered.

A lot of the pilgrim-only albergues along this route are quite basic. According to my guidebook, people complain about this, but I figure you can’t expect a lot more for the price—anywhere from free to donativo to €5 or so. But I’ve got to say that the albergue in Cañaveral is the worst I’ve come across so far. It’s tiny with tiny rooms, which isn’t the end of the world (unless, I suppose, you get stuck in a two-person room with someone you don’t like) but it wasn’t the cleanest place. There was no toilet seat, and to flush you had to pull at something in the back of the toilet.

Then again, you can’t beat the price.

Day 18: Cañaveral to Galisteo (28-ish km)

[Gallisteo]

Walking into Gallisteo, once we were back on the route. The city's walls were originally built by the Muslims.

This was a beautiful day, walking through fields and tree plantations again. I got one foot half-wet when I was crossing a stream and a stone tipped, but I wrung out my sock and it dried quickly.

Then it went down onto a road and things got interesting. I’d forgotten to take note of Melanie’s brilliant advice, and so ended up at a very ambiguously signed intersection with Keith and a couple from Barcelona. We took what we thought might be the best route, and ended up charging across fields in the direction we thought the bridge across the river between us and Galisteo (which we could see, high up on its hill) must be. We were a lot luckier than an Austrian pilgrim I met later, who figures he put in an extra ten kilometres after getting lost.

There’s a steep but relatively short climb into Galisteo, a nice town with a walled section high on a hill and an albergue that’s new and very clean, even if it does have a big dorm room and is rather lacking in character.

I climbed some rather steep and rail-less stairs up onto a section of the wall, for an excellent if possibly not entirely safe view over the city.

Day 19: Galisteo to Oliva de Plasencia (26 km, including 6 off-route)

[Arrow]

After Carcaboso.

The first part of the walk, to Carcaboso , was not-very-exciting highway walking. Then it got beautiful again, with the now-usual trees and rocks and cows over undulating terrain. The weather was great—warm but not too warm, and later overcast, which provided some nice shade.

Since Oliva de Plasencia is one of the few places to break up an otherwise 38-kilometre stretch, it seemed everyone was going there, but there was still room for all of us. There hasn’t been any real competition for beds since the end of the Semana Santa.

Since Oliva is six kilometres off the route, a bunch of people arranged for Monica at the albergue to drive them there from the official route. Since I avoid motorized transportation at all costs on these trips, I walked instead.

The albergue was quite nice—as it should be for €15—despite its killer staircase.

Day 20: Oliva de Plasencia to Aldeanueva del Camino (I think about 28 km, including 6 off-route)

[Arco de Cáparra]

The Arco de Cáparra.

This was a great day. It threatened rain the entire day, but never actually followed through, so the temperature was perfect. I started out with a six-ish kilometre walk through cork trees to get back on the Camino (you can get a ride back there, too, if you prefer). Then I passed through the Arco de Cáparra, a huge Roman arch that was rather a disappointment because the surrounding fence detracted from the atmosphere.

But after that was great—my favourite cows and rocks and trees scenery, with some reasonable hills, and two streams that needed serious fording.

These are the only two streams I’ve come across that it’s not possible to cross without wading. I got my hiking boots a bit wet while looking for an alternative route, and ended up sticking them in my backpack and walking the rest of the day in my sandals. I have to admit I rather enjoyed wading through icy cold streams.

[Flooded path]

Pilgrims put their boots back on after wading across the flooded path.

I walked for a while with some other pilgrims, a Spanish man and German woman who, despite barely speaking a word of each other’s language, had been walking together for a while. We worried about a rather ambiguous arrow pointing down a road, and walked on together for a while—rather less-nice road walking.

We came to a river and I, still in my sandals, charged across to make sure there were actually arrows on the other side. I yelled to the others to cross on the bridge, since they looked uncertain about the river crossing. They seemed to agree, but then totally disappeared, so I continued on my own.

There was a bit of not-so-nice highway walking, then a slightly longer off-road option that I wouldn’t recommend if it’s been raining and you don’t want to get your feet wet.

[Cows]

My friends said the saw a bull around here, but I didn't notice anything like that. Then again, I wasn't paying attention to that sort of thing.

I got slightly lost with an Austrian pilgrim, since in the absence of arrows we took a road that seemed to go in the right direction, but it soon ended and we had to backtrack (the actual Camino route heads off in the completely wrong direction for a short while). It’s a beautiful route, but half of it was covered in water, which I didn’t mind because I was quite enjoying the wading thing.

This was the first day I first felt physically able to fly over mountains, and I haven’t lost that yet. I could just keep going and going and going, but of course I don’t because I want to take my time.

The albergue in Aldeanueva wasn’t anything special, but it did have single beds as opposed to bunk beds, which felt very luxurious. I locked myself in the shower, since it turned out there wasn’t a handle on the inside. I was lucky there were people around to rescue me.

I really loved Aldeanueva, with its rather odd juxtaposition of roses and palm trees (see the photo at the top of its post), and the surrounding mountains. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Day 21: Aldeanueva del Camino to La Calzada de Béjar (22 km)

[Steep climb]

Before I started walking the Vía de la Plata, I'd read that there were no serious climbs between Sevilla and Astorga. In reality, I've got to say, there were more than a few.

The day got off to a leisurely start. I was in a four-bed room with Sanna, Ron and Keith, and Sanna and I refused to get up when we heard the rain pounding down, and then went out for coffee before actually starting out.

It rained some of the way to Baños de Montemayor, a ten-kilometre slog along the highway. After Baños came a fairly steep but nicely-paved climb. There were a couple of serious ascents and descents that day, some gravelly and awful.

We passed out of Extremadura into Castilla y León, and could notice some differences right away. There was a special pilgrim rest area, and since then there have been a lot of benches and even some garbage cans, though often not at the choicest of locations. The way marking, which was somewhat intermittent in Extremadura, has also gotten better. (I find myself constantly hallucinating yellow arrows, only to find they turn into moss or a bit of paint when I get close.)

The albergue in Calzada was quite nice, with extremely hospitable owners, although it did have big, noisy dorm rooms. The town itself was tiny but pretty. Someone told me there are only two children in the entire village.

Day 22: La Calzada de Béjar to Fuenterroble de Salvatierra (20 km)

[Woman doing laundry]

La Calzada de Bejar on laundry day.

It was a nice walk, often along country roads.

[A flooded path]

The flooded path that I, um, waded through.

I didn’t run into any trouble until near Fuenterroble, where the Camino route parts ways with the road. There were three options: the road, which would have taken me right to town; and two paths leading off to the side. One was the Vía de la Plata route, but the signing was rather ambiguous.

For those of you who are following me: if it’s been at all wet, definitely take the path that goes straight away from the road, the one on the left.

Albergue

A painting on the outside of the albergue in Fuenterroble.

I took the middle path, which after about ten minutes turned into a very long lake. Not wanting to turn around, I put on my sandals and slogged through, hoping the route would eventually connect with something helpful. It did run into the official Camino route eventually, so everything worked out.

The albergue in Fuenterroble was organized by Don Blas, one of the stars of the Vía de la Plata route, and has a lot of personality—it’s definitely a must-stay sort of place. (If you’re there, be sure to ask about the singing donkey.) In the evening, everyone provided some food, and the hospitaleros cooked up a wonderful dinner with a bunch of different courses. The garbanzo soup was so different from anything I’ve had so far in Spain, and quite wonderful.

Day 23: Fuenterroble de Salvatierra to San Pedro de Rozados (28 km)

[Crosses]

The crosses at the Pico de la Dueña.

Another beautiful day of the kind I’ve been raving about. It included a climb to the Pico de la Dueña, the highest part of the Sevilla-Astorga section of the route. But since we were so high already, it wasn’t really that bad (though there were a few quite steep ups and downs, some of which were the awful gravel-strewn kind).

There’s a cross at the Pico, and a lot of piles of stones, presumably left by passing pilgrims.

I stayed in the cheaper albergue in San Pedro. It was quite nice, though not as luxurious as I’d read it would be, and the fact that there was only one washroom created a bottleneck at times.

Day 24: San Pedro de Rozados to Salamanca (24 km)

[Soon after San Pedro de Rozados]

Soon after San Pedro de Rozados, before we could see Salamanca.

Another nice day, with rolling hills and fields, and another cross surrounded by rock piles just a bit before Salamanca. I walked with my new Danish friend Maria and a woman from Hungary who started walking ten days after I did, hasn’t taken the bus once, and is already ahead of me.

I’d been afraid walking into Salamanca wouldn’t be very nice, but it was great—we went through a big park, crossed a Roman bridge, and were in the very picturesque (and tourist-filled) centre of the city, passing a guy playing beautiful Spanish guitar. We even got to be a tourist attraction ourselves, as I heard someone pointing us out to friends: “Those are pilgrims walking to Santiago!”

I did feel very grimy though, surrounded by well-dressed, non-sweaty Salamancans and tourists as we walked through town.

Maria and I splurged on a double room in a cheap hotel for €25. It’s amazing. I got to unpack my backpack, and now don’t have to touch it or my hiking shoes for more than a day, which I have to say is very exciting.

[Salamanca cathedral]

The Salamanca cathedral. The cathedral has two sections: the old cathedral (pay to enter) and new cathedral (free to enter).

Day 25: Salamanca (0 km)

I’m more than halfway to Santiago (!!!) and figured a rest day is in order.

Although there are tons of things to see in Salamanca, I’m being lazy. So it actually has been very restful so far, sleeping in and hanging out in a café with Maria and Sanna, who’s joining us at our hotel for tonight. I’m meeting them for a picnic lunch a later, and then I suppose I should probably go see some sights.

* * *

If you’ve enjoyed this, you may want to read more of my Live from the Vía de la Plata posts.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 4:17 am

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