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)
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)
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.
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)
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).
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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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.