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.

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Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 9:50 am
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1 Comment

One Response to Days 32 to 36 on the Vía de la Plata

  1. Agnes says:

    I could never forget the feeling just few days before arriving in Santiago. Well… I don’t know exactly how I can describe it. But definately it’s complicated enough.

    Buen Camino!