Soon after Guillena, on Day 2.
Well, here I am in Monesterio, on the Internet thanks to today’s major Camino angel: the young guy behind the bar at my hotel (there’s no albergue here), who has let me use his laptop. Finding Internet is rather a challenge since Sevilla, and hasn’t exactly been a first priority.
So … I hardly know where to start. Let me give you an overview.
Weather: Beautiful early in the morning; very hot by late morning; horrifically hot by the afternoon (though quite nice in the shade, of which there is unfortunately not enough).
Terrain: Not nearly as bad as, say, the Chemin du Puy, but considerably hillier than my guidebook led me to believe. There have been a couple of hills that could compare with, say, the descent into and ascent out of Conques on the Chemin du Puy, or the climb to O Cebreiro on the Camino Francés.
Way Marking: Generally excellent. They’ve even put arrows quite frequently along long straight stretches, which is wonderful for paranoid people like me, who start to worry that we’ve missed a turn-off if we haven’t seen a yellow arrow in the last five minutes.
Pilgrims: So far I’ve met one Frenchwoman, one Austrian, two Danes, six Norwegians (but they were all together), one Dutchwoman, one woman from Australia, one Englishwoman (who’s actually heading for Santander), one Italian, and approximately five hundred Germans. Well, not quite. There are three of us under 40 (maybe even under 50). There are probably slightly more men than women. More than half are going all the way to Santiago this time.
Of course, I haven’t met a huge cross-section of pilgrims yet, since at the beginning most people do the same stages. So far the albergues have a number of people in them, but aren’t actually full.
Oak Trees Seen: Approximately five million.
Number of People Who Have Kindly Given Me Directions, Honked Horns in Encouragement, Etc.: A lot. Thank you all.
Languages Spoken: English and Spanish, of course, and French and a little bit of German. At one point I was translating from Spanish to English for a German guy, even though my Spanish isn’t wonderful, and he doesn’t speak very good English.
Blisters: Two—both on my hands, from the beautiful walking stick I picked up yesterday.
Blisters Narrowly Averted By Prompt Application of Anti-Blister Bandages: Two (I hope—one is still a little iffy).
Number of Times Stopped to Root Madly Through Pack to Make Sure Haven’t Left Something Behind: Too many to count.
Number of Items Actually Lost: One—a pen.
Number of Photos Taken: Lots.
Slowest Pilgrim Around: That would be me. Not only do I walk slowly, but I’m constantly stopping to apply sunscreen (I always forget to do this before leaving), dig through my pack, find anti-blister pads, take photos, etc. And then I seem to be among the last to leave, so by the time I reach my destination people who started 15 kilometres are passing me, faces red and determined. They never seem to want to stop and talk.
Day 1: Sevilla to Guillena (about 23 km)
I lost the arrows for the first time at this traffic circle in Camas. A man selling lottery tickets kindly sent me in the right direction, to the road on the left side of the church.
I stayed at Triana Backpackers, which is a beautiful place and has a pilgrim discount and provides pilgrim credentials. But because it’s not pilgrims-only there are people coming and going at all hours, which makes it rather noisy. I highly recommend earplugs.
I never did find that elusive first arrow by the cathedral (though I did, as I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to hear, find my hat).
I made my way from the cathedral to Triana, where I’d seen an arrow, and had only one problem following the arrows after that—and that was in a town, where I could easily ask for help.
There’s a lot of highway walking, and the route goes through the towns of Camas and Santiponce. After that, it veers off onto a country road with a few hills.
Then it’s straight, straight, straight along the shade-less road. And just when you think you’re about to arrive in town, the road veers off to the right. Never fear! You’re really almost there. There’s just that tricky stream to ford first.
It’s the second of two streams that need to be crossed—I managed the first easily enough with the help of a stick I grabbed off the ground (I hadn’t yet found my wonderful walking stick). The second was trickier to get down to, but an Englishwoman braved the very steep bank, and directed the rest of us to a gap between a fence and a wall of cacti, from where we could slide down the bank and cross without too many problems.
The new municipal albergue is quite nice, with a full kitchen (reasonably well-equipped) and a wonderful hospitalera.
Day 2: Guillena to Castilblanco de los Arroyos (18 km)
The pump in the middle of nowhere.
Apparently you’re supposed to ford the river on the way out of town. I followed the arrows instead, and ended up with a not-great but tolerable highway walk, until I could turn off onto a much more rural road, when the walking got much nicer.
The scenery here isn’t postcard-pretty, and it’s certainly not what you expect from a walk in rural Europe, but the scrubby trees and hills have been growing on me, and the flowers provide welcome bits of colour.
I was told there’s no water on this stage, but there actually was some halfway through (but I wouldn’t count on it not being dry). I couldn’t resist following a sign that said “Water” in several languages, and found a pump in a field surrounded by flowers. Of course I dumped out some of my water and refilled it, just because pump water is so much more exciting than tap water.
The problem with having no towns along each day’s walk (as it’s been for the last few days) is that it’s hard to tell how far you’ve walked. I never know if I have five kilometres to go, or 15.
In this case, you cross a road about four kilometres before town. I found some pilgrims sitting in the shade there, and we walked in together.
I’d heard the albergue might not be great. I found it to be quite basic (and lacking in plates, cutlery, etc) but perfectly fine. Marcos, a young German guy, and I even managed to cook dinner, while he gave me German lessons and I helped him out with his Spanish.
Day 3: Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almadén de la Plata (30-ish km)
The descent into Almadén de la Plata.
Yes, that’s right. Thirty kilometres. And I lived to tell the tale.
The first 16-ish are along a never-ending highway.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s an extremely nice highway, as highways go, through the countryside with about two vehicles per hour. The problem is that it doesn’t end. The arrows go on and on and on until you think surely you’ve done the whole 30 kilometres. But it just keeps going.
For anyone who’s planning to do this route, here’s information I wish I had. There are kilometre signs along the way, counting down to who-knows-where. The first I noticed was at kilometre 15. The entrance to the park, where you turn off the highway, is at kilometre four. Maybe this won’t help you, but I find it helps to know exactly when something is going to end.
The park is some kind of nature park—but it’s not nature as we understand it in North America. The trees are very cultivated. It’s nice, though, in that scrubby sort of way. The problem being that it is currently ridiculously hot and 30 kilometres is a long way for us lesser mortals, and this section stretches on and on and on as well.
I used chocolate to keep myself going.
Eventually there is a hill, by the shell of a house, and the scenery changes a bit. Then you come to a place where I narrowly avoided getting lost (and my Danish friends did get lost)—you have to go through a gate, and walk through a herd of cows.
Then there’s that hill, the worst one I’ve encountered so far. It is extremely steep, and littered with small stones. I’d met up with the Danes, who were no longer lost, by this point, and we puffed up the hill, too exhausted to really enjoy the lookout point at the top. Luckily I’d dug through a pile of chopped-down trees a few hours ago and found my stick. I was definitely happy to have it for that hill.
There was one sight we did really enjoy: Almadén de la Plata, where we would spend the night, which was just down an equally steep descent.
The albergue there was basic but fine. It was just nice to stop walking, really.
If you’re looking for a bar, I’d really recommend La Espuela. There was a Menú del Día for eight euros, and the owner’s constant refrain was, “If the pilgrims are happy, I am happy!” The food was great (as a vegetarian in Spain I am a connoisseur of tortillas con patatas—potato omelettes—and this one was quite good). The owner also brought us tapas and a sweet alcoholic drink of some sort for free.
Day 4: Almadén de la Plata to El Real de la Jara (14-16 km)
Pigs, right on the Vía de la Plata route.
This was my favourite walking day so far—partly because of the distance, of course. I took the hilly route instead of the highway route, and kept going through the nature park, which was beautiful. The pig farms, with the black pigs of the region rooting around right on the route, provided slightly surreal entertainment. And there was no real highway walking at all.
I was going to stay at the municipal albergue at the entrance to town, but it turned out everyone I knew was at the private one farther into town, so I went there, too. It was a little odd—there was no real separation between pilgrim quarters and the family house, and there was no kitchen at all.
I climbed up to the castle, but it’s been rebuilt, so lacks the atmosphere or proper ruins.
Day 5: El Real de la Jara to Monesterio (22 km)
Just outside El Real de la Jara: proper castle ruins. Note the stepping stones for crossing the water, the pilgrim information plaque, and, beside it, the cube that marks the old Roman road.
The first half of the walk is beautiful, along an almost traffic-free country lane. The hermitage where San Isidoro’s remains rested on their way north was a real disappointment, though—covered in graffiti and surrounded by highway.
After that, there’s intermittent highway walking, before the arrows lead onto a side road. Then there’s a hill, which isn’t horribly steep but just never seems to end. The good news is that when you reach the top, you’re almost in Monesterio.
There’s no albergue here. I bumped into some German pilgrims I’d never met before and we found the Hostal Extremadura. It was full, but there’s a place nearby that’s associated with the Bar Extremadura that has rooms.
So Edith from Germany and I are sharing a hotel room. It has an en suite with a proper shower! And towels! And real blankets! Pure luxury, and all for 15 euros.
And That’s It
Anyway, I should probably give Wonderful Bar Guy back his computer. He keeps telling me it’s okay to use it, but I’ve been here for quite a while. This probably isn’t as edited as usual—sorry, but I don’t have my proofreader here and am feeling weirdly shaky from the heat or the coffee or something.
If you have any questions about this stage, please feel free to ask, either in the comments or through my contact page. I’ll try to answer the next time I find Internet access.
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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.