Tag Archives: Experiences

A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim on the Vía de la Plata: Part 2


If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, this will make more sense if you start there.

[Arrows]

After 16 kilometres of arrows pointing straight ahead, it was very exciting to turn. You can see the park entrance in the background.

12:43
The sign is for the park! I don’t see the entrance yet, but there is hope.

12:46
There are two yellow arrows pointing to the right! Just by the four kilometre mark. Very exciting.

12:55
I collapse under a tree in the park to eat lunch. There are a lot of trees. It’s pretty, but very cultivated-feeling for a nature reserve. This is probably a European thing.

It feels ridiculously good to get my boots off. Weirdly, I have had some energy since the chocolate but my feet are extremely unhappy.

Everything is beautiful. The birds, the trees, the wind rushing through. It was worth the pain and angst to be here now.

1:14
A cyclist comes by, stops, and says something I don’t understand in Spanish. We exchange buen Caminos and he takes off.

1:16
A chainsaw starts up nearby. Oh, well.

1:36
Onward!

I walk along thinking about how on a day like today you could eat all the chocolate you wanted and still lose weight. This segues into a thought about how Camino organizations could promote themselves: “Come for the life-changing experience; stay for the chocolate.”

1:45
I start to worry that if I think these sort of thoughts I’ll never have a life-changing experience. Not that I actually expect one, but I wouldn’t turn it down.

[El Berrocal]

El Berrocal provincial nature reserve.

1:53
I feel much better. My feet have miraculously stopped hurting, and the trees are providing intermittent bits of shade that make life bearable.

What’s 13 more kilometres, really?

2:01
I pass a guy (day hiker?) who wishes me buen camino. He is followed by a young guy wearing only swim trunks who is talking on his cell phone. The whole thing is a bit surreal.

2:42
I stop for a break. My feet are unhappy again. I’m very ready to be done.

3:14
My feet are better, but I have no energy. I have just tried walking with my eyes closed. The path is straight, so it was surprisingly effective—for a few seconds at a time, anyway.

3:22
I spoke too soon about the feet—the pain is back with a vengeance.

3:29
I just walked up a hill and I thought that was it, but it keeps on going. It’s really not fair to give me hope like that, only to snatch it away again.

[Berrocal]

Still in the nature reserve. The monolith in front is an example of the Vía de la Plata markers in the area.

3:31
I think about blog post where I’d written about being utterly exhausted. So this is how it feels, I think.

For some reason this seems seriously funny. I laugh and feel a surge of energy.

3:41
I apply more sunscreen. I can’t seem to move. My chocolate is very soft and I’m worried it’ll melt and get all over everything in my pack. I eat a piece very fast so it doesn’t melt all over my hands since my water is too precious to use for clean-up. I feel much better.

4:03
I’ve been keeping an eye out for a walking stick all day. Now there are huge piles of cut wood along the path. I stagger up a pile, and eventually find a stick that’s straight enough, but it has a crack running through it. I decide it’ll work temporarily.

But then I decide to climb one last stack, and emerge with a pretty, straight-ish piece of crack-less wood.

I feel rather odd from the heat, but yay stick!

I decide that I am not going to take any more breaks. I just need to get there as soon as possible. Did I mention it’s hot?

[More Berrocal]

More of the nature reserve.

4:12
Breeze! Lovely!

4:14
There are tiny tiny wisps of cloud in the sky, which is good in theory, but they show no sign of covering the sun.

But life is better with the stick and the breeze, even if I am on the verge of collapse.

4:19
I stop briefly because I’m worried about chocolate getting everywhere. Better to just eat it. But I am so hot I can’t even finish all my chocolate, so I leave the rest in an outer pocket of my pack.

4:27
There is no shade. Judging by the sun, I seem to be walking south, which seems counterproductive since Santiago is a long ways to the north. It is hot, hot, hot.

4:36
There’s an intersection, with a yellow X by the route that looks the most promising. In this case X does not mark the spot, so I look for further Camino signs. There’s a gate leading to a cow pasture, and a path going up a seriously steep hill. I think I see an arrow on a sign up the hill and start walking.

When I get to the sign, I realize that what I thought was an arrow in fact wasn’t. In a lucid moment, I remember walking through cow fields on the Chemin du Puy. So I backtrack. Sure enough, there’s an arrow indicating the closed gate and the cows.

Paranoia, I decide, can be a wonderful thing.

[Cows]

Right at the end, there were cows everywhere.

4:44
Cows, cows, and more cows.

I am hoping to soon reach the viewpoint that my guidebook tells me is 1.5 kilometres before Almedén de la Plata, where I’m headed for the night. I’m sure I should’ve reached it by now.

I have alarmingly little water, and stop intermittently in patches of shade to lean on my stick for brief moments before continuing.

On the plus side, while my feet and legs are a bit sore they’re not nearly as bad as I though they’d be at this point. Wherever this point is. But my head feels … weird. Not entirely in control.

Mostly, though, I’m just determined to get to Almadén. I’m sure absolutely everyone else is there already.

5:00
I rest in some shade. This seems smart despite the dire water situation because the heat is killing me. I have got to be close.

I think about medieval armies marching across this country in the heat and decide they were all insane.

There is a blister on both my thumbs from my stick (but I adore the stick).

5:06
I hear voices!

Ip and Anni, a Danish couple I’ve met before, appear. It turns out they’d gone all the way up that hill that I’d started to climb—the Himalayas, as Ip calls it. This is their first Camino, and it hadn’t occurred to them to walk through the cow pasture.

I am very very happy to see people. It’s good to have company, and if I collapse they can trickle water in my mouth and revive me.

5:09
Anni says the path running up the seriously steep slope ahead is on our route. I say it can’t be; surely our route will branch off and go around the horrible hill. After all, my guidebook says there are no serious climbs between Sevilla and Astorga.

[The hill]

Climbing the hill.

5:11
As it turns out, my guidebook is wrong. Our route doesn’t branch off. The steep path is covered in bits of rock, perfect for sliding out from under your feet. Brilliant.

At least I have my stick.

5:13
I climb the hill surprisingly quickly—I’m in better shape than I thought—but I’m not nearly as fast as Ip, who’s way ahead.

We stop at the lookout on the top. I show Ip my blister and he lends me a glove to cover it.

The descent is steep and rocky, but being able to see the town just ahead lends me strength.

6:02
The Danes take off for their room above a bar, and I’m left on my own, looking for the albergue. I ask a passing man for directions and he escorts me part of the way there.

6:07
I run into the same young German guy. He looks ridiculously rested and directs me the rest of the way to the albergue.

6:09
I meet up with two other German pilgrims. One got in at two this afternoon. He suggests I use the exercise equipment on the corner by the albergue if I need a bit more of a workout.

“I think I’ve had enough,” I say. I even manage to laugh.

The Evening
After I reach the big albergue and check in, I don’t let myself collapse. If I do, I’m reasonably certain I’ll never move again. Instead I go through the usual routine—shower, wash some clothes, buy some groceries, and go out to a bar with friends—a Frenchwoman, an Austrian, and the young German guy—for dinner.

“If pilgrims are happy, I am happy!” proclaims the bar owner, who brings us special tapas.

Back at the albergue a little later, I collapse into bed. As much as I can think at all, I think I am content.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 10:00 am
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A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim on the Vía de la Plata: Part 1


It’s hard to explain to people who’ve never done it what it’s like to walk 20 or 30 or so kilometres a day.

So one day, when walking from Castilblanco de los Arroyos and Almedén de la Plata on the Vía de la Plata, I took almost-constant notes. This post is based on those notes (though I have to admit I estimated a few of the times). I wanted to be able to provide a blow-by-blow description of a walking day.

I should point out that this was not a typical day on the Camino, insofar as there is such a thing. It was one of my two most difficult days on the Vía de la Plata. I’d only been walking for two days, so I was most definitely not in shape, and I had to walk 29 kilometres—a distance you would never absolutely have to walk on, say, the Camino Francés.

So, to any potential pilgrims out there, please don’t let this deter you!

[Castilblanco de los Arroyos]

Following the arrows through Castilblanco de los Arroyos.

6:30 a.m.-ish
I wake up because everyone else in the Castilblanco de los Arroyos albergue is awake and quietly making noise. I get up, get dressed, and eat fruit and yogurt I bought at a little grocery store the night before.

7:23
I talk with a middle-aged woman. I think she’s German. (It’s a relatively safe assumption. Almost everyone, at this stage, is German.) She and her husband have just discovered their bikes were stolen.

Me: But what are you going to do?
Her: I don’t know.
Me: I’m sorry.
Her: Buen camino!

7:27
I chat with a Norwegian man, one of a group of six from Norway. They’re skipping the 16-kilometre highway portion of today’s walk by taking a car to the nature reserve entrance. I think of the taxi driver who came to the albergue yesterday and said the highway was “peligroso“—dangerous.

I plan to walk the whole way anyway. Possibly I am crazy. But if so, I’m in good company.

7:31
I’m the last person out of the albergue, except for the stolen-bike maybe-Germans. I start walking.

7:33
I realize I took the wrong street and am walking seriously uphill. But I think I’m going in the right direction (never mind that I have no sense of direction), so I keep walking.

7:34
This can’t be wrong since there’s a shell and an arrow, but I’ve never been here before. But my water bottles are empty since they were too tall to fill in sink at the albergue, and I really need the fuente I thought I would pass on the way to the Vía de la Plata route.

This is not a promising start to a 30-kilometre day. I keep walking in the hopes that the fuente will show up.

7:38
I stop to tighten my laces and as I keep going think about the act of walking.

I am a plodder, I decide. Only that implies slow and steady, and I’m only slow. The best metaphor I can come up with is a drugged—or maybe dying—butterfly. I dart slowly (can one dart slowly?) from place to place and take far too many photos.

[Fuente]

It's not a very exciting fuente, but the water was good.

7:41
There’s the church! I think the fuente‘s just down the hill.

7:44
It is! I fill my three bottles.

7:53
I start plodding again. Everyone must be ahead of me and I am slow. The three litres of water I just added have made my pack ridiculously heavy.

It’s going to be a long day.

7:57
I start to drink water in a desperate attempt to lose weight.

8:08
It’s a beautiful walk through town. There are birds singing, and the flowers smell wonderful, and two people have already wished me buenos días.

I feel happy and wonderful and my pack isn’t so bad, really.

8:13
I officially leave Castilblanco and find myself walking on the narrow shoulder of an almost traffic-less highway. It’s quite rural, with roosters crowing, and this early in the day there’s still lots of shade.

8:16
I start climbing the first hill of the highway. It’s graded for cars—no problem.

8:24
A young German pilgrim passes while I’m standing around scribbling notes.

Him: Na!
Me: (Look confused.)
Him: It means hey. (Big smile, cheerful wave, keeps walking.)
Him: See you in the next village. (Quickly disappears into the distance.)

8:34
The sun is seriously up now, so there’s no more morning chill. Roosters continue to crow. The occasional dog barks.

I walk along thinking about what I’m doing. How does writing down my every move alter the journey?

Then I refine my walking metaphor and decide I walk more like a drunken butterfly. Which sounds almost like a Tai Chi pose.

8:45
I realize I forgot to apply sunscreen and do it.

9:07
It’s beautiful. I’m happy to be walking. And it’s not exactly peligroso—there is maybe a car every ten minutes, if that.

9:16
I convince myself that I’ve left vital things behind, and stop to make sure I have a) credential and b) toiletries. I do. I’m not sure what I’d do if I didn’t, but it’s good to know they’re there.

9:37
I walk past a sign: “Disputacion de Sevilla, 15km.” Fifteen kilometres to where? I wonder.

9:38
The hills aren’t so bad, but as soon as one ends, there’s another.

[Highway]

The highway at 9:41 a.m.

9:43
Sign: 14 kilometres. That means I can walk five kilometres per hour, including over the steepest hill yet. Very exciting.

9:52
I stop along the highway for a break. There’s a bit of garbage around, but it’s not too bad.

10:13
I don’t think I’ve seen arrow for while. Should I be worried?

10:15
Never mind. There’s one.

10:38
I stumble off the side of the highway onto gravel. I might’ve sprained ankle if it wasn’t for my boots.

10:51
The bottoms of my feet ache a bit, but they’re fine really. And the breeze is nice.

11:07
I adjust my pack straps so shoulders don’t hurt. My feet are sweaty and a bit sore, but okay.

11:13
My next landmark is the entrance to the nature reserve, 15 kilometres from where I started. I just want to get to that turnoff so I know I’m actually making progress. I know I must be—it only stands to reason—but it would be nice to have some confirmation.

11:18
What if the arrows just take me along highway—augh! That would mean no shade, and no beautiful nature. Just cows and cork trees and never-ending highway.

11:19
Surely I must be nearly at the turnoff.

I distract myself by thinking about the Romans who travelled the Vía de la Plata so long ago. Their milestones would’ve been rather like the kilometre signs I’m passing now. Only they’d have known what their stones were for. If I make it to kilometre one, I have no idea what I’ll find.

I keep myself busy taking photos, measuring how fast I walk between kilometre signs (three to five kilometres, depending on such variables as terrain and how many photos I take) and eating trail mix. The hills have started to get rather steeper.

11:31
I should stop for a break but there’s no shade. I walk on the gravel for a while. It’s not as hard on my now-sore feet, but it’s uneven and walking is slower.

11:35
I have reached kilometre eight. If I reach kilometre five and there’s still no turnoff, I may panic.

11:46
I start to sing Ultreia, a French pilgrim song, to keep up my spirits, but only make it through the first verse. I don’t remember the words, after that.

11:50
There’s a middle-aged guy in a van at the side of the road. I’m not seriously worried, but I do feel cautious. We are, after all, the only people in the area and there’s virtually no traffic.

He starts talking to me in Spanish. I speak fluently, but only because I’m expressing basic thoughts. He’s in the van to start with, but comes out as we talk.

Him: You’re off to Santiago?
Me: Yes.
Him: And where did you start?
Me: In Sevilla.
Him: And how long will it take you?
Me: It’ll be a little less than two months.
Him: Two months! And are you enjoying the countryside?
Me: Yes, it’s very beautiful.
Him: You should be careful in the sun. And you’re walking all the way? You’re not going by car at all?
Me: No, no car.
Him: Que te vayas bien. (“May you go well.” Touches my shoulder.)
Me: Gracias.

[Trees and cows]

Trees and cows: the main views from the highway.

And I set off again.

11:57
He passes me in his van and waves.

11:58
I realize I should’ve asked him about the nature reserve, which I’m starting to think is a figment of someone’s imagination—maybe a mass hallucination that for some reason I’m not allowed to share.

12:01 p.m.
I make some calculations in my head. I really might not have walked the 15 kilometres to the nature reserve yet—but surely it’s going to appear quite soon?

12:05
I adjust pack straps again. My shoulders are happier.

12:11
I drop my pack by the side of the road and visit some bushes. On the way back I can’t see my pack for a moment. For one crazy second I almost don’t care if it’s gone—it’s too hot to keep walking anyway.

12:13
I stop to get out chocolate and look at my guidebook. With the sun overhead now, there’s no real shade. It turns out it’s 16 kilometres to the nature reserve, one kilometre more than I’d thought. This makes me feel weirdly better about not having reached it yet.

Onwards!

12:18
I find a bit of shade and stop to eat chocolate. There’s a nice breeze. I fantasize about sleeping here until the heat’s gone away.

But I’d feel much better if I found the park first.

12:27
This is the highway that never ends…. Shouldn’t there at least be a park sign somewhere?

12:33
I’ve reached the five kilometre sign, which means I’ve walked ten kilometres in the last three hours, including rests. And photos. But still, it seems depressingly slow.

12:34
I can keep up my desperate trudging, on and off the tarmac, because I’m fuelled by chocolate. I am very glad to have three litres of water—I only had two yesterday.

12:35
The joints of my big toes hurt—an injury I’ve never experienced before.

12:36
I hate that group of Norwegians. I realize this is entirely irrational since walking here was, after all, my choice.

12:37
There’s a noisy construction crew by the side of the road. We exchange holas as I walk past.

12:41
There’s a sign ahead. Could it be the park?

* * *

You can keep reading in Part 2.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 10:00 am
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Days 1-5 on the Via de la Plata


[Daisies and pilgrim]

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)

[Camas]

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)

[Pump]

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)

[Descending]

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]

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)

[Castle]

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.

* * *

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 8:59 am
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Summer in Sevilla


[Sevilla cathedral]

The cathedral, with the Giralda tower (originally part of the mosque that once stood on the cathedral site, but added to by Christians) on the far right side.

I’m finally in Spain!

I got seriously spoiled on the way here—I was picked up and dropped off at airports and taken to see interesting things, and of course got to have a great time seeing friends around Toronto and near London. Lots of thanks to Kelsey, Sarah, Kenneth and Bob (and of course to Analisa here in Spain). It was great to see you.

It’s summer here in Sevilla, or might as well be. Of course, having visited Granada in August, I realize this isn’t what it’s actually like here in summer, but it’s respectable summer weather for a lot of the rest of the world. According to a sign I saw, it was 26 degrees Celsius. Not quite, I have to admit, the walking weather I was expecting.

I got off to an excellent start yesterday evening after I arrived, getting lost twice on my way to my albergue. This obviously bodes well for the next 1000 kilometres.

[Santiago]

Santiago, on the cathedral.

Really, I can’t even find the first yellow arrow that’s supposed to guide me from the cathedral, although I’m quite proud of myself for locating the figure of Santiago on the outside of the cathedral, a task that took approximately forever. I knew the statue was on the west side of the cathedral, so I looked on my map, and figured out which side that should be. Then I paced up and down in front of that (rather long) side, but there was no Santiago Peregrino to be seen.

That was around lunchtime. I went back in the evening, and finally realized my map must not be oriented traditionally, with south at the top. The sun, which was pretty near the horizon by that point, was, of course, a better indicator. Once I’d finally realized that, I found Santiago in a group with 23 other religious figures above a major entrance, looking very prayerful and serious.

To celebrate, I got some lemon ice cream, quite possibly the best ice cream ever, which I haven’t had since I visited Granada nine years ago. Then I tried to find the yellow arrow that is supposedly on a street light across from the Santiago the statue.

All I could see were stickers with yellow arrows that look like lightning bolts, which can be found on just about every lamppost on the street. I suspect they have more to do with the power lines on the top of the lampposts than they do with the Vía de la Plata. I hope I’m wrong. It would be seriously embarrassing to get lost in the first two minutes.

Luckily, I have seen my one and only yellow arrow so far a little farther along the route, so if all else fails I’ll cross the Puente de Isabel II into Triana (where I’m actually staying) and take it from there.

I’ve seen several pilgrims, but I have yet to meet any.

“Are there any other people here walking the Camino?” I asked the receptionist last night as she showed me around my albergue.

“The pilgrims are all in your room,” she said. “We put you together so you can talk to each other.”

Which sounds nice, but this was after 11 p.m., so all the good pilgrims were asleep. I saw one this morning in the erratic light from a flashlight, but others were still asleep and we all left the room at different times, so there was no chance to talk.

[Juderia]

A sign in the Barrio de Santa Cruz, reminding visitors that it was Sevilla's Jewish Quarter before the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.

I saw a few other pilgrim-looking people around town (the backpacks with the scallop shells tend to give them away) but since I was more of a tourist-looking person at the time none of them so much as glanced twice at me.

Later I thought I was talking with another pilgrim. Since he came into my dorm room and threw himself on a bed I figured he must be a pilgrim.

He was a young guy from Brazil, he told me in rapid-fire Spanish I sort of understood. He kept going on about “amor” and “passión”—from what I gathered he was in love with someone in Portugal.

But when I asked him, in my bare-bones Spanish, if he was a pilgrim, he didn’t know what I was talking about.

A little later, he started to laugh long and loudly over nothing I could see. So it’s probably just as well he’s not a pilgrim.

[Alcazar staircase]

A staircase in the Alcazar palace.

Even apart from pilgrim-watching and Santiago-locating, I’ve had a busy day. Since the Roman ruins at Italica will be closed tomorrow, I took the bus out to see them (they were old).

And I wandered around the Barrio de Santa Cruz, which used to be the Jewish Quarter (it was quaint and crowded), had lunch with Analisa (she was a lot of fun to get lost with) visited the cathedral (it was enormous, and enormously full of tourists), climbed the Giralda (it was tall), and stopped by the Alcázar (it was beautiful).

Then I became convinced I had lost my sweater, and despite the sweaty weather, panicked. I figure it’s not a real trip if you don’t have something to panic about.

As it turns out, the sweater is here, and I am here and very ready to start walking.

Only 21 kilometres tomorrow—practically nothing. After all, I’ve done the occasional ten-kilometre walk. And it’s not like the sun is going to be beating down on me like some fiery furnace or anything like that.

Speaking of which, it’s panic time again. I haven’t seen my hat since I left home.

* * *

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 1:59 pm
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Ich Bin Aufgeregt


[Rama V palace ruins, Thailad]

Heading into the unknown.

I met this woman once, when we were both university students. I don’t remember her name or what she looked like or why we met. I just remember her story.

She wanted to travel to Australia. It was her greatest desire, the thing she’d always dreamed of doing. And one Christmas, her parents said they would buy her a plane ticket there whenever she wanted.

No worries, right?

But if that had been all there was to the story, it wouldn’t have stuck with me. The thing was, that Christmas had been more than a year ago. The student kept coming up with reasons not to go. When I talked to her, she wasn’t sure she’d ever make it to Australia.

She really wanted to go, but she was scared.

That encounter made me think a lot about fear and travel. I figure a lot of us get scared—or at least nervous—at some point, but the timing of that point can vary widely, and have a huge impact on whether or not we actually go.

I’m lucky. When I’m planning a trip, it’s the excitement that wins out. Otherwise, like that student, I’d never buy a plane ticket.

The serious fear hits about two weeks before I leave—when I’m too committed to back out. Like, say, right now, when my thoughts begin to cycle through an endless litany of potential problems.

I haven’t trained enough and will never survive that 30-kilometre section on day three. My boots are all wrong and my pack is all wrong and my knife won’t sharpen and my second pair of brand new hiking socks has vanished without a trace. And if the weather changes (snow in Southern Spain may not be likely in April, but surely it’s possible) I won’t have enough warm clothing and will freeze. Probably to death.

And then I’m going to miss my connecting flight on the way home—I knew I shouldn’t have cut it so close—because either my first plane will be late or for some unfathomable reason I’ll be hassled going through Customs. Of course, that will only be an issue if I make it to Europe in the first place. I can come up with any number of disasters that would prevent my arrival.

And … well, that’s about it for now, but I’m sure I can come up with more in the next week or so.

My saving grace is the excitement from the planning stages. It’s still there, beneath the fear.

I keep thinking about a conversation I had two and a half years ago, the day before I walked into Santiago.

“Is there a word in German that describes being both excited and scared at the same time?” I asked Sascha, a pilgrim from Switzerland, as we walked through a eucalyptus forest.

He couldn’t come up with one off-hand, but promised to think about it.

“I bet there’s something,” I said. German, I am convinced, has a word for everything. If one doesn’t exist, the Germans just mash two or more words together to create something new.

After a little more walking, Sascha came through for me. “Aufgeregt,” he said, and he patiently taught me to pronounce it.

Ich bin aufgeregt.”

The nervous excitement I felt when I walked out of Le Puy-en-Velay on my first pilgrimage was different from that of walking into Santiago, but the two had a lot in common. They were both related to the ending of one life—even if only temporarily—and the beginning of something new.

So now, as I pack and repack my backpack, as I put my affairs in order before setting out, as I go on long walks and think about my upcoming journey, of course I’m feeling the same way again: scared and excited, excited and scared.

I don’t know what happened to that student who dreamed of Australia. I hope she, too, came to feel aufgeregt about the journey, and that the excitement won out over the fear.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 2:05 pm
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Camino Memories


[100 kilometres to Santiago!]

I'll never forget how weird it was to realize I was actually going to arrive in Santiago.

“I’ll never forget….”

Since I’ve started writing about the Camino, I’ve been constantly editing out those words, both in my head before they reach the keyboard, and when I read over what I’ve written.

There are just too many unforgettable moments. If I didn’t watch myself, my posts would be full of that one little phrase.

But here, just this once, I’ll let it stand, again and again and again.

  • I’ll never forget the little old man who wished me bon courage a few hours out of Le Puy, when Santiago seemed so impossibly far away.
  • I’ll never forget walking past cows with Agnes.
  • I’ll never forget cooking curry on a barbecue outside a yurt near Lauzerte.
  • I’ll never forget that day in Cahors with Sascha and Jeannine, which involved a lot of walking, a lot of waiting, and an entire cooked chicken.
  • I’ll never forget two Dutchmen who put on a spontaneous play for my friend Carmelina and me, after we discovered our beds were separated from theirs by a theatrical-looking curtain.
  • I’ll never forget my French Camino angels, who made everything better.
  • I’ll never forget the large French family, finishing off their Chemin for the year, who adopted me and a few other lone walkers for their celebration, which involved vast quantities of alcohol and traditional French songs, sung loudly.
  • I’ll never forget the day walking up hills was suddenly easy.
  • I’ll never forget the old Basque woman who, kilometres before Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, pointed out the town of Untto, high above us, and told me I’d be walking through it the next day.
  • I’ll never forget the Pyrenees in the fog, with the sheep fading into the mist.
  • I’ll never forget Martin and the Fuente del Vino.
  • I’ll never forget walking through depressingly industrial parts of Burgos with Sonya, singing Christmas carols in October. (We got particularly weird looks when we started on Feliz Navidad.)
  • I’ll never forget losing my only sweater on a cold November day, or Xabi, who gave me a new one.
  • I’ll never forget reading Stuart McLean stories with Sonya, that night we had an entire albergue to ourselves.
  • I’ll never forget Sascha and Jeannine walking up the day before Santiago, when I hadn’t seen them since the meseta and thought they were miles ahead.
  • I’ll never forget walking into Santiago.
  • I’ll never forget Hayden spraying us with champagne at the end of the world.
  • I’ll never forget….

* * *

In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller looks at his own life in light of what he’s learned about crafting a story for a movie.

Screenwriters make scenes more memorable by setting them in interesting locations. So lovers break up while scuba diving, rather than in the local coffee shop.

And real life works the same way, Miller says. We tend to remember the times we do something crazy or go somewhere special. Everything else fades into the blur of everyday life.

I’ve travelled a number of places, but none were as special as the Camino. I have far more I’ll-never-forget moments from just under three months of walking across France and Spain than from any other period of my life.

If I were a more balanced person—if I weren’t filled with wanderlust—I suppose I’d take this Camino lesson, apply it to my everyday world, and create beautiful, crazy scenes for myself and others in my life. I wouldn’t have to travel to distant places because I’d have all the moments I needed right here in Canada.

But some of us seem to have to travel to find what we should, in theory, be able to find without leaving.

I guess that’s why I’m going back to Spain.

* * *

What about you? What’s your favourite unforgettable pilgrim moment?


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 3:51 pm
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