Tag Archives: Vía de la Plata

Way Marks on the Via de la Plata: A Spotter’s Guide


The Vía de la Plata, like many other Camino de Santiago routes, is inhabited by a number of different types of signs and arrows that aim wandering pilgrims in the direction of Santiago de Compostela.

Overall, both the main Vía de la Plata and the Camino Sanabrés variant are well way marked, although sometimes it may be necessary to pay serious attention, consult a map, or ask for help (it’s useful to speak Spanish in these cases).

Yellow Arrows

The majority of the way marks are painted yellow arrows. These are easy to identify by the fact that they are obviously painted, obviously yellow, and obviously arrows. They can be found throughout the route, from Andalucía to Galicia.

They are usually painted quite clearly,

[Arrow on rocks]

Between Los Santos de Maimona and Villafranca de los Barros.

but they may also be drippy

On the back of a sign in Camas.

or faded.

Between Torremegía and Mérida.

They’re usually just plain yellow, but in the area after Mérida, they tend to be outlined in red (and may be accompanied by a Saint James cross),

An arrow with a Saint James cross, between Aljucén and Alcuéscar.

and occasionally the yellow tends toward fluorescence.

Leaving Ourense.

Yellow arrows can be found on trees,

Between Almadén de la Plata and El Real de la Jara.

fences

Also between Almadén de la Plata and El Real de la Jara.

or fence posts,

Between Guillena and Castilblanco de los Arroyos.

rocks,

Between A Gudiña and Campobecerros on the Camino Sanabrés.

the front

Between Fuente de Cantos and Puebla de Sancho Pérez.

or back of signs,

Also between Fuente de Cantos and Puebla de Sancho Pérez.

little bridges over ditches,

Yet another photo taken between Fuente de Cantos and Puebla de Sancho Pérez.

pavement,

On the way into Alberguería on the Camino Sanabrés.

and occasionally even on fountains,

In Vilar de Barrio on the Camino Sanabrés.

stumps,

In the Parque Natural Sierra Norte between Castilblanco de los Arroyos and Almadén de la Plata.

crosses,

Between Aljucén and Alcuéscar.

manhole covers,

In Bandeira on the Camino Sanabrés.

and random posts.

Between Guillena and Castilblanco de los Arroyos.

They usually indicate the Camino de Santiago route, but may also point to albergues.

On the way into Alcuéscar.

They may also show where a route divides. If you’re lucky, a sign will explain the division.

In Granja de Moruela, you can choose between continuing to Astorga, or taking the Camino Sanabrés through Ourense to Santiago.

If there’s no accompanying sign, a guidebook can come in handy.

Somewhat before Silleda on the Camino Sanabrés.

The most difficult part of using a yellow arrow can be to find it. Sometimes they’re everywhere, but other times they can be quite hard to locate. For one thing, they prefer highways and countryside to cities, where they can be more difficult to find or even disappear altogether.

On the way into Mérida.

Once you find a yellow arrow, the procedure is generally simple: you walk (or cycle) in the direction indicated. However, there can be difficulties. In the case of ambiguous arrows, which might point straight ahead but kind of sort of aim to the side, the safest thing to do is ask someone if they’re around, and otherwise to continue straight ahead.

Please note that some arrows appear to point straight up in the air. You should not take this literally.

Following an arrow on the way into Ourense.

Stone Markers

Stone markers come in many different shapes and sizes, but they’re easily recognized by their generally stony nature. Unlike the yellow arrows, stone markers stick to their own climactic zone. Different species are found in different places.

Some types include the Parque National Sierra Norte markers (after Castilblanco de los Arroyos),

Between Castilblanco de los Arroyos and Almadén de la Plata.

Camino de Santiago rectangular markers (which I believe are native to Andalucía, although they may edge a bit into Extremadura),

Also between Castilblanco de los Arroyos and Almadén de la Plata.

cubes with a sketch of the Arch of Cáparra on their top (these inhabit Extremadura),

Between Aldea del Cano and Cáceres.

short white stones with a yellow shell and arrow (which seem to be found only in the province of Zamora),

Soon after El Cubo de la Tierra del Vino.

pillars with “Vía de la Plata” in English and Arabic with a metal pilgrim staff and gourd (which appear for a while beginning in Baños de Montemayor),

Between El Cubo de la Tierra del Vino and Zamora

pillars that say “Vía de la Plata” and have a yellow shell (found in the province of Zamora),

In Roales del Pan.

large stones with the name of the town and advice and well-wishes for pilgrims (I believe these are native to the province of Zamora as well),

Leaving Granja de Moruela at the beginning of the Camino Sanabrés.

artsy arrows and sometimes stylized pilgrims (found only in Galicia),

In Lubián.

and short posts with embedded shell tiles (also found in Galicia; they occasionally have plaques with the distance to Santiago, but these generally seem to have been stolen).

Just before Santiago de Compostela.

The stone way marks work in different ways. If they have arrows on them, you can follow them in the same manner you would follow painted yellow arrows. If there are no arrows, you can take them as a sign that you’re going the right way.

The main exception is the Extremaduran cube marker. These have a dashed yellow line running through a picture of the Arch of Cáparra on the top, which indicates the direction of the route. Be sure to follow the ones with the yellow squares (or green and yellow). I believe the green ones indicate the precise route of the old Roman road; in any case, they tend to take you off paths when not combined with yellow.

Another possible exception is any marker with a shell, although these can be tricky. Sometimes they point toward Santiago. In Galicia, on the official stone markers, I believe the “rays” of the shell always point to Santiago. However, you can’t rely on this for non-official markers, or with shells on other parts of the route.

Signs

Signs are found scattered across the Vía de la Plata. Apart from metal signs, they tend to be far more endangered than their stone counterparts. Different types are frequently found alone, or in very small clusters. They may be wooden, metal, cardboard, or made of some other material.

The two non-road signs that are found throughout the route (with minor variations) are a small blue one with a yellow shell and an arrow,

Shell sign

Between El Real de la Jara and Monesterio.

and a sign with a stylized pilgrim.

[Pilgrim sign]

Leaving Ourense on the Camino Sanabrés.

Some examples of non-road signs that come in small clusters include signs with a photograph of the famous Santiago statue at the Santa Marta de Tera (found in the neighbourhood of that town),

Just out of Santa Marta de Tera.

signs with “Camino de Santiago,” a shell, and occasionally other words (found on a small portion of the Camino Sanabrés),

Just out of Rionegro del Puente.

and occasional “Vía da Prata” (Galician for “Vía de la Plata) signs (in Galicia).

Between Castro Dozón and A Laxe.

There are also some signs that seem to be the sole remaining member of their species.

[Que Dios te acompane]

Just after Montamarta. The sign says "may God accompany you."

In Laza, on the Camino Sanabrés. "Camiño" is Galician for "Camino"

[Small sign]

Just outside of Zamora.

A common road sign warns drivers that pilgrims may be passing, but is also helpful for walkers, since it suggests they are headed in the right direction.

[Sign for drivers]

Leaving Salamanca.

Another popular sign warns pilgrims they’re about to share a route with a highway.

[Share the road]

Between Montamarta and Granja de Moruela.

Occasionally, there may be impostor signs, such as construction signs with yellow arrows.

Soon after Montamarta. I believe the larger arrows were related to construction, while the smaller one indicated the Camino detour route.

Detour signs can also create problems.

Soon after Mombuey on the Camino Sanabrés.

In this case, I tried following the more permanent way mark, which led me to a sign that warned of potential explosions ahead. I backtracked, decided that “desvio” meant “detour,” and successfully followed more temporary signs until I was back on the normal route.

Way Mark Habits

Way marks generally live alone. When pilgrims are lucky, they stay fairly close together. Sometimes, especially in cities and on straight roads, they’re few and far between.

But occasionally, they congregate in great numbers, leaving passing pilgrims with no doubt whatsoever of the route.

[Lots of way marks]

Just before Terroso on the Camino Sanabrés.

[Cluster of signs]

On the way into Ourense.

So in conclusion …

As they say at the Dead Dog Café, stay calm, be brave … wait for the signs.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 6:52 pm
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A Monument to Three Faiths on the Via de la Plata


Poetry on the Vía de la Plata, just before Zamorra.

Just before Zamora on the Vía de la Plata, there’s a circle made up of three modern monoliths, with a well at their centre.

When I walked past this tableau, I took some photographs but didn’t have the dictionary I needed to puzzle through their inscriptions. Recently, I came across my photos and decided to see what I could find out about the stones. A bit of Internet research proved helpful.

A closer look at the Via de la Dalmacia poem.

It turns out the stones were erected in summer 2009 by two Spanish organizations to mark the intersection of three paths: the Vía de la Plata, the Vía Mirandesa, and the Vía de la Dalmacia. The monument is dedicated to peace and understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Each of the three four-metre granite monoliths has a poem dedicated to one of the routes. In the centre is the Brocal de las Promesas, or Well of Promises, into which pilgrims, from what I understand, are meant to drop a stone as a symbol of the promise referred to in one of the poems.

I’ve copied out the poems below. Since I can’t find an English translation of the poems on the Internet, I’ve attempted to do it myself. My Spanish is far from perfect, but this way those who don’t speak Spanish can at least get the gist of the meaning.

I really would welcome any suggestions—small or large—on the translations (especially the end of the first one, which I’m quite sure I’ve muddled).

(For more on the three faiths in Spain, see my posts about the Muslims in Spain.)

Vía de la Plata: Encuentro de Culturas en la Paz

Deja aquí peregrino la promesa
que quieras hacer guía de tus pasos
y llama viva de tu alma.
Su espíritu moverá el corazón
de la tierra y algún día
florencerá en las espigas
del pan de los hambrientos,
susurrara en todas las fuentes,
correrá como ríos,
saciando la sed de justicia,
volará a las nubes y sera
rayo de sol para los tristes.
Porque la verdad de las promesas
es siembra amorosa, destellos
del ser, que espera y necesita
el mundo nuevo, solidario y en paz.
Deja aquí peregrino la promesa
y sea cual sea tu andadura
habrás hecho camino antes de llegar.
– A. Ramos de Castro

Vía de la Plata: Peaceful Meeting Between Cultures

Leave here, pilgrim, the promise
that you want to guide your steps
and the living flame of your soul.
Its spirit moves the heart
of the earth, and one day
will flower in the wheat
of the bread of the hungry,
will whisper in all the fountains,
will run like rivers,
quenching the thirst for justice,
will fly to the clouds, and be
a ray of light for the sad.
Because the truth of the promises
is that love is sown, in flashes
of being, that it waits and needs
the new world, in solidarity and in peace.
Leave here, pilgrim, the promise,
and may your walking be that which your journey
has made a camino before you arrive.

Vía de la Dalmacia: Calzada y Camino de San Francisco al Islam

En este cruce de la senda que ahora andas
antiquísimo camino del alba de la historia
confluyen las calzadas:
Vía de la Plata, La Mirandesa y La Dalmacia.
Es entrada de creencias, culturas y comercio
vía de conquistas, reconquista y repoblación.
Camino Mozárabe que hizo a Santiago.
Paso de San Francisco al encuentro del Islam.
Salida de Judíos que echaba el desamor
y siempre encuentro de pueblos, ideas y de fe.
Añade caminante en tu andadura
la tolerancia y el valor al diferente,
que necesitamos, como parte del mismo amor
que todos somos, para juntos hacer
un mundo humano,
y el encuentro de creencias y culturas,
el camino florecido de la paz.

Vía de la Dalmacia: Road and Way of San Francisco al Islam

In this crossroads that you now walk,
ancient way of dawn of the history,
the roads join:
Vía de la Plata, the Mirandesa and the Dalmacia.
They are an entrance to beliefs, cultures and commerce,
route of conquests, reconquest and repopulation.
The Mozarab road that goes to Santiago.
The San Francisco path that encounters Islam.
The doorway of the Jews who left with heartbreak
and always found towns, ideas and faith.
Add, walker, to your walking,
the tolerance and the value of difference,
which we need as part of the same love
that we are, to together create
a humane world,
and add too the meeting of beliefs and cultures.
The road blossoms with peace.

Vía Mirandesa: Camino de la Amistad y Camino Judio a la Libertad

Que los caminos traigan paz
y los amanceres justicia
que hermane a todos los pueblos,
que socorra a todos los humanos
y quebrante al violento.
Que dure tanto como el sol,
como la luna, de edad en edad.
Que el amor de tus pasos,
como riego sobre el césped
como llovizna que empapa la tierra
haga florecer la vida, abrace
fraterno a todas las creencias,
y sea bálsamo para el necesitado.
Que tu corazón lo pregone,
de mar a mar, mas allá
de la senda que ahora andas,
hasta el fulgor de las estrellas.

Vía Mirandesa: Road of Friendship and Jewish Road of Freedom

May the roads bring peace
and the dawns, justice,
that brings together all cities as brothers,
that helps all humans,
that ends the violence.
May this last as long as the sun,
and as the moon, from age to age.
May the love in your steps,
as water on grass,
as drizzle that soaks the ground,
make life flower, embracing
as brothers all beliefs,
and may it be a balm for the needy.
May your heart cry it out
from sea to see, and farther still,
from the path that you walk now,
to the brilliance of the stars.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 3:23 pm
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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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The Vía de la Plata and Camino Sanabrés Overview


[Arrow on stone]

Before Fuente de Cantos, on the Vía de la Plata.

I can’t believe I’ve been home for two weeks! “Real life” still doesn’t feel very real….

I’ve scattered impressions of and information about the route throughout my Vía de la Plata posts, but I thought it would be helpful to bring them together. This covers the Vía de la Plata from Sevilla to Granja de Moruela, and the Camino Sanabrés variant from Granja de Moruela to Santiago, which I walked from April to May, 2011.

My Stages

I spent 44 days walking, and took five rest days, plus a week in Santiago. Much to my surprise, I could have done the walk in fewer days, but it was nice to be able to take my time—some days, anyway.

The longest stages I had no choice but to do were the 29/30 kilometres on Day 3 from Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almadén de la Plata, and the 33 kilometers from Casar de Cáceres to Cañaveral. It’s usually possible to break up that last section, though—I was limited because the albergue at the Embalse de Alcántara was closed due to a water shortage.

My few other 30 kilometre-plus stages could have been broken up into shorter stages. However, there are definitely longer gaps between accommodation than on the Camino Francés, and sometimes you have to choose between quite a short day’s walk and a very long one.

Day 1: Sevilla to Guillena (23 km)
Day 2: Guillena to Castilblanco de los Arroyos (18 km)
Day 3: Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almadén de la Plata (30-ish km)
Day 4: Almadén de la Plata to El Real de la Jara (15 km)
Day 5: El Real de la Jara to Monesterio (22 km)
Day 6: Monesterio to Fuente de Cantos (22 km)
Day 7: Fuente de Cantos to Puebla de Sancho Pérez (21 km)
Day 8: Puebla de Sancho Pérez to La Almazara (17 km)
Day 9: La Almazara to Torremegía (34 km)
Day 10: Torremegía to Mérida (16-plus km)
Day 11: Mérida (0 km)
Day 12: Mérida to Aljucén (17 km)
Day 13: Aljucén to Alcuéscar (21 km)
Day 14: Alcuéscar to Aldea de Cano (16 km)
Day 15: Aldea de Cano to Cáceres (22 km)
Day 16: Cáceres to Casar de Cáceres (11 km)
Day 17: Casar de Cáceres to Cañaveral (33 km)
Day 18: Cañaveral to Galisteo (28-ish km)
Day 19: Galisteo to Oliva de Plasencia (26 km, including 6 off-route)
Day 20: Oliva de Plasencia to Aldeanueva del Camino (I think about 28 km, including 6 off-route)
Day 21: Aldeanueva del Camino to La Calzada de Béjar (22 km)
Day 22: La Calzada de Béjar to Fuenterroble de Salvatierra (20 km)
Day 23: Fuenterroble de Salvatierra to San Pedro de Rozados (28 km)
Day 24: San Pedro de Rozados to Salamanca (24 km)
Days 25 and 26: Salamanca (0 km)
Day 27: Salamanca to El Cubo del Vino (36 km)
Day 28: El Cubo del Vino to Zamora (32 km)
Day 29: Zamora to Montamarta (20 km)
Day 30: Montamarta to Granja de Moruela (23 km)
Day 31: Granja de Moruela to Tábara (25 km)
Day 32: Tábara to Santa Croya de Tera (22 km)
Day 33: Santa Croya de Tera to Ríonegro del Puente (28 km)
Day 34: Ríonegro del Puente to Asturianos (26 km)
Day 35: Asturianos to Requejo de Sanabria (27 km)
Day 36: Requejo de Sanabria to Lubián (18 km)
Day 37: Lubián to A Gudiña (24 km)
Day 38: A Gudiña to Campobecerros (19 km)
Day 39: Campobecerros to Laza (16 km)
Day 40: Laza to Alberguería (13 km)
Day 41: Alberguería to Xunqueira de Ambía (20 km)
Day 42: Xunqueira de Ambía to Ourense (22 km)
Days 43 and 44: Ourense (0 km)
Day 45: Ourense to Cea (22 km)
Day 46: Cea to Castro Dozón (technically 14 km)
Day 47: Castro Dozón to Silleda (28 km)
Day 48: Silleda to Outeiro (24 km)
Day 49: Outeiro to Santiago de Compostela! (16 km)

Pilgrims: Very Rough Statistics

[Pilgrim sculpture]

A very modern pilgrim sculpture outside the bar at Valverde de Valdelacasa.

Out of the walking pilgrims I met or heard of, the vast majority were Europeans—German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Danish, Italian, English, Belgian, Irish, Swiss, Hungarian, in more or less numerical order (there were a lot of Germans, and I only met one each from the last four countries). If I included bicigrinos, the number of Spaniards would jump drastically. There were also Americans, Canadians and Australians (also in more or less numerical order), one Japanese man, and a large organized group of Koreans.

The youngest pilgrim I met was 24, and those of us under 50 were definitely in the minority. The vast majority of walkers were retired. (Again the statistics would change if I factored in bicigrinos, who tended to be younger.) I met the greatest number of young pilgrims in the last week. They all seemed to be doing 40-ish kilometre stages.

There were a lot of couples and some other people who’d come with walking partners—in a number of cases they’d met on the Camino Francés years before. But there were also a lot of solo walkers.

More pilgrims seemed interested in solitude than on other routes—even some of the couples had come to spend time alone together. For future reference, spring on the Vía de la Plata isn’t the best time/place for solitude, although if you don’t want to bump into a constant stream of pilgrims, leaving a little late can really help.

A number of people occasionally took taxis, trains and/or buses, either because of injuries, to get to off-route accommodation, because they were running behind schedule, or to skip stretches of the route that ran along the highway.

Pilgrim Numbers

Several hospitaleros and other people along the way told me there were more pilgrims on the Vía de la Plata than any other year—one specifically said there were a lot more even than last year, which was a Holy Year.

The Pilgrim Office statistics suggest there were actually more pilgrims on the route last year, but I wonder if a much larger number of pilgrims just did the last hundred kilometres or so.

The relatively vast numbers of pilgrims was a problem in terms of albergue beds. It came up as a potential difficulty for me quite near the beginning, and the bed squeeze lasted until somewhere on the Camino Sanabrés. Some people told me the problem was tied to the Semana Santa (Holy Week, when apparently a lot of Spaniards and some other Europeans go on holiday), but there were full albergues after that, too, so I don’t know about the cause and effect there.

I was expecting the competition for beds to become more intense after Ourense—after all, it’s the logical starting place to walk the last hundred or so kilometres. However, it actually seemed quieter after Ourense, possibly because there were variants, like the detour to Oseira.

Landscape

[Near Granja de Moruela]

Near Granja de Moruela on the Vía de la Plata.

There was some walking through ugly parts of cities and a few small industrial areas (though nothing as bad as Burgos and León on the Camino Francés). There were gorgeous walks through countryside and along huge reservoirs and in forests (the types of trees changed along the way). And there was everything in between: run-down villages and pretty villages; heavily cultivated land with tractors everywhere and pastureland with crumbling stone walls and the occasional herd of cows or flock of sheep.

I guess the landscape is repetitive, with similar scenery for days at a time, but I enjoyed it.

Of course, this being spring, there were flowers everywhere. I can see how, without them, the landscape would be a lot bleaker.

Towns

At the beginning, there were long stretches with no towns or villages. By the end, on the Camino Sanabrés, some of the villages ran into each other, and there was often (but not always) somewhere to stop for coffee every five kilometres or even less.

Terrain

During the first several days out of Sevilla, I met some other people who had the same English guidebook that I did. We were all surprised to find that there were some serious hills along the route, as our guidebook had led us to believe there were no serious climbs from Sevilla to Astorga.

So for the record: there are some serious climbs on the route. They’re not frequent—it’s nowhere near as difficult as, say, the Le Puy route. But the terrain is often undulating, and some of the climbs and descents are seriously steep. They’re not usually incredibly long, but they can be difficult.

The Camino Sanabrés goes through the mountains, so of course is more difficult, with longer, often steeper ascents and descents.

Way Marking

[Way marks]

Sometimes it's easy to get lost ... and sometimes it isn't. I saw these way marks sometime after Lubián.

This was generally at least okay, though it varied quite a bit. Sometimes there were yellow arrows and other signs everywhere. At other times there was little to go on.

Sometimes I really had to look around for the way marks, which might be down low on curbs or up high on houses.

I found that if there was no sign of an arrow, it was generally safe to keep going straight ahead. Also, in Extremadura, I followed the cubical way marks. These didn’t technically show the pilgrimage route, but the yellow ones generally coincided it. The line on top of these shows where the route goes (though it’s not directional like the arrows).

Considering my lack of a sense of direction, I actually didn’t get lost all that often. And when I was lost, or about to become so, there was often someone around to ask.

Weather

At the beginning and end of my trip the temperature was in the low 30s Celsius, which when walking in the sun felt incredibly hot. From what I heard, this was warmer (and, at least in Galicia, drier) than usual, although not completely out of the ordinary. Other days started out quite cold: in the mountains on the Camino Sanabrés there was sometimes frost in the mornings.

Rain-wise I was lucky. I had a few awful days with downpours, and several days after that with intermittent downpours or drizzle. But after that, the storms came in the late afternoon or evening after I’d finished walking—making for muddy paths, but at least I didn’t get drenched.

Apart from that, there were some seriously overcast days that were great for walking, and sunny spring-like days that were a bit warmer and prettier.

Although weather can be radically different from year to year, from what I’ve read, the spring still seems the best bet weather-wise, at least if you don’t like insane heat.

Local People

I got so much help from local people, who would point me in the direction of albergues, bars, grocery stores, or even the Vía de la Plata itself. Some even escorted me all or at least part of the way to my destination.

In some sections especially, lots of people in cars honked and/or waved when passing, and tons of people wished me “buenos días” or “buen viaje.”

I had some of the most rewarding experiences of my trip when I made a real effort to strike up conversations—with people walking to the next village or people working in stores or bars. I found admiring the area—which I always truly did—was a good icebreaker: “Es muy bonita aquí.” After that, even people who’d seemed abrupt or slightly surly tended to chat.

Which brings us to….

Language

Obviously, the more Spanish you speak, the easier it is to get by. And of course it’s harder to chat—with local people or Spanish pilgrims—without a reasonable command of the language. That said, I met people who spoke very little Spanish and managed to get by.

As far as foreign pilgrims go, English would tend to be the common language, but there aren’t tons of native English speakers. French is a helpful language to know, for speaking with the large numbers of French pilgrims. And while German-speakers tend to speak some English, there would often be large groups of them (and Dutch people, who seem to generally speak some German). So a grasp of German would be helpful to understand a lot of conversations.

Of course, there’s often someone around who’ll translate for you, and a lot of big conversations are a multilingual muddle.

Dogs

I’d read before I left that dogs could be a serious problem on this route. However, I suspect this information is out of date.

Of course, there’s always a chance of being bitten by a dog anywhere you go, but neither I nor anyone I met had any problems with dogs. The big dogs generally weren’t interested in people walking by. The little ones might get excited and bark, but they were usually behind a fence or on a leash.

For some reason I never understood, I got barked at constantly for two days after Ourense (by dogs behind fences), before barking levels returned to their usual low levels.

Crossing Streams

[Submerged stepping stones]

Mostly submerged stepping stones, between Cáparra and Aldeanueva.

There are a lot of streams to cross (and a number of paths that pretty well turn into streams).

I managed to make it across most on stepping stones (sometimes makeshift). Once a stone tipped and I got my foot half-wet, but generally they were manageable—particularly with a stick.

The only time I really had to wade was between Cáparra and Aldeanueva. There were two places with very high water—the stepping stones had been submerged by the first stream, and I couldn’t even see any stones for the second.

Cost

Food: This got gradually more expensive as I got closer to Santiago.

I often had yogurt or something bready for breakfast, a cheese and tomato sandwich that I made myself for lunch, and assorted fruit, chocolate, ice cream, orange juice, wine and cafes con leche throughout the day. For dinner I’d generally have more sandwiches or go out.

I could often buy breakfast and lunch at a grocery store for under €5, though closer to Santiago it was often a little more than that. It also helped if I could find someone to split a four-pack of yogurt with, when I wasn’t allowed to buy part of it (usually in small stores they don’t mind if you break it up). Drinks and snacks were usually a euro or two each.

A three-course set meal was generally €8 to €9 at the beginning, and €10 to €11 by the end. A “mixed plate” (usually fries with some combination of salad, meat and eggs) was around €5 or €6. Pre-made sandwiches were anywhere from €3 to €5.

Accommodation: Albergues were sometimes free or donativo. The rest generally ranged from €5 to €12. In Extremadura, there was a stretch with only albergues turísticos, which were usually €10 or €12, often with breakfast for €2. In Galicia, the Xunta de Galicia albergues (and they’re almost all Xunta de Galicia albergues) are €5 and quite nice.

I don’t have nearly as much experience with other forms of accommodation, but towards the beginning, at least, you could generally get a cheap double room for €25 to €30, and a single for €15 to €20. It seemed to get more expensive toward the end—€35 to €40 for a double and €20 or more for a single. Of course, there were often more expensive options (I plan to stay in a parador one day … when I’m rich).

Other: I really didn’t have a lot of other expenses. Sometimes I had to replenish supplies (shampoo, dental floss, blister pads). And then of course there are souvenirs in Santiago. People who took taxis/buses/trains of course had to pay for those.

Theft and Loss

Theft doesn’t seem to be a huge problem, but it does occur. In Castilblanco de los Arroyos, I met a couple who’d had their bikes stolen. In Zamora a woman had her camera and sunglasses stolen from her pack in the albergue. And in Santiago, a man at my albergue had all his valuables stolen while in the cathedral.

As far as losing things goes, I talked a lot at the beginning about worrying about leaving things behind. I gradually stopped being so neurotic (at least in that respect) and in the end, all I lost was a pen, a few safety pins, and a thing of lip balm that someone gave me. This was a serious improvement on my last Camino, when I lost or left behind such important items as a pair of socks, a small bottle of clothes washing detergent, a pair of clip-on sunglasses, and a sweater.

So….

I hope this covers everything. If not, please feel free to add comments or questions.

Oh, and I’ve been meaning to mention this: Wim, with whom I spent a wonderful day on the Vía de la Plata, was walking partly to raise money for Shelterbox, an organization that provides shelter for people who have lost their homes due to natural disasters or other catastrophes. For more information, you can visit his fundraising page. Wim also has posted his beautiful photos from the trip, which show the route from Salamanca.

Also, Hermione, an Englishwoman I met at the beginning of my walk, has almost finished her walk from the Canary Islands to her home in England. I’ve just been going through her blog, and it’s a wonderful read. I even pop up briefly a couple of times.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 11:28 am
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Days 43 to 49 on the Vía de la Plata


[Pilgrims in the forest]

This photo, taken between Castro Dozón and A Laxe, is fairly typical of the beautiful foresty bits of the route in Galicia.

I’m actually here, in Santiago de Compostela. I’ve told people the trip was different this time because I knew I could make it (barring unforeseen circumstances). I knew I’d actually get to Santiago, whereas the first time 1500 kilometres seemed like such an incredible distance that I never believed deep down that I’d ever get there.

But now, four days after arriving, it still seems incredible that I’m here.

Days 43 and 44: Ourense (0 km)

[Modern bridge]

I don't generally get excited about modern architecture, but this bridge is really cool. And you can walk on the "wave" part—I did!

I figured I might as well take a rest day, since I had time and although my ankle was fine, my back was still intermittently sore. And then I was lazy and met up with a friend who was taking a rest day the following day, and one rest day turned into two. My Camino was definitely hedonistic on an intermittent basis.

The first day started with a bit of excitement, though. A French Canadian friend decided the bites he and I had were definitely bed bugs, and we spent the morning in the albergue washing our sleeping bags and all the clothes we weren’t wearing in the washing machine, and then soaking our backpacks in seriously hot water. If they were bedbugs, it seems to have worked, because I haven’t had a similar bite since.

[Cathedral]

The Ourense cathedral.

Ourense isn’t the prettiest of cities—it doesn’t have a serious old quarter—but it’s definitely less touristy and very busy. I think I saw five stores just selling perfume, whereas if the towns I’ve been passing through sold any perfume, it was a few boxes crammed in among food, toiletries, and more.

Like I said, I was lazy. I saw the cathedral. I drank tinto de verano (a mix of red wine and lemon pop) and ate tapas. I saw the hot springs—it turned out when the Camino takes you down a set of stairs only to take you back up again, it’s so you can pass the hot fountain. I wandered around.

Day 45: Ourense to Cea (22 km)

[Sign]

This was one of the more bizarre signs I encountered along the Vía de la Plata. (Are they trying to scare us?)

This was a hot day with a lot of ascents—possibly the longest steep part of the trip. It was mostly on asphalt, but on small roads rather than the highway. It started out going past a lot of houses, but by the end there were bits of forest, some with eucalyptus trees.

I left late, and by the time I got to Cea I was in quick-march mode, ready to collapse from the heat.

[Arrow pointing uphill]

The arrow is one of the beautiful signs on the route in Galicia—I believe each one is unique. The cyclists were creeping along up the hill.

I don’t know what it was, but this day and the next had by far the largest number of barking dogs on the route. My guidebook warns me to be careful of dogs, but up until this day I’d mostly been barked at by the occasional lap dog—the larger ones sometimes lifted their heads to watch me walk by.

The albergue was the usual nice but institutional building with a big dorm. If you stay there, make sure to find a bed at the back. The problem with the front is that if anyone takes the stairs, which they have to do to use the washroom, the motion-detecting light comes on. Very brightly. And it shines on the unfortunate sleepers. (I was lucky and in the back.)

Five of us ate out at a little bakery, whose name I unfortunately can’t remember. It was small, with only three small tables, and run by a very friendly family. The type of food was pretty standard, but the quality was better than average.

Day 46: Cea to Castro Dozón (technically 14 km)

[Castro Dozon]

Part of Castro Dozón, as seen from the albergue. Note the steepness of the mountains.

I was still happy to be walking, but I gave myself a break and took the “easy” route to Castro Dozón instead of the one past the monastery at Oseira. But everyone else who took the route agreed that it felt rather longer than 14 kilometres. It involved a fair bit of climbing, especially if you missed the Camino and ended up at a farm in the middle of nowhere asking for directions, as I did.

The day started out overcast and got quite sunny. The general trend for quite a while has been either that, or starting out sunny and ending up seriously overcast. Since before Galicia, there have been the occasional “tormentas” (storms—but doesn’t it sound so much worse in Spanish?), but in the late afternoons and evenings. I only got slightly wet that first day in Galicia, the province that is supposed to have constant rain. I guess I’ve been lucky.

The albergue, just outside town, was nice. It would be a serious pain in cold weather, though, since you have to go through a covered outdoor area to get from room to room.

Day 47: Castro Dozón to Silleda (28 km)

[Crosses in the fence]

Crosses created by passing pilgrims.

This was a pretty walking day, with some beautiful forests and a few steeply uphill bits but a general downhill trend. There was a lovely little bridge just past A Laxe, a middle-of-nowhere feeling town.

In a little town just before Silleda, a man (priest?) invited a few of us to visit his church, a nice change from the usually-closed churches. He even gave us an orange (and apologized for not having more). We ate it in the nice square outside, which had potable water—something that’s become rather a rarity since most of the fuentes for the few days before Santiago have signs saying they’re not guaranteed sanitary.

I can’t comment on the albergue, since I ended up getting a room from a bar in town. A night without a dorm room was amazing.

Day 48: Silleda to Outeiro (24 km)

[House with shell and arrow]

Even houses had signs telling us pilgrims where to go.

This was mostly a nice day, undulating through forests (there’s eucalyptus now) and countryside. At some point Luis, a Spanish guy I’d never met before, caught up with me and we ended up walking on together.

And then, approaching Ponte Ulla, there was a long, seriously steep descent. I was still feeling okay after it, but Luis, who’d walked a lot farther than I had that day, wanted to stop. Since I’d rented a room the previous night, I wanted to stay in the albergue, which was four kilometres farther. What’s four kilometres, after all? Luis decided to come with me.

Those four kilometres were some of the worst walking kilometres of my life. They were almost all uphill, and I don’t know how hot it actually was—I suspect in the low 30s Celsius. At first we walked through a residential area, where we stuck our heads over a fence to catch a bit of sprinkler water. Then we ended up staggering along through a forest. The road was wide, but we walked single file along the edge, since there were intermittent bits of shade there.

“If I stopped once, I’d never move again,” Luis said at one point, and I agreed.

Finally we reached a small Santiago chapel (closed, of course) with a fountain. The sign said the water wasn’t safe to drink, so we splashed it on our faces. Luckily, the albergue was only a few hundred metres farther.

There were only five of us in the albergue, probably because it was in the middle of nowhere. When I went down the hill (close to a kilometre) to investigate the food situation, I found one restaurant was closed (though later I was told it would deliver to the albergue). The other, in an utterly gorgeous hotel, was full up, but the father of one of the owners was incredibly nice and explained how I could get to a bar farther down the highway.

[Final supper]

Our feast in the albergue dining room.

Of the five of us in the albergue, the two Austrian women ordered food, and shared their Santiago cakes with the rest of us. Pietro from Italy had hauled a lot of food up the hill, and offered to share it with me and Luis.

None of us except the two Austrian women had met before, and we all (with the same exception) came from different countries with different languages. But all five of us ate together, talking mostly in Spanish although only Luis was fluent and the Austrian women could hardly speak it at all.

It was a quiet final evening, but very Camino.

Day 49: Outeiro to Santiago de Compostela! (16 km)

[Field and Santiago]

The houses in the background are Santiago.

Sixteen kilometres doesn’t sound like so much. After all, I’ve walked more than double that in a single day. But these 16 kilometres felt like at least thirty.

For one thing, there was a lot of steepness, both up and downhill. And then there was the heat, which hit hard by about nine a.m.

Apart from that, it was a nice walk, through countryside with fancy-looking houses and bits of forest. By about the halfway point, I could see the outskirts of Santiago sprawling up a big hill ahead.

[Santiago cathedral]

The Santiago cathedral. Unfortunately from an aesthetic perspective (but fortunately for its preservation), the clock tower is being restored and looks very lumpy.

I hadn’t realized that the Vía de la Plata has a much better view of the cathedral on the way in than the Camino Francés has. Walking through the Santiago suburbs, I crested a hill and could suddenly see the cathedral on the opposite hill. In that moment, I felt like I had arrived.

As I walked through the quiet streets, I couldn’t stop grinning.

Of course, the view came at a price. After I went down, I had to go up again to get to the cathedral, and the street was incredibly steep.

And then I was there, at the cathedral. As I’d been warned, it wasn’t as emotional an experience as last time. But all the same, it felt pretty good. I’d walked 1,000 kilometres, and I’d finally reached my destination.

Santiago

I’ll tell you more about Santiago, and why I’ve been here four days already, very soon.

* * *

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 4:41 am
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