Via de la Plata Camino – Day 14 (Mérida to Ourense). Tuesday 3 April 2018. 20 kms.
The camino is otherwise known as The Way, as is the Tao and I turned over similarities between the two as I walked the road from Morille to Salamanca.
There was a straight yellow line ahead of me, almost flat, through green fields of recently sown grass. There were three of us at intervals, visible to each other.
The wind was strong, all on my left and it was overall too cold. I walked with my woolly hat on and hood up most of the way. In fact, I would have recommended today to avoid March on this camino, but perhaps it was unseasonal. The accommodation, in general, is not geared up to it.
Here there were plains and plains to cross and so for hours I could see Salamanca, and even once I reached the outskirts there were two underpasses to duck under, parks with unfriendly City folk to cross.
Then a lovely welcome at the municipal albergue (donativo ie you pay what you think it is worth) and a host of friends in that warm place.
Oh it is a very elegant and sturdy city, Salamanca, with its deep ochre buildings and grandeur!
In the bar Cuzco the man was exceptionally friendly, and though expensive, I waited out the pouring rain with wifi and red wine to warm my insides, stepping out onto the gleaming streets 2. 5 hours later.
Later I wandered around and here are some of the great sights.
Via de la Plata Camino, day 13 (Mérida to Ourense). Tuesday 3 April 2018.
Last night we had sorted out the boiler, which fused the lights at top setting but gave out wonderfully hot water after several hours at a lower one. The rain and wind continued all night, the shutter irregularly banging to wake us at intervals, and it was a dreary start. The albergue was freezing as we two dressed, and the cafe was shut so no breakfast (there being no kitchen at the hostel).
It was a very straightforward journey though, through Monterubbio de la Sierra to Morille.
There were more pigs along the way, and men working in the street. Up and down roads we went in conversation for 5 kms, and then walked apart in blessed silence for the further 7.
The weather brightened eventually and the raindrops dried on my specs. It was sheep farming again after days of dairy country.
The Morille albergue: nice and bright in the upper room but open-plan so the one small heater was insufficient. Between us we moved the bunks across the opening to the further chamber and draped the coloured duvets over to keep out the draughts. There was hot water 🙂 and although there were also places to sit, it was so cold that they were impossible to use. Ditto, the fridge was unnecessary at this time, but a stove would have been amazing to make tea on. The cost: 6 euros. The smaller hostel was shut – only this larger one was open. When we arrived all the bars were shut until 12 noon. I had my credential stamped at the bar and paid later. The village has no phone lines: I think I understood from her Spanish that a bull damaged the line but…!
Everyone was at work in Salamanca, 20 kms away. There was a seemingly deserted village school and the townsfolk had made a great effort to rebuild and smarten up the place. As in the previous pueblo, in this village there is a travelling shop but today I missed it (Pedrosilla blog). A most helpful woman in her housecoat helped us find the place.
Via de la Plata Camino – Day 12 (Mérida to Ourense). Monday 2 April 2018. 18 kms.
I slept in the upper room of the lovely hostel in Fuenterroble and two others joined us three from the crowded dormitory downstairs during the night to avoid the snoring.
Breakfast was amazing – an Easter Monday special maybe.
It was a flat walk today through Holm Oak woods. I started with Marie Noelle but we soon parted company to walk alone.
A plane left its noise behind it; there were more pigs. I had decided not to walk a very long way (over 30kms) so I took a right at the Dueño de Abajo when the others went left.
The young cows were orangey red and they played Grandmothers Footsteps with me: first running away when I walked and then freezing, all in a crowd (about 30 of them), when I turned round.
It was wide open countryside and I spent a great deal of time reviewing my dream of the night before – very powerful.
There was rain coming judging by the wind and the feel in the air. One becomes attuned to the changes when outside all the time.
The sound of an engine seemed to be connected to the blunt, cut-off tree stumps – also revealing strong orange at the wounds.
Chaffinches with softer apricot belly were swooping and there were some grey cows wandering, activating their sonorous bells.
It was getting cold and wet by the time I arrived at Pedrosilla and I went to the bar, as directed, to indicate the keys to the albergue municipal, the council hostel. It was devoid of any heating, dirty and musty-smelling, so when Benito came along he joined me in the bar where there was wi-fi and warmth.
The family-run bar was excellent. The youngest daughter (of 9!) was there with her mother and various relatives; her sister ran the joint when she was away in Paris working as a TV producer. She cooked a wonderful tortilla for us and chatted away, ‘twenty to the dozen’ as they say, telling us about her life and that of the others. There is no shop in Pedrosilla although there is a mobile one which happened by at the right moment and charged me 6 plus euros for a tub of lettuce, one mandarin and a banana!)
Nuria made a long afternoon/evening, in a village which had no any other entertainment, and where the weather was almost entirely terrible, most enjoyable.
Note: Something has gone wrong with my WordPress making it impossible to load photos using the usual method, so some of these are elongated for some reason, and all smaller than usual. For which I apologise.
1 April, April Fool’s Day and Easter Sunday 2018. Day 11. Via de la Plata Camino, Spain.
There was a good breakfast provided at the communal table, but I had enough of my own and wanted to eat it so it did not need to be carried. Most of the others seemed to be enjoying a good spread. T’ai Chi that morning in the lee of the mountains, with the full moon still strong in the sky, was inspiring.
After a false start when I had to go back for my baton, I made my way through the very ancient village and out into the countryside along what might have been an old railway between pollarded trees – the first I had seen here.
There were cows everywhere: black ones on the left – mum grazing and her newborn calf souking; beige / white on the other. The white snowy mountains were ever present when I looked back, walking happily alone. What a wonderful morning! We walked into the region of Castilla y León.
I watched for a while as the young bovine, on their long spindly legs, geared themselves up to jump across the stream; I admired the bright white ones still with the tufty cord sticking out under their bellys, and all fluffy. I realise now that lots of the females have impressive horns, but in this bullfighting country how was I to know when put on the spot a few days ago?!
I mused on my topic of the last few months: the balance between a solitary and a social life. I set out from Mérida eleven days ago expecting the same quiet experience I had had when walking from Seville the previous May. Instead I found a great camino ‘family’ (as people like to call it) forever changing its members but, warm and supportive. With them around, one rarely loses one’s way or dines all alone. On the other hand, there is hardly the chance to meditate in peace; one has to politely refuse company when setting out in the morning if silence is required; and all-in-all it’s profoundly communal and not at all the solitary wandering of the historical pilgrim which I have enjoyed over the past year.
Today’s plant: catkins, at the early spiky stage.
They use natural stone for fence pillars here compared to further down in the valley.
I remind myself that I must stay alert and look for the details of the journey, the arrows. I come across a bridge very similar to one in Kent. Later there is a really helpful, home-made railing to help the hikers across the flooding, but for me the stones are too far apart!
It took me two hours instead of one to get to Valverde de Valdelacasa – I walked slowly, paying attention to touching the the tip of my stick on the ground very gently, taking photos and notes etc. But, then, no, it turned out that I had misunderstood the book. I was not behind-time after all.
My feet were throbbing; the birds were trilling; and Alsatians were being walked as I made the long, uphill trek into the village.
Benito was already there, tapping on the window as I went by (I had meant to walk on), and the bar was just opening after what must have been a riotous night.
If you walk this camino, make sure you go straight on at the roundabout along the road. I was able to change into my shorts as the sun warmed up.
Here were big black pigs in a very plain enclosure; there, quarries and multiple farm buildings. The land was all beautifully ploughed and ready for sowing.
The paved road was hard on my feet so I lay down on the prickly ground, my back against a rock, and was sung to by cattle and birds and tickled by insects and it smelled sweetly of disturbed earth and nearby flowers. Even a large yellow butterfly flew by me, like an angel.
There was not one car or person on the next stretch although much later a tractor and finally a yellow arrow heralding the near end of my walk.
What an amazing albergue. It is a religious community, looking after the flock when the priest is away tending to his seven other parishes. They take great care, the people who live there, some long-term, some shorter; and the food and accommodation is excellent. Particularly as it is a donativo hostel it you pay for what you think it is worth / you can afford.
March 31st 2018 10 kms 2. 5 hours then a bus to Béjar and a shared taxi (6.5 euros each) to Calzada de Béhar.
At the large hostal in the centre of the busy town, I had a couple of very interesting conversations with an Irishman, and an Englishman who lives near me in a Fife forest, both of whom are wild campers and walking with tents etc. This is something I have been thinking about for a while as it eliminates the need for finding a free bed every night. (See yesterday’s blog for a good example of how hard it can be unusual but worth knowing about if you are considering walking the Via de la Plata).
The dormitories are warm and the kitchen well equipped. It was swarming with peregrinos I had seen before and so was a friendly place to be.
After the escapades of the day before, I set off as usual, walking to Balneario which was all along the road.
Once there, I immediately saw the sign to the terma, the hot baths, and thought that would be a lovely treat but…
I entered a bar to find my companions already partaking of their morning coffee. One said he was staying behind to visit and after telephoning the hostel we were heading for, both for myself and 3 others because I spoke the most Spanish, I decided to stay as well.
The Roman baths were booked up ahead of time (this was the Saturday of Easter weekend and very busy with tourists) but the kind woman at the desk showed us around.
Then we went over the road to the modern baths and took advantage of the Pilgrim Discount (4 euros) for a leisurely swim and laze around on loungers, with a huge blue bathrobe thrown in for good measure. It was a small pool with one fountain and the only others present were a family with 2 young daughters, so reminiscent of my own in days gone by. I had a good sleep and after an hour and a half my feet were barely aching at all. Wonderful. (They are open until lunchtime and then reopen later in the day. )
We had a nice meal back at the bar (he had salad with orange and goats cheese; I had salad with gulas and prawns which turned out, despite my thinking it was a seafood salad by the title on the menu, to be sprinkled with thousands of tiny pieces of bacon which I laboriously separated from every mouthful before I ate it.)
Note to self: always check for the presence of meat before ordering!
The town is beautiful, tucked right in under the mountains and, on account of its height, very windy.
We managed to find a sunny corner to wait for the bus, before being driven to Béhar (only two buses that day at 12-something and 5pm) – an idea which the Tourist Information adviser had come up with. He said we could walk from there. It was lovely and warm and we wound our way up, higher and higher, through spectacular scenery, to the main town of this region, on the edge of Extremadura.
Once again we visited the Tourist Information and discovered it was further than we we had been led to believe and, it being close to the evening, my companion suggested we take a taxi – ending what was essentially a rest-day, which after all was day 10 and so a sensible time to take it.
Camino friends had already arrived at the albergue after a very steep climb, and the hospitaleros were most accommodating. There is a a garden overlooking the wonderful scenery, and loud music coming from a closed outbuilding which I was told the next day was where they were training horses to dance.
There were two very large sittings for the evening meal which consisted, for us vegetarians, of salad, omelette and flan. The usual, but all cooked on the premises and delicious.
Leaving Galisteo was a long process. I attempted to follow my book and ended up taking a yellow arrow which was a red herring!
It was a beautiful morning but after a steep descent and re-climbing, an hour later I was back where I started. So if you stay at the Pension El Parador, remember you are already on the Camino and only need to take a left out of the front door, walk across the Roman Bridge, then straight across at the first roundabout, right at the second and you are off.
What a very hard day! 11 hours on the road, including two mistaken detours.
I walked along a road with no pavement for ages until I got to Carcaboso where I happily stopped at a bar and sat in the sun with my cortado.
Then I took the recommended right fork. I could see inviting-looking countryside to my right and left but I was on the road. Still. With very poor signposting. I did enjoy the toads jumping into a brook and today’s flower – what I think is the field lupin.
Then an old man stopped his car for a chat and told me that, no Carcaboso was ahead! I had actually just passed through Aldehuala del Jerte (Jerte is the name of the river).
When I did get into Carcaboso it was obvious!
I followed the Way past the Iglesia de Santiago and a tiny sign on the wall showing left. It seemed to be a dead-end but, if you are going to do this after me (while the road works are there), do keep going, following the odd indication and then you will be out of the town in no time.
I stopped at the Three Crosses and rested, people-watching. I read the poem on the sign beside the bench, for ‘every Friday’ and reflected that it was especially apt for today as it was Good Friday. My feet were aching so I took my boots off, renewed the plasters, trooped over the little bridge knowing I had 4 or 5 more hours to go and that the rain clouds looked ominous.
At the bus shelter style tourist information, I took a left and found the ‘Bombay’ sign as indicated in my book. (Vía de la Plata and the Camino Sanabrés by Gerald Kelly. He is a renowned author and walker but Do Not get an out of date copy as things change really quickly.)
The noisy geese cheered me on; the raptors glided and wheeled overhead; fences made of barbed wire and a variety of sticks including Ash with black buds were on either side; bulrushes at the cotton-wool stage; derelict buildings; lots of gates and trolling uphill.
I saw what they mean by ‘cow’s lick’ as the fur at the front of the cows’ faces is in a pretty whorl; there were donkeys (I heard them though the night too) and I was happily traipsing in the middle nowhere.
I was reflecting that there was no point in thinking of going quickly or getting there faster as it is impossible, one must just live through it, even if it does start raining or your feet hurt.
New here is a good idea: start a pole exchange at airports now that it can be impossible to bring them through security.
Up and down I went, wondering if I had made another mistake. Yes, I had! It was a very long way to retrace my steps: at least an hour. A really bad mistake given it was already well into the afternoon.
Basic advice: only go when you see the signs; if there are none, keep going straight; and where there are two blocks of light grey polished stone, one with a yellow square in plastic on it and one with a blue/green one, ignore the latter.
It was so beautiful, like a Garden of Eden, but I was really, really tired and I did not know how far it would go on. Far, it turned out. Through Holm Oak trees; along stony paths; with large insects (for the first time) flying around my head); and amidst cows with scary looking horns I went until I eventually got to the road and tuned right for Oliva de Plasencia.
Then it was a long walk on tarmac – one and a half hours – until I reached the village. The wind howled and the rain rained.
The albergue was full and the woman shouted that I should have reserved my bed in advance. I had in fact phoned approximately 17 times that day, and showed her the record on my phone, but she had not picked up. The other hostel was also full (it is also run by her). And so was the one miles away which she angrily gave me the number for. People walking around the village tutted and tried to help a little. It was nearly dark.
So I went to the church – after all it was Good Friday and I had read that Spanish people are very fond of pilgrims and very generous in their hospitality.
After a long time during which I sat, exhausted, while it started to rain, someone phoned the priest who said I could not stay in the church but in the porch (I knew it was due to snow that night and was already two degrees so that was impossible). No-one was prepared to offer me a floor or sofa, though I said I could pay. A kind woman phoned and discovered there was one bed left at a hostel in Aldeanueva and another couple then took me there in the car. What a mess.
I guess I should not have gone there if I did not know there was a space, but it is a very unusual situation and the men and women who helped me said that he woman who ran the places was not following Tourist Association rules. The day before, I learned later, a fellow walker did the same thing because he, like me, did not want to walk more than 25 kms that day and this village seemed to offer an alternative.
It was pouring by the time they very kindly deposited me at the city albergue and I was greeted by backpackers I knew. It was warm and had all that I needed. I am very grateful to the people who helped me.