Camino Portuguese da Costa – Day 13, October 1st 2019
Leaving Caldas de Reis
Caldas means hot springs and although a foot fountain was right outside my hostel, there was no encouragement to bathe mine as they dissuade you for hygene reasons.
There is a Bishop’s mitre on the door and otherwise I cannot find out what the connection is between St Thomas a Becket and Caldas de Reis – although of course he may have made pilgrimage here.
Further down the road were clumps of pink lillies growing wild on the banks like the lupins do in Scotland along the motorway between Edinburgh and Perth.
There are many such places to be found along the paths of the Caminos de Santiago.
Pontecesures (on the way)
Just before crossing the River Ulla, on the right at a corner (if I remember correctly) is the place in the above photo. With makeshift furniture and varying quality of food, it is a somewhere to sit out of the sun and get refreshments. It appears to be donativo, but the maitre d’ expected payment and it was obviously a rather random affair. He was not chatty with me, but did serve up the ‘last’ bowl of vegetarian stew (it came recommended). He took a liking to the young couple who came in later, but sent another man who asked questions, packing! The flags and the individual nature of this place reminded me of Manjarín on the Camino Frances.
After crossing the bridge at Ponte(bridge)cesures and climbing up the other side in full, hot sun, the path took me along the banks of the River Ulla towards the San Antonio (St Anthony’s) Monastery of Herbón.
This time I did not bathe as I was keen to get a bed for the night in the monastery on the opposite bank.
I was pushing myself (not great for the still-painful foot) because of spening time over lunch and knowing that there is always competition to get a bed at the Herbón Monastery. I passed a couple who were clearly needing some ‘romantic’ time by the river. They were in no hurry to get there before me.
It was nice and warm and there was plenty to see (photos below). People came to join the line, but were too late and left again – it was a little way into Padrón because it is a detour to get here.
The young couple sauntered in after quite a while, but were too late and went off again.
There were others with injuries far worse than mine. A small group decided to leave, calling a taxi, whereupon exactly the same number arrived late (after others had already turned away) and so they found that there were spaces for them. It just goes to show!
Eventually, after a light shower, we were let in and welcomed by the volunteers. It was very efficient. The accomodation was in small cubicles of two bunks each, ranged along a corridor. (That’s my mess on the bottom bunk!)
After a break in which I spent time meditating in the sun, we were taken on a tour of the chapel, cloisters and other parts of the building. This is practically compulsory and very interesting. The monks were missionaries, sent overseas to spread the word of God, and those left at home ran a school on the premises.
The large garden sports vineries (there is no-one to keep them going now, sadly), kitchen garden (partly in use, as far as I could see), water which has been tested and found to have lots of minerals in it so is truly healing, and various levels and attractive sections making it really interesting.
To reward us for such a long guided tour and talk, we were given a good meal (included in the 6 euro price) around long canteen tables and there was a lovely atmosphere there.
Note: There is always a decent vegetarian option at the shared meals on the Caminos
Camino Portuguese da Costa – Days 7 and 8, September 25th – 27th 2019
La Guarda / A Guarda, Galicia, Spain
La Guarda is in Spain, even though it is a town on the Portuguese Camino. I was happy to be back in Galicia, one of my favourite parts of Spain. I should have liked to see the Celtic hill fort and village of Castro de Santa Trega which connects with Scottish history (I live in Edinburgh) on the top of the hill that La Guarda sits beside, but I was not comfortably ambulant.
In the morning, I walked a short way (30 minutes, 2 kilometers) from the Albergue Municipal in La Guarda where I had spent the night, to visit the churches, but it was a strain and took me much longer than it should have. As a result of the pain in my foot, I decided to turn back and take a different route.
The two churches (above and below) are almost next to each other and I was the only one there. A few people were on their way to work and school, on the main road, and the churches were closed as they always are unless there is a service on. However, I admired their grandeur and solidity, the Santuario de San Roque having seen many pilgrims over the centuries.
Then I rested for 20 minutes and took the bus. It runs from Salcidos to Tui (get off / on near Repsol gas station (estacion de servicio) on N-550) regularly and takes around an hour. This was the second day that I could not walk, something that had, thankfully, never happened to me before, and it was very hard to accept. The journey took me through urban areas with grey stone buildings boasting elegant balustrades around the windows, along the northern side of the River Miño, and deposited me opposite some public gardens bright with bougainvillea and sporting a grand metal statue of cantering horses, the Monumento al Caballo Salvaje.
Tui is a busy city, full of hustle and bustle and with all facilities you could possible need. There is an excellent market, with cafes and shops galore. Not far from the Albergue is a friendly eating place / hostel (Albergue Ideas Peregrinas – not the cheapest, but with a European atmosphere and great, healthy breakfasts, including vegan food), and that is opposite one selling crêpes, and so on…! All tastes are catered for and many people holiday here even if they are not hiking. There is an extensive Natural Park to the north west with hills, Monte Aloia, for excellent views of Baiona, Vigo and the whole region.
I picked up a copy of Jim Crace’s The Melody in the hostel the night before and made the most of my enforced resting time to have a good read. Described as a meditation on grief, it connects with all my recent writing on the subject – there’s no such thing as a coincidence!
I was early into the town from La Guarda and encountered a difficulty: the hospitalera behind the reception at the hostel was talking animatedly to a gentleman who was lounging nearby. On seeing me, she launched into an attack on pilgrims who pretend to be walking, but actually must have come by public transport because they would never, otherwise, have arrived by this time. She laughed, he laughed, they compared notes and got increasingly irate about such behaviour.
I was dying to get the weight off my back and feet, and trying to explain in Spanish that I had not done this before, but had no choice with my foot pain. She ridiculed me and said I shouldn’t be carrying such a heavy load. It was most upsetting and as I became distressed she started to shout, saying that she wasn’t being nasty, just that ….
It is true that the municipal Xunta (the Galician council) albergues are for the pilgrims and that, increasingly, people are either not carrying their own packs or are taking buses and trains some or all of the way. It may have been an external voice, too, uttering the very words which I was hearing inside my head, and been part of my having to come to terms with being human and not always strong. Anyway, I said I would go away and then she started calming down and took me through the familiar process: passport check, credential stamp, payment (cash), and bedding. I was shaken.
It is a large hostel with solid wooden bunks. Although there is a sitting area where you can eat inside at the back, the kitchen is across the little garden and so I sat there for my tea as the sun set and it cooled down.
You can see the beautiful cloisters and internal gardens of the Santa María Cathedral de Tui in the photos on their website.
The tourist information is also in San Fernando Square and the staff are extremely helpful and kind there.
Tui to Mos
It is 25 kilometers to Mos and even though I had rested up for 2 days (well, a lot less walking than usual), it was too far, so I took a bus part of the way and trekked the rest (only 8 kilometers) to see whether I could manage. It was such a beautiful day and I was so happy to be on my feet again under the blue sky.
I am walking along the Via Romana XIX linking Braga and Astorga, enjoying listening to the birds and smelling the countryside after being in towns for the last few days. Sometimes the signs are hidden amongst pink roses. In the distance the open fields are empty now after harvest.
There is a native, milky coloured drink called horchata de chufa or horchata de Valencia which is the region where I first came across it. It is made from the tubers of the nutsedge (not the type in the photo above). (Thank you to floral_uk on the ‘name that plant’ forum of houzz.com for this information). It is similar to a Mexican version except that the latter is made from rice, not this sedge.
Mos, Galicia (Redondela Region)
I stayed at the Casa Blanca hostel near the Santa Baia church where I sat in the evening. The albergue is new with a bar that serves ice cream and snacks, and there is a restaurant oppostite which cooks wonderful Padron peppers and does breakfast as well as evening meals. The accommodation is in a separate building and all are situated on quite a hill. There is a coin-operated washing machine and I shared a load with others after much negotiation, however there is not enough room to hang the clothes to dry outside and, anyway, it was already cold at night so my things had to come in at bed time to avoid being damp by morning.
I went up looking for a fruit and veg shop. Instead, I saw a man on the top of a ladder picking grapes who told me I had gone in the wrong direction. On the way back down a woman pulled up in her car and spoke to me in French. She took me through to the back of her gradmother’s house (derelict) into the stepped garden full of fruit trees and picked figs. We stood and chatted over these juicy fruits and then she introduced me to her husband. He filled my shopping bag with massive bunches of black grapes for sharing with the other pilgrims back at the hostel. I laid them on large fig leaves in the self-catering kitchens for folk to help themselves.
The Algarve of Portugal, the southernmost region, is best known for its beaches, and spectacular they truly are.
However, there is a wealth of interest inland too, with small villages in the foothills and spread along rivers, all linked together with expanses of citrus orchards and olive groves, random whitewashed properties with terracotta rooves, and a not inconsiderable bus / road / rail network making touring a manageble and enjoyable experience.
I arrived in Faro (capital of the Algarve) by bus from Seville (and before that from the north of Spain). The bus (Terminal Rodovario) and train (trem) stations are a few minutes walk away from each other so I was able to amble from one to the other to comare prices.
Tavira, to the east, was my first stop and you can get there by both modes of transport: train is quicker (30 minutes), but more expensive, and buses (taking 1 hour) seem to be more often. This website is an excellent source of information.
There are two bus stops in Tavira: Porta Nova and Tavira, but you must stipulate which destination when buying your ticket (always buy in advance), as they are slightly different prices.
There seem to be two sides to Tavira: the old town and the newer developments (above) where lots of the ex-pats live. Most people I speak to really like this place and there is not only a lot to see, but good beaches and good countryside restaurants nearby as well if you have a car, so no wonder it is popular. For cyclists and walkers, it is a great setting-off point – there is a network of cycle routes and you can now walk from Tavira to Santiago de Compostella. The locals are geared up to having vistors around all the time and are courteous and understanding, speaking excellent English.
This beautiful square has lots of cafes and restaurants where you can sit outside and enjoy the leafy view.
Pedras del Rei
The Tavira area was the first place I ever went abroad when I was a young teenager with my parents. It was memorable for a number of reasons, not least the trip to the beach which was reached by a little train and boat. When I accepted Tracy’s kind invitation, I had no (conscious) idea that her new place was near this early holiday destination, so you can imagine my pleasure when I was taken for a late afternoon walk only to be faced with a sign saying Pedras del Reí. The memories came flooding back!
Praia do Barril
I also visited the beach across from Fábrica and the small village of Cacela Velha, both located in the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Like much of the coast in this area, the beach is situated on a spit of land which is separated from the mainland by a strip of water, so we took a boat across.
Casela Velha – beach and village
Cacela Velha is a small village in the parish of Vila Nova da Cacela on a hillside next to the Ria Formosa, between Tavira and the town of Monte Gordo.
From there I returned by car to Faro airport (thanks to Tracy and David, wonderful hosts), and took a bus to Albufeira. The posters at the bus stop do not all contain truthful information as far as I could tell, so careful!
Many thanks to the folk on the houzz.com plant forum for help with plant identification
Via de la Plata Camino – Day 21 (Montamarta to Tábara). Tuesday 10 April 2018. 27.5 kms.
I took the Camino Sanabrés rather than passing back through places on the Camino Francés (Astorga etc) which I had visited the year before.
There was a small village strung out along the road, not so far from Tábara, with a cafe. I sat on the bridge and sunbathed – it was glorious.
Once I got going again it started to rain and I stopped, de-rucksacked and covered up. Then there was a rumble and a thunder and it got dark. The lorries were roaring past and spraying and I was ducking in and out of the ditch at the side of the road to avoid it when there was a fork of lightning at my left shoulder. I have never been so close. I wondered what I should do. Looking around there was nothing and nobody – just trees. I did think perhaps the metal batons weren’t such a good idea, but I couldn’t exactly abandon them and they had rubber handles and tips to earth me. I hoped. (Two days afterwards I met up with the American women and one of them did throw her sticks into the fields because she said she was so scared of being struck.)
Then the hail started and brought about a total landscape transformation.
It did stop eventually and on and on I went, every part of every mile seeming an age. I was very wet, too sopping to be able to get the map book out. Then again, there was only the one road to choose from.
There was a service station on the outskirts of Tábara and I stumbled in to get some cover and ask for directions to the albergue. There was pandemonium in there because the electric storm had shut down the till and no-one could pay for their petrol. I waited with heaviness on my back and realised how exhausted and hungry I was. And I waited.
In the end, I did something I have never done before: I took a chocolate bar off the shelf, sunk to the ground, sat with my legs splayed out in front of me like a rag doll, and devoured it without paying for it first. It was wholly necessary.
To my horror it was a further 30 minutes walk to the hostel and I had thought I was at the complete end of my energy. Hey, I simply had to find more.
It was uphill and a very long road, and just as I was despairing that it would not end, there was a shriek and who should I see coming towards me but Marie-Noelle and her smile, someone I had not seen for several days. She gave me a big and welcome hug on her way to the bar.
There were 10 people round the table drinking wine and eating simple fare. Some I had met before, some I had not, each of us from a different country, and of course we made ourselves understood – a true camino experience at the end of a most trying day.
Via de la Plata Camino – Day 20 (Zamora to Montamarta). Monday 9 April 2018. 19 kms.
There was a deal of road walking on this leg of the journey.
Here are predominantly photos as the notes app on my phone failed and all were lost despite it promising to back-up. Aim: to find a way to reinstate it!
Walkers, be careful soon after leaving Zamora, because there are arrows off to the left to the Portuguese camino!
The owners of the private hostel Tio Bartolo also have a bar and work at the Covitan supermarket where you get the keys. It looks good in the photos and was recommended by the hospitaliere in Zamora, but I picked up some sort of infection walking barefoot on their floors. There were two American women and myself in the large dormitory under the roof, and we huddled in our beds and in our sleeping bags (there were blankets available). The weak, free-standing heaters which the landlady found us because all our clothes were wet, shorted the electric circuit and anyway, when the husband discovered she had given them to us (because he had to come and switch things back on) he shouted and swore and took them away. There were people in the small rooms downstairs who paid much more than we did (15 euros including breakfast which was left in the cupboards by the long-suffering wife and was not up to much at all).
Hostels and facilities
There are many facilities in Montamarta including a municipal albergue which had been shut for a while and opened the night I was there, but I had been told it was closed so didn’t try to find it. It is now rennovated and had good reports from the people I spoke to the day afterwards. There were two others mentioned in my book – El Bruñedo and El Asturiano – neither of which were open.
I had decided to go to Montamarta because otherwise it was a very long day (33 kms I think) and the pains I had been having in my feet dissuaded me from such a trek. I found a bar that wasn’t owned by the proprietor, on the main road, and charged my phone. The waitress was very kind, but it wasn’t somewhere I could stay long.
That was a really low few hours, and I used Facebook to send out a message to my friends, ‘Should I just go home?’ Some said yes, some no! I kept on going. And you know what? It got a whole lot worse the next day – in a different sort of way!!
‘But my business is unlearning, not learning, and I’ll change with the world but I won’t change it.’ from Ursula le Guinn’s Left Hand of Darkness.
Via de la Plata Camino – Day 16 (Mérida to Ourense). Friday 6 April 2018. 20 kms.
I am walking in Castilla y Léon and this part is very flat with a deal of road. The albergue in Calzada de Valdunciel is on the opposite side of the town, making it very simple and quick to find the way out in the dark.
‘Lodging facilities were generally provided outside the city walls to enable travellers to come and go after the gates of the town were shut at night’. The Pilgrimage to Santiago, Edwin Mullins.
The long straight path was not overly attractive but as the sun rose, everything changed colour, even the barbed wire fence took on a precious shine.
I came across a small forest of teasal, all turned towards the sun. They stood tall and prickly in the light, old and brown but glowing at the same time. I have never seen so many of them at once. Perhaps because I knew I would be walking past a prison later in the day, they reminded me of inmates pressed against the boundary fence (there was not enough light to take a photo).
Opposite the sun, in the same cobalt sky, was less than half a lint moon, a wafer-thin gauze of a slither. Where the warmth had not reached it, the grass was still stiff with the haw frost.
I followed the footprints of the people who had gone before me until a significant detour due to flooding. I was under a motorway bridge and the warning signs were easy to see except they were back-to-front, so first I took the left fork, met with the un-passable path and retraced my steps. Then it was not easy- arrows everywhere – and it was counter-intuitive winding back and over where I had already been. It seems that this diversion has been there a long time.
Soon it was lovely and warm. Straight, straight on, cars rushing past and I somehow missed Huelmos, the only pueblo between setting off and my destination. Shame about the sore feet. This type of stage often seems much further than it actually is, but I revelled in the wild flowers: the same selection from last week. I had hardly seen any since then and I wondered if the wheat spraying was responsible for the lack of them.
This time the accomodation, a private hostel, was just off the first road I came to on entering El Cubo, sort of round the back and next to what looked like a derelict area. It had a spacious garden surrounding it and those strips of plastic hanging in front of the front door.
As there was no answer I phoned and the owner appeared very quickly, offering me a welcome beer. The books say people are welcome to pop in for a drink and a seat – a nice idea that I had not come across before. As I sun-bathed, I remembered that I had forgotten to leave a donation at the Salamanca donativo hostel and resolved to ‘pass it forward’, as the cyclist from Malta who came briefly by for a coke and to fix his bike, suggested.
Later I went into the village to buy my tea and next day’s breakfast. Two women sitting on a bench outside their house pointed me in the right direction. I am now familiar with shops which are in apparently residential dwellings. In Edinburgh it is the opposite – many of the old shops have been made into homes. White doves flew up from the church.
Being private, there was no pilgrim’s kitchen but the retired owners allowed us to sit at the table alongside the others who were eating the supper provided. There were six of us including a young couple who are walking the camino, weekend by weekend, travelling by car from home on Friday nights, to the start of each stage, walking for two days, and then returning to their vehicle on the Sunday night for work the next day. It was a really enjoyable meal and the wine flowed freely – a delicious local white for the starter, red for the main – which I was (happily) encouraged to sample.
I was still meeting up with the duo from Seuil regularly. They always cater for themselves, being on a strict (almost impossible) budget, and the youngest is an avid footballer (he played for Rennes when he was younger) so despite walking every day, he goes out for football practice every evening – E, his ‘accompanying adult’, is consequently improving his moves!
They also washed our clothes for two euros, and there was plenty of hanging space in the garden. Unfortunately, having bought almost all of my stuff in before the storm except my double-layer socks which dry very slowly, I left them out all night. I padded out in bare feet through the puddles in the early hours when I remembered, but it was too late for them to dry for wearing that day.
I had a rather luxurious night: although I was in a shared room and had arrived first, picking the less expensive bunk, the whole establishment was full by 8pm and I was moved to a double bed – presumably because I was the matriach!!
Via de la Plata Camino, day 15 from Salamanca to Calzada de Valdunciel (on the Mérida to Ourense section). Thursday 5 April 2018. 15 kms?
I woke really early and crept out of the female dorm where I slept with 2 others. I had been warned that walking out of Salamanca would be frustrating, and it was. The start was straightforward: to Plaza Major, then onwards, the roads getting wider and more industrial as I went. But then there is a left; straight on at a supermarket (Carrefour); a hotel which would not let me use their toilets; a stadium which I crouched behind as a result; and motorway roundabouts. No paths nor pavements: terrible. I even saw a man spitting which although it is very common in Britain, I had never seen before here in Spain.
However, I could not help but be elated with the lovely buildings and the sunlight, even if it was mixed with frustration at getting the rucksack comfy, trudging along thinking about past relationships and sorting things out in my mind.
Finally there was a clay camino by the motorway and despite the ice on the ground it was starting to warm up.
I was getting a very different feeling from people in this part of the country: in the bars they were polite but gave us half a glass compared to the Spanish, and charged more; on the street, on the other hand, people were kindness itself, helping with directions despite my beginners Spanish.
For a while I walked amidst the green and earth – the plough had created gracious curves around the hills. Then more by road – I thought, ‘You must be joking’, but the challenge was to stay quiet inside and enjoy what was there. It worked! Very soon I was back off-road, and from then on it was a smooth, flat and ochre-coloured path.
Yesterday I walked in one long stretch of countryside with nothing to break it up, offering a chance to do a walking meditation. Today it was warmer and there were little hops from village to village and there was the spire of a church ahead in Aldeaseca de la Almuña. It was a square bell tower with a shallow triangular roof and a little blob of stork on its nest on top.
I passed one of the women I had seen the previous night. She was sitting outside a village supermarket having a quiet smoke. I chose a lovely wee shop round the corner, full of delights such as an unexpectedly wide range of perfume as well as the sweet things I was ready for even though only it was only 11am.
There was a tiny arrow between the church and the medical centre but I only saw it when I went back in and the shop-keeper pointed it out. There was a sign that the library bus visits on Mondays. I exited past the sunshine yellow play-park.
I admitted to myself (after my experience near Lake Tajo) that I am somewhat nervous of meeting single men on the outskirts of towns, and at the next village sure enough there was a car which went slowly. He hooted and later approached me, but it was fine – I walked on, did not look at or answer him, and he got the message.
There were new tulips out, a hoopoe saying bou bou bou, and wood pigeons coo cooing. Luckily my book said to walk on the right side of the road, and there was a path between the trees although I did not see the arrows. Later I discovered that others had continued along the road, and I was happy that for once I had found the gentler way.
Although in this flat land there are not a lot of places to snuck down for a pee!
Oh the sweet peeping of the small brown bird with a white belly! I had never seen the vino tinto-coloured catkins before: they were all over the ground.
Then, another first, I had to take my boots off and wade through the water which was blocking the way.
I crossed the very busy main road once more, using the motorists’ signs to help me: there are far fewer arrows in this region, though there are the more modern Castilla y León pillars encompassing a variety of directions. Here there were the same miniscule scarlet succulents growing in the gravel which were all over Extremadura. I was walking beside what you might call a posh housing estate, along a smaller road parallel to the A-one, into Castellanos de Villiquera. (The Valencia one I went to has security guards on call 24 hrs a day)
There were glimpses of turquoise swimming pools through hedges and I wondered for the 100th time, why I walk. We have forgotten the way people used to walk from town to village if they did not have a horse/cart. My favourite parts of the film Captain Corelli’s Mondolin are when the people wend their way out of the village down that zig-zag road, taking their time and following tradition. Now I hear that in America you are advised not to go on foot at all in some cities. I am fascinated by the quietness of this mode of transport, not for the sake of a romantic revisiting of a lost era but because it feels better. I see and hear more. If I am not in a hurry (as I was for the first 50 years of my life it seemed), then there is somehow more time for my soul to catch up with my body.
A woman beats a mat outside her house; in contrast the small tweety birds flutter their wings like hovver flies. A racing 3-year-old spaniel, wet from leaping through young wheat, and her owner (approximately 80 years old) stop to say, aren’t you cold? I said no, not after 15 kms, and we had a nice chat. He wished me a Buen Camino when we parted ways. It seems to be a very popular pastime for the retired, walking on the outskirts.
No-one overtook me today. I suspect the two men who left earlier are going for 30 kms or so. Planning each day involves looking at the distance between hostels and taking any main towns into account. It is certainly tempting to go further, and this is a topic of very regular debate both in my head and with others, but today’s tricky 60 kms to Zamora can be comfortably divided into 16, 23 and 21 which is much more relaxed.
I traipse through Calzada de Valdunciel, right to the other side, past a wall where there is an oficina virtual de turismo ie, not real people, but a digital tourist information. And arrive at a 12-bed, cute little albergue which shares a wall with a noisy metal-cutting factory (blessedly, they take a long lunch break!).
I am there first and although deserted, the door is open. One-by-one the others arrive: the 2 men from Seuil who I have been getting to know for a few days, came first, followed by others who looked and decided to move on, and, finally, the woman I saw that morning and she had to be turned away because by then we were full. There is a little kitchen with a stove and a string of (what turns out to be plastic) garlic. And a little bedside table.
Later I took a turn around the streets and met the same woman for the fourth time. I discovered that she was waiting for an ambulance outside that supermarket because she had come over all giddy. I had noticed her having coca cola and coffee for breakfast in Salamanca before her cigarette, so when she said she did not know why she had felt so ill we had a chat about it. Much later I got to know her well and heard her story. There is always a story.
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.
Very sadly I forgot to take my swimming costume off the washing line the next morning.
23rd May 2017. Via de la Plata camino walk, Spain. Day 8: Villafranca de los Barros to Torremejía, in the autonomous community of Extremadura, Badajoz province. 26 kms which should take a minimum of 6 hours with breaks.
I left Villfranca at 5.50am and it was darker than ever before. Once I had found my way out of town I was in open scrub land. There was the dawn at the edge of the world; the sky was blue, red and orange. I heard the sound of a lone cockerel, a white horse was just visible, and I smelled the faint odour of farm fertiliser.
There were orange lights already in the distance, and tractors passed me under the tiny, thin crescent moon. The dawn chorus was sounding: Oh, the sweet, sweet feathered melodies!
As I found my stride, my state of mind calmed. My pack was extra heavy with provisions, and my feet already hot, but the air was cool and I gave thanks for that. The dusty path was occasionally lit up by one or two red tail lights of farm vehicles. Then it went quiet. The flower buds were tightly shut.
The moment when the the sun finally rose was very exciting, and afterwards the opposite sky was a blank in comparison.
‘(Pilgrimage is) … walking in search of something intangible..’ p. 45Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit.
Some travellers write their blogs after getting back home, after the whole trip has ended, and I can see why; although the trekking itself does not take all day every day, so that you would think there was time enough in the evenings to write, I find that the attention needed to deal with practicalities, together with the attendant tasks of looking after the BodyMind, can take up a surprising amount of time and energy. On this journey I started posting my blogs daily, but gave up part way through.
I recently advised a prospective peregrino to leave books at home. That was partly due to the weight, but also because I do not read much when I am on a pilgrimage, and I do not see others reading around me. Fiction can transport you to another place, and many pilgrims believe that focussing on their spiritual goal is vital and do not want to be distracted.
‘…- and for pilgrims, walking is work.’ p. 45 Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit.
As I walked, I was reflecting: I could see that I have a tendency to set myself extra and unnecessary tasks. Yesterday I did some work for the business back home (perhaps thinking I was indispensible) and it transpired that it was a needless task. As I put one foot in front of another I could take note of such patterns and habits of mine.
To the east were hills like different sized piles of manure you will clear up later, whereas the other half of the globe was flat to the horizon, and the vineyards of the Ribeiro region a uniform blue. The arrows were easy to see, the backpack was no bother, but my feet were still calling my attention at times.
Not long after, the sun lit them up and I enjoyed the immaculately ploughed red soil between rows of vines.
Olives, with their stumpy wiggly trunks, stretched into infinity. One patch had solar panels and an extra crop of what might have been green alfalfa between the trees. The cordoned vines had thin little stems, perhaps because the wires were supporting them so they did not need to be stronger. I would like to know why some rows were planted north-south, and some east-west.
The sweet fennel and cow parsley smelled delicious. My skin remained cool, and it was brightening quickly. Other wild flowers competed with the blue of the sky, and there were His Master’s Voice horns of pink, common bindweed by the path.
Before I left the hostel, breakfast looked better than usual so I had paid for it, and consequently I was full of sugary energy. On the ground, my shadow was really tall; I thought it must be my alter ego which could reach things down from high shelves in the supermarket!
In the fields, today’s job was trimming the long tendrils, and other than those men working (an occasional conversation reached me), it was me, myself, I as far as the eye could see.
I liked the swirls in the earth at the ends of rows where the tractor had turned; hated the repetitive machinery noise to my left which source I could not see; and blocked my nose from the acrid, chemical smell I had been warned about.
I had also read that there was neither village nor water for the entire 26 kilometers, and I could believe it. I only had one litre of water and so knew that I would have to be careful not to drink too much too soon. Sadly, as I took the signposted turning, the noise got louder.
The tireder I got, the less time had passed since I last looked at my watch! Chemicals smelling like paint were being sprayed, so I tried to pick up pace, but my body had set its own rhythm. Tonight, I thought, I am drinking some wine!
By 8.40am I was no longer alone; there were four Italians in a group and another solitary man on the road. We moved at regular intervals from each other.
After almost three hours without a break, I was casting ahead for a tree throwing shade, but there was not one until 9.20. After a fifteen minute break, and having eaten my orange because full much needed fluids and was the heaviest (delicious it was), I deduced that we were barmy, the lot of us, walking so far in this heat!
I then passed the hat-wearing man sitting on a wee waymarker, and he said he was muy cansado (very tired). He added that we were half way. On I went.
A town with unusual looking farm buildings appeared. Ah! maybe wine vats. It looked like the outside edges of a huge swimming pool and I imagined it was full of grapes with barefooted people trampling around inside it. Do they actually do that these days? I then realised that could of course be sewage, which would be considerably less ‘romantic’.
Luckily, the actual smell was of newly cut branches and very fresh sap.
For some reason I suffered a lot of pains on and off, and I also started to feel the skin on my right arm and leg, the side where the sun was, getting that soon-to-be-burned feeling. To remedy it, I draped my magenta wrap over that side of me – that scarf sure does come in handy. (See my blog on what to pack in your rucksack).
Swifts zapped flies, zig-zagging across my view. Were those cordoned olives? If they were, then that would make for many more plants per acre than the row system, so it would certainly make financial sense, if the earth could sustain it.
I broke again at 10.45 for lunch under a tree, feet throbbing – it was so very hot. A pylon was crackling like a fire, indeed there was a smell of burning. As I ate I let my crumbs drop for the ants and watched one carry a huge piece away, picturing it arriving back home, saying ‘look what I got!’ When I got up, I noted that it was a messy business for the bottom, sitting on the earth like that. I restarted at 11am and, yes, there were a lot of little inexplicable, smouldering fires alight between the olive trees.
Towards the end of the day’s walk I spent a short period, only the second time in the past eight days, talking to someone as we went along. He was from Barcelona and was doing the camino to get away from his demanding family, he said. He assured me that despite the exhaustion, of course he wanted to keep on walking until he reached Salamanca (a further eleven days). Such determination!
At 1pm in a 31 degree heat, and after seven rather than six hours of walking, I arrived in Torremejía. (Put the accent on the final ee: toh-ray-mah-heee-ah).
The hostel host owns a bar as well, on Avenida Extremadura, but there was a family issue and it was closed that evening, so I sat in the one opposite and had a beer and wrote my notes.
Useful info: the supermarket on the same street is shut for a long time between lunch and evening.
I did buy that bottle of wine I had promised myself, and I also invited the man in the above photo, plus a Dutch cyclist new on the scene, to join me. We had some surprisingly entertaining conversation, in divers languages, and it was very enjoyable to sit around the table with fellow travellers again, as I had done so often on the Camino Frances.
For some reason the host kindly offered us a free breakfast when his bar reopened the next morning; it provided simple fare with generous portions and friendly service.
Tomorrow would be my last day on this leg of the 1000 kilometer Via de la Plata, so I would have to wait to see Salamanca another time.
For a list of stages of this camino and other information, check out this link:
20.5.17 Monesterio to Fuente de Cantos, on the Via de la Plata Spanish Camino. 22kms – a nice sensible distance to walk after yesterday!
Last night I had wandered around Monesterio, shopping and having a beer, so I knew my way – or I thought I did. I got to the outskirts of town, stood in the middle of the road and scanned for yellow arrows which I had been following, retraced my steps and met a second solo female traveler, Yvette. It was 7.40am. She said I looked so confident that she had been following me! Together we found our way quickly and for the first time I had a companion.
She told me she was Slovakian, and she spoke good English, which was great as I have no Slovak. We established that we shared interests, chatting about complementary medicine and health-related matters, how the body manages stress, and of course why we were walking alone in Southern Spain. There was a good energy and we endeavoured to be mindful of our own body at the same time as sharing the way.
There were cows wearing bells, herds of goats and other animals. We walked past beautiful streams, grand trees, and there was a green peace all around us.
She spoke about the luxury of not having another person’s stuff to process. We mused that in the past men went to war and many did not return. Now many of us divorce each other, so either way there are still a lot of women alone at the end of their lives.
In fact she was walking much more slowly than I was as she was not well. I slowed down for a time because of the pleasure of having company, but after an hour and a half or so I went on so she could rest more.
Black winged birds with orange caps, and white throats and undersides were singing beside me. The fragrant shrub I had not managed to identify on the internet last night, so still thought of as a sort of broom, repeatedly attracted my attention with its so-sweet smell.
After two hours the landscape had changed and there were no trees, although luckily there was a breeze. Quite a few lizards I did not quite see, scarpered at my approach.
I remembered that yesterday when I sat down to eat there was a grasshopper by my left ear. Listening in this quiet place is one of the great pleasures of the Camino. I reflected that as a therapist I am familiar with listening to others When I walk, however, I luxuriate in paying attention to the subtlety of nature and to myself.
I try listening under a tree away from the beating sun, but not for long as my sweaty back gets cold. I eat some sugary cakes to feed my muscles.
Even though I tried to avoid squashing insects, the scuttley spiders seemed to change direction just before my foot descended, alerted by the earth moving as I walked towards them. Sadly they were therefore more likely to be stepped on. I spent some time thinking about fear.
I noticed ants going up and down a tree.
Both Christ and the Buddha walked and meditated. It seems to be something closely related to religion. I think it must be about contemplating one’s behaviour and the habits of others, the meaning of things.
There are empty husks growing beside me, dry whispering. Are they oats? They rustle and shine white-gold in the sunshine.
Dust blows around me. Over and over again I breathe it in without noticing, until I recognise that it is that which smells, not the other things which we are there simultaneously. It is the same way I can smell snow in the air back home, and people are surprised. I think my father taught me to focus on smelling, as it was something he really appreciated. Despite being a smoker, he really enjoyed sniffing the roses at dusk, or inhaling the gentle scent of a child’s hair.
The grasshoppers were loud, louder, really loud as I got closer, and then their noise subsided and tailed off as I ambled on. It was the opposite and slower version of standing by a motorway as cars zoom past.
I reminded myself that I always know that I will get there eventually. I thought I must still be tired from yesterday if I needed reminding like that.
A tiny bird balanced on one ear of corn.
Where the trees were, I sat with my feet in the water to cool, and I listened and watched. I took my top off for airing. Then, when I was ready to go, Yvette came by and we found we had more things in common. We made plans to meet that evening before I toddled on. What a happy, golden corn, blue sky sort of a day it was.
Entering the town
The last hour was really hard work in the heat, and I stumbled off the edge of a pavement in Fuente de Cantos and twisted an ankle which was not at all like me. But round the corner was a patisserie with its sweet sugar smell, and a few doors up was an ‘oasis’. The building did not look much from the road. It was not the municipal albergue, but one I had seen advertised on the road. In fact I had picked up the last leaflet.
I wondered if I was in the right place because it looked like heaven. The door was open so I wandered through the great entrance hall into the courtyard. I sat by the fountain and admired my surroundings. Of course I had started to take photos when out popped a man and offered me a drink. Most kind. So I had a seat (although I was very sweaty, in the 30 degree heat), and heard the water burbling and allowed the flowery aromas to waft around me, and exhaled.
What a find! I was once again the only person there – I had the whole place to myself which included the swimming pool which was great water therapy for my ankle. I had sent my bathing costume home on day 1, so it had to be underwear, but then again there was no-one to see me. Well, only the owner and his dad pottering about the place. Oops!
I did walk out later to get some messages ( a word used in Scotland to mean shopping) and it was a dusty and extremely hot walk to the edge of town to the supermercado. I visited the convent turned hostel which the others were staying in, both to see it and meet Yvette, but unfortunately she was nowhere to be seen and I never saw her again. I did bump into the English cyclist who I had passed yesterday. He was looking for the post office to send his guitar home. He said he did not find that he had a need for it.
Shots of the town.
A glass or two of wine; the view from where I stayed; a lovely Madonna tile; and not everywhere was as smart.
There was a museum at the albergue, full of baskets, old farm machinery, and knick knacks. Fascinating.
Places to rest and recuperate as the temperature slowly cooled.
The downstairs bathroom and ceiling of the dormitory – all really attractively decorated.
Fuente de Cantos was the home of Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), so I visited the museum. It was not my cup of tea, but what a cutting figure he made!