Via de la Plata Camino – Days 4-6, Spain

Day 4 – Laxe to Castro Douzon  1.12.16   19 km

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Doorbells rung to ask the way, and tractors stopped for the same reason: 1 of each.

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Items of clothing lost: 3 – all necessary for the cold weather.

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Doing T’ai Chi in the garden of the albergue before we leave is bitterly cold due to the unusual cold wind, especially as I lost my gloves and thermal leggings yesterday. We were high up in Castro Douzon. There are swimming pools for adults and children though, and a playpark, so it must be lovely in summer.

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Today there was a lot of walking by busy roads with no pavements, which was hard on the feet, and less scenic. There were, however, great vistas from the top after a good, steep climb: layers of purple and blue hills in the distance, bright green fields, terracotta and stone villages, and matching trees.

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Descending into valleys, we discovered solid bridges over gleaming azure streams, reflecting the sky, which were full of vibrant green weed.

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And we talked about women’s rights; pensions; how to say ‘kiss’ in different languages; and swapped information about our 3 cultures – Maroc, French and British.

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The two women from Seuil who I was walking with. The older was brilliant at finding the way.

The local people kindly stopped and told us we were going the wrong way, and pointed helpfully in the direction of Santiago de Compostella. So we all learned to say that ‘no, we were walking ‘contrario’ towards Seville’, in Spanish. They also offered useful information like where and what to eat, and who serves the best ‘pulpo’ (octopus,  the local delicacy – delicious when tender).

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Weather: The sun shone but it was colder. There was the usual hard frost as we left in the morning.

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Once we had arrived after our days walk, we got our credentials stamped and paid our dues, thankfully removed our boots, hobbled to the dormitory to choose a bed and showered. Later, after visiting the local supermarket for supplies (flour, milk, eggs and sugar for crêpes; sachets of chocolate powder and of course pasta for the youngster; a tin of mussels and a sachet of olives for me), I visited the bar to catch up with family and friends no longer walking with me. The bar is owned by the same family and buying a tea (€1.20) allowed me to sit there for more than an hour without any suggestion of buying more. It’s only when I was given a lot of free crisps that I thought I ought to order a small beer to make up for my second hour!

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There were similarities between the two hostels – both had unexpectedly hot showers – bliss! Neither had working wifi. Both offered one blanket per person, and had heating, so our clothes and towels were dry by morning. Both had kitchens with utensils, and we could choose when to have the lights on or off. I’m getting used to the fact that there are always good things to be happy about.

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Day 5 Castro Douzon to Cea. 2.2.16.  13.7 km

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Bites sustained: at least 100 overnight including 16 on my face.

Other pilgrims: 3 men and a dog. A good story of a 100% blind man who is walking his second Camino. The guide dog learns the scent of the/another walker going the same way, and then tracks the smell and can lead his master on the right path. These Caminos can be incredibly complicated – in the middle of forests there are very often places with 4 options; the country path regularly crosses the busy main N routes with lorries driving at top speed; villages can have very small, winding streets leading between farm buildings; and there are times when fully sighted people are searching for a yellow arrow here and the blue/yellow Camino shell there for a good while before finding the way, so I am really impressed.

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Beautiful weather – lovely to sit outside for our morning coffee as well as on arrival at Cea when I fell asleep in the sun and dreamed.

During the days walk we moved through landscapes of assorted pines, chestnut, silver birch, oak, and eucalyptus; broom, brambles, gorse with gay yellow flowers, heather, and bracken.

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Pink, yellow and blue houses, many of them like huge mansions, which I am told are for extended families, have balconies and balustrades, big and small, and statues in the gardens. There are cows, sheep, horses and of course donkeys out the back.

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Every dwelling has a ‘huelta’, a vegetable garden, which at this time of year had turnips, and really tall brassicas which looked like sprout plants with huge leaves at the top but no actual sprouts. Plus the odd red pepper still gleaming in the sun, a few left-over tomatoes dangling, and sharp-cornered patches of dry stalks now the sweetcorn has finally been cut. Vines are domestic and hang from structures which double as terrace rooves.

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Where the maize is traditionally stored over winter so animals and the cold do not damage it.
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The remains of the maize still in the fields.

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There are more dogs than I had ever seen in one place – usually on the end of a chain or rope and barking their heads off at our approach. My companions loved them all and attempted to talk to and pet them despite the rumpus! In Finnistere a week ago they seemed to run wild around the town, crossing and re-crossing roads and unaware of danger, but here they were mostly behind fences protecting property.

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Old stone buildings.

The simple churches, mostly with a single tower and bell, are always to be found amongst the houses, however small the village, and sometimes on their own in the countryside. Many have fancy cemeteries adorned with colourful flowers, real and plastic, and ornate grills. Often there’s a stone cross or statue nearby.

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Cea is one of the prettiest towns I’ve been to. As with so many places, there are abandoned properties, but here there were also many places with interesting pasts, a wide array of shops, banks and cafés etc, a large central square, and old and new architecture. All the places I have walked in are clean and well-kept, and here there were red and white geraniums and the most ornate house number/name tiles.

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Day 6 Cea to Ourense 3.12.16   23.3 km

This was a hard day. When I walked there were times of joy, prompted by the beautiful scenery, or the sun on my skin, or the sheer pleasure of putting one foot in front of another. There were also times when this wonderful opportunity to reflect on the past, examine the present, and deliberate on the future raised myriad emotions. They passed with the movement, and there was space for tears, but it was definitely not always easy. This was one of the reasons I chose to do this.

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Coming into Ourense from the north.

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Luckily today was particularly beautiful and that helped with the processing.