Walking the Camino

Do you want to walk the Spanish Camino?

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Monte Gozo – the last stop before Santiago de Compostella, Spain
What does camino mean?

Camino means both the act of walking and path in Spanish. There are many caminos and they all end up at Santiago de Compostella in the top left hand corner of Spain.

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Traditional pilgrim statue, Finisterre
Where is the camino?

When you hear someone talking about walking the Camino they usually mean that they are following all or part of the east to west route called the Camino Francés, the most popular.

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Following the yellow arrows is easy – you don’t even need a guidebook for the Camino Francés
In what part of Spain is the camino?

This camino starts in France at Saint Jean Pied de Port (Saint John at the foot of the pass) in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region, crosses the Pyrénées mountains to Roncesvalles, passes through the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, ending at….. you have guessed it, Santiago. You can start anywhere along this route.

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The final way marker of the Camino Francés, Finisterre, Spain.
Sorry, what is it called again ?

Also known as The Way of St James (Sant (saint) iago (James) in Spanish), The French Way, or The Camino de Santiago, it is 500 miles long (near enough 800kms), and takes between 25 and 50 days hiking. You can also cycle it which is quicker, but that’s another story.

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Free wine – early on the Camino Frances, Spain.
Pilgrimage

The Way is a pilgrimage and those who walk it are traditionally known as pilgrims – peregrinas (female) or peregrinos (males) in Spanish.

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Carrying everything you need. Pilgrim crossing an ancient stone bridge in Galicia, Spain
Pilgrim Passport / scallop shell

Carrying a pilgrim passport or Credencial del Peregrino which gets stamped every time you stop for the night is a great way to keep a record of your hike. Hanging a scallop shell, symbol of Saint James, on the back of your rucksack is a proud way to indicate your sense of belonging to this famous confraternity.

Camino shell and credential
A record and mementoes of my first camino in 2016
Who can walk the camino?

People of all ages and nationalities make this trek and they do so for many reasons: religious (especially Catholic); social (it is a great way of making friends); fitness (sensible walking is good for your breathing, circulation and musculo skeletal system); and personal (at times of major life changes, or for the benefit of their mental health).

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Jolly Spanish house sign
Do I have to walk ALL of it?

You can walk as much or as little as you like. Some go the length and others do sections several times a year or year-by-year. The most popular part is the final 69 miles (111 kms) from Sarria to Santiago which earns you a Compostella, a certificate in Latin. Aficianados come back time and time again.

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A typical rural chapel on the camino, Spain
How far will I walk every day?

I highly recommend that you take it easy, at least to start with, whether you are young or old, male or female. This means 9 – 12.5 miles (15-20 kms) at the beginning. Even if you are fit and feel fabulous in the glorious Spanish sun, beware! You will almost certainly get blisters and a sprain or strain if you walk too far too soon (unless you honestly walk 9 miles (15 kms) or more every day at home in the same shoes or boots which you intend to wear).

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Autumn colours along the Way, Spain
Where do I sleep?

Most pilgrims stay in hostels or albergues. Their facilities vary, but almost all offer a basic bunk in a dormitory for between 5 and 12 euros (£4.50 – £11) per night. You do not have to book in advance, indeed sometimes you cannot. There are also hundreds of hotels and private hostels, usually at a higher cost with greater luxury.

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Statue of Saint James whose relics are supposed to be buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella
What do I take with me? How much do I have to carry?

Historically everyone would have carried their own clothes and equipment in a backsack. (see What to Put in Your Rucksack). Nowadays there are many companies who offer to transport your stuff from hostel to hostel so that you can walk with a daypack and water only if you choose. You can even hire a donkey!

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Food

Many hostels offer a basic breakfast, and shared meals in the evenings can be a highlight. Kitchens, with (or sometimes without) utensils are the norm. There are cafes, bars and restaurants all along the way and at every stop where the food is often delicious and cheap. There are plenty of shops which will sell you most things you need such as suntan lotion or a single egg wrapped cleverly in a paper cone.

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Space for thinking quiet thoughts on the camino in winter
Time of year to walk the camino

All times of the year are good for walking the camino! It is hot in the summer (and crowded); cooler in the Autumn with great natural colours (it can also be really warm but with cold nights); pretty with wild flowers in the Spring (lots of daylight); and peaceful in Winter (though some of the albergues will be shut).

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The wonderful chestnut woods of Galicia
Speaking Spanish. Yo hablo espanol.

It really helps if you speak some Spanish. It’s polite, respectful and fun to be able to communicate with the local people. You are also more likely to be served what you have ordered.

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The familiar sign of the Galician albergues, Spain.
Travel from the UK

You can take a boat to Santander (71.5 / 155 kms to Burgos) from the UK; There is an airport in Santiago itself (from there you can take a bus back east to the place where you want to start walking) itself, as well as La Coruna (82 miles / 132 kms from Sarria). Also, Asturias airport for Leon (from Stansted only), Bilbao (from Edinburgh, Manchester and others) for Pamplona, and Biarritz (33.5 / 54 kms from Saint Jean from Birmingham and others); Overland, there are trains taking 5 hours from Paris (4 per day, approx. 35 euros) and the Eurostar from London is smooth and efficient (around £50 and just over 2 hours). You can also take Alsa (long distance) buses or try Bla Bla Car (car pooling).

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You can tack on an extra 3 days of walking after Santiago and to to the sea at Finistere.

There are many books and online guides to help you find your way, pointing towards places to stay and eat. Gerald Kelly and John Brierley’s are the best known in English. Using this guide means that you will inevitably walk the same steps (stages of the walk) as other English speaking folk and will therefore have pals to walk and share meals with before long. The municipal hostels at the end of these stages are the busiest.

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There is wifi and places to charge your phone at most hostels, Spain
Top tip!

Start slowly, in short stages, do not be too ambitious until the second week, and that way you will avoid going home early and in pain (I have seen this happen many times). It doesn’t matter if other people are going further. You will either catch up with them later or you will find new companions instead, ones who are enjoying the scenery as much as you.

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Misty mornings herald a hot day, Spain

There are also other caminos in Spain: The Via de la Plata which starts in Seville and goes through Salamanca; the Camino Norte along the coast passing through San Sebastian; the Inglés from A Coruña; Mozarabe through Malaga and Cordoba, and many others. Criss crossing this stunning country, the walking is delightful, the people colourful, and the experience one which you will remember for the rest of your life.

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Getting into my stride – the Camino Francés 2016

Have you walked the Camino Francés or any of the other ones in Spain? Leave a comment and share your experience.

Tábara to Santa Marta de Tera, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 22 (Tábara to Santa Marta de Tera). Wednesday 11 April 2018. 22 kms.

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The red earthed path of the Via de la Plata, Castille y Léon, Spain.

‘And what’s best is that you are always received without fuss, welcomed, as if they had been expecting you to come. ‘  From Ursula le Guinn’s Left Hand of Darkness

Not in Oliva de Plasencia! I was reading le Guinn on my Kindle while I travelled because it was the Leith Bookworms book and my friends were reading it at the same time. I liked to keep up even if I couldn’t attend the meetings. It can be a good challenge to follow the list because I read books I wouldn’t usually choose for myself, move out of my comfort zone. In this case I had never read sci-fi before but I knew that le Guinn was extremely well thought of (after all she is used as an important part of the plot in the decidedly mainstream Jane Austen Book Club film!)

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José / Almeida

There was a photo session at the front door with José / Almeida (his pen name), the hospitalero who had looked after us so well, and then I set off with my friend Marie Noëlle and her pals Sascha (Luxembourg) and Maria (Switzerland) under a white sky. Sometimes we all three walked alongside each other, but more often I held back and took a quieter way, meeting up at intervals for coffee and wee chats.

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Sascha, Maria and Marie Noëlle.

We left the town of ridged terracotta rooves and telephone poles behind, and headed quickly into open country. There is an alternative way to regain the camino by retracing your steps back the way you came, perhaps for shopping before leaving. For me, it was too early for them to be open and I was keen to get off the tarmac asap.

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Looking back at Tabara.

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As I walked I reflected on the things I wished I had brought with me: my swimming costume which I left on the line in Caldzada, a pair of flipflops to protect my feet from dirty floors and ideal for wet and dry (though uncomfortable with socks), clothes pegs (there are often a few at the hostels but not enough to go round), a plastic tupperware pot to put food in (although I was able to buy one for a few euros), and ointment for bites.

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The beautiful contrasts between the orange houses, silver-dry grass and Spanish sky.

I was keeping a list of topics for the teaching I had been engaged to do later in April. It was for the Shiatsu Society whose biennial congress was being held in Edinburgh. Topic: people watching – most apt given how many new people I am meeting and walking behind every day, and how lovely it is to sit in Spanish cafes with tired feet and gawp at passers by.

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April blooms.
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The Galician hills in the distance.
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A blanket of blossom like snow.
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Just in case it rains.
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Sparkling over the rocks and tempting for hot feet.
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The Rio (river) Tera, Spain reflecting the sumptious sky.

 

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There’s a ssort of charm in the delapidation.
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The others walked by without noticing these houses with their distinctive yellow walls, built into the hill – grass rooves with chimneys poking through.

 

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Flat expanses of farmland, Spain.
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There are almost never any pavements. Cotton wool balls of clouds.
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From the bridge at Santa Croya de Tera (the last small village before our destination) where the Casa Anita private hostel is situated. Castille y Léon, Spain.
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The Rio Tera, Castille y Léon, Spain.
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The Rio Tera, Castille y Léon, Spain.
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The Romanesque church, Santa Marta de Tera.
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Map showing Zamora (two days back) and northwards.
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The Church of Santa Marta de Tera.
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Will you look at the colour of that sky!
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St James looking distinguished if a little ungrounded.
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Next to San Pedro (rather bleached by the sun).
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Wine and notebooks at the end of each day – cool enough to need a jacket inside!

I stayed in the municipal hostel in Santa Marta de Tera for 5 euros.

 

Montamarta to Tábara, Via de la Plata

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.

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The best view of the day – unless you count the sight of the albergue in Tábara when I eventually got there.
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Telling you all about Montamarta – not somewhere I ever want to go back to I must say.
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Just like yesterday, except duller.
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Yep, under another motorway tunnel.
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I took the right, turned back and went straight on, then retraced my steps and went around the motorway flyover.
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Kilometer after kilometer on the tarmac with road works as a view.
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Spring primroses amongst the rubble and stones.

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.

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In two seconds flat the road was covered in white, the traffic had completely ceased and a hush came over the world. I walked on, telling myself ‘it will be over soon’.

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.

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The hospitalero made me a cup of tea when I needed it most, and proceeded to cook for us all that evening. He describes himself as a ‘spiritual author’, is resident at the hostel all year round, and something of a Camino VIP.

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.

 

 

 

Zamora to Montamarta, Via de la Plata

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!

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The tracks of the dog who went before me on the path.
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Cars stacked up beside the road. There are many car dealers in this area. The camino is not all beautiful countryside and olive groves.
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In fact, this part has long straight tracks of red earth between arable fields. Cloudy skies herald more rain.
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On the cross is a quote from Pablo Neruda: amar es vivir la existencia desde el corazón del otro which means something like, we live to love and be loved by others, to be in each other’s hearts.

 

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These statues of fairy tale characters were in someone’s front garden in Roales del Pan as I walked through.
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St James watches over the children’s playpark.
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Big puddles on the chemin, and a row of diddy little trees.
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Gobble, gobble, gobble, gob.

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).

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The hostel was on this street and I would absolutely not recommend it. Run by a kind woman and her angry husband, the rain came in downstairs and it was extremely cold.

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.

 

El Cubo to Villanueva de Campéan, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 17 (Mérida to Ourense). Saturday 7 April 2018. 13 kms.

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The 7th April was a day of varied landscapes – some of the previous day’s wide open fields but also smaller agricultural plots, some houses, the ‘iron road’ etc. I was going at a faster pace, partly because it was cold but also as I knew it was a much shorter day. Going to Zamora in one leg was too long, so I was dividing it into two.

After last night’s heavy rain, it was dull but, hooray, dry! I passed out of the village, took a left over the bridge and straight into the country with no road – another big plus. Cocks were crowing and I spotted them at the front door.

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A bit blurry because of the zoom. The good thing about hens is that they go up at both ends like two upside down commas joined together

Weirdly there was a digital town clock striking 9am, just as loud as normal bells but with an electronic tone, reminding me of the early days of mobile phones when TV programmes made jokes about huge handsets with ringtones sounding out across the country.

It was right at the fork despite no yellow arrow and I was walking by the railway. The next right was signed. I wondered, why one and not the other?

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Walking beside the railway today. Sodden ground made the going slow.

I reflected on last night’s round-the-table conversations: how some people do the whole camino all at one go, others walk one weekend at a time; some start here, some there; and I have been meeting so many folk with injuries.

Plant of the day: once again I do not know the name. It has round burgundy / black pods or fruits that I have not seen before. They were hanging on dead trees and when I trod on one which had fallen on the path, it was full of diarrhoea-coloured mush which looked like wet plaster board.

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Who would have thought Spain could be quite so cloyingly muddy with wet sand! There was that cuckoo again – Marie Noelle used to tell me it means she will be rich.

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The water in the massive puddles is neon orange – so much brighter than in the photo. In the background are the chemical spraying machines like grounded corpses of fighter planes.

My nose runs and pilgrims behind me sneeze. I notice that cows do stand very, very still sometimes!

I muse: people I know walked here yesterday; or the day before; even 3 years ago. I can follow in their footsteps until it rains, wiping out all trace.

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This guy in front was walking with Chaplin knees and his feet turned right out to the sides, indicating that his hips were tight.

The yellow arrows used by the Friends of the Camino to show us the way are not really the best colour given that there are a surprisingly large number of the same hue: yellow lichen beside the arrows on the gate posts, yellow triangles on pylons, and motorway relfectors found at ground level at the edges of the roads where we have to walk. They are all found in the very places we look for the indicators.

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Vines at their dead-looking stage, black and twisted, organised in rows. The man I spoke to said they were ‘centenarios‘. Really old, then.

There is a great racket and then I see a flock of sheep being let out of the pen beside a farm, trotting into the field in single file with their new earrings, complaining bitterly.

Looking up I see it is going to become hilly again. The rabbits are too quick for my camera and there are definitely more flowers now, thank goodness. Beautiful purple / pink rocks are embedded in the white / yellow path amongst all the other colours of the irregularly shaped stones.

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Cyclops!

I arrived at 11.45am and was second into the hostel. I stopped at the bar for the key and had a quick coffee (every now and then I enjoy a tiny decaff with sugar – something I never have at home).

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There was a long road getting into the town, with a ruined monastery on the right which I meant to go back and take photos of in better weather but forgot.
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The sign is also in Arabic – a reminder that the folk who started at Almeria or Malaga on the Camino Mozarabe joined the Via de la Plata at Mérida rather than starting at Seville. They are now beside us on the way to Compostella.

There are a number of albergues in Villanueva de Campéan, all apparently as low grade as the others, private ones costing the same as the municipal where I slept. I entered the sleeping area through the kitchen which had a microwave but no fridge and was dirty. Not only does the outside door open directly onto the kitchen, but there is a great gap above the wall between that and the dormitory so the cold and noise travels easily between the two and the street, as does the cigarette smoke. Luckily there were loads of us so we were cosy.

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Villanueva de Campéan, Spain.

One by one we all settled in the bar for the rest of the day, and what a great band of cosmopolitan trekkers we were. I managed to write three blogs, trying to catch up, and then decided to continue when I got home. It was simply too loud and hilarious (the locals were playing cards and everyone was watching the football). Lots of red wine and menu del dia‘s were consumed and the atmosphere was most convivial.

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The two guys from Seuil, the shoulders of the younger looking better after his Shiatsu (which he requested two days before) I thought! There is Carlos behind, with the beard – someone I was to come into contact with every day for the rest of my time in Spain.

In The Pilgrimage to Santiago, Edwin Mullins writes about the history of sending ‘sinners’ on the camino as far back as the 13th century: ‘…there is the case of the parish priest near Chichester [England] who would regularly fornicate, repent, then fornicate again, until in 1283 the Archbishop of Canterbury felt obliged to send him to Santiago as a penitent the first year, to Rome the second and to Cologne the third. What is not on record is whether the cure was successful or whether he thereafter weighted his repentance with the names of three foreign cities in which he had also fornicated.’

Calzada de Valdunciel to El Cubo, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 16 (Mérida to Ourense). Friday 6 April 2018. 20 kms.

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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.

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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).

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Plant of the day: the red catkin one – after searching the internet it could be Black Cottonwood

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.

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I ask myself, what is the person like who leaves these prints?

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.

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A typical, simple, Spanish local church.

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.

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Albergue Torre de Sabre, Calle Traversís de la Ermita, El Cubo, Spain.

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.

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See the St James scallop shells decorating the base of the cross – eternal symbol of the camino.

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!

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A plain, modern house with attractive decorative tiles.

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!!

Casar de Cáceres to Embalse de Alcántara, Via de la Plata.

Day 6 of my Via de la Plata Camino (Mérida northwards).

Casar de Cáceres to Embalse de Alcántara (27th March 218) approx. 22 kms.

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Sunrise outside Casar de Cáceres, Spain.

At 8am the incredibly loud bell in the square sounded and I left the hostel, two other women at short stages in front of me.

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It was a clear run out of town and I really took my time, stopping even more often than yesterday, sometimes for five minutes, once for a snooze, three times for snacks.

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These notices are all over the country: hunting social preserve (Google translate).

Immediately the temperature was warmer and by the last (hardest) stage on the hard shoulder or lane of the A road for 1.5 hours, the heat was truly coming up from the tarmac. Luckily all the time I was in view of the stunning embalse (reservoir) so I knew that I would eventually find myself by the water.

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I had a lovely little sleep here for 10 minutes.

One couple walked together but everyone else, though friendly at the hostels, walked alone which suited me very well.

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There are new calves with soft faces everywhere.

Quite a group has formed: the French speaker whose wife suddenly left him and who says he does not know why, their planned future in tatters; 3 other single women in their late 30s: an American living in Madrid, teaching English; a German who is more private; and someone from south east London whose long term partner just left her at a time when her possibility to have a baby is dwindling; a Dutch couple and a German man of my age – the latter telling me about co-operative learning and the former who made a cycle tour of Scotland last year and were bemused by our dance, strip the willow!

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The signs for the final rocky path were very poor, although the GR113 red/brown signposts were efficient. Follow them in the direction of Cañaveral. Once faced with the road, take a right and stay on the path as long as you can.

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Fragrant, white broom.

I did not realise the road part would last so long I stopped just off it to snack. Very soon afterwards I spotted a man looking at the gorgeous view by his car. He turned and spoke to me but I did not understand so he turned and showed me, shockingly, what he was up to, coercing me to come and join him. I had heard of these exhibitionists but never seen one. I shouted no, and a few other things and continued to walk on the hard shoulder, never changing my speed. Then I started to think about telling the police, remembering the Alert Corps app I had downloaded on my phone. It was then that I realised I had left the phone where I stopped, meaning I would have to go back past him to get it. When I turned around though I saw the Dutch couple who asked me if I was ok. They reassured me he had gone and watched out for me the rest of the way, which was great.

I did try to report the incident later because I would have hated another solo female to have to witness the same, although I was not in any direct danger, but the hospitalero said he phoned and the police were all busy and I should report it when I stop in a larger place. This did not sound the same as the promises the Guardia Civil are currently giving to protect trekkers.

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The first hawthorn bush.

It was not long before I arrived, foot-sore, at the private hostel on the edge of the stunning Lake Tajo.

The owner worked really hard booking us in, serving us drinks and food, and washing our clothes. He said it saves water because even though he is by the magnificent lake he cannot use it and must get his from behind the hill from the well and when it runs out he has to close, earning himself the reputation of being unreliable.

We dined altogether on ensalada (salad with tuna and olives); bacalao (smoked cod), and .. flan! With wine – 13 euros.

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New born lambs on wobbly legs, too.

There are spacious rooms. When I was awake at night I had snorers on either side, both young women: one squeaked; the other thrummed. And then there was also the sonorous person through the wall!

As well, there were people hobbling back and forth to the lav; the green flashes of the smoke detector; and the three-quarters moon shining in through the high windows. I was not sure if it was wolves or dogs baying.

The albergue at Cáceres was 15 euros (no extras), at Casar de Cáceres 5 euros (free washing machine and drier), and here 15 euros (as above). You can see that the prices of the hostels varies widely. The menu del día (usually 3 courses with wine) ranges from 8 to 12 euros.

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Sunset Embalse de Alcántara, Extremadura, Spain.

Cáceres to Casar de Cáceres

Cáceres to Casar de Cáceres (26th March 2018), maybe 18 kms taking me 4 hours plus.

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Today I did my morning meditation in a different position because I cannot sit cross legged in my sleeping bag.

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Bullring, Cáceres, Spain.

Walking out of Cáceres was smooth and I was impressed once again by the enormity and variety of the geology: the giant verticality of colour and strata exposed by road building.

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The roadside plants continue to be mainly rosemary and thyme but now with pink vetch. The Camino crosses main routes again and takes me along the highway. It is frustrating because I can see a beautiful path in the fields to my left but cannot get across the fences to it.

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A handy seat made of beautiful local stone.

There was a brief conversation with a fellow pilgrim along familiar lines –  nationality, where walking from and to – this time with an older Belgian man who is wearing a hat with sun flaps over both ears.

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The sun was shining brightly but it was cold on my head. I reflect that if you are going to do this walking lark, you must be prepared for some hardship. Having enough money for hotels and being fit definitely helps.

Because of my foot pain, I was already sitting in the sun to rest by at 11.05 after only 25 minutes, but I knew that this must happen if I am to manage to enjoy myself at all. I realised there were snow-covered mountains to my right and was awed by their beauty.

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Snow capped Sierra mountains in the distance.

Once again I thought ‘that must be the camino over there, but how do I get onto it?’

The lovely Spanish cyclist and his German friend sped past waving a smiley buen camino to me.

Then I saw a gap, took off my rucksack and rolled under a fence, thinking perhaps I had just missed the turning to the path but no, I had to go back through a farm gate shortly afterwards and continue on the ‘hard shoulder’ which was very tiresome. In the process I put my hand on thistles and still have one spine in the tip of my thumb two days later. Maybe that will teach me!

There was a very nice sun and the remains of yesterday’s wind on my going-bald patch at the front of my head. Bravely I took off the bottoms of my trousers making shorts.

I spotted the new fennel leaves at the base of the old dry stalks and remembered how they were almost past seeding when I finished my first camino in November 2016 in Santiago de Compostella.

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It was a long way beside that motorway. But my advice to others who might walk behind me is to wait, the off-road path eventually comes.

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One of the many crossings – this one with stones provided to keep our feet dry.

There were still some of the dark brown and orange hairy caterpillars: one or two wibbling along over the gravel and some others fairly hurtling amongst the sheep droppings as if they were late for work. However there were nothing like the numbers of two days ago.

Other trekkers passed me occasionally and we fell into step for a while and shared pleasantries. I am trained to see the visual signs of the head-colds or tiredness, the dry lips, the excema under the nostrils, and do not ask questions.

Around me are small brown birds singing their little hearts out. I started thinking about this strange phrase – perhaps it is their puffed out wee chests and the high urgency of the pitch which has prompted it?

Now I was going uphill and was aware of my blister and that was only a tiny climb! I found myself saying blessings  for dead animals by the roadside, and I finished planning my workshop for the end of April: the ideas popping into my mind unbidden.

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It was very pleasant walking like that, with lots of tiny stops and the time to remember.

I came across a father and son, shepherds bringing up the rear with sturdy sticks but no dog. Overhead are three raptors and almost around my head are swallows flitting and flirting.

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A flock of sheep to make my way through.

Once again I reflect that we walkers go so quietly that we come upon these creatures, or they on us, unexpectedly.

Oh those snowy mountains: simply majestic.

Finally I come into Casar de Cáceres and note the many expensive cars. It is presumably a commuter town for Cáceres itself. There are many helpful people including a woman who I had exchanged a few Spanish words with earlier and who later spotted me looking puzzled. She abandoned the wheelchair she was steering, grasped my arm and took me to the corner of the correct street.

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The entrance to Casar de Cáceres – rainbow-coloured hearts and a huge yellow arrow: sign of the camino Via de la Plata.

It was long walk into town where I registered at the bar and then, having walked on far too far, retraced my steps to the nice albergue on the first floor in the corner of Plaza España. I arrived at 1.45.

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The albergue entrance in the corner of the square.

The evening consisted of sitting in the sun with my cups of tea and chatting to the others; a beer in the cafe and very interesting conversation with a German teacher about co-operative learning; shopping (including a plastic mug for 39 céntimos), cooking a meal for myself and some others; giving what I call kitchen- Shiatsu (ie on the spot, me kneeling on the kitchen floor); and later, thoroughly enjoying the wine.

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Beautiful Spanish architecture.

There was no WiFi, the shower flooded onto the floor, I did not enjoy my night-time visit to the toilet where someone had aimed and missed 😦 but it was great to have a kitchen with some utensils, and a free washer and dryer – all unbelievably, for 5 euros.

Aldea de Cano to Cáceres, Spain.

Aldea de Cano to Cáceres – March 25 2018. (Day 4 of this part of my Via de la Plata camino).

The hostel at Aldea de Cano had a very good kitchen and nice table for sharing food, but there was a great deal of noise from the bar on the other side of the albergue wall. I arrived very early in the rain, and spent most of the rest of the day in the cafe which had everything I needed – wifi, good food and drink – some of the time alone but mostly with others with whom I was by now quite friendly, having met them at various stops along the way over the past few days.

The hour changed so we had some extra sleep after our shared meal in the cafe (something for starter, hake with chips and a little salad, flan (sort of crème caramel) with what my kids called squidgy cream (from a spray can) and red wine for approx. 11 euros).

I had nightmares all night, a traditional anxiety one with a dog I had left at home when I went away without arranging who would feed it rather than a baby; in the other there was a flood and I was drowning. So, I was awake early and had room and found a mat for some yoga: it was good to stretch my BL meridian in the backs of my legs after the walking.

Marie Noelle and I began together. The others took a taxi: two half way and one right to the end.

It was a traipse on stony paths for the whole day with either red, orange and white quartz or dark blue /grey slate. To begin with there was some rain so we started later, visiting the bar next door for toast and coffee while the worst passed. The previous night’s torrential rain had caused the terrain to be even wetter and it was necessary to dodge huge puddles, bogs and small lake; or just wade through them.

There were cranes everywhere in the fields and on their nests, their long orange beaks and beady eyes clearly visible from the ground.

MN was a postnatal nurse for 37 years before she retired so we talked mother’s and babies: she told me how important it was to reassure the new mums and I agreed that this was a large part of my baby Shiatsu work too.

At 12 midday we arrived at Valdesalor where we found a nice bar in Cristóbal Colon.

The second half of the day was terrible. Every step was increasingly painful – a small joint in my right foot and a blister on my left. I tried to keep going, MN striding off ahead of me, but in the end I had to give in and stop constantly, stumbling on in the worst walk I have had, walking so slowly by the end that I might as well have stood still. It took me ages, and I was extremely downhearted when I realised how much of the town I must traverse before reaching the hostel. Luckily I was met with such sweetness from Benito and Andrea that it bought tears to my eyes, and I was happily put in a double room with MN.

After a hot shower and clothes washing, a beer (which exploded all over the floor of the entrance hall and which I therefore had to mop up), and a rest, I had recovered sufficiently to make a small tour of the town. What a very beautiful place! In the soft golden evening light, the ancient walls and arches, looked just gorgeous. I would highly recommend that you visit here if you enjoy old monuments and impressive architecture.

In Cáceres the Semana Santa was well underway, with processions through the narrow streets and in the main Plaza Mayor. The second one we observed at very close quarters. There were lines of men and women carrying the platforms which weigh up to half a tonne. They shoulder the wooden shafts with expressions of distress and frowns – it is unclear if they are in pain or suffering with Christ. We were told that they pay 300 euro for the privilege of carrying it for half hour. It is gold with red carnations and there are statues of Jesus, the Pope and other biblical characters. This platform is preceded by children and adults in purple robes with hoods over their faces which have small holes for the eyes. Many have tall pointed witches hats on too – black Klu Klu Clan-type head wear.

Afterwards come the well-schooled brass bands in their black, red and gold uniforms – both sexes play.

For some it was clearly a social occasion, for others religious and very serious. Throughout there is a basic 2/2 rhythm emphasised in a macabre way by the rhythmic clanking of the metal staffs, and it was this which held the greatest power for me. The people who carry the crosses (also unidentifiable because of hoods) are barefooted and have chains around their ankles. Every now and then there is a loud drum announcement and they all stop, those carrying the heavy dias take a break and it is suspended on poles. It is all very well organised with key people giving orders and bells signifying a re-start.

The private hostel has 40 beds but the city is the second most important in the region and this is the busiest time of the year so tomorrow, for example, when at least one of our group would like to stay longer due to an ankle injury, it is full.

It has a very nice garden and terrace at the back for drying clothes and sitting with a beer, despite being right in the centre.

We ate at a very nice place which was empty apparently because a large family booked it out and then cancelled. He was very patient with us, especially when dishes were sent back because having said they were vegetarian, they came with garnishes of bacon etc. I ate moussaka, salmon and flan (again!) for 11 euros.

Alcuescar to Aldea de Cano, Via de la Plata, Spain

24.3.18 a very short day 15 kms (3.5 hours).

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Last night I stayed at a Franciscan monastery Casa de la Misericordia, Los Esclavos (slaves) de María y de los Pobres (poor) in Alcuescar, started by Leocadio Galán in 1939 to house and educate the orphans of the war, both academically, religiously and in the arts, sports and culture.

I gave a Shiatsu to a deserving fellow trekker who had a neck problem; I was able to dry my boots and have a hot shower, but there was neither kitchen nor clothes washing facilities. We were invited to take a tour of the building with one of the Brothers and to attend Mass (a sign informed us that whatever our religious inclinations, we would be saved).

The soles of my feet ached well into the evening so it was good to give them a massage this morning and feel how Kyo the insteps, KD1 and the backs of the ankle were, even after 9 hours in bed. At least I did not feel the cold that the others did – what with my new sleeping bag and all so my Water element cannot be in that much imbalance!

Yesterday a group of us had to wait until 1pm to be admitted and they played us beautiful Spanish music while they booked us in. This morning we were all ready with our boots on when 7.30am arrived and the doors were opened. The hospitalero played the hallelujah chorus!

As soon as I walked across the road, my left heel remembered its blister, but later it was another part of my other foot which complained more bitterly.

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Sun rise.

Breakfast was at the café Alta Cuesta over the road (I bought a coffee and ate my left-over bread and cheese) with all the other pilgrims assembled before the day’s walk. What bonhomie (though most were German!). The Way was clearly marked, directly beside the albergue (hostel), and the tarmac quickly became a sandy path: good for the walkers’ feet. There were fields of goats; lots of dogs; and black/white storks flapping their ungainly wings, necks outstretched like flying geese.

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The olive green (obviously!) hills were on my left, in the distance, for half of the journey.

Today’s weather: sunny, cold (no need to stop and de-robe), with a glacial and an ever stronger, west wind.

Sign posting: Very good all day – even on the way out of the town. No need for a book or an app.

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Soon I was walking between olive fields and hedges. The ground was sodden from yesterday’s rain.

Throughout the morning I was dodging puddles, stepping on useful stone blocks positioned by the Amigos (‘Friends’) who look after the Camino, or skirting around small lakes of rainwater.
There was a small plot of newly planted, straggly onions growing underneath this glowing tree.

I tried to phone ahead to reserve a bed last night because I saw in my book that it was only a small hostel, but I was informed that bookings were impossible. So I was reminded to leave the situation to fate, stop counting the people who might be in front of me, and not to rush to keep up with them.

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One of the many German people, this guy with sexy socks.

There were men at work stripping the olive trees with forks at arms length, presumably ridding them of the old, dead wood.

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A little loud dog made a noise which was not relative to her size, and of course the boo boo boo bird serenaded me in addition to the chatterings of starlings.

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The calves were running, the cows sedate; their colours reminiscent of the Olocau dogs: a lovely warm, beige brown.

You can read the Olocau blog here.

When I talk with another as I walk, I forget myself. This can be good because they always have an interesting story to tell. However, in some ways, not, as I cannot tell if I am going too fast for example, not until they walk on and I re-focus.

I spot a beautiful lake but it is behind a fence.

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Someone told me this is tamarisk.
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The red rooves and white houses of Casas de Don Antonio, Extremadura, Spain.

With cow bells tinkling, I was suddenly directed onto a runway-type paved road. Wow, the wind was so strong!

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But then almost immediately the signs were off to the right. I reflected, on listening to others, that some of my old habits have passed. That sort of mirror can be very helpful.

There is straight, strong grass poking  through the night-sky-blue bog water.

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A group of Saturday walkers in anoraks of primary colours were having their photographs taken in the bridge. Smile!
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Here is a stork on top of an old pylon. It is blurred but you can just see the orange beak.

I was very stiff by now and when I squatted to pee, I asked myself ‘can I get up again?’ I wondered how I could ever have walked 6, 8 or 10 hours a day.

Note to self: try the she-wee Alice (eldest daughter) gave me.

When I notice myself thinking too much, or worrying, I imagine the image of praying hands in the centre of my chest. This is to try and centre myself, to try not to think of others. Otherwise, their Ki comes into contact with mine and I have more than me to deal with, and this camino must give me the chance to spend time inside.

The wind played havoc with my phone. I think, anyway. It seemed to be typing all on its own. One way or another it was impossible to take notes.

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One fan-tailed raptor flew over and first 10, then 1000s of caterpillars who I had been told liked to move in a queue, were struggling between being stepped on, drowned and blown over. Poor things, they were having a harder time than I was, though they do have more legs.

Through a flock of sheep we wove, and off to to the right onto a road and the final destination.

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Sunset.
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The municipal albergue, Aldea de Cano, Spain.
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A mackerel sky.

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