Travel diary: Via de la Plata, week three

It’s been a week of changes of plan: days that were going to be long that ended up being short, short days that ended up long. Plus, the longest leg of the whole walk: 40km! (and probably the shortest at 11km). Overall, we’re continuing to increase the average amount we walk per day, up to 26km.

Monday 26/3: The week started as it meant to continue, with well-meant plans coming to nothing. Craig was in a bad mood because of his blisters, which rubbed off on me, and we trudged along in silence for most of the walk, which was pretty much all along the side of a road.

We’d been planning to head to Cañaveral, but as we walked further, the idea of a short day looked more and more appealing. We’d seen an ad in a previous albergue for Hostal Lindamar, which offered a dinner, breakfast and accommodation package for €14 — it sounded perfect and we’d decided to take them up on it; the only problem was that Hostal Lindamar was closed.

Roman milario

Roman milario

It was very lucky for us that the nearby albergue was open, because there was nothing else around for 10km in any direction, and it was also lucky that the albergue had pre-cooked food for sale — this was important, since we didn’t have enough food with us, having planned to shop in Cañaveral.

We spent the afternoon resting in the modern albergue and had a tasty dinner of pizza, salad and wine.

Sunset over the lake

Sunset over the lake

Tuesday 27/3:Another day of changed plans. We left the albergue at Embalse de Alcantara at about 8:20, and followed the advice of a couple we’d met a few days previously, following the lake and then the road, rather than the marked Camino. This saved us some time and meant that we got to check out a cool Roman bridge.

We had a coffee and bought lunch food in Cañaveral, then continued onwards through light forest until we reached the turnoff to Grimaldo, where we planned to stop. But we both had so much energy and it was still quite early in the day, so we decided to continue on to Galisteo, 20km away.

The first 10km or so were fine but we were flagging for the last 10, and that was when things got difficult. At two points along the way, we had to be very alert, as the markers are erased or deliberately misleading. We made it through though, and even made it to Galisteo, where we found Cipri, Marina and Mimma (and some Germans, but they didn’t talk to us). The shops were shut, since we’d arrived after 8pm, so we had a tasty dinner of hamburgers and chips in the closest bar.

Cows under the Roman bridge

Cows under the Roman bridge

Wednesday 28/3: All of these changes of plans left us with a short day of just 11km — a holiday! We slept in, the walked up into the walled town to explore and do some shopping: me for snacks, Craig for blister plasters, and we both had separate, lovely encounters with the people serving us.

The walk to Carcaboso was all alongside the road, but was pleasantly broken up by a random man giving us a brochure for an albergue and explaining its location by repeating the word “carretera” (highway) several times, with appropriate hand gestures.

Cáparra

Cáparra

After checking in (to a private room with a double bed! Luxury!), we relaxed, had lunch, explored the town a little, then had dinner and turned in.

Thursday 29/3: Today was always going to be a long day, since there are no towns on the 39km stretch between Carcaboso and Aldeanueva del Camino. You can break up the journey by walking off-route, or by taking a taxi to a nearby hotel, but we decided just to do the whole leg.

We left early and walked through farmland for 10km before our first break, then continued on, reaching Cárparra at around 1:20. This old Roman city boasts a famous arch which the Junta de Extremadura has appropriated as the symbol of the Via de la Plata, and it appears on all the waymarkers — so it was great to see it in real life! We detoured down to the visitors’ centre, where we bought some water and had lunch before being kicked off the property, as it was 2pm and the centre was being closed for the afternoon.

The third stage was the most pleasant of the day, since we were refreshed after our break, but the fourth was more difficult. Just after our last mini-break, where I finally left behind my old black boots, we reached a point where we thought we could choose to walk alongside the road or follow the arrows in a more roundabout way. We chose the road way, and followed first a gravel road and then a well-defined track. Unfotunately, eventually the track disappeared into nothing and we found ourselves bushwhacking through long grass. After ten minutes of this, a tunnel under the motorway led us back to the provincial highway, which we followed all the way to Aldeanueva del Camino. There, we settled into the albergue before getting our pilgrim passports stamped at a small bookshop (and getting a free drink into the bargain) and having a menu del día at the Hogar del Pensionista bar.

Leaving behind the boots

Leaving behind the boots

Friday 30/3: Neither of us slept very well, in part because of the extremely soft beds, and in part because the Japanese pilgrim sharing our room got up loudly in the middle of the night and early in the morning. We ended up leaving Aldeanueva quite early (8:20, before sunrise) and followed the road to the equally-charming Baños del Montemayor. Craig’s blisters weren’t letting up, so he switched to jandals halfway there, and we packed his shoes into our bags while having coffee in a fantastic bar in Baños. It had a well inside! And a sheer rock wall!

Pilgrim fountain in Puerto de Béjar

Pilgrim fountain in Puerto de Béjar

The relatively flat terrain we’d been enjoying came to an end in Baños, and for the rest of the walk we rose steadily, then descended steeply before rising again to reach La Calzada de Béjar, where we stayed in a private albergue.

Just before the previous town (Puerto de Béjar), we left the region of Extremadura and entered Castilla y Leon. We already miss the perfectly-sized mojones (waymarkers) that we sat on for the last few hundred kilometres, but we felt that Puerto de Béjar had made a real effort to welcome us to the new region. There was an abundance of arrows and signposts with distances, a map of notable cities along the route, and a little fenced garden with seats, a bike rack, and a water fountain just for pilgrims! The water was tasty, too.

After arriving, we had a patched-together lunch of salami sandwiches then washed our clothes and rested for the rest of the afternoon before a light dinner and bed.

Saturday 31/3: Our departure was delayed since we got talking with the hospitalera, but once we got started we made good time. Our first break was in the next town of Valdacasa, where we enjoyed a coffee and free wifi in a bar called “El Peregrino”. The next town had a shop where we stocked up on lunch supplies, including half a skinny salami and some hard cheese.

On the way to Fuenterrobles

On the way to Fuenterrobles

The last leg, to Fuenterroble, was a pleasant walk, and we were welcomed into the albergue by three Germans (Holger, Steffi and Gunter) who we’ve seen a lot of this week, since they stayed in the same albergues as us since Thursday. Craig finally felt like we were on the Camino when all five of us were sitting around, looking after our feet and complaining about blisters.

In the evening, Holger, Steffi and I cooked dinner together and we all ate in the dining room, where we were later joined by Toro (the Japanese guy) and José, a late-arriving pilgrim who’d walked almost 50km in one day.

Sunday 1/4: The day started well, with a communal breakfast put on by the hospitaleros. Toro and José had already left, but the Germans and a group of cyclists were still around.

The path was wide and flat, passing farms and crossing though open fields, and we didn’t need a real break until we had walked for about 14km and reached the top of a hill — a momentous occasion! This peak was not only the highest point of our journey, it also was one of many half-way points for us: halfway through our day and halfway through our Camino in terms of days.

The road to Morille

The road to Morille

After an early lunch of salami, cheese and pickled-pepper bocadillos, we continued onwards and downwards, until we reached the town of San Pedro de Rozados. There, we ducked into a bar for a (pricy) beer and to decide if we were going to stay there or go on to the next town of Morille, 4.3km down the road. The encroaching storm, Craig’s feet, and the desire to arrive early in Salamanca the next day were all considered; we chose to continue.

The walk was easy, along a dirt road, but the darkening skies kept threatening to open on us, spitting occasionally to remind us that rain was on its way. Luckily, we beat it to Morcille, and even found an albergue (our various guides had been remarkably contradictory on the subject), where Toro was already established.

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