Travel diary: Via de la Plata, week four

Having more or less overcome our health issues (my cold, Craig’s blisters), we finally felt like we found our stride this week. The walk has been enhanced by the people we’ve spent time with, and we feel like there have been a lot of special “Camino moments”, that epitomise the spirit of the walk.

Monday 2/4: What we thought would be a nice, easy start to the week (just 20km to Salamanca), turned out to be the complete opposite. The first stage was a haze of pain for both of us, as Craig continued with his blisters and I discovered just how painful they could really be. The light on the horizon was the town halfway between Morille and Salamanca, Miranda de Azán, where we planned to stop for coffee. It was about 200m off the route, but we made the detour, lured by signs advertising a bar AND a restaurant. But no luck. The restaurant had closed down several months previously and the bar was closed on Mondays.

Craig collapsed on the side of the road while I headed to the lone shop to see what I could find. The shopkeeper didn’t sell coffee, nor did he have any hot water, but — moved by my plight — he called his son and asked him to bring the pot of coffee from his own kitchen bench, and then wouldn’t hear of taking any money for it. It was a real Camino moment, of someone going out of their way to help out (or at least making their son go out of his way).

After coffee, the world was a better place and both of us were able to walk, stride even, to Salamanca. There, we ran into the hospitaleros just outside the albergue, who opened it up for us to let us drop off our bags, despite us arriving well after the cut-off time. We headed out to find lunch, which was a textbook example of bad service, and which put me in a bad mood for the next hour or so — a state that was only alleviated by coffee and churros.

The main square in Salamanca

The main square in Salamanca

After checking into the albergue when it reopened at 4pm, we had a rest then headed out again to try to find a solution to Craig’s feet issues. The local sports shop yielded two answers: a pair of decent-looking socks, and a whole new pair of shoes, halfway between sandals and closed shoes. We bought them both and added a towel to replace the one Craig lost last week.

Back in the albergue, we cooked dinner and spent the evening chatting with the hospitaleros, José the crazy Spaniard, and our old friends Mimma and Marina. Mimma was heading back to Milan so we said our goodbyes; I gave her a hug and she stroked my cheek and said sweet things in Italian.

Tuesday 3/4: After a refreshing sleep in a room with no other pilgrims (thanks, Trevor), we had breakfast and headed out the door only five minutes late, at 8:05. It was an early start for us, but it worked out well, since it gave us extra time walking in the dry — Tuesday’s key words were certainly “wet” and “long”.

Our attempt to have a coffee in the first town was foiled by the bar being shut; luckily this wasn’t the case in the second town, since by then we were soaked through. The rain let up a little after our coffee, but we still stopped for another at the next town (Calzada de Valdunciel), where we also ate our lunch in the lobby of a building which houses the old folks’ club and the library.

The weather worsens

The weather worsens

Our destination, El Cubo de Tierra del Vino, was 20km further on with no towns along the way to break the journey. Luckily the path was flat and wide, mostly following the road, but we were both footsore by the time we arrived. Craig’s new shoes held up extremely well, given that he walked almost 40km in them; he had a couple of sore points but a lot fewer than you might expect.

We were surprised to find so many pilgrims at the albergue, among them José, Toro, and Gunter. Craig and I had wanted to cook but the local shop didn’t have a wide selection on offer, and what there was was overpriced. Instead, we joined a group of the others for the menu del día at the local bar, where the waitress/chef seemed really put out that we wanted to spend money in her establishment.

Wednesday 4/4: Things seem a lot stricter in Castilla y Leon than they were in the previous region of Extremadura; most albergues have a rule that you have to leave before 8am, which is about 20 minutes before sunrise. This was the case in El Cubo del Vino as well, so we left dead on 8:00 (okay, 8:05) and had a pleasant first stage of around 13km to Villanueva de Campeán, where we ran into three pilgrims we’d met the night before, who were also having a coffee in the bar. Getting into the town took a bit of time, though — an old man stopped to greet us at the entrance and ended up telling us all about the nice Kiwi girl who works in the winery, the Semana Santa processions in Zamora and what he and his entire family think about them, and the politics of having two pilgrim albergues in the same small town. It was awesome.

Entering Zamora

Entering Zamora

We decided to make a slight detour off the marked way to have another coffee and a bocadillo in San Marcial, which gave us the energy we needed for the next 13km or so to Zamora.

After walking alongside the road for about 3km, the city came into view and it only took us about three hours to reach it across the flat plain. It was worth the effort though, the city is beautiful. It’s situated on a river, has an unbelievable amount of churches, and also has a town wall. The albergue was modern and well-appointed, and we were put into a room with a Dutch couple we’d met in Cubo del Vino.

I left Craig behind to frantically try to catch up on some work and headed to the supermarket. I ended up at one a lot further away than I’d planned to go, but found everything I needed for an enormous meal, which we cooked back in the albergue. While I was out, I saw a lot of people in procession costumes heading towards the cathedral — we planned to watch the procession but it was called off (for the first time since the thirties) because of rain.

Thursday 5/4: We headed out the door after a filling breakfast put on by the albergue, and made good time to the first town about 6km away, where we took a break and ate some candied almonds that you can only get a Easter-time.

Semana Santa bread in Zamora

Semana Santa bread in Zamora

The next leg (12km) to Montamarta was similarly successful, and we found a bar on the way out of town which furnished us with the coffee we needed. We had lunch in the square before heading on… And somehow managed to lose our way. We’d just slogged through 600m of sticky mud when a couple of farmers (working on a holiday, crazy) told us we were going the wrong way. Luckily we didn’t have to go back the way we came, a slightly less-muddy access road took us back to the highway, but on reaching the road we promptly went the wrong way again. Luckily Craig checked the map at the next intersection and there was a shortcut back to the road we actually wanted, and halfway along the shortcut we found Camino markers. All went well for awhile, until the markers took us along a very roundabout path to avoid walking along the highway — we decided to give up on the arrows and just follow the road. And just as well, too, because the bar we’d been hanging out for was on the side of the highway, but a good kilometre from the marked track.

After a drink there, we only had 4km to go to our destination of Riego del Camino. Halfway there, it started to rain. Luckily it was only a light shower, and we were a lot better off than Toro, who had got caught in a hailstorm.

Pilgrims on the road ahead

Pilgrims on the road ahead

When we finally arrived at our albergue, we found the whole gang there: Toro, Gunter, Steffi, Holger and José. After a not-very-long rest, we all ventured out into the rain to Bar Pepe — José very kindly invited us all out for dinner.

Friday 6/4: Since we weren’t going to be kicked out at 8am, we stayed in bed a little later and rose to find that it was raining. This let up after a while, but this wasn’t the good news you might expect; it was replaced by snow. Actual snow. José ventured out first, followed by Toro (with plastic-bag gloves); the rest of us stayed behind to have a leisurely breakfast — luckily the hot water from the tap was warm enough to make coffee with.

Craig and I eventually left shortly after 9, and by the time we arrived at the next town 6km later, we were completely wet. Craig’s jacket seemed to have lost its waterproofing, and while mine is doing well, it doesn’t stop my legs from getting drenched.

We spent over an hour in the bar at Granja, examining an hour-by-hour weather report. It seemed to indicate that things would improve, though we weren’t sure we’d made the right decision (to continue) when there was a relatively heavy squall about 15 minutes down the road. Luckily, that was it; apart from a few sprinkles we were dry for the rest of the day. We could even sit down for lunch when we arrived at the bridge (8km after Granja) that was our waymark.

The wind was icy but we made good time on the 10km to Faramontanos de Tábara, where we planned to stay. Unfortunately, the refugio was being used for something to do with Easter (it being Good Friday, after all) so we couldn’t stay there. Instead, we had to continue for another 6km to Tábara, where we discovered that the albergue is located really really far away from the town centre.

Morning market in Tábara

Morning market in Tábara

Since the supermarket was shut, we didn’t have much option but to eat in the bar (back in town, a long long way from the albergue). Back in the albergue, everyone was so knackered that we turned the lights out at 9:30.

Saturday 7/4: After a pleasant sleep-in (broken only by Toro crashing around), we left the albergue at around 9am and stopped at the supermarket on the way out of town. Unfortunately the light rain got heavier and heavier until it felt like icy needles, but it let off and the sun even came out to dry us off.

After 10km or so, we had to choose between two routes; we chose the one that would take us to coffee. 4km further along, we stopped in a bar for half an hour or so then had a bocadillo lunch on the side of the road out of town. After that, it wasn’t too far to Santa Marta de Tera, where we stopped for the night. The only other pilgrim was another Spaniard called José, who we’d met the night before; the others had stayed in a private albergue a kilometre back along the road — and with good reason, since the low temperatures meant that the very basic refugio on offer wasn’t very pleasant.

In the afternoon we visited an eleventh-century church which features the oldest statue of Santiago the pilgrim, and drank cheap wine with José in a local bar.

Sunday 8/4: Easter Sunday was perhaps the most perfect day on the Camino so far. It didn’t start auspiciously — the albergue was freezing cold so we dressed hurriedly, and the bar where we’d planned to have our morning coffee was closed.

We set off into the frosty landscape, and although we walked fast, the time seemed to drag. We finally made it to Olleros de Tera at midday with coffee on our mind, but the church bells were ringing and we decided to go to mass instead.

Our attempts to hide at the back were foiled by the need for everyone to leave in a procession — the men walked around the church one way following a man holding a large crucifix, and the women walked the other behind a statue of the Virgin Mary. We all met up halfway and returned to the church together.

It was interesting that two women led the mass, something that we hadn’t seen before. A kind lady explained to us later that the priest had come the day before; he’s probably the one who has seven churches to look after, who is also in charge of the church we visited in Santa Marta the day before.

After mass, we found a bar (after asking around a bit), where we had our long-anticipated coffee and some very tasty tapas. I had my cheek stroked again by an older woman wishing us a “buen camino”, and we made our way out of town.

Craig at the fountain

Craig at the fountain

Not only did we have more energy after coffee and a snack, we also had great weather. After leaving the albergue bundled up in almost all our clothes (for example, I was wearing a T-shirt, two merino tops, a fleece, a jacket with the hood up to keep my ears warm, and a scarf fashioned out of my merino longjohns), it was exciting to get down to just a T-shirt and feel the sun on our arms.

The walk was great too; a narrow bushwalk of a couple of kilometres took us to a dam, and after we crossed it we walked alongside the reservoir for a few more kilometres.

Our guide said there wasn’t anything in Vilar de Farfón, the last town before our destination of Rionegro, but shortly before arriving there we saw a yellow coffee cup painted on the rock and got very excited. The cup didn’t represent a cafe, though; it was the house of a South African missionary family who had set up a tiny albergue with a welcoming porch/kitchen area where you could enjoy an instant coffee and a chat with the host. As we were leaving an older couple arrived who recognised us from mass and we were given apples to eat on our way.

Rionegro in the sunset

Rionegro in the sunset

The albergue at Rionegro is new and fantastic, equipped with a washing machine and dryer. We put all our clothes on to wash and headed out to the bar for wine and more tapas. However, disaster struck when we returned; someone had changed the setting on the washing machine and it had stopped partway through a long cycle without having finished washing our clothes. After reading the instruction manual carefully, we managed to put it on again, and stayed up late cycling the clothes through the dryer — we’d planned to hang them out for awhile but it wasn’t to be.

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2 Responses to “Travel diary: Via de la Plata, week four”

  1. Benson Paris April 12, 2012 at 3:56 am #

    Nice place. I will try visit all place in my life

  2. Carlo Alberto April 21, 2012 at 2:23 am #

    Thanks for sharing your day by day.
    I love the photos of your everyday experience.
    Carlo Alberto

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