We’re on our way to Santiago! Slowly, certainly — we’re averaging about 22km a day — but we’ll get there eventually.
Monday 12/3: We made the most of what will probably be our last opportunity to do so for some time, and slept in. Then we spent the rest of the day running errands: first we booked tickets for Craig to go back to England to pick up the rest of our gear, and sent some Couchsurfing requests for A Coruna. Then we headed into the city to get our pilgrim passports (not from the cathedral, as it turns out, but from Hotel Simón nearby). We stopped by the police station to see about getting me an identity card, but the line was so long we decided to give up on it and go shopping instead.
Craig’s tiny backpack was just too small for all the stuff he needs for the Camino, so he wanted to get a new one. We had to catch a bus out to Camas and spent some time looking through the Decathlon store, eventually buying not only a bag, but also a new shirt for Craig and a pocket knife. We headed home after visiting the supermarket and having a coffee, and I rested while Craig played with the kids.
In the evening we introduced Ana and Alfonso to Vietnamese summer rolls, and had a nice evening chatting with them and drinking fine wine — Craig had managed to find a bottle of Ayala champagne for only €10, so we celebrated our impending departure in true style.
Tuesday 13/3: Alfonso told us there was a mass for pilgrims at 8:30 in the cathedral, and since we thought this would be a perfect start to our journey, we decided to go. We said a sad goodbye to Alfonso and the kids, and made it to the cathedral just on time, but there didn’t seem to be anything going on in the chapel where the mass was supposed to be. No matter; we wandered around the dark cavern of the cathedral until we found a service that had already started, and sat at the back with our bags beside us. As we were leaving, another mass in another alcove caught our attention, so we went to that one too.
Next, we needed to get a stamp in our pilgrim passports from the cathedral. This was going to pose a problem since the office where you get them opens at 11, and it was only 9am. Luckily though, as we approached the gates to the office, they opened to let a car out. We asked the woman who was opening them about the stamps, and she said she could help us. She ushered us into the office, stamped the passports, then let us out, locking the gates behind us.
The first part of the journey was uneventful. We got a little off-track when leaving Seville, but found our stride on the other side of the river. We walked through Camas, passing not far from the Decathlon we’d visited the day before, then continued on to Santiponce, where we had a coffee then explored the Roman ruins. There’s a theatre, thermal baths, and a huge complex of houses and an amphitheatre that was stunning to see. Although the house walls were not very high, there were several mosaic floors in very good condition.
We continued on, deciding to have lunch when we arrived in Guillena, our final stop for the day. Most of the route there was a straight line along a wide dirt track, so it was quite easy going. We were still exhausted by the time we arrived, though, and were grateful for the help offered by a woman who saw us looking lost at the police station (we weren’t, but the gesture was nice all the same).
We settled into the albergue then headed out to the supermarket before a well-deserved rest. In the evening we went for a walk around town then met the other pilgrims at church for another mass. After the formal part of the service the priest asked us to come forward to give us a blessing and a little card with the church’s favourite Virgin Mary statue on it. Afterwards we all had a beer together in the local bar, along with the hospitalero (albergue host), Jacqueline. Because of the nature of this Camino, we’ll probably see most or all of the other pilgrims most nights for the next few weeks. There were seven of us that first night: a French couple, a Spanish man, an Italian woman and a Russian woman (all in their fifties or sixties), and Craig and me — who have already become “los jóvenes” (the young ones).
Wednesday 14/3: The others had all left when we got up at 7:30. We had a breakfast of coffee and magdalenas and were out the door just before 8:30, starting a short day of only 19km. Of course, since it was day two we were a bit slow to start, since our bodies were complaining about what we’d made them do the day before. We found a rhythm though, and enjoyed a pleasant walk along a dirt track with trees on either side. We saw rabbits and butterflies, and the birds were singing. For a while we had to walk along a road, which was hard on our feet, but soon a track appeared beside it — a lot more pleasant.
All five other pilgrims had already arrived when we made it to the albergue in Castilblanco, two of them welcomed us from the second-floor porch. We showered, laundered, shopped and lunched then gave in and had a nap — in good company though, everyone else was doing the same.
I managed to cut myself with the new, sharp, pocket knife while trying to put dinner together, but otherwise the evening was uneventful and we all turned in early.
Thursday 15/3: Once again, everyone was gone by the time we got up, and we packed quickly and left without making coffee. It was a hard start to the day, made harder by Craig’s blisters, my cold, and 16km of walking along a road. A Dutch couple pulled their car over and got out for a chat with us while we were having a break; they’re planning on doing the Via de la Plata next year and are scoping it out. It was a good conversation until I scared them off with a coughing fit.
Things improved once we got off the road and entered the national park, which was full of cork trees. It was an undulating, pleasant walk… Right up until the end when we had to climb up and down a steep, rocky hillside. Luckily the town of Almadén de la Plata was at the foot of it! We went in with the other pilgrims for dinner; Mina (the Italian) cooked delicious pasta and chicken and we were joined by another Spanish guy who’s cycling the Camino.
Friday 16/3: Day four was certainly more pleasant than day three. We started off at about 8:25, and two minutes after walking out the door it started to rain. The rain continued off and on for the next few hours, with varying intensity but luckily not in complete downpours.
The walk itself was lovely, along a nice, soft, wide track that wound through a lightly forested national park. There was one serious climb about two-thirds of the way through, which Craig had problems with because of his blisters, but otherwise it was very easy going.
We met up with the other three when we arrived in El Real de la Jara, and all checked into a private albergue. There were three rooms and five of us (the French couple having continued on to the next town) so Craig and I had a room to ourselves — luxury!
We headed out to get lunch and buy some hayfever medicine as well as some blister plasters, then spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the wifi connection before having dinner with the other pilgrims — Cipri (the Spaniard) had cooked a traditional garlic soup and rather forcefully invited us to share it. Saying no was not an option, but luckily it was absolutely delicious.
Saturday 17/3: Day five was another pleasant one, just 20km along a wide dirt road that wound through farmland. We crossed the border from Andalusia into Extremadura, saw two castles, and were barked at for about 15 minutes by a dog who didn’t like the fact we were walking alongside her paddock.
The last few kilometres were a bit of a struggle. On reaching the top of the hill just before our destination of Monasterio, we decided to take an extended break and have lunch at the picnic tables that seemed to be placed there for exactly that purpose. We chatted with a guy who’d pulled over in his car for a break and also with a pilgrim who’d come all the way from Almadén, where we’d stopped two nights before — he’s obviously in better condition than us!
In town, we visited the albergue, where we saw our three fellows as well as three or four other pilgrims. In the end though, we decided to stay in a guesthouse we’d seen advertised for the same price as the albergue. There was no kitchen or wifi but we got a private room with our own bathroom, instead of two bunks in a dorm. It felt like complete luxury!
After a shower and a rest, we decided to explore the town a little bit. We visited an old (fifteenth-century) church, and went to a mini-museum dedicated to the Via de la Plata, where we learned all sorts of things about our route and were given a map.
On the way back through town, we finally managed to buy Craig some jandals. He was extremely excited, since it isn’t much fun to put walking shoes back onto blistered feet if there’s another option.
In the evening, we went to the bar below our accommodation and had our first menú del día of the trip — starter, main, dessert and a drink for €8 each. Win.
Sunday 18/3: The day started with a victory: we managed to leave by 8:05. Of course, losing the way about a kilometre down the road wasn’t so much of a win. We realised that we’d gone the wrong way but decided to keep on going instead of retracing our steps, and it worked out fine. We had a lovely walk along a stonewalled lane and hopped across a brook before coming to a road and trying to work out which way to go. We’d just decided to go left, when a car trundled down the road and pulled to a stop, both the driver and the passenger falling over themselves to inform us the we just had to turn left and we’d soon be back on the right path.
The right path wasn’t as pretty as the one we’d just left, but it was fairly straight and wide and we made good time. After a while we came out onto an open plain where the wind was fierce. I found it tough going but Craig had found victory over his blisters (almost) and has a windproof jacket, and really enjoyed himself.
We made it to Fuente de Cantos at around 1:30 and found a shop selling bread on the way to the albergue, which is located in an old convent– it’s airy and modern on the inside, and old and historical on the outside. Plus, it has wifi — which is how I’m able to post this travel diary!
After a rest, we went for a wander around town then visited the other half of the convent, which is now a museum-like space dedicated to the life and works of a local seventeenth-century artist. The guide was animated and informed and we spent an hour there without noticing it go by.