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Via de la Plata and Camino Frances – same but different?

richy_trip

New Member
Hi
I’m planning to walk the Via in September/ October and am in the planning stage now. I’m totally out of shape and only have a few weeks to prepare(!) but it’s now or never – a sudden change of circumstances allow me to take the time and who knows when I will have another opportunity?

Thanks to all, this is a brilliant forum with some great posts that have answered most of my questions and will enable me to do some rapid planning. I walked El Camino Frances some time ago - 1998 I think it was – so I sort of know what I’m taking on (so I tell myself!). As tough as Camino Frances was, it was an amazing experience with memories that I return to often – I don't need photos, the images (and sensation) are still clear in my mind. But now I have the opportunity for a 'top-up' and am hoping the Via will be the challenging and fulfilling boost to the spirit that El Camino was. But also I hope, and expect, the Via will be different from the Camino Frances.

So, to get to the point (!), has anyone who has walked both routes have any particular advice based on these comparative experiences? Of course, differences I will notice may be more to do with changes over the last decade, rather than the different routes? On this note - back in ‘98 I don't remember paying to use refugios. I only remember an occasional donation box. This appears to have changed and the cost of accommodation has become a significant part of budgeting? Or am I mistaken? Also, from my (limited) reading so far it appears that the main differences between the routes are: longer stretches between refugios and fewer peregrinos along the Via? But is the terrain significantly different, more ‘difficult’ on the Via compared to El Camino?
Apologies for rambling! Any advice much appreciated.
Rich
 
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JohnnieWalker

Nunca se camina solo
Hi

In my opinion the two routes are considerably different and in your post you highlight those - longer distances between albergues, tougher stages particularly in the latter part of the route and fewer pilgrims.

Some would say that in the 10 years since you walked the Camino Frances it has changed out of recognition to the point where at times it is saturated with pilgrims. But of course a unique experience because of that!

Numbers on the Via de la Plata are steadily increasing and whereas in 2006 when I walked this route I rarely met another pilgrim there have been relatively recent reports in this forum of the route being much busier.

BUT it is a fantastic route full of beauty and challenge. Take your time at the beginning and leave long enough days for the distance you want to cover. Make sure you have enough water and food when necessary. Soon stamina will build.

The council run albergues charge 3 euros nowadays. Generally speaking, with one or two excpetions, the albergues on the VdlP are very good indeed.

If I had the chance to walk this route again I'd jump at it.

Advice - don't hesitate - go!

Have look at what I think: http://johnniewalker-santiago.blogspot. ... la%20Plata

Where are you thinking of starting from and when are you going?

Buen Camino

John
 

richy_trip

New Member
Thanks John for the swift reply, and the encouragement. The plan, such as it is, is to leave Seville the first week in September - getting to Santiago by mid October.
Rich
 

crevans

New Member
Dear Richy,

Just seen your post about the VdlP. I was a first-timer on any Camino and walked the VdlP from 1st May, ending up in Finisterre on 12th June.

I hesitate to comment, amid such a galaxy of veterans...

I was a fit 49-year-old (now still a fit...50-year-old) wearing well-worn in boots and carrying around 10kg. But I found the first week pretty hard: blisters and sheer tiredness. In May, the temperatures were already into the low 30's and, unlike I expect you do, I had no idea of 'Camino-pacing'. Physically, for me, the worst two days were the stages from Monasterio to Calzadilla de los Barros and from Los Santos to Almendralejo. After the first week, though, provided I didn't walk too fast, I was fine. That said, I clocked up not a few days of more than 30kms. This was mostly out of choice: it 'bought' me a whole week's free time on the beach at the end of my Camino. Thankfully, I had a very problem-free Camino otherwise.

It's interesting to note that I think I met only three others who had never walked another Camino before the VdlP. Most folk were walking as singles or as couples. Most were walking the whole stretch from Seville to Santiago and were either retired, unemployed or able to take out a longer-than-usual chunk from their usual lives: I was on sabbatical. You need at least five weeks, and that would be rushing it for most people.

There were a smaller group, more, probably, as the Camino progressed, who were only walking a part of it: such as Sevilla-Merida; Merida-Salamanca; Zamora-Santiago. Most of these were walking for a week or so only.

At the start, the nightly 'cohort' in most of the albergues was around 10 walkers and 2/3 cyclists. This decreased as we got closer to Salamanca and then markedly increased from Salamanca and Zamora.

I used the Camino Planner on the Godesalco website, which is excellent and broadly accurate. This shows you at a glance where is the accommodation and of what kind. As you comment, there are far fewer refugios. I found that, apart from the excellent network of Council-run albergues in Galicia (still charging Eu3), the rest generally charged Eu5 or 6. Some, Eu7. The Galician ones were by far the best: clean, comfortable, good facilities. The ones in the north of Castille y Leon - beyond Zamora - were the poorest. I was turned away on only two occasions, but there was an alternative not too far away in each case.

I don't know what you are looking for. In my case, I wanted a fair degree of peace and quiet. That was most definitely achieved during the walking day. It was easy not to see, let alone meet, another person all day! As Johnnie has pointed out, you definitely need to take food and water adequate not just for lunch but also in case there might be nothing much at the end of the day too.

At the end of the day, I found that several of the refugios got quite full. If the VdlP increases much more in popularity, the Camino infrastructure will struggle. (That said, if you are happy to use alternatives, as I was, you can find a variety of pensiones, hostales, habitaciones at a variety of prices, starting from Eu15. Some were more basic. The one in Sanabria was palatial: Carlos V: highly recommended and very reasonable!).

I found the other peregrinos a charming and very friendly bunch. Having joined something of the stream that flowed on from the Camino Frances after Santiago, onwards to Finisterre, I would venture to suggest that VdlP walkers are a slightly different breed (anyone else got any thoughts?). I met only two other Brits on the entire walk. There were lots of Spaniards of course and Germans (there are no less than two highly detailed German guides to the VdlP, one only published in October 2008: still, they managed to find some mistakes even in that!). All were, on the whole, older rather than younger people and mostly 'seasoned' long-distance walkers. Many were walking purely and unashamedly as a holiday experience (which, I hasten to add, is fine, but perhaps more so than on the CF?). I made some very good friends. You do need at least basic survival Spanish. English only will not do, unless the other person is a German, of course.

I took a more or less weekly day off. I stopped off at Merida, Salamanca and Sanabria. I had a half-day off at Caceres. I also took three days out at Oseira Abbey, north of Orense: a very different experience. The refugio there is basic if not dire, but the accommodation I enjoyed inside the Abbey was near luxurious: Eu30 full board per night. You need to book in advance and to be prepared to join in something of the monastic experience: not for everyone but definitely for some!

The walking is mostly on farm tracks: i.e. wide enough for at least one large-ish vehicle to negotiate: sometimes the tracks were a little busy with farm vehicles. There is also a significant chunk of walking on tarmac. The worst stretch was from Salamanca to El Cubo del Vino: the Camino has literally been churned up by motorway construction and we had the dubious and sweltering experience of walking along the as-yet unopened motorway for several hours: no longer possible! Further north, the track became much more frequently a mere footpath.

I wound up having a week doing very little on the beach, 7kms from Finisterre, at a delightful place, Estorde. Not a cheap pension there, but absolutely idyllic.

I think the VdlP is great. Beautiful countryside, fascinating towns and cities, solitude as well as good friendships. I hope you have a great time too.

Clive.
 
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JohnnieWalker

Nunca se camina solo
Clive - what a really helpful post and catches the distinct nature of the VdlP. I think your advice to have emergency food is really valuable on this route - even if only nuts and piece of fruit it can keep you going or indeed overnight if needs be.

Regards

John
 

Canuck

Veteran wanderer
Past OR future Camino
?
Clive,

I am leaving next week for the Via. I intend to go all the way. Your write up is excellent information. Thank you for taking the time to share.

Cheers,
Jean-Marc
 

MermaidLilli

Active Member
One of the things I liked about the Via were the main cities one crosses. Merida, Caceres, Salamanca, Zamora and Ourense. Each with historical value. I recommend checking them out as a tourist. Unless, of course, you plan on going back to Spain someday as a tourist. One thing.... do not be in them on a Monday. Museums, Roman ruins...closed.
Lillian
 

richy_trip

New Member
Many thanks Clive, and all, for taking the time to post. It’s great to get such detailed insights into what I might expect. I’m expecting, and hoping for, that peace and quiet you speak of Clive. I’m also expecting it not to be easy – like you I’m “older rather than younger”. But I’m not what I’d call a seasoned walker. Fortunately, I can take pretty much as long as I need to get to Santiago (within reason)… and I suppose I’ll be well seasoned (and probably well cooked :) ) by the time I get there!. I’m also looking forward to the cities as a contrast to the empty spaces in between (thanks for reminding about Monday closing Lillian – I’ve been caught out by that before).
Thanks again for the replies
Rich
 

skilsaw

Veteran Member
The need to carry extra food has been noted.
I'd buy things to cover 3 lunches when I passed a good tienda.

Many towns are almost abandoned and don't have a store or cafe.

Carrying and drinking water on the VDLP is important too.
I bought 3 litres of water per day. 1/2 liter first thing in the morning, then a litre walking in the morning and a litre walking in the afternoon, followed up by 1/2 litre in the evening.
This was on top of the many cokes I drank when passing open cafes.

It is a good trip.
 
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JohnnieWalker

Nunca se camina solo
skilsaw said:
Many towns are almost abandoned and don't have a store or cafe.

Careful - many towns and villages have shops - it is just that they don't look like shops! It may be the front room of a house with the door looking like errrr...the door of the house. Just ask and someone will direct you.
 

richy_trip

New Member
Hi
Nearly there!
I’m off to Seville next week and should be on the Via before the week is out!
One thing I’ve yet to decide on is technology and communicating with ‘home’. I know the pros and cons of new technology on the Way have been discussed elsewhere on this forum – and I don’t want to re-visit the pro vs. anti tech argument (it can get quite polemical :shock: ). But one option I’m considering is to use Twitter.. sending the occasional ‘tweet’ from my ‘smart’ phone could be an easy (and brief) way of letting those who are interested know where I’m at and how I’m doing. However, ‘roaming data’ charges through my carrier are notoriously high and this could soon add up. And there is the added problem of a phone ‘locked’ to my carrier – so I can’t use the local SIM with data allowance solution mentioned here:
equipment-questions/topic5071.html
Does anyone know of another solution? Or do I just need to put up with punitive data costs, or forget mobile data and use cafes/ libraries, or send a postcard instead :wink: ?
Any thoughts or experience of using roaming data on the Via?
Many thanks
Rich
 

evanlow

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
Frances06
Primitivo07
Plata08
Norte12
Levante(14-15)
Vasco16
Mozarabe(16-17)
Madrid17
Portuguese18
If twitter is your only requirements, then you may probably want to get a local prepaid sim card and a cheap starter phone (30-40 euro) over there. Those are usually unlocked. Even the cheapest phone and prepaid card can get you on the internet.

To save bandwidth, use:

http://m.twitter.com/login

for the mobile site.

Buen Camino!
 

richy_trip

New Member
Well, despite the excessive heat I’m on my way to Seville, ready to give the Via my best shot. Discussions (in another thread) about the merits of VdlP and CF aside, I would say that one point of undertaking the Camino(s) is the physical and mental challenge (for me at least). Equally, some may find the heat a bigger challenge than others. And some may find isolation (or ‘crowds’ and associated enterprises) more of a challenge. We none of us know until we try :) . So I’m going to try and see how my body/ mind reacts to walking in 100F – it will be a new experience for me :eek:
I will also try and sent the occasional ‘tweet’ (depending on the tech) :
http://twitter.com/richy_trip
Now where’s that sun-block…..
Rich
 

stanlificus

New Member
I am heading out from Seville either on Sept 3 or 4 - will likely start from Italica. Hopefully our paths will cross - am feeling somewhat apprehensive at the moment so it is comforting to know someone else will be out there around the same time!
dana
 
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skilsaw

Veteran Member
JohnnieWalker said:
skilsaw said:
Many towns are almost abandoned and don't have a store or cafe.

Careful - many towns and villages have shops - it is just that they don't look like shops! It may be the front room of a house with the door looking like errrr...the door of the house. Just ask and someone will direct you.


You are right Johnnie. A couple of times I was directed to a shop or bakery hidden behind a house front. But other times the villages seemed deserted. Not even a dog sleeping in the road. Sometimes the cafe where I ate dinner the night before wasn't open when I started walking and I found that I couldn't count on a cafe being open in the next village. Having an extra tin of sardines in my pack became a treat in those situations.

Not that I am complaining. It was just a reality that I had to accept. Part of the charm of loneliness and isolation that is the Via de la Plata. The route includes a small city every 4 to 7 days. Zafra, Merida, Caceres, Salamanca, Zamora... Then Benavente if you continue north to Astorga, and Ourense if you turn west at Granja de Moreruela.

David, Victoria, Canada
 

JohnnieWalker

Nunca se camina solo
I agree David and its easy to get caught out with no food in a strange place. Recently I relied on a bar which I knew being open on the Camino Ingles after about 20 kms of an etapa. It was closed and my walking companero was going to murder me. Always best to carry some nuts and dried fruit - or sardines - for these eventualities.
 

alipilgrim

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
Listed in my signature
I often carried some dried soup packs. Them, combined with some rice (hopefully left in an albergue with cooking facilities) can make quite a filling dinner in a pinch, and not heavy to carry...
 
Past OR future Camino
CF 2006,08,09,11,12(2),13(2),14,16(2),18(2) Aragones 11,12,VDLP 11,13,Lourdes 12,Malaga 16,Port 06
Remember that you need water to cook rice... and our experience is that there is NO WATER in many places. We are thinking of returning to the Plata when we reach Santiago if the weather has cooled down a bit. But for now, it is TOO HOT and dry.
 

evanlow

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
Frances06
Primitivo07
Plata08
Norte12
Levante(14-15)
Vasco16
Mozarabe(16-17)
Madrid17
Portuguese18
Water is ok. Just that the pots, pans and utensils are sometimes lacking or dirty.

I usually buy lots of muesli bars. They are light, easy to carry and a great regular emergency energy source.
 
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richy_trip

New Member
Hi
In Cacceres having a rest day, so thought I´d quickly post about the heat situation. The first 10 days out of Seville (starting 4th Sept) were slow due to the extreme heat - average 22k a day for first 220k. Having said that, it was do-able with sufficient planning. The trick was to make sure I arrived at the day´s destination by 1.00 PM at the lateset. It´s really not good to still be walking into the afternoon with temps in 90s or 100s! To ensure this, it is necessary to get going very early some days (5 - 5.30 am) so, for future reference a head tourch is a must if starting the Via early Sept.
I carried c. 3 to 3.5 litres of water on those hot days and that was sufficient (could probably have got away with less).
The weather has now changed (20 degrees cooler, bit of cloud and rain) and as a consequence have covered 80k in last two days. Just shows how draining of energy walking in the extreme heat is by comparison!
On a more general level I´ve found the Via to be a spectacular walk. The scenery may be different to the other routes, but it is no less beautiful. And every day is different. And if you like picking grapes and figs as you walk along the way, I can recommend a September start!
Rich
 

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