- Camino(s) past & future
- Frances 2004 and Via de la Plata 2015
I plan to use this thread to post the log of a Camino on the VdlP that I did with my two brothers and a friend last September and October.
I had done the Camino Frances in 2004. My brothers Bob and Dick had done the Frances multiple times, most recently in 2012. My friend, Doug was a newbie, who was interested in the Camino for years, but whose wife has no interest in walking. The average age of all participants was mid sixties. We all trained for several months before starting the Camino and each had considerable prior hiking experience.
My brothers and I had been planning a Camino together for some time. Doug was a fairly late addition to the group, about 2 months prior to our starting date.
The original plan was that my brothers would walk roughly as far as Salamanca, due to commitments at home. Doug and I would go as far as we could comfortably in seven weeks including travel time from the west coast of the USA.
We all found caminodesantiago.me useful and entertaining in our preparation and execution of our Camino. We appreciate all those who contribute to make this a useful resource. Thanks!
This missive is not meant to be a ‘how to’ or a guide in any sense, it is probably neither useful or entertaining. But if you have any questions, I will try to answer them.
I wanted to write my trip up, but became enmeshed in life immediately after returning from the Camino and have finally had an opportunity to transcribe my notes. It's a brief, or maybe not so brief, description of some of the things we saw and did. I will be posting the results in several entries.
The distances mentioned are estimates, sometimes based on guidebook information and others based on seemingly credible sources (such as owners of hostels, etc.).
Photos can be found using the tag- The Do Not Resuscitate Tour
The Do Not Resuscitate Tour
Via de la Plata and the Camino Sanabres
September – October 2015
Bob, Dick, Doug and Carlos
The AVE from Madrid was great. We went by the famous monument to Spanish corruption, the South Madrid airport at Ciudad Real. Over a billion dollars were spent to build it. It was opened for about three years and closed because of lack of financial viability.
The weather was hot, high seventies with showers that added humidity to the equation. We walked to our hotel, the Meliá, which was very nice. We walked to old town which was about a mile away to find a restaurant that Doug found on Yelp (which was only useful in the major cities). The restaurant was called El Rinconcillo was down an old narrow street. For dinner we had sirloin, French fries, fired green peppers, all excellent and washed down by two smooth bottles of a Muga red crianza. Afterward we walked back to the hotel through the old town. People were really out by then. There were tables on the streets with people talking and lots of foot traffic. We told old family stories as we walked- found out that Dick was still sending X-Mas cards to a long dead uncle - that was a good laugh.
We got somewhat lost before getting back on track.
The weather was pleasant, the high was 85. We walked to the old section past the remnants of a Roman aqueduct. Doug and his guiding smartphone led the way.
We went to the Cathedral de Seville where Christopher Columbus has a resplendent tomb. We climbed the bell tower that was formerly a minuet. It had a tremendous view of Seville and the river.
We went into the Alcazar which had sumptuous gardens.
Leaving the Alcazar Dick hammered an uncooperative vending machine that refused to give up a bottle of water. His final kick followed by a repressing of the buttons did produce a bottle finally and a lot of shocked commentary from the gate attendants.
We just put it behind us and walked on.
We went to river and walked around. We stopped at the bull ring. It was a pity that the season was over.
We tried our hand at navigating the Seville subway system to get back to the hotel and had success.
Seville was nice, the streets seemed safe.
We stuffed ourselves at the hotel breakfast buffet and forwent lunch. In the afternoon there were beers street side at a café where we talked and joked and watched the traffic go by.
For dinner we found Meson de Juan after much walking and perusing- simple but good fare, the bottle of Manace Lanores (reserve) was mediocre but the complementary orujo was priced right.
Castilblanco de Arroyos 8-Sep-2015 20 Km
We started in Guillena, a dingy garbage strewn small town. There had been credible reports of problems on the first leg of the Camino so we decided to avoid it. It was warm but not hot in the morning. Threatening rain drove up the humidity. The trail went along the road at first, then turned onto a good trail, a wide footpath, with a nice countryside of olive trees, oaks, and rolling hills ascending to about 350 meters. The last four Km along a road were hot and unpleasant. We reached the albergue, the town was small but pleasant and clean. The albergue had a nice rooftop patio where we did the wash, had a nice view of the countryside and watched thunder clouds roll across the distant landscape. The land was suffering drought so the rain that fell on the dry distant hills was no doubt welcomed. There were a handful of other pilgrims at the albergue. We walked around the town looking for a suitable restaurant. All the buildings were well maintained, on the street there were many new cars and the bars were filled with locals. We found a bar/café with better than average food. It was a pleasant dinner after a day on the trail.
Almadén de la Plata 8-Sep-2015 20+ Km
We walked through a nature park, the trail was great, cork oak predominated in the park and showed signs of recent harvesting. We passed the ruins of a huge estancia, saw many quail and a couple of rough looking German women grousing about not seeing any wild pigs. A stream of French tourists without packs and a guide streamed past us smiling and blathering away while chewing on cookies. The last two kilometers were a ballbuster, 25%+ grade, no trail just a loose jeep track traversing a steep bald slope. It was like combat to scale it. We hustled from patch of shade to patch of shade where we sucked air and gulped water. We did this until we crested the top. When we reached town we saw the French group boarding shuttle buses carrying their packs.
The pueblo was nice, clean and the people were friendly. The lady in charge of the municipal albergue did our wash for free. There were only three others in the albergue. A shower with hot water was invigorating. We had beers at a bar, El Moreno, sat outside and watched the world go by. We ate at the Restaurante La Muralla, which provided a better than average pilgrim's meal. We had a second bottle of wine and herb infused orujo for dessert.
El Real de la Jara 9-Sep-2015 17 Km
We were a little slow getting out of the gate, didn’t hit the street until 9 AM. In this hot climate we needed to improve that.
A good trail through hills studded with oaks, meadows of yellow grass, pigs, goats and cattle. It also included a tough climb near the end, 20+ degrees. A Spanish solo bicigrino crashed his bike about 100 meters down the hill behind us – we debated sending somebody back down to check on him but we saw him wave others away and he was talking on a mobile phone. The sun was hot, it was about 85 at the end.
El Real de la Jara was small and well kept. The albergue was cool and clean. We had a room with 5 bunk beds and a private bath for the 4 of us, so we really got to spread out. Dick and Doug did everyone’s wash by hand and hung it. There were more pilgrims, Dutch and Germans. After walking all over town, we found a casual open bar, which was very dog friendly, and had some beers. We spoke with some Dutch pilgrims and a pig farmer, with 1600 pigs, and his wife who were very friendly. The pig farmer said that he considered some of the pigs we had walked by earlier in the day to be wild, thus settling a discussion which had come up several times since the encounter.
Dinner was in El Meson de Coche, decorated artfully with antique stuff, food was average, filled the wine bottles for the tables from an enormous commercial plastic bottle, it was drinkable but not much else. While waiting for the restaurant owner to show up and open the doors (at about 8:30PM), we chatted with the assembled crowd and learned that the bicigrino had been taken to a hospital and that his pilgrimage was probably over. There was an enormous goat corral across from the albergue with about fifty goats in it. Large Moorish castle up the hill which Doug wanted to visit but we didn’t get to it.
Monesterio 10-Sep-2015 23 Km
It was very hot, somewhere in the eighties. The trail was generally good, a few steep hills, goats and sheep, dry grasslands, many oaks, some stands of eucalyptus. We walked by a ruined castle and by loose groups of black domesticated pigs who largely ignored us. Some around a water hole were the size of ponies. I definitely didn’t want to mess with those. One hairy brown pig, young and small and later identified as wild gave me a start when it jumped up as I was passing it. We walked by and were passed in turn by many of the pilgrims we had met in the last two days. The pilgrim numbers so far had been low, six to eight I would say. As it got hotter we put shade at a premium for our more or less hourly stops. We passed several pens holding pigs who lazily watched us. We stopped in the shade of some trees for water breaks. Later when we got to the albergue we snacked on bread, chorizo, cheese and wine in the albergue kitchen. It was a parochial albergue and the priest was dressed in a sports shirt, young and easy going. After we showered, washed our clothes and laid out our bunks we went out to dinner.
We ate outside at the nearby El Restaurante Los Templarios. The climate improved with the sunset. The food and presentation were excellent.
A fiesta was getting ready to start, Día del Jamón de Monesterio. A kiddie train threaded through the back streets filled with kids and parents. A lot of businesses were closed. It would’ve been nice to stay a couple of days. Doug bemoaned the fact that we would miss the feria and that the Museo del Jamon was closed. We assured him that we would encounter more Museos del Jamon during our pilgrimage.
Fuente de Cantos 11-Sep-2015 23 Km
Monikers were assigned to two of the young German pilgrim women we met in the albergue. One was Speedwalker, from Berlin, so named because she claimed she did a minimum of 40 Km a day. It was totally believable, she was very lean with good muscle definition and traveled light. We wouldn’t see her again. The other, the Mathematician, so named because she got her BA in Mathematics and would be pursuing her Masters after her return from the Camino. The Mathematician looked like she could handle the trail without problems. The monikers were necessary because we knew virtually all the pilgrims we were encountering by sight, but not necessarily by name. There were the also previously mentioned Pig Farmer, and Pig Farmer's Wife, The Dutch Women, and subsequently the Trailer Peregrinos (named for their support trailer that carried their packs, food, and possibly some musical instruments).
The next day on the trail the sun got progressively hotter. At 1 PM it was punishing, everyone was sweating like crazy. We went through hot dusty hills with very little shade. My legs started to ache. We bunched up under a small water tower for a rest in the shade. Bob had taken a fall at a creek crossing and his back started giving him problems. We alternated carrying his pack and finally stopped a farmer who was driving by and he took Bob into Fuente de Cantos.
On the edge of town we were flagged down by an albergue owner who took us to his establishment. The owner offered to track down Bob, found him and brought him to the albergue. The pueblo was not small but not big either. I have to say all the people we met were great to us.
The albergue, El Zaguán de la Plata, was private, the made-over house of a rich man who lost it gambling according to the present owner. His photos and that of his family dotted the albergue as did a lot of period pieces from the forties and fifties. There was a banquet hall filled with antique farm implements, horse tack, kitchen implements and a luxurious carriage. We stayed in small but comfortable rooms with 2 beds and shared a bathroom. The owner did our wash for free and we hung them to dry.
Dick asked the two older German ladies sitting around the pool if they minded if he swam in his underwear. They said he was welcome to swim in any state that he wished. Dick's German language and my Spanish have been very helpful on the trip.
We washed clothes every day because they were sopped with sweat by the time we finished the day’s walking. We had to carry all our water with us because there were few, if any, places to refill along the way. Often we drank every drop.
We had beers at the Club Zurbaran Restaurant Bar on Calle Plus Ultra right across from where we were staying. Bob was thinking of going home. I counseled him to wait a few days, the albergue was pleasant, the owners super helpful.
Dinner was at El Gato. We ate outside at a sidewalk table, served by a woman who looked remarkably like Sarah Palin. While they did not have a pilgrim's menu, they did have several menu selections in the 8 to 10 Euro range. The bottle of Extremadura tinto was actually sealed, rather than refilled as we often encountered. One of our greatest regrets, was that we did not get our waitress to say “You Betcha” on video, which certainly would have gone viral. At dinner we collectively decided to stay another day to see if Bob’s back improved.
Fuente de Cantos 12-Sep-2015 0 Km
I saw off Bob at the local bus station. His back seemed OK but he had decided to go. I felt bad and was afraid he was being hasty.
Now, we were three.
From the local Mercado we got some wine, cold rose, jamon, cheese and bread which we felt extremely lucky to get since the shop was technically closed at about 2:45 in the afternoon. We enjoyed our food and drink at the albergue on the patio in the shade of a big palm. The patio was surrounded by a beautiful garden, the weather was comfortable. It was good to have a rest.
Tomorrow, a longish 25 Km haul. There may be an intermediate point. Up until now it has been largely point to point which was a worry because if someone was hurt at kilometer 10 or 15 out on something like the remote tracks we had covered, it could be a bitch getting someone with a vehicle out there.
Zafra 13-Sep-2015 25 Km
It’s sad that Bob was gone. It was cool but still sunny with wind. The trail was fairly good and consistent. The oaks had thinned out considerably. Many olive groves, vineyards, and some recently plowed fields waiting for the next planting.
It was hunting season, doves. The hunters were out early. We didn’t see most of them but heard many shots, some close and the smell of gunpowder wafted across parts of the trail.
We were not quite in trail shape. Many things ached at the end of the day but within a week this should improve. Limited shade but we happened upon a cabana along the trail with a table, a welcome respite.
We walked around town, picked up some food, and had a few beers. The pueblo was nice. We tried to get into the Iglesia de la Candelaria that has a couple of notable works of Zurbarán, but no dice. It was closed.
Our walking had become like a job in its routine. You got up, hurriedly ate whatever you had, packed up your crap, filled water bottles, maybe took a dump and split.
You walked, and then you walked some more and finally you walked. There were brief stops depending on the weather and the quality of the trail and if someone was nursing a leg, back, foot, friction burn, blister, bad stomach, etc. You drank water, maybe ate an orange or banana or a handful of nuts. Then it was back to walking. We were on the Via de la Plata not the Camino Frances! Often when there was a 'town' there were no services open as we were passing through. There were very few fountains with potable water along “The Way” (this way, anyway).
When you got to your destination you were tired maybe exhausted. You registered, got a bunk and flopped down. You rested but chores had to be divvied up, someone was assigned to wash clothes. You showered.
When the clothes were hung out to dry you went out for beers with an eye open for an open store to buy fruit, nuts, and chocolate for the trail. After beer, time to find a place to eat, hopefully with a pilgrims menu, inexpensive but reasonable food, wine included. Then to bed. It didn’t leave a lot of time to explore and there were many places I would’ve liked to lay over in order to get to know them better.
The police had finally found the body of the missing US pilgrim, Denise Theim, near Astorga. It appeared that a sicko, now in custody, had killed her. This news was posted in the albergues and was front page in the newspapers for a few days. Some people had left flowers around the notice posted outside the albergue.
We had a splurge dinner at the nearby Comeera. We had a nice bottle of Extremadura tempranillo, with a cork removed at our table. It was not very busy, we were early, slightly before 10 pm. The food, presentation, and service were very good, but at 63 Euros for 3 of us, it was about twice the price of a pilgrim's menu (but worth it).
Villa Franco de los Barros 14-Sep-2015 20 Km
There was the smell of anise along the trail. The plants were common. We passed one estancia that was a collapsing ruin. There were miles and miles of olive trees and vineyards, literally as far as you could see. It was harvest time for the grapes and there were crews were out in field with big automated grape picking machines. Every once in awhile a tractor pulling a trailer of grapes would rumble by at speed leaving dust and a few bunches of grapes in its wake.
It was very dry. The trail was mostly good and flat. A few rough patches, with two low hills to cross, a meandering dirt track led us into town. We had beers in the shaded part of the plaza which was calm and quiet. We prepared dinner in the private albergue, Albergue Peregrinos Villafranca, which we had all to ourselves, pork tenderloin, a garbanzo medley, salad and a couple of bottles of wine. Afterward we watched a dumb ass Chuck Norris movie in Spanish. The albergue was new and a little different, sea bunks three high, they each had electrical outlets and reading lights, the upper ones difficult to enter.
Other pilgrims gave this place a pass, possibly because we had already snagged most of the bottom bunks, but it worked well for us.