Monthly Archives: October 2012

Day 28: Mombuey to Puebla de Sanabria … Or: once a pilgrim always a pilgrim

Saturday October 27, 34km

Today’s walk is for A, Peregrina of courage, spark, humour and grit. She knows what to do when there is a fork in the road! One day we’ll walk together again with the girls as well.

* * *

We were so relieved this morning to wake to clear skies after rain in the night and endless bloody forecasts of more. I don’t trust the weather report on TV but it plants a seed of trepidation in the hardiest pilgrim. Spain is drenched at the moment, but somehow we seem to be staying in the clear. Renato made a check of the skies when we were getting ready and pronounced ‘tre estrellas’ so we were pleased.

It’s cold! The early walk takes us through oak forests through corridors of clear light and over carpets of leaves. Tree trunks are covered in the pale green bushy lichen I call Old Man’s Beard and there are strings of puddles the width of the track. I trail behind the group for a wee break and find myself a few minutes later in front of a marked detour. What to do? Where have my friends gone? There’s some safety tape dangling from a bush but not exactly restricting the passage to the normal Camino. So I did what I thought you’d do, peregrina, and said bugger it, and went through. It’s Saturday so no one’s working on the heavy machines. Soon I come to the reason for the detour: the, ummm, Autovía being built. And have to leap across a wide gutter and stumble-scramble down an embankment and up the other side. I hope the track I can see leading off is the one I should be on. And a few minutes later, vindicated! Back on the way marked by yellow arrows. Phew!

Later on I’m back with Letizia and we come to a village with trees just dripping apples. I took a wind fall one, but L in good Italian spirit got us a couple of rosy ones from a tree. We’re also eating blackberries as we walk down walled lanes and, oh A, we’ve arrived in chestnut country! Do you remember? You once said that walking past fallen chestnuts was like walking past chocolate and not taking it, and so it is! They are shiny and rich brown, plump and everywhere on the ground. There are heaps of people out wild-harvesting today, both chestnuts and mushrooms, as the first good Autumn rains have just fallen. One couple wouldn’t let me walk by without filling my pockets with chestnuts. Camino abundante!

For lunch we had the best bocadillo ever: tortilla and queso in fresh fat bread, and a ración of mushrooms, which came with garlic and thyme and floating in olive oil. Oh the pure pleasure of such a meal, with a walker’s appetite. I had my leg up and with ice on it while we ate. I’m on a high dose of Voltarin which is not ideal, but unavoidable for now. Do you remember when you got tonsillitis and going together to the clinic in Astorga? The doctor seeing us ahead of the whole waiting room and giving you antibiotics for free?

The afternoon walk was a bit long and a bit grizzly as it tends to be, you know the last few hours before arriving when the delight of the morning has gone and the legs and feet are feeling the kilometres? But we saw the mountains we’ll be climbing tomorrow or the day after, shining in blues and greys past the green and Autumn-painted forests. It gives a thrill of excitement!

Here in Puebla de Sanabria we are happy in a well-appointed touristic albergue whose lovely clean bathroom, good kitchen and warm rooms makeup for the chilly reception from the so-called hospitalero who got a bit mad at us when we wanted to put our hand-washed clothes in the dryer. Actually they did take about four hours to dry. In the kitchen were new faces: Adriano and Antonio well into a bottle of red and cooking up scrambled eggs with mushrooms they’d apparently been given by the hairdresser when they went for a beard trim. So imagine this, true pilgrim hospitality, they were not cooking for their own dinner but would put a fork in the hand of anyone who came into the kitchen. Later Letizia and Álvaro cooked spaghetti and a feast was made with bits and bobs that everyone had.

You would have loved it A. From my way on the Camino Sanabrés I send you blessings, joy, lightness of heart and pilgrim grit.

Love you, and love to R and the girls,

Wildgoose

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Day 27: Santa Croya to Mombuey

October 26, 40km

The Mombuey albergue is a small stone building with a bathroom off to one side and five bunks and a single bed crammed down one end. If you want to make your dinner there’s a microwave, if you want to hang up your washing there’s the end of your bed, and if you don’t want your boots to stink out the place you put them in the street. And didn’t we have a brilliant night there, ten of us like sardines in a tin. There was Juan and Antonio cooking castaños in the microwave and three French pilgrims walking away from Santiago sharing chocolate, Michael and Renato napping in identical red jackets in identical positions on their side-by-side bottom bunks, and me on my top bunk feeling a bit sore and sorry with ice on my shin while being all wrapped up in my sleeping bag. Lavender oil was applied liberally to keep the chinches from even considering coming close and the smell alone makes me feel better about a dodgy mattress. (Since the 90° wash of all clothing and insecticiding of sleeping bag and pack there have been no more bites. Hoorah!)

Alexis of the French pilgrims must have seen I was feeling just a bit sorry for myself because he made me a pink balloon poodle. Then after dinner we played a card game called Lobo 77 all sitting on one bed and playing in three languages. Laughing our heads off we were.

It was a long 40km today. And if we were not sticking to a schedule in order to meet people in a couple of days time, it would not be my choice to do such long days. Downhills hurt so I decided to pick up a couple of sticks, which I’ve walked with in the past and love, but have just not sought out for this Camino. I found a nice one of wild rose wood and another of poplar. They help.

If you have sore bits, I also hope you get a balloon dog, plenty of chocolate, someone to fetch you ice and something silly to make you laugh and forget it all. And voltarin.

Love! Wildgoose

Day 26: Tábara to Santa Croya de Tera

October 25: 22km

It was 8am when we left, and still dark: the morning thick with fog and only Venus shining through in the eastern sky and the Tábara church tower illuminated on the muddy outskirts of the pueblo. I’m five minutes ahead of the mob who I can hear but not see. I’m walking well enough but my shin hurts. Last night I finally chose a different tactic because wishful thinking has run its course. During the afternoon I sat in the bar of the little hotel where we were staying with my leg up and ice on it. It’s a hard life, I thought, drinking my chamomile tea with anis.

The morning around me gets light so gradually, so softly, all around a big dense grey that has light breathed into it so gently. I have a clear feeling like being a hamster on a wheel, in that it seems like I’m walking on the spot and the featureless landscape around me is slowly moving past. It was like, yes! There’s only NOW. This moment, this posture, these thoughts, this attitude. I can’t wait until I arrive there for it to be different. There is no there. Pay attention!

Then I got fuddled in my head anyway. Stupid insipid melodies are going through me in time with my steps, over and over when I just want to be quiet. They are like bad major key songs from a musical. So I stopped and made an arrow out of yellow poplar leaves which are covering the path. Inside I’m still swinging from pole to pole with no steady centre. Prayed for grace and then a car comes and smooshes around most of the leaves of the arrow! So I’m belly laughing now and then a bird is laughing and all is well. I kept walking for a bit, softer now, and discovered that the fog had draped all the spiders’ threads in silver drops. As soon as I was looking, suddenly the whole landscape was full of spider webs so perfect, so flawless, they must have been only a few minutes old. Webs shining silver against the muted browns of dead thistles and leaf litter.

As I was photographing some of them in wonder and happiness, up comes smiley eyes Tony the surfer from Manchester and I didn’t know it, but it was the beginning of our day together. For the rest of the walk we were in and out of talking, sometimes walking side by side and sometimes apart. It was a wonderful and touching time of sharing. Some of the things we talked about were ash and rowan trees, the fact that elm wood has the most beautiful grain, reading nature and the signs of nature, watching the weather instead of the weather report, about our mums both reading to us a lot when we were young and what worlds this opens up. About side-stepping the ‘machine’ of society like by oh yeah, doing a pilgrimage of 1000km for instance and where does the power really lie? We shared chocolate, trail mix, a bit of banana. It was a really great day. 

* * *

Here in Santa Croya we are a very happy bunch in one of the best ‘albergue turisticos’ of the Camino, Casa Anita. It’s Letizia and I, Tony, Michael, Tomas from Warsaw who likes Almodóvar films but not mushrooms, Sidonia from Austria who writes a guide book of the albergues of the Vía de la Plata and walks it every year to keep it up to date. Renato too, and Rudy from Zurich who is ‘jubilado’ which means ‘retired’ in Spanish, and what an excellent way of putting it.

Around the pueblo are monoculture plantations of poplar trees. They have bad juju and I don’t trust the artificial forest that has no understorey and is planted in lines. They are turning bright yellow and gold but it makes me uneasy. Give me the muted greens, the grey and acorn brown of the natural plants of this region.

In the afternoon Rudy and I walk a couple of kms across the beautiful Tera river to Santa Marta where there is a Romanesque church from the XII century. It has a statue of Santiago on the outside that is famous for being one of the first depicting him as a pilgrim. Pictures of this statue adorn guide book covers and way markers and make the poor guy look like a mad sailor with crazy eyes. But in the flesh he is much softer and a strong and humble figure of blessing. I got to sing in the church thanks to the wonderful Celestina, honorary hospitalera. Oh joy.

Buen Camino peregrinos todos,

Wildgoose

Day 25: Riego to Tábara … Or: the wild northern shore

October 24, 32km

In the bar this morning drinking coffee pilgrims were glued to the weather forecast. Oh no! Rain! Or… what a relief, a cloud and sun.. or stupid graphic of whatever. Not me. I got a feeling of bad juju watching the weather report. Like it was giving us a false report, or giving us the idea we were getting something we needed, but was actually taking our attention away from the one thing that matters. I felt people were watching with the question of: how should we face this day? What should I expect? Do I need to brace myself against something? Let´s not watch the weather forecast, let´s watch the weather! This shifting clouds grand and grey, shining and silver, feel some pelo de gato rain, the different breezes that cross one´s face, the currents and subtleties and tiny changes of the light, the day, the tiempo, the time. This is what we should be watching. 

We walked out of the bar and what was in the east and on the right, but the most stunning sunrise unfolding in hot pinks and orange with steely clouds and a mysterious patch of light sky and rumbling dark blues. In our hearts was the curiosity of what will tumble out of this day for us?

Or what if we were attentive to the Camino spirit and companionship forecast? It would have predicted ´strong and shiny.´ The weather is God´s blessing upon the earth day by day by day. This too is grace. It brings what it brings. Keep the heart on track!

After Granja de Moreruela and our second breakfast, just 6km down the road (no ascetic´s road, this one!) the path bifurcates. Continuing to the north the Vía de la Plata goes to Astorga where one can join the Camino Frances, and we take the left hand turn and begin leaning to the West and the Camino Sanabrés which will take us through the province and city of Orense and tiptoe up to Santiago from the south. Goodbye Vía de la Plata! Goodbye faithful wonderful path!

Afterwards we walked a nice path through fields and a wooly silver and grey sky. Renato and I were walking side by side in silence, prayer and the Italian / English lesson we try to do. I learned about the grapes on the east side of the path “tra dieci giorni di sol sara molto dulce, delizioso!” I picked a handful of rosemary and some fat stalks of lavendar and all around were the morning perfumes, especially this sticky bush which has a sweet strong Autumny smell. After the first day of Voltarin my shin feels a lot better and oh does it feel good to stride out sure and strong.

We met the Esla river and crossed a tremendous bridge of many arches reflecting in the grey and green stony waters. An important river! On the far side the group ahead had chosen the wild path around the mountain rather than continuing on the carretera and I was happy to see it! Stepping out on to this narrow way there was the river on the left and big gnarled oaks growing out of granite crevices. The whole feel of the place was fresh and wild and made me catch my breath and sing in my heart. Ah! I thought. I´m in my element. We´ve been walking so many days through fields, through the cultivated land. But here, here is the true heart of this country and here is where a different kind of meeting is possible. Oh happy strong legs finding their way over uneven terrain, up steep inclines and over rocks, mossy roots and shallow gravel valleys. 

Today I met Tony in a bar with a tesselated tile floor and the TV on in the background. He´s a pilgrim with a Manchester accent and laughing blue eyes. I asked how his Camino had been so far and he tells me a wonderful juicy, if brief account of how it had been challenging! Interesting! Unexpected! then, kind of stopped short as if he´d maybe he´d said too much. I said, oh no Tony. I didn´t come here to watch the Simpsons. 

It rained on us again in the afternoon, just slightly short of Tábara. The municipal albergue was on the far far side of town, ouch, step, ouch, step, ouch. Drip splosh ouch. Then the bugger is locked with no sign on the door with a number to call or the name of the bar where we need to pick up the key. Grrr! So it´s back to the Plaza Mayor and into a small hotel, which turns out to be the best move. L and I get a double room con baño for only 15 euro each. I have a towel to use after my shower. A towel! You don´t understand. I´ve been using a microfibre facewasher as a towel for three and a half weeks. We lie on our clean beds and laugh out loud and turn the heat up. Then wash our socks and clothes and drape them around the room. Then I put ice on my shin and don´t move from the bar for a few hours.

Yaha! Oh tra-la-la lino, come walk the Camino!

Love, and a chamomile tea with anis,

Wildgoose

Day 24: Zamora to Riego del Camino.

October 23, 36km

My shin is sore today and not improving. I’m on a low dose of Ibuprofin and don’t know if it’s muscular or tendon. Left shin, outer side, low down. Slightly but not much swollen, sore to touch and sore on the inside. Sidonia saw me taking a pill this morning and warned me against the danger of pain relief when it means ignoring a signal of the body and keeping on doing the thing that is hurting. Yep, I got it. So today I am going despacio (slowly). I have a saying for me, a refrain for the day: Andando despacio, tienes más espacio. Walking slowly, you have more space.

There are big fields, a big sky. I’m a bit flat, but happy to be tottling along behind my friends. I’ve been wanting some more solitude and thought would come from me flying ahead. Actually it is coming from me bringing up the rear. I like this. It’s nice to be at the back! And I’m being looked after by my friends in a lovely way. Now L and I are walking with Sidonia from Austria, Michael the red pheasant from Dublin, Renato again from Italy and Nicole will join us in the albergue. Good motley crew.

Today was long. L and I arrived at about 4:30 after thinking we were at the pueblo, but really it was still three km away. At this stage I was …well, limping. The thought of a good half an hour, forty minutes still to go was not inspiring, but there it was. It’s not like waiting for a bus. It won’t come just by waiting. You have to bloody walk it. So I sang the whole way and it turned out to be excellent medicine. My leg actually felt better and the time passed unnoticeably! Philippe would be happy for us.

Here in Riego is a nice albergue because Dorita the hospitalera up the road is a sweetie who kissed us and said, ah, the miracle of youth. And it is in an old house with beautiful tiled floors. My shower at the end of the queue was tepid, but it didn’t matter. Renato has now put me on Voltarin tablets and cream. He is qualified because he is a pilgrim and it helped his sore ankle. I am going with what I can get.

In the bar for dinner, Mrs hair curlers behind the counter though she recognised me and kissed me like a long-lost niece. I said I hadn’t been here before. Then she became short with us though I was still expecting the warm welcome. It was very funny. In the dining room was the harvest of red peppers on a side table and we got apples from her tree for dessert and extras for tomorrow. The bar is wonderful pilgrim kitsch with bits and bobs collected over many years. Indeed hair curlers told me she’d taken over her grandparents business which was started in 1953. Others pooh-poohed it a bit but I liked the vibe.

After dinner Nicole and I went for a long rambling, spiral walk around the small pueblo. Excellent Camino conversation. And we still managed to get lost and lost again as we tried to find the albergue, before Dorita’s old hubby and a couple of his ‘soltero’ friends found us and set us straight, with plenty of guapa this and guapita that.

Onwards for another longish day tomorrow. I will keep going gently.

Love, Wildgoose

Day 23: El Cubo to Zamora

October 22, 33km

We made hot sweet tea to have with breakfast before stepping out into the dark byways of El Cubo. I was in charge of the light but kept missing the arrows. Letizia set us right. Like all the ways into and now through Salamanca, the path is mostly passing through cultivated fields, some are vineyards or planted with corn, or being ploughed or lying with the pale gold stubble of the previous crop. Bordering the fields or by the towns are more autumnal trees: poplars clothed in gold, ash and others I don’t know. They’re not native to here, though. Only the occasional bit of natural landscape remains, sparsely growing gnarly oak trees, brush and spiky leaf. The ground is stony, clayey and littered with acorns. Some muddy bits are so claggy they feel like they add a kilo to your boots before you scrape it off.

So we were in a bar about 12km into the way, having our morning cafe con leche. The big fat stupid television was on, as it nearly always is, and somehow seemed connected to the lady behind the bar being grumpy, humourless and gusser. I get a bee in my bonnet about televisions in public places. I think they kill the ambiance, wreck the mood and make otherwise normal companionable humans into staring zombies. So I was staring like a zombie at the tele and it was a Good morning Spain type program. And what comes on as a segment on the show, but an informative talk on the meaning and significance of the use by date on a food product. I’m not kidding! I got so angry I was almost in tears and L’s like, what? What is it? And I can hardly put it into words, but it’s something about the vision of what a human being is, that a program like this – a segment like this – is speaking into and creating. Not only is that human being not able to discern whether food is good for the eating by its look or smell or taste, that human being cannot even decypher what the words ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ mean on their packaged food.

Questions that are important to me are how do we give honour? How do we grant dignity? How do we truly respect another? What is ‘humanising’? I know that this program is thoroughly dehumanising the way it spins utter crap and has pretty ladies with lots of make up say plastic stupid things. But what is ‘humanising’ to and for us? I’m interested especially now because part of the alchemy of the Camino makes it very humanisng. I see the pilgrims around me and I say to myself, wow. Look at humans! We are courteous, generous, simple, joyful, respectful, open, humble creatures.

I thought to myself, imagine if one of these bars with not much daily traffic would be playing some classical music rather than putting the tele on, and the bar tender between customers was dabbling on a painting or darning a sock or making a piñata for his niece’s sixth birthday. Imagine that! It scares and saddens me that there seems to be a collective ignorance to what gives life and what does not give life. And often we are making ugliness, separation and numbness not from ill will, but from … I don’t know. What do you think, friends?

* * *

This quote was cut into the stone outside our albergue in Zamora, city which is home to a rich scattering of Romanesque buildings and is quite delightful :

“El valor del Camino y de la vida no está en lo que andes, en lo que descubres o en lo que se te da. El valor del Camino está en el amor que en tu andadura ofreces.”

The value of the Camino and of life is not in what you walk, what you discover or what you are given. The value of the Camino is in the love that in your walking, you give.

It’s by A. Ramos Castro who is responsible for the revitalising of the Vía de la Plata.

* * *

This evening we’re in a stellar albergue in this beautiful little city. Jim and Martha from Washington State are our volunteer hospitaleros and invited us to sup with them. We met the wonderful Nicole, Austrian biking pilgrim. She has the kind of style I like in a pilgrim: no special cycling gear, not much experience riding and not even knowing how to change a tyre. What I like is that she is following an impulse, some lead in her, and not waiting til it’s all perfect and ready. She is just setting out and trusting the Way.

With love and an overfull belly and lots of wine and laughter,

Wildgoose

Day 22: Salamanca to El Cubo de la Tierra del Vino. Or… the first of the frost

October 21, 35km

We snuck out of our room early in the morning leaving the sleeping Victor, and Sylvie and Hérvé with a blessing at the door instead of a proper goodbye. They are leaving the Camino here in Salamanca and Philippe has gone on ahead. Another chapter opens with Letizia and I walking on alone, so to speak, not knowing who is in front, who is behind and who we will next meet. It’s gives a lovely feeling of curiosity with an edge of the thrilling unknown and an edge of the sadness of departures.

Yesterday was a day off in Salamanca, oh lovely beautiful city. Most of the morning was taken up going on an urban bus trip to ‘Decathlon’ which is the warehouse store of outdoor gear in Europe. Stupidly cheap (read: unethically produced) so good for the pocket and challenging for the heart. Anyway, we need warm clothes because this very morning it was, yes friends, six degrees. Teeth chattering as we waited for the bus we looked at each other counting on our fingers when was the last day we were wilting under afternoon heat. Less than a week ago it must have been in the 30s, and us in tee shirts and shorts and sunnies and still drinking cold beer and tinto de verano.

* * *

So this morning we stepped out rugged up in new thermal layers, feeling pleased and warm, if a bit more bulky. It was true to expectations, freezing, and even more so as we left the city and returned to the campo. At a dip in the road we were thinking, brrrr, this is a bit colder and to the left and right there was the silver hand of frost decorating all the dried thistles and brown remains of the summer. Lovely! The fields were empty under a pale blue and clear sky. Flocks of tiny birds flashed silver and black as the sun caught them. The earth steamed in the early warmth.

At the first pueblo we had an early lunch and cafe con leche in the otherwise deserted plaza. The owner dragged out a table and chairs into the sunshine and we sat there with steaming brews and almond biscuits from Philippe soaking it all up, unable to keep from laughing at the sheer, stupid perfection of it. As Letizia says: come si sta!… how good is this! It’s the secret of the Camino. That heaven is a chair in the sun, a hot drink and a friend. The thing is though, that you might just have to walk a thousand kilometres to arrive there.

It was a longish stage to El Cubo and my left shin is sore almost to point of limping. I think it’s a pulled muscle from the rainy day, L is now suggesting tendinitis but I don’t want to hear it. Small doses of Ibuprofin, massages and … getting on with it are doing it for now. We end up alone in the albergue for the first time, and a sweet and clean one it is with abundant hot water, decent kitchen, and dining room. Both of us are starving and Letizia cooks pasta with tomato which we eat with olives, a local sheep’s cheese and crisps. Pudding is creamed rice out of a tub: bad but good. Before 9pm we’re in bed, utterly zonked. All is well but for the insecticide fumes from spraying my sleeping bag against bed bugs. After ten days of itchy hives anything is worth getting those buggers out of my kit. Everything washable went into the machine at 90 degrees and now it’s just fingers crossed – and trying not to get the sleeping bag too close to my face.

With love and a rosy dawn,

Wildgoose