Step by Step

::: By Hand and On Foot :::

Author: Melissa West (page 1 of 18)

When Dreams Collide

Today I am in Zamora, a city with a cathedral, a castle, and more than 20 Romanesque churches — right up my alley.

And yet part of me is very sad, because as it turns out, this is my last day on the Via de la Plata.


Really, it´s a good thing. It´s a case of an embarrassment of riches. Before I left, I was playing with some financial stuff –the details don´t matter– and a week or so ago I discovered they paid off. And now I have enough money to buy an etching press.

So here´s the thing. I´ve saved money and vacation time, bit by bit, for 5 years to do this walk, ever since I returned from the Camino Frances.

And ever since I returned from the Camino Frances, I´ve been in love with printmaking, and have dreamed of having a press of my own.

Two dreams, both available at the same time. But I can´t afford both.

Well, I figure the Via de la Plata has lasted some thousand years, and will be here a few more. I will miss the walking, and my new pilgrim friends, and the potential adventures. Give me five years, and maybe I´ll be back to finish.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for some amazing new artwork. Etchings! Monotypes! Solar plates! More block prints! It´s a journey of a different sort.

Thank you all for your encouragement and good wishes. You´ve helped speed me on my way, and I´ve appreciated it. I´ll be posting lots of photos and stories when I get home.

See you in Calfornia on Sunday.

Chapter 3, in which I am a Loon

So we left off at the albergue turistico at Embalse de Alcantara, where the cows were swimming and the peregrinos were plotting like mad generals laying out their campaigns, tables full of maps and guidebooks and printouts and elevation charts. Bad math was in the air: 25 pilgrims potentially all heading for a refugio with around 10 spaces.

I set out and found the hike to the next town, Canaveral, quite easy. Things look much better in the early morning than they do after a long hot climb along the highway. So when I reached Canaveral it was still morning, still cool (good walking weather) and there was no way I was going to get on a bus. The question was, would I head for Grimaldo, the town with the small (and rumor had it not so clean) refugio, or be totally crazy and go for Galisteo, the next town after that? The bonus to heading for Galisteo is that it´s a walled city, and (as usual) I was captive to the romantic notion of reliving the Middle Ages as I walked towards the city, walls rising above me.

The walking was lovely, through meadows full of flowers and shaded by oaks, and at one point (after a steep hill) through a nice bit of pine forest. So all was well and good when I reached the turnoff for Grimaldo. I double-checked my math, distance vs. approximate kilometers per hour. Onward!

Well, you know, a 42 kilometer hike is really, really long. (You can do the math; a kilometer is about 3/5 of a mile.) And it wouldn´t even have been too bad except for two things. On this route, it seems like the last bit before a town is always uphill along a highway. Can we say hot and exhausting, and sometimes nerve-wracking? And the worst waymarking along the entire route is hands-down around Galisteo.

Now I had heard that there was a shortcut through a farm to get to Galisteo. There´s an Australian pilgrim on the Via de la Plata, a few weeks ahead of me, and she´s been blogging about her trip, less anecdotally and with more helpful information. Like look for this gate. So here I was, looking for every side trail that might go to Galisteo. And here was the Italian couple, also slogging along, and a group of bicyclists, all looking for the shortcut. The bikers had ridden ahead down the road and found a local who told them where to go, which involved just cutting across tall grass. But we walkers said, but wait! here´s a path! Why bushwhack when people have obviously gone before?

Well, I did get to Galisteo, and exactly within my time estimate, but only after wading across a field that was ankle-deep with water. I learned later that everybody got lost in the same field, and all just ended up saying the heck with it (perhaps in stronger terms than that) and slogging across the wet.

But as soon as you get to town there´s a bar. I ordered the largest, coldest water possible, and a clara (beer mixed with lemonade, which is no doubt a travesty to true beer-lovers everywhere, but is the most refreshing thing ever after a long walk.) And found the albergue, and had a nice long shower, and all was well that ended well.

A few more days walking, and here I am in Salamanca, an absolutely lovely town, and am staying with my friends David and Claudia (he formerly of Peet´s Coffee), being spoiled and pampered and enjoying some down time.

Just fyi, since this blog has been of necessity so skippy, I´ll be posting photos when I return home, and will tell little stories to go with the pictures, just to fill in the missing parts of this adventure.

Now it´s naptime. Hasta pronto!

Moving Right Along

OK, so computers on the Via de la Plata are scarcer than hens´teeth, either because it´s less well-traveled, or because everyone now has iPhones and iPads and there´s no need for old’fashioned cyber cafes. A bit of both, I think.

But here I am at the albergue turistico in Embalse de Alcantara, on the side of a large large reservoir. That has cows swimming in it. Isn´t that a health code violation or something? Well, I went swimming too –must make lugging the bathing suit worthwhile!– and it was lovely; I can´t blame the cows for diving in one bit.

The feet are fine, the blisters are gone, but I have a bit of tendonitis on (in?) my right leg, so have dropped back a day in my planned schedule to take it a bit easy. And have dropped right into a giant mob of pilgrims! So much for 4 or 5 in an albergue, now it´s 25 or 30. And I had hoped to avoid bed anxiety this trip. Nope. I may do the unthinkable and take the bus to get back to where I was. Not to mention that would get me back in sych with my previous walking companion Jacques, from Paris, who has a tighter schedule than I and had to forge ahead.

The weather has been great, except for a sudden downpour outside of Merida. The thunderstorms have come at night, leaving the days cool and breezy and perfect for walking. I hear we have more heat coming, thought. But pilgrims are full of dire warnings about bad weather ahead.

So Merida –Roman ruins! wonderful! Amphitheaters, aqueducts, forums, temples; amazing to think they´ve lasted 2000 years.

Then Caceres — the old walled town still intact within the modern city. Carvings, churches, towers, turrets, so cool.

In between, wonderful small villages with whitewashed houses and steep streets. And cows, and vines, and olive trees.

So all is well in pilgrim land. The line is getting anxious for their turn on the computer, so off I go. I think a glass of vino tinto is in order.

Hasta pronto!

Oops, Silly Me

Anyone who knows what they´re talking about will think I have no idea what I´m talking about. Well, they may be right.

I am in Villafranca de los Barros. NOT los Banos. There are no baths here, except for those in peoples´houses. Barros.

My only excuse is that last night I was reading the excellent tourist guide that was lying about in the albergue, and so had the baths of Banos de Montemayor in my head. So when I was walking today I was singing ¨Ride of the Valkyries,¨ inspired by the opening scenes of Fellini´s 8-1/2 with the grand procession of people going to take the waters, and, well, it all got mixed up in my head.

Villafranca de los Barros. Today.

The baths come much later.


Hello World!

Yes! Here I am in Spain, and finally on the internet.

Two words sum up my trip so far:

I think overall the WOW wins hands-down. Or should it be feet-down? The Spanish country side is absolutely gorgeous. Wildflowers EVERY where, a total blaze of red yellow purple white pink. Songbirds all day, frogs in the puddles (really loud!), storks on the church towers. The trail winds mostly through the countryside, with the towns situated far enough apart that we don´t see one from the time we leave in the morning until the time we reach the next village in the afternoon. In between are olive groves, pig farms, hayfields, wheat, chestnut trees and a few really really steep hills.

The ow part comes from blisters under the toenails of the second toe on each foot. My second toes are just a little bit long, but I thought I was safe since they had been fine all through my practice hikes. But once out on the real camino, with full pack (I don´t think I carried as much water on my practice hikes, and water is heavy) there they went. They´re well-wrapped now, and seem to be behaivng themselves. A couple of hot spots showed up on the balls of my feet, but a few days with some moleskin padding was enough to stave off trouble and toughen my soles up. Sore shoulders, sore hips, a bit of sunburn, but nothing serious.

So that´s the overview.

Today I am in Villafranca de los Barros Banos, which is a spa town where people still come to take the waters. I´ve been walking with Christina from England and Jacques from France, and we have rooms in a lovely hostal in town. Today is the Feria of San Isidro, and we were very lucky to arrive in town just in time to see the procession. It began with men and women dressed in traditional Spanish garb, riding beautiful horses. Plus children on ponies, and carts pulled by horses and mules and decorated with flowers and ribbons. Then the statue of the saint on the shoulders of the men of the town, then a procession of I think the entire population, walking to the fairgrounds and singing. Out timing couldn´t have been better, and I am so lucky to see this event.

Of course, since the entire population is at the fairgrounds, it is very quiet here in town. That´s ok; it makes for a quiet rest day and gives me time to catch up on the internet.

A word on the blog, the internet, and updates. Four conditions have to be met for me to blog along the way:
1. There has to be public internet access somewhere in town.
2. I have to be able to find it.
3. It has to be working.
4. I have to have energy enough to construct a sensible sentence or two.

This is the first time all four conditions have been met, so here I am. I´ll post when I can, but be forewarned: it may not be as frequently as I had hoped.

My itinerary so far, in case you want to map it out.
Day 1: Seville to Guillena. One small mis-reading of the waymarks landed me on the wrong bridge over the river, but I finally figured it out. Roman ruins of Italica on the route, so cool. Two streams to cross, a whole adventure there! Again, it all worked out in the end and I reached Guillena no worse for wear. All the albergues have been splendid, and the hospitaliera in Guillena, Jacqueline, is a gem.

Day 2: Guillena to Castilblanco de los Arroyos: Lovely rolling landscape that reminded me of California. Last long bit along the highway was a drag. Pack too heavy; ditched a lot of stuff.

Day 3: Castilblanco to Almaden de la Plata: A long day, over 30km (a kilometer is equal to about 3/5 of a mile, if you want to do the math). The first 16km along the highway, but it went quickly. The rest in a nature preserve, quite nice. A VERY steep hill to climb at the end. My second mistake reading waymarks led to my climbing the wrong very steep hill; had to come back down and climb the real one. (see OW above). Finally made it to town, the last pilgrim of the day.

Day 4: Almaden – Real de la Jara. Walking was good, got there pretty early. For a long time I thought I´d be the only one in the albergue, which reminded me of a hobbit house. A ruined castle above the town! and another one down the road.

Day 5: Real – Monesterio. The first half of the walk absolutely delightful, through meadows dotted with wildflowers. Then a relay through a highway maze, what fun, then road walking the rest of the way. Monesterio is known as “The Pueblo of Jamon,” and has a giant steel sculpture of a ham at the entrance to the town. Everyone is at the festival, however, and the town is pretty darn quiet. (Yes, we have been following the festival for the last few days.)
Ilsa the Hungarian pilgrim fell and broke her arm, and had to leave the Camino.

Day 6: Monesterio – Fuente de los Cantos. There is a heat wave, and it is very hot. The albergue is in a converted convent, and includes a small information center about the painter Zurbaran, who was born in this town.

Day 7: Fuente – Zafra. Was it hot the day before? It is even hotter today. Hot. Very hot. The heads of the wheat in the fields glow white in the heat. Hot. Another ow moment. Two fast-moving freshets to cross on small crooked wobbly stones. (Crossing water is not my strong point.) Finally, Zafra! and another albergue in a converted convent.

OK, that´s the quick and dirty on the pilgrimage so far. I have lots of photos, and when I upload them I will share more detailed stories. Others are chomping at the bit waiting for the computer, so I will sign off for now.

Hasta pronto!

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