30 May: San Pedro to Salamanca

They did it! El abuelo y el tio y el padre (the grandpa and the uncle and the father) made it to Salamanca – no more walking for them! 

It should be a victorious day, but el tio is hobbling and el abuelo seems uncertain if he even has a pulse any more. Even though the walk was mostly downhillish, it was too long to be comfortable for the oldies after yesterday’s slog. And to compound the issue, when we arrived at the albergue, we discovered we were allowed only to drop our bags and not return until opening time at 5pm. All Grandpa wanted to do was lie down and sleep, but we had to fill in five hours – and it was cold. There were only eight people walking around Salamanca in shorts – everyone else had longs and knee-high boots and scarves and winter coats on!

We found a bar to warm up in, but even that did not brighten any spirits. The coffee was bad and the chocolate cold….and to top it all off, it turned out to be expensive!

Instead of victory parades and feelings of accomplishment, there was a general moping around the main square hoping the sun might shine until we could check in to the albergue. (For once I found some tact and just sat with everyone else even though I was feeling full of energy and was eager to go exploring – the city was humming and there are so many beautiful old buildings, but we have a couple of rest days here and the cathedrals and churches are not going anywhere I told myself)

Checking in did not make anyone much  happier, because we found ourselves in a place full of rules and regulations. Don’t take backpacks upstairs to the dormitories, don’t wash clothes in the laundry sink, don’t fiddle with the stamp, don’t put any washing outside, don’t lean your hiking poles against the chair, take your shoes off before you walk over here, you must go to bed at 10pm – no sitting up in common areas…

To make things even worse the adults reached the decision that going  out for the promised (and looked-forward-to-by-the-children) victory dinner would not happen tonight as planned…and breakfast had been nothing more than one segment of mandarin, two mini-muffins and two dry biscuits.

And……most of the kids have bedbug bites!!!

Now all this sounds pretty grim, but everyone is currently happily playing cards (amazing what a hot shower, sleep and dinner can do)…and actually it was a delightful walk. Frogs were ribbitting, small birds were chirping and tweeting and trilling and singing, cuckoos were calling, cows lowing, wild flowers blooming spectacularly….and we were walking. I am biased because I felt I could fly today. But El Tio Craig’s pictures from the day confirm my feelings: 








Well done guys, you did it!

Distance: 24km Total distance: 422km

Some moody morning shots from Rob’s phone:


29 May: Fuenterroble to San Pedro de Rozados


We never expected him to do it. Right from the beginning the plan was for Grandpa (probably with Uncle to keep him company) to take a taxi for at least part of today. Grandpa is 84 years old and had major spinal surgery just over a year ago. Recovery time is supposed to be two years, but for the past three days he has been pain-free. And today he walked 28.6km including a stony hill climb in the middle of it. Towards the end we were road walking because the track was a swamp – a few cars passed and I offered to stick out my thumb for the Old Fella.

“No way,” he insisted. “I’ve got this far and I intend to get to the end under my own steam.”

And by golly he did! 

He had started off the day less than positive. We’d passed a sign to Linores and he’d asked if we’d be going through that place.

“We’re not going through anything today,” I’d explained.

“Except agony,” he had retorted. 
A little later he commented on the sun shining up ahead and I suggested it was drying out the puddles on the path. No, couldn’t possibly be doing that, it barely had enough strength to hit the ground. 
He must be fearing today’s climb or the sheer length of the day I reasoned. Best I walk on ahead and keep my happy thoughts to myself;-) 


But by the time we hit the climb we were walking in step again. Many years of serious cycling have given him the ability to keep a very regular cadence. And I’ve learnt to do the same at his side. Today I was thinking about what a privilege it has been to walk together – just a few days ago we heard a guy saying a real pilgrimage could only be undertaken alone, not as a group. I guess he is unfamiliar with the history of pilgrimages and how pilgrims used to gather together in bands for safety. I guess he is an example of our modern individualistic society. For us, walking together has been a very special thing. Even when we got caught in the rain for the last kilometer today. If we had walked at our own (not Grandpa’s) pace we’d have arrived before the rain, but none of us regrets having him along!!


 

Distance: 28.6km Total Distance: 398km
PS As we approached the top of the climb we could hear a sound – somewhat like a busy motorway or aeroplane that  wouldn’t go away or a rushing waterfall – look what it turned out to be:

  The cloud was swirling, and occasionally the sweeping arms of the windmills emerged. Then suddenly – for less than a minute – the cloud cleared completely and we could see right across the tree-dotted plain which extended as far as you could see. It was an amazing vista granted to us for just a moment. Then we descended and started walking through it. The countryside rolled very gently in large sweeping expanses. Stone walls dissected the fields. Wildflowers bordered the roadside in dramatic displays of colour and filled fields with soft hues of yellow and purple. Gray clouds chased us above….and as you already know, caught us!

28 May: La Cazada de Bejar to Fuenterroble 

People. The Camino is in big part about people. There was the shop keeper today who offered to drive us to the albergue with our groceries because it was raining. We declined as we were already wet and did not want to soil her car.

Earlier today a youngish guy in a navy and white tracksuit sauntered over to us as we leaned against the stone wall outside the church. He was carrying keys and offered to open up the church for us to have a look. Over 500 years old, the balcony upstairs looked like it had never been dusted in all that time! Then the man asked if we’d like to go into the belfry. Of course!


There was Manuela, who cooked us a fine dinner last night and hugged and kissed me on both cheeks because the children liked her vegetable soup and salad from her garden. The boys especially liked the six fillets of fried pork they were served too! A friendly, engaging, generous host makes such an impression.


Then there’s Vincent from New York, who we keep bumping into. 
He cooked a fabulous pasta dish for some others the first day we met him and he gave us the leftovers. Unforgettable. He reminds me of one of our kids – walks into a room bringing life and his stories, then breezes on to the next person so no one misses out on his presence! He also reminds the kids they have to clean up the kitchen as they go about their cooking. (By the way, Vincent is walking in memory of his husband, Antonio, who passed away nearly two years ago. People walk for all kinds of reasons.)

And do you see Corey in the photo with Vincent? He’s one of the fair number of Aussies (and Kiwis) who are walking.

There are other people too.

Lots of Spaniards, Germans, Italianos, French, Dutch and Irish too, as well as a Canadian, a Belgian  and a Korean who speaks no Spanish and no English so is pretty isolated in his walk, but seems happy that way. The Polish lady has left us behind. Actually, everyone we walked with the first week are far in front of us now. Bruce and Jenny are kindly sending us updates about which albergues are closed, whether there are kitchens for us to do our own cooking and warnings about where there are no shops to purchase food. People helping people.

Tonight there will be a dinner cooked for everyone staying here at this collection of cold stone buildings filled with icons and paintings and ancient milk cans and statues and books and empty picture frames and a carved wooden sheep and plastic crates and horse saddles (dozens of them!) and bells and boxes of oranges – it’s like a massive second-hand shop…..and a kind man is cooking dinner for thirty or so people. No money is charged – we simply leave a donation to express our gratitude. 

Yes, the Camino is about people. And it seems to be a bit about food too.

 When we were in Caceres a few days ago three of the kids and I cooked an awesome four course meal for a mere few euros. We then challenged the men and remaining child to do the same for the same price. So we had two A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. home cooked meals. We’ve had a lot of pasta, sauce and salad too. And just now we have bartered another meal for in a couple of nights’ time. Vincent is going to cook for us in exchange for being allowed to move into our room tonight. You see today there was rain forecast for the whole day. And indeed it looked grey when we started.

We were fortunate to almost outrun it….

 (I’m not going the wrong way – just going back to help the next person – and yes, that water is cold)

 …but the last half hour we got caught. It wasn’t heavy, but it was enough to get us wet. And it was just 14 degrees outside (and colder inside the delightfully romantic but frigid stone buildings!) So when we got a fire going in our room, we were quick to agree when Vincent suggested he move in with us in exchange for cooking a meal. Of course, he could have come anyway (indeed we were informing everyone we had spare beds AND fire), but memories of his pasta still linger a week later!

So the Camino continues to be about people…..and food.

Distance: 21.4km Total distance: 369km

27 May: Banos to La Cazada de Bejar

 NEWSFLASH: Grandpa overtakes local going uphill!!

This occurred not long after he had declared, “Actually I’m dead scared of today’s climb.” And fair enough:  

By the way, The Kindness Award goes to the boys who raced up the first hill, dumped their packs and ran back down to carry Grandpa’s pack for him. A good portion of Grandpa’s gear is already divvied up amongst us, but he still carries a small pack that he manages to stuff a lot of weight into! Being free of it for the climb must have set him in a good frame of mind.
Look at what he said at the end of it all:

As Grandpa has provided the linguistic description, please allow me to take you on a photographic tour of the day….you’ll discover Grandpa was not the only happy soul on this path….

Distance: 13km Total distance: 348km (+120 by bus!)


26 May: Caceres to Banos de Montemayor

“Remember, they might close for siesta,” I warned as we approached the Roman thermal baths just before 2pm.

“No, not in a tourist town,” someone countered.

But sure enough, closed from 1:30 to 4:30.

What to do but wander around the streets (that took fifteen minutes in a town only 400m long and three streets wide), look in the souvenir shops (that took five minutes when we are about to walk 25 and 30km days and so are in no danger of adding weight to our packs), play at the playground, and sit in the garden with juicy oranges, coffee and beer.

We’re getting quite good at this sitting business. We sat on a bus this morning that whisked us past the last village we had walked to, across the plains, through fields of trees and up into the hills with a distant vista of mountains still capped with snow. It didn’t take us  right to the top of the hills – there are still a few days of climbing for us! But that should not be a problem as yesterday Grandpa described our upcoming 20km day as “a short one”.
We were quite looking forward to sitting in the baths……

 Before we could be admitted, we had to sit in the foyer all decked out in our swimming gear waiting for 5 o’clock (even though opening time was 4:30!) Stunning!

Across the marble-floored foyer was a row of chairs and on those chairs sat a row of rotund elderly Spaniards wrapped up in toweling bathrobes waiting for their aqua class. We felt decidedly underdressed with tiny microfiber or muslin towels draped around us! When the oldies staggered downstairs at the appointed hour we followed them and copied as they hung up robes but left jandals on their feet as they paraded through a corridor of five hot showers. Oh, they felt so good. The oldies then descended the steps into the nearest pool and we were directed to go to the far pool. OOOOH, it was not hot. Don’t let the descriptor “thermal” fool you! The water was tepid; perfect while we kept moving
but too cool to stop and soak. We only lasted an hour before deciding it was time to get out and warm up in the showers. Only the showers were cold, very cold. So much for our dream of soaking in a warm Roman spa! However, everyone gave the experience a ten out of ten!

25 May, 7:30pm


“Would you care to walk with me down to my castle and come inside and see the dogs and the servants and my books?”

Would we what?!

We (Craig, Rob, Levi and I) had just spent an informative hour at the museum and had emerged discussing the artifacts we had seen. As we crossed the square an elderly gentleman had addressed us in impeccable English, asking if we knew the museum. We had explained we had just visited it and sang its praises. He paused, and we did too. He started to talk and we listened intently. We asked questions and he shared stories of the buildings about us, the history, the people. We laughed, we listened some more. He pointed out the castle just across the square, his castle, built in 1587, still the same today. He issued the invitation, then told us how much he hates tourists coming and taking pictures all the time – two were doing exactly that as he spoke. We now knew it was his crest above his door that they were photographing. We had taken photos just two days ago (the ones above). Today I questioned why he would invite us if he doesn’t like people intruding.

“I don’t hate you!” he laughed, “You are my friends.”

And so we started walking slowly with him towards the door. It was surreal. Were we really being invited to take a peek inside a castle that is lived in today? Really? Well, he had the keys and opened the door. He stepped over the doorframe (this was one of those smaller doors cut into a bigger door), turned and extended his hand. I reached out to shake and in that lovely European fashion he lifted it up and gently placed a kiss of welcome on it. He then shook hands with the males. He offered explanations of the large banners hanging in the entrance  (his own and his wife’s) and jested that he hadn’t jousted since he was 16 (authentic jousting gear was on display on a table with a coffer that did not look unlike El Cid’s own one!). There were more explanations about the solid granite stairs and the central atrium with all its light flooding through, and an admonishment to “not pay any attention” to the turtle, Horace, that had tipped upside down when obviously trying to climb a step. We were also shown the library, a large yet simultaneously cosy room lined with shelves from floor to ceiling. When we had been talking out in the square I had had an inkling this man was an author, and had asked outright if he wrote. He had laughed in denial and stated others wrote for him. Now we were standing there looking at a stack of black bound books with silver embossed titles and he was humbly claiming them as his own. We had no reason to doubt him.

He seemed to want to show us more, but he offered an apology that his wife, the Marquis of O (complete name being withheld to protect their privacy) was entertaining ladies of the area upstairs. 

Considering we had been friends for only half an hour, the farewells were surprisingly heartfelt. Craig was invited to return any time (he was the one who this gentleman had taken one look at and declared, “You have beautiful eyes”).

Next minute we were perching on a ledge of the church (which we now knew was made of golden stone brought from Barcelona) googling our new friend, Count V, and wondering if what had just happened had actually happened! 

Suddenly throngs of nine and ten year old children surrounded us. Hello. How are you? Do you speak English? What is your name? How old are you? I’m very well thank you, and you? A teacher bustled over to hustle them away, but we assured her we were happy to chat.  It is not the first time kids on a school outing have embraced us in this way. They love practising their English and love to hear us throw back some Spanish too.

Such serendipitous encounters – with old men and young children – are one of the joys of travelling.

25 May: Caceres 9:30am

As we walked along the street the aroma of fried dough wafted on the air. A solid round man stepped out of the fly-screened doorway clutching a large paper bag. 

“Buen Dia” everyone chorused (swallowing the correct Spanish word endings) as we entered the gentlemen’s club.

One of the two young dark men behind the counter rushed to rearrange the furniture and make a table big enough for us. While everyone else
piled  backpacks in a corner and sat down I went to order. Eight chocolates (and a cafe solo for Uncle to mix his own mochacino with) and two churros per person please. “No hay churros”

Aaagghh!

“We’ve only got porres.”

No problem! We’ll take 16 of them thanks. It doesn’t matter to us whether the dough is straight or curly! (Not that I said all of that in Spanish!!)

 

Our table fell into silence as we savoured the sweetness. All around us voices babbled louder and louder, more and more men (and one lady) came in, took a seat or stood at the counter adding to the commotion, sipping, munching, laughing, chattering.  We couldn’t have heard ourselves unless we were also shouting….but we were too busy eating anyway.Well nourished, we headed for the bus station where we found all the women of the town, equally noisy and without exception, smoking. They were all off to Caceres – for work or shopping, we presume. They chatted as noisily as the men in the churreria – everyone knew everyone else and they engaged us as well, a very inclusive friendly community.

In ten minutes the bus had covered the ground we walked yesterday!

24 May: newsflash

Conversation with Grandpa when he realised everyone was looking for something…..

“if you’re looking for your undies, I’ve got them on.”

Rob (with incredulity in his voice): You’ve got them ON?

Gpa: yes, well they turned up in my washing pile and I figured if I had these then Craig had mine so I  put them on.

Much laughter filled the dorm.

And Grandpa continued: I figured it would all come out in the wash!

Craig: There’s the next blog post, right there.

And so I verified the conversation to make sure I could quote it accurately, raced downstairs and across the square to the bar where there is wifi…..and here you have it. Never a dull moment with Grandpa. 

No photos though!

Oh, OK, one looking up at our room across the square. (If you look really hard you’ll see Grandpa looking out the window wagging his finger at me!)

24 May: Caceres to Casar de Caceres

More conversations with Grandpa:

1. I could kiss you if you’re taking us AROUND that hill.

2. (Five minutes later) Well, obviously no chance of you getting a kiss from me today!

3. Rob: First bus tomorrow leaves at 7:30 

Gpa: When does the second bus go?

4. Gpa: How much does the bus cost?

Rob: One euro fifty

Gpa: And to think we walked here!



Here. Here is Casar de Caceres, a little town famous for its soft gooey creamy pungent cheese, which we sampled at lunchtime….

…..and semi-famous for its modern bus station, which we will depart from tomorrow and tried to sketch today. 
(Because the guys have only a couple of weeks with us AND want to see Salamanca, we have to bus a stretch. So tomorrow we take a bus back to where we walked from today, which is a major transport hub, and from there will take a two hour journey 120km northwards.)

Casar de Caceres will also be remembered by us as the place we met 22-year-old Sam from the Czech Repblic. He left home about two years ago and headed for Spain so he could learn Spanish and one day return to teach it at school. He has a guitar, a strong faith and had five thousand euros. He met a flute-playing beggar and gave away all his money  and has been travelling penniless, happy and free since then. He relies on the generosity of farmers to give him some work in exchange for a meal, and has just spent a month working with a church in exchange for board and bed. When he is hungry, he prays.I am currently reading Craig Greenfield’s latest book, Subversive Jesus (do get yourself a copy!)…in it he talks about how “the poor” need to be able to give and not simply receive. I was reminded of this when Sam willingly cleared away the dishes and wiped down the table after sharing lunch with us today.

Last conversation with Grandpa:

“I’m feeling quite rested!”

“See, walking with us is so good for you!”

Distance: 13.3km Total distance: 335km

#selfiemama

  #selfiedinnerwithSam

23 May: Valdesalor to Caceres

Monday morning, no bars open – walk on to the next town on empty tummies….



….and find churros in the first bar! Everybody happy.


The town where we ended up (Caceres) is a UNESCO World Heritage site so we had to take a bit more of a wander. We knew there would be things to see…. 

 
 
QWhat a wondrous place. 

And we’re staying in a nice place too. We had heard that the municipal albergue was nothing to write home about and expensive, so a quick look on hostelbookers.com showed us an apartment for a bit less – and IS worth writing home about. Beds, not bunks….sheets….towels…washing machine…kitchen with oven and dishwasher….couches in a lounge….and a bottle of wine on arrival. Grandpa decided to just wait here for the next week, but we’ll drag him farther along the road tomorrow.

Distance: 11.1km Total Distance: 322km (plus another 14km around town and running errands)