Waymarkers

We’ve had two months of following a variety of waymarkers. Now we’re on our way home.


 We will miss life on the road, but the journey continues.

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8 May: Granja de Moreruela

Ordinarily, as Kiwis, we like to throw the windows open and let the light in. Today we followed Spanish custom and kept the shutters down in an attempt to keep the dormitory from heating up too much.

We also adopted the Spanish custom of sitting in the bar playing cards. It was simply too hot to be out seeing the sights.

The sights. We went for a wander later to check things out. This town is famous on the Via de la Plata for being the place where you have to choose whether to go west on the Sanabres route or continue northwards for another week and then join the busy Camino Frances at Astorga. Astorga has a chocolate museum and a Gaudi building and so there were a few votes for that route. The Sanabres has more mountains, no race for beds at the end of the day and the added attraction that we have not yet walked it.

 In the morning we’ll be turning left. But today we went the other way. Like many villages we have passed through, this one is a mixture of nondescript habitations, falling-apart-places and the odd fancy one.

 (Spot the albergue with washing outside! And someone pulled the shutters up!!)

After our wee wander, we popped into the grocery store to pick up something for lunch on the run tomorrow.

It’s like stepping into another era. Which reminds me, just yesterday I looked at a decrepit tumbledown mud brick building and wondered how long it had been abandoned. When we rounded the corner a low doorway into a courtyard with an ancient wooden door half off its hinges was hanging half open – and through it I spotted an equally old lady perched on a stool doing some embroidery. Beside her, a darkened doorway revealed a dim kitchen. This house was obviously not abandoned at all. So who knows which of the buildings in this town are lived in or not?

8 May: Montamarta to Granja de Moreruela

We didn’t want anything eventful to happen today. And as of 3pm when we sat down for lunch, it appeared we would be in luck.

 The path was flooded, but a kind lady advised us to take the road before we got down to the water’s edge (the path is under that water!)

 There were rural scenes.

The kids found frogs – lots of frogs- under the bridge and along the path. There were glimpses of water.The remains of an abandoned but obviously once substantial settlement reared up on top of a hill. Usually we’d have gone exploring, but today we were not looking for adventure and were aware the temperature was constantly climbing. Large plateaus followed gentle climbs, our final destination being at the end of this one.

Destination, and lunch. Now *that* turned out to be an adventure.

Salad was not an official choice for first plate, but I asked if it would be possible and we were served the best salads we’ve had so far – complete with generous amounts of asparagus, tomato, corn, peppers and tuna.

 Second plates were equally generous and we all ended up with a juicy fillet of pork or chicken to put in our cheese and tomato rolls for dinner (everyone else who ate here also took some home with them!) 

 And ice cream. It really was quite the adventure.

Distance: 23.4km Total Distance: 568km

7 June: Valdeperdices to Montamarta

“You have arrived. The destination is on your right.”

 Really? Does that look like a Visigothic church that was built in 680and then moved stone by stone  a hundred years ago when someone decided to build a dam?

Jolly googlemaps!

We did get to the church, but our little detour that was supposed to be a round trip of 5km ended up being nearly 7km each way! The kids don’t think it was worth it. They were still thinking of the night on the floor (which, incidentally, passed without issue and we all actually slept reasonably well, even though it got cold at 4am and we had to climb into our sleeping bags instead of lying on top of them as mattresses, which made the floor seem a bit harder), having to carry food, not being with the guys we’d been walking with, having to walk in the heat of the day….you see, the day started with perfect walking weather:

…but by the time we finished we were wilting…

 Was it worth it?




There’s something about the simplicity that calms my soul. I’d go there again!  
And while the kids may not have been voting for the architecture, they were enthusiastic about what comes out to play in the heat: 

That was exciting enough, but then we came across a really decent-sized specimen:

On our return journeyfrom the church to our overnight sleeping spot where we had left our bags, we abandoned googlemaps and followed the official camino markers. Anyone thinking of doing this detour can be assured that it is directly on the Portuguese path from Zamora so there are arrows all the way. And we got a glimpse of water that was missing on the google path.

In order to get back to the Via de la Plata, we relied again on Google. Ha. I have two complaints. The first is that when the road is completely under water, it is problematic if you don’t have a boat or more faith than Peter.

 If you look closely you can see the road on the far side of this water. We were supposed to walk from that point to here where the photo is taken from. I had started getting suspicious when the path began curving around what looked like a lake. I thought I had noticed on the map that we would be skirting across the top of it, not walking beside it. So we stopped to check. Sure enough, there was definitely water on the ground that was not marked on the map. Then we saw a couple pull up in a car right there where our photo is taken from. You know the view that faced them. They got out of their car and looked quizzically  at the end of the road (actually, they were too far away for us to see their facial expressions, but I’m sure they were as bemused as we were) We backtracked and crossed where there was less of the wet stuff and headed across rocks to the road we thought we should be on. Success. The car couple had disappeared, presumably to find another road.

My other complaint is this:

 We are the arrow. We are following the blue line. Unless I am mistaken, we are supposed to turn right up ahead. But Mrs Google instructs us to turn left. You can’t just do the opposite of what she says, because sometimes she actually gets it right, so every time you have to check manually. We’ll be happy to be following arrows tomorrow.



Distance: 27.5km Total Distance: 543km

6 June: evening in Valdeperdices

On our post-dinner peregrination everyone stared at us. We greeted and walked on. But this gaggle of elderly women didn’t even notice us, so engrossed were they in their game of cards played on a board that was balanced on their knees. We wandered over. They looked up and we made stumbling attempts at conversation. I resorted to using google translate on the phone and lending my glasses so they could read the translation. Hilarious. The men mentioned the water from the nearby pump is fresh and very good to drink so we tried it out. 
 It was deliciously cool and clear so we filled our water containers for tomorrow – what a blessing when the water in the tap was silty and so we hadn’t drunk any.

 Levi snuck round surreptitiously taking pictures!
Then the men told us to climb the hill. So we did.

 Finally they sent us off over another hill to see their river. On the way we met a 96-year-old man  mending his gardening tool. He loved us stopping to chat (with the help of one of our new friends, the youngest card player who was going out to her garden plot with a bucket)

As we left the elderly gentleman, she whispered something confidentially, even perhaps conspiratorially, to us – the secret is safe – I didn’t understand a word!


 The Rio was a great babysitter. Rocks were hurled into it, stones skimmed across it and the kids came back as best friends again.

Our home even looked cosy and welcoming.

 The card-playing ladies had kindly asked if we had eaten. I’m sure they would have fed us if I’d said no. It’s just a pity they didn’t ask if we needed some old feed sacks to sleep on!

6 June: Zamora to Valdeperdices

If every day is a mountain-top experience eventually you’d stop appreciating the views. Most of today was a bit mediocre, no mountaintops. An orange road stretched away in front of us, with green wavy fields on either side.  There is a monotony to these rural scenes.

 There was an occasional change, but mostly it was just fields. Or fields with clouds of pollen blowing across.

We have detoured off the official Via de la Plata route for a day in order to see two special churches. The first, La Hiniesta, was closed. What we could see from the outside was great, but it was a little disappointing to not be able to get in. To the kids, it was equally disappointing that the bar by the church where we had planned on having lunch was also closed! Not exactly a mountaintop morning!

Our accommodation for the night did not inspire lofty thoughts either. That in spite of us having an entire building to ourselves!

 That’s it, all for us. And a toilet with resident spider, three tables, a bench, a power point, some hooks on the wall and a handle-less mop. We used everything provided!! We would also have been happy to use beds, or even just mattresses, but there were neither! Mediocre days will make the mountaintop days extra special!

Mediocre days are important for developing gratitude and looking for things to be thankful for.  People were today’s answer. We lost count of the number of people who stopped their car or waited for us to catch up them and their dogs or called out to us or looked back to check we had taken the right turn – close to a dozen would have stopped us to check we had not missed the route they expected we would be taking. Some of them took a bit of convincing that we were OK – how delightful it was that so many people would go out of their way for complete strangers.

Mediocre days could be good ones for appreciating each other, but if this blog is to be authentic it must be said that sarcasm and snitching ruled sibling interactions today. Eventually I banned speech for a time, gave a lecture on the side of the path, confiscated a tool that was being used as a weapon, repeated another lecture and left one particular playing-dumb child to work out how he was being foolish – and it took him well over an hour. Less-than-mediocre days happen.

Distance: 23km Total Distance: 515

5 June: Zamora

“I’ll never forget today, I don’t think,” exhaled Tessa as she slumped onto the bunk.

Liz and Kent, our angels
Digger, another angelThe storks were the highlight of the day. After wandering around the empty streets in the early morning we sat down to watch. We were mesmerized. A baby was trying to gather courage to jump off the nest. A couple of parents were in nest-building mode and there was a bit of a squabble when one stole sticks from another. They repeatedly flew off and returned with twigs, which they carefully arranged or dropped. Speaking of dropping….the kids now know why storks build their nests so high – they like to have a long drop!The bells in the cathedral started ringing. They rang and rang and rang for over 300 tolls! We ended up going in and staying for the service that was just beginning. Organ music and chanting filled the Byzantine dome – fabulous! Next stop, the castle. This really is such an amazing place. 

BUT.

All day there was an undercurrent of dis-enthusiasm. 

The mother thought it was a great idea that we would be spending the night at the Homeless Shelter. No-one else agreed. 

We knew we had some food, but not enough for the whole day. Would any food places be open? Enthusiasm abounded a few hours after we left the albergue when we discovered there were actually plenty of food options.

Our main issue, was not knowing where we would end up. Our Plan B was to walk on to the next village seven kilometers away if we couldn’t get into the shelter. If we were to do that we would need to take food for a couple of days. So we bought lots of bread! Just in case (we already had cheese and salami from the supermarket yesterday).

Plan B (which the kids favored even if it meant eating bread for two days) hit a snag. When I tried to get money out of the ATM it would not co-operate. Nor would the second one from a different bank – or third or fourth. And not three hours later either. So leaving town became a non-option.

Kids started making other suggestions. We even went into one cheap-looking family-run hostel and handed money over for two rooms. But I had a really bad feeling about the place and asked for my money back and we scarpered. When we got outside Ella-Rose said, “I didn’t like that place, I’m glad we’re not staying.” I can’t say what was wrong with it, but I listen to that small warning voice in my head.

We went back to the albergue to pick up our packs which we had left there for the day and walked away dejected. I think the kids had hoped the hospitaleros would welcome us with open arms. But they couldn’t and I understood that.

We sat down in a plaza under some beautiful trees next to the Parador Hotel. You will not find a more swish hotel in Spain! There were jokes about staying there. The next thing I knew, Micaiah was donning his pack and marching towards the front door. He returned with the news that we could have a double room for 176 euros and they would throw in two extra beds for free. And taxi service. And breakfast.

We went to the ethnographic museum instead. Distraction is a wonderful tool.When we were finished looking at straw buildings and funerary carts and clay pots and embroidered clothing and festive costumes, someone said, “Now what?”


We tried a bank again. Still no ability to even find an account balance. We would have to stay in town.

We went to the shelter. It was shut. So we went to the police station (evidently they are in charge) and asked when it would open. 

One officer listened to our sob story (a little speech specially prepared in Spanish all about blisters!) and collected the keys from a drawer and appeared to be about to take us directly there. The second officer refused. He insisted we could not go. He told us all about the pilgrim albergue and we explained it was not possible for us to stay there two nights. So he got on the phone. “This is the Zamora Municipal Police. I have a family here. Do you remember them? A mother and four children from New Zealand. They need somewhere to stay. They need to stay at your place again. They cannot stay at the homeless shelter.” And off he sent us – but not until I had checked three times that he understood the rules.

I crept into the albergue. Kent popped out of the office, full of welcome. Liz was still getting over the phone call from the police! While they did not register us, they welcomed us as warmly as yesterday, but with even more humor. Kent told me to tell the kids they would be locked up by the police of he let them stay (they were waiting up the road in case I had got the wrong end of the stick so as not to embarrass Kent and Liz). I went out to them, and explained solemnly, “The police have told Liz she will be locked up if they take us in because they are only allowed to give us one night.”

“Well we can’t stay here then,” Tessa insisted. With a small quaver in her voice, she asked, “So what will we do?” The others joined with such earnestness that I could not worry them for more than a minute, and they were most delighted and exasperated and relieved to discover it was a joke!

The kids were disappointed we hadn’t thought to ask for a stamp in their credentials from the police – so they went back and asked. They were well rewarded!

Dinner was bread and cheese and salami…..and leftover soup from last night! It was different without Digger, but we had a good time. New people, and an old one from a few days ago. More camaraderie.

Just like last night, suddenly it was five to ten. I shooed the kids off to bed and started to write this. It is now two hours later. British politics have been exhausted. The issue of homelessness has been thrashed. Everyone else went to bed, except a young Australian guy. It’s been a fascinating conversation – education, neural psychology, music, theatre, learning, parenting, memory……but now it’s time for bed.

Distance: 13.4km around town (less for Levi who often sat going nowhere nursing his blisters)

4 June: Villanueva to Zamora

How do I capture today in a blogpost? Where do I begin? 

OK, the beginning. We did a walk. 18 point something km. Not far, but it did seem to go on and on. Although there certainly were moments of fun and beauty too (even if trudging through sand did not lead to a beach!)










We arrived in Zamora before noon with hopes of dashing around the town seeing the sights. But two big blisters on Levi’s toes prevented that. Instead we had an unexpectedly-rich-in-other-ways time.

The afternoon was spent online searching hostelbookers and booking.com and Airbnb and couchsurfing.com for somewhere affordable to stay tomorrow so that we can give the affected toes a limited-walking day. Nada. Unless we have hundreds of dollars. 

What to do?

Make soup. Yes, as soon as I had seen the kitchen with a pot the size of a bath, I had offered to everyone who was around that I would make soup for a communal meal. So we got cooking. And while the mixture simmered I searched some more. Digger was playing an old out-of-tune guitar….”Hamburg”, a young German guy who is on Day 2 Of Walking was hobbling about asking if everyone else was as sore at the beginning and ended up with a bag of ice draped across his feet….various people wandered in and out (a Swiss couple, some Spaniards, a French couple, lots more Spaniards until the place was full, 30 pilgrims)….Liz, the South African volunteer hospitalera came and sat down with us. Now before I tell you her suggestion, let me tell you about her and her American-born but living in South Africa for forty years husband, Kent. They are angels. They are warm and welcoming. They engage. They are calm and unhurried. They had taken the time to put jars of wild flowers outside by the front door. They have water and biscuits and sunflower seeds and mixed nuts out for when we arrived. They promise breakfast – and not just coffee with a biscuit, but all that AND muesli and yoghurt and fruit and toast with jam and Nutella and a range of teas. They answer questions. Nothing is too much trouble for them. As I say, they are angels. Well, Liz came and sat down with us and started telling about a problem they’ve had. This albergue is run by donation and homeless people had been turning up wanting to stay here, or even just have a shower. This did not fit with the “rules” of it being for pilgrims, but these folk breathe the spirit of hospitality and so they did not want to turn them away. A meeting (or perhaps many meetings, I’m not exactly sure of the details) with the local council occurred…..and the upshot is that there is now a Refugio set up for homeless people to go and bunk down for the night on a mattress, in a room that is warm, safe and dry. Liz suggested they might let us stay tomorrow night.

When he realised that I was seriously considering this as an option, Digger checked with me that I was aware what kind of people might be there. The kind of people Jesus loves. Not the kind Digger likes hanging out with.

But Digger is an angel too. A few hours later he said he’s going to take a rest day tomorrow (he pushed himself too hard yesterday trying to keep up with the gazelles as he is fondly calling the kids) and he’s going to come to the Homeless Shelter with us. He’s rough, he’s tough, he’s loud, he’s larger than life and hates to let facts get in the way of a good yarn – and he’s got a heart of gold. Let me tell you a bit more about Digger. He knows a lot. He loves history. He reads. He watches birds. He is a mine of potentially useful trivia (did you know that when you see a building in the distance, if you can tell the roof apart from the walls it’s probably between 8 and 10 kilometers away? If you can make out windows and doors, it’s 4 to 6km. We had opportunity to check the theory today and it seems right!). He also loves poetry. Tonight after dinner he gave a stirring recital of Banjo Patterson’s Man From Snowy River, complete with facial expressions, pregnant pauses, hand gestures and thumping the table. Surreal. He then quizzed the kids on all sorts of Australian geography facts – with donuts for prizes. There was laughter, muchos laughter. Kent and Liz sat with us as fellow pilgrims rather than The Boss like some other hosts have been, and conversation flowed in and around and in spite of Digger’s Test/Quiz/Storytelling. And suddenly it was five to ten.

I snuck outside. The sun was disappearing, but the warm welcome we had received was shining on the street. 

We don’t know where we’ll sleep tomorrow. And that’s OK.

Distance: 18.8km Total distance:

PS To lovely emailing, messaging friends – we’ll catch up in the next few days. Thanks for your patience.

3 June: Calzada to Villanueva de Campean

I have spent far too long trying to upload pictures…..have to admit defeat today and add them tomorrow when we get somewhere with a better connection. Pity, because the post revolves around the pictures!!

Pond pic 7:20am

2x arrow pics 8:16am Digger left us a message which we didn’t see until we had already tried the direct path in the hopes that there would be no water.

Dirt field pic 9:17am

Hay field pic 9:20am

Horse pic 10:15am Look who came down the path as we were taking our first break. Pedro on Peregrin.

Horse going pic 10:30am And off they went.

El Cubo pic 11:15am 21km done. Time to decide whether or not to push on for another 13. 

Bar pic 11:32am We will do it after some tortilla de patatas and a juice (and a blat round the village finding more food to take with us because we’ll end up in a wee place with no shop.

Town hall pic 12:08 A bit more to eat in the shade.

Italiano pic 12:39pm Italiano joins us. Digger suggests he’s going to let us go on ahead and asks us to save him a bed……but he keeps up!

Hay maker pic 1:40pm

Selfie pic 2:23pm selfie. It’s getting really hot!

Marker pic 2:59pm We make it to the village. We have run out of water. The last hour was hard. No-one complained. Got a message from Daddy that he’s in Guangzhou and his flight has been delayed for two hours due to thunderstorms. We’re frying, but no one wishes for thunderstorms.

Strava pic 3:07pm We arrive. We drink. We claim beds. We get stamps in our credentials. We drink some more. We sit. We unpack. We take showers. It was a long hot day.

Albergue pic 4:24pm Washing is done. Two blisters are attended to. All feet are checked. Journals are written. Blog post typed. Cards played.

Inside bar pic 5:23pm Found. One bar. With hot cooked food. We have emergency rations, but are all ravenous and happy to eat a full meal.

Dinner pic 

Distance: 35.4km Total Distance: 474km

3 June: Calzada to Villanueva de Campean

7:20

8:16am Digger left us a message which we didn’t see until we had already tried the direct path in the hopes that there would be no water.

9:17am

9:20am

10:15am Look who came down the path as we were taking our first break. Pedro on Peregrin.

10:30am And off they went.

11:15am 21km done. Time to decide whether or not to push on for another 13. We could stop here.

11:32am We will do it after some tortilla de patatas and a juice (and a blat round the village finding more food to take with us because we’ll end up in a wee place with no shop.

12:08 A bit more to eat in the shade. A bit rude to eat our self-made rolls in the bar.

12:39pm Italiano joins us. Digger suggests he’s going to let us go on ahead and asks us to save him a bed……but he keeps up!

1:40pm

2:23pm selfie. It’s getting really hot!

2:59pm We make it to the village. We have run out of water. The last hour was hard. No-one complained. Got a message from Daddy that he’s in Guangzhou and his flight has been delayed for two hours due to thunderstorms. We’re frying, but no one wishes for thunderstorms.

 3:07pm We arrive. We drink. We claim beds. We get stamps in our credentials. We drink some more. We sit. We unpack. We take showers. It was a long hot day.

4:24pm Washing is done. Two blisters are attended to. All feet are checked. Journals are written. Blog post mostly typed. Cards played.

5:23pm Found. One bar. With hot cooked food. We have emergency rations, but are all ravenous and happy to eat a full meal. Happy to wait two hours for the kitchen to open.

8:09pm First plates. Dinner with Digger, Italiano (Tirano) and a Frenchman we caught up with today.

8:30pm Second plate – certainly typical “set menu” fare. Actually nothing to write home about. Followed by ice cream, of course.

Distance: 35.4km Total Distance: 474km