Embalse de Alcantar to Salamanca

The question is, "What didn't happen on this stage?" It went from the sublime, to the ridiculous to freezing cold - it was fantastic:

  • Grimaldo - A tiny little farming town with only one place to stay (a cramped, well worn albergue), a noisy cafe next door and the best restaurant on the VdlP across the street. The flexible tube for the shower head in the albergue had a hole in it and sent water all over the bathroom (no shower curtain). There was only a six inch gap between the front of the toilet and the wall (sitting down was an experience). We went across the street to the restaurant for dinner and it seemed like we had slipped into another world. I slept in an 8'x8' bunk room with three other guys - no window, no ventilation and we had to keep the door closed at night. Thought I was going to die from carbon dioxide poisoning. Some guy in the bar on other side of the bunk room wall sang beautiful flamenco until midnight while I tried to sleep. Grimaldo was a study in contradictions - I loved the place.
  • Carcaboso - Being a good samaritan.
  • Walk from Carcaboso to Oliva de Plasencia - Walking out of Carcaboso, coming to a fork in the road with no flechas, going left, walking for five kilometers and becoming increasingly afraid I took the wrong way. Something told me I was on the correct path, but I had nothing tangible to prove it. And then I finally saw the hint of an old flecha on a drain pipe and all was good again. This stage was also one of the most beautiful portions of the VdlP. Spring was in full bloom, I was completely alone, the sun was out and the air was still. There was a moment when I sat down on a rock and realized how peaceful everything was. I just sat there and breathed it in. Here is a short movie clip that I took.
  • Oliva de Plascencia - Went 14 kilometers out of my way to stay there based on glowing reports about the hospitalera who runs the albergue. Needless to say the hospitalera opted to be uninvolved, the albergue smelled of human waste, the tap water was cloudy and orange and the place had not been scrubbed in weeks. The only town on the whole Camino that I was happy to leave.
  • Arco de Capara - Walking alone under the Roman arch in the early morning sun.
  • La Calzada de Béjar - The complete opposite of Oliva de Plascencia. The hospitalera welcomed you with a cold beer on a hot day and a cup of hot soup on a cold day. Not one of the most inviting albergues on the outside, but the hospitality was first rate. God, I love the Camino, if anything for its beauty and its contradictions.
  • Great Friends - I met a lot of new friends on the Camino, but two in particular gave me a lot of valuable advice. I was talking with David over a meal at Fuenterroble de Salvatierra and telling him that I had been doing a lot of soul searching and that the Camino was grinding me down. David turned to me and said, "These are your 40 days." Taken aback, I said I had already done my 40 days. His response - "They are not over." And he was right. David and Neville also suggested that I should go north and join up with the Camino Francais, which ultimately turned out to be great advice.
  • Fuenterroble de Salvatierra - San Pedro de Rozados - One of the hardest walks I experienced. There was ice on the ground when we started out and we walked into a 25 mph head wind. It was so cold along the 28 kilometer walk that you couldn't sit down or stop for the entire 7 hour hike. To give you an idea of the wind, I tried to take a movie on top of a 600' hill with a long row of windmills. The idea was to show a sweeping shot of the windmills, an iron cross on top of the hill and then the Camino heading north. This is what I shot.
  • Snow - Then we get up the next morning and there was a blinding snow storm. We made a try to walk to Salamanca, but found that the snow storm was too much for us. We decided to slink back to the bus stop and wait for the autobus to Salamanca. I was embarrassed to have given up and hoped no other pilgrims would see us. When the bus came we took our gear to the back only to find almost all the other pilgrims in town already on the bus.
oliva de plascencia
arco de capara

Pictures of the stage from Embalse de Alcantar to Salamanca

Some emails:

What to Do?

April 22, 2013 (email to family)

So here I am in the little town of Carcaboso wandering around looking for an ATM. As I walk past a market I notice that a small parked car is slowly backing out into the street and down the hill. There is no driver in the car. Somebody parked the car, forgot to set the parking break, locked the car and walked off.

Good Samaritan to the rescue. I jump behind the car and bring it to a stop. The only problem is if I let go of the car, it will happily keep rolling down the hill. What to do? I yell out for assistance. Young children look at me, run and hide. I yell at cars as they drive by, but no one understands me. Why is this crazy guy leaning against the back of the car and yelling strange words?

Plan B. I demonstrably wave down a driver. He stops and walks over. I push on the back of the car so he can see the parking brake isn't set. He thinks I'm the driver of the errant car and wonders why I don't unlock my car. I mumble something about el conche es non mi. He finally gets what's going on and motions for me to keep holding the car.

He disappears into the market and then the bar next door. He starts shouting in the bar and a woman comes out, unlocks the car and sets the brake. By now a small crowd has formed, everyone is laughing, the woman is embarrassed, I say gracias to the guy who stopped to help and quietly walk off.

This is what pilgrims do?



April 29, 2013 (email to friends)

I'm halfway there! Right now I'm in Salamanca which is a little over 500 kilometers from Sevilla and roughly the same distance to Santiago. It's a strange feeling at this halfway point. On one hand I'm incredibly proud I've made it this far, but I'm also intimidated by the realization I've got to do it all over again in terms of distance to make it to the end. The one encouraging point is that I'm getting comfortable with the daily mileage and my body is not protesting as much.

During the last three weeks I've learned the three basic truths of the Camino - 1). The Camino provides, 2). Things change and 3). ... I'll get to Rule 3 later. The experienced walkers on the Camino are always saying, "The Camino provides." The saying is a combination of the spirits will watch out for you (pilgrims are always eager to help each other; even if a hostel is full for the night, they will always find a place for you; you don't need maps as much as you need to rely on your intuition that you are on the right path; etc.) and the gods will give you what you need, not what you want. I'm slowly learning to trust the Camino.

The second rule is more about accepting whatever comes along. Sometimes there are hot showers at the hostel and sometimes... You just go with it.

Example - at dinner a few nights ago some friends were pretty emphatic that I needed to walk the more popular route in Spain, the Route Francais that goes from east to west across northern Spain. It has more albergues and cafes, a whole different culture and history and is not as physically demanding. As soon as they suggested it I realized that with a minor change of plans I could walk up to Astorga and join the Route Francais there. And that is likely what I will do.

Another example, this is the end of April, a time in Spain when Spring is firmly entrenched, the weather is mild and the flowers fill the countryside. Nope. Not by a long shot. A massive polar cold front has moved through Spain in the last two days. Yesterday was a rigorous 29 kilometer walk, part of which was a steep 600 foot hill. When we started out the temperature was hovering around 0° Celsius, the wind built to a 15 to 25 knot headwind, then it began to sleet and when the sleet was done, it snowed. Fun. But we completed the walk and we had a rousing dinner, in a warm local hotel, to celebrate.

Now for Rule 3, the unspoken rule. After yesterday's long, cold march, we got up this morning for a 24 kilometer walk to Salamanca. This time we had similar headwinds, but now we were walking into a thick, heavy, wet, blinding snow that would soon turn to rain. It was miserable, truly miserable, and we would have to endure six hours of it to make it to Salamanca. Then someone in our group said, "You know there is a bus leaving from this town for Salamanca in a half hour." We kept walking for a few more minutes, the wind gusted, the snow coated our clothes, we stopped, we turned around, and we walked to the bus stop.

Rule 3 is "Sometimes you have to get creative." Yes, I will have to deal with the nagging voice inside of me that says, "You didn't walk every inch of the Camino." But the Camino is becoming more of something that exists in my spirit than what is laid down on a map.



The next stage: Salmanca to Astorga