That weight, despite the training I had done led to blisters, tendonitis and a soft tissue injury on my foot which took many months to heal. The first blister appeared quite quickly. This was the effect of road walking which I had not done very much of during my training. I’ve decided blisters don’t like to be lonely and the first was soon joined by others. That was a painful Camino.
However despite the pain I found the experience so rewarding and inspiring it led to more walking, writing guidebooks, helping in the Pilgrims’ Office, starting this blog and eventually moving to Santiago!
Because of the impact the Via de la Plata had on me I had a great sense of anticipation setting out from Seville once again. The Big Man was also very excited because although he had walked from Salamanca to Santiago he would now be completing the full 1000 km route.
We were not disappointed. Whilst the rain cascaded down flooding much of southern England it also rained continuously day after day in Santiago. In Seville the sun shone and the forecast predicted sun and temperatures in the mid teens for most of our pilgrimage. Fortunately I had plenty of Factor 50 with me.
Overall the accommodation was excellent and very, very reasonably priced. There is much more available than when I walked 7 years ago. This both makes the route accessible to pilgrims who cannot walk distances of over 30 kms and has also obviously lowered prices. I’ll write more about this in another post but noticeably some municipal and parochial albergues like in Guillena and Monasterio now charge 10 euros to sleep in a dormitory, similarly private albergues charge 12 or 13 euros. In competition hostals throughout the route offered beds with sheets, blankets, towels, heating and hot water for 15 euros for a shared room. In the Hostal Malaga in Galisteo a shared room for three cost 12 euros each. Walking with a companion or like José team up with another pilgrim to share accommodation costs makes using hostals economically very reasonable.
In Alcuescar we stayed in the albergue which is part of the Monastery of a religious order called The Slaves of Mary and Poor. The facilities were excellent including a communal meal with other pilgrims and the hosptalero. All donativo. At night my room was colder than a refrigerator but I was toasting hot in my sleeping bag with extra blankets supplied by the hospitalero.
A more serious aspect to my experience there was passing through the “care home” which the Order runs on the way to the chapel for Mass. The Order the Slaves of Mary and Poor was founded in 1939 and no doubt well motivated they provide residential care for older people often with dementia or brain damage who have no one else to care for them. But their approach to care is stuck in 1939. Old people sat facing the wall, locked into chairs. Others sat silently in a circle, eyes glazed and staring into space, still others wandered aimlessly up and down the corridors. Cuts in funding mean few staff and less therapy and activity for the residents. The place smelled of urine and highly concentrated desperation. Pray for them. It is all we can do.
On a lighter note when I walked into San Pedro de Rozados in 2007 all accommodation was closed. I went to the local bar to enquire if they knew of anything available. “There is nothing open, sir.” The barman said, “but you can stay with my granny.” And so I did. Whilst in the bar the barman’s mother showed me drawings for a new albergue she planned to open. This time round I stayed there. And I met the granny again!
This time there were no blisters. No pain. The weather was excellent. We had two days of drizzle and only one day of wind, rain, sleet and hail which made the ascent to the Pico del Dueña all the more satisfying at the top. At 1200 metres above sea level it is the highest point in the entire route. The iron cross can be seen for many kilometres in the descent and beyond.
Above all, with no feet distractions, this time I was able to fully appreciate the beauty and serenity of many of the stages. We walked through huge estates and natural parks, past giant reservoirs and rivers. We saw hundred of black pigs munching on acorns. Future Jamon Serrano. At times it was so still, so peaceful, so silent I felt very privileged to have been able to return.
And I will also return to more stories of this Camino soon. Next time read...In Praise of Cobblers!