Anecdotes

ANECDOTES updated November 10th


Quebec

At many of the albergues the registration book is available for viewing. Itís always interesting to see who has stayed before you and read from which countries they have come.  I saw very few peregrinos from Canada. The few that had passed through were mostly from Quebec and almost invariably they stated their country as being Quebec.

Cidade da Cultura de Galicia (Galiciaís City of Culture)

On one of the hills overlooking the city they are building a huge complex that will act as a place for study and and research of Galiciaīs culture both past and future. It is based on the architectural design of American architect, Peter Eisenman. I had seen a documentary about it earlier this year and had hoped to be able to visit it. It turns out that the project which was started in 2001 is now scheduled for completion in 2012 and that the pace of progress has dwindled to a slow crawl due to cost escalation and political interference. They have a way to go before they challenge the amount of time it took to build the cathedral - about 125 years! So there are no tours and I canít visit for a few more years.

Peregrinos

When I planned this trip I knew that there would be a lot less peregrinos as compared to last year. Statistically only about five percent of the Compostelas are issued to those doing the Via de la Plata. Over the whole  5 week period of the walk I saw no more than 20 pilgrims. Over the last 500 kilometers I saw only three walkers. Julia, a young lady (mid thirties) from Germany, whom I saw for two days until she took the northern route to Astorga and I headed over the mountains to Ourense. Federico, a Spanish gentleman (mid fifties) who was walking an astounding 40 kilometers per day but taking about 12 hours to do so. He arrived in Santiago two days ago and started in Sevilla four days after me. Thus he was taking only 29 days to walk the 1007 kilometers. Bart (mid forties) from Belgium, who was at the albergue in Ourense when I arrived and was still there when I left. He was straying there until he recovered from flu symptoms......he said! In my view he was taking advantage of a very nice heated albergue with free internet service at three Euros per day. He told me that he was on a one year sabbatical, that he was going to quit his job at the end of the sabbatical, did not want to work any more, and just wanted to do volunteer work although he did not seem to have a profession to support it....nice work if you can get it and still live.

Monastery at Oseira

The only place to stay in the village of Oseira is the monastery. It is a set of huge structures where the oldest building goes back to the 12th century. I was met by Brother Luis who spoke reasonably good English. Because it was late in the season they had closed down the section where peregrinos got individual cells (rooms) with hot showers and a hot meal as part of the stay. So, he took me to this huge building that had about 20 beds at one end. This was to be my home for the night. No showers, no hot water, no pillows, and no heat but I could get a meal at the bar in the village. Later I went up to the main entrance to make my donation. He insisted on taking me on a 30 minute tour of the immense complex which was absolutely fascinating.....by the way, there are only 17 monks in a place that used to hold hundreds.


Goethe
There is a quote written on a piece of cloth attached to the inside of my Tilley vest by Goethe that says, "Be bold - and mighty forces will come to your aid".  Seems very appropriate.


The Bells at Casar de Caseres
The albergue in Casar de Caceres, is located right across the road from the ayuntamiento (city hall) in which there is a bell tower that does its thing every hour on the hour to announce the time. The only problem is that, for example at 21:00 the bell chimes nine times and then after a three or four minute pause it chimes nine more times. All of us in the albergue were more than pleased when the bells did not chime between the hours of 10PM and 7AM! 

Bumwad
You can never count on the availability of toilet paper anywhere in Spain. Frequently even the albergues donít have any. Thus, the well-equipped peregrino always carries a supply in the backpack. Nature called as I was walking along one day and I took out my sealed freezer bag with the soft paper in it. Unfortunately, I had left the lid on my spare drinking bottle unsealed and the water had leaked into the bag with the toilet paper . All I had was a sodden mass.  Sort of like papier mache.  But, I had no choice but to use it. Sort of a flush and a wipe all in one!

Hope
Over the last few days I have traversed several passes with long and sometimes steep climbs. You anticipate finally coming to the top when there is a bit of a down hill. But, it is there only to give you hope.  As if to taunt you, it is soon followed by yet another climb even steeper than the last. This seems to work the best when it is foggy and you canít see very far ahead.

 

Little Men

The crosswalks in Salamanca have animated little men as well as a countdown clock to let pedestrians know what is happening. When you are not allowed to cross the little man faces you and is coloured red. When it is OK to cross the little man turns green and starts walking in profile while the clock counts down. With about 10 seconds to go on the clock the little fellow starts running faster and faster. I wonder if he shoots jaywalkers?

....eria

Lots of the Spanish stores have names describing the services or products with a suffix ending in ...eria. For example, fruiteria, panateria, chocolateria, libreria, etcetera. I noticed a new one in Salamanca, joyeria.....turns out to be that it is an aptly named store that sells jewellery!!!

Even the Thieves Take a Siesta



When Franck and I arrived at about 3:00 in one small town our guide book indicated that we could get the key for the albergue at the local police station. We found it without difficulty only to realize that it was ....you guessed it, closed.

Walking Sticks  (Franck, a pilgrim from Belgium, is picture below with his walking stick)

There are three options with respect to walking sticks 0, 1 or 2. Very few people seem to use two. I prefer one and it has a lot more uses than providing walking support.

 - it really helps when going uphill to provide some momentum
 - it steadies you when going downhill
 - it's like a third foot when crossing streams and huge puddles (remember my situation on day 1)
 - it deters dogs. There are lots of dogs in Spain and usually they are tied up or behind fences where all they can do is make a lot of noise. Today I ran into a couple of small dogs when coming into a village. One of them tried to attack me from behind. He almost lost his nose in the process.  

Everything follows the siesta rule with the exception of a few bars. Tomorrow is Sunday so it will be even worse, I have to do some shopping later this evening in case stores are closed where I am going tomorrow. 


                                                    Hunters

A few days ago as I was walking along the trail I could hear the continuous din of shotguns up ahead. As I came over a ridge I could see 8-10 hunters equally spaced on both side of the trail. I was pretty nervous as I walked between them - didn't want to get caught in any crossfire.  I remembered the hospitalera from last year's walk telling me that that during hunting season the Spaniards shoot anything that moves. Fortunately, I don't appear to have been on the menu as I passed through unscathed though a bit weak in the knees.

                                                Smoking

The anti smoking campaign has not yet reached Spain. Every bar, which is where you get your breakfast, lunch, etc., is filled with smoke. The sign outside says that smoking is allowed so as to discourage anyone who does not smoke.   But, I gotta eat and so I take my turn at the bar and walk off the smell of smoke that clings to me.  It's the polar opposite of what we're used to in Canada and North America.

 


Spanish/English

My guide books indicated that I should not expect anyone at all to speak English in the southern part of Spain. This indeed turned out to be the truth. I can ask some very basic stuff......like where is the store? Where is the Camino? What does it cost? Dos cafe con leche por favor - see? I can speak rudimentary Spanish!

BUT even though I usually start my meagre conversation with the disclaimer that I only speak a tiny little bit of Spanish,  I am nevertheless faced with a machine gun like fussilade of words that I cannot comprehend.  So I smile, nod  and say "Si" and "Gracia" and somehow it all seems to work out........I think!

 



 

                                                                                           Bidet

Here in Salamanca I decided to get a room at a Hostal. I'm a bit tired of cold showers and close quarters resonating with a multitude of snorers. In fact I wanted a place that felt like home, something with a big luxurious bathtub. I found it for a reasonable price and it came with a bidet. After a long and delicious soak I threw all my dirty clothes into the tub where I proceeded to wash everything vigoursly. As each piece of clothing was cleaned I placed it in the bidet for a final rinse!!!!   Now I know what those things are for.   


EARLIER ANECDOTES

The Dutch Couple that I met the first night and with whom we spent time over the first four days in the albergues was very interesting.  Over the last few years they have walked the Camino France twice, the Camino del Norte, the Camino Portuguese starting in Fatima and the Inca trail in Peru. Marcel is a self-employed tour guide! If you are doing one of the barging tours combined with bicycling on the canals and rivers of Europe then he might be your guide. He is a huge man which is probably why he was also carrying a tent as well as cooking facilities. He had to be carrying 40 pounds of gear!

Franck is an environmentalist who lives in Brussels who is currently on a 6 month sabbatical (sp?). A week or so before he started the Via de la Plata he spent two weeks walking in the Pyrenees Mountains. Before that he walked the Harz Mountains in Germany. He is a walking machine.



At the Albergue Turistico in Fuente de Cantos we met an Australian couple. The husband was at least 40 pounds overweight but they were bound and determined to walk to Santiago de Compostela. They had started from Sevilla on October 2 (Franck and I had started on October 6)and he was in pretty bad shape with his feet. They were planning to walk the 6 km to the next town in the morning!!!! I hope they survive.

One of the big differences between the Camino France and the Via de la Plata so far is the distances between facilities e.g. bars, restaurants, drinking water facilities. I recall that the longest distance that I had to walk last year was 17 km and that was an aberration. Typically it would be 6-10 km between towns. Here the distances are huge: 12 km day 1, 19 km day 2; 30 km day 3; 17 and 21 km day 4; 22 day 5 etc. Planning becomes very important so that you donīt run out of water.

On the first day after I toured the Roman ruins of Italica there was a perfectly straight section of road that was 12 km in length. There was no relief other that a line of trees and shrubs that bisected the road about 8 km after the start of this stretch.  This was a low point and when I got there the road was filled with water with no obvious way to get through. I tested the pool of water with my walking stick and it was obvious that going down the middle was a recipe for disaster. So, gingerly I tried to cross on the left bank while fending off shrubs and thorns. About half across I lost my balance and only my trusty walking stick saved the day. If I had fallen it would have taken a small crane to get me out. Another Camino triumph. The road must have been designed by someone who later on immigrated to Saskatchewan.