28/11/22 – 04/12/22 235 km
I woke up too early at the start of week 14. I was freezing, I couldn’t sleep and as a result I was keen to leave Valverde de Valdelacasa as soon as possible. I was out of the Albergue before 8am, the bar wasn’t even open yet, but I knew I had to wait, as I had no food and I was desperate for some breakfast. After a quick tostada I was following the road north to Valdelacasa. I didn’t see a soul.
I then left the road and began a slow climb on dirt paths up to the highest point of the Via de la Plata so far, 1,100m. It was relatively easy going and despite the cold I was soon in my shorts. Once at the peak I spent the best part of thirty minutes skirting around gigantic wind turbines that were whirring away ominously. Eventually the path dropped down into the valley on the northern side where I followed the road endlessly until arriving at San Pedro de Rozados. By this point I was in the shade of the mountain and it was freezing, again.
Fortunately the albergue had an electric heater. The only issue was that it, along with everything else in the building, was plugged into one plug adapter that I traced back via four extension leads to a single socket in the bathroom! I was scared to charge my phone…
The next morning, having survived electrocution, I managed to drag myself out of bed around 8am. There was a thick covering of frost and a low lying fog that made navigation difficult. It didn’t matter though, I only had 23km to do, as I would soon arrive in Salamanca. I imagine the views of the city were fantastic, unfortunately for me I saw nothing until I was within a couple of kilometres.
When I finally arrived I wasn’t allowed to enter the Albergue until 16:00. It was just after twelve o’clock. So instead, I used the extra time to go to the Post Office. I needed to pick up my second survival package from Cristina, containing my winter boots, warmer coat and most importantly thicker gloves! I also took the opportunity to send my tent to Santiago in order to lighten my bag for the next few weeks. They would hold the parcel there for fifteen days so I knew I needed to get a move on.
The Albergue was situated in the heart of the historical old town and the hospitalero ‘host’ treated us to a spectacular late night walking tour of the cathedral. Salamanca is a beautiful university city and I hope to return in the future.
The following morning I was out of the Albergue before 8am and really enjoyed walking through the city as the residents began their daily routines. Once out of Salamanca I was back into thick fog. The whole day’s walk was boring as sin, as I followed the motorway north for the best part of forty kilometres.
I was wearing my boots for the first time on this trip and I should have changed them at lunch. By the time I finally arrived at the Albergue, after fifty kilometres, I felt like I was walking on stumps. When I eventually peeled the boots off, my feet were in pieces. I never learn.
That night was difficult, I was in a lot of pain. To make matters worse, there was no shop in the village and I only had one packet of instant soup to sustain me. On the positive side I finally had some company. Initially, I shared the Albergue with an Englishman who identified as a German (I don’t blame him) and his Spanish walking friend. Later that evening we were joined by two Spaniards who were from my ‘neck of the woods’. I later found out that one of their best friend’s sons attends the school where I used to work!
‘El mundo es un pañuelo’ (the world is a hanky) after all, or better put ‘it’s a small world’ as the Spanish like to say. A saying I have taken far too literally over the past week, having left a trail of snot in my wake…well in my defence, it has been getting colder!
I was still in a lot of pain when I woke up the next morning. I didn’t have any new blisters but my feet had taken a battering and were severely bruised. Fortunately I hadn’t thrown my old shoes away, despite their condition, as there is no way I could have used the boots again that morning. I took great care in taping my feet up and left late, but I was in no rush as I only had to complete the final eighteen kilometres to Zamora. Another stunning city, situated on the northern bank of the River Duero.
For the second time this week I was turned away from the Albergue. I wasn’t allowed in until 15:00. I was devastated, the thought of having to walk another millimetre broke me. Nonetheless, I hobbled my way to the closest supermarket and spent two hours nursing a packet of crisps on a bench. Whilst I was waiting I was ambushed by two Jehovah’s Witnesses. I wasn’t buying but I must say that they were extremely polite and one should never miss an opportunity for debate in your target language. I thought I did rather well!
The next day I was ushered out of the door at 7:45. Normally I wouldn’t have minded but I needed to go to Decathlón which didn’t open until 9:30. When it finally opened I bought a new pair of insoles which I hoped would provide me more comfort in the boots. Once out of the city I followed the motorway north until I arrived at Fontanillos where I would stay in my first ‘traditional’ Albergue. Put simply this meant that I would have my dinner cooked for me and it was sublime. It was the first real food I had eaten since Sevilla.
The hosts were amazing and it was a real struggle to get back on the road the next day. This wasn’t helped by the fact that it was -6°c. The ground was crisp from the frost and everything in sight was white. Despite the cold, as I picked up the pace, I soon warmed up. The views were spectacular and I was feeling excited, as I would finally be turning west to begin the final section of the Vía de la Plata known as the Camino Sanabres. More importantly I was finally leaving the motorway behind. I wouldn’t miss it.
After around fifteen kilometres the trail became more technical as I climbed into the hills surrounding an embalse. I was wearing the boots again and although my feet were still in bits the new insoles seemed to be doing their job. After the climb I spent the rest of the day meandering through forest tracks across the top of a plateau before arriving in Tábara where I would stay in the second and final traditional Albergue.
The food was spectacular and I spent a pleasant, if somewhat cold, evening flicking through one of the many books written by the host. He was clearly a veteran of many Caminos. The next day I left before 8 o’clock and was treated to a wonderful sunrise. I hadn’t realised how cold it was until I tried to take a sip of water and found my bottle had frozen solid. It took two hours to defrost! I shouldn’t complain though as twice I was treated to the spectacle of deer crossing the road ahead. I counted twenty in the second herd!
That night the Albergue where I was supposed to stay was closed so I continued for another ten kilometres until arriving at Calzadilla de Tera. It was a ghost town. They didn’t even have a bar! I had been informed that there would be a number on the door of the Albergue and someone would attend me on arrival. When I got to the door there was no number. So I tried the door…it was unlocked so I checked myself in, stamped my pilgrim’s passport and deposited my donation in the box. It is remarkable how trusting the people in these small rural villages are!
That night when I peeled the tape and plasters off my feet I noticed a five centimetre gash on my left instep. Here we go again, perhaps the new insoles had not been as effective as I had hoped! To make matters worse there was no heat source in the Albergue and the previous resident had left all of the windows open! It didn’t matter though, I slept well that night having watched England smash Senegal.
Surely Week 15 will be easier…