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Via de la Plata 1/3-29/3
The last February, late in the evening I come to hotel Zaida in Seville centre. It is full life in the bars, and in the darkness I can see lemons on some trees. What a contrast, to come from the winter in Sweden to springtime in Seville, although a bit chilly. I feel it is wonderful. A glass of wine at a nearby bar, full of loud Spaniards fits me well, then in bed.
1 March, Sunday. From Seville to Guillena. In the morning, I eat my breakfast and then I stroll around in Seville centre. It is overcast and greyish in the sky. Just in time before it begins to rain, I buy a Spanish pilgrim’s passport at the tourist office in Plaza del Triunfo, near the mighty Cathedral. It is raining heavily so I decide to take a bus out from Seville against Guillena. The bus passes soon the Roman ruins of Italica. Here were two Roman emperors born, Caesar Trajan and Caesar Hadrian. The Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula around 100 years BC. The mighty Roman Empire was divided into the Western and Eastern Empire. The local kings defended their land against invaders and were therefore allowed to be quite independently of Rome. The contact with the emperors weakened and the Western Empire was dissolved gradually to fall year 476 AD. Later on in the 700’s the Moors or Berbers came from the western part of North Africa and invaded Spain and Portugal. At this time many Spanish people converted to Islam.
In the evening I find a small guesthouse in Guillena. The television shows bullfighting. The male population is sitting as glued in front of the TV sets and comment noisily on the rituals. The interest in bullfighting seems only to grow in southern Spain. We are talking about a “Corrida de Toros”, wich is not considered as a sport, but a form of art. The tradition is deeply rooted in Spain and originates from Greece.
2 March, Monday. To Castilblanco de los Arroyo. In the morning it is raining, a soft and foggy spring rain. It is first pleasantly, but later in the day intense and irritating. I will soon come to big orange groves at the farm El Chaparral. First I am a little bit uninterested of the oranges. They seem to be hard and difficult to peel, but I think I have to taste one. Whoops, the taste is wonderful. It is one of the sweetest and most delicious oranges I have ever eaten. I eat another one and put some more in my rucksack. To walk the rest of the day on the asphalt road is now more convenient in the ever-lasting rainfall. I’m wet everywhere. On arrival to Castilblanco de los Arroyos I find the unmanned “Albergue”, which is new and fresh. There I can read, on a piece of paper, that it’s “donativo”, thus free to pay what one considered appropriate. Three persons have already arrived, Georg from Germany, Janine and Bernard from France. In the evening I feel some small blisters on one foot, as I use a little bit of “surgical tape” for.
3-4 March, Tuesday-Wednesday. To Monesterio. On Tuesday morning, the others have already left ahead of me, so I walk myself. The endless rainfall and the strong winds continue for almost the entire week. Janine and I walk together on Wednesday and we wander through park areas with large cactus vegetation. At the ruin “Castillo de las Torres”, we pass the provincial border between Andalusia and Extramadura.
5 March, Thursday. To Calzadilla de los Barros. All four walk together. A couple of “sailor pants” appears now and then in the sky; maybe the weather will be better. Eventually, the landscape changes character, bushes and trees thin out. The landscape is still hilly but trees and shrubs are soon gone. The distance between us grew more and more during the day. Georg appears as a small red dot in the horizon. In the evening we stay at the Albergue in Calzadilla de los Barros. It is a Jugend Hostel located two kilometres outside the community. There is no hot water in showers, no tables and no chairs to sit on. It’s a bit dull.
6 March. Friday. To Villafranca de los Barros. We pass large fields and vineyards. It’s still a rather grey sky and overcast weather. Janine wants to stop walking in Puebla de Sancho Pérez, just before Zafra. We others continue to Zafra. Now, even Bernard want to stay, I don’t know why, but Georg and I moves on. Later, I wish to walk myself, take photos and maybe stop and talk to someone. But, …there are not many people to talk to. Georg just wants to wander; he is not at all interested in photographing.
Georg and I plan to stay for the night in the countryside in a youth hostel six kilometres before Villafranca de los Barros. The hostel La Almazara is closed so I continue to Villafranca. Georg has already arrived there before me. Finally there, and we share a hotel room. More than forty kilometres today, is more than enough.
7 March, Saturday. To Torremeiga. The sun is shining from a clear blue sky. At eleven o’clock we have only t-shirts in a terrific weather. The landscape is flat and we see infinite number of vineyards. The farmers prune their grapevines. In the afternoon, Georg walks before me and finds an “Albergue” in Torremeiga. Later in the evening we meet other wanderer. Andreas from Switzerland wants to stay six months in a Swedish “Sami Camp”. I said, I will try to arrange a contact, but apparently I failed.
8 March, Sunday. To El Aljucén. It is seven o’clock in the morning and Georg is as usual early on his legs. We will soon arrive to Mérida. The town was founded by Emperor Augustus and became the capital of the Province Lusitania. The 800-meter-long “Puente Romano” was built to secure transports over the River “Rio Guadiana” for the very important route “Calzada Romana”. There are several roman remnants in Mérida, e.g. the aqueduct “Acueducto de los Milagros”. Mérida is also the Capital of the Province Extremadura.
9 March. Monday. To Aldea del Cano. The morning start with a wonderful weather again that lasts all day long. Actually it lasts during three more weeks. We are wandering through bird protection areas and beautiful natural parks with cork oaks. In the evening we arrive to a small youth hostel in Aldea del Cano. Two American women have already come. Later in the evening I decide to arrange a supper with pasta, cheese and bacon. Unfortunately, the lid on the salt stand is not properly fixed, so the food becomes, so to say “a little bit too salt”. Georg is quite “picky” when it comes to food, too much salt does not make the thing better, but he eats anyway.
10 March, Tuesday. To Cáceres. It is still beautiful weather. The landscape is fairly flat and the route is passing large farms. At lunchtime Cáceres appears in front of us. It’s an old town, which during the 1400’s and 1500’s blossomed when the “Conquistadors” reappeared after their conquests in South- and Central America. Much of these riches were used to build new towers and make the protective wall even stronger around the central old town “Casco Viejo”. Good protection was important in the fight against the Muslims. In recent history, Francisco Franco proclaimed himself as Generalissimo and head of the state here in Cáceres 1936. Thus, the Spanish Civil War began. Cáceres is today a charming town with a nice “Albergue”. To stay here for the night is an easy choice.
Almost everyone know the short Christmas film about “the bull Ferdinand”, by Walt Disney. Did Ferdinand really exist in reality? I took a photo of a cow, which possibly could be the mother of Ferdinand, “his understanding mother”. But the bull Ferdinand existed, though he was not named Ferdinand, but Civilón. He was born somewhere near Salamanca in the early 1930s.
18 March, Wednesday. From Villanueva de Campeán till Montamarta. We are soon in Zamora. I stay there for a couple hours while George continues to the Albergue in Montamarta. In the past, Zamora was known to be difficult to conquer because of the 7 protective city-walls. It is said that the Moors, Abderrahman III, lost 40-thousand men, when he tried to take the city. Yes, 40-thousand. Eventually he succeeded but the joy didn’t last so long, as the Christians recaptured the town short time later.
During the 900s, the number of Christian pilgrims from around the world increased. Almost half a million walked to Santiago de Compostela. The number of churches, hospitals and Albergues just grew more and more. The authorities supported everything to drive away the Muslim immigrants and prevent an increasing islamization. More and more pilgrims came over the Pyrenees from France and the church earned lots of money. In 1189 the Pope explained Santiago de Compostela as a holy city, together with Rome and Jerusalem.
The old route, Via de la Plata from Seville, was used long time before the pilgrims arrived, and was mainly used for transport of animals, goods, silver and gold. Even Hannibal used the route with his elephants, but it was actually the Romans and the Moors who developed the original route “Calzada Romana”. The route was also used for military purposes. Via de la Plata became not nearly as popular as the French route. After the Moors were fought, it lost in popularity and had as late as 1900’s, almost entirely became forgotten. Via de la Plata is the first cultural walking route in Europe and was 1993 taken into the UNESCO world heritage list.
25 March, Wednesday. From Laza to Ourense. We will soon enter the region Galicia and the town Ourense. There is a lovely, centrally located, Albergue there. The City was by the Romans called “Aqua Urentes” due to hot water springs. The hot water is still in use for heating purposes of nearby situated houses.
26 March, Thursday. To Monasterio de Oseira. In the evening, we arrive at the monastery “Monasterio de Oseira”, which is from the 1100s. The name of the monastery means, in Galician, “The Bear Monasterio”. To stay overnight, one has to call and sign up for a monk, who also manages guide tours in the Monasterio. The Albergue is a beautiful but ice-cold church hall, with bunk beds at one end. The only thing we can do now, is to keep us warm, in the shower with ice-cold water. Well .., it’s after all refreshing. Anyhow, we get a nice guided tour in the evening. Graham Greene is said to have been a frequent visitor here in the monastery.
29 March, Sunday. From Outeiro (A Vedra) to Santiago de Compostela. In the middle of the day we finally arrive to Santiago de Compostela. Again, like last time, I am entering the popular Pilgrim Center to ask for yet another diploma for this route. Almost all wanderers want a diploma, a “Compostela”. In the Cathedral, a welcome mass is held every day for newly arrived pilgrims. Attempts are always made by the Catholic priests to read the names and nationalities of newly arrived pilgrims, but we can only hear Spanish names. It is a bit sad. Many of us long distance travellers, should prefer the opposite. Georg would prepare to go home. I will tomorrow start a final wandering to Finisterre and Muxia.
Way to Finisterre and Muxia 30/3-2/4
30-31 March, Monday-Tuesday. From Santiago de Compostela to Olveiroa. Then it is the second last stretch. I walk myself. The “Albergues” along the route are exceptionally good, nice rooms and comfortable beds, especially in Olveiroa. Moreover, it is now not many people who walk.
1 April, Wednesday. To Finisterre. During the day, I again meet Sauro and then Young Suk from Korea. More and more pilgrims visit Finisterre and Cabo Finisterre “End of the World”, that is the furthest point, a few kilometres from the Centre. The sea and the sunset have fascinated pilgrims for thousands of years. On the cape there is a little pit to burn their clothes. It is an old tradition. The clothes are considered worn-out, once you arrive here after a long wandering. On the way back from the cape, I meet Sauro, asking if I, according to the old tradition, burned some clothes. Since I have not done it, I turn and sacrifice my socks while Sauro burn a sweater. On our way back to Finisterre, I naturally get blisters on both heels. But it’s only one day left now to Muxia.
2 April, Thursday. To Muxia. I walk half a day with Young Suk. We come to the “Albergue” in Muxia, which is new and nice, comfortable and a little futuristic. Near the centre right by the sea lie the church “Virxe da Barca” and a stone ship. According to legend, Holy Mary came here when the courage for St James failed, in his effort to spread Christianity in Galicia. Therefore, many pilgrims come here to visit the place. Around the shrine there are also magical stones, which are said cure kidney diseases and rheumatism. The stone-ship, that symbolizes the boat where Holy Mary arrived, has a sail in the form of a split boulder. The legend says, that those who have a pure heart can only turn it by hand. I was tempted to try it, but refrained.