Scroll down for the first day
People watching in Plaza Major in the centre of Salamaca is a little different than doing so in a small provincial town such as Caceras which I passed through a week or so a go. Here the people are more self aware, particularly the women who seem to have developed a hip sway that can only be described as provocative. That said, it could be all that leather they wear rubbing.
There are various stone seats in the middle of the square and I watched four elderly men resting on their walking sticks and constantly stroking long shiver moustaches all talking with no one listening. Eventually they got up, shook hands and made to leave when one passed a remark and they all sat down and started again. It appears no one in this group was going to be allowed the last word.
A groups of young nuns in fawn habits occupied another of these concrete learning seats and they, from their animated actions and coquettish giggles, appeared to have found humour in the scriptures. At least that is what I hope they were talking about. But even in early spring, with the sun bouncing off the western side of the golden stoned collonades, there was a buzz of slow motion excitement, as if the town was casting off its winter gloom and was ready to embrace another chaotic summer.
As I have mentioned, I have been here before but never had the chance to visit the cathedral, today I did and spent two hours wandering the cloisters, side chapels and choir stalls to be drenched in middle age architecture and art. I'm glad I made the effort.
I keep saying that I must take a break but I do find it very difficult to spend a whole day not heading north. I suppose if I dug real deep I could find somewhere to stay for another night but a gentle amble North is probably on the cards for tomorrow. Stay too long anywhere and you strart to gather moss. But Monday looks like torrential rain, so the decision as what I do then may already be made for me. I've had one drenching, I don't want another.
With only 16 Kms to cover I had a lie in. It was a public holiday in Spain and nothing was going to move very quickly today. Especially as it was a cold day. Around 8am I ventured outside. The streets were in the process of being power hosed clean and the granite sets were particularly slippery underfoot. As I made my way towards Plaza Major cafe shutters were rattling open and there was plenty of yawning and bum scratching going on as, somewhat optimistically I thought, sun blinds were extended. One man came out kicking a stack of chairs in front of him, grunting with every heft of his leg. He wore a black tracksuit with the number 10 on it. I would have put his track suit trouser waist size at 36". It was tied tightly well below the 44" belly that flopped over them. Not a man happy with his lot, I thought, and I couldn't help wondering what he was number 10 at, probably the number of chairs he could heft with one kick.
I made a quick diagonal across Plaza Major and found Calle Zamora, under the arch, and casting a straight line over three roundabouts I came to my first stop of the day. A Repsol garage for a breakfast of coffee and tuna sandwiches.
In view of the on off rain I stuck to the N630. Half way along a man came running from a house waving a stick to attract my attention. Did I speak Spanish, Dutch, German? The answer to which was 'no, no no.' Did he speak French, I asked. No. So that was that then, except. He continued to warn me of something that was happening ahead. As far as I could gather the police were issuing tickets to any pilgrim found walking the hard shoulder of this road. I shook my head and walked on. Two seconds later a police car passed in the opposite direction. The occupants beeped twice, I waved, they waved back, or at least I think that's what they did. And that it seems was that. I will never know what turned my Spanish informant into a raging frenzy.
Passing the half-way point is physiologically quite important for me as I was no longer walking away from a start but now walking towards an end. Silly? Possibly, but it put a spring in my step and by mid-day I arrived at the village of Calzada de Valdunciel and went to the motel I thought I had booked. They had no record of a reservation and were full. No problem, there was a hostel in the town which had eight beds. Trouble was, there was not a soul in sight to ask for the directions to it It, was as if someone had suggested the tax man was coming and the village has decided to go on a bus trip for the day. I returned to the motel and after a lot of arm waving I ended up at the local plaza.
Somewhere, hidden in this warren of little lanes and haphazard housing was a hostel. An elderly man shuffled across the square, the clacking of his walking stick suggesting it needed a new rubber tip. 'Hostel?' I said. He caught hold of my arm without a word, obviously judging, correctly, that he would get no sensible conversation out of this linguistically deficient Englishman. We walked through the lanes like father and naughty child until eventually the walking stick waved at a house and if by magic I had arrived.
At least I could say 'Thank you,' which I did , profusely.
There was no one in attendance but I could see one of the eight beds was taken. I got out my sleeping liner and rolled it out on a bunk. That was now my home for the duration of my stay.
This is Lisa a fellow pilgrim who bought me a beer for my birthday.
For want of anything better to do I went to the 7pm mass in the sturdy village church. I appreciated the time to relax and meditate. I smiled when I saw the initials inscribed into the arm rests on the church pews. It reminded me of the tine I wa a five year old in the 1950's being sent out to Mass with a penny for the collection only to use it to inscribe my initials into the pews.
I had planned a short 20 Kms hop to the village of El Cubo de Tierra del Vino where I would wash my clothes. The red line of earth I followed led me alongside the motorway and fields of corn. I came under a motorway bridge and on one of the pillars saw a sign that said if you have H2O go left, if you don't go right. Well, I had water so I went left. Then I came to a wide river. What it was telling me was that the river was on the left if you wanted to wade it, and there was none on the right. Well, the river looked too deep for me. I could imagine loosing my footing in that and my iPad and phone would be gone. I retraced my steps and took the twenty minute diversion.
At 11.30 I reached my destination and followed the signs for the Hostel Touristico. Eventually I came to a house that I thought the signs had indicated. I opened the door and gave my best 'Hola'. There was no reply, which was not unusual and I entered. It looked promising. A nice kitchen and bathroom with a decent lounge. I continued my 'Hola'. This would be nice place to stay. Well of course it would be. I was only strolling around someone's private house. Eventually an elderly lady shuffled towards me. I recognised my mistake. She had obviously had this happen before.
She took my arm and gently led me outside. I apologised profusely, bowing and scraping as I went. I held her hand to my cheek and she took it away, holding it to her cheek and kissing my hand and wishing me Buen Camino. Imagine if you had discovered some smelly hairy stranger wandering round your house, would be so beneficent?
Eventually I found the hostel. It was run by a man and his wife who knew how to roll out the red carpet. It was a thirty Euro stay including dinner but as I had been pretty frugal up to now it would not break the bank. I was in no need of lunch but was given a plate of canapés and a carafe of the excellent local white wine to tide me over. My host decided that a man of my chest size should eat whether he wanted to or not.
I was also quite lucky with the room. There were several rooms. One double. A triple and another with bunk beds. I assumed that the single room would be more expensive, not a bit of it. Each bed was priced at twenty euro. I couldn't get into the single room with the double bed fast enough, wedging my backpack in the doorway and almost sending my host backside over elbow thorough the kitchen door.
Mrs Host was a tiny rotund lady a very good cook. Dinner was a fish soup that demanded second helpings. Eggs with yolks as yellow as the summer sun and overlaid with red peppers in oil followed.
A mouth clearing helping of salad vinegette and a huge plate of steaks appeared. For the first time in my life I had to decline a second helping. I opted for an orange for postre. Needless to say I slept the sleep of the dead.
The weather forecast was not good. Heavy rain was forecast but when I awoke it was still dry. I decided to leave early for the short 13kms hop to Villanueva de Campean. It fitted into my strategy of walking every day while still allowing plenty of that day as a rest stop.
It was 7am on a Sunday and I strode purposefully through the deserted Main Street with my Tilley hat tipped to what I would describe as a Clint Eastwood angle. The only sign of life was a cat mewing to be allowed back into his house after a night on the tiles. He saw me and scarpered under a rubbish bin. I felt like the guy who had come to clean up the town and now, baddies dispatched, was off to find another Dodge City to clean up. Then two cats squalled and hissed as they started a fight over territory. The noise made me jump six feet in the air. I quickened my step and left them to it.
It was an even wide gravel track along which I made good progress. The sky was leaden and all the while the heavy clouds threatened a deluge but only spots arrived. The track led alongside wheat fields that stretched to the horizon. There was nothing to protect against the strong and biting South-west wind. Around 8kms in the track turned East and at last a line of pines lined the road to give that longed for protection. The views to my left were spectacular. Strips of cultivated land some freshly turned into red and brown furrows. Others in varying stages of green depending on the crop sown. In the distance a could see a shower plume refreshing the land and the gentle undulations of the shallow hills resembled a freshly plumped duvet. It was like a Constable painting.
By 9.30am I arrived at my destination and found the hostel. It was immaculate but empty. I went outside and confirmed that I was indeed going into a hostel and not another private house. It was ok. I selected my bed and found luxuriant pleasure in wallowing under the shower in a large and modern wet room. I had a tin of tuna, a tub of pasta salad and an orange to look forward to for lunch, other than his wife and family by his side, what else could a man want?