The trail starts at beautiful Loch Morlich: an impressive lake, surrounded by snow caped mountains and pine forests. The track makes a great starter route because it is easy to follow throughout, not too hard on the legs and yet rewardingly beautiful.
And so I walked the last day of my first Via de la Plata. The clock had switched to daylight savings recently and, with that, walking in darkness became a thing again. I enjoyed the absolute quiet. Staying in an albergue alone also means walking alone, and with the nearest towns over 10km behind and ahead of me I knew I’d have the Camino all to myself. Soon came the sunrise.
I talked out loud to the hazy colours – the blue hue that had enveloped the trees and grass. I talked to the birds singing and to the flowers slowly opening up to a new day. I talked about travelling.
My bag was the only one leaning against the wall of the bar, my face the only unfamiliar one in the village. The chairs around my table stood lonely. The pilgrims had gone, onwards. And I was left in the tiny town of El Real de la Jara, attempting to go unnoticed while I sobbed, dried my eyes, and then sobbed some more.
J, J and me had walked the first 15km of the day together, through a lovely sunrise and foresty surroundings. Yet for me it would be the only 15km of the day, since I didn’t fancy adding another 20km. We had an amazing lunch together in a cosy hunter’s bar (complete with antlers adorning the walls, jikkes), and then they left. “Don’t forget what we talked about yesterday,” J reminded me, as if I ever would. And gone they were.
My mini-pilgrimage on the Via de la Plata started with a big grin under a blue sky. Before leaving home I had been worried. The burnout had ruined my energy levels, I hadn’t been working out (not even doing yoga) in four months and the few training walks I did make had often left me exhausted for the rest of the day or even week.
But that was Belgium. As it turned out, I left a lot of my worries and fatigue somewhere between home and Spain.
“Sorry madam, these doubts are not allowed in carry-on.”
“Excuse me miss, please straighten your self esteem and roll up the blinds around your heart, we are preparing for landing.”
Now I was in Sevilla. My bag got a shell and my credential got a stamp. And as I closed the door of the (very recommendable) Hostel Triana behind me and looked up to the morning sky, I could smell the energy of spring in the air. It felt so good to be back on a Camino!
Walks out of big cities are never fun, but that day it didn’t matter. I was a pilgrim again, after six years, and not until I set my first step did I realise how much I had missed it.
Aah, the Caminos de Santiago: those addictive, live changing, beautiful pilgrim roads through Spain (and Europe) towards the said grave of James the Elder in Santiago de Compostela…. How have I come to love them. How have they come to comfort me always at the right time.
In 2011, I walked the Camino Francès – probably the classic first timer route – in one go from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to the ocean in Finestere. Now, in 2017, I didn’t have the time to walk another 1000km, so I set out on a shorter mission: the first 280km of the Via de la Plata, from Sevilla to Cáceres.
I expected the walk to be duller than the Camino Francès. More barren, more lonely, more flat. I hadn’t come for the scenery this time, nor for the great encounters (as I really didn’t know how many other walkers to expect on this much less frequented road). I came because my guts told me I needed to. And yet once again the Camino would very much surprise me. The scenery turned out to be stunning, the people no less than inspiring and the road deeply encouraging.