Tag Archives: pilgrimage

Banos de Montemayor to Calzada de Bejar

It was raining as I wound my way out of this steep little town on narrow cobbled streets. At the top of the village the original paving stones of the original Roman road are still perfectly in place, and they lead you over the mountain top. It is quite a feeling to walk over the mountain pass on a 2000 year old road. The views of the green valley, shrouded in mists, were breathtaking. The land is terraced with stone walls to gain extra farm land.
Once at the summit, the road wound quietly down to the river on stone-walled paths. The landscape is very green and damp, with a profusion of ferns, moss, and purple wisteria.  There were sections of rocky peaks above, with huge boulders scattered among the cows. The valley is lined by beautiful trees and dotted with stone cottages. Rainbows danced across the hills when the sun emerged. it was quiet except for the rushing of the river and the singing of the birds.
The river is named the Rio Cuerpo de Hombre, or the “River of the Body of Man”. I wonder if the tributaries are named “The head of Man”, “The arm of Man”, “The leg of Man”, etc. to make up the whole “Body of Man”!
Just as I was pushing up a steep hill, I was feeling lonely. I wished I had someone to share this experience with, and I thought of the prayer:
I said to the angel,who stood at the portal of the new year,’Give me a light so I can safely walk to the uncertainty.” He looked at me and replied, “Just go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God! This is better than a thousand lights, and safer than a known way.”
Just then a Camino moment of magic occurred. I looked up, and walking toward me was my Spanish friend Taqui! We hugged and laughed. I was so happy to see a friendly face. He had received my email just this morning telling him approximately where I would be walking for the next few days. He immediately drove to Calzada de Bejar and started walking toward me.  It was perfect timing because we met just 10 minutes from the village.
At the Albergue I paid for my spot because I had reserved it. I told them to let someone else have my place who needed a bed, as I was going with Taqui. There was an excited conversation in French, Spanish, and English as we explained to the Hospitalero and the other Pilgrims who I was and how Taqui and I met.  On my first Camino, Taqui was a Hospitalero (volunteer host) at the St. Francis of Assissi Pilgrims Hostal in Tosantos. Taqui and Jose Luis created a warm and loving environment, and as a result, it was a spiritual turning point for me. I always regretted not being able to tell Taqui and Jose Luis what important work they were doing, and how it changed lives. Two years later, through a series of emails resulting from my book, I found that Taqui’s lady lives only a few hours from me in the Seattle, Washington. Taqui and Robbie came to my house in January, only a few months ago, and we began a new kind of  friendship.  Once we are Pilgrims, we become part of a global community who share a very powerful common experience. The world seems like a much smaller and better place, full of friends with good intentions. This seems more like a miracle than a coincidence to me!

Distance from Banos de Montemayor to Calzada de Bejar= 7.5  Miles /12 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 12.68 Miles / 20.5  Kilometers

Accommodations= Private Albergue Alba Soraya, 28 places, 8 Euro. This is a friendly, nice Albergue, located just where you need it after finishing the climb out of the valley. They serve very good food upon request.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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Aldeanueva del Camino to Banos de Montemayor

The 4  Spanish Pilgrims, being young, flexible and in love had slept in 2 small beds. We awakened to much sleepy complaining and groaning. However, when I told them we had watched the soccer game until midnight, I had their rapt attention. They were instantly awake. Hearing that the score was  Real Madrid 1 /  Barcelona 0, all pain was forgotten. An impromptu fiesta erupted with singing and dancing around the room. I was clapping my hands Flamingo style and laughing at their passionate enthusiasm. What a wonderful way to wake up. Oh, to be that young again!

It was raining so hard that the track was a muddy river. Benny and I chose to walk 10 kilometers along the main road until we reached the town of Banos de Montemayor. The Albergue Turistico was full at 9:30 in the morning, before it was even open, because people had reserved spaces. Benny tried to persuade me to walk on another 12 kilometers but I was intent on having a short day walking with time for the spa. I checked into the very last hotel room in town at the very sweet Hotel Eloy located directly across from the Roman Balneario, or spa. Yeah!

This has been a spa town since Roman times and sits nestled in the lovely mountains. The spa is right where the original baths were situated. From the pools you can look into the original baths, separated from the Romans by only a sheet of glass and 2000 years. The high barrel-vaulted chamber in which the pools sit are constructed of stone in the style of old. The pools are separated by a platform with marble sculptures on them, beautiful reproductions of the originals. Soft music played as the bubble jets massaged my tired back and feet. The small waterfall spilling off of the sculpture splashed soothingly. The only thing missing was the slaves with the massage oil.

Just as we were getting really relaxed our “treatment circuit” began. We had an aroma therapy rain shower, then immersed ourselves in authentic Roman individual marble bathtubs. These filled with hot thermal mineral water and a dash of soothing scent. Here we soaked for 20 minutes. After another rain shower we spent 20 minutes in a hot, steamy sauna with mosaic tiled chairs. One more aromatic rain shower, and we moved to the temperate steam room filled with eucalyptus mists for another 20 minutes. Lights on the ceiling changed colors with the music, forming the constellations. I hated to leave that room, but a hot tiled lounge chair and a refreshing bottle of mineral water awaited us. Ahhhhh. I was barely awake enough to notice that the ceilings were a series of crossing vaults in old brick. It made a beautiful texture and pattern statement, partnered with the intricate wall mosaics of Roman Gods and intertwining designs.

After 30 minutes we returned to the pools, but the attendants would only allow us to bathe in the cold pool because they wanted us to lower our core body temperature. I did not want my temperature lowered, thank you! As soon as the Pool Police left we made a run for the hot pool. When we were eventually discovered, we pretended not to understand and squeezed out another few minutes while he went in search of someone who spoke English. Finally we were ejected, so that was the end of a very lovely and relaxing couple of hours in another world.

As soon as we returned to my hotel, Benny put his pack on and headed for the next town. I will miss his interesting company and intellectual conversation. He is a kind man, and very perceptive. I feel like I have known him far longer than 2 days. After he left, I tucked into the very nice little library in a comfy leather chair for the afternoon.

The Senora made me cafe con leche and let me use her computer to catch up on email.The storm raged ferociously outside, and the power was off and on. I was content to be snug in this lovely, friendly little hotel.

Distance from   Aldeanueva del Camino to Banos de Montemayor= 7  Miles /11.5 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 7.75 Miles / 12.5  Kilometers

Accommodations= Hotel Eloy  http://www.hoteleloy.com . This was a great little hotel right across the street from the Termes Romana.  40 Euro for 1 person in a double room, breakfast included. They arranged a spa package for me and were very friendly and helpful. There is an Albergue Turistico in town, 12 places, 12 Euro including breakfast, but it was full.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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Embalse de Alcantara to Canaveral

I woke to wind on the water and it felt great as I climbed up, up, up the rocky hills until I was far above the lake. I walked on high ridges with grasslands all around me, contra de viento, or against the wind.  In the distance the village of Canaveral nestled into the hillside.

The tiny town of Canaveral was friendly. The whitewashed houses are topped by an interesting variety of stucco chimneys punctuating the sky. I am amazed that these little villages provide free accommodation to Pilgrims. This Albergue is an apartment that might be termed “rustic”, but it has 3 rooms with 2 beds each, a kitchen and a bathroom. It is free, and the man who runs the bar at Hostal Malaga gave us the key. He fed the Pilgrims wonderful food at his bar, and took care of us with a smile.

On my walk about town this afternoon I encountered the local band practicing for the processions they will hold during Easter week. This is the beginning of Santa Semana, or Holy Week, the 7 days before Easter Sunday. Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. Musicians of all ages marched, played and drummed their way through the streets. Villagers  leaned out of their windows, followed along, or watched from the square. The local Padre welcomed them to the 14th Century Romanesque church that dominates the town. It seemed everyone in town was involved in one way or another. This was a very fun and authentic slice of small town Spanish life.

On a narrow cobbled street, sitting with her friend in front of her whitewashed house, I met Maria. She is a tiny lady with white hair and an engaging smile. I am only 5’3″ tall and I towered over her like an Amazon. I told her I was a Pilgrim. She took one look at my feet and decided I needed to sit down. We went into her house and she gave me water at the dining room table. I learned that her husband died 3 years ago and she is very sad. I sympathized and we moved on to her 3 daughters, 1 son,  their spouses, and multiple grandchildren. I got to see first communion photos and learned that 2 of her grandchildren are adopted from China. Her house was small but very cool and lovely. The tile on the floors and walls was beautiful, and her little space consisted of a living / dining room, 2 bedrooms with Jesus over the headboards, a kitchen and a bath. Her back terrace had olive and lemon trees, and looked up at the rocky mountain that rises above the town. When we concluded our visit she directed me the opposite direction that I needed to go. She said it would be easier on my feet, and her heart would not be able to take the stress worrying about me if I ventured the steep way. I felt so honored by this sweet interlude, the welcome to her home, and the touching of hearts.

Distance from  Embalse de Alcantara to Canaveral= 9  Miles / 14 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 12.2 Miles / 20  Kilometers

Accommodations= Municipal Albergue, rustic. 6 places, kitchen, free. Pick up the key and get your stamp in the Bar / Hostal Malaga on the main road leaving town. You may also stay at the Hostal Malaga for 15 Euro.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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Casar de Caceres to Embalse de Alcantara

I began walking along lanes lined with stone fences. The rolling grasslands continued without a break as far as the eye could see. Huge solar panel farms spread across the land, contrasting a grouping of Roman Miliarios. These were large columns, engraved with numbers and set at consistent distances along the Via de la Plata by the Romans like mile markers.

I crested a hill and could see a large reservoir in the distance. The arrows split from the road at a big construction site.  There was a heated discussion in French: the bicyclists said it was impossible to follow the trail, and went by the paved road. An older French couple consulted their very detailed guidebook and determined that the road was easier but longer.

It was already very hot, nearing 96*F, so I decided to take the shorter way and bushwhack. The arrows directed me over a lumpy, serpentine path that doubled back to the construction site and through a gate. Then there were no more arrows. I followed a dirt path that seemed to be the only logical choice. I ended up on a cliff overlooking the Rio Almonte. I was on the wrong side of the river, with steep gorges between me and the main road that I could barely see,  meandering in the distance. I briefly considered throwing myself off of the cliff and swimming if I survived. However, I did not think it could be done with my pack on.

It was now mid day with the sun at its hottest. I despondently turned back and hiked back up the hill. When I reached the construction site I found an obscure, brush covered yellow arrow pointing off the road, and through the bushes. I stumbled on, continuing to find concealed arrows like an Easter egg hunt, until eventually reaching the road. It was many more kilometers along the main road before I eventually crossed another river and found the Albergue hidden down a dirt road. I found the ancient French couple who had walked the road already showered and having lunch. I guess I should have opted for the road!

People are definitely displaying the “Pilgrim’s Shuffle” now. We walk stiff-legged with tiny steps, trying not to stress one more muscle. When we have to navigate stairs, we use a crab-like side step. Down one step, then rest with both feet on the step, then down one more step. Our toes curl under and we wince visibly with each new maneuver. It is a universal bonding experience.

This beautiful modern Albergue has a great view overlooking the lake. In the distance you can see a Roman Bridge disappearing into the water. How would it be to have so many Roman ruins and bridges that you could just say, “They are only minor ones. Let’s build the dam and flood them”? I can just see the boater’s insurance claim: “I need a new prop because I struck a submerged Roman Temple.”

The Albergue host did our laundry in a machine, and I discovered frozen pizza. More American food! I was in heaven. The French couple were here so I had to use silverware again. Darn! Everyone ate pizza and drank wine as we sat watching the sun set over the waters on this warm night. Our contentment was great.

Distance from  Casar de Caceres to Embalse de Alcantara= 15 Miles / 24.5 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 16.24 Miles / 26  Kilometers

Accommodations= Albergue Turistico overlooking the lake. This very modern facility has laundry, “walk in” bunks, frozen pizzas and other goodies to be microwaved, a bar, and a nice common area with a view of the lake. This Albergue is poorly marked, but very worth finding. It is directly behind the closed  “Linda Mar” hotel. It is poorly marked at the road, but when you come to a gravel road down toward the water and the arrows tell you to cross the road to the right side and begin a steep up hill, turn left down the gravel road instead. Keep going around a corner. 26 Euro, including breakfast.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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I could kill for some American food right now

I have been gone from home 3 weeks now, and I could kill for some real American food right now. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Spanish food and wine. I am certainly consuming my share of it guilt free because of all of the walking!

Today when I had a lot of time to lounge around and think about home, I got an overwhelming craving for a hamburger. Mind you, I don’t even particularly like hamburgers, I just wanted one. I was a woman on a mission. Incredibly, a bar on the main road was open and offered the first hamburger I have seen on a menu here. It came with an entire side plate of French fries. I scarfed it down and contemplated a second one.

Unsatisfied, I browsed the super-mercado in search of something I could cook for dinner. This was pure desperation to consider cooking for myself when I could go to the local bar cheaper and easier. I proudly stepped out of the mercado loaded down with bags filled with the ingredients for that great American favorite: Mexican Food! What kind of a statement is that about our cuisine? Back at the Albergue, I made scrambled eggs with Old El Paso salsa, fresh avacados, sea salt, tomatoes and lettuce all wrapped up in a tortilla. I was wolfing it down and the French woman left the table. She washed a fork and knife, and gave it to me. Obviously she thought we needed cutlery to be civilized. I did not have the heart to tell her that we always eat tortillas like that!

Distance from  Caceres to Casar de Caceres= 7  Miles / 11.5 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 12.4 Miles / 20 Kilometers

Accommodations= Municipal Albergue across from the ayuntamiento, or town hall, on the Plaza de Espana. Great, clean little Albergue with 24 places, kitchen, free. Pick up the key and get your stamp in the ayuntamiento.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

Please help others find this blog by Liking me on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/ArtistsJourney Tell your friends!


Caceres to Casar de Caceres

We walked out of town in the dark on a very busy main road. It was scary because the cars were going very fast and very close. Sometimes we were flat against the guardrail, walking right on the line designating the edge of the road, because there was no shoulder. The wind created by passing trucks threatened to suck us into the stream of traffic. In other places there was about a 12-inch shoulder that led to a straight drop off into oblivion. We were all wearing somewhat dark clothing, and were afraid to turn on our headlamps and chance blinding the oncoming traffic. However, once we had begun there was no way to turn around. I was just thankful that the cars seemed to see us at the last second and move over if they could. There were several close swipes when traffic was coming from both directions.

Just as it was getting light the track veered off to the left to a dirt road. This allowed us to enjoy a spectacular sunrise over the rolling grasslands. As we came to the crest of a hill we looked back, and there stood Caceres atop the hill, illuminated like the city of gold that it originated from.

It was only about 6 miles to the town of Casar de Caceres where we stopped, but it was too far to combine the next stage, so we took a short day. Alan is able to walk the longer distance and has pushed on. I am sorry to see his smiling face go. He is a gentle man with mischief in his eyes and kindness in his heart. As we sat having our first café con leche of the day at 9:30, Judy began looking at her book and counting her remaining walking days. I knew she was too full of energy to arrive at her destination so early, but I was sick at heart realizing she would walk on too. Two Pilgrims arrived just then and stopped to ask if one of us had lost a hat. Someone had indeed dropped the hat, so it was returned Camino style. When Judy learned they were walking on to the Albergue at the lake 15 miles distant, she saddled up and went with them. We hardly said goodbye, and I hated like crazy to see her go. It was the right decision for her. She needs to move on in order to reach Santiago in the time she has left, and she is fit enough to do the longer distances. She has been fun, kind, and always positive. I shall miss her terribly, but that is the way of the Camino. Your lives touch, then you must walk on separately. Yet the world is a smaller and more intimate place knowing these beautiful people from around the globe. I feel very blessed that they touched my life.

This is a friendly, cute little town. The Albergue is free and they would not consider a donativo. The library has computers where you can email for free, although I was careful to work quickly so that the kids waiting to do their homework had ample time. It would be very rude to abuse the hospitality of this sweet little town. There is a new promenade into town with lush wisteria covered arbors, palm trees, and untrimmed shady plane trees. It sits at the edge of a shallow lake, which is bordered by a nice walkway with benches.

In the Farmacia it was “little old lady day”. There was spirited discussion about politics, family, and ailments. One particularly frail Senora walked over and hoisted herself up on to a machine, sticking her arm into the blood pressure cuff only to the wrist. She looked confused, took her print out and moved to dismount. Grabbing her walker, she declared, “The machine says I am dead! I am going home now!” An equally ancient Senora crossed herself, praying, “Madre Dios! I don’t understand these things!” They ambled off together immersed in a lively discussion about the merits and disadvantages of technology.

Distance from  Caceres to Casar de Caceres= 7  Miles / 11.5 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 12.4 Miles / 20 Kilometers

Accommodations= Municipal Albergue across from the ayuntamiento, or town hall, on the Plaza de Espana. Great, clean little Albergue with 24 places, kitchen, free. Pick up the key and get your stamp in the ayuntamiento.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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Caceres, City of the Conquistadors

The old center of Caceres is enchanting. Huge solares, or manor houses, line the narrow cobbled streets. Shady canyons are created by the tall buildings, and as you look up at the sliver of blue sky gargoyles peer down at you. Steep steps lead up tunnels through the fortified walls. From the top you can see all of Cacares and the surrounding countryside. Flowers tumble down the steps, while storks circle over head and land gracefully to become part of the architectural details. Churches and palm trees stand guard over lovely plazas, and a solo guitar player passionately sung the rhythms of Spain. His strong guitar strumming and haunting voice reverberated off of the walls and filled the air.

The city was founded by the Romans in 34 BC and the walls that still circle the old town date to that period. Held by the Moors for several centuries, it became definitively Christian in 1229. The palaces and ancestral houses began to be built at that time, but it was 250 years later that most of the present building emerged. This old center was built almost exclusively in the late 1400’s and 1500’s as the wealth from the Americas poured in.

Many of the Conquistadors came from this region and returned here to settle when finished with their adventures. They went into competition with each other as to who could build the biggest house. Handsome crests decorating the outside of the buildings indicate the family who owned each house. This is the town to which Juan Cano de Saavedra, conquistador and follower of Cortez, brought an Aztec Princess as his bride. What a shock that must have been for her. Daughter of royalty, her civilization no more, how would she have viewed Caceres? This city of gold, so rich and solid, was built with the wealth from the Americas. It is hauntingly beautiful, yet I think of the rape of 2 continents and the destruction of entire civilizations. The enslaving of so many people, and the death of so many more, was the cost. Is it human nature to take just because we can? Why do we have to be so disrespectful and cruel?

These philosophical questions aside, it is a beautiful city and a wonderful place to spend some time. History has moved on to a gentler place, and no one can predict what would have become of the Americas if they had not been discovered and explored by Spanish and other European nation

Actual Distance Walked around Caceres= 4.21 Miles / 7  Kilometers

Accomodations=  We stayed at the very helpful and friendly Pensione Carretero, 25 Euro for a double room or 12.5 Euro per person. Large room with shared bathroom. Right on the main square, the Plaza Mayor. There is an Albergue Turistico near the main square, 70 places, 16 Euro or 18 Euro with breakfast. Additionally, there is the Albergue Las Valetas, 17 Euro or 20 Euro with breakfast.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

Please help others find this blog by Liking me on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/ArtistsJourney Tell your friends!


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