A Travelogue

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More photos from Via de la Plata

Night view of Plaza Mayor in Salamanca

Stones - sometimes there's no convenient place on which to paint a yellow directional sign, so they use stones.

Photos from Via de la Plata

Got some photos from Hans in the mail today, so here's a selection for you to enjoy.

A view of Zamora.

Here you see Hans writing in his journal at the end of the day.

How's this for a catchy name for a sandwich?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Final Comments, and Thank You

Thanks to all the supporters of Walk to Beat Polio

I would like to extend my great thanks and appreciation to all those individuals, whether Rotarians or friends and family, who supported the "Walk to Beat Polio" project.

Whether your support was financial and/or emails with words of encouragement, they all helped to inspire me to complete the walk. And there is no better cause to support than Rotary International’s effort to eradicate polio from the world once and for all.

There is no doubt that I underestimated "mother nature" when I thought that the weather this year would be much the same as it was last year. All my research indicated it might only be a bit cooler and a bit wetter. I had no expectation that I would face winter-like conditions for almost 10 days and I was ill prepared to deal with it. You can deal with hot and wet weather fairly readily as it is mostly a discomfort but freezing temperatures with strong winds is something totally different when you don't have adequate clothing. Those were the times that supporters made the difference. I thank you all for making the difference.



Had a pretty good sleep despite the noise of being next door to the cathedral area and waking up to cough once in a while. It rained during the night and it is drizzling at the moment. Nothing new there. Seems like Galicia is under a permanent cloud.....must be too much sinning going on here and rain is the punishment.

I am buying a train ticket later today and will leave around 1330 on Tuesday, arriving in Madrid at around 2100. There I’ll spend a couple of days – hopefully the weather will be better there.

Cidade da Cultura de Galicia (Galicia’s City of Culture)

On one of the hills overlooking the city they are building a huge complex that will act as a place for study and and research of Galicia´s culture both past and future. It is based on the architectural design of American architect, Peter Eisenman. I had seen a documentary about it earlier this year and had hoped to be able to visit it. It turns out that the project which was started in 2001 is now scheduled for completion in 2012 and that the pace of progress has dwindled to a slow crawl due to cost escalation and political interference. They have a way to go before they challenge the amount of time it took to build the cathedral - about 125 years! So there are no tours and I can’t visit for a few more years.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Final notes


When I planned this trip I knew that there would be a lot less peregrinos as compared to last year. Statistically only about five percent of the Compostelas are issued to those doing the Via de la Plata. Over the whole 5 week period of the walk I saw no more than 20 pilgrims. Over the last 500 kilometers I saw only three walkers. Julia, a young lady (mid thirties) from Germany, whom I saw for two days until she took the northern route to Astorga and I headed over the mountains to Ourense. Federico, a Spanish gentleman (mid fifties) who was walking an astounding 40 kilometers per day but taking about 12 hours to do so. He arrived in Santiago two days ago and started in Sevilla four days after me. Thus he was taking only 29 days to walk the 1007 kilometers. Bart (mid forties) from Belgium, who was at the albergue in Ourense when I arrived and was still there when I left. He was straying there until he recovered from flu symptoms......he said! In my view he was taking advantage of a very nice heated albergue with free internet service at three euros per day. He told me that he was on a one year sabbatical, that he was going to quit his job at the end of the sabbatical, did not want to work anymore, and just wanted to do volunteer work although he did not seem to have a profession to support it....nice work if you can get it and still live.

Monastery at Oseira

The only place to stay in the village of Oseira is the monastery. It is a set of huge structures where the oldest building goes back to the 12th century. I was met by Brother Luis who spoke reasonably good English. Because it was late in the season they had closed down the section where peregrinos got individuals cells (rooms) with hot showers and a hot meal as part of the stay. So, he took me to this huge building that had about 20 beds at one end. This was to be my home for the night. No showers, no hot water, no pillows, and no heat but I could get a meal at the bar in the village. Later I went up to the main entrance to make my donation. He insisted on taking me on a 30 minute tour of the immense complex which was absolutely fascinating.....by the way, there are only 17 monks in a place that used to hold hundreds.

The peregrino has landed.

I have completed my Rotary Project!

I arrived at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela at 11:40 this morning after a 3 1/2 hour, 17 km walk from Capilla de Santiaguino. A total of 1007 km and 1.248 million steps from Seville.

I then attended the noon mass, went to the Peregrino Office where my credentials were validated and I was issued my Compostela. There I learned that the big albergue where I stayed last year was closed for the winter. So, Iwalked down the street to the address where Markus and I had stayed the second night last year and lo and behold got a room for 15 euros per night for a couple of days.

The last four days from Ourense to Santiagode Compostela, a distance of 111 kilometers was supposed to be a piece of cake but didnñt quite turn out that way.

Firstly, I probably walked about 120 kilmetres when on the second day I missed a marker and ended up walking about 38 kilometers as opposed to the 29 that my guide book suggested. I must have been in a mental fog and the next thing I knew there no more yellow arrows or Camino markers. So, rather than go back (probably several kilometers) I decided to keep going along the highway knowing that I was going in about the right direction and that the trail had to be somwhere to the East. Unfortunately it did not turn out that way but eventually I got back on the Camino and ended up at the albergue in A Laxe.

Secondly, I had the expectation based on a newspaper report that the weather would improve. Not so. On the first day, I left with an overcast sky that turned into drizzle and intermittent rain for the remainder of the day. Same thing on day 2 and day 3. Hope loomed that on today's short section of 17 kilometers it would not rain. Not so as it started to pour after about one hour and it continued all the way to the steps of the cathedral in Santago de Compostela. Apparently it rains on average two out of every three days in Gallicia.

Wrong....it has either rained or snowed every day that I have walked in Gallicia.

Thirdly, nothing prepared me for what is described in my guidebook as "the steepest climb" on the Camino. This is a section which starts about seven kilometers after leaving Ourense. It is a continuous 20 degree slope for just ove a kilometer which then turns into about a 12 degree slope for the next half a kilometer. Usually a climb like that is rewarded by a superb view (after you recover).......but there was nothing to see except the fog.

Lastly, I started to get a sore throat during the first day which turned into a bit of a cold. Noting serious enough to stop me but nevertheless an inconvenience.

Despite all of this I made it....there was never any doubt.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

No news is good news

Haven't heard from Hans since Ourense on November 5th but, if all goes as planned, I'm expecting him to arrive at his destination in Santiago on Sunday, November 9th.

So stay tuned - as soon as I hear from him I'll update the blog and the website. www.haloranch.ca

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Rest Day in Ourense

The next four days (and last days) of walking will be a piece of cake.

It’s a bit warmer now that I am over the passes so I don’t have to worry about dealing with the cold. The only thing that can create a problem is rain and frankly that won’t be a problem. I have learned a lot about walking this time. Lessons that will serve me well should I do some more.

Just came back from the thermal baths which are about a 2km walk from the albergue. It was fabulous.

Three hot pools starting at 41C and getting progressively colder as water flows from one to the next. There is also a cold pool. The water has some minerals in it but it is clear with a slight but not unpleasant sulfurous smell. For 6€, I got a towel , a badly fitting bathing suit and the right to use the facility for 90 minutes. An hour was more than enough and I felt great afterwards. I should have gone last nigh. There was a bar attached to the spa where I had some tapas, a small bocadillo and two beers for 2.70€. What a bargain.

By the river just below the spa where I was, there is another thermal area also with three pools and of course there is no charge. I suppose I could have used it but without a bathing suit.....

Spain changed back to standard time on the same weekend as North America so there’s still an 8 hour difference between here and there. It actually helped as it made it light one hour earlier although that did not improve the weather.

Today – November 5, for a change it’s sunny and pleasantly warm, maybe 20C here at the moment at 16:15. Apparently this weather should continue for the next few days. Next I will be complaining that it is too hot!!!!


Editor’s note: Several people have told me that they are following Hans’ trip not only on the web, but also on a map next to the computer. They check each day as they read about the latest distance travelled. We even got a note from a fellow pilgrim who lives near Durban, South Africa, and who is following Hans’ trip on the web.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Ourense, Spain on November 4

It’s about 1430 on Tuesday, November 4.

I am in Ourense where for the second day in a row I am drying out, not from too much wine, but from hours of rain. I have had precipitation in some form for each of the last four days but the last two have been the worst. But, a bit of hardship builds character. I tried to find a tuque and sweater for the cold weather but it’s almost impossible to find those things in the little villages in Spain. I swore that I wasn’t going to get a ride after the 50 km bus ride to Salamanca in the pouring rain, and I haven’t. Now that I have a cover for the backpack and can wear the poncho underneath the backpack it helps. Of course I scare small children when I walk into these villages.

Yesterday, it started to rain as I was starting up the last of the passes on the trip and of course I got wet both inside my poncho (from the sweat) and those parts of me that were exposed. The worst part is walking in wet shoes and socks for hours on end. This morning I stuck plastic shopping bags over my socks and that really helped as I stayed relatively dry although the rain was pounding for the full 4 1/2 hours of today’s short walk of 22 km. There is another use for plastic bags!

So with today’s walk finished, I have completed 896 km with 111 km left to go. (1,087,000 steps).

I have received the OK to stay at the albuergue, which is gorgeous, for a second night. I just have to vacate in the morning and then show up again at 13:00 but I can leave my backpack here. This means that I should arrive in Santiago de Compostela on Sunday afternoon, November 9, one day ahead of my original plan.
I will probably get a hotel for one night in Santiago de Compostela.

Right now the schedule looks as follows:

Ourense: Nov 4 to 6 at the albergue
Walk to Santiago over 4 days arriving on Nov 9
Santiago Albergue: Nov 9-10
Santiago: Attend Rotary meeting Nov 10
Santiago: Nov 10-12 Accommodation TBD
Train/Bus to Madrid Nov 12
Madrid: Hostel Nov 12- 14
Fly to London: Nov 14
Fly to Canada: Nov 15


Photo of Goethe taken in Vienna during our September trip.
There is a quote written on a piece of cloth attached to the inside of my Tilley vest by Goethe that says, "Be bold - and mighty forces will come to your aid". Seems very appropriate.

The Bells at Casar de Caseres
The albergue in Casar de Caceres, is located right across the road from the ayuntamiento (city hall) in which there is a bell tower that does its thing every hour on the hour to announce the time. The only problem is that, for example at 21:00 the bell chimes nine times and then after a three or four minute pause it chimes nine more times. All of us in the albergue were more than pleased when the bells did not chime between the hours of 10PM and 7AM!


You can never count on the availability of toilet paper anywhere in Spain. Frequently even the albergues don’t have any. Thus, the well-equipped peregrino always carries a supply in the backpack. Nature called as I was walking along one day and I took out my sealed freezer bag with the soft paper in it. Unfortunately, I had left the lid on my spare drinking bottle unsealed and the water had leaked into the bag with the toilet paper . All I had was a sodden mass. Sort of like papier mache. But, I had no choice but to use it. Sort of a flush and a wipe all in one!

Over the last few days I have traversed several passes with long and sometimes steep climbs. You anticipate finally coming to the top when there is a bit of a down hill. But, it is there only to give you hope. As if to taunt you, it is soon followed by yet another climb even steeper than the last. This seems to work the best when it is foggy and you can’t see very far ahead.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Camino Blanco de Santiago

October 31 – Day 26

I´m in the tiny village of Lubian where you have to be a mountain goat to be a resident! The village is hemmed in by mountains on all sides and most of the ridges are filled with wind turbines. As you might guess the highest point of the village is where the "ayutanmiento" (city hall) is located and where they have internet service.

Just what I needed, another climb.

I completed my walk over the first pass of the Via de la Plata and arrived here at about 3:40 this afternoon. It took me about 7 hours to walk here and I pretty much walked straight through other than a 15 minute stop for coffee and a bocadillo at about the halfway point.

And yes, it snowed for about an hour at the highest point. So now I have experienced pretty much everything.....heat, cold, wind, rain, snow, hail, thunder, lightning....not much left.

So after 26 days I have completed 783 km with 224 km to go. Steps are at about 929,000. I should be in Ourense in about 4 days where I will take a rest day. Tentatively I should arrive in Santiago de Compostela on November 9 or possibly 10.

Day 25 (October 30) was a 38 km walk from Mombuey to Puebla de Sanabria where for the first time I actually thought about quitting or at least trying to get a ride.

Everything seemed to be conspiring against me.

For the fourth day in a row I was faced with bitterly cold conditions....freezing temperatures and a headwind of 20-30 kph. It was cloudy and dark and periodically the rain would come down. If I had not been able to buy a pair of gloves in Calzadilla de la Tera the previous day I would have had to turn around. I really don´t have the clothing to handle these conditions. Everyone I meet talks about the unseasonably cold conditions (muy frios) and in fact in one of the bars I was watching the news and they were interviewing some peregrinos who were walking over one of the pases in about 15 cm of snow. The headline was "Camino Blanco de Santiago".

In addition I must have eaten something that disagreed with me and my left leg was really sore. I finally had to take a packet of ibuprofen. Had to take it dry and then wash it down with cold water...not nice stuff.

Lastly I decided not to have breakfast and coffee until Cernadilla about 8 km from the start where my guidebook indicated that there was a bar. The bar was no longer in operation and I had to walk another 9 km (about 2 hours) before I finally found somewhere to warm up.

Other than that it was a great day for a walk...beautiful scenery, forests and fields and fall foliage. In any case I prevailed and now I know that I will make it no matter what gets thrown at me.