Walking without a donkey. Via de la Plata: Days 1-3

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28-30.11.26

Direction Santiago de Compostella towards Salamanca, contrario. Usually people walk towards Santiago but I was already there and needed to get to Madrid, so I decided to take the other direction. As someone recently said, my life doesn’t seem to be simple!

Day 1 – Santiago de Compostella to Outeiro. 28.11.16. 20km.

Aim: to walk into my new future

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Pilgrims leave homespun crucifixes and other mementoes beside a bridge over the motorway very near to Santiago. 

Stops on the way: none

Got lost: I lost count. Extremely difficult to follow the Way backwards.

Flagged down van: once. Possibly dangerous as female alone.

Fell over: once, followed by ‘happy’ hour needling the gorse thorns out.

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Beautiful views 

Other pilgrims I met: 5. Two going my way, including another French person from Brittany. Are all Bretons as kind, generous, and positive as these? If yes, I am going to live there so it rubs off on me!

Today’s topics: loss, shame. There’s a lot of time to reflect, that’s part of the benefit. And as I walk there’s an increasing sense of perspective bought about by moving forwards through the countryside, and through time.

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Colexiata de Sar

Weather: so hot I walked in vest and short trousers.

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Mountains in the distance

Units alcohol: zero

Lesson learned: I often don’t know whether I will be going up or down hill. Metaphorically speaking, this is a useful life lesson. If I focus on the place where I am, I am best placed to deal with what happens next.

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The landscape is different from the Camino Francés 

Day 2 – Outeiro to Bandera 29.11.16. 18km

Aim: Hoping that speaking 3 different languages a day will keep the dementia at bay.

Stops: yes, breakfast of coffee and eggs on toast to make up for the lack of facilities at the Xunta of Gallicia municipal albergue. Also for heat!

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Early morning light 

Got lost: only 1 small detour because I sensibly tagged along with someone who’s walked it 4 times, albeit in the ‘right’ direction.

Didn’t flag down any vans, nor did I fall over.

Other pilgrims: 1 Italian pilgrim, one Spanish, heading for Santiago.

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Pines and peaks 

Today’s topics: anger and responsibility

Weather: hard frost, deep fog, hot sun

Units alcohol: 0

Lessons learned: don’t lose your temper with the person who can help you.

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Fog sits in the valleys making for a magical view

I am woken rudely from a dream by my alarm. I can’t remember it at all, after being awake on and off all through the night. My hand is sore from yesterday’s fall. T’ai Chi helps!

Last night the lights went off and we were disorientated in immediate total darkness, without warning, at 10pm. Now they come on equally suddenly at 7am, as we 3 sleep in a 16 person dormitory, and off again at 8am before the sun is even close to rising. Good thing I have packed my rucksack so often I can do it in the dark.

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Still some Autumn colours but it’s nearly winter  

There’s no heating and the showers are less than luke-warm, despite it being late in the year. With no utensils in the kitchen it is nearly impossible for me to heat water or drink tea, but one of my companions kindly lends me a pan, and she was also polite enough to the woman who looks after the albergue, (who eventually turns up after 2 hours and 2 phone calls) that we get given 3 small plastic cups. Can’t get the wifi to work, the power sockets don’t seem to charge my phone, and obviously I can’t wash things through as usual because they won’t dry. For the first time I had to wear my thermal underwear inside my sleeping bag, so it’s not my favourite hostel. The thing is I have been spoiled rotten recently with hot baths, delicious fish, and a picnic given to me by a kind friend that morning. It’s a really hard place to be, even if it is clean, safe and only €6.

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Morning is breaking 

So we create our own generosity, we 3 sharing tea bags, the pan, helping with holes in the knitting, and huddling under our sleeping bags while we write our letters.

The shells from the beach at Finnistere, and the precious gifts I received, add to the weight of my rucksack, so I ditch the ridiculous skirt and tights I bought in Madrid for a special occasion, together with body lotion I now have no need for.

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A stone pilgrim in front of the Iglesia de Santiago de Taboada

Day 3 – Bandera to Laxe. 30.11.16. 17km.

Aim: to have no aim

Stops: pre-prepared food and a swing in a children’s park in Silleda

Got lost: no!

Fell over: no! I have a baton now, new to me, and it helps with my occasionally sore left hip. My right hand is empty.

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Ponte Romano

Cars, lorries and vans flagged down, bars and shops visited to ask for directions: loads and loads

Other pilgrims: yes, we are 6 in the albergue: 3 men and 3 women – French, German, Swiss, Spanish, and me

Today’s topic: learning to accept other people’s decisions

Weather: straight into the sun at 8.30am (now on my right, whereas it was always on my left when walking the Camino Francés), though possibly less heat

Units alcohol: none

Lessons learned: travel with experienced walkers wherever possible, if they’ll have you. Like gold dust they are! We sing Frère Jaques in a round.

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The viaduct over the Rio Deza 

Language is an ever important issue for me as I switch backwards and forwards from French (with my companions in real life and in my head with those I no longer walk with); to Spanish (in shops and at the albergues); to English if I am lucky enough to get wifi and talk to family and friends of an evening. So I discover that I must speak simply or I can’t be understood. This means I can’t say what I want, discussing nothing complicated like politics or ethics, and waiting for others to tell me things rather than asking or anticipating.

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Ancient pathway 

Then there’s the issue of understanding – turns out that I sometimes think I know but it turns out later that I was wrong.  And. Even if I do know what someone has said, they are at liberty to change it, or they might forget what they already said and feel differently, and so say something else. Indeed, my interpretation of what they mean, even if I understand the words, is not necessarily what they do mean. Actually, I reflect, you never really know what other people mean.

We walk for an hour in silence everyday which is a refreshing chance to calm my mind.

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Collecting herbs from the wayside for my tisane. 

I’m beginning to forget I’m a Shiatsu practitioner. I’ve got the longest finger nails I’ve had in 28 years of practice. I’m very careful when I give my 16 year old friend some Japanese hand massage in the evening. Luckily it’s her first time and she said she loved it.

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I finish the first 3 days of the Via de la Plata remembering the smells of farm manure and chemicals, and the sounds of the leaves falling.

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