Halfway there! 17 stages done, 16 to go; 412 kms done, 387.5 to go. If I can do the first half, I can do the second. It will be no time until I am walking into Santiago and seeing the missus. Or maybe it will be like Shirley Valentine and we wont recognise each other! “Who was that? Looked familiar.” I hope she brings a fresh shirt and shoes for those last few days. The last two days have demonstrated the best and the worst of this walk. Yesterday, I left at about 7.30 am as usual. It was dark, still and with a clear sky. There was a slither of a moon with what looked like Venus right beside it. It was very cold but bearable. As I walked, the sky behind me transformed into multiple colours with reds and oranges dominating. As the sun came up, the hills in front of me turned red from the tops, the colour gradually working its way down. Then the sun hit me and my shadow must have been 100 yards long across the road and the fields in front of me. It gradually shortened and brightened and the cold began to disappear as the warmth of the sun ran down my back. A magical hour or so. I started along the picturesque route (there is often a choice of routes along the way) but when I arrived at the cafe for breakfast after about 8 kms, it was closed. The next food was about 15 km on so I tracked sideways towards the duller route, about one km. Halfway down the road, a lady in a car stopped and told me that I was going the wrong way. I explained that I knew this but the cafe was closed. She then said that she was going to open the cafe and showed me her car full of stuff! Further on, I walked past a wonderful Knights Templar church (the Santa Maria la Virgen Blanca at Villalcazar De Sirga). I have not mentioned many of the churches along the way as every single village has a 12th to 15th century church of great beauty but this was spectacular. I cannot describe it in any terms that would do it justice. The entry porch and door had multiple decorated carvings. It was of massive construction, as so many are. The altar piece was painted rather than the carved and gilded construction. And it had a fantastic rose window – huge, letting light into the whole church. The outside is all massive, the inside all delicate fan-like structures. Can the same man design both? Wonderful!
Today, the opposite. Overcast and dark with a cold bitter wind blowing in my face for nearly seven hours of walking. There was a 17 km section along flat, straight, featureless paths, straight into the wind with no food or water to be had. Nothing to look at. The fields are full of stones (some look like Brighton Beach – must break your heart to plough it). What crops they can grow are all in and they are preparing it for re-seeding. Brown and flat. The only thing of interest is the hedgerows where the trees are beginning to turn. A long, dull, monotonous slog.
More good news! My camera ran out of battery yesterday. I have been aware of this impending crisis for some days and have been trying to find a charger with no luck. Last night, in a funny little Chinese shop which seemed to sell everything, I managed to find something that might do and, yes, last night I charged the camera! Not only is this good news for this blog (not today, as you cannot connect to the internet) but also for Christmas. There is nothing the family likes more when we all get together at Christmas than to see my photos and missing the 175 or so for which there is still space on the chip would have been a great tragedy. The eager looks on their faces when I say it is time to see the photos can readily be imagined. When I say there is an extra 300 or so this year because of this trip, well, the joy may be overwhelming. Let´s see – say 20 seconds a picture, that is 100 minutes extra – only an hour and a half, that should be OK. “This one was at Villalcazar, no it was Villarmentero – I was walking down this road – no, hold on, it was Villalcazar because there was that dog. I can tell you a funny story about that dog……” and so on. Great stuff!
We have settled down to a pretty compact team that are mas o menos travelling together. There is a group of 5 led by Neil from High Wycombe who married Bron from Australia where they have lived for 25 years. They are with an American lady from New York and Fay, the Philipian from Canada. There is Jim the retired American banker who served in Vietnam and is staying in hotels all booked in advance along the way. He is from Charlotte, N Carolina. There is a Korean Lady who came here for 2 weeks with her sister last year, loved it, booked up the complete thing this year, her sister dropped out at the last minute as her husband had heart surgery and she is with a friend who keeps rushing ahead, making this lady very sad, often close to tears. She is also from Charlotte, NC. More about her to come, I think. There are a very nice Australian young man and woman who met first at the beginning of the trip, I think, were always together, laughing together but now seem to be traveling separately – what happened there? There is English new-book writer Phil who has sent me a chapter of his book to review – he has not see my review of Socrates (which is still going badly, by the way). There is American Eric from Washington DC who strides along. He is trying to learn more Spanish and is going to Madrid after this to some friends to do more. He has a postal vote waiting for him for the US elections. The mother and soccer-and-golf-playing daughter are still with us. The daughter is worried about my golf and has vowed to get me into some training before I go back. There is very clever Canadian who I cannot remember (or never knew) his name or profession. There is an ex-Canadian navy person who retired at 40 and is travelling the world, living frugally on his pension. There is a chartered accountant from Edinburgh who is running down towards retirement as the job he does (finance person for a research group which is going into the university sector) runs down. And on and on. All really wonderful people. Worried about the Korean lady.