Via de la Plata: Day Twenty-Two

Fontillas de Castro to Tábara

Tuesday October Six, 2020

34km   22֯C

For three weeks I had walked the long daily distances of the Via de la Plata solo. I had nothing to keep me company within the vast tracts of empty landscape except my own thoughts, and occasionally Spotify. Oh, and the odd conversation with the many and varied farm animals that I came into contact with as I walked. As such, those three weeks had felt like one great big, long meditation, trapped inside of my own head with far too much time in the presence of my id and my ego. A dangerous amount of time in the presence of my id and my ego I might argue.

So it was a strange novelty to finally be sharing the Via with another living soul in the form of Daan, who I’d first met about a week prior in Carcabosa. Our respective Ways had finally synched up with one another’s, and over dinner the previous night we’d discussed the days ahead as a collaborative adventure, rather than a solo one. The sudden presence of another human being in my immediate sphere was in sharp contrast to how I’d spent those past few weeks, and it changed my Camino enormously. And while I certainly don’t regret all of those long, lonely days I’d endured during the outset of my journey I can definitely say that Daan’s presence alongside me changed the tone of my journey for the better. It changed the way I viewed the Via, and it changed the way that I interacted with it also. But mostly it changed the way I enjoyed the Via, in that I felt so much more engaged with it by having company at my side.    

I woke at about 6:30am and grabbed a quick shower before packing my backpack with the light from my headtorch. Daan heard me from the other side of the dorm room and followed suit. Both of us were keen to get started with the day, which was a fairly substantial one at 34km, and so we skipped breakfast and hit the road while the world around us was still very dark (and very cold). Our host saw us off at the door and we set off in high spirits with the beams of light from our head-torches leading the way along the shoulder of a road.

And off we trot…

I had woken up feeling puffy and stuffy behind my nose, and not even the heat of my early morning shower had managed to clear it up. Being in Spain, in October of 2020, my thoughts went to one place and one place only fairly quickly – Had I had contracted damned Covid? My head was racing with a bunch of “What ifs” and then “How tos” before I calmed it down and reminded myself that the albergue had both canine and feline inhabitants in it. In fact, a Basset Hound had slept in the same dorm room with myself, Daan and the host throughout the night. So my stuffiness was no doubt courtesy of dog hair, or cat fur, or a dastardly combination of both. I clung to that theory with a great deal of gusto because the alternative option involving Covid was just too darned difficult to process.

Daan and I walked for nearly an hour in the dark along the side of a minor road, yarning away to each other and filling our time with easy banter and observations as we went. Not that there was an awful lot to observe in the morning darkness, except for an enormous frog that had positioned itself immediately in front of us on the side of the road. It didn’t seem at all alarmed by our presence, and was rather nonchalant about moving from its position, so I’m glad our head-torches picked it out from a distance otherwise it might have been a rather unfortunate and messy encounter.

An early morning encounter…

We walked with the sunrise until we arrived at Granja de Moreruela, where we sat down in the early morning light for a quick breakfast at the local café. I say breakfast, but it consisted of orange juice and a lemon muffin, neither of which were particularly substantial when it comes to nutrition. That said, between the sugar and more sugar on offer from each of them I was perfectly fuelled for the day.

Morning has broken…

A little further along the main street of was where the Camino split, and where we would finally say goodbye to the Via de la Plata. The Via itself continued north, all the way to Astorga in Asturias. Our plan however was to turn west and make our way to Santiago de Compostela along the Camino Sanabres. I had not thought an awful lot about leaving the Via until that morning, and when it finally came time to step away from it I found myself a little bit grief stricken. I had called the Via my home for the past three weeks, and for the three months before beginning it it had been a daily consideration in my head. So to finally be putting it behind me in order to join the Camino Sanabres instead gave me pause for reflection, and a small amount of sorrow at having to say Goodbye.

The splitting of The Way…

We marked the moment with videos and messages to our loved ones and then continued on our journey, welcoming the Sanabres with gusto. And it was easy to enjoy, even so early along the route. The landscape beyond the village changed almost immediately, as if to say, “Toto, I don’t think we’re not in Kansas (The Via) anymore”. The dry, flat plains from the previous few days had gone, and in their place was a much livelier landscape full of wonderful shades of green and rocky outcrops that gave the world around us some much needed definition. Oh, and there was water also. So much water, including a vast body of the stuff that we crossed over on an old stone bridge. The setting was such a jarring contrast to anything I’d so far encountered along The Way that I felt like we’d been magically transported from Spain to somewhere else entirely. The hillier terrain dished up a welcome challenge, and gave us both a reason to huff and puff, and sweat, on occasion. The ongoing peaks and troughs of the new landscape provided some wonderful outlooks over the countryside also.

A very quick change of scenery…

Our banter continued uninterrupted as we walked, which meant that we missed a marker just after crossing the bridge. One of the hazards of having the distraction of conversation I guess. We mapped out an alternative route (only adding a couple of extra kilometres to the day as a result) and stopped to rest in Faramontanos de Tábara, just seven kilometres shy of Tábara itself. It was a well-kept village, with well-maintained houses and well-watered houseplants decorating the balconies that loomed over our path below. The contrast to so many of the other villages I’d passed through over the previous weeks was striking. There was a sense of pride on display here with the consistently painted facades, the overhanging colour of potted flowers and the well swept paths and gutters. It suggested that there was money about, which coincided not coincidentally with the presence of water and comprehensive irrigation systems.

A dead straight path leading to Faramontanos de Tábara, 3km off in the distance…

Faramontanos de Tábara proved to be another turning point of sorts, in that rather than sit in the shade somewhere and nibble on nuts and fruit like a small woodland creature Daan and I decided to find a bar for a much more substantial lunch. It was to be a habit that we maintained for the remainder of our Camino. Another departure from what I’d come to expect from the Camino is that Daan spoke fluent Spanish, which opened up a vast new array of opportunities and experiences for me as we walked. Where I might have called out a simple “Hola” to the woman in the street as we passed by Daan instead enquired with her as to whether or not there was a bar in the village that the two of us could eat at. The woman pointed towards a small corner bar that otherwise appeared closed for business and so we popped our heads through the door and enquired as to whether or not they were open. The woman behind the counter insisted that they were, and so we ordered boccadillos to fill our bellies and a beer each to quench our thirst.

The introduction of cold beer to my lunch regimen was another new novelty for me. Whereas before cold beer had been consumed as a small reward for reaching my destination from Faramontanos de Tábara onwards it became par for the course. I couldn’t possibly imply that Daan was the motivating factor for day drinking, and I’d much prefer that make your own assumptions about the correlation. Suffice to say it seemed perfectly natural to be sharing a beer over a late lunch with fine company in such a fine setting. I do need to add that the beer we were drinking was 0% alcohol, and so perfectly seemly as far as I was concerned. Daan insisted that it was isotonic also, like many a sports drink, which I was quite happy to believe without Googling the claim myself. I was satisfied to take it at face value and as such day drinking 0% beer soon became one of my new favourite things.

The addition of 0% beer to our regimen changed everything…

We moved on to Tábara and were greeted by structures built into the sides of the hill leading into the village. Small entranceways led into the hill and suggested some kind of Hobbit-like arrangement within. We debated what might be lurking behind the doors and arrived at either grain or olive oil, but were later told that it was instead wine. With less than 1,000 inhabitants I am uncertain of how to define Tábara. It’s certainly not a town, but it somehow felt larger than a village, and strangely cosmopolitan also.

We checked into our accommodation, which was a wonderful hotel that provided a room and dinner deal for the very reasonable sum of €30. Bring it on, I thought. The staff were very welcoming, and my room was enormous considering the pittance I was paying for it. It had two single beds within – one which became the dumping ground for my pack and sundry items and the other which became my resting place for the next hour or so.

Once rested Daan and I reconvened to explore the village and find ourselves cold beer of the alcoholic variety. It seemed rude not to. We sat at one of many local bars and watched the world go by around us as the afternoon darkened and the air cooled. There really was a very autumnal feeling to our new surrounds and all of my Salamanca Decathlon purchases were getting put to great use as a result. There’s nothing quite like buyers-remorse, so I was thankful that my little top-up in Salamanca had been as fruitful as it was.

We made our way back to the hotel for dinner and were being joined by Benedetta who had arrived in Tábara a little later on in the day. We were pleasantly surprised to realise that Brian was also staying in the same hotel as us, and so the four of us shared a drink before tackling dinner. It was quite the little posse, and still such a novelty for me after so many dinners for one at the start of my Camino. My only regret was that halfway through the meal the day caught up with me in a not so subtle way and I had to excuse myself before the meal was ended to fall into bed and sleep.

But before I left our small company there had been plenty of weary banter about the days ahead of us and what turn our shared Camino might take. The television set mounted high above the bar was full of foreboding news regarding Covid and new regional lockdowns that were beginning to take place across Spain. Newsreaders wore sombre expressions as grim graphs of daily death tolls flashed up on the screen behind them. They would then cut live to equally sombre reporters standing on empty promenades around the country discussing the situation. In particular, the city of Orense was making waves, and would potential be declared a Red Zone in the days to come, such were the number of Covid cases in the community there. That raised alarm bells amongst us at the dinner table as the Sanabres was due to take us directly through Orense in a weeks’ time. We noted our respective concern about the situation, but none of us wanted to fuel those concerns any further with discussions of worst-case-scenarios. We knew that Covid was out there, and had all learned to live with its threat as we walked. What I certainly hadn’t reconciled however was the idea that, after so many months of planning and anticipation, another hard lockdown might literally stop me in my tracks and prevent me from completing my Camino.

I said ‘Goodnight’ to my fellow diners, put my mask back on my face as I walked through the restaurant and headed upstairs to my room. But not before giving the television screen one last cursory glance on my way out. I had considered myself incredibly lucky thus far, being able to walk through a global pandemic. But luck inevitably runs out, and maybe my time was coming.

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