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Some Reflections (and tips) on Via de la Plata (Sanabres)

Discussion in 'Camino Via de la Plata - The Silver Route' started by HuskyNerd, Aug 2, 2010.

  1. HuskyNerd

    HuskyNerd Super Moderator

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    I'm a past Camino Frances pilgrim who just finished the last 266 kms of the Via de la Plata (VdlP), starting in Puebla de Sanabria, so these reflections are somewhat limited given that they include only the last 1/4 of the entire Via de la Plata. Still, I'd have appreciated knowing a few of these items prior to the walk:
    • When you hear "the albergues are fewer and farther between" believe what you hear. That means 25 to 35 kms between and fewer options for overnights.
    • Yellow arrows and directional markers are spotty in certain stretches of this Camino. Especially in the early section, some pilgrims come equipped with a compass. A map is helpful.
    • Dogs are a bigger problem. Most people carry sticks to ward off dogs. One pilgrim I walked with was attacked by a dog, whose owner threw rocks at it to get its teeth unclenched from this pilgrim's backpack. Camino Frances dogs seem much more used to pilgrims, not so on VdlP where they're still intent on doing their day jobs of protecting livestock and property.
    • There were third-hand reports of robberies in the albergues -- Spanish guys driving up after the albergue is unlocked in the morning and forcing pilgrims to give over their valuables. The robbers reportedly drove around to various albergues and preyed on pilgrims on a regular basis. Regardless, the VdlP seemed safe in my experience.
    • Albergues are much smaller and there are many, many fewer pilgrims than Camino Frances. This means more solitude, but also less companionship.
    • Long distance VdlP pilgrims are a hardy lot. Most of them have done at least 2-3 prior Caminos, most are older and sometimes walk most all summer long.
    • Ability to speak in Spanish is more important on VldP. I found few English speakers except in very large towns, and the high percentage of Spanish and Italian pilgrims made Spanish helpful for communication. Very few English, Aussies, or Americans on VdlP. Hand signals always work, but expect fewer assists in English.
    • Good to understand that there are some big and little options on the VldP. The biggest option is whether to take the Vldp through Astorga and pick up the Camino Frances there, or to walk through the Sanabres region, skirting along the Portuguese border and approaching Santiago from the South. Within the Sanabres option are two additional options at A Gudina -- through Verin or through Laza. Through Verin is flatter and longer, while through Laza is steeper, shorter, and more scenic. Another option is to view the Oseira Monastery after Cea, an additional 7 km or so added to that day's walk (but it's worth it).
    • In my July walk beginning in Sanabres there were fewer than 15 pilgrims in the albergue each night. Given the limited options, this suggested to me that there were about 15 pilgrims walking that 20-30 km stretch. This is a tiny group in comparison to Camino Frances where 100-200 daily pilgrims will be spread out over the same distance and absorbed into 5-6 albergues. By the time we reached Ourense the numbers had grown to about 100. This meant that albergues became overcrowded and in my 10 day walk (July 2010 - a Holy Year) I twice had to find other overnight options because the albergues were completo. This is unlikely in non-Holy Years, but anyway was something I encountered.
    • VdlP, being much more remote with fewer albergues, means it's even more important to bring light gear for the potential outdoor overnight. I was forced to sleep outdoors one night after running out of daylight before I could make the 45 km hike to the next albergue (my choice to push on past my original goal that day). My inflatable sleeping mat and pillow came in handy, along with my light down sleeping bag. I slept in the picnic area of a deserted town high in the mountains and was also glad I'd brought along extra food. Although it was warm during the day, the evening mountain air was quite cool.
    • Once Galicia is reached, the public albergues are really quite excellent. In fact, extraordinary. The albergues at Laza, Xunquiera de Ambia, Laxa (Lalin), Cea, and Outiero and carefully designed and beautifully built modern structures. They're a pleasure by the standards of any Camino.
    • There are many times when the local highway (N-525) is a smarter option that the official Camino trail. It's worth it to scan a road map, compare it to the Camino trail, and make a judgment about whether to walk the shoulder or take a sometimes odd loop through countryside that, while designed to give an "outdoor" experience, sometimes adds a pointless few kms to the day's journey.
    • The Spanish have discovered the Via de la Plata, as well they should since it's their country. This means that at Ourense during summer months you may find large groups of bus/van pilgrims carrying small day packs and filling the albergues. If you have some Spanish language skills and can converse with these kids, you're in for a treat.
    • I feel the VdlP is very bikeable and I may just take that option sometime in the future. Through Sanabres, the VldP generally follows the trajectory of the N-525 highway to Santiago. Much of the time this is a quiet road, given the fact that the A-6 runs through here, too. The entire VdlP could be biked from Sevilla in under 2 weeks, so to me this is a good future option if a spring or autumn Camino opportunity opens up. The southern portion of VldP would just be too hot in June-Aug, though.
    • The terrain of the VldP through Sanabres is much more rugged and challenging than Camino Frances. Within this 266 km stretch are several climbs that rival SJPP to Roncesvalles or Villafranca to O Cebreiro. For example, Ourense to Cea is like walking a stairway for several kms. In 6.7 kms the trail rises 300 meters. I'm not complaining, but just pointing out that conditioning (or patience) is more important in the daily climbs up and down these mountains.
    I hope these reflections are helpful. It was a fun Camino and I'd do it again any day. Buen camino!
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2011
  2. arturo

    arturo New Member

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    I walked the VdlP this summer. Totally agree with everything stated above. Thank you, HuskyNerd, for very comprehensive reflextions! Minor remark: dogs are considerable threat in Extremadura, where most of the road is occupied by private property (esp. - fincas). Live stock is running free there, and lambs are guarded by dogs. In Castilia&Leon flocks of sheeps are always guarded by the shepherd, so dogs are under strickt human control.
     
  3. elisah

    elisah Guest

    Hi
    About the dogs and the robberies and sleeping outside... do I have to be affraid as a woman alone?
     
  4. HuskyNerd

    HuskyNerd Super Moderator

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    I met one woman walking the VdlP alone. She was Polish and spoke only that and German. She was having a great time and did not let on that she was in any way nervous about her safety. She appeared strong and able to care for herself just fine.

    On the VldP prior to Ourense I think it's important to remember that you're with only 10-15 other pilgrims in a 20-25 km stretch of remote countryside. That's a lot of solitude and it's probably wise for a single woman to be cautious. You can either hook up with people in the albergue and stick close if you feel vulnerable, or you could choose the Camino Frances for safety in numbers.
     
  5. noelieboy

    noelieboy New Member

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    Excellent piece, Huskynerd, about Via de la Plata. I did the Camino France last year and I have many, many positive memories. Really nervous now about the possibility of robbery/ies. Yours truly is a man of 60 about to walk from Seville to Santiago via Ourense. Are these people armed? If so, how heavily? Is it only money they are after? What happens, in your opinion, if I resist? Any other advice re protection?
     
  6. HuskyNerd

    HuskyNerd Super Moderator

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    Hi Noelieboy ~

    I have no direct experience of this, only secondhand as shared by a Dutch couple at Puebla de Sanabria on 13 July, 2010. Here's what they said: The bandits arrive at the albergue just before dawn -- after the first wave of early-bird pilgrims has left for the day, usually leaving the front door unlocked. The robbers awaken remaining pilgrims, insist on being given money and valuables, then take off in their car. These robberies apparently are perpetrated by a single group of unarmed men who have preyed on unsuspecting pilgrims on the VdlP as well as the Via Portuguese.

    I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this report, Noelieboy, but I found it highly believable as it came from a veteran pilgrim (with his wife nodding her head in agreement) seemingly in his right mind with no reason to lie or exaggerate. I would certainly not counsel you or anyone to resist as that could turn out poorly for all concerned, especially the pilgrims. It's always best to let the police do the hard work.
     
  7. Covey

    Covey Active Member

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    A disturbing story!

    Given the size of the albergues on the Camino Frances and the numbers of pilgrims staying there, I would have thought that any gang of 4/5 persons would think twice about taking on 30-40 pilgrims, many of who (myself included) who would be inclined to have a go.

    I was in Barcelona at Christmas and a number of the tour group I was with had their bags "picked". The Police said it was "gypsies and foreigners" who do all the thieving, which I suspect is a convenient way of deflecting blame.

    In four trips down the Camino Frances I have only come across the odd Pilgrim who has lost an ipod/mobile from an albergue in one of the larger towns where it is difficult to control access to the albergues. Oh, and a pilgrim who had his boots "borrowed" one morning from the albergue. The only pair of footwear left behind was a same sized pair of boots where the sole of the boot was mostly detached. Fortunately the pilgrim had a pair of trail sandals which he used to get himself to Burgos where he could buy some new boots.
     
  8. geraldkelly

    geraldkelly Member

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    Hi HuskeyNerd!

    Thanks a lot for your update on the Via de la Plata. I never walked the bit that you walked because I went through Astorga, but I intend to some day.

    Just on the question of gangs of thieves preying on pilgrims. I'm a bit sceptical about that. I've never hear of that happening and I had a search on the internet and found no mention of it in the Spanish media. These stories often get passed from person to person and changed and enhanced with every telling (like Chinese whispers) and people pass them on out of a genuine desire to warn other people.

    I'm a taxi driver. If half the stories (in face a tenth of the stories) I've heard were true I'd be cowering under my bed at this moment!

    Of course there's a bit of pilfering going on in albergues, the same as everywhere. I'd advise people just to take normal precautions and don't leave your valuables lying around where everyone can see them. Better still, leave your valuables at home!

    Ger
     
  9. HuskyNerd

    HuskyNerd Super Moderator

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    Hi GeraldKelly ~

    A dose of skepticism is wise, particularly to keep you in your taxi and out from under your bed. Your statement about lack of mention in the Spanish press about robberies intrigued me, so I took a look myself. This link has official numbers of cases in Castille-Leon as of today in which the special pilgrim security authority was called: Protecci . It shows these numbers:
    *258 total cases in which authorities were contacted -- with increasing numbers of incidents in the Western portion as to be expected since numbers of pilgrims increase with proximity to Santiago;
    *the majority of incidents were for medical care -- dizziness, injuries, stomach problems, etc.
    *112 calls were for directions, shelter, missing persons, and petty theft;
    *one call for death of a pilgrim
    *two attempted suicides of pilgrims
    *two reports of robbery of pilgrims

    The reports refer to the regions of Leon, Bierzo, Burgos and Palencia, all of which are on the Camino Frances, and make no mention of Zamora, the portion of Castille-Leon which is on the VdlP. So in all likelihood the rumors of robberies on the VdlP are not substantiated by this report, but it's probably worthwhile to note that Camino robberies have been substantiated as fact, but the incidence is extremely rare. As the security detachment's director says in the article, "Safety on the Camino is quite excellent..."
     
  10. geraldkelly

    geraldkelly Member

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    Thanks for that HuskyNerd. That's a really interesting article. I noticed that there was also one "robo con violencia" robbery with violence. Hopefully it was nothing too serious.

    When I was in Spain in June I was amazed at the blanket coverage the Camino is getting in the media there at the moment. La Voz de Galicia has a Camino page every day! One day they were interviewing pilgrims to get their opinions on the quality of accommodation and other facilities in Galicia. They were overwhelmingly critical of standards and prices and compared Galicia very unfavourably with Castilla y Leon. Except one guy whose only concern was that the waymarkings weren't visible at night. He wanted luminous yellow paint used in future.

    Looking at the homepage of La Cronica I noticed this:
    Las entradas a Burgos y el acceso a Puente Villarente, principales puntos cr

    Ger
     
  11. HuskyNerd

    HuskyNerd Super Moderator

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    Thanks for sharing this fascinating article, Ger. We pilgrims often take for granted Spain's expenditures on pilgrim infrastructure. It's comforting and encouraging to hear local Spanish leaders thinking aloud and planning ahead to improve dangerous stretches of the Camino.
     
  12. Tanya Yaksich

    Tanya Yaksich New Member

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    Hi Huskynerd,
    How awful to be woken up and robbed. I agree with Covey, I would high port, en garde and charge. I think people have to assess the situation and if they feel unsafe, travel with a group. I have been informed by one of my nieces travelling companions that i'm a bit intolerant. In other words i'm cantankerous and don't suffer fools gladly. Welllll, maybe The Camino was meant to teach me tolerance. But i would have a go at anybody trying to rob me or my family.
    Cheers Tanya
     
  13. Oisin

    Oisin New Member

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    Hi Huskynerd - just worth mentioning that I didn't find it as intimidating as all that. You'll frighten people off!

    - Distances were manageable even for some quite elderly pilgrims I met
    - I found the waymarking quite good - patchy in parts, but I wouldn't have thought there was any need for a compass or a map if you have a decent guide book.
    - The only dog that gave me any trouble was a tiny ankle-biter on the outskirts of Santiago. There were some proper mastiffs on guard in Ex'dura but they were chained up or confined. The farmers are aware of walkers and cyclists these days and are very obliging
    - I didn't come across, or hear of anyone who was ill-treated or robbed
    - It does take a little determination but you don't need to be too hardy. I managed to complete the walk from Seville without much trouble in a month, not having done any other big walks
    - As far as speaking a little Spanish goes - it will undoubtedly help. Having said that I barely had a word. I was mostly looked on with a sort of benign curiousity by the natives. They were very helpful though.

    Maybe I was lucky!
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2010
  14. HuskyNerd

    HuskyNerd Super Moderator

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    Hi Oisin ~
    Congrats on completing the VdlP. I marvel at your endurance! I'm a 25 kms/day guy and am put to shame by your 33 kms/day average.

    I reaffirm my tips from my earlier post as they are documented from my own experience on my July 2010 Camino Sanabres. Everyone's experience is different, of course, and your alternative perspective will help folks judge for themselves, as it should be.

    Would love to hear more about your Camino. All the best ~
    Sandy
     
  15. Oisin

    Oisin New Member

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    Hi Sandy - you flatter me. Sometimes you have no choice but to keep on going. I had a great time. I found it tough at times- but a rewarding sort of tough. I really think that it's a great alternative for those who are looking for a more peaceful alterantive to the French way. My golden pieces of advice? - go in Spring as opposed to Autumn and take take a couple of good books!

    All the best
    Oisin
     
  16. unadara

    unadara New Member

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    Thanks Sandy will search and find more of your tips such as these, we want to go to Finisterre, Muxia again too.
     
  17. backiej

    backiej Member

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    Una I just took a look at your photos and I really enjoyed it. I think the CF is far more pituresque than the VP. I look forward to seeing your photos and hearing your news on the CN. Buen Camino. Jackie
     
  18. unadara

    unadara New Member

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    Jackie
    Thanks so much. I have tried to start my posts on the Camino Norte and think I've made a mess of the "blog", but will get back to it and fix it, it just consumes time-all this writing! I have recently joined a camera club and may bring a "better/bigger" camera with me, but it is just another item to look after, as in charging batteries, carrying, minding. I find not having a camera a bit of an opportunity to be more mindful?
     
  19. Paul from Dorset

    Paul from Dorset New Member

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    thanx for this.. leaving for vdlp end March. Frances last year, was magic, my only qualm is ref the doggies you mention... perhaps just saying "nice perro" will work, or not...... Maybe I should take a handgun?
     
  20. grayland

    grayland Member

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    ..nice doggie might be an idea....the handgun would be a colossal blunder.
     
  21. Ulla

    Ulla New Member

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    Thanks HuskyNerd for the very useful tips and remarks! I´m going to start VdlP 1th of March from Sevilla. Do you or anyone else know, if things has changed in two years - for example the number of albergues? Why single woman should be cautious in countryside - do you feel that the isolated areas are dangerous for women? I haven´t walked in Spain before - in France and nordic countries quite a lot without any safety problems.
     
  22. highlander

    highlander Donating Member Donating Member

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    after reading this I would kidnap the robbers(in my fantasy)..and make them carry my bag all day.(fantasy,you need to say that word to get you off the hook before hand otherwise its a threat)....being aware with the info sandy has provided(ive heard the same privately)if pilgrims are feeling insecure........do that camino if you need too.......make a action plan with all who are staying at the said albergue, for example all agree not leave the doors open.and leave in good size groups or if its just the one problem albergue leave together also you could also have a false wallet or small purse with a few euros in and some credit type looking cards, and just hand them over and start screaming...you dont have the knowledge of what these people are capable off, they might be cowards and a bit scared themselfs...a frighten person can be a dangerous person confronted......and vice versus....we had a saying in my outfit..forwarned is fore armed......you have the information in these posts......be safe ...carry a whistle anyway for summoning help if your on camino and fall someplace in the dark or are injured.....you could use it leaving a albergue if problems arise..most osprey rucksacks now have them as part of the sternum strap......with dogs I do a bit of growling myself and they then no when to back down except the hard core ones who do a bit of snarling for a while whilst I move swiftly on.........safety first always...be aware of showing all your money the evening before at dinner or in a bar. there may be a person doing a recon for the next morning in this case scenario......main points be ware and be safe....enjoy your camino...don't let these people put you off

    edited to say 'I do not have a understanding of pilgrim numbers on the said camino' please do not put yourself in harms way, you meant to be pilgrims and ambassadors of your country....I am trying hard to be likewise..also we a have a duty( i like to think so)to look after and support each other if there is a problem..you life is to vaulable to take risks. be safe
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2013
  23. highlander

    highlander Donating Member Donating Member

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    been thinking about what I wrote earlyer today and would like to add this " a long time ago a very eldery gentleman walk past a checkpoint and carried on down the road, I was amazed and called him back. and said are you not scared of being killed....NO I never live in fear of going anyplace.......he told me he was a jew and fear means nothing anymore.....dont let it stop you he said" I never forget that
     
  24. Ulla

    Ulla New Member

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    Thanks Highlander! I have so strong desire to walk, think, be without thinking, see, observe, injoy, so nothing can stop me. I like the idea that it´s good to keep eyes and mind open and help each other when ever it´s needed. Brilliant tip was to take a fake credit card and give it if needed - I have one :)
     
  25. BP2013

    BP2013 Guest

    My sister and I are in route to Seville to begin the Via dela Plata. We are planning to rent bikes and need to store our larger backpacksomewhere for the 12 days we expect to be gone. Can anyone suggest a place forthis service?
     
  26. mobe

    mobe New Member

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    I'm considering a solo journey and would like suggestions on the best route options and the best time of year to begin my journey. Here is my profile: 62, female, excellent health, comfortable traveling alone, cautious, time no problem/retired. Thanks for your advice.

    mobe
     
  27. geraldkelly

    geraldkelly Member

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    I know that Triana Backpackers rent bikes, see: http://english.trianabackpackers.com/bike-rental-st-james-way-camino-de-santiago

    I've stayed there but I've never used their bike rental. A friend of mine if heading off on the 12th of April next and he's renting his bike there. He says they were very helpful

    I'm sure they can store luggage for you too, or possible ship it to Santiago if that would be handier.

    Ger
     
  28. Waterweed

    Waterweed Member

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    This is the camino I will walk next; since my last and first walk was Camino Frances, I think I can manage this one. I am slow but I keep going. There were days that I did not see many people. If I did, they were passing me. If I get concerned, I am not bashful about getting/asking for help. I did it one situation on Camino Frances that concerned me, and I asked for help, which was readily given. I may have been wrong about the situation but I followed my gut feeling. I had rather be wrong than hurt.

    I have traveled alone during the majority of my travels, so I am comfortable and take precautions. I was pickpocketed on the step of St Peter's Basilica while traveling with my mother. I was tired and lagging from a full day of walking at a tour guide's pace through crowds while making sure my mother was okay and keeping up. I later realized they had watched me from the time I bought water for us outside of the Cistine Chapel and through the rest of the tour. Thankfully, I did not have much cash in the billfold. I had gone to the bathroom after buying the water and put the majority of the change I had received in a safe place. I did have to call home about a credit card. I was more upset about the new billfold and being pickpocketed. I like the idea of the fake credit card with a bit of money to convince those who are robbing one that they have what they want. Although now I keep any credit cards in a safe place too as well as only have in my hand/wallet what I need for coffees and/or the next meal.
     
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