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Well after surviving food poisoning , Rain, Snow , Mud and the usual blisters we are all safely back home.

Thank you all to those who have followed the blog and our ‘challenging’ week.

We leave you this year with a most welcome and fascinating insight and ‘blog correction’ from our new found Camino buddy Tommy, from South Carolina and his ‘larger than life’ cousin Tex – who, if you have the pleasure to meet him on the Camino will certainly have a tale or two to tell.

As Pilgrim brother Davin pointed out , two of the most intesting characters we have met in the Camino.

Thanks Tommy for the info below:

“It was my grandfather, not my father, in the tobacco spittoon story..

In the US Navy, I was employed as an aircraft jet (turbine) engine mechanic and also held speciality qualifications as a Class C Test Cell operator, and as a Spectrometric Oil Analysis (SOAP) Operator / Evaluator.

In the US Navy folks that work in Engineering are responsible for operating and maintaining the ship’s propulsion systems. I was on three aircraft carriers during my career:

USS Coral Sea during the Vietnam War. We mined Hiaphong Harbor (aerial drop) under President Nixon’s orders in 1972. The USS Midway also participated. The following “cruise” was the first USN aircraft carrier deployment in the Tonkin Gulf following the ceasefire.

Also the USS Independence and we were involved with both Grenada and Lebanon during 1983. Went through (round trip) the Suez Canal to Singapore steaming by Bipol India to show US presence in the area following the Union Carbide disaster there. Our flag officer was Admiral Chang, who was born in Singapore.

Lastly, the USS Nimitz in 85-87 We made a Mediterranean deployment, and went through the Suez Canal round trip – conducting flight operations off the coast of Misera Oman in support of Navy activities in the Persian Gulf. After leaving the Med, the Nimitz and the USS South Carolina (SOCAR), a nuclear powered guided missile cruiser, went into the North Atlantic. Each vessel went to DEFCON 1 readiness and emitted signals pretending to be the other. The Nimitiz was able to hide from the Russian Navy, Air Force, and satellites for four days. Our mission was to prove a nuclear powered aircraft carrier could conduct flight operations in the Vestfjiord. We succeeded. We left the North Atlantic for a visit to Rio de Janiero, through the Straights of Majellan, and to offload our airwing in San Diego. Finally the ship arrived in its new home port of Bremerton WA. I was in WA for 4 months before transferring to Alaska.

Don’t know how much of this you want to use, but now you have a clearer picture. A modern US Navy nuclear aircraft carrier carries an airwing of 80+ aircraft. On the Nimitz, we had 100 aircraft and 6800 men. The crew and airwing has downsized a small bit due to more efficiency.

Not to cut my cousin Tex short, he was an electrician and scheduler / panner for Michelin for 40 plus years. Worked in SC, Ireland, France, and I think Spain, during his career.

You can say such runs in our blood/genes. His father was an electrician for Monsanto and Dow Chemical, his brother was a master machinist for Conoco-Phillips, and the youngest brother is a chemical / mechanical engineer with the same firm.

My surviving brother was a construction electrician for Flour Daniels. He worked at several nuclear power plants across the US, revamping them when they went “cold iron” (shut down for rehab). My father drove 2.5 ton trucks (the deuce and a half) and worked in the motor pool (maintenance shop) in the SC Army National Guard. He bootstrapped that experience into driving 18 wheel trucks across the US… We’ve always been “hands on” type of folk.”

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After a short 16Km trek, our final day on the Via de la Plata this year took us to the medieval town of Zomora.

With just 150Km covered this week we fell a little short of our original 167 Km target, but feel we did well all things considered.

The five of us spent our last evening together sharing a communal meal with our Camino buddies . Mark cooked Chicken Dhansak curry and a Vegetarian alternative with Davin in charge of rice and John salad guru.

Although banned from helping in the kitchen , even Richard and Tony felt well enough to join us after their bought of food poisoning from Paella in Salamanca.

We said fond farewells to our new found pilgrim friends ; Tex and Tommy from the US, Perit form Estonia and Claudia from Austria who will continue on to Santiago. At just over half of their 1000 Km Pilgrimage completed we wish them all well and look forward to seeing them arrive safely at Santiago de Compostella in a few weeks.

…until the next time…

Buen Camino !

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A short walk of just 12 Km took us the to the next small  one horse, one Bar town.

On our arrival the Bar owner kindly directed us to the nearest Albergue where we tucked Dickie up in bed with a can of flat coke and a KitKat to help increase his blood sugar levels.

With little else to do, we spent the rest of the day held up in the local Bar, checking every couple of hours to make sure he was okay.

By early afternoon other pilgrims started to arrive. We struck up a conversation with ‘Piret’ a very friendly Estonian lady who began her Camino in Seville during Holy Week…quite amazingly she spoke 7 languages.

After chatting for a while she whispered across the table “did you notice that awful smell in our Albergue ?” ….”no idea” we all replied perhaps a bit too quickly , then Mark sloped off to check on Richard again.

Pilgrims Walter and Tommy , second cousins from South Carolina USA kept most of us entertained for the rest of the afternoon. Tommy, sporting a rather fetching white handle bar mustache, was a US Navy veteran waxing lyrical with John about his days serving on the aircraft carrier USS Independence as an engineer.
Walter, his second cousin has walked most of the Camino routes and also generously given his time as a Hospitalro in one the religious “Donitivo” Albegues on the Frances route.

Sharing photos and stories from their child hood days , Tommy spoke about his fathers tobacco chewing spittoon expertise and how he could of hit  a barking dog… “Rart between the eyes ” at 20 paces.

Tommy very kindly gave Richard some Diorilote power which, along with the sugary coke helped him feel well enough to join us at dinner for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, Tony was suffering now from a chesty cold and discovered that the inhaler he rarely has to use is out of date and doesn’t work.

So all in all we have been quite unprepared for ailments this week. Next time our first aid kit needs to be more than a large jar of Vaseline and a packet of Compedes.

We all agree that our priority for tomorrow is to get to ‘Zomora’ the closest large town and find the nearest Phamacie.

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The weather could not have been more different today, still very cold at just 3 or 4 degrees , but with blue sky and sunshine most of us enjoyed the 22 Km walk to Cabo de Vino.

Paths were generally much drier today , although we still had to make the odd deviation to by pass flooded streams.
The unusually inclement weather this week has been headline news on Spanish TV.

Tony and Davin steamed ahead today, with Richard Mark and John not far behind but walking solo.

Those of us who ate the Paella in Salamanca 2 days ago are living to regret it .Tony’s seems to be over his Dickie tummy, but poor Richard had a tougher day and did well to make it, with the odd urgent detour to nearby bushes en route.

Just four of us at dinner again tonight with Richard resting up in bed. The delicious Pilgrims menu included Russian salad, Steak and fried fish.

A shorter distance to cover tomorrow so early to bed. Despite our collective ailments we are all in good spirits and pleased to have reached the half way point of our 1000Km trek across the Via de la Plata.

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Despite being an experienced walker and having conquered Kilimanjaro, sadly our newest (and youngest) recruit Dan had to stop today – his aching legs and blistered feet getting the better of him. Still feeling positive however , he said he now has extra time to do some sightseeing and still join us back in Madrid on Saturday for a farewell Lagarama.

Todays the 16Km stretch was mainly on the road with the off-road sections being extremely wet and muddy.

Mark , literally soaked through to the skin. Arriving in Calzada de Valdunciel sopping wet, including his underpants, with Poncho seams flapping in the wind like Octopus tendrils – time to invest in new wet weather gear perhaps.

The Casa Rural “El Pozo” was a welcome sight with hot showers, comfortable rooms and a well appointed bar/restaurant.

The helpful waitress tried to explain our menu choices. Pursing her lips and pointing at her mouth “Picante’ Picante” we all jumped at the chance to order something hot and spicy.
We found the texture of the meat rather slimy, even our currymyster Richard left most of his. After a second conversation with the waitress and a bit of googling we deduced it was from a cow and either cheek or lips or both – Yuk.

Today’s 20 km trek would take us to the bustling medieval town of Salamanca.

Our host at the local bar we ate in the night before kindly agreed to open early at 7am to serve us breakfast of hot coffee and Tosdados.

An hour later we were back on the trail to find a light dusting of snow on the ground and a real chill in the air.

A refuge halfway – the only potential resting point, required a short diversion off the main path, so it was rather disappointing to find this closed.

Some 4 hours later we finally arrived in Salamanca and descended on a local bar.

We all sat down, with Davin removing his muddy boots which had leaked to reveal even muddier socks.

Then as if sent from above, a local street hawker appeared from nowhere with a selection of socks…Usually well known for his religious cynicism on the Camino, Richard insisted this was ‘Devine intervention’ and apparently a personal epiphany for him.

Arriving at the local municipal Albergue we were presented with a whole new set of challenges. The local Hostelario seemed friendly enough , but had his own rather unique way of doing things.

For the first time in more than 60 Albegue stopovers, for some unknown reason we were all under suspension of being carriers the infamous Camino ‘Bedbugs’

Unsure whether this was just a precaution or perhaps because we were just a bit smelly , we were instructed to decant all of our belongings into a bucket , place our rucksack in an industrial grade sack and then store this in a special cupboard.

Dazed and bewildered and too tired to argue , bucket in hand we went off to find our bunks and somewhere to wash our clothes.

After dinner we arrived back at the Albergue within a minute of the strict 10pm pilgrim curfew. Then straight to bed with our French guest Lauren joining our room . By the time we awoke he had already left , no doubt regretting his decision not to accept the offer of earplugs the night before.

 

Having spent the two previous nights in more up market accommodation , the ‘  ‘Donitivo’ Albergue with discretional rates was a stark reminder that we were in fact pilgrims not tourists. The Albergues small communal area had a very welcoming open fire – but with no loo paper, no heating in the bunk bedded rooms and a dribble of a hand held shower , a 10 euro donation felt about right…as brother Geoff would say – “it’s all about the deprecation you know”

We set off early at day break, another 30Km day ahead with with Ponchos deployed once agin.
With so much rain , the soft ground had reached its saturation limit as we picked our way through a maze of muddy puddles.

By midday – patches of blue sky had broken through.
Our gradual climb onto the plateau brought a little more wind and a marked chill in the air as the altitude slowly increased.

The Bar at 18 Km was a most welcome rest. Buzzing with locals enjoying their Sunday lunch tapas , there were a few sideways glances as we aired damp feet and lanced our blisters.

Meanwhile , Dr John’s alternative route took him over a challenging ridge, the highest point of the weeks walk and home to a dozen wind turbines. Two hours later the rest of us arrived at the village of Morille when a WhatsApp message came through from John ‘I’m in San Pedro with Claudia sorting out the Albergue’

…it was only then is we realized we had forgotten to communicate the change of plan to John.

Resourceful as ever, having cadged a lift from a local van driver and navigated unexpected road closures, John finally joined us at our Albergue in Morille.

No matter what we do, he still keeps turning up !