I was very worried about being able to walk 14 miles right out of the box on the first day of the the Via de la Plata camino. I was also a little worried about being able to follow the little yellow arrows through Seville and into the country, which is all any peregrino has to rely on. (Other than my very spotty native intelligence and the kindness of strangers.)
Welp. I did it. In the end, I walked 20 miles and the arrows, after being spot on for many miles, eventually became useless
Here’s the story.
The day began beautifully in Seville. No rain. Lovely cool weather. A surprisingly large group was leaving from the hostel where I stayed-French, Spanish, Belgian, and a Canadian couple. Everyone travels independently. So I started out alone, following the yellow arrows. Neurotically.
I have to say that there’s something magical about the arrows. They’re like a silent language, unnoticed and meaningless, just another bit of flotsam amid the general hubbub of the city. Until you are utterly dependent on them, and then they become critical for your well-being. You become fixated on the arrows and aware that someone placed and painted each one. You are both obsequiously grateful and nervously frustrated when you can’t find them.
It’s an interesting exercise.
They failed me at one tricky turn where I was supposed to go up some steps and over the highway. I was standing there looking perplexed when a large man, perhaps from South Africa, walked up with great energy.
“You go to Santiago?”
“Up the stairs there and you go. Buen camino.”
And he was off and so was I. Across bridges, over highways, through one small suburb, some industrial areas (not very nice and all road walking), through another small town where I stopped for lunch, and finally into the country for the final few miles.
So I thought.
A few other peregrinos were dotted along the straight county road. Things were going swimmingly. I was tired, but ready to finish strong when a small group of walkers ahead of me turned and started coming back up the road.
“It’s not possible to cross the river here. Too high. We have to take a detour.”
Okay. I knew about the river. I thought I was already on the detour, but apparently not.
On we walked, to the major expressway. Then the group crawled under a fence and began walking along the shoulder of the highway. I could only tag along-at some distance, since they were walking faster than I.
On we went. Buses and trucks whizzing by. Eventually we came to the exit for the town that was the destination. Then just 4 more kilometres (2.5 miles).
Then into the town and finally I saw a sign for the Luz de Camino albergue, which is what the hostels on the Camino are called.
I won’t say that I staggered in, exactly, but without my walking sticks I was definitely unsteady. I decided to stay at the albergue for an extra day.
Of the dozen or so people in the albergue that night, one group had taken their pants off and waded through the thigh-high water, adding nothing to that day’s mileage. The Canadians had found the actual detour and walked a lot farther, but on a pleasant county road.
I never saw the group I tailed behind again. Maybe they went to the other albergue, but someone had clocked the distance on the highway at 7 extra kilometers, bringing the day’s total to 30 km (20 miles). I’d say I got the worst deal, but at least I have the confidence of knowing I can do it.
After a shower, a meal, and some ibuprofen, I feel pretty good. The next day’s walk is only 14 miles. Piece of cake.