Canadians on the Camino, Day 17: Via Romana 

A Namibian couple stopping for lunch on the meseta
A Namibian couple stopping for lunch on the meseta

(September 20)

We sleep in a bit this morning and get a later start than usual. We now have less concern about walking in the early afternoon because the high temperatures are in the 20s and today there is a stiff breeze. In the evenings now we have to wear long sleeves and a fleece. We send our packs ahead again today and I am carrying just a small day pack with water and a few other essentials.

A man and his dog

Just outside of the village we overtake a pilgrim walking the route in the company of his dog. Surely that complicates matters because I expect not all lodging places accept pets. After we pass the man with a dog and leave him behind, we see no one for about the next two hours.

Back country

For the most part our walk today continues through back country and for 19 kilometres we follow another old Roman road called the Via Romana, said to be the longest stretch of such road remaining in Spain today.  It was used in days past to link the gold mines of Galicia to Rome.

By my calculation, it is about seven kilometres into our walk on that road that we mark our halfway point on the Camino – at a point where a small stream called Arroyo de Valdelcasa crosses under the road and meanders its way across the flat and scrubby meseta. We began our walk in Pamplona 17 days ago and the distance we have to cover on the way to Santiago de Compostela is just shy of 700 kilometres. As of today we have walked about 350 kilometres.

Despite our being away from the highway while on the Via Romana, we are within sight and earshot of the railway and several fast, electric trains whiz past. Spain has an excellent train system between larger cities.

A Namibian couple 

At some point, we come across a man and a woman sitting along the side of the road eating some food they are carrying. We recognize them as a Namibian couple who we met in the albergue last evening. Together we marvel at how the Romans built these roads and controlled this area afar. “They thought their empire was never going to end,” the Namibian woman says, “but it did.” I say, “It’s that way with all empires.”

We continue on and at some point we see a small stone cairn, a cross, plastic flowers and some faded writing that I cannot make out. This is not the first time we have encountered a memorial beside the path, and I assume these mark the passing of pilgrims who died while on the trail.

Hours on a Roman road

We walk for four hours on the Roman road. The surrounding countryside is prairie-like but on the northern horizon to the right we see the Cordillera Cantabrica, an extension of the Pyrenees and some of the peaks have snow on them. There are hazy silhouettes of mountains ahead of us to the West as well. We will be walking among them before long. In the nearer distance we think that we can make out the city of Leon.

Early in the afternoon we leave the Roman road and follow up a secondary paved road leading down into a small town called Reliegos. It has an albergue and people are already checking in. There is an attached restaurant and we order coffee, fresh orange juice and a sandwich. We also use the bathroom.

We continue our walk on a path beside a paved road on for another six long kilometres and into Manzilla de las Mulas, population 1900, where different pilgrim trails converge. Some of the town’s ancient protective mud walls and arched gates still exist but most are crumbling.

False  impression?

Martha believes that I may have left a false impression in a recent posting that I made to Facebook about the lack of public toilets along the Camino. I talked about pilgrims using the great outdoors and they do. But Martha says, and she is right, that there is very little littering along the Camino – virtually no empty plastic water bottles, soft drink cans or candy wrappers. In other words, the pilgrims are respectful of the local environment — except when they have no choice. The lack of toilets is a public policy issue and governments here should pick it up.

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament