My fascination with the Camino began when I was 17 and on my third trip, traveling through Europe. I was in the south of France and met some college students who were talking about walking the Camino de Santiago on a the pilgrimage. I am now starting my third Camino, 43 years later. At 17, I was diagnosed with diabetes which changed my life forever. I made a choice not to let this diagnosis control or limit my lifetime experience. Even after open heart surgery, I chose to walk my first Camino, just a year later.
That was 2015 and I walked the Camino de Santiago to be honor and write about my beloved parents. The Camino de Santiago is a 1,200 year old pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela to the tomb of Saint James, one of Jesus apostles.
This journey began the first week of April, on the Camino Via de la Plata (VDLP) crossing the whole of Spain which begins in Seville in the south going 600 miles to Santiago in the northwest. It was important to start in April because it is very hot in southern Spain reaching over 100 by the first of June.
The Via de la Plata is the longest Camino and holds the most challenges and difficulties. The Camino Via de la Plata is truly a Spanish route that travels up the western peninsula of Spain and is steeped in history.
While in Seville I visited the Great Cathedral, third largest in the world. I was last here 45 years ago, when I was a 15 year old student backpacking through Europe. I was fascinated by these great cathedrals all over Europe, especially the cathedral in Seville as this was the location of the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
The VDLP was originally constructed by the Romans as a commercial trade route to access the gold and silver mines in the north and to facilitate the transit of troops. In the 9th century the VDLP was used as a Camino route by Mozarabic pilgrims from the south of Spain, North Africa and other parts of the Mediterranean. The VDLP journey includes some of the best preserved Roman sites in Europe.
I am reminded on this leg of my journey that this wondrous life is both temporary and courageous. I have recently lost a friend to the devastating disease of cancer. I am reminded how cancer caused a great loss in my life with the death of my precious sister and father. Cancer does not discriminate. Cancer ravages the lives of the young and old alike and devastates many families.
I am dedicating my Camino Via de la Plata to friends and families who have been battling cancer. Heavy on my mind are two of the most courageous people I know, Cyndy Patyton Cyr and Dave Coffman. Cyndy lost her battle recently and Dave passed recently as well. What I admire most about these two individuals is that they loved life. These people inspire me because of their zest for life. Cyndy and I grew up just a few miles apart.
Cyndy loved life and enjoyed traveling with her husband Mike. Dave dedicated his life to teaching, mentoring and inspiring students. Dave Coffman was my coach early in my high school years. These are people who inspire me when I think of how their families and friends have been there with them every step of the way. I am continuing to pray about them while walking the Camino to Santiago. I am told miracles grow like flowers on the Camino.
I want to be out of southern and middle of Spain before mid to late May to avoid heat which can reach 100 and will exceed it. I first thought about the VDLP after finishing my first pilgrimage on the Camino Frances walking over 500 miles across northern Spain for 38 days in 2015. I returned September 2018 and walked the Portuguese Camino from Porto, Portugal to Santiago.
My maps and guide book tell me compared to the busy Camino Frances, the VDLP can be lonely, you may not see other pilgrims for a day, the stages between villages are longer and less facilities available. On some of the stages that I walk there will be no water or food available between the villages. So I need to be prepared for these situations.
Because of my diabetes I want to feel confident when I’m starting in the morning with plenty of supplies, as I will be out here walking alone and many miles to the next village where the water and more supplies are at. I will start out with at least two liters of water, fruits and snacks. The water will add more weight however, it’s a consumable item and the weight will gradually lower.
The Via de la Plata is by far the longest Camino route crossing the whole of Spain from South to North, from Andalucía to Galicia province. This Camino route was traditionally used by North African Christians on their way to Santiago and it reveals Spain’s untold story. I will start this Camino journey in Sevilla.
As I leave Seville, the path will be surrounded by orange trees, olive groves and bulls (behind fences don’t worry). Entering the home of the ‘conquistadores,’ you discover a medieval Spain, off the beaten track and full of 800-year-old churches and small villages. The Romans have also left their mark in this part of the country where you will encounter some of the best preserved Roman sites in Europe: such as aqueducts, theatres and other impressive Roman archaeology in Merida and Caparra. Extremadura province is also home to the beautiful ‘Sierra del Grado,’ you will come to Salamanca and Zamora (both UNESCO listed heritage cities), and very soon you will enter the green and remote mountains of Galicia.
The Vía de la Plata, originates in the south of Spain. It is also known Ruta de la Plata or Camino Mozárabe (The Mozarabic Route). This route owes its existence to a set of Roman roads that linked the southwest with the northwest coast through two major settlements: Emerita Augusta (Mérida) and Asturica Augusta (Astorga). A few centuries later, Arabs used the stone-paved roads to advance their conquest of the peninsular territories. However, once the Spanish re-conquered their land, the road became a safe passage for many Christian devotees who marched tirelessly to visit the tomb of Santiago.
After the 13th century, Vía de la Plata became less and less frequented until its relatively recent revival in the 1980s. Despite the direct translation, the name ‘Plata” has nothing to do with the metal silver. Even though the origin of the name remains uncertain, there is no shortage of hypothesis and speculations. For example, some historians conclude the name comes from the Arab “Balata” which means paved road.
A few centuries later, Arabs used the stone-paved roads to advance their conquest of the peninsular territories. However, once the Spanish re-conquered their land, the road became a safe passage for many Christian devotees who marched tirelessly to visit the tomb of Santiago.
La Vía de la Plata passes through four autonomous regions and six provinces: Andalucía (Sevilla), Extremadura (Badajoz and Cáceres), Castilla y León (Salamanca and Zamora) Galicia (Orense, Pontevedra and La Coruña).
The Camino offers two alternatives to arrive in Santiago. After Zamora, you need to decide if you want to continue north to join the Camino Francés in Astorga or turn northwest and continue directly to Santiago via Ourense in Galicia. The Galician part of the route is also called Camino Sanabrés.
Ruta de la Plata, although increasingly more popular is still one of the most solitary pilgrimage options in Spain.
So now I’m off from Seville. Buen Camino.
John Larimer is 60 years old from Camden Point and is currently walking on his third pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela on the Via de la Plata.