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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

El Camino (Levante) - Zamora to the Galician Border: With VERY important route info!

Arriving in Montamarta on the first leg of our Zamora to the Galician border
camino trip - the Robertson Mala is in my right hand and fits well with this
fantastic Camino marker

Zamora to Montamarta (17km) May 7th 2014

I hope that my latest wanderings along the Camino will help others who are setting out on any of the routes that head through and out of Zamora - these include the Via de la Plata, The Levante, The Sanabres and Mozarabe.  My Camino Levante route has now crossed or joined these routes since leaving Zamora and it was amazing to find so many Peregrinos walking them!  Having completed my first 800km and met no one - and I mean "no one" on route (although I did see that others had signed into various hostels and albergues ahead of me) - I now met dozens!  On my first day there were 9 of us including me, but on others I counted upwards of 16 or 20 on route with yet more ahead or behind me. I don't know if this is because these routes are more popular from the area around Zamora onwards (making it easier for most pilgrims to reach Santiago in one go) or because we are in the main walking season - May to June seems very popular on most Caminos.

During this trip I met one German lady who had started in Seville on the Via de la Plata and was planning to walk the whole route in around 7 weeks.  None were walking the Levante and at one albergue they confirmed that those coming from Valencia were very few and far between and they too said they rarely met another peregrino until past Zamora.  At the end of our trip and on the drive home we followed the Via de la Plata route and crossed the Camino in a few places.  There were yet more pilgrims heading north and even at this time of the year, the sun was beating down on them relentlessly and with little shade to be found in some places.  I had great admiration for them walking this route at this time, as I had chosen to do most of my Levante route during the months of September to November and even in December and January, in order to avoid the heat on the stretches through open La Mancha countryside.  Many of the blogs and info sites suggest that these routes can be very dry and some stretches are many kilometres without the opportunity for water - they rightly advise that walking them should not be done later than June.  As we hit Seville the temperatures were 36C - and yet we are only in May.

Sunrise out of Roales as we set off toward Montamarta
The first part of the Camino out of Zamora is all busy tar road and not pleasant, in excess of 5km.  However, from Roales to Montamarta, it's a lovely open walk (although tiring and not easy due to the rubbly surface!) and due to the lack of signs it is easy to make a mistake in the route!  Many (and I mean many) peregrinos end up walking another 10km or so on the busy and dangerous main road!  It was only after I got lost here and seeing how others had built helpful arrows in ambiguous spots for those who followed that I thought of doing the same.  I was lucky enough to do this on the way home as the drive back passed by the exact spot.  Already there were many peregrinos on the road and on tracks through fields on the opposite and wrong side of the road.  I have no idea how they got on or if they walked km's out of their way, but hopefully we saved some.  We certainly saved three Japanese peregrinos, directing them over a bridge that crosses the new railway line (still being built) and then right toward Montamarta.
The railway comes from our left and eventually meets
and crosses the camino - this bridge is to my left and
behind me as I stand on the camino

This is the bridge we need to cross
it is on my left and is the position
from which I took the other
I was fortunate to have access to the back up vehicle for the dogs, so I could get collected off the main road and delivered back to the camino, but most pilgrims do not have this luxury.  What happens is that the new railway is on our left as we walk, it gradually sweeps towards us and then cuts across the camino.  At this point there is a bridge, but there are no markers here.  Many, like myself, go straight on but this meets another bridge and squeezes you onto the main road.  Other pilgrims turn right and then immediately left onto the main road right next to the bridge and still others cross the road and think the camino continues on the tracks on the opposite side of the main road.  None of these options are correct.  We need to cross the bridge and immediately turn right after it - shortly along this track we will pick up the camino markers.  In fact from the top of the bridge it is easy to work out where the camino goes, but from below, it is just not possible to tell because of the high banks of the railway.

One of the camino markers common in this area and which
will be picked up again after crossing the bridge.  The markers
are superb and easy to spot - it's just that so often
there are no signs that indicate to the peregrino (when there has
been a diversion) where he or she should go in order to get onto the
track where these markers will be found!  
North of Zamora this new high speed AVE railway route crosses the caminos many times - and where they are working on it, the routes can be a nightmare to find.  On a number of occasions there have been diversions, some of these taking pilgrims on tar roads for many kilometres - one section from Puebla de Sanabria being around 20km almost all in one stretch.  Many times where work or roads have been made I have found that diversions try to take peregrinos onto other tracks and get them back on the camino as often as possible, but here, diversions just took us onto the tar and left us there.  On these roads, trucks and cars thunder past at great speeds and some come very close to walking peregrinos.  I saw one narrowly miss a man heading towards Montamarta.  Some of these trucks are those carrying gravels and sand etc to the railways and they come thick and fast with much dust and are so huge they are very intimidating and quite frightening.  There are signs up warning that the Camino de Santiago is following the road and to beware of those traveling it, but they do not always make much difference and some are very few and far between, so it's easy for drivers to forget to still look out for those on the road.

House on arrival in Montamarta with many Camion signs
Tile as found on the house
behind me in the photograph
Sometimes peregrinos were so focused on walking the road and staying safe, keeping their heads down and walking that they missed some of the correct directions onto lovely and breathtakingly beautiful countryside.  Some seemed to "choose" to travel the tar roads, which I found a little strange but maybe they found it easier.  Certainly one man who seemed to be towing his backpack on a trolly would have struggled with some of these tracks unless he could fold up the wheels.

The arrow we built to help
direct pilgrims over the
bridge (we put one the
other side also)
The off road sections were often quite strenuous climbs through rocks and on narrow paths, with muddy streams running along them where mountain streams over flowed or meltwaters were still coming off the mountains, still holding onto a little snow at their tips.  The diversions on the roads were often of course much further to travel so a day's walk of around 20km could easily end up being around 28km.  This is very important to bear in mind when planning your walk - leaving later or without enough water could cause some stress, especially on the sections where there are fewer villages.  Those planning to walk within their abilities might also find that routes are much further than they anticipated, and certainly for me, I find tar work much more tiring and mentally and emotionally far more draining.

The statue of "Zangarrón" in Montamarta
Another frustration that occurred was that I try to book the first part of my accommodation, or as much as possible, in advance of my trip.  It's important when there is more than just myself involved - there are the dogs and Michael supporting me and leaving things to chance is not responsible.  The albergue in Montamarta never answered my calls or messages, even though the numbers rang.  On arrival it seemed as though the original and official albergue had closed, but there were so many options of accommodation.  There were even people out in landrovers driving the camino handing out leaflets to try and encourage peregrinos into their accommodation.  Spanish ladies would approach me in the street and just ask me if I would like a place to stay for the night - yes, yes they said, even with a dog!  I am not sure they would have taken three!!  Anyway, I had booked another night back toward Zamora as it was pet friendly and I had no idea if I would arrive in Montamarta and run the risk of sleeping under the stars (!) but I needn't have worried and so other pilgrims should know that there is accommodation aplenty in this delightful and friendly little town.

Entering Montamarta - as with a few towns in this area there are "stuffed"
figures climbing up lamp posts and tall tree poles (as you might be
able to make out in this photo if you look up by the church tower!)
I have not been able to find out what this is about.  
The leaflet that I received in English, German and Spanish is for "The House" - restored and converted into B&B and hostel for pilgrims.  Two floors with bedrooms, living room, kitchen and bathroom and it is located on Calle Pinilla no. 9, Montamarta.  The phone number is +34 650 405 236.

I got my sello in the ayuntamiento and there is a great little bar next to it with a good cold beer to celebrate arrival.  For the dogs, there is a stunning lake (the reservoir Ricobayo) with the Ermita de la Virgen del Castro perched on a rocky outcrop over it.  It has the most stunning view.  The dogs ran and ran and played - loving the chance to swim in the cool waters after the day had turned hot.

The tradition of Zangarrón (from Wikipedia and with odd translation!) 

According to tradition, this typical character goes out on New Year and Epiphany, in the early hours of the day walking the streets of the town asking for a bonus, which he can then give as donations from his peculiar shirt. During the morning, he runs to catch the unmarried young men and gives them these donations. He also participates in a point of the liturgy of the Mass, bursting at the altar and spiking with his trident, two loaves of bread.
The anthropologist Francisco Zamora Rodríguez Pascual acknowledges that Montamarta is one of the municipalities that has best preserved this ancient tradition in the province of Zamora and so testified Julio Caro Baroja when Zangarrones commented that "still alive".
  • Outfit: the popular character appears as a "devil" wearing a unique dress made of two towels, a brown or red on one leg (depending on the day of event), and yellow on the other leg, which are sewn to each one simulating a trouser and covered with paper flowers.  Carrying a quilt and like a knotted blouse the quilt is sewn with an opening to make it like a bag where the bonus and chorizo is collected and offered to the runners once caught.
  • Accessories: on the shoulder are hung three bells, while the face is covered with a flamboyant mask of quirky cork in black or red, crowned by two hare's ears and colorful paper flowers. In addition, the Zangarrón carries a trident with which he incites and traps single waiters with great cunning.

Ermita de la Virgen del Castro - Montamarta

The loop that takes you over the railway
bridge and was not marked when I
crossed.  Many pilgrims stayed to the right
of the railway instead of crossing over to keep
it on their left.  I added arrows at these points
The first little route change at Roales

The arrow we built to direct pilgrims over
the bridge.... although we saw some
Japanese miss even this (although we rescued
We built these on our return as we saw
so many people getting lost and I had found
arrows that others had built along the route
as I walked and I was grateful for them.  I did
not think of it at the time, but was inspired to do
it - so on our return home and as we passed by the
exact same bridge, we helped to redirect a number
of pilgrims in the same predicament

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