“By March 2010, I had become heavy, something I only fully realised by chance. My Nephew and his Girlfriend came to visit me. I took photographs of them, and they took photographs of me. A few days after they left, I put the memory card into the computer. They looked great, but then I saw a fat man with my face looking at me from the computer screen. Something needed to be done and rapidly. Certainly, I would be more careful with my food but I needed more exercise. I was now in my early fifties. When I was a young man I worked at photography for a few years but packed it and went on to other things. In 2009 a bought an entry level professional camera, a Nikon d80, so that I could take reasonable quality photographs for pleasure. Now I had the perfect opportunity lose weight by walking and take photographs at the same time. Perfect! and so my Camino-going began.
I walked my first Camino in April – May 2011, it was the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. Since then I have walked about eleven Caminos, repeating some. I have also walked the Pyrenees coast to coast on the French side – it is called the GR 10 – as well as some of the Alps and other routes. I’ve walked a total of about 11,000 km in five years. I take photographs as I go and run a website www.caminogallery.com and a blog www.dermotdolan.blogspot.ie. But this story is about my most recent trip the Via de la Plata. I have actually been on the Via de la Plata now a total of four times. One of those was the Camino Mozarabic which joins up with the Via de la Plata in Merida. I normally let my photographs do the talking, but I wanted to give a brief description of what the trip was like.
This trip started leaving my house in the West of Ireland very early on the first of February 2016. I flew from Dublin to Malaga and then got a train from Malaga to Seville. In Seville I normally stay in the lovely Hostel Triana but unfortunately it was closed, so I stayed in the comfortable and lively La Banda rooftop Hostel. My flight out of Dublin was delayed by a few hours because of very strong winds so it was 5.30 pm before I got to my hostel. I did a bit of sightseeing around the Cathedral, went back to the Hostel for dinner, and then, against my better judgment went ‘out on the town’ with the gang from the hostel that were a fraction of my age! But nevertheless I was still ready to leave the hostel the following morning at 9 pm, and yet another Camino began.
February and March is a nice time to do the Via de la Plata. OK, you are taking a chance with the weather, but there will be few on the route. April this year turned out to be very busy and May is always a peak time. The summer months will be too hot for most people as temperatures will be in 30s Celsius and often climbing into the 40s, with many parts of the route not having any shade.
After day one, I met two very nice guys, one Spanish and one Norwegian. Over the next ten days, I walked with them at some stage of every day. I would still walk most of the day alone as this is what I like, especially as I take a lot of photographs. but we would arrange in the mornings where we would stop for the night, and we would all meet up in the albergue and usually have dinner together.
After Merida I was alone for a few days. Eventually I met a Spanish man and two French ladies and spent a little time with them, but I also did some long days and lost them. In the famous albergue run by Padre Don Blas in Fuenterroble de Salvaterria I met the Spanish man again and walked with him until Granja de Morreula, where the route splits. He then was taking the Sanabres route and I was going north to Astorga. This was to be my finishing point for this trip, but the Camino convinced me to change my mind. I booked another flight for later and decided I would go all the way to Santiago.
On the last section of the Via de la Plata after where it splits from the Sanabres and on to Astorga, I was alone. Not the most stunning part to look at, but I enjoyed it and the people were very friendly. I arrived in Astorga on Sunday February 28th. This was now the Camino Frances and there was about 25 people staying in the municipal albergue, a small number for the Frances but a huge number for me. So I went onward and stopped for the night in beautiful Foncebadon, which had snow. For me snow was great as I always wanted to photograph Camino snow. I walked the following day in snow, but that evening in Ponferrada it was 18 degrees Celsius . Unfortunately, from then on all the way to Santiago it was mainly cold rain. I arrived in Santiago on Wednesday 9th March, 37 days after leaving Seville. No blisters, no foot or leg problems, but definitely a sore throat and some sneezing – but it was winter after all.
Now as I have no aspirations of winning the Pulitzer Prize, it is time for me to stop writing and let the photographs take over. The photo above is sunrise over Guillena, at the start of my second day on this trek. Below are some of my favorites:
To see the full collection from this trip, I hope you’ll have a look at this section of my blog. Photos of the section I did on the Camino Frances are available here. I have also made a short seven minute YouTube video of the Via de la Plata which I hope you enjoy. Thanks to you all.”