Monday, October 5, 2009

Via Triana vs. A-12

Much of the Camino follows the Roman Via Triana, which ran from Bordeaux in France to the Iberian gold mines west of Leon, near what is today Astorga. Since the Romans were no rookies in laying out roads, many of today's roads follow the same route. One of the reasons for the somewhat contrived twists and turns of the Camino is the desire to avoid simply running alongside modern roads (a literalist recreation of the Camino would, indeed, follow modern median stripes).

Impressively, portions of the Via Triana remain today after two thousand years of Roman merchants, medieval pilgrims, and modern walkers. The first picture above was taken just west of the hilltop town of Cirauqui (literally, "nest of vipers" in Basque, whether because the rocky hill was likely to be infested with snake -- or bandits). The second picture was taken without moving my feet, merely turning 180 degrees around. One wonders the likelihood that the spanking new A-12 Autopista will still be in such good condition in two thousand years.

The Via Triana would probably still be there, were it not for the efforts of local communities to "improve" the Camino. Roman roads have in some places been replaced by concrete strips, supposedly less slippery in times of heavy rain. Very possibly true, but certainly something that seems imporant is being lost in the process. The picture at right was taken a few miles west of the first picture above. The concrete strip seems distintly less poetic than the Via Triana. It's also no prize for pilgrims. Less slippery perhaps, but concrete is, of course, instant shin splints.
Overall, today was a 13 mile tag match with the Autopista and, where it is not yet complete, the older National Road N-111. Having lost our beech forests, and then our ash trees, the Camino is now tracking across flat and rolling fields -- many plowed for the winter, some with yellowed corn stalks, occasionally tall asparagus plants (no, I don't understand the business model for three-foot tall, woody asparagus plants). More happily, we're entering the wine region, so there are grapes to pilfer that are indeed quite tasty. (I assume that I'm only eating out of the 30 percent of the grape harvest that is unavoidably lost to droppage, etc. One of the rewards of traveling surrounded by pilgrims is the opportunity to have very serious discussions of the morality of grape-napping). There are also now olive orchards, heavy with olives, that some pilgrims race to, in order to sample the delicacy of a fresh olive. I haven't told any of them what a really bad, mouth-puckering experience it is to bite into an uncured olive.