Beginning the Via de la Plata from the start this time. Seville to Guillenna, 25 kms. 16.5.17
Jésus kindly dropped me off at a very early hour, still dark, to begin the Via de la Plata in the city of Seville, in deep southern Spain.
All the Spanish caminos have Santiago de Compostella as their final destination. I had completed the Camino Francés in late November 2016 and fancied continuing to walk, so started the VDLP (as it is known in the club!) from the end, in the direction of Seville where everyone else starts it. In fact it was very tricky to negotiate the signs and arrows going backwards, so I only did ten days or so and promised myself I would recommence from the beginning. And here I was, five months later!
‘He gathered these details as he walked, and he could not have gathered them had he not opened himself to the kinds of encounter and perception that travel on foot makes possible. Walking, Lee notes, refines awareness: it compels you to ‘tread’ a landscape ‘slowly’ to ‘smell its different soils.’ The car-passenger by contrast, ‘races at gutter height, seeing less than a dog in a ditch’. Lee, like Leigh Fermor, believed in walking not only as a means of motion but also as a means of knowing..’. taken from Robert Macfarlane’s introduction to ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ by Laurie Lee.
Like Laurie Lee, I had travelled across Spain, unlike him I had spent one day in fast cars (Zaragoza – Madrid – Seville), and so I resonated with the above quote. I was so very glad to have my feet back on the ground and be moving at what felt like my natural pace again.
And of course I got lost as usual, attempting to find my way away from the urbanisation. Seville is a beautiful place, but my heart lies in the rural landscape and I was keen to move on there. The birds, my constant companions, were wide awake. I trundled through wasteland searching for the yellow arrows – scouring the edges of benches, trunks of trees, discovering one wrapped around a lamp post, and another on a motorway bridge underpass.
My advice to fellow travellers: everyone knows the way, ask, and/or wait patiently for a sign.
Do not go too fast, look back so you get sights of the sprawl you are leaving behind.
Like many parts of all the caminos, the outskirts of cities and large towns are less than salubrious, but because I was so excited, and have been practicing appreciation of all that is around me, there is beauty if you look in the right way.
I was not really going that fast, but there were 3 Germans walking out at the same time as me, and they went ‘like the clappers’. I needed to keep up with them, so I thought, because they were so confident, but it was not my natural speed and there was not enough time to take focused photos. I have kept it in as a record of the route.
There were trees laden with oranges (no photos) lining the streets, and I kept on going straight.
I dashed into a cafe for a take-away croissant (no breakfast – very stupid – I never learn) and promptly lost the others. I panicked thinking I would never find the way on my own, so I ran to catch up. Ran! It is no fun with a backpack I can tell you.
The unmistakeable sound of a peacock heralded my arrival in Santiponce, 7km from Seville, after two hours. One of the richest artistic and cultural heritages in Andalusia, it is sited on the banks of the River Gualdaquivir, which suffered several floods. One caused its surviving inhabitants to take refuge in the monastery (see below), which then granted the highest land for the safe re-building of the town as it is now.
There were more orange trees and the sun was trying its hardest. I have to say that after yesterday’s scorcher, I was rather glad that it was not as hot, given it was my first day back on the road with the rucksack and all.
I took a detour to see the Roman Theatre but it was shut, only open in the summer (I guess May is not the summer) for performances. The nearby Tourist Information was very helpful though, and it had lovely clean toilets.
The Anfiteatro de Italica opens at 9am and one of my favourite blog writers recommended seeing it (see end of page), so I sat and ate an orange, listened to the birds, and rested my back until I could get in.
There were gardeners planting and tending red roses, just like characters from Alice in Wonderland. But it was hard to rest and enjoy when I knew there were miles to go. So I rejoined the Way and the flora and fauna.
An hour from Santiponce and it was starting to get hot. The smell of a jam factory meant I was headed back into an industrial area, and a massive motorway junction followed.
After a little while I was rewarded with beautiful wild flowers – azure cornflowers, cow parsley like big white iced buns with a beetle instead of a cherry on top, silver grey thistles, reeds, irregularly shaped fields of wheat – green and pale yellow – as well as pylons and traffic sounds competing with the birds.
The path was stony and my feet were getting sore.
The plants were undulating in the welcome breeze.
Piles of ants descended on scraps. Their diagonal queues dissected the path and I tried to avoid them. Birds played together in the breeze.
More flowers: Bindweed and borage. I was totally alone. There were no words except the occasional ‘buen camino’ to and from cyclists flying past, shoulders up to their ears. Now I was able to breathe in time with my walking steps, to notice a butterfly I hadn’t seen before – pale green with a splash of yellow and just a few black dots like Kandinsky, beautifully blended with the flower colours. I saw a dragonfly. I felt happy.
‘Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart’. Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit p.5.
It was a lesson in endurance. When you are tired, you look into the distance and never believe you will ever get there, but you do. And it is joyous, my arrival into Guilenna.
There was quite a way before I really arrived. White houses with terracotta roofs greeted me at the end of the very dusty road. It turns out I should have gone over the bridge, not round by the river. I should have known when I found myself climbing over fences! The yellow arrows were once again hard to see.
Here was the prettiest church ever seen.
The first hostel was shut and I had to ask many women before I finally arrived at Hostel La Luz at 12.15 and it was 25 degrees by that time. The lady at reception was lovely – friendly, and informative. I was the first to arrive and had a dorm to myself next to the small courtyard, on the ground floor. The facilities were basic but fine for me, I had everything I needed.
I had decided to send things back to the UK (no use for my swimming things, or so I thought) to lighten my load. The post office was so, so slow – I sat and waited, watched and listened to the excitable Spanish conversations, and eventually it was my turn. It was a simple thing to do, not very expensive, and I sent some post cards as well. I rested and then had to go out again for food – what a very long main road it was in the 28 degree heat at 5pm! Or in fact 35 degrees depending where you looked (phone or electronic sign in the town).
I went to the start of Mass in the evening. Inside, it was highly elaborate as you would expect of a Spanish Catholic church, although there was a simple wooden roof: one part with stars, and the other vaulted, made of stone and painted pale yellow. There was a very life-like, full-sized Virgin wearing a real black velvet dress embossed in gold with a fantastic silver tiara and beautiful lace scarf and collar. The women were all in attendance, one with the sound turned up on her mobile, tap tapping in response to the message which sounded very loud reverberating around the nave.
The little girl who entered in her gold shoes and bracelets had a carrier bag with a pink ball in it. She put her finger to her lips for a loud shush to grandma and great grandma. Extended families wore their everyday clothes. The deeply tanned young men in white t-shirts ranged around looking at the iconography. I was at the back and attracted attention, presumably because I was not local. It was very much of a social gathering before the service.
Later I enjoyed my own brand of spirituality – t’ai chi on the terrace in the evening sun with the village rooves on two sides, the countryside I had just walked through on a third, and the place I will walk into on the fourth. I gave thanks for the whole situation.
Another blog about the VDLP
Laurie Lee, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust