Via de la Plata camino walk, Spain. Guillenna to Castilblanco de los Arroyos. 18 kms. 38 degrees heat on arrival.
There was a crescent moon high over Guillena as I left in the cool air at 6.15am. There were already birds singing and the cats were skittering around the deserted village, scouting the bins and very nervous of me. There was that Spanish smell: a mix of plants, food, perhaps even the building materials – very hard to describe. The cock was heralding the dawn of my next stage. As I walked I felt really happy, happier and happier, and the kittens did their tree climbing practice while their mum looked on.
If I had walked past here, extending the kilometers covered as the Germans did yesterday to the next town, I would have missed this. As it was I was refreshed and ready for the journey. I realised that I was only wearing a T shirt and the temperature was very pleasant. Only a few clouds bordered the horizon.
I traversed the River de Huelva, bats flying around me, and ah! I remembered that I had left my food in the hostel fridge again. I hoped it would be enjoyed by others.
My camera could not see the sunrise the way my eyes could. I rehearsed the description in my mind so I could try and conjure it up later: the colours – red and blue at the top, a stippled layer of dark purple underneath pale yellow, under pink – not like anything reproduced in fabric or paint. All this above a silhouetted horizon of palm trees, like pineapples on sticks. The top edges of ordinary farm or industrial buildings stretched right across my vision, pulling my gaze towards the destination away from the hedgerow. That sillouette got stronger and stronger as I walked the long stretch of road, and as always on the outskirts of towns, there were very few arrows as guidance.
And then it lightened.
I came to an industrial area by the main road intersection. My mind was generally quiet except for the mini-panics over finding the way. Passing a blue, white and yellow warehouse there was a lot of rubbish littering the deserted tarmac and there was an air of danger. I am not religious, but I felt as if the cross which hung around my neck given to me by Pedro the night before I left was protecting me. Perhaps his wish for me to have a safe journey was imbued in it.
I was prepared for difficulties because there was no translation of the website when I planned my route the night before. After an hour I came to farm land, crossed a dry river bed, and there were the wonders of nature laid out before me.
My Shiatsu and its theory is always with me and I muse: I guess all of us who love to walk, feet on the ground, have to be balancing our Earth element. It then follows that worry which is associated with that element can be a normal thing for us, and the walking helps with it. I spotted a rabbit and bees were collecting. My thoughts are interrupted by what surrounded me.
Soft grasses stroked my arm. The warming sun released the smells which changed from a damper, cool, morning green smell, to an earthier, warmer, sweet brown smell, and then to the searing fiery red emanating from the soil which has absorbed so much sun over so long. The track stretched straight into the distance and now I could see that there was a single pilgrim ahead of me and 3 Italians behind. I had spoken to one the night before as we both had some French. There was a Spaniard with a stout stick and an Alsatian dog coming in the opposite direction.
I stepped carefully, picking my way across the stony, pinky-brown earth with olive groves on one side, and crops on the other. Each had a narrow strip of flowers and grasses where the pesticide had not killed them.
I kept asking myself why I walk. Maybe to prove myself to myself, to learn to be with myself without judgment, so I can do that with others. The quieter I am, the more accurately I hear, and then I know things before they happen. When I am attentive, things come into my mind before they take place outside and so I am not surprised by them when they happen. I am pleased with this. It releases some of the anxiety, but it is still new and unfamiliar. I believe that this sixth sense is one of the things babies have but then lose, getting replaced with fear. I am trying to unlearn the fear.
‘A walk was her answer to everything. It was her way of saying she did not want to talk.’ p. 190 The Words In My Hand, Guinevere Glasfurd
I heard amazing bird song: some songs are simple – one or two notes; others start with one, but complete with a different rhythm altogether. They repeat, as if they were giving me lots of chances to understand what they were ‘saying’.
Ahead was a wonderful sight – a tiny castle in the distance amongst a huge field of sunflowers.
As I walk memories surface, triggered perhaps by things I see or other thoughts. Today I was thinking a lot about my mum and I when we were in Menorca many years ago. Maybe she was thinking about that too.
I had entered the Natural Park which signaled the start of the Sierra Norte and the Cortijo del Chaparral with its terracotta-coloured earth pathways. It was still flat and I was heading in the direction of Castilblanco de los Arroyos.
Glimpses of last night’s dreams floated frustratingly in and out of consciousness. I reflected that part of this happiness was knowing that I had set off at good hour so that if anything went wrong there was time to put it right.
After more thoughts and observations I returned to the walking, my breath, and the feeling of my feet and core. I called ‘hola’ (hello) to hard working farmers as I walked. I must have been losing fluids because I was regularly tightening my rucksack straps. (It must fit me snugly to avoid back and shoulder ache.)
A group of men who were working hard in the fields, miles from each other but still managing to converse, did not notice me passing until I was past. Then they unfolded, absent-mindedly standing, curious. Someone was hand-pruning a peach orchard. Here were pregnant long-horned cows and rabbits in among the olives, and I heard a new bird call: a hoot coming in 2s and 3s that was being responded to in kind from sonewhere else.
One bird screeched, its long tail beating up and down. It was collecting from the ground and doing a sort of bouncy hopping from 2 feet to 2 feet, right alongside the rabbits, taking scraps to the excited babies in its nest. One bird daringly swooped in festoons from tree to tree, brushing past my head. There was lavender, rosemary and sharp cistus bushes, with sage too, and later a pungent fragrance like-sweet peas.
It was rocky with lots of yellow arrows. My advice if you are walking this way: if you have not seen a sign in the last 5 minutes, retrace your steps.
I was tempted by the sounds of fellow travellers and immediately took a wrong turn. One turned out to be the first Brit I had come across, a cyclist with good advice. He ‘buen camino-ed’ me from a distance later, unsure for some reason whether I spoke in English, and that little exchange changed my energy. I saw him again, once in a village as he was looking for a post office to send back his guitar. He said it seemed to be a good idea at the time, but actually it was a nuisance on the bike and unused.
The ants hurried along in opposite directions. There was a buzz of pylons as I passed underneath that sent my brain fizzing. I was so glad that I did not walk this part yesterday in what was a 38 degrees heat at the end of a 35 km day!
The solo peregrino who I thought was behind me passed as I sat quietly on a rock and ate my pear.
To avoid the curled-forwards posture of the everyday backpackers I saw around me I was using Bill Palmer’s concept of buoyant / full organs to keep my solar plexus open.
There were butterflies galore, some almost black.
I thought as I walked: our words live on inside others, so it is important to take care with them, to take responsibility for what we say.
I make the least imprint on the earth I think, walking like this, compared with bikes, cars, trains and planes, and I hope I give lots back in return for the joy I am getting.
In case you get lost after leaving the park, you turn left into the road, cross over and there is a path through the undergrowth on the other side. It has to be eyes down for the arrows.
Walking the Caminos alone is good for people who usually try to behave correctly in life, as it is often the first time they can please themselves.
If it is early when you arrive in Castilblanco (11.30am), do as others do and and sit outside the first bar you come to because the albergue doesn’t opens until 1pm.
I went for some food and it was quite a performance. The English version of the menu did not have the same meals as the Spanish version did. The bar owner explained that the reason they did not have the fried anchovies was because it was not on the Spanish side! I said ‘sin carne / no meat’ (ah, yes, I remembered the way this went!), and the first thing ge brought (when I ordered chickpea salad) was meat stew. I reminded him that I did not eat meat, and he said, ‘what, not chorizo?’ and so he offered spinach salad. After a long time he reappeared with a delicious spinach and chickpea curry and fried bread. I definitely did not say, ‘but you said there was no spinach’and it all went beautifully with the red wine.
The ‘pilgrim’s menu’, much later in the evening was 8€. The calamares (squid) came the way I expected it to. That was one reason why I asked for it. I thought it would be simpler. Why do I insist on speaking in Spanish when he has some English and my Spanish is so limited?
The hospitalier at the albergue / hostel was charming It doubles up as a day centre for people with disabilities and there is space at the front to sit and watch the world go by. The dorms are upstairs and follow the usual format – everything is provided for the washing of self and clothes, for sleeping and preparing food, and it was spic and span.
In 3 hrs my washing was dry, even the thick things and by then the roof terrace tiles were too hot to walk on. It was decorated and full of others congenially chatting in multiple languages.
The light went out at 9pm and the snoring began.
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