19.5.17 day 4 Almaden de la Plata, through El Real, to Monesterio, on the Via de la Plata Spanish Camino. 35kms – crazy!
The Christmas lights were on in Almaden as I left the town after an over-confident decision to make a double day’s walking. It had actually been cold in the night and was cooler than normal as I walked out this morning. I wondered if it was because of the altitude.
So, in my last blog I noted that the east-west route for today was clear from the top of the hill, and I knew which side of me the sun should be. But, I was distracted by the goats and made a major mistake, the worst I have ever made in terms of time spent going in the wrong direction. I did not take the option on the left. If it is dark, fellow walkers, be careful! Note to self: I have to be extra watchful in mornings.
I had wanted to get a head-start: uncomfortably my competitve streak seemed to be coming out. I knew I was walking towards the rising sun, and that I should be going east to west, but I also thought I was right. However, just look! the mist was coming off the glassy water just as if it was an Enid Blyton magical pool.
Having reset my course, I continued on through this area of outstanding natural beauty, heading towards the Sierra Norte. There were sheep bells tinkling all around me (idyllic, I know), and I saw one of those huge black and white birds standing as still as if it was waiting until it understood what the world was all about.
I realise, however, that when you walk alone, you get the autonomy but no support.
The same birds as yesterday were ‘boh boh’, answering each other across the path in the early morning sunshine.
Walking, for me, is all about doing the work of sorting things out. The same themes of loneliness and relationships were on my mind this morning.
Yes, I knew I should have been heading , in that direction, but the little voice inside my head had to get very loud before I stopped and retraced my steps. It is something I have always hated doing, going back on myself. Is it because of the time and energy lost or what?
There were a whole lot more animals here than I had seen on the rest of the journey put together. Curly horned goats were eating voraciously, and pigs, sheep, chickens and even one lone peregrino.
Not that I was giving myself a hard time, but I do belive that it was a matter of the tortoise and the hare: I had been impetuous and mind-less, and, interestingly, it happened on a day when I had decided to do twice as many kilometers.
Anyway, I was going slowly, and without a doubt the smell had changed as the sun warmed the world up. There was more to sniff overall, less subtle, and, well, the beasts were ….pungent.
The rich, deep orange, red, and brown soil was so hard and so full of rocks, the drought had made great cleaves in it.
Time: there is simply getting through it, and just managing it. And then there is racing. This walk is supposed to be about sampling every moment and being in the world, being in place, so to speak, so that I can see what is around me in glorious technicolor. That is what I have given myself the opportunity to do.
Then from stage left, out of the scrub, comes the first solo peregrina, a woman also walking on her own. I nod hello and get no response so I leave her to herself.
Immediately I came across a huge flock of goats, tucked against the fence and around the gate, and guarded by one, no, two dogs. All was peaceful munching, dozing, and baa-ing. I moved through the throng, and was about to do the right thing and close the gate, when I picked up a change in energy and heard the goats starting to bleat, and then I saw that the dogs were on their feet. I looked and the female walker behind me was obviously scared. Her fear was transmitting to the animals – she was frozen.
I went back and accompanied her out and tried various languages to communicate, but she seemed to speak none of them, so I left her to her own pace and went on.
I reflect that this walking lark is a test of how I cope with thinking on my feet, how I deal with obstacles such as metal gates, goats or water blocking the way.
Pools of unfathomable beauty were reflective and languid. They made me want to stop and sit for ever.
In the middle of the park was the village of El Real, at 11am. It was a short stage of 15.5 kilometers, but tricky, especially if you get lost, are older, or have blisters.
But I did stop for a green tea (some of you will not be surprised), and some of my pack lunch, and the group of Italians I had originally been ahead of, and who obviously did not get lost, were there too.
The little village had a good array of shops, and I was able to buy bread and a few other things I needed. All in all, it was a necessary and welcome hiatus.
Then I was off again, up the steep hill and back into open country. There was a little queue of us, well spread out, and it was already very hot.
It was a long arduous climb, one that would have been at the beginning of the day rather than the hot middle, if I had slept at that place. Yesterday there was a short but very steep one and I was aware of my breathing as I climbed. Today it went on longer and I could feel my heart beating too.
I see the Buddha all around me sitting under trees as he was reputed to do.
The buzzing of a spaghetti junction of pylons as I walked under it helped raise my Ki at GV20, but if it happened for too long, I reckoned, the Yin would turn to Yang.
Then a different type of buzzing: frogs which I was told was grenouille by a French man imparting knowledge as he happened to pass by. He was going so fast he would not have noticed if I had not stopped him and his wife to delightedly point the noise out. I had been sitting silently having my snack and listening to their songs.
On through the Sierra Norte I walked, finding it hard without a guidebook to help me on my way. Looking down, I realised that, in this part of the world, even ants have shadows. I thought I would make that the name of my travel book if I ever write one. What do you think?
I move through a landscape of trees, wild flowers, and a mountain herd of cows, all a rich brown with horns and swishing tails. There were calves and two men on horseback herding them through. Seemed a peculiarly Spanish scene.
There was bullfighting on the tv in the cafe where I sat the night before last. In front of dignitaries, the waistcoats of the matadors were splendid, and their magenta swathes of cloaks were no doubt admired as swash-buckling, but I had to leave: it was devastating to watch.
I gave thanks for the wind.
I passed the man who ate tinned peas and carrots for tea and tinned fruit salad for breakfast as he sat by the roadside contemplating an empty can. I thought how it must be so heavy to carry them all.
Kilometer after kilometer I trek, the yellow fragrant broom-type plant making my path fragrant.
After the lovely Sierras the air is full of industrial noise, an acrid smell in my nose, and what with the searing heat and dust, and the fact that the Extremadura Road sign tells me I have a further 10kms to go, I am somewhat down-hearted.
How much better than the motorway, though still I have to admit it is really hard going.
There are little signposted paths, but you must look hard for some of them and there are almost dangerous parts, presumably to avoid the motorway. It was so very hot by now, and I took frequent tiny breaks. I think one of them was where I left my water bottle 😦
Why did I choose to do this long etape? I inevitably ask myself.
And then, at last, I was at the first roundabout of what turned out to be a largeish town: Monesterio. That is something worth noting: if you do not have a book, nor able to use the internet, you do not know whence you are heading, and it is therefore always a surprise – in my case always a good one!
Once again, there was a long walk to the municipal albergue, an ex-convent, and it was not at all straightforward. Up half of the cowboy-film-style main street I went – the sign directed me to the left – and through the small streets I wound, asking people if I saw any, although it was all but deserted at this hour, tracing and retracing my steps until I arrived.
The lone Italian woman was next door, we shared a bathroom, which flooded at the easiest opportunity, and she was not happy with any of it.
There was a large courtyard out the back, I really mean huge, which as far as I could tell belonged to another building. At the top of a tower which I could see from my bedroom, there was a gigantic nest, but there were no birds visible.
Do you know what? In the kitchen there was a machine which dispensed tea bags. Never seen anything like it. It even had green tea!
I had a peaceful, if humid, night.