Grimaldo to Galisteo, Via de la Plata.

Day 8. March 2018.

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I am walking from Mérida to Ourense along the so-called Silver Way, the Via de la Plata Camino.

I have not been able to meditate recently because the bunk above me is too low and the floor too hard and cold. However I did do my tai chi in the night which, though painful for my foot, was beneficial overall.

Once again there was a community sense of pilgrims all looking out for each other.

Halfway through yesterday evening the temperature had changed and the wind got up, heralding, we were told, the rain.

But, beautiful was the word of the day; the one I kept coming back to as I walked through the gorgeous scenery.

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It was a cold morning, frost on the ground. I had my trouser bottoms on!

Then an hour later they came off and it was bare calves for the rest of the day. Not bad for March.

The mountains were beauti…. No, they were amazing, in the early morning. Everything was on the rise, spring in the air. All was lush and abundant and I could not stop taking photos.

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After leaving the small town of Grimaldo I walked past private houses with swimming pools, then took a left off the road.

It was a beautiful camino: through fields and grass; winding between trees; very wet underfoot, but the sun was throwing slanted rays and the birds were tweeting away ‘fit to burst’.

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There were thin films of spiders’ webs on the ground. I attempted to answer messages as I walked.

I was inching my way to Santiago. There was a road at a distance to the right,  between me and the mountains, but I was in the countryside on the uneven ground. I felt full of love.

I only managed to snatch a quick pee if there seemed to be enough polite space between the others and me. There was that cuckoo again.

And.. what.. security cameras? Yes I think so. Standing tall in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps to catch poachers.

Up and down I walked and all the downs were very boggy. There was snow on the mountains again, in front of me. In fact, there were hills or mountains on every side.

I picked my way between cow pats and acorns; grand and tiny stones; negotiated a series of big gates.

Today’s flower: a very small, yellow,  slightly ridged cone (like a tiny daffodil trumpet), very often a singleton but sometimes in twos or more; with a fine, sparse ruff of lemon-yellow, and a long stamen.

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At the barrage were herons fishing, and there were deep pools alive with toads.

I arrived in the town of Galisteo quite early. What a sight! A former Almohad fortress, the walls envelope the inner streets and dwellings  with medieval features and a simple but entrancing church, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.

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Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, Galisteo.

The albergue was shut and so I gave someone with terrible pain some Shiatsu in the outer bar of Los Emigrantes, kneeling amongst the cigarette ash.

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The municipal albergue, Galisteo, Extremadura, Spain. It was full by 5pm.
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Steps up to the battlements of the Mozarabic walls of Galisteo. Detail.
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Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), Galisteo.

Afterwards, the hostel was full as were the rooms at the bar. Luckily the man was very happy with his treatment telling people excitedly in Spanish how it felt, so there was a general movement to find me a room. This resulted in a beautiful twin room alone, with crisply ironed sheets and bleached white towels in a quiet pension just up the road. It was the same price as the municipal – 15 euros – including breakfast. It was lovely to have peace and space after many nights in communal accommodation.

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Pension El Parador, Galisteo. Comes highly recommended.

Thanks so much to all my readers who send me corrections or answers to my queries, and who share their Spanish memories (especially of the Santa Semana processions which are currently happening across the country). I do look for the correct details before posting, but it is hard to identify flowers, trees or birds sometimes.

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View of the camino from the walls of Galisteo.

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Embalse de Alcántara to Grimaldo, Via de la Plata.

Day 7 – 19 kms. 8.30am start, 12 midday stop-off for nearly an hour, arriving at 3.45pm.

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Today I walked with Marie Noelle from the Vendée, France. I am beginning to dream in French!
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Luckily we left the bus road behind early in the morning.
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Mountains and the village of Cañaveral ahead where we stopped for morning coffee and to air our feet
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It was hot and sunny all day, and we walked between drystone walls.
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We passed this on the way out of the town, going steeply uphill. I love the ‘noble’ part.
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Sometimes we could see the Camino sign but could not get across the barrier.
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The path winding through the vegetation to our destination, Grimaldo. What views!
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Idyllic streams tumbling through the landscape.
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A white Chapel with idiosyncratic orange-tiled roof typical of the Extremadura region. We went slightly off course here, mistaking the gentleman’s shouts to redirect us for a cow giving birth! (true)
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The camino in this region passes through Holm Oak woods and the March sunshine delights, lighting up one of the many pools. There were tadpoles in one of them.
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Wild flower meadows and what might be the Sierra Nevada.
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Not in order: this is the wonderful Embalse de Alcántara which we left at 8am. The very early morning light turned the still water pink, which I have never seen before and did not get on camera. This was a little later as we climbed up behind the hostel and away.
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Ghostly grasses surrounding this natural pool.
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Much of the area is fenced off to stop hunting.
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The first time I had seen pine trees since leaving Mérida a week ago.
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Bleached but soft stone colours acting as a lovely backdrop for the flowers – new species appear every day. Today’s were bluebells. 
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A hump-backed Roman bridge.

The albergue at Grimaldo was easy to find by following the yellow arrows – 1km from the camino. It was full by the evening – one toilet between 15 of us – causing queues evening and morning. It is Donativo ie you pay what you want or think it is worth. Clean and with a small kitchen with fridge and microwave, there is no stamp on my credential. The two cafés were opposite and next door – both, as ever, run by friendly and helpful people and serving good food and wine. The one next door opened at 8am for breakfast for us because we guaranteed 10 plus people.

Casar de Cáceres to Embalse de Alcántara, Via de la Plata.

Day 6 of my Via de la Plata Camino (Mérida northwards).

Casar de Cáceres to Embalse de Alcántara (27th March 218) approx. 22 kms.

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Sunrise outside Casar de Cáceres, Spain.

At 8am the incredibly loud bell in the square sounded and I left the hostel, two other women at short stages in front of me.

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It was a clear run out of town and I really took my time, stopping even more often than yesterday, sometimes for five minutes, once for a snooze, three times for snacks.

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These notices are all over the country: hunting social preserve (Google translate).

Immediately the temperature was warmer and by the last (hardest) stage on the hard shoulder or lane of the A road for 1.5 hours, the heat was truly coming up from the tarmac. Luckily all the time I was in view of the stunning embalse (reservoir) so I knew that I would eventually find myself by the water.

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I had a lovely little sleep here for 10 minutes.

One couple walked together but everyone else, though friendly at the hostels, walked alone which suited me very well.

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There are new calves with soft faces everywhere.

Quite a group has formed: the French speaker whose wife suddenly left him and who says he does not know why, their planned future in tatters; 3 other single women in their late 30s: an American living in Madrid, teaching English; a German who is more private; and someone from south east London whose long term partner just left her at a time when her possibility to have a baby is dwindling; a Dutch couple and a German man of my age – the latter telling me about co-operative learning and the former who made a cycle tour of Scotland last year and were bemused by our dance, strip the willow!

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The signs for the final rocky path were very poor, although the GR113 red/brown signposts were efficient. Follow them in the direction of Cañaveral. Once faced with the road, take a right and stay on the path as long as you can.

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Fragrant, white broom.

I did not realise the road part would last so long I stopped just off it to snack. Very soon afterwards I spotted a man looking at the gorgeous view by his car. He turned and spoke to me but I did not understand so he turned and showed me, shockingly, what he was up to, coercing me to come and join him. I had heard of these exhibitionists but never seen one. I shouted no, and a few other things and continued to walk on the hard shoulder, never changing my speed. Then I started to think about telling the police, remembering the Alert Corps app I had downloaded on my phone. It was then that I realised I had left the phone where I stopped, meaning I would have to go back past him to get it. When I turned around though I saw the Dutch couple who asked me if I was ok. They reassured me he had gone and watched out for me the rest of the way, which was great.

I did try to report the incident later because I would have hated another solo female to have to witness the same, although I was not in any direct danger, but the hospitalero said he phoned and the police were all busy and I should report it when I stop in a larger place. This did not sound the same as the promises the Guardia Civil are currently giving to protect trekkers.

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The first hawthorn bush.

It was not long before I arrived, foot-sore, at the private hostel on the edge of the stunning Lake Tajo.

The owner worked really hard booking us in, serving us drinks and food, and washing our clothes. He said it saves water because even though he is by the magnificent lake he cannot use it and must get his from behind the hill from the well and when it runs out he has to close, earning himself the reputation of being unreliable.

We dined altogether on ensalada (salad with tuna and olives); bacalao (smoked cod), and .. flan! With wine – 13 euros.

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New born lambs on wobbly legs, too.

There are spacious rooms. When I was awake at night I had snorers on either side, both young women: one squeaked; the other thrummed. And then there was also the sonorous person through the wall!

As well, there were people hobbling back and forth to the lav; the green flashes of the smoke detector; and the three-quarters moon shining in through the high windows. I was not sure if it was wolves or dogs baying.

The albergue at Cáceres was 15 euros (no extras), at Casar de Cáceres 5 euros (free washing machine and drier), and here 15 euros (as above). You can see that the prices of the hostels varies widely. The menu del día (usually 3 courses with wine) ranges from 8 to 12 euros.

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Sunset Embalse de Alcántara, Extremadura, Spain.

Cáceres to Casar de Cáceres

Cáceres to Casar de Cáceres (26th March 2018), maybe 18 kms taking me 4 hours plus.

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Today I did my morning meditation in a different position because I cannot sit cross legged in my sleeping bag.

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Bullring, Cáceres, Spain.

Walking out of Cáceres was smooth and I was impressed once again by the enormity and variety of the geology: the giant verticality of colour and strata exposed by road building.

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The roadside plants continue to be mainly rosemary and thyme but now with pink vetch. The Camino crosses main routes again and takes me along the highway. It is frustrating because I can see a beautiful path in the fields to my left but cannot get across the fences to it.

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A handy seat made of beautiful local stone.

There was a brief conversation with a fellow pilgrim along familiar lines –  nationality, where walking from and to – this time with an older Belgian man who is wearing a hat with sun flaps over both ears.

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The sun was shining brightly but it was cold on my head. I reflect that if you are going to do this walking lark, you must be prepared for some hardship. Having enough money for hotels and being fit definitely helps.

Because of my foot pain, I was already sitting in the sun to rest by at 11.05 after only 25 minutes, but I knew that this must happen if I am to manage to enjoy myself at all. I realised there were snow-covered mountains to my right and was awed by their beauty.

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Snow capped Sierra mountains in the distance.

Once again I thought ‘that must be the camino over there, but how do I get onto it?’

The lovely Spanish cyclist and his German friend sped past waving a smiley buen camino to me.

Then I saw a gap, took off my rucksack and rolled under a fence, thinking perhaps I had just missed the turning to the path but no, I had to go back through a farm gate shortly afterwards and continue on the ‘hard shoulder’ which was very tiresome. In the process I put my hand on thistles and still have one spine in the tip of my thumb two days later. Maybe that will teach me!

There was a very nice sun and the remains of yesterday’s wind on my going-bald patch at the front of my head. Bravely I took off the bottoms of my trousers making shorts.

I spotted the new fennel leaves at the base of the old dry stalks and remembered how they were almost past seeding when I finished my first camino in November 2016 in Santiago de Compostella.

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It was a long way beside that motorway. But my advice to others who might walk behind me is to wait, the off-road path eventually comes.

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One of the many crossings – this one with stones provided to keep our feet dry.

There were still some of the dark brown and orange hairy caterpillars: one or two wibbling along over the gravel and some others fairly hurtling amongst the sheep droppings as if they were late for work. However there were nothing like the numbers of two days ago.

Other trekkers passed me occasionally and we fell into step for a while and shared pleasantries. I am trained to see the visual signs of the head-colds or tiredness, the dry lips, the excema under the nostrils, and do not ask questions.

Around me are small brown birds singing their little hearts out. I started thinking about this strange phrase – perhaps it is their puffed out wee chests and the high urgency of the pitch which has prompted it?

Now I was going uphill and was aware of my blister and that was only a tiny climb! I found myself saying blessings  for dead animals by the roadside, and I finished planning my workshop for the end of April: the ideas popping into my mind unbidden.

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It was very pleasant walking like that, with lots of tiny stops and the time to remember.

I came across a father and son, shepherds bringing up the rear with sturdy sticks but no dog. Overhead are three raptors and almost around my head are swallows flitting and flirting.

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A flock of sheep to make my way through.

Once again I reflect that we walkers go so quietly that we come upon these creatures, or they on us, unexpectedly.

Oh those snowy mountains: simply majestic.

Finally I come into Casar de Cáceres and note the many expensive cars. It is presumably a commuter town for Cáceres itself. There are many helpful people including a woman who I had exchanged a few Spanish words with earlier and who later spotted me looking puzzled. She abandoned the wheelchair she was steering, grasped my arm and took me to the corner of the correct street.

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The entrance to Casar de Cáceres – rainbow-coloured hearts and a huge yellow arrow: sign of the camino Via de la Plata.

It was long walk into town where I registered at the bar and then, having walked on far too far, retraced my steps to the nice albergue on the first floor in the corner of Plaza España. I arrived at 1.45.

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The albergue entrance in the corner of the square.

The evening consisted of sitting in the sun with my cups of tea and chatting to the others; a beer in the cafe and very interesting conversation with a German teacher about co-operative learning; shopping (including a plastic mug for 39 céntimos), cooking a meal for myself and some others; giving what I call kitchen- Shiatsu (ie on the spot, me kneeling on the kitchen floor); and later, thoroughly enjoying the wine.

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Beautiful Spanish architecture.

There was no WiFi, the shower flooded onto the floor, I did not enjoy my night-time visit to the toilet where someone had aimed and missed 😦 but it was great to have a kitchen with some utensils, and a free washer and dryer – all unbelievably, for 5 euros.

Aldea de Cano to Cáceres, Spain.

Aldea de Cano to Cáceres – March 25 2018. (Day 4 of this part of my Via de la Plata camino).

The hostel at Aldea de Cano had a very good kitchen and nice table for sharing food, but there was a great deal of noise from the bar on the other side of the albergue wall. I arrived very early in the rain, and spent most of the rest of the day in the cafe which had everything I needed – wifi, good food and drink – some of the time alone but mostly with others with whom I was by now quite friendly, having met them at various stops along the way over the past few days.

The hour changed so we had some extra sleep after our shared meal in the cafe (something for starter, hake with chips and a little salad, flan (sort of crème caramel) with what my kids called squidgy cream (from a spray can) and red wine for approx. 11 euros).

I had nightmares all night, a traditional anxiety one with a dog I had left at home when I went away without arranging who would feed it rather than a baby; in the other there was a flood and I was drowning. So, I was awake early and had room and found a mat for some yoga: it was good to stretch my BL meridian in the backs of my legs after the walking.

Marie Noelle and I began together. The others took a taxi: two half way and one right to the end.

It was a traipse on stony paths for the whole day with either red, orange and white quartz or dark blue /grey slate. To begin with there was some rain so we started later, visiting the bar next door for toast and coffee while the worst passed. The previous night’s torrential rain had caused the terrain to be even wetter and it was necessary to dodge huge puddles, bogs and small lake; or just wade through them.

There were cranes everywhere in the fields and on their nests, their long orange beaks and beady eyes clearly visible from the ground.

MN was a postnatal nurse for 37 years before she retired so we talked mother’s and babies: she told me how important it was to reassure the new mums and I agreed that this was a large part of my baby Shiatsu work too.

At 12 midday we arrived at Valdesalor where we found a nice bar in Cristóbal Colon.

The second half of the day was terrible. Every step was increasingly painful – a small joint in my right foot and a blister on my left. I tried to keep going, MN striding off ahead of me, but in the end I had to give in and stop constantly, stumbling on in the worst walk I have had, walking so slowly by the end that I might as well have stood still. It took me ages, and I was extremely downhearted when I realised how much of the town I must traverse before reaching the hostel. Luckily I was met with such sweetness from Benito and Andrea that it bought tears to my eyes, and I was happily put in a double room with MN.

After a hot shower and clothes washing, a beer (which exploded all over the floor of the entrance hall and which I therefore had to mop up), and a rest, I had recovered sufficiently to make a small tour of the town. What a very beautiful place! In the soft golden evening light, the ancient walls and arches, looked just gorgeous. I would highly recommend that you visit here if you enjoy old monuments and impressive architecture.

In Cáceres the Semana Santa was well underway, with processions through the narrow streets and in the main Plaza Mayor. The second one we observed at very close quarters. There were lines of men and women carrying the platforms which weigh up to half a tonne. They shoulder the wooden shafts with expressions of distress and frowns – it is unclear if they are in pain or suffering with Christ. We were told that they pay 300 euro for the privilege of carrying it for half hour. It is gold with red carnations and there are statues of Jesus, the Pope and other biblical characters. This platform is preceded by children and adults in purple robes with hoods over their faces which have small holes for the eyes. Many have tall pointed witches hats on too – black Klu Klu Clan-type head wear.

Afterwards come the well-schooled brass bands in their black, red and gold uniforms – both sexes play.

For some it was clearly a social occasion, for others religious and very serious. Throughout there is a basic 2/2 rhythm emphasised in a macabre way by the rhythmic clanking of the metal staffs, and it was this which held the greatest power for me. The people who carry the crosses (also unidentifiable because of hoods) are barefooted and have chains around their ankles. Every now and then there is a loud drum announcement and they all stop, those carrying the heavy dias take a break and it is suspended on poles. It is all very well organised with key people giving orders and bells signifying a re-start.

The private hostel has 40 beds but the city is the second most important in the region and this is the busiest time of the year so tomorrow, for example, when at least one of our group would like to stay longer due to an ankle injury, it is full.

It has a very nice garden and terrace at the back for drying clothes and sitting with a beer, despite being right in the centre.

We ate at a very nice place which was empty apparently because a large family booked it out and then cancelled. He was very patient with us, especially when dishes were sent back because having said they were vegetarian, they came with garnishes of bacon etc. I ate moussaka, salmon and flan (again!) for 11 euros.

Alcuescar to Aldea de Cano, Via de la Plata, Spain

24.3.18 a very short day 15 kms (3.5 hours).

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Last night I stayed at a Franciscan monastery Casa de la Misericordia, Los Esclavos (slaves) de María y de los Pobres (poor) in Alcuescar, started by Leocadio Galán in 1939 to house and educate the orphans of the war, both academically, religiously and in the arts, sports and culture.

I gave a Shiatsu to a deserving fellow trekker who had a neck problem; I was able to dry my boots and have a hot shower, but there was neither kitchen nor clothes washing facilities. We were invited to take a tour of the building with one of the Brothers and to attend Mass (a sign informed us that whatever our religious inclinations, we would be saved).

The soles of my feet ached well into the evening so it was good to give them a massage this morning and feel how Kyo the insteps, KD1 and the backs of the ankle were, even after 9 hours in bed. At least I did not feel the cold that the others did – what with my new sleeping bag and all so my Water element cannot be in that much imbalance!

Yesterday a group of us had to wait until 1pm to be admitted and they played us beautiful Spanish music while they booked us in. This morning we were all ready with our boots on when 7.30am arrived and the doors were opened. The hospitalero played the hallelujah chorus!

As soon as I walked across the road, my left heel remembered its blister, but later it was another part of my other foot which complained more bitterly.

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Sun rise.

Breakfast was at the café Alta Cuesta over the road (I bought a coffee and ate my left-over bread and cheese) with all the other pilgrims assembled before the day’s walk. What bonhomie (though most were German!). The Way was clearly marked, directly beside the albergue (hostel), and the tarmac quickly became a sandy path: good for the walkers’ feet. There were fields of goats; lots of dogs; and black/white storks flapping their ungainly wings, necks outstretched like flying geese.

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The olive green (obviously!) hills were on my left, in the distance, for half of the journey.

Today’s weather: sunny, cold (no need to stop and de-robe), with a glacial and an ever stronger, west wind.

Sign posting: Very good all day – even on the way out of the town. No need for a book or an app.

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Soon I was walking between olive fields and hedges. The ground was sodden from yesterday’s rain.

Throughout the morning I was dodging puddles, stepping on useful stone blocks positioned by the Amigos (‘Friends’) who look after the Camino, or skirting around small lakes of rainwater.
There was a small plot of newly planted, straggly onions growing underneath this glowing tree.

I tried to phone ahead to reserve a bed last night because I saw in my book that it was only a small hostel, but I was informed that bookings were impossible. So I was reminded to leave the situation to fate, stop counting the people who might be in front of me, and not to rush to keep up with them.

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One of the many German people, this guy with sexy socks.

There were men at work stripping the olive trees with forks at arms length, presumably ridding them of the old, dead wood.

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A little loud dog made a noise which was not relative to her size, and of course the boo boo boo bird serenaded me in addition to the chatterings of starlings.

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The calves were running, the cows sedate; their colours reminiscent of the Olocau dogs: a lovely warm, beige brown.

You can read the Olocau blog here.

When I talk with another as I walk, I forget myself. This can be good because they always have an interesting story to tell. However, in some ways, not, as I cannot tell if I am going too fast for example, not until they walk on and I re-focus.

I spot a beautiful lake but it is behind a fence.

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Someone told me this is tamarisk.
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The red rooves and white houses of Casas de Don Antonio, Extremadura, Spain.

With cow bells tinkling, I was suddenly directed onto a runway-type paved road. Wow, the wind was so strong!

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But then almost immediately the signs were off to the right. I reflected, on listening to others, that some of my old habits have passed. That sort of mirror can be very helpful.

There is straight, strong grass poking  through the night-sky-blue bog water.

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A group of Saturday walkers in anoraks of primary colours were having their photographs taken in the bridge. Smile!
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Here is a stork on top of an old pylon. It is blurred but you can just see the orange beak.

I was very stiff by now and when I squatted to pee, I asked myself ‘can I get up again?’ I wondered how I could ever have walked 6, 8 or 10 hours a day.

Note to self: try the she-wee Alice (eldest daughter) gave me.

When I notice myself thinking too much, or worrying, I imagine the image of praying hands in the centre of my chest. This is to try and centre myself, to try not to think of others. Otherwise, their Ki comes into contact with mine and I have more than me to deal with, and this camino must give me the chance to spend time inside.

The wind played havoc with my phone. I think, anyway. It seemed to be typing all on its own. One way or another it was impossible to take notes.

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One fan-tailed raptor flew over and first 10, then 1000s of caterpillars who I had been told liked to move in a queue, were struggling between being stepped on, drowned and blown over. Poor things, they were having a harder time than I was, though they do have more legs.

Through a flock of sheep we wove, and off to to the right onto a road and the final destination.

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Sunset.
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The municipal albergue, Aldea de Cano, Spain.
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A mackerel sky.

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Aljucén to Alcuescar, Via de la Plata, Spain

Aljucén to Alcuescar, 23.3.18: 19 kms.

First, a few photos from last night:

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A typical house of this region, Aljucén, Spain.

Most of the previous afternoon was spent in the albergue courtyard in the hot sun. It was idyllic with three large black and white cranes floating on the thermals above, and, when alighting, clacking their beaks with a wooden clapper sort of sound. The sky they sailed through hosted the slither of New Moon. A short walk around the village revealed that the church was shut but the shop open for an individual lemon yoghurt, a bread roll, a tin of mussels, and fruit for breakfast. The evening, communal meal was at the café Kiosk opposite the albergue and much wine was drunk. I sat beside a woman who was walking ‘a contrario’ ie towards Seville rather than in the direction of Santiago de Compostella. The thermal baths in the village got a very good report. The hospitalera (woman who runs the albergue) went to great trouble to book her guests in.

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Parroquia Zsan Andrés, Parish Church of Saint Andres XVI century, Aljucén, Spain.

The next morning’s departure was at 7.35am after a great deal of hustle and bustling, the others leaving quite a mess without wiping the surfaces or cleaning the dishes. I was a bit surprised and took time to complete the duties before leaving.

The sun was behind the trees to my right as the walk began, and there was no pavement. It was not until the end of the road that it had truly risen.

My meditation buddies would have been meeting as I walked, so I was thinking of them. There was a dearth of yellow arrows so I hoped there was no mistake. After a while other pilgrims came into sight so I was glad to know it was the right road. As the morning wore on, it was more and more crowded, like the Camino Francés.

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Crossing the Rio / River Aljucén, Spain.

My clothes were damp from the dew but it was lovely and warm, not long until I hid behind a rock to take off my early morning warmer layers and walk in a t-shirt. Finally the arrows signed off the road to the right at the services (petrol etc) and onto the serpentine track.

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The long, winding Camino, Via de la Plata.
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This barking sheep dog loudly protected his flock for a kilometer!
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Massive granite boulders and brush on one side of the Way, and bog on the other.

The landscape was all very attractive and a big white bird took off from the wetlands, its massive wings flapping slowly.

Advice: There are no arrows here for a long time but just keep going!

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The first hills, hazy in the distance.

The rocks are covered with blue and red miniature plants. A hare auspiciously ran across my path. I was reflecting on learning to choose, to identify what is necessary to me and not to automatically fall in step with the other as I was bought up to do.

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The path is briefly made of orange earth, but then returns to yellow, then white sand and, at the end becomes all stony.
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An enormous, anonymous dog joined Jo as she set out from Aljucén at 8am, and at 10.30 he was still at her heels despite his paws falling down between the cattle grid irons as he followed her, loyally.

We walkers were overtaking, then falling behind, each other; one in particular determined to make conversation. A woman stopped to pee and the dog stopped too; another to stretch out already sore muscles (day two can be a challenge); a third walked by in silence; a couple chattered excitedly; a further man complained and told people what to do all the time. We were all sorts walking this ancient way, for many different reasons.

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‘Yin and Yang’ says my Argentian companion.

As the sky darkened and the air got increasingly damp, the chamomile petals were flattened down. Along the straight farm track I walked with Jo sharing snacks and stories of babies, relationships and the future – whether to plan or not to plan. I realised there were eucalyptus trees starting to appear, as in the North.

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Remains of the foundations of the Puente (bridge) de Trajano. From the Imperial Roman period, for crossing the River Aljucén.

And then there were three rain showers in quick succession and I could not see easily through my specs.

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Be careful to turn right when you get to the fork with all the signs for Alcuescar! That is, unless you want to go to Los Olivos, an albergue turística. There was a warning at last night’s inn that the owner was using the same yellow paint to lure unsuspecting hikers to his hostel. At this point I am sorry to say that you are not nearly there yet.

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Oleander in bud, lining the Camino for many miles. It will be stunning in season.

First there were underplantings of wheat and rape in the olive groves – so fertile.

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And then there was the familiar, mucky industrial outlying townscape, and then I knew I was near Alcuescar. Today it seemed like a long road despite it only being two kilometers longer than yesterday.

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Los Esclavos de Maria y los Pobres, a working monastery where I spent the night.
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The beautiful monastery garden.

Mérida to Aljucén – Via de la Plata, Spain

21/22 March 2018

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Roman theatre, Mérida, Spain.

I went to Mérida by bus from Seville because I completed that 10 days last year. The Leda bus took 3 hours and cost 9 euros.

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The beautiful gardens at the Roman Theatre, Mérida, Spain.

I enjoyed a beer and pinxos in the Plaza España (tortilla with bread and goats cheese on toast, neither of which were good but cheap) and visited the crypt (3 euros) and amphitheatre (12 euros) in the afternoon. The people at the tourist information were most helpful.

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Roman Amphitheatre, Mérida, Spain.

The out-of-town shopping centre where I bought my new baton was across the Roman Bridge (which is totally pedestrian and a great sight). I was foot-sore but it was a successful trip and after bread, cheese and lettuce I went to bed at 7.30pm.

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An evening shot of the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge) over the Guidiana River, Mérida, Spain.

I woke at 6am after a passable night. A cacophony of snorers accompanied me in the 18-bed dormitory which was almost full. I did my meditation and as I went outside to do tai chi I disturbed a heron on the river.

View from the hostel window.
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View of Mérida, looking back on departure.

I had a breakfast of milky coffee and packet cakes (2 euros), and was ready to go at 7.30am, only having to return once for my water bottle and map!

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The buildings are industrial and utilitarian on the outskirts of Mérida, Spain.

The road took me uphill and although there was ice on the parked-car windows, the sun shone all day; the birds sang to me and, in general, the yellow arrows were clear. I asked a woman for directions at one of the many roundabouts, and the first hour was along the side of busy cars going to work, as well as a green cycle track bedside the motorway.

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The statues on the gateposts are impressive.

The flowers were stunning: purple mallow; yellow rape; pink campion and ragged robin; white wild rocket and chamomile with their sunshine middles. Wood pigeons cooed at me when I shed a few tears, sure I had missed the way, although it transpired I had not.

Later, rabbits played with their white tails bobbing, and cow bells sounding like an orchestra of kalimbas were so beautiful.

I climbed up again to the top and there was the first view of the Prosperpina Reservoir. All morning my feet and other joints were taking it in turns to hurt, my back pack felt very heavy, but these things were familiar and if I have learnt anything from sitting it is that everything will pass eventually.

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The Prosperpina Reservoir is glorious.

I sat and enjoyed it. I watched the heron on a rock, mirrored, stretching out its long black neck, and the swallows darting around for flies over the water. Individually the birds sang regular songs but together they created a mélange of sound.

I spent almost an hour near the reservoir reading the tourist information and changing out of my cold-weather layers into shorts and T-shirt.

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After skirting the lake, I walked by the babbling brook and this second part of the days walk was much closer to what I was hoping for: peace, with the call of the cuckoo and the water swirling amongst the bright green weed and sparkling in the sunshine

This path was across country although initially along a little road with lots of arrows, plastic bags and signs, all yellow to help us find our way. My feet were very grateful for the soft sand, although there were quite a few wet and boggy places.wp-1521724756453..jpg

I saw dog walkers by the reservoir, 2 local cyclists and 2 camino ones. No-one else.

Note for those walking this way: Remember to look on the pavement for arrows and indications, as well as on trees, the backs of street signs and the obvious marble blocks.

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A gentleman opened the gate for me as I trekked up into the village of El Carrascalejo where the church was shut.

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Parish Church, El Carrascalejo.
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Renaissance entrance of the Parish Church, El Carrascalejo.

I snacked at 11am with no sign of any café despite the information in my book (remember, it is March). On the way out of this tiny place there is a playpark and attractive picnic area.

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There are lots of lovely benches but the El Carrascalejo albergue is shut at this time of year.
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White winding road with fields of vines on either side.

After all my winter reading about the history of the pilgrimage and monasteries, I really felt like a happy pilgrim with my staff and shell, sign of Saint Jacques interred at Santiago de Compostellla, the end of this 1000 km route

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Saint Jacques.

As I approached the motorway I took a left turn along a small road and then a right at a Mondrian-like cube with its yellow square and walked through the underpass.

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There are many Holm oaks in this area of Extremadura.

Up another little hill I went, along a farm path and past a group of men taking a break who called buen camimo and then I had a view of Aljucén.

I crossed the main road for the last time,  straight on between green fields lush after the rain (the farmers must be happy anyway!) and although there are no signs I kept on going right into the village where they were planting lots of new trees and arrived at the Albergue Turístico Río Aljucén at midday.

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Costing 10 euros, this hostel was recommended by the previous hospitalero, has excellent, free Wi-Fi, is spotlessly clean and although it has a washer (3 euros) there is no dryer. I was the first to arrive so I got to have the hot shower and choose my bed in the small dormitory. All my things dried quickly in the sun as other pilgrims arrived. We sat together, mostly German people, one Argentinian, a couple of French and myself from Scotland  We spoke French, German, and a little English and Spanish.

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Valencia to Seville, Spain

‘If I can’t get behind myself in order to see what’s going on, if I can only live forwards but understand back, then it follows that at the very least I need time to walk, meditate or pray.’ Kirkegaard.

A few last shots of the exceptionally beautiful Sierra Calderona before moving on.

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wp-1521571017327..jpgI left Olocau, near Valencia in Spain with Phil and Fred in the dark, with ice on the windscreen! Thanks for the lift!

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Bye bye black pepper tree.

Very soon the sun was rising red, orange and yellow in deep, deep colours on one side of the car, date palms silhouetted against the sky.

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We drove into the city of Valencia with many kilometers of industrial sites  including a sex toys supermarket.

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Valencia: the early morning sun lights up the modern architecture.

On the other side of the car were pale wisps of pink and baby blue/yellow.

As we drove we knew it was only a brief gap in the Las Fallas festivities after Sunday night celebrations finishing at 5am and then starting again at 8am this bank holiday Monday. Sure enough as I waited for my Bla Bla Car, the sounds of the fireworks escalated until they were reverberating all around me.

Waiting in the cold for 1.5 hours was not much fun. There were no bars open for the toilet so I had to go in a public garden by the side of road 😦

On my third tour of the area I discovered a bakery and bought 3 cakes which turned out to be coconut which, apart from meat is the only thing I do not eat! It was colder and colder and there were many cars picking people up for Madrid.

Eventually, 45 minutes after our driver was due, the young woman next to me (who happily loved coconut cakes) phoned and we ascertained our lift was nearby. This is very unusual as Bla Bla Car drivers are usually very prompt. In addition it transpired that the third passenger was waiting at the wrong place.

As we drove out of the city towards Córdoba, we quickly hit a random road block with eight Guardia de Civil officers stopping people to breathalise them. Luckily not us!

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Driving through the Requeña area,  half way between Valencia and Albacete on the N111, I saw the same cliff colours I had been walking through all week – it is a strong orange brown land with an ancient tower and acres of vines mostly espaliered. They are like rows of black commas or embroidery made of dots; like flattened out oranges studded with cloves.

There was a motorway sign warning of hail, ‘niebla‘. I had some conversation: my driver has walked the Camino del Norte ‘muy bonito‘ she said, very beautiful. I dropped in and out of sleep as I finally warmed up again!

We were passing from Valencia to Castille-La Mancha through forests and mountains. The next time I jerked my head, bit my tongue and woke up there were green fields of flatness.

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The journey cost each of us £32 and the two youngsters slept. Perhaps they had been up all night?

The driver is a lawyer from a big Cádiz firm. She is smiley and we had plenty of stops but she did check her phone while driving which I would have preferred she did not.

Like almost all women over 45 years, she wanted to know if I was walking alone and then said she wanted to come with me!

With 220kms to Córdoba there were still fields and fields of baby vines and we passed Bodegas Artisanos (artisan wineries). There was, as normal on these long journeys, a nice sense of companionship in the car – often sharing food and exchanging looks on hearing the snorer!

It is a very long drive, right across Spain (650kms). We took the Venta de Cardenas tunnel into the Province of Jaén where Javi (one of my lovely lodgers) grew up. Then the Autovía del Sur motorway which careers down towards Córdoba and there were still 280 kms to Seville. We sang along to  Michael Jackson and outside it was all olives, full grown in rows as far as the eye can see.

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We drove on through the rather brooding looking Sierra de Andújar mountains heading south. Raptors (buzzzards?) flew above the landscape. It was not a bad day to be spending so many hours travelling: dull and chilly although there was no snow like Dartmoor (England), the Asturias (northern Spain) or Edinburgh (Scotland)! Later there was pouring rain and we were 60kms from Seville making good time after our late start.

The wind was blowing the tops of the palm trees, all in the same direction of course, and there was sodden ground for the poor Camino Mozarabe backpackers to walk on. I saw my first two cranes’ nests on top of high poles (familiar from previous visits), and the ubiquitous huge black metal bull hoarding, silhouetted – left over from old advertising and now a sort of national symbol.

Here are some photos of my time in Seville.

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Plaza de Alameda, Seville.
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The Seta de Sevilla (mushroom) or Metropol Parasol by the architect Jurgen Meyer all built in wood. Notice the umbrella!

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I had a great couple of days in Seville with Pedro and Jesús: wonderful Shiatsu (see the professional and attractive ShenSations Shiatsu studio website ); attractive surroundings; and good food (especially the tapas last night with wonderful pulpo (baby octopus) and gambas (prawns) in olive oil and garlic. So lucky to be with locals who know the best places! (Una y Media, Camas).

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Notes re. past blogs: G. told me the name of the very attractive bird which calls bou bou all day long: the Hoopoo with its black and white tail feathers and tuft on top of its head.
Thanks also to friends Cynthia and Sue for informing me of flower names.

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The Town Hall where you can visit free photography exhibitions.

And now I am driving through Monasterio, through which I walked last May 2017, on the way to Mérida. It will take me 2.5 hours on the bus to go the distance it took me to walk for 10 days. I remember it well!

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A rather boring shot of the street but that bar was where I had breakfast!

Olocau – the last blog… but is it?

14 – 17 March 2018.

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A beautiful spot I came across when walking in the Sierra Calderona Natural Park.

It is Saturday: poor unsuspecting Spanish men are running and cycling in the vicinity and they are therefore besieged by the dogs! After 2 hours plus of careering out of the house in full-bark, I bribed them (the dogs that is) with biscuits and locked them up inside. More for me than for the populace really!

What prickly places I get myself into for a shot! I have the scars to prove it.

At 6. 30am I received message number one of many from G. (the owner of the house in which I am ‘sitting’) telling me about her car break-down on leaving France to return home, so maybe this will not be the last blog after all …

Perhaps if she knew what I did with her other car on Thursday night, she would be here sooner: Sue, G’s colleague, had kindly offered to take me in to Valencia for Las Fallas, a celebration of the coming of Spring. I drove to hers with the aid of Google maps (on the opposite side of the road, remember; in the dark; in a car which is so big for me I need two cushions to reach the peddles), and as usual I got lost.

One U-turn later, I was speeding along a cami (which is a smaller road which runs parallel to the main A-one) in the wrong direction, and, after stopping to ‘recentre’, I followed the instructions and took ‘a very sharp left’ – there was a diagram and everything. In fact I got out of the car to look before I did it as I seemed to be very close to a roundabout and … yes, there was a ridge with black and white chevrons painted on the edge of it, but for some reason I believed Google instead of my instinct. Why on earth? It was hard work, but I persevered. And then the car got wedged – I mean, really stuck: the two front wheels on one side of the bit you were not under any circumstances supposed to try and go over, and the two back on the other.

In retrospect, I do not have any excuses – it was simply stupidity. I got out of the driver’s seat and had a look, disbelieving; I got back in and tried to go forwards; I got out and had another look and then back in again and tried to go in the other direction; I wondered if I might be in danger of being crashed into so located the flashers pretty quickly; then I stood on the road a third time and looked at the vehicle.

Immediately a Citroën stopped and two couples got out. Not long afterwards, another sort of car did the same, and, to cut a rather long story short, one of the brilliant women thought of jamming stones under the front wheel and someone else moved the car and bit-by-bit it was freed. Meanwhile, I stood around and remembered the odd word of Spanish and not one person criticised me or shouted – they just helped. And later when Sue arrived it was just like in Edinburgh: she knew the wonder-woman who had ‘done the trick’, she had actually been her English teacher. Well, that is Spain for you – help coming out of my ears wherever I need it (if you get my drift). Oh, and the car is undamaged.

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I tried to feed Severus Snake his warmed up (previously frozen) mouse yesterday, but although he swayed his head around a bit, he would not take it. However, I did remove the poo from his cage, which is all that remains from last week’s meal.
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A stunning light display at Valencia Las Fallas Festival – the colours changed with the music. It went on for about 10 minutes. Fantastic.

We did not get into Valencia until about 11pm but it was worth it. Basically Las Fallas seems to be a festival of lights, fireworks, and Disney-style erections in every available plaza (square) designed and built by groups of local residents in a massive competition. Some of the women and girls dress up in national costume with flat circular plaits over their ears. I think the photos speak for themselves. While you look, imagine the loudest possible firecrackers going off unexpectedly behind your back while you run for your life. Perhaps my nerves were a little on edge.

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Some of the displays were unfinished and protected by fences.

On an altogether calmer note, I visited the San Vicente National Park near Llíria with it’s attractive chapel and fish/duck ponds. Here are some more images for you to feast your eyes on.

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The Ermita de San Vicente, 18th century.
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There are little sandy patches under the water where the spring bubbles up and huge carp.

This morning I sent in my latest book review and here I am quoting Thomas Traherne in his Centuries of Meditation, (a book I will certainly be reading later). He was a mid-17th century thinker who said that the Hobbesian world view of a material and mechanistic life was likely to make humans feel depressed, afraid and cut off from the cosmos (p. 198 of The Art of Losing Control by Jules Evans). I am a firm believer that we all need a well-rounded and vast life, one which contains joy and ecstasy, and adventure as well as peace and quiet. That is why I set off to Spain in the first place in Autumn 2016. Never looked back!

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I trained as a dancer between 1981-85 at The Laban Centre which was then part of Goldsmith’s College, University of London. I was extremely unhappy a lot of the time and it was really hard, but even now I am glad for the part where we were taught to listen to the rhythm of the body. Walking is a pleasure for me, and when I pace I can hear the melody of my movements, not because I am any more balletic than any other, but because I learned that skill and it is a conduit for mindfulness. Being aware of each step, the quality of the flow and the balance, brings me into the moment and allows me to stop focusing on the past or future.

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Dainty blossom: now sprinkled in the puddles by the wind.

Then I can make observations: thyme’s little purple flowers between the stones, and the weird, fluffy and speckled seed heads draw my attention; the volcano-shaped anthill are all a-busy; the heather is clad in its girl colours; and, as my sense of smell returns, the pine, the dogs’ breath.

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An Oleander seed pod.
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Not sure if you can see the ants.
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Beautiful reflections.

It is a funny thing, fitness, you only know it is improving if you measure it: a hill which was a struggle on day one is easier now. With the full backpack (which is supposed to be 10% of one’s bodyweight), I find myself leaping up little boulders and breaking into small runs; taking it at a fair lick; the dogs and I overtaking each other; and my ankles, thighs and centre feeling a lot stronger which gives me confidence for the upcoming Camino.

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Macabre.

Like all Shiatsu practitioners I know, once the terrible afflictions have passed my clients simply forget and it is only when I ask them, ‘So how’s your..? that they remember and reply’ Oh, that, I have not thought about that since I last saw you!’ You see, it is the same thing – if one is in the moment, life just is the way that it is.

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Euphorbia – spectacular Spring green.

Parque Parochial San Vicente website