Calzada de Béhar to Fuenterroble de Savatierra, Via de la Plata

1 April, April Fool’s Day and Easter Sunday 2018. Day 11. Via de la Plata Camino, Spain.

There was a good breakfast provided at the communal table, but I had enough of my own and wanted to eat it so it did not need to be carried. Most of the others seemed to be enjoying a good spread. T’ai Chi that morning in the lee of the mountains, with the full moon still strong in the sky, was inspiring.

After a false start when I had to go back for my baton, I made my way through the very ancient village and out into the countryside along what might have been an old railway between pollarded trees – the first I had seen here.

There were cows everywhere: black ones on the left – mum grazing and her newborn calf souking; beige / white on the other. The white snowy mountains were ever present when I looked back, walking happily alone. What a wonderful morning! We walked into the region of Castilla y León.

I watched for a while as the young bovine, on their long spindly legs, geared themselves up to jump across the stream; I admired the bright white ones still with the tufty cord sticking out under their bellys, and all fluffy. I realise now that lots of the females have impressive horns, but in this bullfighting country how was I to know when put on the spot a few days ago?!

I mused on my topic of the last few months: the balance between a solitary and a social life. I set out from Mérida eleven days ago expecting the same quiet experience I had had when walking from Seville the previous May. Instead I found a great camino ‘family’ (as people like to call it) forever changing its members but, warm and supportive. With them around one rarely loses one’s way or dines all alone. On the other hand, there is hardly the chance to meditate in peace; one has to politely refuse company when setting out in the morning if silence is required; and all-in-all it’s profoundly communal and not at all the solitary wandering of the historical pilgrim which I have enjoyed over the past year.

Today’s plant: catkins, at the early spiky stage.

They use natural stone for fence pillars here compared to further down in the valley.

As the morning wears on, the sun shines more brightly and the colours strengthen – water, fields and rocks in stark contrast.

I remind myself that I must stay alert and look for the details of the journey, the arrows. I come across a bridge very similar to one in Kent. Later there is a really helpful, home-made railing to help the hikers across the flooding, but for me the stones are too far apart!

It took me two hours instead of one to get to Valverde de Valdelacasa – I walked slowly, paying attention to touching the the tip of my stick on the ground very gently, taking photos and notes etc. But, then, no, it turned out that I had misunderstood the book. I was not behind-time after all.

My feet were throbbing; the birds were trilling; and alsatians were being walked as I made the long, uphill trek into the village.

Benito was already there, tapping on the window as I went by (I had meant to walk on), and the bar was just opening after what must have been a riotous night.

Oddly there was this colourful bird, curious, in the bar that morning.

If you walk this camino, make sure you go straight on at the roundabout along the road. I was able to change into my shorts as the sun warmed up.

Dead oaks and copious lichen for miles in this landscape – further behind, Spring-wise, than the south.

Here were big black pigs in a very plain enclosure; there, quarries and multiple farm buildings. The land was all beautifully ploughed and ready for sowing.

Initially they ran away. I stood still and they returned, curious, with up to 5 rings per nose.

The paved road was hard on my feet so I lay down on the prickly ground, my back against a rock, and was sung to by cattle and birds and tickled by insects and it smelled sweetly of disturbed earth and nearby flowers. Even a large yellow butterfly flew by me, like an angel.

There was not one car or person on the next stretch although much later a tractor and finally a yellow arrow heralding the near end of my walk.

The entrance to the albergue at Fuenterroble de Salvatierra.

What an amazing albergue. It is a religious community, looking after the flock when the priest is away tending to his seven other parishes. They take great care, the people who live there, some long-term, some shorter; and the food and accommodation is excellent. Particularly as it is a donativo hostel it you pay for what you think it is worth / you can afford.

A little grotto or shrine at the back of the hostel, Fuenterroble de Salvatierra.

Aldeanueva del Camino to Calzada de Béhar, Via de la Plata

Walking the Via de la Plata camino, Spain.

March 31st 2018 10 kms 2. 5 hours then a bus to Béjar and a shared taxi (6.5 euros each) to Calzada de Béhar.

At the large hostal in the centre of the busy town, I had a couple of very interesting conversations with an Irishman, and an Englishman who lives near me in a Fife forest, both of whom are wild campers and walking with tents etc. This is something I have been thinking about for a while as it eliminates the need for finding a free bed every night. (See yesterday’s blog for a good example of how hard it can be unusual but worth knowing about if you are considering walking the Via de la Plata).

The remains of the rain from the day before lay over the mountains.

The dormitories are warm and the kitchen well equipped. It was swarming with peregrinos I had seen before and so was a friendly place to be.

After the escapades of the day before, I set off as usual, walking to Balneario which was all along the road.

Once there, I immediately saw the sign to the terma, the hot baths, and thought that would be a lovely treat but…

I entered a bar to find my companions already partaking of their morning coffee. One said he was staying behind to visit and after telephoning the hostel we were heading for, both for myself and 3 others because I spoke the most Spanish, I decided to stay as well.

The Roman baths were booked up ahead of time (this was the Saturday of Easter weekend and very busy with tourists) but the kind woman at the desk showed us around.

Benito, a German with a propensity for delight in all things.his is the old Roman bathroom, now a museum.

Then we went over the road to the modern baths and took advantage of the Pilgrim Discount (4 euros) for a leisurely swim and laze around on loungers, with a huge blue bathrobe thrown in for good measure. It was a small pool with one fountain and the only others present were a family with 2 young daughters, so reminiscent of my own in days gone by. I had a good sleep and after an hour and a half my feet were barely aching at all. Wonderful. (They are open until lunchtime and then reopen later in the day. )

Modern baths in Balneario.

We had a nice meal back at the bar (he had salad with orange and goats cheese; I had salad with gulas and prawns which turned out, despite my thinking it was a seafood salad by the title on the menu, to be sprinkled with thousands of tiny pieces of bacon which I laboriously separated from every mouthful before I ate it.)

Note to self: always check for the presence of meat before ordering!

The town is beautiful, tucked right in under the mountains and, on account of its height, very windy.

Street art in Balneario.

We managed to find a sunny corner to wait for the bus, before being driven to Béhar (only two buses that day at 12-something and 5pm) – an idea which the Tourist Information adviser had come up with. He said we could walk from there. It was lovely and warm and we wound our way up, higher and higher, through spectacular scenery, to the main town of this region, on the edge of Extremadura.

The centre of Béhar.

Once again we visited the Tourist Information and discovered it was further than we we had been led to believe and, it being close to the evening, my companion suggested we take a taxi – ending what was essentially a rest-day, which after all was day 10 and so a sensible time to take it.

Camino friends had already arrived at the albergue after a very steep climb, and the hospitaleros were most accommodating. There is a a garden overlooking the wonderful scenery, and loud music coming from a closed outbuilding which I was told the next day was where they were training horses to dance.

Albergue, Calzada de Béhar, Spain.

There were two very large sittings for the evening meal which consisted, for us vegetarians, of salad, omelette and flan. The usual, but all cooked on the premises and delicious.

Very sadly I forgot to take my swimming costume off the washing line the next morning.

 

Galisteo to (Oliva de Plasencia) to Aldeanueva del Camino

30th March 2018.

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The walls of Galisteo and the snowy mountains in the distance.

Leaving Galisteo was a long process. I attempted to follow my book and ended up taking a yellow arrow which was a red herring!

It was a beautiful morning but after a steep descent and re-climbing, an hour later I was back where I started. So if you stay at the Pension El Parador, remember you are already on the Camino and only need to take a left out of the front door, walk across the Roman Bridge, then straight across at the first roundabout, right at the second and you are off.

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Road walking with the important yellow arrows.
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Looking back at Galisteo as I was crossing the bridge.

What a very hard day! 11 hours on the road, including two mistaken detours.

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Farm country with plastic tunnels, familiar from Perthshire, Scotland.

I walked along a road with no pavement for ages until I got to Carcaboso where I happily stopped at a bar and sat in the sun with my cortado.

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The bar in Aldehuala del Jerte (not Carcaboso!).

Then I took the recommended right fork. I could see inviting-looking countryside to my right and left but I was on the road. Still. With very poor signposting. I did enjoy the toads jumping into a brook and today’s flower – what I think is the field lupin.

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Then an old man stopped his car for a chat and told me that, no Carcaboso was ahead! I had actually just passed through Aldehuala del Jerte (Jerte is the name of the river).

When I did get into Carcaboso it was obvious!

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I followed the Way past the Iglesia de Santiago and a tiny sign on the wall showing left. It seemed to be a dead-end but, if you are going to do this after me (while the road works are there), do keep going, following the odd indication and then you will be out of the town in no time.

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Beautiful, traditional Spanish tiles decorating a family courtyard.
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A very smart house.

I stopped at the Three Crosses and rested, people-watching. I read the poem on the sign beside the bench, for ‘every Friday’ and reflected that it was especially apt for today as it was Good Friday. My feet were aching so I took my boots off, renewed the plasters, trooped over the little bridge knowing I had 4 or 5 more hours to go and that the rain clouds looked ominous. IMG_20180330_121755.jpg

At the bus shelter style tourist information, I took a left and found the ‘Bombay’ sign as indicated in my book. (Vía de la Plata and the Camino Sanabrés by Gerald Kelly. He is a renowned author and walker but Do Not get an out of date copy as things change really quickly.)

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New-born lambs everywhere.

The noisy geese cheered me on; the raptors glided and wheeled overhead; fences made of barbed wire and a variety of sticks including Ash with black buds were on either side; bulrushes at the cotton-wool stage; derelict buildings; lots of gates and trolling uphill.

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Storks nest on a handy monument.

I saw what they mean by ‘cow’s lick’ as the fur at the front of the cows’ faces is in a pretty whorl; there were donkeys (I heard them though the night too) and I was happily traipsing in the middle nowhere.

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I was reflecting that there was no point in thinking of going quickly or getting there faster as it is impossible, one must just live through it, even if it does start raining or your feet hurt.wp-1522593871460..jpg

New here is a good idea: start a pole exchange at airports now that it can be impossible to bring them through security.

Up and down I went, wondering if I had made another mistake. Yes, I had! It was a very long way to retrace my steps: at least an hour. A really bad mistake given it was already well into the afternoon.

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Basic advice: only go when you see the signs; if there are none, keep going straight; and where there are two blocks of light grey polished stone, one with a yellow square in plastic on it and one with a blue/green one, ignore the latter.

It was so beautiful, like a Garden of Eden, but I was really, really tired and I did not know how far it would go on. Far, it turned out. Through Holm Oak trees; along stony paths; with large insects (for the first time) flying around my head); and amidst cows with scary looking horns I went until I eventually got to the road and tuned right for Oliva de Plasencia.

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Then it was a long walk on tarmac – one and a half hours – until I reached the village. The wind howled and the rain rained.

The albergue was full and the woman shouted that I should have reserved my bed in advance. I had in fact phoned approximately 17 times that day, and showed her the record on my phone, but she had not picked up. The other hostel was also full (it is also run by her). And so was the one miles away which she angrily gave me the number for. People walking around the village tutted and tried to help a little. It was nearly dark.

So I went to the church – after all it was Good Friday and I had read that Spanish people are very fond of pilgrims and very generous in their hospitality.

After a long time during which I sat, exhausted, while it started to rain, someone phoned the priest who said I could not stay in the church but in the porch (I knew it was due to snow that night and was already two degrees so that was impossible). No-one was prepared to offer me a floor or sofa, though I said I could pay. A kind woman phoned and discovered there was one bed left at a hostel in Aldeanueva and another couple then took me there in the car. What a mess.

I guess I should not have gone there if I did not know there was a space, but it is a very unusual situation and the men and women who helped me said that he woman who ran the places was not following Tourist Association rules. The day before, I learned later, a fellow walker did the same thing because he, like me, did not want to walk more than 25 kms that day and this village seemed to offer an alternative.

It was pouring by the time they very kindly deposited me at the city albergue and I was greeted by backpackers I knew. It was warm and had all that I needed. I am very grateful to the people who helped me.

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.