Via de la Plata Camino – Day 6, Spain

21 May 2017. Fuente de Cantos to Zafra, 25kms.

Note: before Monasterio (see previous blog) I had walked from the province of Seville into Extremadura which this blog also covers).

Thankfully my ankle was fine the next morning. It was cloudy at 7am and there had been a strong wind all night. The weather vane on the church swung round to the east – was there something in the air? What with my ankle the previous evening and the breeze, I seemed to be in an inordinately bad temper. I searched for the arrow.

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I passed the donkey, patron saint of my blog, then three dogs followed me for a while, and another pilgrim was shuffling resignedly close by.

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Such a meek expression somehow, behind barbed wire.

Four birds were having a spat. Yes, the energy was definitely stirred up.

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I settled into a walking meditation. The landscape was as yesterday – arable land, grain silos, the odd goat, a pig squealing, the air was heavy with manure, there were fields of olive trees and, oh no, one hour into the day and I realised I have no stick. I had left it behind. Now I was properly fed up, but it will pass, I told myself, just keep going. Bu…., though.

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The spring wheat had been harvested and all was white, green and yellow except for excerpts of swimming pool sky between the clouds, and the odd scarlet poppy amongst the gold. I tried listening to music for a minute, but the birds were singing better songs, so I gave that up again. There was a field of new vines. It will not, I reflected, do me any harm to have less sun – as long it does not rain.

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DSC_0022_6Traipsing through the tiny village of Caldazilla de los Barros, it was impossible not to snap a photo of my brother’s name doubling as a house title, and a beautiful paving detailing the Via de la Plata, the camino I was walking.

 

 

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Julian, mi hijo, my brother.

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I was interested how much difference little stones on the path make to my rhythm, balance, and pace. There was the smell and taste of the fennel plant and seeds to remind me of the Camino Francés last Autumn. They were delicious, and rejuvenating when I was tired.

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Walking for hour after hour makes me very sensitive to the little stones underfoot.
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Fennel plants with their sunny yellow seed heads.
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Bright blue cornflower type flowers provide contrast in the hedgrows.

The hard-baked path was criss-crossed with ants, tufts of grass insinuated their way between apricot, peach-coloured, grey and white stones. The yellow arrows were regular now. I shushed along in the dust, dotted with droppings and patterns of miniature tyres, disturbing the prints of human, horse and dog who had been there before me. The crops spread out towards the horizon on each side.

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Sometimes it is helpful to know that what is ahead is 19 kilometers of flat land (despite having no book, I was reading my friend’s blog each night to prepare me for the next day), sometimes not. It was actually comforting to know he had walked it ahead of me.

When walking with a backpack day after day, one day is like the others, but today the path is busier – the Spanish do love their Sunday cycling! The men chatter, chatter as they ride. Then, was that a level crossing ahead?

Yes! There was a town or village, and as I was weary at 11.20am, it was nice to walk into Puebla (village) Sancho Perez and take a coffee/wifi break. (That was accommodation in Madrid sorted! Another kindness from a Shiatsu practitioner I had met in November 2016, who said she was happy to put me up for a night, even though I would arrive late and leave very early the next day for the flight home – lovely Belén, thank you). Interestingly, there is a chapel here called Nuestra Señora de Belén, which has a bullring attached to it. Bit of a coincidence.

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Sunday bicycling, a crowd in the distance.

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The parish church dedicated to Santa Lucía, Puebla de Sancho Perez.

At 12.40 I was off again, back over the railway and it was brighter, but still with high winds. There were orange cactus flowers and, oh dear, surely not a blister.

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But it was not long (approx. 40 minutes) until I entered Zafra – a much bigger place. Men and women were parading in their Sunday finery and I saw a man with a blue suit and bow tie. It was noticeable that in the streets of the bigger places people behaved differently. They were either too friendly (see Fuente de los Cantos), or not at all (Zafra) which was markedly different from the attitude of the countyside folk I had met.

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Yellow and blue painted buildings with balconies in Zafra.

I arrived at 1pm after a long trek through the city streets to the municipal albergue. The hospitalier was initially rather curious at my solo status, a bit questioning, but the basics were all great, particularly for 8 euros. There was a clean shower off the dorm (just me in a place for 5), although the street was right outside the windows. It also turned out that if I did not purchase breakfast, the kitchen was out of bounds.

Breakfast in the hostels usually consists of white packet-bread, sugary jam, sugary juice, and caffeinated coffee etc. None of these things work very well for my digestion or prepares me adequately for the day’s camino. I asked if I could please use it. ‘Well, bali, between 6 and 8 tonight but not in the morning,’ and ‘Well, ok, you can keep a small bag in the fridge’, he said, ‘if she (the wife) agrees’.

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Nice vaulted ceiling in keeping with its former use as a convent, and well kept entrance to the hostel in Zafra.
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Clean dorm all to myself with ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Botticelli on the wall above my bed.

The group of Italians and individual gentlemen also wanted to use the kitchen in the evening, most peregrinos do, and there was a delightful courtyard (with flowers and attractive old walls) which would have lent itself well to a large group meal. But the bonhomie was private and reserved for those speaking the same language as each other.

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Later, when I got into conversation with the couple (they had no English), it became clear that they lived here (it was their personal kitchen, absolutely spic and span), and this was their livelihood. They obviously cared well for the place, albeit they doubted we would reciprocate. Perhaps they had had bad experiences in the past with other pilgrims, although I was unaware of that sort of behaviour. It turned out that the woman’s pride and joy was the garden, and I can talk gardens, so we bonded over that and she enthusiastically gave me some seeds to take home for my mum.

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Tourist info page Puebla de Sancho Perez: http://turismoextremadura.com/viajar/turismo/en/explora/Puebla-de-Sancho-Perez-00001/

Hostel Zafra: Albergue Convento de San Francisco.

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 5, Spain

20.5.17 Monesterio to Fuente de Cantos, on the Via de la Plata Spanish Camino. 22kms – a nice sensible distance to walk after yesterday!

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The Sierra Norte are still there, away in the distance as I walk out for day 5.

Last night I had wandered around Monesterio, shopping and having a beer, so I knew my way – or I thought I did. I got to the outskirts of town, stood in the middle of the road and scanned for yellow arrows which I had been following, retraced my steps and met a second solo female traveler, Yvette. It was 7.40am. She said I looked so confident that she had been following me! Together we found our way quickly and for the first time I had a companion.

She told me she was Slovakian, and she spoke good English, which was great as I have no Slovak. We established that we shared interests, chatting about complementary medicine and health-related matters, how the body manages stress, and of course why we were walking alone in Southern Spain. There was a good energy and we endeavoured to be mindful of our own body at the same time as sharing the way.

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Dry earth, wild flowers, and masses of blue sky.

There were cows wearing bells, herds of goats and other animals. We walked past beautiful streams, grand trees, and there was a green peace all around us.

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She spoke about the luxury of not having another person’s stuff to process, and we mused that in the past men went to war and many did not return. Now we divorce each other, so either way there are still a lot of women alone at the end of their lives.

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Dandelion suns growing by the wayside.

In fact she was walking much more slowly than I was as she was not well. I slowed down for a time because of the pleasure of having company, but we agreed to separate after an hour and a half or so, so she could rest more.

Black winged birds with orange caps, and white throats and undersides were singing beside me. The fragrant shrub I had not managed to identify on the internet last night, so still thought of as a sort of  broom, repeatedly attracted my attention with its so sweet smell.

After two hours the landscape had changed and there were no trees, although luckily there was a breeze. Quite a few lizards I did not quite see, scarpered at my approach.

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Fewer large trees at this stage.

I remembered that yesterday when I sat down to eat there was a grasshopper right by my left ear. Listening in this quiet place is one of the great pleasures of the Camino. I reflect that as a therapist I am familiar with listening to others. Attending work supervision, and being with friends enables me to be listened to. When I walk, however, I luxuriate in paying attention to the subtlety of nature and to myself.

I try listening under a tree away from the beating sun, but not for long as my sweaty back gets cold. I eat some sugary cakes to feed my muscles.

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Surprisingly fertile. I did not walk through any villages on the way – no chance of a tea.

Even though I try to avoid ssuashing insects, unfortunately the scuttley spiders seem to change direction just before my foot descends, alerted by the earth moving as I walk towards them. Sadly they are therefore more likely to be stepped on. I spend some time thinking about fear.

I notice ants going up and down a tree – something new to me.

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I did not take too many photos today, partly because I was walking some of the way with Yvette and partly because it all looked rather similar.

Both Christ and the Buddha walked and meditated. It seems to be something closely related to religion. I think it must be about contemplating ones behaviour and the habits of others, on the meaning of things.

There are empty husks, dry whispering beside me. Are they oats? They rustle and shine white-gold in the sunshine.

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How do I know the smell of dust? It blows around me. Over and over again I breathe it in without noticing, until I recognise that it is the dust which smells like that, not the other things which we are there simultaneously. It is the same way I can smell snow in the air back home, and people are surprised. I think my father taught me to focus on smelling, as it was something he really appreciated. Despite being a smoker, he really enjoyed sniffing the roses at dusk, or inhaling the gentle scent of a child’s hair.

The grasshoppers, they were loud, louder, really loud as I got closer, and then their noise subsided and tailed off as I ambled on. It was the opposite and slower version of standing by a motorway as cars zoom past me.

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I reminded myself that I do always know that I will get there eventually. I thought I must still be tired from yesterday if I needed reminding like that.

A tiny bird balanced on one ear of corn.

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Where the trees were, I sat with my feet in the water to cool, and I listened and watched. I took my top off for airing. Then, when I was ready to go, Yvette came by and we found we had more things in common. We made plans to meet that evening before I toddled on. What a happy, golden corn, blue sky sort of a day it was.

 

 

 

Entering the near deserted town.

The last hour was really hard, hard work in the heat, and I stumbled off the edge of a pavement in Fuente de Cantos and twisted my ankle which was not at all like me. But round the corner was a patisserie with its sweet sugar smell, and a few doors up was an oasis. It did not look much from the road, but this was not the municipal albergue, rather, one I had seen advertised on the road. In fact I had picked up the last leaflet.

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Entrance to El Zaguán de la Plata.
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See what I mean by ‘oasis’!

I wondered if I was in the right place because it looked like heaven. The door was open so I wandered through the great entrance hall into the courtyard. I sat by the fountain. I admired my surroundings. Of course I started to take photos, when out popped a man and offered me a drink. Most kind. So I had a seat (although I was very sweaty, in the 30 degree heat), and heard the water burbling and allowed the flowery aromas to waft around me, and exhaled.

 

What a find! I was, yes, you guessed it, the only person there, so I had the whole place to myself. Including the swimming pool which was great water therapy for my ankle. Of course, I had sent my bathing costume home on day 1, so it had to be underwear, but then again there was no-one to see me. Well only the owner and his dad pottering about the place. Oops!

 

I did walk out later to get some messages (used in Scotland to mean shopping) and it was a dusty and extremely hot walk to the edge of town to the supermercado. I visited the convent turned hostel which the others were staying in, both to see it and meet Yvette, but unfortunately she was nowhere to be seen, and I never saw her again. I did bump into the English cyclist who I had passed yesterday. He was looking for the post office to send his guitar home. He said he did not find that he had a need for it.

 

Shots of the town.

 

A glass or two of wine; the view from where I stayed; a lovely Madonna tile; and not everywhere was as smart.

 

 

There was a museum at the albergue, full of baskets, old farm machinery, and knick knacks. Fascinating.

 

 

Places to rest and recuperate as the temperature slowly cooled.

 

The downstairs bathroom and ceiling of the dormitory – all really attractively decorated.

 

 

Fuente de Cantos was the home of Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), so I visited the museum. Not my cup of tea, but what a cutting figure he made!

Francisco de Zurbaran https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_de_Zurbar%C3%A1n

Hostel website http://www.elzaguandelaplata.es/

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 2, Spain

Via de la Plata camino walk, Spain. Guillenna to Castilblanco de los Arroyos. 18 kms. 38 degrees heat on arrival.

Off I set on day 2 of the Via de la Plata. I wonder what today’s adventures will bring?
Magical to watch the sun rise as I walked.

There was a crescent moon high over Guillena as I left, happy in the cool air at 6.15am. There were already birds singing and the cats and kittens were skittering around the deserted village, scouting the bins and very nervous of me. There was that Spanish smell: a mix of plants, food, perhaps even the building materials – very hard to describe. The cock was heralding the dawn of my next stage. As I walked I felt really happy, happier and happier, and the kittens did their tree climbing practice while their mum looked on.

If I had walked past here extending the kilometers covered, as the Germans did yesterday, to the next town or even further, I would have missed this. As it was I was refreshed and ready for the journey. I realised that I was only wearing a T shirt and yet the temperature was very pleasant. The only clouds bordered the horizon.

I traversed the River de Huelva, bats flying around me, and ah! I remembered that I had left my food in the hostel fridge again. Mental note to self for tomorrow. I hoped it would be enjoyed by others.

My camera could not see the sunrise the way my eyes could. I rehearsed the description in my mind so I could try and conjure it up for you later: the colours of course – red and blue at the top, a stippled layer of dark purple underneath pale yellow, under pink – not like anything reproduced in fabric or paint. And all this above a silhouetted horizon of palm trees, like pineapples on sticks. The top edges of ordinary farm or industrial buildings stretched right across my vision, pulling my gaze towards my destination away from the hedgerow. That sillouette got stronger and stronger as I walked the long stretch of road, and as always on the outskirts of towns, there were very few arrows to guide me.

And then it lightened.

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I came to an industrial area by the main road intersection. My mind was mostly quiet except for the mini-panics over finding the way. I passed by a blue, white and yellow warehouse. Behind it there was a lot of rubbish littering the deserted tarmac – similar to yesterday on the outside of Seville – and there was an air of danger. I am not religious, but I felt as if the cross which hung around my neck given to me by Pedro the night before I left was protecting me. Perhaps his wish for me to have a safe journey was imbued into it.

These rather boring pictures are for those who might be following this blog and trying to find their way, like me, without a guide book.

 

I was prepared for difficulties because there was no translation of the website directions last night so I had nothing to go by, but after an hour I came to farm land, across a dry river bed, and there were the wonders of nature laid out before me.

Wild flowers I am familiar with from Scotland.
Side by side with tropical plants.
Whole fields of beauty.
My phone camera did manage to capture these gorgeous sights.

Obviously there has been no rain here for a quite a while.

My Shiatsu and its theory is always with me and I muse: I guess all of us who love to walk, feet on the ground, have to be balancing our Earth element, so then it follows that worry can be a normal thing for us, and the walking helps with that worry. There’s a rabbit! And bees collecting. My thoughts are interrupted by what surrounds me.


Soft grasses stroked my arm. The warming sun released the smells which changed from a damper, cool, morning green smell, to an earthier, warmer, sweet brown smell, and then to the searing fiery red emanating from the soil which has absorbed so much sun over so long. The track stretched straight into the distance and now I could see that there was one pilgrim ahead of me and 3 Italians behind. I had spoken to one the night before as we both had some French. There was a Spaniard with a stout stick and an Alsatian dog coming in the opposite direction. I needed to choose my footing carefully, picking my way across the very stony, pinky-brown earth with olive groves on one side, and crops on the other. Each had a narrow strip of flowers and grasses where the pesticide had not killed them.

Kind peregrinos had gone before me, making the way clear.

I kept asking myself why I walk. Maybe to prove myself to myself, to learn to be with myself without judgment, so I can do that with others? The quieter I am, the more accurately I hear, and then I know things before they happen. I mean, when I am attentive, things come into my mind before they take place outside of me, and so I am not surprised by them when they happen. I am pleased with this. It releases some of the anxiety, but it is still new to me, and unfamiliar. I believe that this sixth sense is one of the things babies have but then lose, getting replaced with fear. I am trying to unlearn the fear.

A walk was her answer to everything. It was her way of saying she did not want to talk.’                                                                                                                                                                       p. 190 The Words In My Hand, Guinevere Glasfurd

I heard amazing bird song and it is so hard to put into words. Some songs are simple, one or two notes, others start with one, but complete with a different rhythm altogether, however they did repeat, as if they were giving me lots of chances to understand what they were ‘saying’.

Ahead was a wonderful sight – a tiny castle in the distance amongst a huge field of sunflowers.

Getting closer and closer!
I measure – the sunflowers are exactly 4 foot 11 and a half inches, my height. Am I really that short?!

Another thing which happens as I walk is that memories surface, triggered, I suppose, by things I see or other thoughts. Today I was thinking a lot about my mum and I, when we were in Menorca many years ago. Maybe she was thinking about that too.

I had entered the natural park which signaled the start of the Sierra Norte and the Cortijo del Chaparral with its terracotta earth pathways. It was still flat, though, and I was heading in the direction of Castilblanco de los Arroyos.

There are the mountains of the Sierra Norte far away.
Again, the camera does not pick up the colour well, but those who have walked this way will know that the paths are the hue of old earthenware pots.

Glimpses of last night’s dreams floated frustratingly in and out of consciousness. I reflected that part of this happiness was knowing that I had set off at good hour so that if anything went wrong there was time to put it right.

Sierra nearer distance.

There were more thoughts and observations, and then I returned to the walking, my breath, the feeling of my feet and core. There was the odd ‘hola’ to hard working farmers as I walked. I must have been losing fluids because I was regularly tightening my rucksack straps. (It must fit me snugly to avoid back and shoulder ache.)

A group of men who were working hard in the fields, miles from each other but still managing to converse, did not notice me passing until I was gone. Then they unfolded, absent-mindedly curious. Someone was hand-pruning a peach orchard. Here were pregnant long-horned cows and rabbits in among the olives, and I heard a new bird call: a hoot coming in 2s and 3s that was being responded to in kind from who knows where.

As close as I got to the pregnant cows – so as not to cause alarm.
Not sure if you can see the rabbits white puff of a tail.
Hardy grasses fanning out from their exposed roots growing healthily in the arid ground.

One bird screeched, its long tail beating up and down. It was collecting from the ground and doing a sort of bouncy hopping from 2 feet to 2 feet, right alongside the rabbits, taking scraps to the excited babies in its nest. One bird daringly swooped in festoons from tree to tree, brushing past my head. There was lavender, rosemary and sharp cistus bushes, with sage too, and later a pungent like-sweet peas type of fragrance.

It was rocky with lots of yellow arrows. My advice if you are walking this way? if you have not seen one in the last 5 minutes, retrace your steps. I was tempted by the sounds of fellow travellers and immediately took a wrong turn, but one turned out to be the first Brit I had come across, a cyclist with good advice. He ‘buen camino-ed’ me from a distance later, unsure for some reason whether I spoke in English, and that little exchange changed my energy. I saw him again, once, and he was looking for a post office to send back his guitar. He said it seemed to be a good idea at the time, but actually it was a nuisance on the bike and unused.

Varied mental antics: The ants hurried along in opposite directions.  There was a buzz of pylons as I passed underneath that sent my brain fizzing. I was so glad that I did not add this to yesterday’s walk in what was a 38 degrees heat at the end of a 35 km walk. I am so often hungry, I wondered if perhaps I was starving in another life. The solo peregrino who I thought was behind me, passed as I sat quietly on a rock and ate my pear. I was using Bill Palmer’s concept of buoyant / full organs to keep my solar plexus open, in contrast to the curled-forwards posture of the everyday backpacker. There were butterflies galore, some almost black. I thought, remember! our words live on inside others, so take care with them, take responsibility.

I make the least imprint on the earth I think, walking like this, compared with bikes, cars, trains and planes, and I hope I give lots back in return for the joy I am getting.

In case you get lost after leaving the park, you turn left into the road, cross over and there is a path through the undergrowth on the other side. It has to be eyes down for the arrows.

The final part of the day’s pathway is by the road, but you can pretend you are in the open country.

 

Entrance to the town.
Two doorways, one inside the other. This camino is full of portals to new parts of me.

Once I got back into my stride, I thought, walking the Caminos suits those with a strong sense of behaving correctly, because when you walk alone you please yourself.


If it is early when you arrive in Castilblanco (11.30am), do as others do and and sit outside the first bar you come to, because the albergue opens at 1pm.

All hosteliers are volunteers.
Lovely gardens in front. You get the albergue / hostel key at the petrol station if it is shut.
A long, wide, main street.

So I went for some food. And after all, why should they serve what their English version menu offers? Especially if they have gone through it with you beforehand, explaining what they do and do not have, and showing you that the reason they do not have the fried anchovies is because it is not on the Spanish side, see? And you explain, ‘sin carne / no meat’ (ah, yes, I remembered the way this went!), and the first thing they brought (when I ordered chickpea salad) was meat stew, and then I reminded him that I did not eat meat, and he said, ‘what, not chorizo?’ and so he offered spinach salad. And after a long time a delicious spinach and chickpea curry arrived with fried bread. And I definitely did not say, ‘but you said there was no spinach’. And it all went beautifully with the red wine.

This was 2.45 by the way, after 5 hours walk.

The ‘pilgrim’s menu’, much later in the evening honest, was 8€. The calamares (squid) came the way I expected it to. That was one reason why I asked for it. I thought it would be simpler. Why do I insist on speaking in Spanish when he has some English and my Spanish is so limited?

Never had one of these before – it is ice cream.

The hospitalier was charming. The albergue / hostel doubles up as a day centre for people with disabilities and there is space out the front to sit and watch the world go by. The dorms are upstairs and follow the usual format – everything is provided for washing self and clothes, for sleeping, and preparing food, and it was spic and span.

In 3 hrs my washing was dry, even the thick stuff, and by then the roof terrace tiles were too hot to walk on. It was decorated and full of others, congenially chatting in multiple languages.

That was mine, bottom left. So I could make a quick get away the next morning.

Guess which ones are mine.
‘Walker, you walk, stop, and watch, as life goes by.’

 

‘Castilblanco de los Arroyos, Via de la Plata’.

The light went out at 9pm and the snoring began.