Via de la Plata Camino – Day 14 (Mérida to Ourense). Tuesday 3 April 2018. 20 kms.
The camino is otherwise known as The Way, as is the Tao, and I turned over the similarities between the two as I walked the road from Morille to Salamanca.
There was a straight yellow line ahead of me, almost flat, through green fields of recently sown grass. There were three of us at intervals, visible to each other.
The wind was strong, all on my left and it was overall too cold. I walked with my woolly hat on and hood up most of the way. In fact, today I would have recommended avoiding the month of March on this camino, but perhaps it was unseasonal. The accommodation, in general, is not geared up to it.
Here there were plains and plains to cross and so for hours I could see Salamanca, but even once I reached the outskirts there were two underpasses to duck under and parks with unfriendly city folk to cross.
Then I received a lovely welcome at the municipal albergue (donativo ie you pay what you think it is worth) and a host of friends had already arrived in that warm place.
Oh, it is a very elegant and sturdy city, Salamanca, with its deep ochre buildings and grandeur!
In Bar Cuzco the man was also exceptionally friendly, and though expensive, I waited out the pouring rain with wifi and red wine to warm my insides, stepping out onto the gleaming streets 2. 5 hours later.
In the evening I wandered around and here are some of the great sights.
Via de la Plata Camino, day 13 (Mérida to Ourense). Tuesday 3 April 2018.
The previous evening, we (there were only two of us in the albergue) had sorted out the boiler, which fused the lights at top setting but gave out wonderfully hot water after several hours at a lower one. The rain and wind continued all night, the shutter irregularly banging to wake us at intervals, and it was a dreary start. The hostel was freezing, there was no kitchen where I could prepare something, and the cafe was shut so no breakfast.
It was a very straightforward journey though, through Monterubbio de la Sierra to Morille.
There were more pigs along the way, and men working in the street. Up and down roads we went in conversation for five kms, and then walked apart in blessed silence for the further seven.
The weather brightened eventually and the raindrops dried on my specs. It was sheep farming again after days of dairy country.
The Morille hostel was nice and bright in the upper room but open-plan so the one small heater was insufficient. Between us we moved the bunks across the opening to the further chamber and draped the coloured duvets over to keep out the draughts. Thankfully there was hot water and although there were also places to sit, it was so cold that they were impossible to use. Ditto, the fridge was unnecessary at this time, but a stove would have been amazing to make tea on. The cost was, after all, only six euros. The smaller hostel was shut – only this larger one was open. When we arrived all the bars were shut until 12 noon. I had my credential stamped at the bar and paid later. The village has no phone lines: I think I understood from her Spanish that a bull damaged the line but…!
Everyone was at work in Salamanca, 20 kms away. There was a seemingly deserted village school and the townsfolk had made a great effort to rebuild and smarten up the place. As in the previous pueblo, in this village there is a travelling shop but today I missed it (Pedrosilla blog). A most helpful woman in her housecoat helped us find the place.
Via de la Plata Camino – Day 12 (Mérida to Ourense). Monday 2 April 2018. 18 kms.
I slept in the upper room of the lovely hostel in Fuenterroble and two others joined us three from the crowded dormitory downstairs during the night to avoid the snoring.
Breakfast was amazing – an Easter Monday special maybe.
It was a flat walk today through holm oak woods. I started with Marie Noelle but we soon parted company to walk alone.
A plane left its noise behind it; there were more pigs. I had decided not to walk a very long way (over 30kms) so I took a right at the Dueño de Abajo when the others went left.
The young cows were orangey-red and they played Grandmothers Footsteps with me: first running away when I walked and then freezing, all in a crowd (about 30 of them), when I turned round.
It was wide open countryside and I spent a great deal of time reviewing my dream of the night before – very powerful.
There was rain coming, judging by the wind and the feel in the air. One becomes attuned to the changes when outside all the time.
The sound of an engine seemed to be connected to the blunt, cut-off tree stumps – also revealing strong orange at the wounds.
Chaffinches with softer apricot-coloured bellys were swooping, and there were some grey cows wandering, activating their sonorous bells.
It was getting cold and wet by the time I arrived at Pedrosilla and I went to the bar, as directed, to indicate the keys to the albergue municipal, the council hostel. It was devoid of any heating, dirty and musty-smelling, so when Benito came along he joined me in the bar where there was wi-fi and warmth.
The family-run bar was excellent. The youngest daughter (of 9!) was there with her mother and various relatives; her sister ran the joint when she was away in Paris working as a TV producer. She cooked a wonderful tortilla for us and chatted away, ‘twenty to the dozen’ as they say, telling us about her life and that of the others. There is no shop in Pedrosilla although there is a mobile one which happened by at the right moment and charged me 6 plus euros for a tub of lettuce, one mandarin and a banana!)
Nuria made a long afternoon/evening, in a village which had no any other entertainment, and where the weather was almost entirely terrible, most enjoyable.
Note: Something has gone wrong with my WordPress making it impossible to load photos using the usual method, so some of these are elongated for some reason, and all smaller than usual. For which I apologise.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 which means that you pay for what you think it is worth or what you can afford.
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 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.
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. )
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 followed by the re-climbing process, 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, go straight across at the first roundabout, right at the second and you are off!
What a very hard day it became – 11 hours on the road, including two mistaken detours.
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 (a sort of cappuchino).
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.
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!
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 you will be out of the town in no time.
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.
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.)
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 stood erect. There were derelict buildings and lots of gates which had to be opened and closed as I trolled uphill.
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 away in the middle of nowhere.
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 were hurting.
Now, here is a good idea which I came up with as I walked: start a pole exchange at airports because 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. This was a really bad mistake, given it was already well into the afternoon.
Basic advice: only go somewhere if 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.
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 run by her as well). 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 continued 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. Finally, a kind woman phoned and discovered there was one bed left at a hostel in Aldeanueva and another couple then took me there in their 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 the woman who ran the places was not following Tourist Association rules. The day before (I learned later) a fellow walker did the same thing. 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 was so very grateful to the people who had helped me.
Cáceres to Casar de Cáceres (26th March 2018), maybe 18 kms taking me 4 hours plus.
Today I did my morning meditation in a different position because I cannot sit cross legged in my sleeping bag.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Four birds were having a spat. Yes, the energy was definitely stirred up.
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.
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.
Traipsing 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
Tourist info page Puebla de Sancho Perez: http://turismoextremadura.com/viajar/turismo/en/explora/Puebla-de-Sancho-Perez-00001/
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!
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.
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.
She spoke about the luxury of not having another person’s stuff to process. We mused that in the past men went to war and many did not return. Now many of us divorce each other, so either way there are still a lot of women alone at the end of their lives.
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 after an hour and a half or so I went on 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.
I remembered that yesterday when I sat down to eat there was a grasshopper by my left ear. Listening in this quiet place is one of the great pleasures of the Camino. I reflected that as a therapist I am familiar with listening to others 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.
Even though I tried to avoid squashing insects, the scuttley spiders seemed to change direction just before my foot descended, alerted by the earth moving as I walked towards them. Sadly they were therefore more likely to be stepped on. I spent some time thinking about fear.
I noticed ants going up and down a tree.
Both Christ and the Buddha walked and meditated. It seems to be something closely related to religion. I think it must be about contemplating one’s behaviour and the habits of others, the meaning of things.
There are empty husks growing beside me, dry whispering. Are they oats? They rustle and shine white-gold in the sunshine.
Dust blows around me. Over and over again I breathe it in without noticing, until I recognise that it is that which smells, 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 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.
I reminded myself that I 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.
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 town
The last hour was really hard work in the heat, and I stumbled off the edge of a pavement in Fuente de Cantos and twisted an 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’. The building did not look much from the road. It was not the municipal albergue, but one I had seen advertised on the road. In fact I had picked up the last leaflet.
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 and admired my surroundings. Of course I had 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 once again the only person there – I had the whole place to myself which included the swimming pool which was great water therapy for my ankle. 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 ( a word 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. It was not my cup of tea, but what a cutting figure he made!
Via de la Plata camino walk, Spain. Guillenna to Castilblanco de los Arroyos. 18 kms. 38 degrees heat on arrival.
There was a crescent moon high over Guillena as I left in the cool air at 6.15am. There were already birds singing and the cats were skittering around the deserted village, scouting the bins and very nervous of me. There was that Spanish smell: a mix of plants, food, perhaps even the building materials – very hard to describe. The cock was heralding the dawn of my next stage. As I walked I felt really happy, happier and happier, and the kittens did their tree climbing practice while their mum looked on.
If I had walked past here, extending the kilometers covered as the Germans did yesterday to the next town, I would have missed this. As it was I was refreshed and ready for the journey. I realised that I was only wearing a T shirt and the temperature was very pleasant. Only a few clouds bordered the horizon.
I traversed the River de Huelva, bats flying around me, and ah! I remembered that I had left my food in the hostel fridge again. I hoped it would be enjoyed by others.
My camera could not see the sunrise the way my eyes could. I rehearsed the description in my mind so I could try and conjure it up later: the colours – red and blue at the top, a stippled layer of dark purple underneath pale yellow, under pink – not like anything reproduced in fabric or paint. All this above a silhouetted horizon of palm trees, like pineapples on sticks. The top edges of ordinary farm or industrial buildings stretched right across my vision, pulling my gaze towards the destination away from the hedgerow. That sillouette got stronger and stronger as I walked the long stretch of road, and as always on the outskirts of towns, there were very few arrows as guidance.
And then it lightened.
I came to an industrial area by the main road intersection. My mind was generally quiet except for the mini-panics over finding the way. Passing a blue, white and yellow warehouse there was a lot of rubbish littering the deserted tarmac and there was an air of danger. I am not religious, but I felt as if the cross which hung around my neck given to me by Pedro the night before I left was protecting me. Perhaps his wish for me to have a safe journey was imbued in it.
I was prepared for difficulties because there was no translation of the website when I planned my route the night before. After an hour I came to farm land, crossed a dry river bed, and there were the wonders of nature laid out before me.
My Shiatsu and its theory is always with me and I muse: I guess all of us who love to walk, feet on the ground, have to be balancing our Earth element. It then follows that worry which is associated with that element can be a normal thing for us, and the walking helps with it. I spotted a rabbit and bees were collecting. My thoughts are interrupted by what surrounded me.
Soft grasses stroked my arm. The warming sun released the smells which changed from a damper, cool, morning green smell, to an earthier, warmer, sweet brown smell, and then to the searing fiery red emanating from the soil which has absorbed so much sun over so long. The track stretched straight into the distance and now I could see that there was a single pilgrim ahead of me and 3 Italians behind. I had spoken to one the night before as we both had some French. There was a Spaniard with a stout stick and an Alsatian dog coming in the opposite direction.
I stepped carefully, picking my way across the stony, pinky-brown earth with olive groves on one side, and crops on the other. Each had a narrow strip of flowers and grasses where the pesticide had not killed them.
I kept asking myself why I walk. Maybe to prove myself to myself, to learn to be with myself without judgment, so I can do that with others. The quieter I am, the more accurately I hear, and then I know things before they happen. When I am attentive, things come into my mind before they take place outside and so I am not surprised by them when they happen. I am pleased with this. It releases some of the anxiety, but it is still new and unfamiliar. I believe that this sixth sense is one of the things babies have but then lose, getting replaced with fear. I am trying to unlearn the fear.
‘A walk was her answer to everything. It was her way of saying she did not want to talk.’ p. 190 The Words In My Hand, Guinevere Glasfurd
I heard amazing bird song: some songs are simple – one or two notes; others start with one, but complete with a different rhythm altogether. They repeat, as if they were giving me lots of chances to understand what they were ‘saying’.
Ahead was a wonderful sight – a tiny castle in the distance amongst a huge field of sunflowers.
As I walk memories surface, triggered perhaps by things I see or other thoughts. Today I was thinking a lot about my mum and I when we were in Menorca many years ago. Maybe she was thinking about that too.
I had entered the Natural Park which signaled the start of the Sierra Norte and the Cortijo del Chaparral with its terracotta-coloured earth pathways. It was still flat and I was heading in the direction of Castilblanco de los Arroyos.
Glimpses of last night’s dreams floated frustratingly in and out of consciousness. I reflected that part of this happiness was knowing that I had set off at good hour so that if anything went wrong there was time to put it right.
After more thoughts and observations I returned to the walking, my breath, and the feeling of my feet and core. I called ‘hola’ (hello) to hard working farmers as I walked. I must have been losing fluids because I was regularly tightening my rucksack straps. (It must fit me snugly to avoid back and shoulder ache.)
A group of men who were working hard in the fields, miles from each other but still managing to converse, did not notice me passing until I was past. Then they unfolded, absent-mindedly standing, curious. Someone was hand-pruning a peach orchard. Here were pregnant long-horned cows and rabbits in among the olives, and I heard a new bird call: a hoot coming in 2s and 3s that was being responded to in kind from sonewhere else.
One bird screeched, its long tail beating up and down. It was collecting from the ground and doing a sort of bouncy hopping from 2 feet to 2 feet, right alongside the rabbits, taking scraps to the excited babies in its nest. One bird daringly swooped in festoons from tree to tree, brushing past my head. There was lavender, rosemary and sharp cistus bushes, with sage too, and later a pungent fragrance like-sweet peas.
It was rocky with lots of yellow arrows. My advice if you are walking this way: if you have not seen a sign in the last 5 minutes, retrace your steps.
I was tempted by the sounds of fellow travellers and immediately took a wrong turn. One turned out to be the first Brit I had come across, a cyclist with good advice. He ‘buen camino-ed’ me from a distance later, unsure for some reason whether I spoke in English, and that little exchange changed my energy. I saw him again, once in a village as he was looking for a post office to send back his guitar. He said it seemed to be a good idea at the time, but actually it was a nuisance on the bike and unused.
The ants hurried along in opposite directions. There was a buzz of pylons as I passed underneath that sent my brain fizzing. I was so glad that I did not walk this part yesterday in what was a 38 degrees heat at the end of a 35 km day!
The solo peregrino who I thought was behind me passed as I sat quietly on a rock and ate my pear.
To avoid the curled-forwards posture of the everyday backpackers I saw around me I was using Bill Palmer’s concept of buoyant / full organs to keep my solar plexus open.
There were butterflies galore, some almost black.
I thought as I walked: our words live on inside others, so it is important to take care with them, to take responsibility for what we say.
I make the least imprint on the earth I think, walking like this, compared with bikes, cars, trains and planes, and I hope I give lots back in return for the joy I am getting.
In case you get lost after leaving the park, you turn left into the road, cross over and there is a path through the undergrowth on the other side. It has to be eyes down for the arrows.
Walking the Caminos alone is good for people who usually try to behave correctly in life, as it is often the first time they can please themselves.
If it is early when you arrive in Castilblanco (11.30am), do as others do and and sit outside the first bar you come to because the albergue doesn’t opens until 1pm.
I went for some food and it was quite a performance. The English version of the menu did not have the same meals as the Spanish version did. The bar owner explained that the reason they did not have the fried anchovies was because it was not on the Spanish side! I said ‘sin carne / no meat’ (ah, yes, I remembered the way this went!), and the first thing ge brought (when I ordered chickpea salad) was meat stew. I reminded him that I did not eat meat, and he said, ‘what, not chorizo?’ and so he offered spinach salad. After a long time he reappeared with a delicious spinach and chickpea curry and fried bread. I definitely did not say, ‘but you said there was no spinach’and it all went beautifully with the red wine.
The ‘pilgrim’s menu’, much later in the evening was 8€. The calamares (squid) came the way I expected it to. That was one reason why I asked for it. I thought it would be simpler. Why do I insist on speaking in Spanish when he has some English and my Spanish is so limited?
The hospitalier at the albergue / hostel was charming It doubles up as a day centre for people with disabilities and there is space at the front to sit and watch the world go by. The dorms are upstairs and follow the usual format – everything is provided for the washing of self and clothes, for sleeping and preparing food, and it was spic and span.
In 3 hrs my washing was dry, even the thick things and by then the roof terrace tiles were too hot to walk on. It was decorated and full of others congenially chatting in multiple languages.