Via de la Plata Camino – Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almadén

éDay 3, 18.5.17. Via de la Plata camino walk, Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almadén. 29.5 kms.

On and off through the night I was shaken from my dreams by snoring, but as I know I ‘give as good as I get’, I could not complain. Later I was woken by my alarm and was the first up. I  did try to be careful, indeed I had prepared everything the night before so I could creep out silently, but I forgot I had emptied my pockets and as I moved my clothes I dropped all the coins. They rolled loudly and far on the tiled floor – what a racket!

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The main street, Castilblanco de los Arroyos.

After breakfast, I set off confidently, but down and back I went looking for the arrows to show me the way, and I lost the time I had gained from rising early.

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Well, I really had to snap this very large statue in the centre of Castilblanco – man with donkey!
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Attractive house fronts with sign reading Venida Virgen de Escardiel. There is a hermitage dedicated to this Virgin 5 kms from Castilblanco, also a bar named after her!

The others were up and out, probably woken by my noise, and so I thankfully followed them. As I walked my head was full of questions.

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Was this some sort of folly, or a drinking trough for animals, or maybe somewhere to wash your clothes? The reflections of the sky in the water and the Virgin at the apex made a striking sight.
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Out of the urban environment, there was a long, straight road and glowering sky – the latter an unusual sight in Southern Spain even in May.
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A dog, black pigs (Spanish ‘jamón’ from this area is world famous) and cockerel, all happily sharing a field.
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I could not resist the wonderful light and the expanding sun’s rays in this sky.

I compared the luminous yellow arrows with the luminous sunny morning. There was no comparison! How does the sun pick out the edges of each leaf, as well as ripples of old bark, which has no shiny surface, and make them gleam?

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The sun is starting to illuminate the foliage.

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I hoped that I had built up enough strength during the previous two days for the 30 kilometers ahead of me, and that I would not therefore have to use super-human, prodigious will power. Ah, there was a thrilling bird voice – was it encouraging and reassuring me?

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It was day three of being on my own. Would I be content to be a hermit or enter one of those retreats like Tenzin Palmo? If I am alone so often anyway, maybe. Then again, like most others I enjoy companionship. It is all about balance.

”..the walk is solitary and rural, a means of being in nature and outside society.’               p. 18 Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust

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I saw the first lake of this journey.
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The Canal blog says, ‘Be prepared for a long road this morning.’ (See below).

I moved between tarmac and softer gravel, along a bed of dry, brown leaves from last year – it is kinder on my soles. I hear French spoken behind me. It is crisper and much less passionate than Spanish. Later I meet the couple and exchange a while. He does most of the talking and was indeed a crisp sort of person.

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I passed beautiful irises – just look at that colour!

Then a tandem passed me – him with his long back in blue and black, she behind in pink, legs circling of course, in exact time with each other. ‘Buen camino!’ A little further on they get off and walk up the hill, and I realise I have been steadily climbing. There is a long, spider-legged peregrino in front of me, an older man without all the gear behind, and the wheeled couple coast down the other side.

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There She is again, guarding and blessing the homestead in her beautiful gold cloak and white dress with halo.

The walls I trekked between were white and had decorated name plates outside, even the ordinary ones. They have plants in the type of pots you might expect a genie to whisp out of, and they adorn the gatehouse, while the road stretches in to the land behind. It was much hotter by this time, even at 9am.  My right hip bothered me a little with the climbing. Crunchy old acorns littered the ground.

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Here it was more the azure water which stopped me in my tracks.

At 10.10am I enter the Parque Natural de Sierra Norte and am off road. The two French people were in front.

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Not much shade. Fellow pilgrims in the distance.

I take my first pee of the morning – oh to be able to stand up and do it like men! Next time I will wear those shorts which you can just pull up and down easily. It is a real struggle to squat with the money belt and rucksack, and then try and do buttons once standing up again. After repetitively walking a long way, bending the knees is hard, although having said that, it is probably good to keep them lithe. A bird sings ‘pee pee pee’!

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On the Via de la Plata the pointers are mainly yellow arrows, but here was the Saint James shell, the Coquille Saint Jaques, too.

I wonder about listening to music as I go along. Alain, who I walked with on the Camino Francés, used to play songs and sing to me, it was a way of getting to know each other. I try, but after a few moments I stop. I like to hear the sounds around me and potter along at my own pace not to the song rhythms. My head is full enough as it is.

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‘Never did I think so much, exist so vividly, and experience so much, never have I been so much myself – if I may use that expression – as in the journeys I have taken alone and on foot.’ Rousseau, Discourses on Inequality.

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Very effective stepping stones.

Lunch was at 10.40 and what a cacophony of toads down in the stream. Such beauty.

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The wild flowers flourish near the river.

There were soft, soft, fine grasses curving over in the mild breeze, black olive trunks contrasted with swathes of yellow flower heads and hopefully, I mused, I was over half way to Almadén.

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Ancient olive trees. Only small pools of shade to relieve the heat.

I remember trying to pick up my pace but my feet were sore and my ankles stiff. I obviously was not yet into the swing of this amount of daily walking. A bird kept saying ‘bo bo boh’, one with a largish orange-brown breast and a black and white tail. At least I thought that was the one which belonged to that particular call. It can be hard to identify them.

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There were long, oblong stone troughs for feeding the animals, white-pink stones rather than crystal quartz, very tall trees reminiscent of the ones next to the albergue roof terrace last night. I had watched the leaves meditatively spinning whilst doing my T’ai Chi.

Banks of lavender fell down hillside, which when squeezed released a potent and wonderful aroma.

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Blue sky and fields of lavender.

As far as the eye could see there was only trees and nature and natural sounds: I climbed over some water, admired the lollipop pines and inhaled their resiny smell. It all prompted me to take deep breaths.

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The rivers Huéznar and Viar wind through the Park.

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And in good time, because there followed a very, very steep, though thankfully relatively short, climb of 550 metres. Half way up was a memorial to a dead pilgrim (Michel Laurent) which seemed appropriate given the gradient.  Many people walk the Caminos at the end of their life or because they are unwell and some do die on the way.

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A ‘mirador’ is a viewing place, somewhere to admire the surrounding countryside.

At the top there were three of us and we gave thanks for the cooling wind. I was excited to see the end in sight as well as tomorrow’s path running east to west on the slope opposite. That was to be rather important information the next morning.

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It was the first town or village I had set eyes on since 6.30am, 6.5 hours ago, and although it was also a very, very steep topple down, and I had to take enormous care because of the boulders and sheer rocks, the reward was at the bottom.

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And at last I arrived.

In Almadén, on the church tower, were 5 of the huge black and white cranes which I had seen in Northern Spain.

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I love the yellow and white architecture of this part of the north province of Seville. And there is a crane coming in to land.
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It was actually quite a long walk through the outskirts to the municipal albergue, and I had an unwanted guide, a man who attached himself to me as soon as I entered the town, and kept talking. I did not get a good feeling, perhaps it was because I was tired, but in the end I had to ask him to go away.
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A welcome bed. The poor French woman leaning over on the left, has blisters, which is hardly surprising given her husband insists they cover 2 days at a time. He is an experienced walker, but this is her first time. I donate my plasters which, thankfully, I do not need.
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And like most Spanish urbanisations, there were beautiful flowers by the side of the road.

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Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust. ISBN 978-1-78378-0-396

Canal blog: http://viadelaplata.canalblog.com/archives/2015/07/01/32298926.html

Via de la Plata Camino – Guillena to Castilblanco de los Arroyos

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.