Aljucén to Alcuescar, Via de la Plata, Spain

Aljucén to Alcuescar, 23.3.18: 19 kms.

First, a few photos from last night:

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A typical house of this region, Aljucén, Spain.

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

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

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

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

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

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Crossing the Rio / River Aljucén, Spain.

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

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

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

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

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The first hills, hazy in the distance.

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

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

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

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‘Yin and Yang’ says my Argentian companion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olocau – the last blog… but is it?

14 – 17 March 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some of the displays were unfinished and protected by fences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Macabre.

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

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Euphorbia – spectacular Spring green.

Parque Parochial San Vicente website

Olocau near Valencia, Spain.

12/13 March 2018

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Olocau – looking down in the evening sun I see stainless steel pools and whitewashed Piccasso cubes of village.

I am house-sitting for G. outside a village in the Sierra Calderona Natural Park, approximately 40 kilometres from Valencia, on the south-eastern Mediterranean coast of Spain. The family love animals and each time I visit there are more additions to the collection: to date, three dogs; 5 remarkably plump and be-feathered chickens; copious fish (their murky golden forms almost hidden from view) in the deep pail, and a snake.

G. was a bridesmaid with my eldest daughter, then about 3 years old, at my sister, C’s, wedding. G, C and I all went to the same school in Kent, England, though I am the elder.

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One day’s offerings from the chickens.

The last two days contained more strong rain, but also temperatures of 18 plus degrees, so the aim of boosting my Vitamin D levels after a Scottish winter will realise that, and the virus I came with is all but disappeared leaving only the vestiges of a phlegmy cough and occasional shortness of breath.

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The Iberian blue sky – see why I like coming back here!

In fact, regular readers of Walking Without a Donkey will recognise that I am almost back on form when I note that during yesterday’s walk ‘I heard the silence’ again. That is to say, I heard the wind soughing and my own tread hollow. Hollow but sometimes with an accompanying rattle as stones dislodge,  and other times with a pine-needle crunch. What I guess I mean is,  I remembered to listen to the external environment not just the chatterings inside my own skull.

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Silver grey olive trees contrasting with the mountains’ green.

Yes, the rushes were faintly shushing; the birds gently twittering, and the dogs panting as they ran between the frothy almond trees in the late sunshine.

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Gorgeous evening shadows showing off the dogs in their best light.

I carried my full rucksack for the two evening hours, to see if I could manage. I will be walking approximately 25 kms per day for the 30 or so days I am planning to finish the Via de la Plata camino, and I will also have some food and an extra water bottle, so this was hardly representative, but doing it uphill, at the end of the day when I was tireder, and while I was still not 100% healthy would, I reckoned, give me an idea. It turned out to be most useful, sending me back with a check-list for the future and the mildly asthmatic sensation whilst unpleasant, prompted me to keep looking after myself to get properly well for the main focus of my trip.

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Cairns mark the right path. I add my own choice of stones as I was taught on the Scottish hillsides.

Living with the dogs is an adventure: the puppy is a very active guard-dog and two nights have been disturbed by her growling and barking. It actually makes me more nervous of being away from other people rather than less, but I expect it is wild animals roaming their sweet nocturnal ways amongst the brush and nothing to worry about.

Every day the things Sophie has stolen from around the homestead get more and more chewed up, and I find little pieces of them scattered around – the black plastic filter from G’s former pond; an almond from the bowl on the kitchen worktop which has taken her three days to get into; that trowel that may not ever be useful again!

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Louis, the arthritic overweight dog – he is the most excited when I am getting ready to take them out, bless him!

Probably G. does not lie on the terrace that much because the dogs are a bloody nuisance when I try to meditate or do yoga. They are monstrously affectionate, especially by pressing their noses and tongues into my hands while I attempt to be still. I am sorry to admit this, but I realise I am not really a dog person, I like my cat better, because being licked by them is just not my idea of love.

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El Puntal des Llops (say yops) with its divers signs and billboards, many in incomprehensible Valenciana.

The next day’s mini-trek was backpack-free and I found my way, without trying,  to El Puntal des Llops, a Roman settlement dating from 5-11th century BC which thwarted trip I had attempted a few days earlier. Louis and I took it gingerly on the steep approach (from the back), whereas Sophie went up and down at least four different ways in the time it took us!

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From the top I could see the city of Valencia and the Mediterranean Sea! There was the backdrop of various Sierras in tones of grey against the blue heat-haze. And, closer to home, the orange escarpments; roads like the soft fabric carpet my brother had for his toy cars, the one with hyphenated road markings; the differently-shaped trees, some pointed, some broccoli-shaped; and shadows thrown by clouds the exact shape of my two daughters’ sister-tattoos.

If you want a day-trip from Valencian busyness, hire a car and park at the bottom. Then take your time to wander up this easy (though stony) path because the site is free and open all hours, and even if Roman walls do not turn you on, the view is ‘to die for’.

On your way down you can look out for the rock detail which this landscape offers: tiny thread creases like my skin after a lotion-free day in the sun; or the face of that elderly man, presumably Himalayan, they kept incongruously showing in the film Mountain; like bricks which have been scored but never sandwiched. See the striations of muted colours: orange brown and pink, and be careful as you put a hand out to steady yourself – it could be a brittle paper-dry pine trunk or a hair’s breadth of cheese-cutting wiry green grass.

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At any moment you might be touching deadly sharp bamboo shards or the soft curlicues of what we call ornamental grasses.

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A stalk with a bulging bud. You can almost guess the flower will be orange from the tone of green.

I can hear today’s book in my head inspiring me as I tramp: Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss is not just a wealth of punctuation information which I am hoping will have rubbed off on me as I come to write, but is artfully written and its humour made me laugh out loud three times!

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Everyday a new flower has erupted. Today sprays of delicate white petals with a precise black line down the centre of each, though my camera cannot capture its beauty.

It is getting dark when I make my way home and although I have not seen a soul for two days, I several times think there is a man to my right. When I turn to look closely he has been turned into a tree. This is the landscape wherein fairy tales and bible stories were invented – bushes which could be burning with the word of God at every corner; abandoned houses where witches lie waiting for gingerbread children. Perhaps it is the silence combined gunshots ricocheting around or simply my own fervent imagination!

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Even these leaves remind me of Hans Christian Anderson illustrations – sorcerer hands with long bony fingers which reach out to touch the unsuspecting on the shoulder.

Olocau Tourist Information website.