Via Sacra – Day 2, Spain

6th October 2017 Day 2 Heiligenkreuz to just outside Kaumberg, Austria. On foot. The second half of Stage 2.

The Via Sacra path.

I rose very early for the first service of the day at Heiligenkreuz Monastery where I slept the night. In the chilly church, the Fathers must have been happy to have their white habits with wide sleeves to cosy their hands in. Some had additional black skull-caps; one his pointy hood pulled over his head.

Intoning their Gregorian chants, the 30 men from all around the world enacted their daily rituals, taking it in turns to start off the constituent parts. Sitting then standing, turning towards the altar then backing into their own wooden slot like well practiced horses, turning the pages of the great books propped up in front of them, they alternated being upright and bowing in reverence.

There were 6 of us congregation dotted about the pews, which was very different from the 200 strong crowd of the previous evening when a group of business people were there for a visit.

Heiligenkreuz Monastery, Lower Austria.

Breakfast consisted of fresh white bread rolls, yoghurt, cheese, some fresh and some tinned fruit, jams, honey on tap, and a broad array of drinks etc which set me up for the day.

Outside of Mass, the brethren were delightful, laughing, ruddy-faced and balding, making jokes with everyone and giving what looked like entertaining tours in English when required.

Spot the red and white sign on the tree!

It was a windy day when I set out, and I gave thanks for the red and white horizontal striped way-markers because the Via Sacra yellow arrows were few and far between. Lost once more amongst the hills, the green chestnuts’ littered the paths with their shiny brown tokens. The walk was slow with fragrant white roses, gleaming red berries, the sun shining from behind the clouds and lighting up the almost luminous Autumn leaves. Although I felt urgency and some sort of competitive streak I wondered with whom and why for as I had no itinerary or deadlines to meet. In fact I had the luxury of no companion and no compunction to arrive at a particular place by a certain time, so I encouraged myself to stop and take notes, photos,  write messages and bask in the sun.

Kestrels (or some such raptor) danced together on the thermals, six of them mimicking those which entranced me in the Basque country last year – piping and whistling they were.

There is a tremendous amount of forestry and logging all through this area.
The church at Maria Reisenmarkt.

Maria Reisenmarkt is a very pretty village with a steep climb out via a stony  road (medium and tiny white rocks with tree roots, leaves, sometimes concrete, mud or grass). The beechwood was  wonderfully quiet with occasional rustling, and there was a corresponding quiet inside me.

With pines interspersed, the sunshine is away up in the tallest canopy rather than on the ground allowing a cold wind to transport its Fall scents. Every now and then a golden leaf wafts down, and sometimes the trees catch most of the wind and I only experience a breeze.  Once out in the open there was a tiny village with a huge gasthaus to serve me lunch.

I was glad of the salad bar but could not eat  all those chips.
It had a kitsch garden.
And in the car park was something I had not seen before: cars with their padlocked dog boots open for air.

After my welcome break, the path took me through Mayerling which I knew from Kenneth Macmillan’s ballet of that name. The full-length dance opens in Vienna and closes in the cemetery at Heiligenkreuz so its tragic trajectory mirrors my journey.

The Emperor Franz Joseph in the window at the Mayerling Convent’s museum.
The village of Mayerling has a private convent.
With the most beautiful little lake.
Going out of Mayerling I came across this ‘come and cut your own’ flower farm with fields of gladioli and sunflowers.
Most attractive and typical Austrian domestic architecture.
A wayside shrine.

The last part of the day 2 walk was along a concrete cycle path which was hard on the feet so I did not make it right into Kaumberg. Instead I chanced my luck at Gasthof Renzenhof by the main road which is not one I would recommend at this time of year. The owner obviously did not expect anyone so the beds were as their previous inhabitants had left them and nothing was clean.

However the harvest was almost in, bottled or made into jam, and the breakfast was a delight. She even made me a boiled egg, bless her.

I used my sleeping bag for the first time having carried it around for nearly 2 weeks, and needed two of her duvets on top in the unheated room. Happily 5 euros was knocked off the price!
It always seems fortuitous when I come across a donkey on my travels as I did today!

Via Sacra pdf leaflet to download but do not rely on this alone. Make sure you also use other maps and more detailed information to avoid getting lost.

There are maps at some junctions.

http://brochures.austria.info/en_US/brochures/show/6006-Via-Sacra-and-the-Vienna-Pilgrimage-Trail

First I thought these little tree houses were for playing, then for bird watching. Sadly it turns out that they are for hunting deer.

Spain, Olocau 2

Living in Olocau for a few weeks: July 2017

I flew from Edinburgh at lunch time without any incidents, and had time to spare in Stanstead where I have never seen so many people in short shorts in such a small place!

My plane was arriving in Alicante at 9.30pm and I needed to be in Valencia by the morning. I had researched many different ways to make the transfer, and as previous readers of my blog will know, I have had adventures with Bla Bla Car in the past, so I went with that option. However, this time it backfired: the driver cancelled a few minutes before boarding for Spain and that left me without any way to make the journey that night as the final bus between the cities leaves at 9.30pm.

I remembered how people have turned up to help me when I have had challenges before, so when I was in my seat before take-off I asked the woman, Ana, in the next chair if she could check my Spanish translation, and she was a honey! As we were delayed on the runway (yes, Ryanair), she was invaluable in helping me search and book an Air bnb,  as well as an early morning bus, so by the time I was in the air I had plans. Then we had time for stories of family and travel, cake decorating, and common kindness. The sun set like an inside out blood orange.

Of course arriving in Spain in July, even in the late evening is a hot thing to do. But I managed the bus into town smoothly (2 euros 70) and made the journey on foot to Pilar’s. Oh, to exist was to be covered in a smooth, thick, sheen of sweat! 

I had not brushed up on my Spanish before leaving as I meant to, and so was rather pleased to hear myself finding accessible vocabulary which I thought I had forgotten. Pilar and I swapped walking stories and tales of a knee which won’t allow her to climb. I managed about 5 hours sleep.

Walking through dark Alicante at 4am I marveled at the ink black sky and waning moon. Bored Guardia Civil were on their phones, and divers back packers on the edge of the pavement or draped over rucksacks with black eye masks. Me? this time I had a suitcase and smaller rucksack so I did not belong to that itinerant group.

I managed to dissuade a random man from linking up with me, and on the bus Spanish radio voices rattled away, and girls made excited phone calls as I drifted in and out of sleep. I was so tired that a stiff neck and hips did not deter me.

And in no time at all there was Valencia, its sun rising in pastel colours of baby blue and pink with old gold at the edges and it was already 25 degrees at 7am. I had been warned!

And so I arrived in Olocau, and the market was in full swing as we drove through the village (see previous blog).

The first thing I noticed was the wonderful aroma of lemony pine.  I was welcomed by the dogs Pollo (chicken in Spanish) and Louis who were to be my companions for the next three weeks. 

First I had free range eggs from their chickens for breakfast, and later I was  shown how to feed and care for them. 

There was sort of surround sound, a constant zzzzz, that might be mistaken for electricity but was of course cicadas.

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Inside there was the sound of trickling water from the goldfish tank, outside the swimming pool jets, and occasional renting of the peace by the dogs’ warning barks. 

Actually there was plenty of quiet between it all for my meditation, and although in the Sierra Calderona at this time of day the sun was around and above, in the valley was a very green cool. 

Above the house and village are grand cliffs and I half expected the heads of American presidents to morph out of them.

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My first proper walk was wonderful for the first 3 hours, but then I became aware that the sun was still on my right (it was about 10.30am) and that therefore I was heading north. I should have curved around and started to head for home before this, so I must have missed the path. Eventually I discovered I was in Antigua Marines. The scale of the map was too small for me to find paths through the mountains, and the only way google showed me home was by road. That was when I discovered that the dogs were not traffic savvy and I could not control them. In the end I hit upon phoning Sue, a woman I had not even met yet, to be collected in the car. What a disaster!

Other walks I made during the following week were frequently in 30 degrees, with warm golden evening light, and I got lost a lot: I came across a fountain that way (photo at top of page); I admired the goats which were multi-coloured with twisted horns, bells tinkling, and ear tags – they were nervous of me but not of the dogs; and the magnificent variety of greens.

Today I removed a tiny bloated frog from the bottom of the pool, yesterday more than one whopping great spider, and the day before a courageous hedgehog. I do not know how long he had been there, and I know hedgehogs love to swim (so it says on the internet anyway), but then I saw him going under and so I hoiked him out with the dustpan which I had been using to clear the patio. He just stayed put on the grass for ages, breathing but not even hiding his snout. Eventually I wrapped him in a towel, put him in a box and placed the box in the flower bed. I thought he might be starving if he had been in the pool for hours (or even all night). An internet site suggested he might like scrambled eggs and green beans, but by the time they had cooked and cooled he had left.

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 4, Spain

19.5.17 day 4 Almaden de la Plata, through El Real, to Monesterio, on the Via de la Plata Spanish Camino. 35kms – crazy!

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View of Almaden de la Plata the afternoon before.
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It was dark when I departed the following morning.

The Christmas lights were on in Almaden as I left the town after an over-confident decision to make a double day’s walking. It had actually been cold in the night and was cooler than normal as I walked out this morning. I wondered if it was because of the altitude.

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Christmas decorations in May?
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It is the little touches that make a hostel attractive.

So, in my last blog I noted that the east-west route for today was clear from the top of the hill, and I knew which side of me the sun should be. But, I was distracted by the goats and made a major mistake, the worst I have ever made in terms of time spent going in the wrong direction. I did not take the option on the left. If it is dark, fellow walkers, be careful! Note to self: I have to be extra watchful in mornings.

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Not as if it wasn’t sign posted!
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On the other hand I would not have otherwise seen the sun starting to illuminate this amazing landscape.
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And I have since read other blogs and I was not the only one to make this error.
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Some people went much further in the wrong direction than I did, poor things.

I had wanted to get a head-start: uncomfortably my competitve streak seemed to be coming out. I knew I was walking towards the rising sun, and that I should be going east to west, but I also thought I was right. However, just look! the mist was coming off the glassy water just as if it was an Enid Blyton magical pool.

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Having reset my course, I continued on through this area of outstanding natural beauty, heading towards the Sierra Norte. There were sheep bells tinkling all around me (idyllic, I know), and I saw one of those huge black and white birds standing as still as if it was waiting until it understood what the world was all about.

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Well fancy living here – right in the middle of this haven of nature, as if it was their back garden.

I realise, however, that when you walk alone, you get the autonomy but no support.

Beautiful, black twisted trunks.

The same birds as yesterday were ‘boh boh’, answering each other across the path in the early morning sunshine.

Walking, for me, is all about doing the work of sorting things out. The same themes of loneliness and relationships were on my mind this morning.

The sun was not yet high enough to light up the water.
My shadow, now I was going west like I should have been all along!

Yes, I knew I should have been heading , in that direction, but the little voice inside my head had to get very loud before I stopped and retraced my steps. It is something I have always hated doing, going back on myself. Is it because of the time and energy lost or what?

There were a whole lot more animals here than I had seen on the rest of the journey put together. Curly horned goats were eating voraciously, and pigs, sheep, chickens and even one lone peregrino.

Not that I was giving myself a hard time, but I do belive that it was a matter of the tortoise and the hare: I had been impetuous and mind-less, and, interestingly, it happened on a day when I had decided to do twice as many kilometers.

 

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Anyway, I was going slowly, and without a doubt the smell had changed as the sun warmed the world up. There was more to sniff overall, less subtle, and, well, the beasts were ….pungent.

The rich, deep orange, red, and brown soil was so hard and so full of rocks, the drought had made great cleaves in it.

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Rocks, but you cannot see the great fissures.

Time: there is simply getting through it, and just managing it. And then there is racing. This walk is supposed to be about sampling every moment and being in the world, being in place, so to speak, so that I can see what is around me in glorious technicolor. That is what I have given myself the opportunity to do.

Then from stage left, out of the scrub, comes the first solo peregrina, a woman also walking on her own. I nod hello and get no response so I leave her to herself.

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Immediately I came across a huge flock of goats, tucked against the fence and around the gate, and guarded by one, no, two dogs. All was peaceful munching, dozing, and baa-ing. I moved through the throng, and was about to do the right thing and close the gate, when I picked up a change in energy and heard the goats starting to bleat, and then I saw that the dogs were on their feet. I looked and the female walker behind me was obviously scared. Her fear was transmitting to the animals – she was frozen.

I went back and accompanied her out and tried various languages to communicate, but she seemed to speak none of them, so I left her to her own pace and went on.

I reflect that this walking lark is a test of how I cope with thinking on my feet, how I deal with obstacles such as metal gates, goats or water blocking the way.

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Oh the glorious blue!

Pools of unfathomable beauty were reflective and languid. They made me want to stop and sit for ever.

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In the middle of the park was the village of El Real, at 11am. It was a short stage of 15.5 kilometers, but tricky, especially if you get lost, are older, or have blisters.

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Her is the albergue I did not stay in.

But I did stop for a green tea (some of you will not be surprised), and some of my pack lunch, and the group of Italians I had originally been ahead of, and who obviously did not get lost, were there too.

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The little village had a good array of shops, and I was able to buy bread and a few other things I needed. All in all, it was a necessary and welcome hiatus.

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So pretty!

Then I was off again, up the steep hill and back into open country. There was a little queue of us, well spread out, and it was already very hot.

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Walls not fences. And over one wall was a river and I saw a turtle.

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And a ruined castle with the same massive (avian) cranes nesting on it I had seen in Almaden.

It was a long arduous climb, one that would have been at the beginning of the day rather than the hot middle, if I had slept at that place. Yesterday there was a short but very steep one and I was aware of my breathing as I climbed. Today it went on longer and I could feel my heart beating too.

I see the Buddha all around me sitting under trees as he was reputed to do.

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The name of the private house I walked past: Estrella, the star.

The buzzing of a spaghetti junction of pylons as I walked under it helped raise my Ki at GV20, but if it happened for too long, I reckoned, the Yin would turn to Yang.

Then a different type of buzzing: frogs which I was told was grenouille by a French man imparting knowledge as he happened to pass by. He was going so fast he would not have noticed if I had not stopped him and his wife to delightedly point the noise out. I had been sitting silently having my snack and listening to their songs.

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The long hot road ahead.

On through the Sierra Norte I walked, finding it hard without a guidebook to help me on my way. Looking down, I realised that, in this part of the world, even ants have shadows. I thought I would make that the name of my travel book if I ever write one. What do you think?

I move through a landscape of trees, wild flowers, and a mountain herd of cows, all a rich brown with horns and swishing tails. There were calves and two men on horseback herding them through. Seemed a peculiarly Spanish scene.

There was bullfighting on the tv in the cafe where I sat the night before last. In front of dignitaries, the waistcoats of the matadors were splendid, and their magenta swathes of cloaks were no doubt admired as swash-buckling, but I had to leave: it was devastating to watch.

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I gave thanks for the wind.

I passed the man who ate tinned peas and carrots for tea and tinned fruit salad for breakfast as he sat by the roadside contemplating an empty can. I thought how it must be so heavy to carry them all.

Kilometer after kilometer I trek, the yellow fragrant broom-type plant making my path fragrant.

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I crouch under what is actually a bush, for the little shade it offers, while I rest my tired feet.
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A rare building just on the outskirts of a rather yukky industrial area.

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After the lovely Sierras the air is full of industrial noise, an acrid smell in my nose, and what with the searing heat and dust, and the fact that the Extremadura Road sign tells me I have a further 10kms to go, I am somewhat down-hearted.

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Then there was a twisty path through plane trees which captured what breeze there was AND offered some dappled shade.

How much better than the motorway, though still I have to admit it is really hard going.

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There are little signposted paths, but you must look hard for some of them and there are almost dangerous parts, presumably to avoid the motorway. It was so very hot by now, and I took frequent tiny breaks. I think one of them was where I left my water bottle 😦

Why did I choose to do this long etape? I inevitably ask myself.

And then, at last, I was at the first roundabout of what turned out to be a largeish town: Monesterio. That is something worth noting: if you do not have a book, nor able to use the internet, you do not know whence you are heading, and it is therefore always a surprise – in my case always a good one!

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Once again, there was a long walk to the municipal albergue, an ex-convent, and it was not at all straightforward. Up half of the cowboy-film-style main street I went – the sign directed me to the left – and through the small streets I wound, asking people if I saw any, although it was all but deserted at this hour, tracing and retracing my steps until I arrived.

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It is huge, and joy, I therefore have a room to myself.

The lone Italian woman was next door, we shared a bathroom, which flooded at the easiest opportunity, and she was not happy with any of it.

There was a large courtyard out the back, I really mean huge, which as far as I could tell belonged to another building. At the top of a tower which I could see from my bedroom, there was a gigantic nest, but there were no birds visible.

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You can get a sense of the size.
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A peculiarly art-deco tower.

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Do you know what? In the kitchen there was a machine which dispensed tea bags. Never seen anything like it. It even had green tea!

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I seem to remember it was 1 euro per bag!

I had a peaceful, if humid, night.

Spain: Olocau

15th July – today. 30 or so minutes outside Valencia surrounded by the Sierra Calderona hills.

Just over 6 months after my first visit, I am lucky enough to return to house sit for Georgie, Phil and family.

The cafe on this Saturday morning is full of noise and colour. Like trees full of tropical birds, flocks of male cyclists are in vibrant lycra, one making ear-piercing whistles to attract his friend’s attention. They are stocking up on coffee before hurtling through the Sierra on their bikes.

Young boys learning to be their fathers, pose on smaller cycles in neon orange T-shirts and bright yellow shorts further up the streets.

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The attractive pink stone of the Casa de la Señoria, Olocau.

Older women in black tops and floaty-hemmed skirts pad to market in sandals, clutching a purse, and returning with a white carrier bag, baguette poking out of the top. Some wear pinnies over their polka dots. These casual clothes are in contrast to the black elegance of last night’s singers, accessorised as they were with white pearls and corsages. I recognise the matriarch who wore a see-through chemise for the concert. She has replaced it with a practical jumpsuit.

A delegation of men and women errupt onto the street dressed also in black, and also with neon orange, this time over their shoulders and with Proteccion Civil Naquera, Proteccio Civil Valencia or Olocau on the back, depending on whether it is written in Castilian or Valenciana I presume. Trousers tucked into boots, they delicately suspend their cigarettes between fore and middle fingers, and traipse back and forth between cashpoint, cafe and bakery. I thought they might be traffic wardens as I have seen similar groups in Edinburgh when they start their rounds at 8am, but no, they are trainee lay people, a force to assist the police in their official duties. They carry only walkie-talkies around their waists, not guns. Both male and female saunter, hips leading at a very relaxed pace – perhaps they are taught to walk like that.

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The market is in the square opposite the church. My eye is immediately drawn to the eco- stall and I bought some seaweed flakes to sprinkle on my salad.

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They also have gleaming sunshine in tiny bottles of lemon or tomato-infused olive oil.

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Amongst other things, you can see cartons of almond drink (Orxata, say orchata) and peanut juice (terra xufa, say chufa).

The stall holder sells Portobello mushrooms so I tell him I live near there, in Edinburgh. This information seems to please him: in English he regales how he has never been to Scotland but, with a smile on his face, that he will visit when he grows up, when he has more experience! (I am guessing he is around 60 years old.) He says he was in love with Chrissie Hynde (the lead singer and founder member of the Pretenders, who lived in South Queensferry, just outside Edinburgh), and thought Simple Minds were great. Later, when I was queueing at the place opposite, he came over and played me their music on his phone. I find the Spanish delightful.

There are two fruit and veg stands: one presided over by a woman in thin denim who keeps a close eye on who is next, gives me a soft yellow plum to try, then takes one herself and laughs as the juice escapes down her smock.

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A quieter man serves at the other one. He gives me a handful of cherries, and I buy potatoes, almonds, and a fig for a treat.

The patroness of the patisserie / panaderia (cake and bread shop) struggles to understand my Spanish as I foolishly attempt to ask if the bread has anything extra in it, like olives, because it resembles that sort of loaf in the UK. Why do I try such things?

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Hooray, there were three sorts of ’empanadas’ without meat, inlcuding spinach!

Although I only arrived 2 days ago, I am greeted by fellow choir members from last night’s performance – some with kisses on each cheek, others with ‘Que tal?’ (how are you?), or ‘buen dia’ (literally, good day). Everyone is so friendly to me.

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Red, pink and white geraniums stand tall by the bank (open today).

There is always a large screen in cafes here. This one has silent rappers in caps making their secret sign-language.

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The cafe where I spent the best part of the morning with my notebook. Coffee turned to fizzy water (con gas), thence to a beer, but sadly no tapas, although locals beside me were given them.

Palm trees line the main street, edged mostly with older properties in pale yellow and whitewash, though some are more modern. Pavements and cobbled streets look well kept, apparently mended during the recession as the ‘ayuntamiento’, (town council) attempted to keep men in work. The village is clean and smart with ornate balconies, bulging at the bottom, and matching window bars at street level.

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The white fluttering banner to the left advertises the Saturday evening concerts, weekly throughout July.

There are decorated eaves made of terracotta or white plaster, and the blind covers someone’s front door to minimise the heat.

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As the church bell sounds, I look up and see that the roof tiles are made up of columns and rows of arcs like endless ‘mmmms’. If I listen, I fancy I can hear humming from choirs of ages past.

Cliffs provide a craggy backdrop to the north end: strata of pale pink rock interspersed with the sort of plants that obviously do not need much soil (see the church picture above). To the south are softer tree-covered slopes. There is no doubt that Olocau is right in the middle of this popular natural park.

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The southern slopes are behind the traditional style houses at the end of the main street.

A woman lifts her skirts to point out the mosquito bites to her friend, who responds by showing hers.

There is a burst of Barry White which must contravene all laws concerning sound levels, followed by a cascade of Spanish I cannot understand. This is repeated – in case I did not get it the first time?

The Spanish tongue rolls and bubbles, like waves at the beaches edge. Words I recognise punctuate: ‘claro’ (stress the aah in the middle, means absolutely), ‘genial’ (say henial, lovely). Luckily they have expressive eyes and often gesture dramatically, which might be for my benefit or for the fun of it, I am not sure. Where I fail to communicate my English sense of humour to the French, the Spaniards seems to share it. With naughty smiles, their voices pick up speed and timbre as they chuckle wickedly together over village stories.

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Old-fashioned street lamps and cactus growing over the edge of the balconies, with a more modern flat in the background.

Fans are constantly a-flutter. Sue (my rescuer) tells me that the houses are cool in summer, here in the tight streets where the sun does not shine on them, so the women find it hot when they come outside.

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When I ordered a decaff coffee the night before last, it came black in a tiny weeny cup, so today I asked for ‘un cafe grande con leche’ (a large one with milk) and look, it was no bigger than a British tea cup!

The Valencians take pride in their music, offering free classical concerts in Olocau, really a small community, every Saturday night through July. Not just that, it also boasts a music school of its own which prepares kids for the Conservatoire, a choir and a band. Emma, the talented and lively singing leader, tells me that nearby Lliria is famous for its wind players, and we thoroughly enjoy the evening concert. A quintet consisting of flute, oboe, horn, clarinet and bassoon, enchants us with Mozart, a medley by Bizet, plus the more unusual Muczinsky and a Piazolla I had not heard before, to end with. In the middle of the Rossini the town church just over the wall struck midnight, but it did not deter them.

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The stage on which I stood the previous night as part of the village choir is ready for the professional musicians.
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The audience at the interval. It was actually slightly cool at 11.45pm for once.

Just part of one of my days here in this beautiful place.

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Links:

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This is the banner above the eco food stall described in this blog, but I cannot find this company on the internet. Maybe someone out there knows?

Olocau Tourist Information at the Casa de la Senoria  http://comunitatvalenciana.com/viaje/olocau/oficina-turismo/tourist-info-olocau

Susan’s air bnb comes highly recommended https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2518994?location=Olocau%2C%20Spain&check_in=2017-06-01&check_out=2017-07-01&s=5V8FQfC-

http://www.horchatamagazine.com/

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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.

 

Pontorson, La Berniére, Port de Pornic, Zaragoza – France/Spain 10

Pontorson 10.5.17; Brittany circular, coastal walk / ‘les balades’ (rambles) / ‘les randonnées’ (hikes) – La Bernière to Port de Pornic 11.5.17, both France.

Journey via Bla Bla Car to Zaragoza, Spain 12.5.17.

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Youth hostel, Pontarson, Normandy, France.

On the Camino Francés in Spain, the hostels are where you meet other backpackers and exchange tales. Up until today, I had not encountered anyone in France, but the two women I had seen the previous night were breakfasting when I got down to the youth hostel kitchen. After being initially engaged in (French) conversation with a rather interested man who told me he did all sorts of work, anything he was asked to do, and then kissed me goodbye (yes, the dangers of being a single female traveller!), I was invited to sit with them for a while. They asked me what I was up to and after explaining, I was enthusiastically given a piece of paper by Lysiane, with her name and address on it, and told that if I ever visited Brussels I could stay with her in return for Shiatsu. Almost everyone I meet and talk to knows what Shiatsu is and likes it; it really is quite notable compared with the UK.

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Station, Pontorson from where I got my first and only train during this month. Goodbye Normandy!

Myself and a number of others arrived at the station before it opened. It was unclear to us all how we should get tickets and where to go, until a brusque woman came to open up. We waited in the gorgeous sun before realising we needed to cross the tracks for the stopping train to Rennes which I had booked online the day before. A Japanese couple regaled us, as we waited, with a comparison between the efficiency of French signposting and the contrasting confusion in Britain.

My day’s walk on the Brittany coast began in the rain at La Bernière-en-Retz, a small town where a lot of street work was being carried out, but that was otherwise deserted. The sea was well out, revealing broad sands with low stone walls. I felt immensely light-hearted, as happy as I was when walking in northern Spain in the  Autumn of 2016.

The path was easy to find and varied. Sometimes it was on cliffs, at others beside dwellings. Always there was the expansive view of the water, with miniscule collectors of seafish in the distance. After a while there was a series of platforms from which hung voluminous lift-nets. I was told that when the tide is in, these fill with fish.  These traditional ‘carrelets’ are expensive apparently, but bring high yields and are found all along this coast.

‘les carrelets’c/o Olivier on Pinterest

The low stone walls are also demarcations related to fishing, left over from many years ago, and easily seen at certain times of the day.

Elegant hotels and old people’s homes line parts of the shore.

Grassy paths wound up and over the rocks, seagulls shrieked, and the fresh breeze bought welcome fragrances of the cypress trees.

Not a cypress.

Picnic lunch was taken (illegally, it transpired) under ancient stones to shelter from the wet.

Dolmen de la Joselière.

Port de Pornic with its gentle harbour, silver grey turrets, and small yachts came as a surprise. Rather quaint and sophisticated by turns, it is quite a centre but I did not investigate. Instead, here I turned and headed back the way I had come, stopping to divest myself of waterproof trousers as the sun started to show itself, seeing things from back-to-front and in a different light, literally.

The next day I took a Bla Bla Car from Bordeaux, via Bayonne, Irun, and Pamplona to Zaragoza to stay with the genial Yvonne.

Bordeaux station. France.
I needed a brandy while waiting in the extreme heat of midday.

Bla Bla Car is generally unknown in the UK. It is a fantastic system, originally set up so that someone who is making a long-distance journey has company while they drive. Nowadays some complain that it has become a sort of glorified taxi service, but on the whole I found it to be a social thing.

On the way.

It operates in France and Spain, and there is a website where you search for the setting-off point and destination, and then identify who you might like to go with. Like air bnb, the drivers are vetted and reviewed, and you can guarantee that the cost is less than the cheapest mode of public transport for that same journey. Sometimes the driver reserves the right to choose, and although you have paid (I used PayPal for safety), you can be rejected, and then the fee is repaid immediately.

In fact, it was often tricky to find a train or bus which goes went a to b at the times I was searching, whereas it was always possible to find someone who was driving, once you got the hang of the site. And of course I met fascinating people. On the first leg, from Bordeaux to Bayonne, I sat in the back with a young woman who told me all about her life, parents, health and loves, showing me photos and shedding a tear now and then.

Bayonne station, France. Most of the Bla Bla Car pick-ups happen at well known sites.
Passing through Irun on the mountainous border.
Massive trucks doing paperwork.

At Pamplona  we said good luck to two gentlemen who had both injured themselves on the Camino, been home to recover, and were re-joining it there. Then Charles, the car owner, and I made the final leg to Zaragoza, arriving at the radio station with messages flying between myself, my expectant host, and the driver. I have found all the drivers this month to be courteous and obliging. It was good that I had my daughter’s old Nokia with a topped-up Spanish SIM in it as we were late and so I was able to communicate by text and phone.

I had been asked several times why I was bothering to go to Zaragoza. It seems to have a poor reputation with tourists as a predominantly industrial city. My reasons for going: Yvonne kindly invited me when I met her at her father’s funeral and that was my plan – if I am invited somewhere I go, that’s how I choose between all the possible amazing places in Spain. Result: it was a fascinating and enjoyable place to visit, made considerably better I am sure by being shown around and treated like a queen by a resident!

 

 

 

 

 

Travels in Spain

I have just discovered that deleting photos from my media library at WordPress, the people who host these travel blogs, has meant that those deleted photos do not now appear in past blogs. The recent ones are fine.
I had no idea of this and am hoping that WordPress will contact me shortly to offer a solution. In the meantime, you will find blogs (eg about the Camino Frances in 2016) with text but no photos and I apologise for this.
Tamsin 24.7.17

This is a general introduction to my Spanish walking.

‘I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” R . L. Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes

Time spent in Spain: 4.10.16 – 17.12.16; 12.5.17 – 24.5.17.

Some of these blogs were written ‘on the spot’, some soon after the event, and others when I returned to Scotland. What a joy to compile them!

At the 2016 Edinburgh International Book Festival, I heard Jean-Christophe Rufin explain (and these are my own words from the memory of that event), that all the walkers he saw seemed to be scribbling or typing a blog at every stop of the way, but that he decided not to do that and to rely instead on his own memory afterwards. But I am a 53 year old woman who has had 2 kids and has a head which is already very full of experiences, so I didn’t want to rely on mine!

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I began to walk the Camino Frances in Pamplona, Spain.

Writing has been a good way to assimilate and integrate my experiences, to make sense of where I have travelled, what I was thinking, and the conversations I had with people. It enabled me to tell my family, friends and colleagues what I was up to (similar to one of those news letters you sometimes receive in Xmas cards!), and, I now realise, to keep the spirit of my wonderful adventures alive.

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Donkey in a temporary street stall, Feria, a Basque county fair.

Origin of the blog name: There is a book by Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson “Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes”, and there is a French Camino  named after him which has a personal, family connection for me. Just as it is possible for campers to stay in a site where a tent is provided, ready-erected with a camp-bed in it; so there are many who take treks and have a mule or a person to carry their bags.  I walked around Spain with a rucksack on my back (containing what I needed for a 3-month stay, summer – winter), rather than having a donkey carry it for me.

“Whenever I was asked: ‘Why did you go to Santiago?’ I had a hard time answering. How could I explain to those who had not done it that the way has the effect – if not the virtue – to make you forget all reasons that led you to become involved in it in the first place.” Jean-Christophe Rufin, The Santiago Pilgrimage

So I won’t explain here why I decided to do this, although there is some explanation in later blogs.

But I will say that there were two distinct parts to my journey: one where I visited fellow Shiatsu (acupressure massage) and complementary therapy practitioners, giving sessions in return for bed and board. The other where I walked the Camino Frances and part of the Via de la Plata (‘o contrario’, backwards), staying in different hostels and hotels every night.

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Burgos, a major town along the Camino Frances, Spain.

The former came out of finding a way to stay in Spain without spending too much money. The latter was inspired by friends Phyllis and Liz, by books, programmes I heard on the radio, and the film, ‘The Way’. It turns out that walking the Camino suits someone like me, a normally busy person, active, and perhaps tending towards being workaholic or at least feeling full of responsibilities. I trained myself years ago to sit and meditate, but it could be that walking is more appropriate to my character.

“that fine intoxication that comes from much motion in the open air, that begins in a sort of dazzle and sluggishness in the brain, and ends in a peace that passes comprehension.” R.L. Stevenson, taken from various blogs (see below in English & French).

Camino: A walk, or track, often trodden for religious and spiritual reasons since the Middle Ages, by ‘peregrinos’ (Spanish for pilgrim). The best known is The Way of St James of Compostelle, or Camino Frances. All paths are signposted by the coquille Saint Jaques shell which walkers also carry to symbolise their journey. ‘The Camino de Santiago comprises a lattice of European pilgrimage itineraries which converge at Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.’ (Michael Murray, for ref. see below). They can begin in Jerusalem, Rome, and Paris, famously at Sean-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France; and are travelled across Spain, Portugal, France, England and elsewhere in Europe.

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The final way marker of the Camino Frances, Finnisterre, Spain.

The shell sign alongside the number of km still to travel. This one indicates I have arrived in Santiago de Compostella, November 23rd 2016 after walking from Pamplona.

This is where I went, in the order I visited: October – Downton (New Forest, Hampshire, England), Santander (by boat from Portsmouth), Salinas, Aviles, Oviedo, Bilbao, Egileor, Vitoria Gastiez, Feria, San Sebastian, Pamplona. Camino Frances 1 (Urtega (by bus from Pamplona) to Najera). Cortiguera, Aranjuez (via Madrid). Camino Frances 2 (San Juan de Ortega to Carrion). November – Madrid. Camino Frances 3 (Leon to Santiago de Compostella), Finnisterre, Santiago.

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Map showing Santiago de Compostella in north western Spain, the home of the Tomb of St James, final destination of pilgrims from all over the world.

December – Camino Via de la Plata (Santiago to Vilar de Bario). Xinzon, Ourense, Las Matas (via Madrid), Valencia (via Madrid), Olocau and Sierra Calderona, Barcelona, Edinburgh (by aeroplane).

I keep being asked whether I suffered from the walking, and I understand the question because I, too, was very worried about this, and allowed it to put me off starting. I did have a week or so of blisters at the start, but I had researched what to take with me before going, and had plasters, cream and a sewing kit with me (yes, we sew a thread through the part with the fluid and let it drain out over time to stop it getting infected!). The other pilgrims were really helpful and showed me how to look after my feet, so I didn’t have to stop, and my skin hardened up soon enough.

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Early on the Camino Frances, Spain.

My main concern had been my back and the load. I carried approximately 18kg (which was more than the recommended 5th of your body weight) and although it felt very heavy after 32km, there was no pain. All that yoga before I left, and my daily ‘Salutations to the Sun’ helped. I did have to pay to get it home on the aeroplane at the end, which was a nuisance and might have been avoided. Next time I will take a new-style, light-weight sleeping bag and towel to lighten my pack.

I trained as a professional dancer in my teens and early twenties, and am therefore used to daily class, working through the pain and stiffness of the night and previous day’s exertions. This probably helped me to deal with the numerous small physical difficulties which arose when I walked, especially at the start of the day. I used my Shiatsu and other training to identify the source, relax into the areas I was holding tension, and, lo! they disappeared as quickly as they came.

There were many other people who suffered and some who had to give up. I helped with Shiatsu where I could: feet, hands, ankles, backs etc, in the evenings at the hostels. It was good to meet travellers I had massaged later along the way, and particularly in Santiago on the final day to know they had been able to complete.

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Leaving Portsmouth, by sea, October 2016.

Kilometres walked: 700+ (Caminos), not including Sierra Calderona, Egileor, Aviles-Salinas, walking friends’ dogs, walking to school near Valencia, all the cities…

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Home by aeroplane, December 2016.

Walking without a donkey – Travels in Spain. Starting with blog 1 in England

The Stevenson Camino blogs I have enjoyed:

http://stevenson.canalblog.com/

http://walkinginfrance.info/short-walks/r-l-stevenson-trail/

Travel stories by Teri White Carns https://roadtripteri.com/2012/10/16/first-day-of-walking-pamplona-to-urtega/

M. Murray’s research into Caminos: https://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/TheInstituteofSpatialandEnvironmentalPlanning/Impact/WorkingPapers/FileStore/Filetoupload,432512,en.pdf

https://www.caminodesantiago.me/

Fantastic book: A Philosophy of Walking, Frederic Gros

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 8, Spain

Xunqueira de Ambia to Vilar de Barrio  5.12.16  13.4km

Rousseau wrote ‘I have never thought so much, existed so much, lived so much, been so much myself,…as in the journeys which I have made alone and on foot…intoxicated with delicious sensations.’ p. 70, A Philosophy of walking, Frederick Gros.

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Today’s aim: not to assume I know what will happen in the future.

As I have walked, I have thought a lot about the future, and at the moment I have decided that it’s a mistake to assume we know what will happen in 10 years time. Imagine if we were wrong and we don’t live that long, and we had said no to something because we thought we knew. I am still interested in using the present as a way of planning for the future.

My second important thought for the day concerns the chains of people’s kindnesses: if Merce hadn’t encouraged me I wouldn’t have left Pamplona and started the Camino; if I hadn’t walked with Alain I wouldn’t know the way of the pilgrim; if I hadn’t followed Clémence I would not have known how to work my way backwards through the Via de la Plata; and if the lovely man from Seville hadn’t let me copy the chemin from his GPS I wouldn’t be here now…

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This morning I am able to go more softly, and the morning is simply wonderful. I climb up and over rocky hills amongst Autumn colours (oak and bracken), and the landscape is stunning, the views breath-taking, and all the small happenings seem to have such value.

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A woman as small as me, in her pinny, and with a faint odour of cooking about her, but with perhaps an added 20 years, wanted to tell me, as I traipsed through her village, that I wasn’t going to Santiago (no, that’s right!). She wanted to know where I came from, to tell me which was the next village and how to get there, and to check, did I have something to eat? Bless.

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The second half is all very flat and rather monotonous. I somehow manage to get lost, despite being able to see where I am going miles ahead, and stopping lots of farm and heavy goods vehicles to ask the way. I clamber up and down river banks getting scratched by brambles whilst trying to find a way across. I retrace my steps quite a lot, and generally get a little downhearted.

Annoyances: Clouds of midges. How do they get right inside Google my clothes like that?

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It’s a series of long, long straight paths crossed by equally dead-straight roads for several hours, and the chocolate and bread I ate as I went along sat heavily in my stomach (the Spanish diet contains so much wheat!). I found that it was much harder to walk in this type of landscape, than on the gorgeous hillsides of the morning.

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I arrived in Vilar de Barrio at 3.15pm after walking 6 hours from where I started, and rather stupidly with no break. No wonder I felt exhausted, and had tired feet and middle back. For the first time it felt a bit of a strain, yet another new place after 8 straight days of hiking. However an ultra high-speed hot shower hit the right spot, and it wasn’t long before I was sitting with a cold beer and this fountain view.

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I had had hot sun all day and it was 16 degrees in the shade outside the bar, which given I was sitting in a t-shirt and flip-flops on 5th December wasn’t at all bad.

By 4.30pm the clouds were looming over the hill and I needed to eat. The supermarket was about to open but once again the hostel had no utensils and I still didn’t have a pan, so I decided to treat myself to cafe food, the first time on my own.

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Unfortunately the woman who cooked at the cafe went into hospital unexpectedly, so I had to wait until 8pm for the restaurant to open. Run by a much older couple, and with a verbal menu, I told her (in Spanish of course) about my vegetarian and fish diet and was offered verduras soup and tortilla. Ideal! In fact the former had chunks of mutton in it (though I didn’t have the heart to send it back so it was probably the first meat I’ve knowingly eaten in 30 years). The latter was the best I’ve ever tasted AND she wrapped the leftovers up for my lunch for the next day. Another much appreciated kindness.

There followed another night alone in the hostel, this time with underfloor heating, which was lovely for doing barefoot T’ai chi on in the light of the following morning’s sunrise.

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Via de la Plata Camino – Days 4-6, Spain

Day 4 – Laxe to Castro Douzon  1.12.16   19 km

Doorbells rung to ask the way, and tractors stopped for the same reason: 1 of each.

Items of clothing lost: 3. All necessary for the cold weather.

Doing T’ai Chi in the garden of the albergue before we leave is bitterly cold due to the unusual cold wind, especially as I lost my gloves and thermal leggings yesterday. We are high up here in Castro Douzon. There are swimming pools for adults and children though, and a playpark, so it must be lovely in summer. 

Today there’s a lot of walking by the busy roads with no pavements, which is hard on the feet, and less scenic. There are great vistas from the top after a good, steep climb though: layers of purple and blue hills in the distance, bright green fields, terracotta and stone villages, and matching trees.

Descending into valleys, we discover solid bridges over gleaming azure streams, reflecting the sky, which are full of vibrant green weed.

And we talk about women’s rights, pensions, how to say ‘kiss’ in different languages, and swap information about our 3 cultures – Maroc, French and British.

The local people kindly stop and tell us we are going the wrong way, and point helpfully in the direction of Santiago de Compostella. So we all learn to say that ‘no, we are walking ‘contrario’ towards Seville’, in Spanish. They also offer useful information like where and what to eat, and who serves the best ‘pulpo’ (octopus,  the local delicacy – delicious when tender). 

Weather: The sun shines but it’s colder. There’s the usual hard frost as we leave in the morning. 

Once we have arrived after our day’s walk, we get our credentials stamped and pay our dues, thankfully remove our boots, hobble to the dormitory to choose a bed and shower. Later, after visiting the local supermarket for supplies (flour, milk, eggs and sugar for crêpes; sachets of chocolate powder and of course pasta for the youngster; a tin of mussels and a sachet of olives for me), I visit the bar to catch up with family and friends no longer walking with me. The bar is owned by the same family and buying a tea (€1.20) allows me to sit there for more than an hour without any suggestion of buying more. It’s only when I’m given a lot of free crisps that I think I ought to order a small beer to make up for my second hour!

There are similarities between the two hostels – both have unexpectedly hot showers – bliss! Neither have working wifi. Both offer a blanket per person, and have heating, so our clothes and towels are dry by morning. Both have kitchens with utensils, and we can choose when to have the lights on or off. I’m getting used to the fact that there are always good things to be happy about. 

Day 5 Castro Douzon to Cea. 2.2.16.  13.7 km

Bites sustained: at least 100 overnight including 16 on my face.

Other pilgrims: 3 men and a dog. A good story of a 100% blind man who is walking his second Camino. The guide dog learns the scent of the/another walker going the same way, and then tracks the smell and can lead his master on the right path. These Caminos can be incredibly complicated – in the middle of forests there are very often places with 4 options; the country path regularly crosses the busy main N routes with lorries driving at top speed; villages can have very small, winding streets leading between farm buildings; and there are times when fully sighted people are searching for a yellow arrow here and the blue/yellow Camino shell there for a good while before finding the way, so I am really impressed.

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Beautiful weather -lovely to sit outside for our morning coffee as well as on arrival at Cea when I fall asleep in the sun and dream.

During the day’s walk we move through landscapes of assorted pines, chestnut, silver birch, oak, and eucalyptus; broom, brambles, gorse with gay yellow flowers, heather, and bracken. Pink, yellow and blue houses, many of them like huge mansions, which I’m told are for extended families, have balconies and balustrades, big and small, and statues in the gardens. There are cows, sheep, horses and of course donkeys out the back.

Every dwelling has a ‘huelta’, a vegetable garden, which at this time of year has turnips, and really tall brassicas which look like sprout plants with huge leaves at the top but no actual sprouts. Plus the odd red pepper still gleaming in the sun, a few left-over tomatoes dangling, and sharp-cornered patches of dry stalks now the sweetcorn has finally been cut. Vines are domestic and hang from structures which double as terrace rooves. 

There are more dogs than I’ve ever seen in one place -usually on the end of a chain or rope and barking their heads off at our approach. My companions love them all and attempt to talk to and pet them despite the rumpus! In Finnistere they seemed to run wild around the town,  crossing and re-crossing roads unaware of danger, but here they’re mostly behind fences protecting property. 

The simple churches, mostly with a single tower and bell, are always to be found amongst the houses, however small the village, and sometimes on their own in the countryside. Many have fancy cemeteries adorned with colourful flowers, real and plastic, and ornate grills. Often there’s a stone cross nearby. 

Cea is one of the prettiest towns I’ve been to. As with so many places, there are abandoned properties, but here there are also many places with interesting pasts, a wide array of shops, banks cafés etc, a large central square, and old and new architecture. All the places I’ve walked in are clean and well-kept, and here there are red and white geraniums and the most ornate house number/name tiles.

Day 6 Cea to Ourense 3.12.16   23.3 km

This was a hard day. When I walk there are times of joy, prompted by the beautiful scenery, or the sun on my skin, or the sheer pleasure of putting one foot in front of another. There are also times when this wonderful opportunity to reflect on the past, examine the present, and deliberate on the future raise myriad emotions. They pass with the movement, and there is space for tears, but it isn’t always easy. This is one of the reasons I am doing this. 

Luckily today is particular beautiful and that helps with the processing.