Tábara to Santa Marta de Tera, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 22 (Tábara to Santa Marta de Tera). Wednesday 11 April 2018. 22 kms.

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The red earthed path of the Via de la Plata, Castille y Léon, Spain.

‘And what’s best is that you are always received without fuss, welcomed, as if they had been expecting you to come. ‘  From Ursula le Guinn’s Left Hand of Darkness

Not in Oliva de Plasencia! I was reading le Guinn on my Kindle while I travelled because it was the Leith Bookworms book and my friends were reading it at the same time. I liked to keep up even if I couldn’t attend the meetings. It can be a good challenge to follow the list because I read books I wouldn’t usually choose for myself, move out of my comfort zone. In this case I had never read sci-fi before but I knew that le Guinn was extremely well thought of (after all she is used as an important part of the plot in the decidedly mainstream Jane Austen Book Club film!)

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José / Almeida

There was a photo session at the front door with José / Almeida (his pen name), the hospitalero who had looked after us so well, and then I set off with my friend Marie Noëlle and her pals Sascha (Luxembourg) and Maria (Switzerland) under a white sky. Sometimes we all three walked alongside each other, but more often I held back and took a quieter way, meeting up at intervals for coffee and wee chats.

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Sascha, Maria and Marie Noëlle.

We left the town of ridged terracotta rooves and telephone poles behind, and headed quickly into open country. There is an alternative way to regain the camino by retracing your steps back the way you came, perhaps for shopping before leaving. For me, it was too early for them to be open and I was keen to get off the tarmac asap.

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Looking back at Tabara.

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As I walked I reflected on the things I wished I had brought with me: my swimming costume which I left on the line in Caldzada, a pair of flipflops to protect my feet from dirty floors and ideal for wet and dry (though uncomfortable with socks), clothes pegs (there are often a few at the hostels but not enough to go round), a plastic tupperware pot to put food in (although I was able to buy one for a few euros), and ointment for bites.

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The beautiful contrasts between the orange houses, silver-dry grass and Spanish sky.

I was keeping a list of topics for the teaching I had been engaged to do later in April. It was for the Shiatsu Society whose biennial congress was being held in Edinburgh. Topic: people watching – most apt given how many new people I am meeting and walking behind every day, and how lovely it is to sit in Spanish cafes with tired feet and gawp at passers by.

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April blooms.
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The Galician hills in the distance.
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A blanket of blossom like snow.
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Just in case it rains.
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Sparkling over the rocks and tempting for hot feet.
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The Rio (river) Tera, Spain reflecting the sumptious sky.

 

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There’s a ssort of charm in the delapidation.
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The others walked by without noticing these houses with their distinctive yellow walls, built into the hill – grass rooves with chimneys poking through.

 

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Flat expanses of farmland, Spain.
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There are almost never any pavements. Cotton wool balls of clouds.
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From the bridge at Santa Croya de Tera (the last small village before our destination) where the Casa Anita private hostel is situated. Castille y Léon, Spain.
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The Rio Tera, Castille y Léon, Spain.
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The Rio Tera, Castille y Léon, Spain.
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The Romanesque church, Santa Marta de Tera.
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Map showing Zamora (two days back) and northwards.
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The Church of Santa Marta de Tera.
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Will you look at the colour of that sky!
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St James looking distinguished if a little ungrounded.
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Next to San Pedro (rather bleached by the sun).
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Wine and notebooks at the end of each day – cool enough to need a jacket inside!

I stayed in the municipal hostel in Santa Marta de Tera for 5 euros.

 

El Cubo to Villanueva de Campéan, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 17 (Mérida to Ourense). Saturday 7 April 2018. 13 kms.

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The 7th April was a day of varied landscapes – some of the previous day’s wide open fields but also smaller agricultural plots, some houses, the ‘iron road’ etc. I was going at a faster pace, partly because it was cold but also as I knew it was a much shorter day. Going to Zamora in one leg was too long, so I was dividing it into two.

After last night’s heavy rain, it was dull but, hooray, dry! I passed out of the village, took a left over the bridge and straight into the country with no road – another big plus. Cocks were crowing and I spotted them at the front door.

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A bit blurry because of the zoom. The good thing about hens is that they go up at both ends like two upside down commas joined together

Weirdly there was a digital town clock striking 9am, just as loud as normal bells but with an electronic tone, reminding me of the early days of mobile phones when TV programmes made jokes about huge handsets with ringtones sounding out across the country.

It was right at the fork despite no yellow arrow and I was walking by the railway. The next right was signed. I wondered, why one and not the other?

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Walking beside the railway today. Sodden ground made the going slow.

I reflected on last night’s round-the-table conversations: how some people do the whole camino all at one go, others walk one weekend at a time; some start here, some there; and I have been meeting so many folk with injuries.

Plant of the day: once again I do not know the name. It has round burgundy / black pods or fruits that I have not seen before. They were hanging on dead trees and when I trod on one which had fallen on the path, it was full of diarrhoea-coloured mush which looked like wet plaster board.

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Who would have thought Spain could be quite so cloyingly muddy with wet sand! There was that cuckoo again – Marie Noelle used to tell me it means she will be rich.

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The water in the massive puddles is neon orange – so much brighter than in the photo. In the background are the chemical spraying machines like grounded corpses of fighter planes.

My nose runs and pilgrims behind me sneeze. I notice that cows do stand very, very still sometimes!

I muse: people I know walked here yesterday; or the day before; even 3 years ago. I can follow in their footsteps until it rains, wiping out all trace.

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This guy in front was walking with Chaplin knees and his feet turned right out to the sides, indicating that his hips were tight.

The yellow arrows used by the Friends of the Camino to show us the way are not really the best colour given that there are a surprisingly large number of the same hue: yellow lichen beside the arrows on the gate posts, yellow triangles on pylons, and motorway relfectors found at ground level at the edges of the roads where we have to walk. They are all found in the very places we look for the indicators.

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Vines at their dead-looking stage, black and twisted, organised in rows. The man I spoke to said they were ‘centenarios‘. Really old, then.

There is a great racket and then I see a flock of sheep being let out of the pen beside a farm, trotting into the field in single file with their new earrings, complaining bitterly.

Looking up I see it is going to become hilly again. The rabbits are too quick for my camera and there are definitely more flowers now, thank goodness. Beautiful purple / pink rocks are embedded in the white / yellow path amongst all the other colours of the irregularly shaped stones.

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Cyclops!

I arrived at 11.45am and was second into the hostel. I stopped at the bar for the key and had a quick coffee (every now and then I enjoy a tiny decaff with sugar – something I never have at home).

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There was a long road getting into the town, with a ruined monastery on the right which I meant to go back and take photos of in better weather but forgot.
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The sign is also in Arabic – a reminder that the folk who started at Almeria or Malaga on the Camino Mozarabe joined the Via de la Plata at Mérida rather than starting at Seville. They are now beside us on the way to Compostella.

There are a number of albergues in Villanueva de Campéan, all apparently as low grade as the others, private ones costing the same as the municipal where I slept. I entered the sleeping area through the kitchen which had a microwave but no fridge and was dirty. Not only does the outside door open directly onto the kitchen, but there is a great gap above the wall between that and the dormitory so the cold and noise travels easily between the two and the street, as does the cigarette smoke. Luckily there were loads of us so we were cosy.

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Villanueva de Campéan, Spain.

One by one we all settled in the bar for the rest of the day, and what a great band of cosmopolitan trekkers we were. I managed to write three blogs, trying to catch up, and then decided to continue when I got home. It was simply too loud and hilarious (the locals were playing cards and everyone was watching the football). Lots of red wine and menu del dia‘s were consumed and the atmosphere was most convivial.

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The two guys from Seuil, the shoulders of the younger looking better after his Shiatsu (which he requested two days before) I thought! There is Carlos behind, with the beard – someone I was to come into contact with every day for the rest of my time in Spain.

In The Pilgrimage to Santiago, Edwin Mullins writes about the history of sending ‘sinners’ on the camino as far back as the 13th century: ‘…there is the case of the parish priest near Chichester [England] who would regularly fornicate, repent, then fornicate again, until in 1283 the Archbishop of Canterbury felt obliged to send him to Santiago as a penitent the first year, to Rome the second and to Cologne the third. What is not on record is whether the cure was successful or whether he thereafter weighted his repentance with the names of three foreign cities in which he had also fornicated.’

Casar de Cáceres to Embalse de Alcántara, Via de la Plata.

Day 6 of my Via de la Plata Camino (Mérida northwards).

Casar de Cáceres to Embalse de Alcántara (27th March 218) approx. 22 kms.

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Sunrise outside Casar de Cáceres, Spain.

At 8am the incredibly loud bell in the square sounded and I left the hostel, two other women at short stages in front of me.

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It was a clear run out of town and I really took my time, stopping even more often than yesterday, sometimes for five minutes, once for a snooze, three times for snacks.

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These notices are all over the country: hunting social preserve (Google translate).

Immediately the temperature was warmer and by the last (hardest) stage on the hard shoulder or lane of the A road for 1.5 hours, the heat was truly coming up from the tarmac. Luckily all the time I was in view of the stunning embalse (reservoir) so I knew that I would eventually find myself by the water.

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I had a lovely little sleep here for 10 minutes.

One couple walked together but everyone else, though friendly at the hostels, walked alone which suited me very well.

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There are new calves with soft faces everywhere.

Quite a group has formed: the French speaker whose wife suddenly left him and who says he does not know why, their planned future in tatters; 3 other single women in their late 30s: an American living in Madrid, teaching English; a German who is more private; and someone from south east London whose long term partner just left her at a time when her possibility to have a baby is dwindling; a Dutch couple and a German man of my age – the latter telling me about co-operative learning and the former who made a cycle tour of Scotland last year and were bemused by our dance, strip the willow!

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The signs for the final rocky path were very poor, although the GR113 red/brown signposts were efficient. Follow them in the direction of Cañaveral. Once faced with the road, take a right and stay on the path as long as you can.

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Fragrant, white broom.

I did not realise the road part would last so long I stopped just off it to snack. Very soon afterwards I spotted a man looking at the gorgeous view by his car. He turned and spoke to me but I did not understand so he turned and showed me, shockingly, what he was up to, coercing me to come and join him. I had heard of these exhibitionists but never seen one. I shouted no, and a few other things and continued to walk on the hard shoulder, never changing my speed. Then I started to think about telling the police, remembering the Alert Corps app I had downloaded on my phone. It was then that I realised I had left the phone where I stopped, meaning I would have to go back past him to get it. When I turned around though I saw the Dutch couple who asked me if I was ok. They reassured me he had gone and watched out for me the rest of the way, which was great.

I did try to report the incident later because I would have hated another solo female to have to witness the same, although I was not in any direct danger, but the hospitalero said he phoned and the police were all busy and I should report it when I stop in a larger place. This did not sound the same as the promises the Guardia Civil are currently giving to protect trekkers.

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The first hawthorn bush.

It was not long before I arrived, foot-sore, at the private hostel on the edge of the stunning Lake Tajo.

The owner worked really hard booking us in, serving us drinks and food, and washing our clothes. He said it saves water because even though he is by the magnificent lake he cannot use it and must get his from behind the hill from the well and when it runs out he has to close, earning himself the reputation of being unreliable.

We dined altogether on ensalada (salad with tuna and olives); bacalao (smoked cod), and .. flan! With wine – 13 euros.

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New born lambs on wobbly legs, too.

There are spacious rooms. When I was awake at night I had snorers on either side, both young women: one squeaked; the other thrummed. And then there was also the sonorous person through the wall!

As well, there were people hobbling back and forth to the lav; the green flashes of the smoke detector; and the three-quarters moon shining in through the high windows. I was not sure if it was wolves or dogs baying.

The albergue at Cáceres was 15 euros (no extras), at Casar de Cáceres 5 euros (free washing machine and drier), and here 15 euros (as above). You can see that the prices of the hostels varies widely. The menu del día (usually 3 courses with wine) ranges from 8 to 12 euros.

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Sunset Embalse de Alcántara, Extremadura, Spain.

Cáceres to Casar de Cáceres

Cáceres to Casar de Cáceres (26th March 2018), maybe 18 kms taking me 4 hours plus.

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Today I did my morning meditation in a different position because I cannot sit cross legged in my sleeping bag.

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Bullring, Cáceres, Spain.

Walking out of Cáceres was smooth and I was impressed once again by the enormity and variety of the geology: the giant verticality of colour and strata exposed by road building.

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The roadside plants continue to be mainly rosemary and thyme but now with pink vetch. The Camino crosses main routes again and takes me along the highway. It is frustrating because I can see a beautiful path in the fields to my left but cannot get across the fences to it.

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A handy seat made of beautiful local stone.

There was a brief conversation with a fellow pilgrim along familiar lines –  nationality, where walking from and to – this time with an older Belgian man who is wearing a hat with sun flaps over both ears.

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The sun was shining brightly but it was cold on my head. I reflect that if you are going to do this walking lark, you must be prepared for some hardship. Having enough money for hotels and being fit definitely helps.

Because of my foot pain, I was already sitting in the sun to rest by at 11.05 after only 25 minutes, but I knew that this must happen if I am to manage to enjoy myself at all. I realised there were snow-covered mountains to my right and was awed by their beauty.

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Snow capped Sierra mountains in the distance.

Once again I thought ‘that must be the camino over there, but how do I get onto it?’

The lovely Spanish cyclist and his German friend sped past waving a smiley buen camino to me.

Then I saw a gap, took off my rucksack and rolled under a fence, thinking perhaps I had just missed the turning to the path but no, I had to go back through a farm gate shortly afterwards and continue on the ‘hard shoulder’ which was very tiresome. In the process I put my hand on thistles and still have one spine in the tip of my thumb two days later. Maybe that will teach me!

There was a very nice sun and the remains of yesterday’s wind on my going-bald patch at the front of my head. Bravely I took off the bottoms of my trousers making shorts.

I spotted the new fennel leaves at the base of the old dry stalks and remembered how they were almost past seeding when I finished my first camino in November 2016 in Santiago de Compostella.

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It was a long way beside that motorway. But my advice to others who might walk behind me is to wait, the off-road path eventually comes.

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One of the many crossings – this one with stones provided to keep our feet dry.

There were still some of the dark brown and orange hairy caterpillars: one or two wibbling along over the gravel and some others fairly hurtling amongst the sheep droppings as if they were late for work. However there were nothing like the numbers of two days ago.

Other trekkers passed me occasionally and we fell into step for a while and shared pleasantries. I am trained to see the visual signs of the head-colds or tiredness, the dry lips, the excema under the nostrils, and do not ask questions.

Around me are small brown birds singing their little hearts out. I started thinking about this strange phrase – perhaps it is their puffed out wee chests and the high urgency of the pitch which has prompted it?

Now I was going uphill and was aware of my blister and that was only a tiny climb! I found myself saying blessings  for dead animals by the roadside, and I finished planning my workshop for the end of April: the ideas popping into my mind unbidden.

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It was very pleasant walking like that, with lots of tiny stops and the time to remember.

I came across a father and son, shepherds bringing up the rear with sturdy sticks but no dog. Overhead are three raptors and almost around my head are swallows flitting and flirting.

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A flock of sheep to make my way through.

Once again I reflect that we walkers go so quietly that we come upon these creatures, or they on us, unexpectedly.

Oh those snowy mountains: simply majestic.

Finally I come into Casar de Cáceres and note the many expensive cars. It is presumably a commuter town for Cáceres itself. There are many helpful people including a woman who I had exchanged a few Spanish words with earlier and who later spotted me looking puzzled. She abandoned the wheelchair she was steering, grasped my arm and took me to the corner of the correct street.

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The entrance to Casar de Cáceres – rainbow-coloured hearts and a huge yellow arrow: sign of the camino Via de la Plata.

It was long walk into town where I registered at the bar and then, having walked on far too far, retraced my steps to the nice albergue on the first floor in the corner of Plaza España. I arrived at 1.45.

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The albergue entrance in the corner of the square.

The evening consisted of sitting in the sun with my cups of tea and chatting to the others; a beer in the cafe and very interesting conversation with a German teacher about co-operative learning; shopping (including a plastic mug for 39 céntimos), cooking a meal for myself and some others; giving what I call kitchen- Shiatsu (ie on the spot, me kneeling on the kitchen floor); and later, thoroughly enjoying the wine.

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Beautiful Spanish architecture.

There was no WiFi, the shower flooded onto the floor, I did not enjoy my night-time visit to the toilet where someone had aimed and missed 😦 but it was great to have a kitchen with some utensils, and a free washer and dryer – all unbelievably, for 5 euros.

Aldea de Cano to Cáceres, Spain.

Aldea de Cano to Cáceres – March 25 2018. (Day 4 of this part of my Via de la Plata camino).

The hostel at Aldea de Cano had a very good kitchen and nice table for sharing food, but there was a great deal of noise from the bar on the other side of the albergue wall. I arrived very early in the rain, and spent most of the rest of the day in the cafe which had everything I needed – wifi, good food and drink – some of the time alone but mostly with others with whom I was by now quite friendly, having met them at various stops along the way over the past few days.

The hour changed so we had some extra sleep after our shared meal in the cafe (something for starter, hake with chips and a little salad, flan (sort of crème caramel) with what my kids called squidgy cream (from a spray can) and red wine for approx. 11 euros).

I had nightmares all night, a traditional anxiety one with a dog I had left at home when I went away without arranging who would feed it rather than a baby; in the other there was a flood and I was drowning. So, I was awake early and had room and found a mat for some yoga: it was good to stretch my BL meridian in the backs of my legs after the walking.

Marie Noelle and I began together. The others took a taxi: two half way and one right to the end.

It was a traipse on stony paths for the whole day with either red, orange and white quartz or dark blue /grey slate. To begin with there was some rain so we started later, visiting the bar next door for toast and coffee while the worst passed. The previous night’s torrential rain had caused the terrain to be even wetter and it was necessary to dodge huge puddles, bogs and small lake; or just wade through them.

There were cranes everywhere in the fields and on their nests, their long orange beaks and beady eyes clearly visible from the ground.

MN was a postnatal nurse for 37 years before she retired so we talked mother’s and babies: she told me how important it was to reassure the new mums and I agreed that this was a large part of my baby Shiatsu work too.

At 12 midday we arrived at Valdesalor where we found a nice bar in Cristóbal Colon.

The second half of the day was terrible. Every step was increasingly painful – a small joint in my right foot and a blister on my left. I tried to keep going, MN striding off ahead of me, but in the end I had to give in and stop constantly, stumbling on in the worst walk I have had, walking so slowly by the end that I might as well have stood still. It took me ages, and I was extremely downhearted when I realised how much of the town I must traverse before reaching the hostel. Luckily I was met with such sweetness from Benito and Andrea that it bought tears to my eyes, and I was happily put in a double room with MN.

After a hot shower and clothes washing, a beer (which exploded all over the floor of the entrance hall and which I therefore had to mop up), and a rest, I had recovered sufficiently to make a small tour of the town. What a very beautiful place! In the soft golden evening light, the ancient walls and arches, looked just gorgeous. I would highly recommend that you visit here if you enjoy old monuments and impressive architecture.

In Cáceres the Semana Santa was well underway, with processions through the narrow streets and in the main Plaza Mayor. The second one we observed at very close quarters. There were lines of men and women carrying the platforms which weigh up to half a tonne. They shoulder the wooden shafts with expressions of distress and frowns – it is unclear if they are in pain or suffering with Christ. We were told that they pay 300 euro for the privilege of carrying it for half hour. It is gold with red carnations and there are statues of Jesus, the Pope and other biblical characters. This platform is preceded by children and adults in purple robes with hoods over their faces which have small holes for the eyes. Many have tall pointed witches hats on too – black Klu Klu Clan-type head wear.

Afterwards come the well-schooled brass bands in their black, red and gold uniforms – both sexes play.

For some it was clearly a social occasion, for others religious and very serious. Throughout there is a basic 2/2 rhythm emphasised in a macabre way by the rhythmic clanking of the metal staffs, and it was this which held the greatest power for me. The people who carry the crosses (also unidentifiable because of hoods) are barefooted and have chains around their ankles. Every now and then there is a loud drum announcement and they all stop, those carrying the heavy dias take a break and it is suspended on poles. It is all very well organised with key people giving orders and bells signifying a re-start.

The private hostel has 40 beds but the city is the second most important in the region and this is the busiest time of the year so tomorrow, for example, when at least one of our group would like to stay longer due to an ankle injury, it is full.

It has a very nice garden and terrace at the back for drying clothes and sitting with a beer, despite being right in the centre.

We ate at a very nice place which was empty apparently because a large family booked it out and then cancelled. He was very patient with us, especially when dishes were sent back because having said they were vegetarian, they came with garnishes of bacon etc. I ate moussaka, salmon and flan (again!) for 11 euros.

Alcuescar to Aldea de Cano, Via de la Plata, Spain

24.3.18 a very short day 15 kms (3.5 hours).

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Last night I stayed at a Franciscan monastery Casa de la Misericordia, Los Esclavos (slaves) de María y de los Pobres (poor) in Alcuescar, started by Leocadio Galán in 1939 to house and educate the orphans of the war, both academically, religiously and in the arts, sports and culture.

I gave a Shiatsu to a deserving fellow trekker who had a neck problem; I was able to dry my boots and have a hot shower, but there was neither kitchen nor clothes washing facilities. We were invited to take a tour of the building with one of the Brothers and to attend Mass (a sign informed us that whatever our religious inclinations, we would be saved).

The soles of my feet ached well into the evening so it was good to give them a massage this morning and feel how Kyo the insteps, KD1 and the backs of the ankle were, even after 9 hours in bed. At least I did not feel the cold that the others did – what with my new sleeping bag and all so my Water element cannot be in that much imbalance!

Yesterday a group of us had to wait until 1pm to be admitted and they played us beautiful Spanish music while they booked us in. This morning we were all ready with our boots on when 7.30am arrived and the doors were opened. The hospitalero played the hallelujah chorus!

As soon as I walked across the road, my left heel remembered its blister, but later it was another part of my other foot which complained more bitterly.

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Sun rise.

Breakfast was at the café Alta Cuesta over the road (I bought a coffee and ate my left-over bread and cheese) with all the other pilgrims assembled before the day’s walk. What bonhomie (though most were German!). The Way was clearly marked, directly beside the albergue (hostel), and the tarmac quickly became a sandy path: good for the walkers’ feet. There were fields of goats; lots of dogs; and black/white storks flapping their ungainly wings, necks outstretched like flying geese.

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The olive green (obviously!) hills were on my left, in the distance, for half of the journey.

Today’s weather: sunny, cold (no need to stop and de-robe), with a glacial and an ever stronger, west wind.

Sign posting: Very good all day – even on the way out of the town. No need for a book or an app.

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Soon I was walking between olive fields and hedges. The ground was sodden from yesterday’s rain.

Throughout the morning I was dodging puddles, stepping on useful stone blocks positioned by the Amigos (‘Friends’) who look after the Camino, or skirting around small lakes of rainwater.
There was a small plot of newly planted, straggly onions growing underneath this glowing tree.

I tried to phone ahead to reserve a bed last night because I saw in my book that it was only a small hostel, but I was informed that bookings were impossible. So I was reminded to leave the situation to fate, stop counting the people who might be in front of me, and not to rush to keep up with them.

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One of the many German people, this guy with sexy socks.

There were men at work stripping the olive trees with forks at arms length, presumably ridding them of the old, dead wood.

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A little loud dog made a noise which was not relative to her size, and of course the boo boo boo bird serenaded me in addition to the chatterings of starlings.

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The calves were running, the cows sedate; their colours reminiscent of the Olocau dogs: a lovely warm, beige brown.

You can read the Olocau blog here.

When I talk with another as I walk, I forget myself. This can be good because they always have an interesting story to tell. However, in some ways, not, as I cannot tell if I am going too fast for example, not until they walk on and I re-focus.

I spot a beautiful lake but it is behind a fence.

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Someone told me this is tamarisk.
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The red rooves and white houses of Casas de Don Antonio, Extremadura, Spain.

With cow bells tinkling, I was suddenly directed onto a runway-type paved road. Wow, the wind was so strong!

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But then almost immediately the signs were off to the right. I reflected, on listening to others, that some of my old habits have passed. That sort of mirror can be very helpful.

There is straight, strong grass poking  through the night-sky-blue bog water.

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A group of Saturday walkers in anoraks of primary colours were having their photographs taken in the bridge. Smile!
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Here is a stork on top of an old pylon. It is blurred but you can just see the orange beak.

I was very stiff by now and when I squatted to pee, I asked myself ‘can I get up again?’ I wondered how I could ever have walked 6, 8 or 10 hours a day.

Note to self: try the she-wee Alice (eldest daughter) gave me.

When I notice myself thinking too much, or worrying, I imagine the image of praying hands in the centre of my chest. This is to try and centre myself, to try not to think of others. Otherwise, their Ki comes into contact with mine and I have more than me to deal with, and this camino must give me the chance to spend time inside.

The wind played havoc with my phone. I think, anyway. It seemed to be typing all on its own. One way or another it was impossible to take notes.

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One fan-tailed raptor flew over and first 10, then 1000s of caterpillars who I had been told liked to move in a queue, were struggling between being stepped on, drowned and blown over. Poor things, they were having a harder time than I was, though they do have more legs.

Through a flock of sheep we wove, and off to to the right onto a road and the final destination.

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Sunset.
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The municipal albergue, Aldea de Cano, Spain.
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A mackerel sky.

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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 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.

Vienna 2, Austria

A second blog about Vienna – photos, food, safety for women, tourist services and more.

I was visiting this elegant, dolls-house city for the first time for the purposes of attending the largest European Shiatsu Congress ever held. There were over 600 participants from very many countries including Greece, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, Scotland, England, Germany, Switzerland and of course Austria.

It was truly wonderful to meet up with friends I made in France and Spain during the last year; spend time with colleagues from previous meet-ups; and forge new acquaintances.

In the same way that Gill, fellow practitioner, helped me find friends and hosts in Spain, Sabine was my guide and support here. I am grateful to her, her mother and Ursula for their kindness, generosity and friendship.

The Votifkirche.
Palmenhaus (palm or glass house) for overwintering plants years ago, now a cafe.

Trying to find the Tourist Information I was drawn to a certain loudness which turned out to be a slightly pop version of Gloria In Excelsis Deo. On October 31 1517 Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the gates to the Wittenberg Castle Church. Thus began the Reformation whose 500th anniversary was this year. I had stumbled across the preparations for this event.

 

Useful facts: The ITI Tourist Information in Schmerlingpl. 3 is not the one you want, despite what Google maps tells you. Find the website for the right place and follow the link from there. And note that they cannot tell you anything about anywhere outside Vienna, including treks which leave the city or well-known pilgrimages.

All very grand and gold but the sun cannot usually get down to street level.

There are a lot of men in statue form standing high on rooves looking down at us mortals.

Maria Teresa had 16 children.

She was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands and Parma.

Mozart cuts a fine figure.
Whereas I thought Goethe just looked fed up and resigned.
I liked the patterned roof of St Stephen’s Cathedral.
And the interior was impressive.
But the roccoco church of St Peter was altogether in a different league.
Exterior of St Peter’s Catholic church.

I walked all over the city day and night and believe it is safe for solo women. I even made one very early walk alongside the metro line U6 which is raised up above the road level, and there were many men who looked ‘down at heel’, but no-one bothered me at all.

Controversial tourist carriages. There are rules in place to protect the horses from the heat and boredom but not everyone is convinced.

The Viennese speak great English which made it tricky to try my schoolgirl German. There are 1000s of tourists so most people you stop to ask the way have no better idea than you!

Jesuit church.
Fine stonework.
A screaming gargoyle.
Grumpy burghers.

I was taken to the Nachtsmarkt (market) where I sampled olives and dried fruit, chocolate, and was given free soap. The vegetarian restaurant was amazing. Details below.

Nachsmarkt: so many stalls and wonderful arrays of round-the-world delicacies.  https://www.wien.gv.at/freizeit/einkaufen/maerkte/lebensmittel/naschmarkt/

Chocolate, and especially the pistachio, that is sustainable as well as delicious http://www.zotter.at

Lovely soap with natural scents: http://www.allesseife.at

Recommended deli (veg and vegan) in Mariahilferstrasse main shopping area: http://www.freiraum117.at/Startseite_m

Evening vegetarian restaurant with charming service at Opernring: https://veggiezz.at

 

Via de la Plata Camino – Villafranca de los Barros to Torremejia

23rd May 2017. Via de la Plata camino walk, Spain. Day 8: Villafranca de los Barros to Torremejía, in the autonomous community of Extremadura, Badajoz province. 26 kms which should take a minimum of 6 hours with breaks.

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One star shone beside the moon (or was it a satellite?)

I left Villfranca at 5.50am and it was darker than ever before. Once I had found my way out of town I was in open scrub land. There was the dawn at the edge of the world; the sky was blue, red and orange. I heard the sound of a lone cockerel, saw a white horse just visible, and smelled the faint odour of farm fertiliser.

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There were orange lights already in the distance, and tractors passed me under the tiny, thin crescent moon. Oh, the sweet, sweet feathered melodies!

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As I found my stride, my state of mind calmed. My pack was extra heavy with provisions, and my feet already hot, but the air was cool and I gave thanks for that. The dusty path was occasionally lit up by one or two red tail lights. Then it went quiet. The flower buds were tightly shut.

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The sky was a bright orange purple and the fiery dome took three minutes or so to appear.

The moment when the the sun finally rose was very exciting, and afterwards the opposite sky was a blank white.

‘(Pilgrimage is) … walking in search of something intangible..’ p. 45 Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit.

Some travellers write their blogs after getting home and I can see why; although the trekking itself does not take all day the mindset needed for that, together with the attendant tasks of looking after the BodyMind and dealing with practicalities, can do.

Indeed, I recently advised a prospective peregrino to leave books at home. That was partly due to the weight, but also because I do not read much when I am on a pilgrimage, and I do not see others reading around me. Fiction can transport you to another place, and many pilgrims believe that focussing on their spiritual goal is vital and do not want to be distracted.

‘…- and for pilgrims, walking is work.’ p. 45 Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit.

On reflection, I ‘saw’ that I do tend to set myself extra and unnecessary tasks, and yesterday it transpired, I also did some needless work for the business back home thinking I was indispensible perhaps. As I put one foot in front of another I could take note of such patterns and habits of mine.

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To the east were hills like different sized piles of manure you will clear up later. In the sky was an orange haze which seemed to be creating a white misty look between it and the land, whereas the other half of the globe was flat to the horizon, and the vineyards of the Ribeiro region a uniform blue. The arrows were easy to see, the backpack was no bother, but my feet were still calling my attention at times.

I enjoyed the immaculately ploughed red soil between rows of vines.

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The world was in technicolour.

Olives, with their stumpy wiggly trunks, stretched into infinity. One patch had solar panels and an extra crop of what might have been green manure between the trees. The cordoned vines had thin little stems, perhaps because the wires were supporting them so they did not need to be stronger. I would like to know why some rows were planted north-south, and some east-west.

 

The sweet fennel and cow parsley smelled delicious. My skin remained cool, and it was brightening quickly. Other wild flowers competed with the blue of the sky, and there were pink His Master’s Voice horns of common bindweed by the path.

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Before I left the hostel, breakfast looked better than usual so I had paid for it, and consequently I was full of sugary energy. My shadow was really tall; my alter ego which could reach things down from high shelves in the supermarket.

In the fields, today’s job was trimming the long tendrils, and other than those men, it was me myself I as far as I could see in both directions. Even the farmers were alone, although an occasional conversation reached me.

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Vast expanses of sky and road.

I liked the swirls in the earth at the ends of rows where the tractor had turned; hated the repetitive machinery noise to my left which source I could not see; and blocked my nose from the acrid, chemical smell I had been warned about.

I had also read that there was neither village nor water for the entire 26 kilometers and I could believe it. I only had one litre and so knew that I would have to be careful not to drink too much too soon. Sadly, as I took the signposted turning, the noise got louder.

The tireder I got, the less time had passed since I last looked at my watch. Chemicals smelling like paint were being sprayed so I tried to pick up pace, but my body had set its own rhythm. Tonight, I thought, I am drinking some wine!

By 8.40am I was no longer alone; there were four Italians in a group and another solitary man on the road. We moved at regular intervals from each other.

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The same person I had shared a dormitory with the previous night, with his hat, carrier bag and wooden walking stick.

After almost 3 hours without a break, I was casting ahead for a tree throwing shade, but there was not one until 9.20! After a 15 minute break, and having eaten my orange because it was the heaviest and also full much needed fluids (delicious it was), I deduced that we were barmy, the lot of us, walking so far in this heat.

I then passed the hat-wearing man sitting on a wee waymarker, and he said he was muy cansado (very tired). He added that we were half way. On I went.

A town with unusual looking farm buildings appeared. Ah! maybe wine vats. It looked like the outside edges of a huge swimming pool and I imagined it was full of grapes with barefooted people trampling around it. Do they actually do that these days? It could of course be sewage, which would be less ‘romantic’.

Luckily, the actual smell was of newly cut branches and very fresh sap.

For some reason I suffered a lot of pains on and off, and I also started to feel the skin on my right arm and leg, the side where the sun was, getting that soon-to-be-burned feeling. To remedy it, I draped my magenta wrap over that side of me. That wrap sure does come in handy. (See my blog on what to pack in your rucksack).

Swifts zapped flies, zig-zagging across my sight. Were those cordoned olives? If they were, then that would make for many more plants per acre than the row system, so it would certainly make financial sense if the earth could sustain it.

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You cannot see from the photo, but the mountain rock strata were clear to the human eye.

I broke again at 10.45 for lunch under a tree, feet throbbing – it was so very hot. A pylon was crackling like a fire, indeed there was a smell of burning. As I ate I let my crumbs drop for the ants and watched one carry a huge piece away, picturing it arriving back home and saying ‘look what I got!’ It was a messy business for the bottom, sitting on the earth like that. I restarted at 11am and, yes, there were a lot of little inexplicable smouldering fires between the olive trees.

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A sea of white wheat.

Towards the end of the day’s walk I spent a short period, only the second time in the past 8 days, talking to someone as we went along. He was from Barcelona and was doing the camino to get away from his demanding family, he said. He assured me that despite his exhaustion, of course he wanted to keep on walking until he reached Salamanca (a further 11 days). Such determination!

At 1pm in a 31 degree heat, after seven rather than six hours of walking, I arrived in Torremejía. (Put the accent on the final ee: toh-ray-mah-heee-ah).

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Privacy, despite the available beds.

The hostel host owns a bar as well, on Avenida Extremadura, but there was a family issue and it was closed that evening, so I sat in the one opposite and had a beer and wrote my notes. Useful info: the supermarket on the same street is shut for a long time between lunch and evening.

I did buy that bottle of wine I had promised myself, and I also invited the man in the above photo, plus a Dutch cyclist new on the scene, to join me. We had some surprisingly entertaining conversation, in divers languages, and it was very enjoyable to sit around the table with fellow travellers again as I had done so often on the Camino Frances.

For some reason the host kindly offered us a free breakfast when his bar reopened the next morning; it provided simple fare with generous portions and friendly service.

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Toast for breakfast with a great deal of butter!

Tomorrow would be my last day on this leg of the 1000 kilometer Via de la Plata, so I would have to wait to see Salamanca another time.

For a list of stages of this camino and other information, check out the link: http://santiago-compostela.net/via-de-la-plata/

Albergue Rojo-Plata, recommended. Very friendly host. http://albergue-rojo-plata.com/Inicio.htm

Rojo-Plata bar. I had a free breakfast there but did not eat an evening meal  https://www.tripadvisor.ie/Restaurant_Review-g7614464-d7986966-Reviews-Restaurante_Albergue_Rojo_Plata-Torremejia_Province_of_Badajoz_Extremadura.html