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, a white horse was just visible, and I 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. The dawn chorus was sounding: 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 of farm vehicles. 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 in comparison.

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

Some travellers write their blogs after getting back home, after the whole trip has ended, and I can see why; although the trekking itself does not take all day every day, so that you would think there was time enough in the evenings to write, I find that the attention needed to deal with practicalities, together with the attendant tasks of looking after the BodyMind, can take up a surprising amount of time and energy. On this journey I started  posting my blogs daily, but gave up part way through.

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.

As I walked, I was reflecting: I could see that I have a tendency to set myself extra and unnecessary tasks. Yesterday I did some work for the business back home (perhaps thinking I was indispensible) and it transpired that it was a needless task. As I put one foot in front of another I could take note of such patterns and habits of mine.

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Camino Publico de Chaparral , longitude 3,600 km, Ayuntamiento de Villafranca de los Barros

To the east were hills like different sized piles of manure you will clear up later, 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.

Not long after, the sun lit them up and 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 alfalfa 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 His Master’s Voice horns of pink, common bindweed by the path.

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Bright blue wild flowers competeing with the azure sky

Before I left the hostel, breakfast looked better than usual so I had paid for it, and consequently I was full of sugary energy. On the ground, my shadow was really tall; I thought it must be 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 working (an occasional conversation reached me), it was me, myself, I as far as the eye could see.

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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 of water 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 three hours without a break, I was casting ahead for a tree throwing shade, but there was not one until 9.20. After a fifteen minute break, and having eaten my orange because full much needed fluids and was the heaviest (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 inside it. Do they actually do that these days? I then realised that could of course be sewage, which would be considerably 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 scarf sure does come in handy. (See my blog on what to pack in your rucksack).

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

Swifts zapped flies, zig-zagging across my view. 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.

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, saying ‘look what I got!’ When I got up, I noted that 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 alight between the olive trees.

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A sea of bleached wheat

Towards the end of the day’s walk I spent a short period, only the second time in the past eight 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 the exhaustion, of course he wanted to keep on walking until he reached Salamanca (a further eleven days). Such determination!

At 1pm in a 31 degree heat, and 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 – all the other beds were empty

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 this link:

The Albergue Rojo-Plata is recommended. The host is very friendly.

Review of the Rojo-Plata bar. I had a free breakfast there but did not eat an evening meal