Via de la Plata Camino – Day 18 (Mérida to Ourense). Sunday 8 April 2018. 18 kms.
I have lost all my notes for this week and there are a lot of photos for 8th April so there are few words.
The sun rose on my right. It lit up the lush fields on my left as if it was a different time of day there.
Calendula (marigolds) and roses in full flower in San Marcial. Red and white cycle path signs reminiscent of the Grande Randonnee in France.
Coming into the city of Zamora (‘The pearl of the 12th century’) along the River Duero, close to the border with Portugal in north-west Spain.
Later there was a queue of us waiting at the allotted time and, unexpectedly, it hailed hard. There was only a tiny ledge for everyone to huddle under and not enough space for the luggage, so in 5 minutes the rucksacks, boots, everything was soaked.
The hospitalera was most hospitable (sorry!). She was a fountain of knowledge having worked there for a long time and she was clearly in her dream job – loving chatting and finding out where we were all from. She had great English and knew what we needed. There is a fantastic kitchen and Marie Noelle had been before us, messaging me to say that she had cooked meals for the Seuil men – one vegan for E and the other with meat for the growing lad. I was very lucky that they shared it with me – a veritable feast.
Baltasar Lobo (artist 1910-1993 buried in the Cimetiere du Montparnasse, Paris, France)
His work is in a dedicated gallery (free entry) beside the Castle and also scattered around the grounds nearby.
I highly recommend Zamora as a tourist destination.
Via de la Plata Camino – Day 16 (Mérida to Ourense). Friday 6 April 2018. 20 kms.
I am walking in Castilla y Léon and this part is very flat with a deal of road. The albergue in Calzada de Valdunciel is on the opposite side of the town, making it very simple and quick to find the way out in the dark.
‘Lodging facilities were generally provided outside the city walls to enable travellers to come and go after the gates of the town were shut at night’. The Pilgrimage to Santiago, Edwin Mullins.
The long straight path was not overly attractive but as the sun rose, everything changed colour, even the barbed wire fence took on a precious shine.
I came across a small forest of teasal, all turned towards the sun. They stood tall and prickly in the light, old and brown but glowing at the same time. I have never seen so many of them at once. Perhaps because I knew I would be walking past a prison later in the day, they reminded me of inmates pressed against the boundary fence (there was not enough light to take a photo).
Opposite the sun, in the same cobalt sky, was less than half a lint moon, a wafer-thin gauze of a slither. Where the warmth had not reached it, the grass was still stiff with the haw frost.
I followed the footprints of the people who had gone before me until a significant detour due to flooding. I was under a motorway bridge and the warning signs were easy to see except they were back-to-front, so first I took the left fork, met with the un-passable path and retraced my steps. Then it was not easy- arrows everywhere – and it was counter-intuitive winding back and over where I had already been. It seems that this diversion has been there a long time.
Soon it was lovely and warm. Straight, straight on, cars rushing past and I somehow missed Huelmos, the only pueblo between setting off and my destination. Shame about the sore feet. This type of stage often seems much further than it actually is, but I revelled in the wild flowers: the same selection from last week. I had hardly seen any since then and I wondered if the wheat spraying was responsible for the lack of them.
This time the accomodation, a private hostel, was just off the first road I came to on entering El Cubo, sort of round the back and next to what looked like a derelict area. It had a spacious garden surrounding it and those strips of plastic hanging in front of the front door.
As there was no answer I phoned and the owner appeared very quickly, offering me a welcome beer. The books say people are welcome to pop in for a drink and a seat – a nice idea that I had not come across before. As I sun-bathed, I remembered that I had forgotten to leave a donation at the Salamanca donativo hostel and resolved to ‘pass it forward’, as the cyclist from Malta who came briefly by for a coke and to fix his bike, suggested.
Later I went into the village to buy my tea and next day’s breakfast. Two women sitting on a bench outside their house pointed me in the right direction. I am now familiar with shops which are in apparently residential dwellings. In Edinburgh it is the opposite – many of the old shops have been made into homes. White doves flew up from the church.
Being private, there was no pilgrim’s kitchen but the retired owners allowed us to sit at the table alongside the others who were eating the supper provided. There were six of us including a young couple who are walking the camino, weekend by weekend, travelling by car from home on Friday nights, to the start of each stage, walking for two days, and then returning to their vehicle on the Sunday night for work the next day. It was a really enjoyable meal and the wine flowed freely – a delicious local white for the starter, red for the main – which I was (happily) encouraged to sample.
I was still meeting up with the duo from Seuil regularly. They always cater for themselves, being on a strict (almost impossible) budget, and the youngest is an avid footballer (he played for Rennes when he was younger) so despite walking every day, he goes out for football practice every evening – E, his ‘accompanying adult’, is consequently improving his moves!
They also washed our clothes for two euros, and there was plenty of hanging space in the garden. Unfortunately, having bought almost all of my stuff in before the storm except my double-layer socks which dry very slowly, I left them out all night. I padded out in bare feet through the puddles in the early hours when I remembered, but it was too late for them to dry for wearing that day.
I had a rather luxurious night: although I was in a shared room and had arrived first, picking the less expensive bunk, the whole establishment was full by 8pm and I was moved to a double bed – presumably because I was the matriach!!
Via de la Plata Camino, day 15 from Salamanca to Calzada de Valdunciel (on the Mérida to Ourense section). Thursday 5 April 2018. 15 kms?
I woke really early and crept out of the female dorm where I slept with 2 others. I had been warned that walking out of Salamanca would be frustrating, and it was. The start was straightforward: to Plaza Major, then onwards, the roads getting wider and more industrial as I went. But then there is a left; straight on at a supermarket (Carrefour); a hotel which would not let me use their toilets; a stadium which I crouched behind as a result; and motorway roundabouts. No paths nor pavements: terrible. I even saw a man spitting which although it is very common in Britain, I had never seen before here in Spain.
However, I could not help but be elated with the lovely buildings and the sunlight, even if it was mixed with frustration at getting the rucksack comfy, trudging along thinking about past relationships and sorting things out in my mind.
Finally there was a clay camino by the motorway and despite the ice on the ground it was starting to warm up.
I was getting a very different feeling from people in this part of the country: in the bars they were polite but gave us half a glass compared to the Spanish, and charged more; on the street, on the other hand, people were kindness itself, helping with directions despite my beginners Spanish.
For a while I walked amidst the green and earth – the plough had created gracious curves around the hills. Then more by road – I thought, ‘You must be joking’, but the challenge was to stay quiet inside and enjoy what was there. It worked! Very soon I was back off-road, and from then on it was a smooth, flat and ochre-coloured path.
Yesterday I walked in one long stretch of countryside with nothing to break it up, offering a chance to do a walking meditation. Today it was warmer and there were little hops from village to village and there was the spire of a church ahead in Aldeaseca de la Almuña. It was a square bell tower with a shallow triangular roof and a little blob of stork on its nest on top.
I passed one of the women I had seen the previous night. She was sitting outside a village supermarket having a quiet smoke. I chose a lovely wee shop round the corner, full of delights such as an unexpectedly wide range of perfume as well as the sweet things I was ready for even though only it was only 11am.
There was a tiny arrow between the church and the medical centre but I only saw it when I went back in and the shop-keeper pointed it out. There was a sign that the library bus visits on Mondays. I exited past the sunshine yellow play-park.
I admitted to myself (after my experience near Lake Tajo) that I am somewhat nervous of meeting single men on the outskirts of towns, and at the next village sure enough there was a car which went slowly. He hooted and later approached me, but it was fine – I walked on, did not look at or answer him, and he got the message.
There were new tulips out, a hoopoe saying bou bou bou, and wood pigeons coo cooing. Luckily my book said to walk on the right side of the road, and there was a path between the trees although I did not see the arrows. Later I discovered that others had continued along the road, and I was happy that for once I had found the gentler way.
Although in this flat land there are not a lot of places to snuck down for a pee!
Oh the sweet peeping of the small brown bird with a white belly! I had never seen the vino tinto-coloured catkins before: they were all over the ground.
Then, another first, I had to take my boots off and wade through the water which was blocking the way.
I crossed the very busy main road once more, using the motorists’ signs to help me: there are far fewer arrows in this region, though there are the more modern Castilla y León pillars encompassing a variety of directions. Here there were the same miniscule scarlet succulents growing in the gravel which were all over Extremadura. I was walking beside what you might call a posh housing estate, along a smaller road parallel to the A-one, into Castellanos de Villiquera. (The Valencia one I went to has security guards on call 24 hrs a day)
There were glimpses of turquoise swimming pools through hedges and I wondered for the 100th time, why I walk. We have forgotten the way people used to walk from town to village if they did not have a horse/cart. My favourite parts of the film Captain Corelli’s Mondolin are when the people wend their way out of the village down that zig-zag road, taking their time and following tradition. Now I hear that in America you are advised not to go on foot at all in some cities. I am fascinated by the quietness of this mode of transport, not for the sake of a romantic revisiting of a lost era but because it feels better. I see and hear more. If I am not in a hurry (as I was for the first 50 years of my life it seemed), then there is somehow more time for my soul to catch up with my body.
A woman beats a mat outside her house; in contrast the small tweety birds flutter their wings like hovver flies. A racing 3-year-old spaniel, wet from leaping through young wheat, and her owner (approximately 80 years old) stop to say, aren’t you cold? I said no, not after 15 kms, and we had a nice chat. He wished me a Buen Camino when we parted ways. It seems to be a very popular pastime for the retired, walking on the outskirts.
No-one overtook me today. I suspect the two men who left earlier are going for 30 kms or so. Planning each day involves looking at the distance between hostels and taking any main towns into account. It is certainly tempting to go further, and this is a topic of very regular debate both in my head and with others, but today’s tricky 60 kms to Zamora can be comfortably divided into 16, 23 and 21 which is much more relaxed.
I traipse through Calzada de Valdunciel, right to the other side, past a wall where there is an oficina virtual de turismo ie, not real people, but a digital tourist information. And arrive at a 12-bed, cute little albergue which shares a wall with a noisy metal-cutting factory (blessedly, they take a long lunch break!).
I am there first and although deserted, the door is open. One-by-one the others arrive: the 2 men from Seuil who I have been getting to know for a few days, came first, followed by others who looked and decided to move on, and, finally, the woman I saw that morning and she had to be turned away because by then we were full. There is a little kitchen with a stove and a string of (what turns out to be plastic) garlic. And a little bedside table.
Later I took a turn around the streets and met the same woman for the fourth time. I discovered that she was waiting for an ambulance outside that supermarket because she had come over all giddy. I had noticed her having coca cola and coffee for breakfast in Salamanca before her cigarette, so when she said she did not know why she had felt so ill we had a chat about it. Much later I got to know her well and heard her story. There is always a story.
Via de la Plata Camino – Day 14 (Mérida to Ourense). Tuesday 3 April 2018. 20 kms.
The camino is otherwise known as The Way, as is the Tao and I turned over similarities between the two as I walked the road from Morille to Salamanca.
There was a straight yellow line ahead of me, almost flat, through green fields of recently sown grass. There were three of us at intervals, visible to each other.
The wind was strong, all on my left and it was overall too cold. I walked with my woolly hat on and hood up most of the way. In fact, I would have recommended today to avoid March on this camino, but perhaps it was unseasonal. The accommodation, in general, is not geared up to it.
Here there were plains and plains to cross and so for hours I could see Salamanca, and even once I reached the outskirts there were two underpasses to duck under, parks with unfriendly City folk to cross.
Then a lovely welcome at the municipal albergue (donativo ie you pay what you think it is worth) and a host of friends in that warm place.
Oh, it is a very elegant and sturdy city, Salamanca, with its deep ochre buildings and grandeur!
In Bar Cuzco the man was exceptionally friendly, and though expensive, I waited out the pouring rain with wifi and red wine to warm my insides, stepping out onto the gleaming streets 2. 5 hours later.
Later I wandered around and here are some of the great sights.
1 April, April Fool’s Day and Easter Sunday 2018. Day 11. Via de la Plata Camino, Spain.
There was a good breakfast provided at the communal table, but I had enough of my own and wanted to eat it so it did not need to be carried. Most of the others seemed to be enjoying a good spread. T’ai Chi that morning in the lee of the mountains, with the full moon still strong in the sky, was inspiring.
After a false start when I had to go back for my baton, I made my way through the very ancient village and out into the countryside along what might have been an old railway between pollarded trees – the first I had seen here.
There were cows everywhere: black ones on the left – mum grazing and her newborn calf souking; beige / white on the other. The white snowy mountains were ever present when I looked back, walking happily alone. What a wonderful morning! We walked into the region of Castilla y León.
I watched for a while as the young bovine, on their long spindly legs, geared themselves up to jump across the stream; I admired the bright white ones still with the tufty cord sticking out under their bellys, and all fluffy. I realise now that lots of the females have impressive horns, but in this bullfighting country how was I to know when put on the spot a few days ago?!
I mused on my topic of the last few months: the balance between a solitary and a social life. I set out from Mérida eleven days ago expecting the same quiet experience I had had when walking from Seville the previous May. Instead I found a great camino ‘family’ (as people like to call it) forever changing its members but, warm and supportive. With them around one rarely loses one’s way or dines all alone. On the other hand, there is hardly the chance to meditate in peace; one has to politely refuse company when setting out in the morning if silence is required; and all-in-all it’s profoundly communal and not at all the solitary wandering of the historical pilgrim which I have enjoyed over the past year.
Today’s plant: catkins, at the early spiky stage.
They use natural stone for fence pillars here compared to further down in the valley.
I remind myself that I must stay alert and look for the details of the journey, the arrows. I come across a bridge very similar to one in Kent. Later there is a really helpful, home-made railing to help the hikers across the flooding, but for me the stones are too far apart!
It took me two hours instead of one to get to Valverde de Valdelacasa – I walked slowly, paying attention to touching the the tip of my stick on the ground very gently, taking photos and notes etc. But, then, no, it turned out that I had misunderstood the book. I was not behind-time after all.
My feet were throbbing; the birds were trilling; and alsatians were being walked as I made the long, uphill trek into the village.
Benito was already there, tapping on the window as I went by (I had meant to walk on), and the bar was just opening after what must have been a riotous night.
If you walk this camino, make sure you go straight on at the roundabout along the road. I was able to change into my shorts as the sun warmed up.
Here were big black pigs in a very plain enclosure; there, quarries and multiple farm buildings. The land was all beautifully ploughed and ready for sowing.
The paved road was hard on my feet so I lay down on the prickly ground, my back against a rock, and was sung to by cattle and birds and tickled by insects and it smelled sweetly of disturbed earth and nearby flowers. Even a large yellow butterfly flew by me, like an angel.
There was not one car or person on the next stretch although much later a tractor and finally a yellow arrow heralding the near end of my walk.
What an amazing albergue. It is a religious community, looking after the flock when the priest is away tending to his seven other parishes. They take great care, the people who live there, some long-term, some shorter; and the food and accommodation is excellent. Particularly as it is a donativo hostel it you pay for what you think it is worth / you can afford.
March 31st 2018 10 kms 2. 5 hours then a bus to Béjar and a shared taxi (6.5 euros each) to Calzada de Béhar.
At the large hostal in the centre of the busy town, I had a couple of very interesting conversations with an Irishman, and an Englishman who lives near me in a Fife forest, both of whom are wild campers and walking with tents etc. This is something I have been thinking about for a while as it eliminates the need for finding a free bed every night. (See yesterday’s blog for a good example of how hard it can be unusual but worth knowing about if you are considering walking the Via de la Plata).
The dormitories are warm and the kitchen well equipped. It was swarming with peregrinos I had seen before and so was a friendly place to be.
After the escapades of the day before, I set off as usual, walking to Balneario which was all along the road.
Once there, I immediately saw the sign to the terma, the hot baths, and thought that would be a lovely treat but…
I entered a bar to find my companions already partaking of their morning coffee. One said he was staying behind to visit and after telephoning the hostel we were heading for, both for myself and 3 others because I spoke the most Spanish, I decided to stay as well.
The Roman baths were booked up ahead of time (this was the Saturday of Easter weekend and very busy with tourists) but the kind woman at the desk showed us around.
Then we went over the road to the modern baths and took advantage of the Pilgrim Discount (4 euros) for a leisurely swim and laze around on loungers, with a huge blue bathrobe thrown in for good measure. It was a small pool with one fountain and the only others present were a family with 2 young daughters, so reminiscent of my own in days gone by. I had a good sleep and after an hour and a half my feet were barely aching at all. Wonderful. (They are open until lunchtime and then reopen later in the day. )
We had a nice meal back at the bar (he had salad with orange and goats cheese; I had salad with gulas and prawns which turned out, despite my thinking it was a seafood salad by the title on the menu, to be sprinkled with thousands of tiny pieces of bacon which I laboriously separated from every mouthful before I ate it.)
Note to self: always check for the presence of meat before ordering!
The town is beautiful, tucked right in under the mountains and, on account of its height, very windy.
We managed to find a sunny corner to wait for the bus, before being driven to Béhar (only two buses that day at 12-something and 5pm) – an idea which the Tourist Information adviser had come up with. He said we could walk from there. It was lovely and warm and we wound our way up, higher and higher, through spectacular scenery, to the main town of this region, on the edge of Extremadura.
Once again we visited the Tourist Information and discovered it was further than we we had been led to believe and, it being close to the evening, my companion suggested we take a taxi – ending what was essentially a rest-day, which after all was day 10 and so a sensible time to take it.
Camino friends had already arrived at the albergue after a very steep climb, and the hospitaleros were most accommodating. There is a a garden overlooking the wonderful scenery, and loud music coming from a closed outbuilding which I was told the next day was where they were training horses to dance.
There were two very large sittings for the evening meal which consisted, for us vegetarians, of salad, omelette and flan. The usual, but all cooked on the premises and delicious.
Very sadly I forgot to take my swimming costume off the washing line the next morning.
I am walking from Mérida to Ourense along the so-called Silver Way, the Via de la Plata Camino.
I have not been able to meditate recently because the bunk above me is too low and the floor too hard and cold. However I did do my tai chi in the night which, though painful for my foot, was beneficial overall.
Once again there was a community sense of pilgrims all looking out for each other.
Halfway through yesterday evening the temperature had changed and the wind got up, heralding, we were told, the rain.
But, beautiful was the word of the day; the one I kept coming back to as I walked through the gorgeous scenery.
It was a cold morning, frost on the ground. I had my trouser bottoms on!
Then an hour later they came off and it was bare calves for the rest of the day. Not bad for March.
The mountains were beauti…. No, they were amazing, in the early morning. Everything was on the rise, spring in the air. All was lush and abundant and I could not stop taking photos.
After leaving the small town of Grimaldo I walked past private houses with swimming pools, then took a left off the road.
It was a beautiful camino: through fields and grass; winding between trees; very wet underfoot, but the sun was throwing slanted rays and the birds were tweeting away ‘fit to burst’.
There were thin films of spiders’ webs on the ground. I attempted to answer messages as I walked.
I was inching my way to Santiago. There was a road at a distance to the right, between me and the mountains, but I was in the countryside on the uneven ground. I felt full of love.
I only managed to snatch a quick pee if there seemed to be enough polite space between the others and me. There was that cuckoo again.
And.. what.. security cameras? Yes I think so. Standing tall in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps to catch poachers.
Up and down I walked and all the downs were very boggy. There was snow on the mountains again, in front of me. In fact, there were hills or mountains on every side.
I picked my way between cow pats and acorns; grand and tiny stones; negotiated a series of big gates.
Today’s flower: a very small, yellow, slightly ridged cone (like a tiny daffodil trumpet), very often a singleton but sometimes in twos or more; with a fine, sparse ruff of lemon-yellow, and a long stamen.
At the barrage were herons fishing, and there were deep pools alive with toads.
I arrived in the town of Galisteo quite early. What a sight! A former Almohad fortress, the walls envelope the inner streets and dwellings with medieval features and a simple but entrancing church, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.
The albergue was shut and so I gave someone with terrible pain some Shiatsu in the outer bar of Los Emigrantes, kneeling amongst the cigarette ash.
Afterwards, the hostel was full as were the rooms at the bar. Luckily the man was very happy with his treatment telling people excitedly in Spanish how it felt, so there was a general movement to find me a room. This resulted in a beautiful twin room alone, with crisply ironed sheets and bleached white towels in a quiet pension just up the road. It was the same price as the municipal – 15 euros – including breakfast. It was lovely to have peace and space after many nights in communal accommodation.
Thanks so much to all my readers who send me corrections or answers to my queries, and who share their Spanish memories (especially of the Santa Semana processions which are currently happening across the country). I do look for the correct details before posting, but it is hard to identify flowers, trees or birds sometimes.
Cáceres to Casar de Cáceres (26th March 2018), maybe 18 kms taking me 4 hours plus.
Today I did my morning meditation in a different position because I cannot sit cross legged in my sleeping bag.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Soon I was walking between olive fields and hedges. The ground was sodden from yesterday’s rain.
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.
There were men at work stripping the olive trees with forks at arms length, presumably ridding them of the old, dead wood.
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.
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.
With cow bells tinkling, I was suddenly directed onto a runway-type paved road. Wow, the wind was so strong!
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.
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.
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.
I went to Mérida by bus from Seville because I completed that 10 days last year. The Leda bus took 3 hours and cost 9 euros.
I enjoyed a beer and pinxos in the Plaza España (tortilla with bread and goats cheese on toast, neither of which were good but cheap) and visited the crypt (3 euros) and amphitheatre (12 euros) in the afternoon. The people at the tourist information were most helpful.
The out-of-town shopping centre where I bought my new baton was across the Roman Bridge (which is totally pedestrian and a great sight). I was foot-sore but it was a successful trip and after bread, cheese and lettuce I went to bed at 7.30pm.
I woke at 6am after a passable night. A cacophony of snorers accompanied me in the 18-bed dormitory which was almost full. I did my meditation and as I went outside to do tai chi I disturbed a heron on the river.
I had a breakfast of milky coffee and packet cakes (2 euros), and was ready to go at 7.30am, only having to return once for my water bottle and map!
The road took me uphill and although there was ice on the parked-car windows, the sun shone all day; the birds sang to me and, in general, the yellow arrows were clear. I asked a woman for directions at one of the many roundabouts, and the first hour was along the side of busy cars going to work, as well as a green cycle track bedside the motorway.
The flowers were stunning: purple mallow; yellow rape; pink campion and ragged robin; white wild rocket and chamomile with their sunshine middles. Wood pigeons cooed at me when I shed a few tears, sure I had missed the way, although it transpired I had not.
Later, rabbits played with their white tails bobbing, and cow bells sounding like an orchestra of kalimbas were so beautiful.
I climbed up again to the top and there was the first view of the Prosperpina Reservoir. All morning my feet and other joints were taking it in turns to hurt, my back pack felt very heavy, but these things were familiar and if I have learnt anything from sitting it is that everything will pass eventually.
I sat and enjoyed it. I watched the heron on a rock, mirrored, stretching out its long black neck, and the swallows darting around for flies over the water. Individually the birds sang regular songs but together they created a mélange of sound.
I spent almost an hour near the reservoir reading the tourist information and changing out of my cold-weather layers into shorts and T-shirt.
After skirting the lake, I walked by the babbling brook and this second part of the days walk was much closer to what I was hoping for: peace, with the call of the cuckoo and the water swirling amongst the bright green weed and sparkling in the sunshine
This path was across country although initially along a little road with lots of arrows, plastic bags and signs, all yellow to help us find our way. My feet were very grateful for the soft sand, although there were quite a few wet and boggy places.
I saw dog walkers by the reservoir, 2 local cyclists and 2 camino ones. No-one else.
Note for those walking this way: Remember to look on the pavement for arrows and indications, as well as on trees, the backs of street signs and the obvious marble blocks.
A gentleman opened the gate for me as I trekked up into the village of El Carrascalejo where the church was shut.
I snacked at 11am with no sign of any café despite the information in my book (remember, it is March). On the way out of this tiny place there is a playpark and attractive picnic area.
After all my winter reading about the history of the pilgrimage and monasteries, I really felt like a happy pilgrim with my staff and shell, sign of Saint Jacques interred at Santiago de Compostellla, the end of this 1000 km route
As I approached the motorway I took a left turn along a small road and then a right at a Mondrian-like cube with its yellow square and walked through the underpass.
Up another little hill I went, along a farm path and past a group of men taking a break who called buen camimo and then I had a view of Aljucén.
I crossed the main road for the last time, straight on between green fields lush after the rain (the farmers must be happy anyway!) and although there are no signs I kept on going right into the village where they were planting lots of new trees and arrived at the Albergue Turístico Río Aljucén at midday.
Costing 10 euros, this hostel was recommended by the previous hospitalero, has excellent, free Wi-Fi, is spotlessly clean and although it has a washer (3 euros) there is no dryer. I was the first to arrive so I got to have the hot shower and choose my bed in the small dormitory. All my things dried quickly in the sun as other pilgrims arrived. We sat together, mostly German people, one Argentinian, a couple of French and myself from Scotland We spoke French, German, and a little English and Spanish.