Via de la Plata Camino – Day 8, Spain

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

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 5, Spain

20.5.17 Monesterio to Fuente de Cantos, on the Via de la Plata Spanish Camino. 22kms – a nice sensible distance to walk after yesterday!

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The Sierra Norte are still there, away in the distance as I walk out for day 5.

Last night I had wandered around Monesterio, shopping and having a beer, so I knew my way – or I thought I did. I got to the outskirts of town, stood in the middle of the road and scanned for yellow arrows which I had been following, retraced my steps and met a second solo female traveler, Yvette. It was 7.40am. She said I looked so confident that she had been following me! Together we found our way quickly and for the first time I had a companion.

She told me she was Slovakian, and she spoke good English, which was great as I have no Slovak. We established that we shared interests, chatting about complementary medicine and health-related matters, how the body manages stress, and of course why we were walking alone in Southern Spain. There was a good energy and we endeavoured to be mindful of our own body at the same time as sharing the way.

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Dry earth, wild flowers, and masses of blue sky.

There were cows wearing bells, herds of goats and other animals. We walked past beautiful streams, grand trees, and there was a green peace all around us.

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She spoke about the luxury of not having another person’s stuff to process, and we mused that in the past men went to war and many did not return. Now we divorce each other, so either way there are still a lot of women alone at the end of their lives.

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Dandelion suns growing by the wayside.

In fact she was walking much more slowly than I was as she was not well. I slowed down for a time because of the pleasure of having company, but we agreed to separate after an hour and a half or so, so she could rest more.

Black winged birds with orange caps, and white throats and undersides were singing beside me. The fragrant shrub I had not managed to identify on the internet last night, so still thought of as a sort of  broom, repeatedly attracted my attention with its so sweet smell.

After two hours the landscape had changed and there were no trees, although luckily there was a breeze. Quite a few lizards I did not quite see, scarpered at my approach.

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Fewer large trees at this stage.

I remembered that yesterday when I sat down to eat there was a grasshopper right by my left ear. Listening in this quiet place is one of the great pleasures of the Camino. I reflect that as a therapist I am familiar with listening to others. Attending work supervision, and being with friends enables me to be listened to. When I walk, however, I luxuriate in paying attention to the subtlety of nature and to myself.

I try listening under a tree away from the beating sun, but not for long as my sweaty back gets cold. I eat some sugary cakes to feed my muscles.

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Surprisingly fertile. I did not walk through any villages on the way – no chance of a tea.

Even though I try to avoid ssuashing insects, unfortunately the scuttley spiders seem to change direction just before my foot descends, alerted by the earth moving as I walk towards them. Sadly they are therefore more likely to be stepped on. I spend some time thinking about fear.

I notice ants going up and down a tree – something new to me.

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I did not take too many photos today, partly because I was walking some of the way with Yvette and partly because it all looked rather similar.

Both Christ and the Buddha walked and meditated. It seems to be something closely related to religion. I think it must be about contemplating ones behaviour and the habits of others, on the meaning of things.

There are empty husks, dry whispering beside me. Are they oats? They rustle and shine white-gold in the sunshine.

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How do I know the smell of dust? It blows around me. Over and over again I breathe it in without noticing, until I recognise that it is the dust which smells like that, not the other things which we are there simultaneously. It is the same way I can smell snow in the air back home, and people are surprised. I think my father taught me to focus on smelling, as it was something he really appreciated. Despite being a smoker, he really enjoyed sniffing the roses at dusk, or inhaling the gentle scent of a child’s hair.

The grasshoppers, they were loud, louder, really loud as I got closer, and then their noise subsided and tailed off as I ambled on. It was the opposite and slower version of standing by a motorway as cars zoom past me.

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I reminded myself that I do always know that I will get there eventually. I thought I must still be tired from yesterday if I needed reminding like that.

A tiny bird balanced on one ear of corn.

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Where the trees were, I sat with my feet in the water to cool, and I listened and watched. I took my top off for airing. Then, when I was ready to go, Yvette came by and we found we had more things in common. We made plans to meet that evening before I toddled on. What a happy, golden corn, blue sky sort of a day it was.

 

 

 

Entering the near deserted town.

The last hour was really hard, hard work in the heat, and I stumbled off the edge of a pavement in Fuente de Cantos and twisted my ankle which was not at all like me. But round the corner was a patisserie with its sweet sugar smell, and a few doors up was an oasis. It did not look much from the road, but this was not the municipal albergue, rather, one I had seen advertised on the road. In fact I had picked up the last leaflet.

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Entrance to El Zaguán de la Plata.
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See what I mean by ‘oasis’!

I wondered if I was in the right place because it looked like heaven. The door was open so I wandered through the great entrance hall into the courtyard. I sat by the fountain. I admired my surroundings. Of course I started to take photos, when out popped a man and offered me a drink. Most kind. So I had a seat (although I was very sweaty, in the 30 degree heat), and heard the water burbling and allowed the flowery aromas to waft around me, and exhaled.

 

What a find! I was, yes, you guessed it, the only person there, so I had the whole place to myself. Including the swimming pool which was great water therapy for my ankle. Of course, I had sent my bathing costume home on day 1, so it had to be underwear, but then again there was no-one to see me. Well only the owner and his dad pottering about the place. Oops!

 

I did walk out later to get some messages (used in Scotland to mean shopping) and it was a dusty and extremely hot walk to the edge of town to the supermercado. I visited the convent turned hostel which the others were staying in, both to see it and meet Yvette, but unfortunately she was nowhere to be seen, and I never saw her again. I did bump into the English cyclist who I had passed yesterday. He was looking for the post office to send his guitar home. He said he did not find that he had a need for it.

 

Shots of the town.

 

A glass or two of wine; the view from where I stayed; a lovely Madonna tile; and not everywhere was as smart.

 

 

There was a museum at the albergue, full of baskets, old farm machinery, and knick knacks. Fascinating.

 

 

Places to rest and recuperate as the temperature slowly cooled.

 

The downstairs bathroom and ceiling of the dormitory – all really attractively decorated.

 

 

Fuente de Cantos was the home of Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), so I visited the museum. Not my cup of tea, but what a cutting figure he made!

Francisco de Zurbaran https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_de_Zurbar%C3%A1n

Hostel website http://www.elzaguandelaplata.es/

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 1, Spain

Beginning the Via de la Plata from the start this time. Seville to Guillenna, 25 kms. 16.5.17

Jésus kindly dropped me off at a very early hour, still dark, to begin the Via de la Plata in the city of Seville, in deep southern Spain.

Negotiating my way out of town I see a beautiful doorway, the flash of my camera lighting it up. What lies through the metaphorical portal for me at the start of this camino?

All the Spanish caminos have Santiago de Compostella as their final destination. I had completed the Camino Francés in late November 2016 and fancied continuing to walk, so started the VDLP (as it is known in ‘the club’!) from the end, in the direction of Seville where everyone else starts it. In fact it was very tricky to negotiate the signs and arrows going backwards, so I only did 10 days or so and promised myself I would recommence from the beginning. And here I was, 5 months later!

It was actually pitch dark at 6.15am except for the parts with streetlights.

‘He gathered these details as he walked, and he could not have gathered them had he not opened himself to the kinds of encounter and perception that travel on foot makes possible. Walking, Lee notes, refines awareness: it compels you to ‘tread’ a landscape ‘slowly’ to ‘smell its different soils.’ The car-passenger by contrast, ‘races at gutter height, seeing less than a dog in a ditch’. Lee, like Leigh Fermor, believed in walking not only as a means of motion but also as a means of knowing..’. taken from Robert Macfarlane’s introduction to ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ by Laurie Lee.

Camino de Santiago is carved down the right hand side of this stone marker at the edge of the bypass.

Like Laurie Lee, I had travelled across Spain,  unlike him I had spent one day in fast cars (Zaragoza – Madrid – Seville), and so I resonated with the above quote. I was so very glad to have my feet back on the ground and be moving at what felt like my natural pace again.

And of course I got lost as usual, attempting to find my way away from the urbanisation. Seville is a beautiful place, but my heart lies in the rural landscape and I was keen to move on there. The birds, my constant companions, were wide awake. I trundled through wasteland searching for the yellow arrows – scouring the edges of benches, trunks of trees, discovering one wrapped around a lamp post, and another on a motorway bridge underpass.

These photos are in order along the path.

My advice to fellow travellers: everyone knows the way, ask, and/or wait patiently for a sign.

Do not go too fast, look back so you get sights of the sprawl you are leaving behind.

And if, like me, you have left before dawn, you will have the added bonus of seeing the sky lighten gradually at your back.

Like many parts of all the caminos, the outskirts of cities and large towns are less than salubrious, but because I was so excited, and have been practicing appreciation of all that is around me, there is beauty if you look in the right way.

I was not really going that fast, but there were 3 Germans walking out at the same time as me, and they went ‘like the clappers’. I needed to keep up with them, so I thought, because they were so confident, but it was not my natural speed and there was not enough time to take focused photos. I have kept it in as a record of the route.

I was hastening to keep up and did not take the time to stop long enough to focus.
Crossing the River Guadalquivir further up.

There were trees laden with oranges (no photos) lining the streets, and I kept on going straight.

Racing Germans speeding ahead.
And horses tethered by the roadside. I was to see many of them as I made my way north. Good, free grazing.
Another dreadfully blurred photo, not for show, but for those following the route as well.
It is an exercise in appreciation of the industrial.
Sun all but up now.
We all 4 lost our bearings here. We asked someone who, most unusually, sent us the wrong way.
Hints now of things to come. See the yellow and white decorations on the church with a flat bell tower?

I dashed into a cafe for a take-away croissant (no breakfast – very stupid – I never learn), and promptly lost the others. I panicked thinking I would never find the way on my own, so I ran to catch up. Ran! It is no fun with a backpack I can tell you.

Gave the casino a miss though.
More motorway.
Dull weather.
But at least I was starting to see a view of the countryside and not just railings and dual carriageways.
Before I left, Pedro dealt me a card for the journey. It was ‘Amistad’ meaning friendship. When I came across this around 8am, it seemed like an auspicious sign.

The unmistakeable sound of a peacock heralded my arrival in Santiponce, 7km from Seville, after two hours. One of the richest artistic and cultural heritages in Andalusia, it is sited on the banks of the River Gualdaquivir, which suffered several floods. One caused its surviving inhabitants to take refuge in the monastery (see below), which then granted the highest land for the safe re-building of the town as it is now.

I searched for the squawk. It was on the roof, silhouetted against the morning sky.
I do not know what tree these seed pods come from, but I liked the shape and colour against the cracked earth.
Early morning sweeping in her pinny. Seemed like a classic Spanish sight somehow.

There were more orange trees and the sun was trying its hardest. I have to say that after yesterday’s scorcher, I was rather glad that it was not as hot, given it was my first day back on the road with the rucksack and all.

Beautiful though isn’t it? The ex-Monastery of San Isidoro del Campo, founded in 1301, on the edge of the town.

A very attractive place, Santiponce.

I took a detour to see the Roman Theatre but it was shut. Only open in the summer (I guess May is not the summer) for performances. The nearby Tourist Information was very helpful though and it had lovely clean toilets.

The Roman Theatre.
Attractive detail on the main street.
I just love pink houses.
And the famous Seville oranges. People were picking them up off the street and eating them.

The Anfiteatro de Italica opens at 9am and one of my favourite blog writers recommended seeing it (see end of page), so I sat and ate an orange, listened to the birds, and rested my back until I could get in.

Wish my dad had been with me to see this.

So very old.
The amphitheatre itself – I could almost hear the bellowing of the crowd.
And feel the fear of the gladiators.

There were gardeners planting and tending red roses, just like characters from Alice in Wonderland. But it was hard to rest and enjoy when I knew there were miles to go. So I rejoined the Way and the flora and fauna.

An hour from Santiponce and it was starting to get hot. The smell of a jam factory meant I was headed back into an industrial area, and a massive motorway junction followed.

Not great.
At least I knew I was well on my way now. No need for anyone to guide me.

And after a little while I was rewarded with beautiful wild flowers – azure cornflower, cow parsley like big white iced buns with a beetle instead of a cherry on top, silver grey thistles, reeds, irregularly shaped fields of wheat – green and pale yellow, as well as pylons and traffic sounds competing with the birds.

Avenues of plane trees.

I was on my way again – this was what I waited for.

Thought it was a beetle in the middle, then I realised they all had them and that it was a seed.

The path was stony and my feet were getting sore.

The plants were undulating in the welcome breeze.

What were those yellow flowers in the distance?
Looks pretty but this flooding on the path was somewhat challenging to manoeuvre.

Piles of ants descend on scraps. Their diagonal queues dissect the path and I try to avoid them. Birds play together in the breeze.

Ah, that’s what they are! Turning their heads as they follow the sun around, like submarine periscopes. Beautiful vertical rays of brightness.
The backs of the sunflowers like bonnets, their faces all to the sun, hiding the fact that each one is swarming with bees.

More flowers: Bindweed and borage. I was totally alone. There were no words except the occasional ‘buen camino’ to and from cyclists flying past, shoulders up to their ears. Now I was able to breathe in time with my walking steps. To notice the new butterfly, pale green with a splash of yellow and just a few black dots like Kandinsky, beautifully blended with the flower colours. I saw a dragon fly. I felt happy.

‘Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart’. Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit p.5.

It was a lesson in endurance though. When you are tired, you look into the distance and never believe you will ever get there, but you do. And it is joyous, my arrival into Guilenna.

‘Bienvenido’ = welcome.

Except there were was quite a way before I really arrived. White houses with terracotta roofs greeted me at the end of the very dusty road. It turns out I should have gone over the bridge, not round the river. I should have known when I found myself climbing over fences! The yellow arrows were once again hard to see.
Here was the prettiest church ever seen.

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Granada.

The first hostel was shut and I had to ask many women before I finally arrived at Hostel La Luz at 12.15 and it was 25 degrees by that time. The lady at reception was lovely, friendly, and informative. I was the first to arrive and had a dorm to myself next to the small courtyard, on the ground floor. The facilities were basic but fine for me, I had everything I needed.

I had decided to send things back to the UK (no use for my swimming things, or so I thought) to lighten my load and, well, maybe it was a bad day, and of course I was very fatigued, but the post office was so, so slow. I sat and waited, watched and listened to the excitable Spanish conversations, and eventually it was my turn and of course it was a simple thing to do, not very expensive, and I sent some post cards as well. I rested and then needed to go out again for food – what a very long main road it was in the 28 degree heat at 5pm, or in fact 35 degrees depending where you looked (phone or electronic sign in the town).

I went to mass in the evening, well the start of it. Inside it was highly elaborate as you would expect of a Spanish catholic church, although there was a simple wooden roof: one part with stars, and other pale yellow vaulted stone. There was a very life-like, full-sized Virgin wearing a real black velvet dress embossed in gold with a fantastic silver tiara and beautiful lace scarf and collar. The women were all in attendance, one (like on the bus in Scotland) with the sound turned up on her mobile, tap tapping in response to the message,which sounded very loud reverberating around the nave.

Such a pretty place.

The little girl who entered in her gold shoes, bracelets, and carrier bag with a pink ball in it, put her finger to her lips for a loud shush to grandma and great grandma. Extended families were present in their everyday clothes. The deeply tanned young men in their white t-shirts ranged around looking at the iconography. I was in the back with the lemon which fell off the tree in front of me as I left the hostel. I attracted attention presumably because I was not local. It was very much of a social gathering before the service.

I left after it started and enjoyed my own brand of spirituality, t’ai chi on the roof terrace in the evening sun with the village roofs on two sides, the countryside I had just walked through on a third, and the place I will walk into on the fourth. I gave thanks for the whole situation.

Another blog about the VDLP http://viadelaplata.canalblog.com/

Laurie Lee, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1019332.As_I_Walked_Out_One_Midsummer_Morning

Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust                                                          https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/06/03/wanderlust-rebecca-solnit-walking/

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

Day 4 – Laxe to Castro Douzon  1.12.16   19 km

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 5 Castro Douzon to Cea. 2.2.16.  13.7 km

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

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

Units alcohol:0

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 6 Cea to Ourense 3.12.16   23.3 km

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

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