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. It heralded, 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 somewhere to sleep. This resulted in a beautiful twin room where I was 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 albergue – 15 euros – including breakfast. How 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, so I am grateful to you.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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. 45Wanderlust 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
She spoke about the luxury of not having another person’s stuff to process. We mused that in the past men went to war and many did not return. Now many of us divorce each other, so either way there are still a lot of women alone at the end of their lives.
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 after an hour and a half or so I went on 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.
I remembered that yesterday when I sat down to eat there was a grasshopper by my left ear. Listening in this quiet place is one of the great pleasures of the Camino. I reflected that as a therapist I am familiar with listening to others 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.
Even though I tried to avoid squashing insects, the scuttley spiders seemed to change direction just before my foot descended, alerted by the earth moving as I walked towards them. Sadly they were therefore more likely to be stepped on. I spent some time thinking about fear.
I noticed ants going up and down a tree.
Both Christ and the Buddha walked and meditated. It seems to be something closely related to religion. I think it must be about contemplating one’s behaviour and the habits of others, the meaning of things.
There are empty husks growing beside me, dry whispering. Are they oats? They rustle and shine white-gold in the sunshine.
Dust blows around me. Over and over again I breathe it in without noticing, until I recognise that it is that which smells, 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 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.
I reminded myself that I 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.
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 town
The last hour was really hard work in the heat, and I stumbled off the edge of a pavement in Fuente de Cantos and twisted an 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’. The building did not look much from the road. It was not the municipal albergue, but one I had seen advertised on the road. In fact I had picked up the last leaflet.
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 and admired my surroundings. Of course I had 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 once again the only person there – I had the whole place to myself which included the swimming pool which was great water therapy for my ankle. 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 ( a word 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. It was not my cup of tea, but what a cutting figure he made!
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.
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 ten days or so and promised myself I would recommence from the beginning. And here I was, five months later!
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
There were trees laden with oranges (no photos) lining the streets, and I kept on going straight.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
After a little while I was rewarded with beautiful wild flowers – azure cornflowers, 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.
The path was stony and my feet were getting sore.
The plants were undulating in the welcome breeze.
Piles of ants descended on scraps. Their diagonal queues dissected the path and I tried to avoid them. Birds played together in the breeze.
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 a butterfly I hadn’t seen before – pale green with a splash of yellow and just a few black dots like Kandinsky, beautifully blended with the flower colours. I saw a dragonfly. 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. 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.
There 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 by 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.
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. 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. It was a simple thing to do, not very expensive, and I sent some post cards as well. I rested and then had 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 the start of Mass in the evening. 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 the other vaulted, made of stone and painted pale yellow. 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 with the sound turned up on her mobile, tap tapping in response to the message which sounded very loud reverberating around the nave.
The little girl who entered in her gold shoes and bracelets had a carrier bag with a pink ball in it. She put her finger to her lips for a loud shush to grandma and great grandma. Extended families wore their everyday clothes. The deeply tanned young men in white t-shirts ranged around looking at the iconography. I was at the back and attracted attention, presumably because I was not local. It was very much of a social gathering before the service.
Later I enjoyed my own brand of spirituality – t’ai chi on the terrace in the evening sun with the village rooves 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.
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 were high up in Castro Douzon. There are swimming pools for adults and children though, and a playpark, so it must be lovely in summer.
Today there was a lot of walking by busy roads with no pavements, which was hard on the feet, and less scenic. There were, however, great vistas from the top after a good, steep climb: layers of purple and blue hills in the distance, bright green fields, terracotta and stone villages, and matching trees.
Descending into valleys, we discovered solid bridges over gleaming azure streams, reflecting the sky, which were full of vibrant green weed.
And we talked about women’s rights; pensions; how to say ‘kiss’ in different languages; and swapped information about our 3 cultures – Maroc, French and British.
The local people kindly stopped and told us we were going the wrong way, and pointed helpfully in the direction of Santiago de Compostella. So we all learned to say that ‘no, we were walking ‘contrario’ towards Seville’, in Spanish. They also offered useful information like where and what to eat, and who serves the best ‘pulpo’ (octopus, the local delicacy – delicious when tender).
Weather: The sun shone but it was colder. There was the usual hard frost as we left in the morning.
Once we had arrived after our days walk, we got our credentials stamped and paid our dues, thankfully removed our boots, hobbled to the dormitory to choose a bed and showered. 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 visited 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) allowed me to sit there for more than an hour without any suggestion of buying more. It’s only when I was given a lot of free crisps that I thought I ought to order a small beer to make up for my second hour!
There were similarities between the two hostels – both had unexpectedly hot showers – bliss! Neither had working wifi. Both offered one blanket per person, and had heating, so our clothes and towels were dry by morning. Both had kitchens with utensils, and we could 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.
Beautiful weather – lovely to sit outside for our morning coffee as well as on arrival at Cea when I fell asleep in the sun and dreamed.
During the days walk we moved 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 am 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 had turnips, and really tall brassicas which looked 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 had ever seen in one place – usually on the end of a chain or rope and barking their heads off at our approach. My companions loved them all and attempted to talk to and pet them despite the rumpus! In Finnistere a week ago they seemed to run wild around the town, crossing and re-crossing roads and unaware of danger, but here they were 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 or statue nearby.
Cea is one of the prettiest towns I’ve been to. As with so many places, there are abandoned properties, but here there were also many places with interesting pasts, a wide array of shops, banks and cafés etc, a large central square, and old and new architecture. All the places I have walked in are clean and well-kept, and here there were 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 walked there were 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 were also times when this wonderful opportunity to reflect on the past, examine the present, and deliberate on the future raised myriad emotions. They passed with the movement, and there was space for tears, but it was definitely not always easy. This was one of the reasons I chose to do this.
Luckily today was particularly beautiful and that helped with the processing.