Via de la Plata Camino – Day 7, Spain

22nd May 2017. Via de la Plata camino walk,  Spain. Day 7: Zafra to Villafranca de los Barros, in the autonomous community of Extremadura, Badajoz province. 19 kms.

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It was already 22 degrees when I left at 6.45am with no breakfast or tea because I could not use the kitchen at the municipal hostel in Zafra.  My body had had a good rest and felt better, but not my mind which was busy again trying to puzzle out why life offered me some things and then promptly took them away again.

I passed Spanish farmsteads in the flat brush land, exactly as I imagined Australian ranches. There was honeysuckle and abundant roses in deep pink, red and orange; puppies frolicking, watched and kept in line by the absolute authority of the papa; cats wary of a large bird nearby; and my way was uphill. It was the second cloudy day, although it had cleared late last night, and it was pleasant, cool on my skin. There was a  smell of olives and thyme crushed under foot, and the scent of pine added to the pleasure. I saw an almond tree for the first time on this trek.

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I compare the two aspects of my life: walking outdoors in this beautiful natural place, and working at home with family and friends in Edinburgh. I had spent the week basically alone, and this sort of retreat was continuing to raise things about being with others or not. I reminded myself I could stop any time.

In her discussion about religion and walking, in Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit describes, ‘…that non-believer’s paradise, nature…’. This rather dense tome covers the origin of bipedalism right up to modern day pilgrimage.

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There was activity all around me: wheeshts of sparrows, and wooden clagging of storks’ beaks as they stretched their throats and pointed at the sky. The sun was catching the tops of the grasses and there was a large town and farmland spread ahead, with a chemical factory spewing in the distance.

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Sunrise from Sierra de los Olivos.

There was a satellite tower on the peak I had reached after the climb, and then I descended through pine trees with rabbits popping up all over, but still no deer. I was an hour from Los Santos de Maimona.

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A satellite instead of the figure of Christ (as in many Spanish places eg Monte Naranco, Oviedo which I visited in 2016).
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Getting closer to my first repast of the day.

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A new house with a solar panel heralded the place I was planning to replenish myself. Another commuter town to Zafra, I guessed, with its BMWs and smart houses. I seemed to have a dreadful tendency to be self-pitying at times. It is a good thing I am walking to balance my earth element which that is related to.

“A young German man expressed it this way: ‘In the experience of walking, each step is a thought, you can’t escape yourself.'” p. 51, Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit.

Thankfully I could not risk missing the signs so that bought me into the present. There was a double bell tower and the familiar, beautifully-kept town square.

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Kids were off to school in skinny jeans and trainers, rucksacks and hoodies, with straightened hair, all so familiar from our Scottish children. But what a soulless place it was at 8am, and how very, very hard to find bar.

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The search and service took a while, but the tea and tostada con tomate (basically toast with garlic and tomato paste) were good and the women very friendly. I left at 8.30am.

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An unusual scuplture cum mural of circus performers in Los Santos de Maimona.

Black pigs were grooming each other which I had not seen before, but otherwise there was more of the same really, day after day walking forward with a pack on my back, trying to understand life, except I was ever fitter and feeling better about myself overall.

Walking is to ‘nourish a profound, fruitful relationship with the self.’ Taken from Christophe Andre’s La Vie Interieure in France Culture magazine.

Two men, each with multiple greyhounds passed me an hour apart.

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A huge horse rolled over in the dust, and I was not that different, having to brush away metaphorical flies myself. Doing something repetitive helps you see the differences or similarities between things. Then again, sometimes even the most beautiful views, seen repeatedly, become commonplace.

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I thought there were a few pilgrims gaining on me from behind, but it was a man on a tractor on his phone. And ten minutes later there he was again still on the mobile. At 10.30am my day’s destination was sighted, and I was resting under olive branches. Just me, the birds and that tractor.

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I crossed the train tracks and a busy road, managing through a semi-rural urban environment, one dusty route in a long uphill haul in the heat. The French couple were there, he having insisted on walking 30 kilometers and she with blisters. I felt for her. Now that I did not have my baton, the woman I met a few days earlier was right, the blood does collect into my hands and they get swollen. I expect the heat does not help. Sometimes I also experienced really sharp pains in different parts of my body, mostly the inside edge of my right foot, but they passed.
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‘Pilgrimages make it possible, through the exertions of ones body, step by step, toward those intangible spiritual goals that are otherwise so hard to grasp.’ p. 50 Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit. 

I had read that there was a choice between two albergues and that the far one, the municipal hostel, only had one toilet for everyone, so when I arrived at the edge of the town and immediately found the private albergue, I stopped there.

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The nineteen kms took just under 3.5 hours, 4.5 if you count the 1 x 45 and 1 x 15 minute detours/breaks, averaging 5.5 kms per hour, although noting that one is likely to go slower at the end and if it is very hot. If you were chatting that could slow you down too. Today I arrived at noon.

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An interesting juxtaposition of massive wine bottle and Camino signpost in the middle of a roundabout on the way into Villafranca de los Barros.

My advice: do not try to find the tourist office or follow the signs as no-one knows where it is but they do kindly guess, sending you off on a wild goose chase every time! In fact, I think it is usually, or used to be, behind the lovely apricot-coloured church next to the police station, and that place is worth visiting because it has good maps and they can stamp your credential (the pilgrim paper for collecting proof of stages attained).

Villafranca is a big, prosperous town with a smart new medical centre and a wide, dry river bed running through the middle. There are lots of shops which do of course shut in the afternoon.

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The Iglesia (church) with it’s telescopic tower(s).
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My little cabin bed in a dormitory I shared with an older Spanish man. We had become familiar with each other and smiled, but not exchanged more than one or two words. We did not seem to disturb each other and in fact overtook one another throughout the day. I was starting to keep an eye out to check he was OK as he was struggling and sad at times.

The mercado (market) building rivals one in Madrid, and the bazaar shop has more things crammed into it than I have ever seen, except postcards which was what I was after.

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Very handsome market building.

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General view of the town.
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Much prettiness.
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Glorious tile work.
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And cool courtyards.
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If I can get to a food shop and have a kitchen to prepare, using my new pan (a gift from my daughters and mum), this is what I eat of an evening: quinoa, sardines and veg.

Tourist site: Villafranca: http://www.turismoextremadura.com/viajar/turismo/en/explora/Villafranca-de-los-Barros-00001/

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 6, Spain

21 May 2017. Fuente de Cantos to Zafra, 25kms.

Note: before Monasterio (see previous blog) I had walked from the province of Seville into Extremadura which this blog also covers).

Thankfully my ankle was fine the next morning. It was cloudy at 7am and there had been a strong wind all night. The weather vane on the church swung round to the east – was there something in the air? What with my ankle the previous evening and the breeze, I seemed to be in an inordinately bad temper. I searched for the arrow.

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I passed the donkey, patron saint of my blog, then three dogs followed me for a while, and another pilgrim was shuffling resignedly close by.

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Such a meek expression somehow, behind barbed wire.

Four birds were having a spat. Yes, the energy was definitely stirred up.

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I settled into a walking meditation. The landscape was as yesterday – arable land, grain silos, the odd goat, a pig squealing, the air was heavy with manure, there were fields of olive trees and, oh no, one hour into the day and I realised I have no stick. I had left it behind. Now I was properly fed up, but it will pass, I told myself, just keep going. Bu…., though.

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The spring wheat had been harvested and all was white, green and yellow except for excerpts of swimming pool sky between the clouds, and the odd scarlet poppy amongst the gold. I tried listening to music for a minute, but the birds were singing better songs, so I gave that up again. There was a field of new vines. It will not, I reflected, do me any harm to have less sun – as long it does not rain.

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DSC_0022_6Traipsing through the tiny village of Caldazilla de los Barros, it was impossible not to snap a photo of my brother’s name doubling as a house title, and a beautiful paving detailing the Via de la Plata, the camino I was walking.

 

 

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Julian, mi hijo, my brother.

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I was interested how much difference little stones on the path make to my rhythm, balance, and pace. There was the smell and taste of the fennel plant and seeds to remind me of the Camino Francés last Autumn. They were delicious, and rejuvenating when I was tired.

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Walking for hour after hour makes me very sensitive to the little stones underfoot.
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Fennel plants with their sunny yellow seed heads.
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Bright blue cornflower type flowers provide contrast in the hedgrows.

The hard-baked path was criss-crossed with ants, tufts of grass insinuated their way between apricot, peach-coloured, grey and white stones. The yellow arrows were regular now. I shushed along in the dust, dotted with droppings and patterns of miniature tyres, disturbing the prints of human, horse and dog who had been there before me. The crops spread out towards the horizon on each side.

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Sometimes it is helpful to know that what is ahead is 19 kilometers of flat land (despite having no book, I was reading my friend’s blog each night to prepare me for the next day), sometimes not. It was actually comforting to know he had walked it ahead of me.

When walking with a backpack day after day, one day is like the others, but today the path is busier – the Spanish do love their Sunday cycling! The men chatter, chatter as they ride. Then, was that a level crossing ahead?

Yes! There was a town or village, and as I was weary at 11.20am, it was nice to walk into Puebla (village) Sancho Perez and take a coffee/wifi break. (That was accommodation in Madrid sorted! Another kindness from a Shiatsu practitioner I had met in November 2016, who said she was happy to put me up for a night, even though I would arrive late and leave very early the next day for the flight home – lovely Belén, thank you). Interestingly, there is a chapel here called Nuestra Señora de Belén, which has a bullring attached to it. Bit of a coincidence.

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Sunday bicycling, a crowd in the distance.

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The parish church dedicated to Santa Lucía, Puebla de Sancho Perez.

At 12.40 I was off again, back over the railway and it was brighter, but still with high winds. There were orange cactus flowers and, oh dear, surely not a blister.

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But it was not long (approx. 40 minutes) until I entered Zafra – a much bigger place. Men and women were parading in their Sunday finery and I saw a man with a blue suit and bow tie. It was noticeable that in the streets of the bigger places people behaved differently. They were either too friendly (see Fuente de los Cantos), or not at all (Zafra) which was markedly different from the attitude of the countyside folk I had met.

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Yellow and blue painted buildings with balconies in Zafra.

I arrived at 1pm after a long trek through the city streets to the municipal albergue. The hospitalier was initially rather curious at my solo status, a bit questioning, but the basics were all great, particularly for 8 euros. There was a clean shower off the dorm (just me in a place for 5), although the street was right outside the windows. It also turned out that if I did not purchase breakfast, the kitchen was out of bounds.

Breakfast in the hostels usually consists of white packet-bread, sugary jam, sugary juice, and caffeinated coffee etc. None of these things work very well for my digestion or prepares me adequately for the day’s camino. I asked if I could please use it. ‘Well, bali, between 6 and 8 tonight but not in the morning,’ and ‘Well, ok, you can keep a small bag in the fridge’, he said, ‘if she (the wife) agrees’.

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Nice vaulted ceiling in keeping with its former use as a convent, and well kept entrance to the hostel in Zafra.
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Clean dorm all to myself with ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Botticelli on the wall above my bed.

The group of Italians and individual gentlemen also wanted to use the kitchen in the evening, most peregrinos do, and there was a delightful courtyard (with flowers and attractive old walls) which would have lent itself well to a large group meal. But the bonhomie was private and reserved for those speaking the same language as each other.

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Later, when I got into conversation with the couple (they had no English), it became clear that they lived here (it was their personal kitchen, absolutely spic and span), and this was their livelihood. They obviously cared well for the place, albeit they doubted we would reciprocate. Perhaps they had had bad experiences in the past with other pilgrims, although I was unaware of that sort of behaviour. It turned out that the woman’s pride and joy was the garden, and I can talk gardens, so we bonded over that and she enthusiastically gave me some seeds to take home for my mum.

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Tourist info page Puebla de Sancho Perez: http://turismoextremadura.com/viajar/turismo/en/explora/Puebla-de-Sancho-Perez-00001/

Hostel Zafra: Albergue Convento de San Francisco.