Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is north of Bangkok, up near the golden triangle.

First impressions: another large Thai city with some interesting differences. The old town is a large square surrounded entirely by moats.

The inner town is skewed to tourists and providing them with services of all types. And many that are not so obvious.

No Thai city could need that many coffee shops, motorbikes for hire, massage parlours, hotels, restaurants with menus in languages including english, german and mandarin, tailors etc. No, the outcomes of a long term reliance on tourism are very obvious when you arrive in old city Chiang Mai.

Oh that I had visited a few decades ago when it wasn’t so tourist dependent. No negative price shock then. The worst was yesterday’s coffee. Nothing special but it cost ~ $A6.80. A latte. A common latte. I picked the cafe as it overlooked a wall i wanted to draw. Should have known better. Very expensive wall for what I got. The lack of patrons most days suggests it should have been obvious to even a half witted observer. 😁

Many prices look reasonable. The secret is they add a 10% service charge and then a 7% GST/VAT on the total. So, if you are coming here, be warned. Price shock isn’t fatal but does affect your pocket nerve. And yes, street stalls provide a cheap option. My mango and sticky rice always comes from them. My pho equivalent and various odds and ends came from local cafes.

Be warned though. You can tell that the innocent seated blissfully below has yet to get her bill. Look at her happy face. She will soon need to focus hard on the lotus flower.

Another noticeable difference in Chiang Mai is the number of Buddhist wats here. And most are beautiful with some amazing statues and other iconography.

They are clearly integral to life. Why chooks and pigeons and genetically modified rabbits? Who knows.

Some wats charge entry fees. Even better: one charges everyone and then limits women’s access. (Yes, here I go again: show me just one widely accepted religion in which being female means being equally human, no iffs or buts…….)

So, time here for us can be summed up as a non intellectual indulgence, a holiday: visiting markets daytime and nighttime, streetwalking, haunting coffee shops, and wat viewing. Oh and cat hunting for JP. Those poor pussies. Hunted down, encouraged out of safe holes, patted, photographed…. on and on all over town.

And did I tell you the one about the Pom and the exKiwi/Aussie? Don’t tell but it goes like this: one of us (who shall remain unidentified 😊) challenged an old Pom who crossed the road to stand near us at a market, lit up a cigarette and blew smoke all over us while his young Thai girlfriend went back into the market for something. The two protagonists (him and **) both snarled at each other as she wanted him to take his smoke away and he wasn’t going to move at her behest. In the end I couldn’t drag ** away fast enough. Before the guy became more aggressive or she said too much more. 😊

As I dragged her away she got the final say….. I’m not repeating it and I’m sure NZ will deny any future passport applications she makes to them. And no, I don’t think he’ll be more thoughtful in future but he’ll possibly be more careful around snarling Aussies, or should I say Kiwis?

According to ‘my’ tailor tourists here at this time are mainly Chinese and they spend their money on food, not tailors. I don’t know if this is true but I do know their street etiquette is different. They don’t move over for anyone. I’m a bit touchier than usual as I had a very large area of skin over a deltoid (upper arm) surgically removed the day before we left. About 20 square cms of it and deep, to the deep fascial layer, 20 internal stitches and 4 or 5 external. (Not quite the 50cm2 and 4cm deep crater it felt like!). Unsurprisingly I don’t appreciate being bumped into on that arm with its quite visible tape. So it’s sometimes a choice: push back into ungiving fellow tourists or fall foul under a tuk tuk, motorbike or a 4-wheel drive or van. Yes, push back wins.

JP hired a motorbike. She enjoyed riding again and exploring the nearby hills and more remote wats. Can you see her Apple watch? Her pride and joy. It sends absurd messages quite often.

I’m sure my cards wouldn’t have suggested Chiang Mai on a motorbike as a good idea. Too many important people around me have died over the past 9 months: Erwin, Jean, Alex and now Jo. I can’t be added yet.

so, having visited Chiang Mai: glad we came, I don’t plan on coming back, and, based on what I’ve seen so far, don’t expect to join the large expat community here.

Sydney to Bangkok, Thailand

Well, a change from Spain.

An exciting change! Flying from Sydney into Bangkok Thailand after four years away. And, an exciting taxi ride in from the airport too. The taxi driver wriggled, rubbed his face, picked up his mobile, chatted on his mobile, texted etc. And repeated it all again. I wondered for a while if my cards might show death on Ramses IX Road.

By the way, Qantas shareholders should rejoice. Qantas is actively continuing to save lots on all the little things that would make a passenger’s experience positive and memorable. Sad but, Emirates continues to provide a much better overall experience.

Checked in to our Bangkok hotel, quick drink and out street crawling. One of us was persecuting the local pussies, again. Calling them to be patted when they clearly don’t speak english.

We stayed alongside the river at this time. Lots of boats of all sorts: passenger ferries, long tail boats, and the wonderful barges.

Night times brings out the big dinner boats. Lots of lights, food and entertainment. Up and down the short local stretch they ply their trade.

Buildings in Bangkok are diverse, to say the least. From some very run down old ones alongside the river

to the most exciting architecture.

From high up in our hotel we counted about 20 working cranes, all deployed on new skyscrapers. The skyline has changed so much in 10 years and the diversity of buildings has to be seen to be believed.

And the weather is warm, warm and humid. Wonderful weather. No problem travelling here in the wet season. Except perhaps for mosquitos and little bities. Living here? Different matter.

Offerings everywhere. Some elaborate.

Some not. Simpler offerings at the base of a tree every now and then.

Graffiti is becoming more elaborate. Sometimes challenging!

Quick snack: chicken and cheese toastie plus an iced tea and coffee cost 600Baht! Yes ~$A26 And our first intimation of how much might have changed here. Shock!

So, just one full day of temples, religious and secular (commerce).

Bought crocs at the secular ‘temple’, the very large shopping centre at Siam metro station. The crocs cost more than in Australia but, at least I could try a few different models.

The food hall in the Paragon, at the Siam shopping centre, remains exceptional for its variety and quality. Busy for very good reasons.

And then a wonderful evening exploring the Chinese market after dark.

So busy, so alive, exciting. Many interesting food and dessert options. Lots of tourists, not as many as we’d expected but, stall owners were generally busy.

With only short waits between customers at times.

And temples were still open.

A brief stay, two nights in Bangkok and we were off again. Next: Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. First trip there, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go.

Plasencia to Salamanca to Madrid

Plasencia

If you are ever in Plasencia the best breakfast is down near the Clávelo gate, just outside the old walled town.

A small bar run by a woman who cares about the food she offers. Very nice toast, fresh tomato and good olive oil. And, she remembers your preferences from day to day, unlike some of the grumpy old men who run bars. She is busy, a constant flow of people, many of whom are clearly regulars.

By contrast, the cafe near the information centre provides oil, and tomato tasting like cheap ketchup, in sachets. Ugh. You were told!

For the most wonderful salmorejo, the tomato based soup, go to Hotel Palacio Carvajal Girón. The service is as good as the food and the nice dining room.

For gazpacho go to Restaurante Santa Tomas, up the hill past the aqueduct. Otherwise, I lived on the wonderful torta de casar cheese with fresh bread and strawberries and cream. Yeah, yeah! Too much! Well, that’s what my pants started to say.

Market day

Plasencia has one of the best open air fresh food markets I’ve been to in spain. A variety of fruit and veg, home made cheeses and chorizos of all types, seedlings, flowers and even white truffles. Plus many types of melons, legumes and olives.

The huge slabs of the fish you see most commonly, bacalao, always puzzle me: type of fish, if mainly preserved with salt still etc.

It’s held on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Dammit that I’ll have no more cooking facilities this trip.

Reminds me: the Plaza Mayor is overseen by a most unusual clock.

One of the most unusual must-sees in Plasencia is a sculpture in a fairly central square. Interesting! Nothing near it to say who did it or what it meant to them.

Moving on: leaving the apartment in Plasencia was a highlight. I really dislike cold and dark apartments. Plus I slept badly, too aware of some malevolent nocturnal presence.

Salamanca

What a beautiful city. Who could tire of Salamanca? Rhetorical. Don’t send responses.

My feet knew where to go. I walked from the bus station, checked into the usual hotel, and was still in time to get to Zazu’s for lunch.

Not just the once. Interesting salad, a pasta with salmon and, the other day, bacalao with asparagus ‘sauce’.

My feet then led me to some familiar haunts: a supermarket that has good sushi and to the cheesecake shop. Yes, and along various interesting streets and through the Plaza Mayor quite a few times.

Amazing how empty it can look early in the morning.

Everywhere you go the special nature of this city is evident.

From a central shopping area to the omnipresent views representing past glories.

Cathedrals? Roman bridge? University? Not directly this time but I did buy some nice new walking pants. 😁 For future trips 😏

Above all I had 2 restful days. My room faced the square and, sigh, was light and bright.

But, I ‘failed’ breakfast both days. On the first day it was absurdly expensive and the camerero was a very unhappy guy. On day 2 the tomato had enough salt for stage 1 of a salt mine. Inedible. Can’t win them all but, winning one would have been nice.

Saturday in Salamanca

Another day in a big city. Many out shopping and others just looking.

Outside one church boys dressed as sailors, or an admiral, or in lounge suits with a tie or bow tie, and a girl dressed as a bride all just ‘done’, their first communion finished.

All good things must come to an end. Time to leave. Flight home coming up all too soon.

Salamanca to Madrid

Got the slow train, remind me next time to get the quick one. But, it left at a time that suited me, around 12:30pm.

Plasencia (2)

Alphonso 8th laid the foundation stone for Plasencia in 1186. Before then? Yes, there’s evidence of people living here for a very long time. Politicians just don’t change, do they. Lay it, put your name on it…. Get your statue/photo up for all to see.

Parts of Plasencia are very impressive. For example, the aqueduct is long and in better condition than that in Merida. And impressive. Just part of daily life here.

Many impressive buildings, some looking like recent orphans among remnants of the Middle Ages. Imagine if stones could speak.

And some buildings look as though nothing has changed forever.

Near the Middle Ages locality is a chapel with the various floats and costumes used by some of the participating groups (cofraderies) during the local Semana Santa. And it’s not all old. One started in the last 20 or 30 years.

And the ‘floats’ are truly amazing. One shows the last supper, another, Christ being taken down from the cross and another, him being supported afterwards by Mary. Very impressive. And I’ve loved the costumes members of the cofraderies wear.

The cathedral is also very impressive.

And yes, I just looked from outside. I’ve given enough to the church to last a long lifetime so, no more to look at possible treasures.

Some buildings have an old family crest. Some were noticeable overachievers or members of very well connected and very large families.

Lots of impressive arches all over town.

A simple red poppy against a stone wall was as impressive.

The Plaza Mayor in Plasencia is one of the most impressive, and alive, I’ve seen. I counted 10 restaurants/cafes around it one day. May have missed a couple…

The overlooking houses are narrow, like the one I’m in. Hard to imagine much natural natural light in the middle of any floors but the top.

Two big parks in town: one that is an island in the river flowing through the lower section of the city and another called the Park of the Pines. The latter could not be more different: on a hill, lots of large exposed basalt rocks and many peacocks, white and the usual colour. Noisy. Spectacular.

I’ve been in Plasencia too long. Woke this morning thinking ‘hooray, bus today, Thursday’. No. Confused. It’s on Friday. However, I enjoyed exploring again today.

And, I’ve now got some new ideas for future walking in Spain, maybe for a spare week in October if it’s not to cold. For example, a part of Extremadura adjoining Portugal has some fascinating houses, and, its own language, not just a dialect. To the southwest of here is a region with various Roman remains. Oh, and castles. Or, I could join the Via de la Plata for some of my favourite sections near here. Worth thinking about as I’ll be stir crazy after a month at school in Madrid, exercising just in the gym.

Next: bus to Salamanca, ‘cos it’s there! Then, a train to Madrid, giving me a couple of days to collect my gear and make it all fit in one backpack before heading home.

Last job tonight: a battle with the washing machine. It won. It could provide a service testing the durability of clothes. I had to turn it off or it might still be going tomorrow.

Merida to Plasencia and a tribute to Alex

Leaving Merida, Tuesday 15 May

Absolute sheer pleasure! Oh yes. My boots both fit me again and there is (almost) NO pain. The swelling has gone, along with the toenail. Ahhh. I managed well over 10,000 steps on tuesday. In walking shoes. Phew..

Thinking of little difficulties: the local accent in Merida was a interesting. Imagine how you understand ‘do(s)’, meaning 2, when the end s is dropped! And imagine trying to converse with little changes like that in every word. 🤣🤣🤣

Bus

Travelling by bus past towns I’ve walked through, including Grimaldo, Caceres and Canaveral, was a mix of pleasure and disappointment: I’d have preferred another 4 or 5 days of walking after arriving at Merida. But, c’est la vie and I’ve got a chance to see a city I’d heard about a while ago, Plasencia, another old walled city. And it helps remind me how uncertain the future will always be, however we try to control it.

Plasencia

Easy to find where I’d booked and I discovered my new landlord, Miguel, knows as much about me as you do. I’d answered his query about my arrival time on email. Yes, it contains my blog address. He gave me possibly the best introduction to an apartment and a town I’ve ever had. Very personable and, luckily for me, doesn’t speak english so, we had to use Spanish. 😎

The apartment is probably the narrowest and darkest I’ve ever had. Less than a metre wide at its narrowest, I still duck when I walk under one passage light and through the arch. Don’t need to but both feel dangerously low. This apartment provides a good way to envisage life a few centuries ago in these houses: cold and dark.

At 09:00 or 10:00, with all blinds and shutters open, you can see how dark it is when you look to the distant bit of light in the front room of the house. If from there you look back to the bedroom it’s a little like the black hole of Calcutta, even when the hall lights are on. Sigh.

Central location and it has the facilities I’d expected but, yes, very dark and very cold. I left the front and back windows open all day to at least warm it up to the outside temperature. Didn’t work but, the heaters do and I’ve got a washing machine and stove. 😏. Ahh for feng shui applied. 😁

Plasencia as a tourist

I’ve spent the past few days wandering, seeing tourist haunts and trying the local food. Obvious here is tourist central with the number of shops specialising in local cheeses, jamón and olive oil. A local torta de casar is a bit stronger and even nicer than the one in Merida,

and I found a very nice gazpacho with the makings. Could eat that every day and be happy doing it.

The city walls are impressive in Plasencia. A large section is extant, enough to retain 6 gates, and best of all, you can walk along a section and look over some outer areas of the town.

There is still something magical seeing houses and streets alongside city walls and looking out, over a town.

More to come on Plasencia in the next blog. First, something more important.

Tribute to Dr Alex Ward

The world lost a great guy when Alex recently shucked his mortal coil. I lost a guy I really liked, a friend, my research partner for many years and together we coauthored many research papers and a book. Life was tough for him over the past few years and his death reminds me how important it is to live while you are alive. Farewell Alex.

I’ve found it hard to accept he really has gone, someone I’ve known for nearly 40 years, but I’ve now got a copy of his funeral notice. That makes it real, and final. He’ll be buried next Wednesday, as I’m flying into Dubai, on my way home. Thanks Sarah.

Merida: bread, circus and a museum

Bread

Over to the south east of Plaza España, the side away from the larger tourist focus and not far from the bull ring, is small town Spain, yes, in the middle of this city. The bakery opens daily and has great bread. I especially like their ‘Viena’, a type of wide roll, not as crusty as some. Goes very well with the special cheese from this area, torta de Casa, the one where you cut off the top and dip bread into the soft contents.

Nearby are a couple of cafeterias and a churrería, all around the Plaza, a concreted area surrounded by a few banks of benches and with a couple of stalwart deciduous trees. If I came back late morning the benches would be occupied by old men. I like this part of Merida. Not necessarily as attractive but, interesting.

Circus

A km or so north west of this area is the site of the old Roman circus. Not a lot to see. More interesting is that no one seems to have done much restoration.

It’s sometimes surprising how little of most monuments is real, original, with the stones or bricks actually having been laid by the romans or the group to which it’s attributed. However, two thousand years is a long time and it was unlikely that huge unused monuments would be maintained, unchanged, forever by anyone. Especially when the area was subsequently conquered by lots of other groups, like the different Visigoth tribes here and, later, the Moores. And later again, the christians and still later Franco’s mob. On and on it’s gone. Laying, relaying, decay, relaying, decay….

Among the old photos in the museum are some showing the state of the Roman theatre in Merida prior to reconstruction. Not a lot was left intact and I’m guessing it and the surrounding land, like the Parthenon in Rome, was used for farming. Same with the circus.

I’m wondering if the aqueduct is different, perhaps largely unchanged over time as it would be difficult to pull out a few stones or bricks for your new place.

It remains one of my favourite parts of Merida. And left me wondering how the romans measured height above sea level as they had to calculate the fall for this aqueduct over the 6km from their local cistern to the nearby reservoir.

Oh, and the storks who now have babies!

The Roman bridge is neat and a little of that is original. Five dinghies in the water today each seemed to be picking up rubbish from around the shoreline. Odd. At first I thought they were fishing but the fluro vests and their interest in the shoreline made me wonder.

Spoke to a local and she told me they were picking up bits of a troublesome weed. Made more sense. She kept extolling the virtues of Roman Merida so I asked her what she thought of Medellin, another well preserved Roman site, about 30km away. In her entire 70 years she has never been there. Never! She hastened to tell me where she’d been. No, not out of Spain but to Madrid.

Not much really remains of the Alcazar and it’s a bit less than 1,000 years old.

I still like Trajan’s arch.

And find it amazing how far below the current road level it is. You can see from a remaining door by its side. How impressive it must have been before the marble facing disappeared.

Museum

Actually visited a couple. Yes, more Roman road and marble statues, one of Ceres the god of agriculture and a guy with a 6-pack+. And a little wall painting from a Roman mansion.

And I was so impressed by the juxtaposition of an original Roman column against the inside of the modern museum.

Notwithstanding all the history of Merida, the locals remain as diverse as in any other place. The beggar looks like her many family members across spain, usually outside a church or supermarket. Baptisms of babies continue. And I had a particular sympathy with a guy represented in a statue commemorating all those that have made possible the celebrations of Santa Semana in Merida. His hat is by his side as he massages his poor foot! So yes, personal.

Toenail

Ah yes, you were asking about R toe 5. The most recently offending toenail is off! Pulled it out yesterday. Ahhhhh, relief. The skin should close over soon. I could almost wear boots again, walk seriously but it’s now not going to happen this trip.

I’m tied into a travel week. And I need to get feet sandal-ready for a trip to Cambodia, coming up soon.

Castuera to Don Benito to Mérida

Leaving Castuera

I liked the Hotel Los Naranjos in Castuera. Got what I’d paid for and it had a nice Canadian, John, as well as the parrot.

John and I have ended up at a couple of places on the same day. He is the guy with the opposite schedule to me: me, early, him, well, let’s say he was finishing breakfast at 09:00 to 10:00, when I’d usually be long gone.

You’ll notice that the parrot cage door was open so I’m guessing it wandered out in that area, in front of the window, to do its loud screeching.

The fierce little dog was townie, and not a hotel resident. But so so brave up on the balcony above me I just admired it. Yup, I kept going.

And then, a few streets after, I had to figure why such a small town needed a policeman at an apparently insignificant intersection. But, there he was. I turned the corner and he called out to me. Quick mental search: caught at last??

Peregrina? He asked. I said yes and that nice kind policeman was about to tell me the route was in the opposite direction. In many towns here the locals just watch as you and your heavy pet backpack blithely head off up the wrong way. For amusement, as the tv programs are mostly pretty awful unless you have a soapie addiction. Or is it like watching a rat in a Skinner box, to see how quickly it might learn? I’m sure it’s better entertainment watching peregrinos than both these options in some small towns. 😏

The last time I was here was on a Saturday and the bar was full, at about 07:00, of hunters in cammo. Some looked a little new with their very clean, very well pressed clothes. Very impressive. And somewhat funny. 🤣. And this time, a horseman in the main street. So, an interesting town with a frontier image perhaps?

Anyhow I was really impressed with the policeman. I was wandering, filling in time until I could catch the train to Don Benito. Hoped to walk the next 3 days from there into Merida.

Knew cheese was important in Castuera. Saw a sign on the way to the station and made the silliest purchase I’ve made for a while. I’m a sucker for sheep cheese but, this much?

I’m blaming the fact that I was confused as someone had put bamboo skewers under the nail of my right toe 5. Too painful to walk more than the couple of km to the station in Castuera. Even in skinners (like a sock with a sole) walking was still not easy and so I’d had to change my plans already. Train to Don Benito. Figure out what to do along the way. Still hoping to walk to the very impressive town of Medellin with its Roman ruins.

Don Benito

just a half hour by train to Don Benito, a prosperous looking city. Many new buildings and shops.

It’s the one where the well arranged bullfighter in pink was working recently. Really, nothing to recommend this town in my eyes, not even the many coffee shops up the main street .

interesting that it had the very trendy walk signs that flash male/female.

Has many modern chain stores, some upmarket, lots of trendy coffee shops but, if it wasn’t for my foot, I wouldn’t stop here. Not just because I can’t buy a newspaper. But it does have one of the best supermarkets I’ve seen in rural Spain, with the best fruit and veg, Mercadona.

I stayed at the Hostal Galicia in Don Benito. Not my favourite and not the cheapest. The worst pillow I’ve had in Spain, not an easy competition to win. The wifi was almost dead, momentarily spluttered to life for a few slow minutes in the morning. And the noises from the next door shower, near midnight of course, were a bit like a thundering waterfall. No, it’s not on my list of places to stay again. In fact, I’m planning to avoid that town in future, except maybe for its Mercadona supermarket. Oh wow. Best fruit and veg I’ve seen for ages.

And the round of sheep cheese? I left it in the hotel and just hope someone appreciated it plus the can of Red Bull and heap of Werthers toffees as my walking is over for now. Toe #5 this morning felt as though just the one skewer was still under the nail. So, better. Sooner the nail is off and out, the better yet. I want to explore the places I’m visiting for my last week in spain this May.

With 3 hours to walk about 1km to the train station I stopped off for another coffee. Not really, it was for the waiter with such an impressive haircut. I had to see it up close. Nice guy.

Still more coffee at the cafeteria next to the station. Better still, tapas served with the cokes. Greasy but very tasty.

Finally caught the train. A mere hour or so from Castuera to Merida by train but, days on foot. And I’d have preferred that option.

Merida, Friday 11 May 2018

I like this city. Once again I’m staying in the hotel overlooking Plaza España. Even better, I have a balcony directly over the entrance. Not very busy at 16:30 but getting busy at 21:30. Busier still later.

Headed off looking for a decent dinner, one with veg. Oh yes. Look at what I found, below, in my own hotel. 😁

Forget dinner, my feet are now in sandals that don’t rub my various blisters or push the bamboo stake further in under the nail on toe 5. Aggghhh. Yes, you probably heard the sigh of relief. I just need to figure why it happened, how come I walked with no issues for a week. And then the left toe 5 packed it in and later the right! Odd! And no, my laces were done up properly.

Moving on

Four nights in Merida then a bus to Plasencia, another walled city I’m looking forward to seeing.

In the meantime I love hearing the clacking of the many storks busy nesting above us lot. All around this area.

Monterrubio de la Serena to Castuera

This is the third consecutive day in which I could have started with a sentence containing ‘bucolic splendour’. True though it is, enough! Well, for this week. 😏

So, I left Monterrubio de la Serena well after 07:00. The next stop, Castuera, was only 20 km away and it wasn’t going to be a hard walk. Besides, it meant at least one bar should be open in Monterrubio de la Serena by about 07:20.

A bar was open but, astoundingly it had no bread. No bread! So, a coffee and I left. No point staying in a relatively uninteresting, dark, bar with hard benches that didn’t have a spanish essential, tostado con tomate. Tut tut. What’s the world coming to.

Beside the bar was a notice for a recent bullfight in a nearby town. Strangely hung bullfighter poster caught my eye. Right? Left.

Whatever, it was such a nice, sunny morning with a few clouds only. Warm enough for the first time to not need a jacket at that hour. And this section of the Camino Mozarabe is mostly along a quiet, sealed, road that is relatively flat. Signs of recent rain, including from last night, and the olive trees looked really good. So did my first special pig so far this walk.

And, some excitement as I knew there was a castle ahead. With its own white village well over in the distance. Alas, much too far to the east to visit this time.

Stopped for a chocolate milk top up beside a couple of small roadside dams. Looked like fish that moved as I got close. No! Tortoises! Lots of them in both dams. Very nervous and all jumped in each time I moved. Wow! I could just see the heads and sometimes, a body hanging below a head.

As I walked I knew the french guys were well ahead, walking about 40km today, a double stage. I could see their footprints on the edge of the road and know they leave early.

An odd couple, two older guys in jeans and runners, were next along the way. Their packs were day packs only but both carried a pole or sticks, looking for all the world like locals out for a walk. Definitely not like peregrinos, well, maybe the 100km-to-Santiago spaniards, but that’s not likely here as we are much further away. I couldn’t understand the Spanish of the one who spoke to me, very broad accent so, who knows. Anyhow, they walked quite slowly, enjoying chatting.

Feet

Left foot so happy since the nail from toe 5 decamped. Right foot very unhappy. Toe 5 is a carpet (yup) of blisters, causing me lots of unhappiness and a forced rest. Dammit. Above the ankles everything is fine but below, as usual, I’m a mess. As always it’s just a matter of time before my feet pack up. Aggghhh. 😭😭😭

Tin hat

We all know how important a tin hat can be for keeping out.. well, for keeping you safe from.. well, safe. You know how it is.

I saw a woman wearing one 2 days ago! I did! She was at the door of her house greeting her son (or she’s a cougar ++), wearing the very special hat. Her head was covered by a tin foil hat. No signs of curlers or anything but the tin foil covered all her hair. Did it work? Well, none of us nearby were struck and I didn’t hear voices so I’m guessing it was helping us all. A social gesture. Gracias a elle. (Thanks to her).

Strange things

Thinking of strange things, yesterday I saw a road sign picturing a cow. Or a cow crossed with a donkey perhaps.

Strange? How and why? Well, usually it’s of a bull here. So, for the record I now know where the cows cross. Note the horns.

Tomorrow

First, tonight: I’m in a highway hotel restaurant. Turns out it’s the place we ate when I was last in Castuera. Cost €20, nice shower, tv showing Kilos Mortales, heating and it’s above a restaurant. What more could you need? Besides a bottle of Coke Zero WITH caffeine. Too often here it’s ‘zero zero’ zero sugar and zero caffeine.

Moving on: tomorrow I’m catching a train a short distance to Don Benito, a town I can’t remember from last time. It’s on the railway line and just 8km from a city that impressed me so much last time, Medellin. I had to visit this important Roman site again. I’ve only booked in for Friday but may change, if possible, and it’s probably not.

Soon it will be hard to find a genuine Spaniard: this country is so full of us foreigners trying to enjoy it and spend our €€ in a country that opens and shuts at the strangest times. 😇

Haven’t seen any other peregrinos in Castuera but haven’t looked for any. Besides a brief trip to the supermarket (Coke Zero, strawberries and cream for dinner) and pharmacy (new tape), I’ve not been out. And I’m guessing the albergue will be busy tonight as few will have attempted a 40km section.

So, Don Benito tomorrow.

Hinojosa del Duque to Monterrubio de la Serena

After an early start, another day of bucolic splendour. Water over roads was easily crossed.

Side roads, tracks through long grass and above all, the beautiful roadside flowers.

Now, who would be silly enough to think the mud in one depression wasn’t deep. It was and it quickly oozed up, over, and into one boot. Strange feeling. Quite funny!

And dogs. One couple guarding their sheep did the usual: saw me and headed over, barking. And the funniest mismatched 3 some. Guess which of the 3 had the loudest bark and persisted longer? Helped of course by being able to get through the fence and to chase its victim, me. Yup! The little Sydney silky looking one.

Well, the track was great until the last 10km or so when you had to shift onto the road. This was a few km after the derelict old railway station, out in the middle of nowhere. Heaven knows how long it is since it was used.

That last section really does take forever. Trudge on and on and on. It felt like forever last time and, no less today. Made even a little worse with the extra 3 or 4 km off trail to avoid the flooded river.

So, about 7 hours of walking all up.

Starting at 06:30 was a good idea. The casa rural offers breakfast at any time and of course there was no one else eating soon after 06:00. Spain, remember. Even the Canadian guy staying there wasn’t up that early. Preset out the day before, breakfast is the first like that I’ve had that’s been good, really good. You’ll be pleased to know I remembered how to use both the coffee machine and microwave. Thanks to the extended introduction to both yesterday! Ha ha. So yes, a very large coffee and the usual toast, olive oil and tomato. Nice.

Was going to get a follow up coffee at the nearby bar on the way out as the guy had promised to open at 06:30. He was just opening up as I passed so I didn’t wait. Almost warm walking at that hour and the storms from late yesterday had passed.

A km or so out I met Raquie, the Dutch guy who speaks some english. He was unsure where to go. My app, Gaia GPS is truly so helpful. Many use another app, free. And yes, they seem to get the value equivalent to what they’ve paid! Later heard this guy didn’t get into Monterrubio until about 16:00! Hell of a long day as he’d started before me and arrived 2.5 hours later.

The obligatory stork photos? Saw a couple today. Wait…..they’ll surface. 😇

The weather has just packed up: storms and rain. Forecast for tomorrow looks good though. As long as rain is again nocturnal it will be. I just hope someone stops the banging door. Somewhere near my room. A few peregrinos in this hostal tonight. Ah yes, Hostal Vaticano. And sadly, no sight of my friend El Papa, Benedo, this time. 🤣

Next week plus is going to be a little varied. Walk tomorrow, then a short train trip, more walking, a few bus trips, a new (to me) old walled city, train and, finally, Madrid. A couple of bits of the puzzle yet to be sorted but, nearly done. 😁

Alcaracejos to Hinojosa del Duque

Alcaracejos

Casa Rural Miguel Ángel is a good place to stay: comfortable, heater, great shower. Reasonable price.

On this route it is now necessary to book ahead a couple of nights. Just too many other walkers.

Met 3 others today, a pair of tall skinny guys walking together and another who I was surprised to learn is Dutch, walking alone. Haven’t seen the Belgians since Cerro Muriano.

Toes

Finally removed damaged left little toe nail. Ahhhh. Relief. Saved the toe next to it being constantly clawed to death to by the remnant of the nail. Sigh. Relief. Blister on right hand little toe manageable with tape and a silicon sleeve. Well, maybe but, it was horrible by the time I’d arrived in Hinojosa del Duque. Odd for a toe that is numb, it doesn’t seem right that its blisters could cause pain. 😏

Rural scenes

Nice rural section today, about 20km and relatively flat. Through a couple of neat towns. Leaving was impressive too at a bit after 07:00.

A most unusual sight was the cat watching a cow eating a placenta. A new born calf lying nearby was of no interest to either the cow or cat. The calf was breathing, slowly, but not moving so it must have been born minutes before I arrived.

Sheep bells ringing as they move. And my favourite bird here, storks, are nesting on so many steeples and church towers.

Cows were being milked as I passed with a lovely surrounding smell of silage.

Goats. Lots in the one small area.

One town had a red cloth covering, hand sewn, for the stone cross. Why? Who knows!

Hinojosa del Duque

The initial section is through an industrial area.

Checking in is a pain in some places. After 3 emails from booking.com (2 in Spanish, 1 in english) I knew I had to ring 30’ before I arrived at the casa rural, LaAntigua. So, I did but, I have absolutely no idea what she said in reply. She might have said she was in church. Maybe. Maybe not.

So, I rang the bell when I arrived and eventually someone upstairs yelled down and then rang her. She arrived. Stunk. Absolutely stunk of a lifetime of a few packets of cheap cigarettes every day. Ughhhh.

She took ages copying details from my passport. I’m guessing she never has foreigners checking in, especially those with passports in english. And then she wrote my gender as masculino. Thought about leaving it to confuse the local bureaucracy but did correct her. Then she photographed my passport, twice, after having already laboriously copied out all salient details and having me countersign them. Private data in Europe? Ha ha. Not if you ever stay anywhere that isn’t a private house. Scary.

Then she took me to explain how I get breakfast. Yes, in the morning. That comment should have warned me. 🤣. First, the cups, sit at any chair, cereal is here, all so bleeding obvious I really wondered. Then how to turn on the coffee machine: switch and select type. I kid you not. Sigh… and when I thought it couldn’t get any sillier she showed me how to open the microwave and how to shut the door and to turn it on. True. Barely tolerable if she was at least a metre away. And she yells when she speaks to me, no doubt because of my spanish. Any closer than 1m and her smell was absolutely intolerable. Heaps of people here smoke but very few smell half as badly.

Big flood coming up tomorrow. Last I heard it was mid thigh (Maggie’s blog). Guy running the bar said it’s mid chest height deep, unsolicited advice. Another peregrino, who speaks some english, had just arrived in the bar. He has zero Spanish so I was happy to pass it on.

Are at least 5 more here already: the 2 guys are french (unfriendly) and another three just walked into the bar and spoke to the Dutch guy, in english.

Old lady, 75+ just arrived in the bar pushing her trolley. She’s tried chatting to the blokes (3 each sitting alone) but they give her the flick as she sits in front of the outside bar tv so she just mutters on. The bar guys are nice though and chat to her each time they pass.

Lunch? A health destroying gambas en ajillo. Imagine, prawns fried in 2cm oil, salt (lots) and sliced garlic added. Slices of white bread on the side and you know how healthy it must be. 😇

Eaten with Coke Zero and coffee.

Tomorrow: the stretch to Monterrubio de la Serena. And another peregrino just checked in, a Canadian. The albergue is apparently full so we figured there are about 10 of us in town tonight. I’ve got a booking for tomorrow. Not yet for the day after.

Lots of thunder rolling around just now. I’ve been lucky to date. Crossing fingers works.

Villaharta to Alcaracejos

Hooray! Having discovered the possible width and depth of at least one river crossing the next section of the camino I organised a taxi. I’d agonised about my options. One was to walk the 9 or 10km from where I was staying to the main river. If a bit too wide and deep I could return back to Villaharta and get a taxi then. But I know how I think and I’ll get there and do anything to avoid turning back and not crossing the flood. So, easier to get a lift at a civilised hour, 08:00, and to walk the remaining 18 or so km to the next town. If I wasn’t walking alone I’d be more inclined to take the flood challenge.

Villaharta

Nice coffees to start the day in the bar of the Hostal Restaurante El Cruce de Villaharta. Nice bed too, altogether so much better than the previous night in that dreadful overpriced place in Cerro Muriano, and for less than a third of the price (€15 vs €55). The restaurant at El Cruce de Villaharta is ok too. I like the steep stairs down to it!

Taxi arrived on time and I’m guessing the camino is a nice added extra for him. Amazing statue at the drop off point, out in the middle of nowhere. Definitely male, a bulky boy.

Who it’s meant to represent, I’ve no idea. A successful neanderthal happy about the fish he caught? Unusual. Imposing and unexpected out, away from any main roads.

Alcaracejos

A great rural section from Villaharta. Funny how different it is walking a stage a second time. Least time was early autumn, now, spring. Some differences in the staging of crops and the wildflowers are obvious. Some sections are very familiar, like a named water fountain, some beautiful old houses, stone walls, two ermitas, a well and washing stations, a strange shelter etc, and others not at all.

Love the tinkling of sheep bells as they move around beside the track. All the while protected by their dogs. Saw a few this morning. Yup, many look the same.

The flowers are spectacular. The mauve ones, white and of course the poppies carpet many sections along the way. A few yellow flowers among them add to the glory.

Even in broad acre grassed areas the wild flowers are impressive. Hmmm, the location of the strange concrete tables and benches in one were hard to understand.

And everywhere, red poppies.

Signage is good and frequent.

The town of Alcaracejos is just beautiful as you arrive from the camino. It nestled into a protected hollow, neat white houses arranged in typical Spanish street structures: every which way but nothing straight.

Gratuitous addition

A montage of photos from my brief stay, a few days ago, down on the coast with Victoria:

Cerro Muriano to Villaharta

Santa Maria del Trabajo in Cerro Muriano

Not only an unusual place but it’s the first time in a hostal/hotel I’ve had someone I’ve never met unlock my door and walk in during the night! 23:38 it was.

I’d left a barrier, a small wooden stool, in front of the door as I knew it would make a noise if the door was opened. Only realised later I did this automatically as there was no lock or bolt on the inside of the door. Very unusual. Unsafe when you are sleeping alone. Anyhow the stool alerted me and gave me time to strongly expostulate, a few loud and choice expressions such as ‘piss off/get out’ as the door opened and two people started walking in. I’m sure the tone gave it enough meaning, even though said in english….🤣🤣🤣

And now I have neighbours, chatting, using bathroom etc through paper thin walls. Yes, sigh, near midnight. Sigh again. Yes, they could have shared more. I know.

And yes, I didn’t try too hard not to share when I got up at 06:00. As I noticed the snoring from next door stopped I guessed wall thinness must have two-way implications 😏.

Leaving Cerro Muriano

Started with three layers, five minutes later took off one. Not long after removed the second. A very pleasant start to the day. Sun was out, just a few clouds and the weather is warming up.

All five or six bars were still shut. I’d had ‘a caffeine top up for the desperate’ before leaving: cups of hot water with a bit of coffee colouring so, no problem.

Along the streets, past the various military bits and pieces as this town has moved on from thousands of years of mainly mining, especially copper, to being a military base. A few soldiers, lots of trucks, tanks etc alongside the road just out of town.

Then, through bush, lots of acorn trees and a beautiful dappled light. Didn’t see any pigs but know they are very important around here. Lots of beautiful flowers. One section of old unused road, a really easy walk this section.

Met two folk about my age from Belgium. I nearly died of shock. They only speak Belgium (?Flemish), no french, no german, no english and no spanish. Truly not a word of anything else. I was very surprised, this is so unusual for Europeans their age and meant communicating was 99.9% impossible. Didn’t see any other peregrinos today.

El Vacar

Twelve km after Cerro Muriano is a small roadside town with 3 bars open. Last time, and this, I went to the first. Note to self: the third is the best, lots of locals and it’s not a huntin’, fishin’, shootin’ bar.

Last time we had just met Victoria before this town and were a little surprised she didn’t see the big castle just after the bar, on the big hill over to the left. Seeing it again I’m even more surprised and it says a lot for how much she was concentrating on walking and just walking.

Villaharta

Just out of El Vacar I rang to book accomodation in Villaharta. First place was fully booked, second didn’t answer, third was fully booked and gave me a number for a fourth. They had a vacancy. So, I’m about a km before the town, near the petrol station, not the place I wanted to be but I’m grateful, both because it’s only €15 and because I have my own room and bathroom again. I’ve already walked in and out of town to the supermarket as tomorrow is a long day, about 35 or 36km, plus a bit more now for me, with no facilities until you arrive in Alcaracejos.

The good things about this hostal are: it opens at 05:30 tomorrow plus, I’ve got a room and it’s ok, even without any heating. This happened after I started despairing, of course, and preparing to get a bus timetable so I could escape to….

Planning

I’ve now got bookings for tomorrow in Alcaracejos and the following night in Hinojosa del Duque. And I’m hoping the water about 8km from here, Villaharta, has dropped. An earlier section had markings on the road suggesting some had to use a side detour to avoid creeks. Not necessary today so I can only hope this bodes well for the big creek tomorrow. If not I’ll have little choice but to wade through it. A few days ago it was mid calf depth and sounds slow. Yes, freezing as well.

Cordoba to Cerro Muriano

Forget starting at the cathedral, the usual starting point for Camino Mozarabe exiting Córdoba. Closer to walk directly from my Posada to the camino route. First a reminder about the Posada, it’s opposite a well known church and currently is beautiful inside with so many flowers in the shared patio area.

And it was so much better there last night with two heaters, despite the anti bedwetting bottom sheet. Ughhh. When I’m in a nursing home save my pension and just replace the mattress frequently. NO anti bedwetting sheets please….

Out of the city through the narrow, twisty streets, over, and besides, thousands of years of history. That people have lived here for many thousands of years is well documented. This area thrived in the Roman and later Moorish periods: minerals as well as agricultural products. Presumably also thrived when the Visigoths ruled. Little is known about them.

Best sight leaving? Well, across town are lots of restaurants selling caracoles 🐌 🐌. Here was one saying it had rescued caracoles 🐌 🐌… Ha ha!! Hmmm, selling ones rescued from other vendors? Has saved snails to see? Just a catchy name? Place your bets.

Back to leaving town: you walk along Cordobán streets and then suddenly you arrive at open, grassed areas. Over a Roman bridge and then up alongside, well, the smell and barking dogs suggested animal production of some sort, a sort of reminder of the purported moral superiority of vegetarianism. 😏

Up and around. Alongside a small town, very briefly and then up hills. Cross the odd road and then up some more. Córdoba was visible looking back, in the distant hollow.

Heading up, on the left is a hollow tree with a camino sign in front. From last time here when I walked to Cerro Muriano with a guy from Cordoba, I knew there should be a little religious statue hidden in the hollow of that tree.

Sure enough, it’s still there.

Interesting old farm houses along the way. Hard to know what happens there now in most. Four large dogs on a corner of the road. Hmmm. Potentially dangerous but, phew, these guys were very friendly, especially two of them. And the flowers at this time of the year are very colourful.

And from the top of the highest hill to date, the town of Cerro Muriano was visible. Not as far from the top or down as steep a hill as I’d remembered from my first time here.

In fact, the whole walk, about 18km, took less than 4 hours so by 12:30 I was in the place I’m staying, showered, and washing done. No point in considering walking on as I had booked this place in advance plus, didn’t really fancy 40km today. It’ll come soon enough.

This place? Yes, Santa Maria Del Trabajo, is a large, rather strange building. Looks like an old convent and even has a chapel. The woman who checked me in said not but, it looks like one. A cold, unhappy one.

Ever present religious iconography doesn’t confirm my idea as many places here have that. As long as the heating comes on tonight, as she said it would. 😁

Headed to the supermarket and a possible lunch. Saw one peregrino, another two as I came back and yet another two checking in. So, peregrino central as apparently the place I stayed here last time has shut. Anyhow, my fellow peregrinos are all unknown to me. Four men and one woman.

I get the impression that this route is becoming very busy. Nothing wrong with that if there’s enough accomodation. And I’m not sure there is at every possible stop on route to Merida. Looks like this time of year was a bad choice, not early enough. But, with the water in a couple of areas, and a major creek the day after tomorrow, not sure earlier would have been better. Sigh…

Apple replacement headset? Oh yes. Yes. Beats the Chinese knockoff in quality and, it’s so much meaner on battery use.

Tomorrow: about 21km to Villaharta. More up and down hills again. Fingers crossed the weather stays fine and keeps warning up as I’m heading north west, further inland.

Granada to Nerja to Córdoba

Leaving Granada

Checked for my earphones on the way to the Granada bus station. Crisis. A veritable crisis. Not in any pockets. The only apple reseller in Granada was in the other direction.

Phew. Bought the last set in a music shop. Realised afterwards it had the wrong connector so gave it to a street seller. Aggghhh.

Found one of the many Chinese shops full of everything. Yes it had an apple knockoff. Uses a lightning connector plus bluetooth. So, very odd and feels cheap and not a long lasting product. Desperate, so bought it. Oh for an Apple shop as those earphones eat the battery. Hurry on Córdoba!

Nerja

Caught the bus to Nerja, on the coast south of Granada for two nights with Victoria. Good being near the ocean again. Yes, the sand here is black/gray.

Great seeing Victoria again after our 24 or 25 days living so closely on the Mozarabe last year.

Enjoyed being with a dog again and seeing a very small section of the coast between Almería and Malaga. And the best hung goat I’ve seen for a while – she has a baby and was feeding two baby lambs as well.

Cordoba

Sun is out again today and it’s beautiful. Spring is slowly arriving. And the Apple reseller was open. I know you needed to know…😁

A few nuns around. One waggled her finger at me. Just assume she was blessing me as they lined up for mass before racing inside the church. 😇😇

Many streets and houses in Córdoba have made an all out effort with their flowers for the annual Fiesta de Los Patios and, against the white buildings, the flowers are spectacular. Mainly hardy geraniums and pelargoniums, they are just beautiful.

Lots of work daily to maintain.

Some streets hung plastic containers instead, along with a notice describing plastic as an ecological problem.

I love the archaeological museum here. Yes, same old photo, always of a marble statue with intricate details. Yes. Yes.

My Posada has its own display in the central courtyard. A totally revamped place, open for just a week, and I’m apparently the first in my room. Except for the fact the heating wasn’t working last night it’s nice. Not a place I’d take someone new to Cordoba unless they wanted to walk a lot but, it’s a great location for me at present, for my favourite museum, and for rejoining the Camino Mozarabe tomorrow.

Unbelievably the two in the office here asking the manager for directions when I returned live 5 to 10km from me! His accent said it all ……

Most streets here are narrow with overtowering white and yellow houses.

Dinner tonight will be fresh asparagus followed by strawberries and cream, with a few raspberries chucked in. Keep forgetting the word for ‘cream’. As I struggled to explain what I wanted, a nearby english speaker offered the right word.

Tomorrow: Córdoba to Cerro Muriano. Yes, back walking.

Quentár to Granada

Quentar is an another beautiful little town, nestled on the hillside above a creek. White houses built closely together and, down below, gardens and a swimming pool. Quentar hotel

If you are ever staying in Quentar, stay in the hotel and eat at the nearby Los Angeles bar. The guy who seems to run both is pleasant, and not just because he waived charging me for breakfast this morning!

And no need to worry about finding someone else’s bodily fluids on the mattress in the hotel, at least in the single room. The bottom sheet had a plastic underside. The downside? If you sweat even a little on this type of ‘sheet’ you will appreciate why babies were easier to train pre-disposable nappies. Ugh! 🤨

Quentar to Granada, Sunday 29 April

An easy walk, about 15km, and only a few minutes of rain early on. I stopped in the very small town after Quentar for another coffee to avoid the worst of the rain. Nice looking bar with, as usual, a set of old, crumbly, guys out of a strange movie. Often when I walk into such a bar most turn and look as though they’ve never seen ‘one’ before. One what you ask? A pack carrier mad enough to be out alone in the rain? A woman? I just ignore them and then stare back at anyone unable to look away, just to help him of course. 😏 Easier walking in with someone else but the patrons still tend to stare at strangers. Odd in such a busy region…..

And then up the hill, up the next hill, watching the many groups of lycra covered lads sweating as they ride up those same hills. Sunday so lots were riding out from nearby Granada. Same on Saturday, back before Quentar, lots of nicely dressed lycra lads quietly sweating up hills too tough to allow chatting,

Lots more hills. Various huge old, long empty buildings.

And amazingly extensive terracing on some surrounding hills, totally unused here at present.

Back to walking into Granada: after the hills, down through the olive trees and alongside the creek that flows down into Granada proper. Along narrow streets. Ferocious Fang this time was in a yard, well above pedestrians. Caught him while he briefly drew breath.

Shortly after you walk into the gypsy and flamenco suburbs of Albaicín and Sacromonte with their nightlife bars, shut in the later morning.

Then you see it, the Alhambra, up on the hill overlooking modern Granada.

At about the same time the number of people on the street increases exponentially. Taxis start to have problems getting through the crowds. Of course! It’s Sunday so, many are probably local visitors. I heard mostly Spanish as I pushed down through the crowd.

Next issue was finding the hotel. It has 2 quite different names so in the end I had to go into the only one I found. Yes, it has two names. No, I don’t know why. Unusual. And I’d even checked out where it was online, got directed to a Utube video made by someone on a motorbike heading through the complex network of crowded one-way streets at high speed. Almost nausea inducing and definitely unhelpful!

Checked in. Very nice room with a bath and a couple of balconies!

Wandered over to the cheese cake shop. Yes, it was open 😁.

Then, lunch. I wandered around for a while. Shock! Horror! I eventually chose a restaurant in Bib Rambla, just near where I’ve stayed a couple of times.

Salmorejo and grilled asparagus with crumbled goat cheese and jamón. Very nice.

Tomorrow

I’ll catch a bus down south to see Victoria (Mozárabe, October 2017). Then? Not sure. Possibly bus down to Malaga and then up to Córdoba and start walking from there across to Merida again.

La Peza to Quentar

La Peza

By 18:00 on Thursday there was nasty rumbling of thunder up on the nearby hills. Missed out on rain today but tomorrow? Weather app says just overnight and sun tomorrow!

My neighbours, a delightful Polish couple, arrived at nearly 19:00. They’d left Guadix at 10:30 and must be very tired as over 8 hours is a long time walking. They said we should leave early tomorrow. Certainly what I was planning. They both understand english but only he speaks it. They are really nice to have here for the night.

I’ve reduced the weight in my pack considerably and, I’m hoping that, with the changes to the track, will make the section to Quentar easier than last time.

Pack weight reduction? Yes, a serious larder reduction. Halved the bread and cheese, finished the tomato, egg and sardines. For tomorrow: just an orange, some bread and cheese, a Coke Zero and a batido. Phew. It’s just there’s truly nothing to eat or drink from start to finish, about 30km later. Will make eating the churros on Thursday worthwhile. And I ate the chocolate too but had to throw out at least half or eat silver paper. 😭

Friday 28 April 2018

Left the albergue alone, just before 07:00. The others were up but show no signs of being morning people so I’m guessing they would have taken a while to get going. Sure enough, no signs of them even across valleys where you could see a few km of track going back.

The fountain in town is unusually popular. In my brief time in La Peza I saw 3 or 4 different people drinking from it. The last was a delivery guy, parked alongside, as I left this morning.

Walking today was so pleasant, hard but good.

The start is up a hill out of town. The temporary bullring from last time is again a carpark just below a bullfighter statue.

The track goes up and up. The small bread shop was open, nothing else on the uphill trek out through the town.

I’m guessing La Peza has an interesting history. On one wall was a plaque about fighting with axes and various other weapons that, when I could figure what they might be, sounded pretty desperate and like hand to hand combat of last resort. Or it was just my imagination was working overtime. 😊

The area up the top of La Peza that was so unpleasant last time with a very cold rain and wind was lovely today. Not warm but good to see the surrounding hills and the valley down below so clearly. And lots of snow on the Sierra Nevadas.

Wild deer broke cover, 4 of them. Later, rocks started falling just in front of me from a steep hillside on my left. Seemed odd until I saw the heads of another group of deer, no stags, just deer.

On and on: along a narrow river bed for a few km then along a winding gravel road. That went up and down the hills it snaked around.

Eventually, a valley and a scout hut. Up the next hill was a number of pine trees being tapped for sap.

Unlike last time, almost all of the bigger trees have now been tapped and the tapered runoff gadgets and collection buckets all replaced. Couldn’t see much beyond water in most buckets. Intriguing. I wonder who is doing it and why. They are clearly serious now.

Walked through the gravel pit up top, just where the really difficult section started previously. The signage was confusing but when I doubled back I noticed red signs about where the earlier washout must be. So, my concerns were assuaged: the track was heaps easier. Can’t see that it cut off much distance though, certainly not the 3km someone suggested.

Walking along the track, through fruit trees I saw a guy searching for something and every now and then picking something off the ground. I asked him and he showed me, a type of fungus I’d never seen before: small, shrivelled up black caps and light coloured stems. He said they use them in paellas.

Along the way I saw a shepherd. Unusually he had sheep and goats. All looked ready for milking.

And then two very fierce dogs barking ferociously at me as they snarled and jumped around behind a fence, at least there was a fence today. Yesterday two nearly got their bit of flesh from me: as they were starting to circle me I was looking for stones. Thankfully their owner saw in time. Scarey!

And then, later in the bar while I was scoffing eggplant and honey (a bit yuk as too greasy), a cute little dog was in checking nothing had been left to waste.

The last section into Quentar was one I remembered as it went on forever last time. I remember Benedo lagged us both badly at this stage. Seems to take forever to get to Quentar from when you first see a town. Problem is, it’s not the right town you see.

Quentar is a small, typical Andalusian town with many small old white houses, crooked streets and a particular type of beauty. Hard to capture. Need that skilled photographer here!

Arriving at the hotel was great. Ah, at last…..

The leg into Granada starts nearby, making it more convenient than the other place to stay. Plus, it’s very close to the only bar that opens. Win win. Even without a towel to have a shower, just having a rest before lunch was a bonus. And yes, I eventually got a towel. I know, I do carry one but why use a pocket hanky version when staying in a hotel that provides a REAL one.

Yup, I’m tired today and my Fitbit seems to indicate I’ve walked about 150km since Monday morning. So it’s hardly surprising.

Yes, the Poles turned up a few hours later having also had a good walk.

Tomorrow. Granada. And then a day or so off as I’m bussing off to see Victoria, my wonderful camino companion from October 2017.

Guadix to La Peza

Friday 27 April

My Guadix hotel (GIT Abentofail) was great. Comfortable, restful and only €49 for such a nice place and a great shower. Yes, albergues in Guadix are about €15 and everyone raves about the sculptor’s place but, give me that particular hotel anytime! Oh, and its wifi: download speed of 56Mb/sec and upload of 51.3Mb/sec. Excellent. Yes.

The cathedral in Guadix remains impressive.

As do many of the partial and complete cave houses. Not all houses are well kempt, or probably occupied, but those that are really do look interesting.

The sun was out most of the morning. No rain despite the forecast. So, it was really enjoyable walking through the rural areas between the surrounding badlands and through the three small towns along the way.

The track starts along a river bed and quickly moves up and away.

Lots of badlands. Lots. A few empty, one room, cave entrances and the most unusual telegraph pole, hanging freely. Heaven knows what and why!

Each area has caves dug in the surrounding hills in which some still live, and others used to live. My especial favourite remains the town of Marchal, with the pink church and, to me, the most impressive cave houses.

A verdant area, especially now. And so different from down south in Andalucía, the prior areas I’ve walked through this trip.

Saw a wild goat way up on top of the surrounding hills. How do I know it was wild? The woman outside the cemetery in Marchal stopped me, pointed it out and said it was a wild one.

Before you ask, I’ve really enjoyed walking the past few days. Stretching out along the tracks and roads, and stopping in different places than last time, has been liberating. Plus I’ve enjoyed the higher milages. Just doing 20km, even if you don’t start until after 07:00, stop a few times for drinks, just gets you to the next place too soon.

I like the walking part of the camino. Even the floods and risks yesterday didn’t diminish that. Reminds me: only one toe nail will fall off so far. Nice change that that’s my biggest foot problem to date. 🤞 And I’m sure my incipient shin splints are slowly resolving. Slowly.

La Peza

Despite leaving a bit after 07:00, stopping for breakfast on the way out of Guadix, and later for a hot chocolate and a huge plate of freshly fried churros, I’d covered the 25 or so km to La Peza by about 13:00.

No-one else in the albergue yet but two, possibly French, are expected. And I’m surprised they aren’t here yet as it’s after 17:00, unless they are lost. Given the updated markings for this camino that seems unlikely. Hmm, even Benedo and I couldn’t have missed one turn today, the one we sailed past last time. Thank heavens for our rescuer, Manolo. No wonder I was much more tired last time.

The later parts of this section still seem more tiring. Interesting. Lots of snow, yes, in the distance. You crouch down to get through a drain in another riverbed and then walk up on the road and later through a road tunnel. Soon after you can see a long stretch with a low gradient that goes up and up and around a few corners, all heading up. Finally you walk down a steep hill into the town of La Peza, nestled along the riverbanks.

What is surprising is how much changes over time in towns that had appeared unchanging to me as an outsider. 18 months ago the only cafe this side of the bridge was the one up the hill, near what was a temporary bullring the day I was here with the boys. Now, that has closed, the owner having retired and, a new cafe down this end of town has opened.

The meals now are very different, mainly pizza and bocadillos (bread rolls with cheese, jamón etc). Plus a standard mixed salad. Yes, with tuna on top but, the usual mixed salad with wedges of tomato, a bit of corn and iceberg (ugh) lettuce. The cafe had 4 or 5 very noisy men in it. I did not feel welcome and got out as soon as I’d scoffed a coffee and the salad. I find the way some of them stare surprising given the number of walkers through this region nowadays. Oh well.

Tomorrow: Quentar. Last time it was a long tiring day. No coffee, no food, rain and a nasty washout to jump. 🤞 the weather is ok. My personal larder is still ridiculous and has to be emptied before Granada, and there have been track works so you skirt around the washout somehow. Promises to be interesting all the same. I’m booked into a hotel in Quentar this year, I hope the one we ate at last time.

La Calahorra to Guadix

Floods!

Thursday 26 April 2018

Rain, more rain and still raining. Left in the rain in the near still dark.

Walked along the road as I’ve seen the mines before and I thought I’d get there faster if I avoided the circuitous camino at this time.

Passed quickly through Alquife. No enticing cafes at that hour. Knew there was a possible creek ahead from being there earlier and, more recently, from Maggie’s blog. She’d said they’d found an upstream bridge so I thought nothing more about it.

Strangely though, I saw no signs of footprints from other peregrinos in the mud. As there are at least 6 on each of the two days before me I expected there would be at least a couple ahead of me. But, not that I could see.

Suddenly, a creek. The first creek was only about a metre wide at its narrowest. Trust me, it was wider than it looked, not just one leap. Got some water inside the heel of one shoe when I jumped across. Nothing more.

The next creek looked impassible and wet feet inevitable. Threw a very large rock in on top of others. Only about 6cm of water covered both it and the next rock I’d need to touch to get over. And again, the camera did not do it justice. Looks much narrower, shallower and slower than it was up or down.

Just made it with no added water inside either boot. Wet outers ++

The third creek was impassible. Wide, fast flowing and I wasn’t sure how deep, at least 40-50cm. Wading was out. So was jumping from rock to rock as they were all to well covered and the water was flowing much too fast. Took off my shoes and socks to wade but it really was too fast, wide and deep. Walking over a fallen log wasn’t possible as it was too thin and dangerous if I slipped (hmm + incompatable with my balance!). Walked, barefooted, up and down. Think I know now what young nettles look like! The tingly feeling lasted a very long time afterwards. Sigh…

Boots and socks on again. Walked upstream to look for the bridge. Couldn’t get far as too much rubbish, mainly old trees, had washed down and blocked access to the side of the creek as it came down through the valley. Truly scary.

Two choices: give up and recross the last two creeks and get back to the road near Alquife; or, try harder to find another way.Still didn’t fancy sacrificing myself to the creek, or to risking washing my precious devices and camera.

Saw a house up on an overlooking hill. Although it was highly likely the house was unoccupied it was well enough maintained I guessed it’d have access to a track or road. Scrambled up the very steeply terraced hill and eventually found a track that ended in a narrow bridge over the valley to the cute little town. I was sooo relieved. Meant I could stop thinking about the Austrian sisters on one camino up to their waists crossing a creek, or a guy, further on who walked through an even deeper creek.

Everything was easy after that! Walked through the town, bought a bread roll and kept walking. A beautiful little old white Andalusian town. Great bread shop, interesting buildings in the town centre plus an impressive drink fountain. Heading out of town a 3 metre high stone wall next to an old house that had clearly seen better days.

On through a small pine bush with interesting constructions just hanging there. Definitely improved it as the young bush didn’t look especially healthy.

Why? Who knows. But, interesting.

And then down to the large dam. The camino goes almost right around it for unknown reasons when you can actually usually cross its wall. Not today!

Much too high a water level to shortcut today. Maggie crossed the dam face a few days ago. No way could you do it today so my hoped for short cut vanished!

Kept going. Arrived at my lovely hotel in Guadix and very much enjoyed a hot shower. It has some really nice features, including a very restful set of pot plants and a little fountain downstairs in the atrium.

The lack of peregrinos today: don’t know but, I’m guessing anyone who stayed in the Alquife albergues last night would have been advised to walk via the road. Since I’m not in an albergue here, in Guadix, I’ve not seen any peregrinos. Just sorry I have no effective way of warning those a day behind me but I’m guessing almost all walk to plan and should hear about it in advance.

Drop off ‘the plan’ and what should you expect. 😁 Yup, us deviants invite problems.

Guadix

The city of cave houses. I know I may see even more interesting ones again tomorrow, depending on the rain (90% likely).

Nice lunch in the hotel so, dinner in bed. Raspberries and blueberries with cream.

Who knew if you pour cream into the containers they are sold in it will run out the holes onto the bed? A spare plastic bag stopped that problem. Oh yes dinner was very nice. Verryyy nice after a bit of mopping up. 😏

Alboloduy to Alba to La Calahorra

Alboloduy is a beautiful little old town. I had more time exploring it this visit.

So far this is not my favourite camino: the contretemps in the albergue Monday evening, a couple of difficulties I knew had to face including walking down a near vertical scree mountain, and, just not doing enough walking.

Bit the bullet today. Got a ride to Abla this morning to ensure I’d be out on my own. Walked far beyond the usual next stage to Huéneja, adding another x km so I had enough km under my belt to know I was really walking and chose a hostale, to avoid albergues.

Rain

Today was wet. Rain was falling when I arrived for breakfast at the bar in Alboloduy at 07:00. And it continued til much later in the day, not heavy, just continuous. Full wet gear day: pack cover plus rain jacket and umbrella.

Got a lift, prearranged, at 07:30 from Alboloduy. I was planning only on a lift part way but in the end went the full stage to Alba, about 28km via the camino.

This stage goes along the river bed, climbs a steep scree slope to the road and then continues as a general track.

At present there is some water going down the river with the rain. The taxi driver kept telling me how dangerous it can be as if there are heavy falls upstream you may not realise the volume that can come down the usually dry river bed. He stopped alongside multiple times so we could look down the steep slope to the river. His last stop was so I could see a gorge you can’t walk through at any time. However, that’s upstream from the camino, there hadn’t been lots of rain upstream and there still wasn’t a lot in the river.

He left me at Abla in the steady rain and I started walking. Passed a couple who will not have enjoyed the day: they were walking slowly already and she was wearing runners as the water poured over the tracks at times. Ugh, snow was visible in the distance.

Abla to La Calahorra

Thought I might just walk to Fiñana, a very interesting place I toured last time. It is on top of a steep hill and has a fascinating history involving the Moores and later the Catholic royals (from 15th/16th century). The romans must have been there too as they certainly had a settlement at Abla. Doesn’t look interesting from down below in the river bed (yes, still no water in this one yet), but it is, up on top.

As it was still early I kept going, up the river bed. Had hoped I’d see the muzzled goats I met there last trip. No such luck! The best I could see was a donkey, who looked at me piteously. Not sure why. I wasn’t stuck standing in the rain for hours at someone else’s whim!

Passed the Canadians along the track. They’d stayed in Abla last night. Nice to see them again.

Still raining….. Still walking….

The next usual camino stop is Huéneja, a cute little town with a creek/canal running through it. The albergué there is in an old school building. As it was still only about lunchtime and I didn’t fancy an afternoon filling in time there, I kept going.

Dólar is a strangely named little town. Maybe I shouldn’t translate it and wonder why but why would you name a town ‘dollar’? It’s cute, high bell tower and behind it some snow covered peaks of the Sierra Nevadas.

Stopped for a quick hot chocolate. Yes, thinking of you JP with your passion for ColaCao. Bought a bread roll to nibble and kept going.

Passed through the next town quickly

and finally arrived at La Calahorra. This town has the most amazing castle on an otherwise bare hill in the middle of it. Visible from way back.

So very impressive and imposing. I haven’t visited the castle and won’t this time and suspect there’s not much more than a shell of a castle there, truth be told. Still, it’s amazing and impressive.

Stopped at first hostile/hotel/accomodation I saw. Got a room with a bathroom for €25 and am happily ensconced. Food wasn’t going to be available until 20:00 or so, the usual time, so I ate some of the food I had with me for lunch. Just don’t manage eating hours here. Years and I’ve still not down many signs of flexibility that way.

Summary of day

A happy 30+km, more the distance I’ve wanted to do. I’m tired but happy I’m in a room alone and have ensured the same for tomorrow when I’ll again do a longer stage than usual. And, I’m going downstairs for some soup soon.

Tomorrow: Guadix. I’m adding some km to the usual stage and hoping for a dry day. My last time there it rained heavily on the way in. So, 🤞.

Santa Fe De Mondújar to Alboloduy

Cut the air with a knife!

Leaving on Tuesday morning was great. Tension in the house in Santa De De Mondújar was palpable. I have one version, the Canadian’s (C) of what happened yesterday.

They (Cs) arrived last and, expected a warm welcome. Why not, they’d been offered the use of the entire place the day before and had said no, they’d share.

So, they’d clearly rung before me on the Sunday. However, I’d arrived first and taken a single bed. The French couple arrived next and took the double. This left the other single in with me, and, the couch.

So, the Cs arrive and she said Mr F very aggressively told them in english to go to the albergue and wouldn’t let them in the door. Alba, the local, and I arrived a few minutes later and she let the Cs in and took their money etc. I later found out how upset Ms C was, even shaking physically, certainly inwards.

Mr C, not unexpectedly, was unhappy at having to sleep on the couch. I had no intention of sleeping out there, next to the bathroom. Old men always get up to the loo multiple times during the night. As expected, I heard 4 or 5 such trips and couldn’t see why I should be the victim as I’ve been before when I’ve arrived alone at an albergue.

So, the Cs and Fs didn’t speak to each other and tried to avoid crossing paths. I got on with both, separately, though Mr C was grumpy. No doubt also with me as I’d not relinquished the other single bed to him.

What to do? Clear out early and alone. Fs followed and I know the Cs were getting a ride ahead of where the Fs and I are staying tonight in Albodoluy. I was sorely tempted to do the same if only to avoid being in a lump of people as there are two women following who’ll arrive here later today, a Pole and an Irishwoman. As I was first I’ve made sure I’m in the room with the 2 women (still to arrive) and the Fs are in their own room. So, we’ll all be happy. 😊

I did find the contretemps interesting, and distressing, and can only see it as a supreme set of language issues and, later, my selfish unwillingness to consider a couple as more entitled than me. But, are they? If so, why? Why should I be doubly disadvantaged because I’m walking alone?

Mr F doesn’t speak english, but he recognises and can use just a few words of it. He only speaks french. Ms F speaks french too, of course, some spanish and no english. Neither C speaks anything but english. So I was surprised to hear what Mr F was alleged to have done. Must be the only english words he has: go and albergue. He couldn’t have explained that he said it because he doesn’t have the words and wouldn’t have known it was shut.

Alba told me later (she only speaks Spanish) that the albergue is closed, the woman running it has quit. We didn’t know that when everything went to shit! Anyhow no one could have gone to the albergue. There is no albergue there for now!

So, what to do? Easy, cut the air with knife, avoid those involved when possible and just do my own ‘thing’.

Tuesday 24 April: Santa Fe De Mondújar to Alboloduy

Left about 07:15 in the end. Warm, clear morning.

This area is dry and miserable with well evolved systems of (largely) covered water distribution to plants and trees.

Some interesting signs around.

Spring is coming and you can smell the citrus and see the developing flowers/fruit on the olive trees and grapevines.

Not a lot to recommend the little towns you pass through to get here. Nice breakfast in the first, Alhabia, a small town the boys and I similarly breakfasted in about 18 months ago. And, I avoided facing one of my concerns: the very steep and fine scree slopes down into Alhabia. I walked the extra 2 km or so around the road and was happy I did so rather than do that ever again. Yes, you are right. I won’t be back this way in future. It’s interesting but mainly for its past.

Tomorrow provides me with the last of my pre-camino concerns: another steep and narrow stretch to start the 30km day. Last time I got a lift to the next town with José, the owner of the Casa Rurale I’m currently in. He’s not able to do it tomorrow but I’ve spoken to the woman in the bar who will organise me a taxi if I want it. Reminds me: she wasn’t here last time, makes nice food. For €6 I got a coffee (2) and a very nice grilled fish and salad. She is also very pleasant. Go to the bar if you’re here and want food. It’s worth it!

I’m waiting now to meet the other 2 walkers. One or both of them may wish to share a ride. Highly likely I’ll skip a section and add a bit onto the following one. Partly want to be sure I’ve left the unpleasantness behind me, to get ahead of the current group, and I’m happy to miss the next natural stay in Alba.

The guy in charge of the albergue in Abla last time was a stupid young guy, very awkward or just weird about people for whom Spanish is a second language. Happy to miss him. Suffered through a ridiculously extended tour of the area with him and his childish friends last time. Enough!

Tomorrow will come when it comes. And I will be with different people, far away. Oh, the Irish ‘woman’ is a nice Irish guy. The Polish woman is having trouble with her knee, despite an arthroscopy. 😏. Plus, she doesn’t have her two hearing aids so she’s finding it tough going. The two of them arrived pretty hot and sweaty.

Update: an Irish woman did arrive.

Almería to Santa Fe De Mondújar

Booked into El Olivo y el Naranjo, a Casa Rurale, on Sunday as I decided I’d prefer to stay in town this time rather than to walk past the albergue into town and then back with the key.

Pathetic but I was so chuffed I managed the conversation on the phone with Alba ok in Spanish (tel: 678288143). 👌 Small things can bring great happiness.

Anyhow, I’m happy. I’m booked and it’s €15, not €40. Think I need to go out for my last coffee of the day and then wash some last minute grundies and socks.

Monday 23 May 2018

Who knew! Breakfast at 07:00, warm outside. Good way to start a day. Pack overly full as now has water plus my favourite, batidos, chocolate milk for kids that is 90% milk. The labels say each batido has 30% less sugar now. Less than what or when. Still, they taste wonderful.

Caught a taxi out through the streets and the industrial area again. And again the driver didn’t seem to know where to go outside the very inner urban area and needed guidance.

What do older Spanish guys do? Sit.

The following area is so ugly: lots of stones both big and small; river beds with fine dust; vegetation that is generally ugly, prickly and with narrow leaves; and lots of ruined and deserted houses. Not a lot to recommend it really.

The few small towns between here and Almeria are all much the same. In one I asked to buy an orange to eat, not for juice (the distinction matters here). The woman gave me one and refused. any money. Was really nice to do that and earnt her a 2 kiss reward!

Watch out for dangerous dogs! Perhaps the notice above this dog’s head wasn’t meant for her. She was not peligroso (dangerous).

Started to rain. You could see drops on the ground. The dust almost repels water it’s so fine the drops just sit there for quite a time. My wet weather gear was all deep in my pack of course. Got it on and effectively stopped any more rain falling!

Along the way: caves, hibiscus, a typical bar and him. Spain!

Arrived in Santa Fe De Mondújar and, frankly, wished I’d kept going. Only another 15 km to the next accomodation and here has little to offer. The Casa Rurale has 2 rooms: 1 double and 2 singles and a couch. I’ve NO interest in the couch. Four more people are due and I am hoping there’s no push to move me onto the couch just cos I’m travelling alone. I’ve been moved before to a single in a common area for that reason. Not planning on being cooperative this time. 😇.

Apparently only 1person stayed here last night. Wish I’d known in advance as I’d have kept going. Now I have an hour to lunch and 4 fellow travellers coming and us all in a small house. Clean and has a washing machine but…

Do NOT use dishwashing liquid for clothes. No. Froths up horribly and I suspect I’m going to smell like that’s what I’ve done for days. Had to rinse it all out again and again and hope it’s all gone. Hmmmm…… Big mistake.

Two of my new companions are French. She speaks some Spanish, neither speak english. So we’ll mangle Spanish. I’ve booked us 3 into the next place and know we’ll be sharing a room with 2 sets of bunks. Not sure what the other 2 will do given that it’s apparently full.

Just saw a couple holding hands walking out of the bar. Suspect from their clothes they’ll be the people I’ll be expected to move for.

Wrong! It’s a Canadian couple (english only) and I confess I didn’t offer to move. Landlady didn’t ask me to and I told the Canadians I’d had to do it before. Of more concern, there’s at least one more person expected tonight. Well, she hadn’t booked, is apparently on her way though. Makes me wish I was way back from these guys or, well ahead. May look for a bus to get ahead. Don’t have to worry for today. But, tomorrow I may well try to move well ahead.

Apparently the old albergue has shut and there is no other option here.

Oh hell! Tension in the house. The French couple offended the Canadians. Don’t know how, think they just were unfriendly and didn’t let them in. And I didn’t offer to move to let the Canadians share this room.

Beam me OUT to somewhere with hotels. I don’t want hassle or tension or to feel as though I have to race to get a bed or as though I must take the worse option cos I’m walking alone. That should give me the best bed not the worst!

Even worse, I’ve wasted most of a day here when I could happily have walked the next 15-18km to a town not full of fellow pilgrims. No taxis, no buses from here or the next couple of towns. I do want to see the next town and am happy to race on after that. I’m here to walk, not to get more lessons in patience and tolerance.

If I can find a taxi and a bus route I’m skipping ahead but, no success so far. I just want to walk. Nothing else.

😇😇😇

Madrid to Almería

End of school for now

I probably shouldn’t have used ‘tu’ with the guy where I breakfast but, ‘ustede’. Met a delightful Aussie/Italian, in my discussion class last week. She is at UQ, 3rd year, doing French and Spanish. We discussed when you use ‘tu’, second person, informal. She said that France is pretty formal still and she’d have had to speak to me formally until I gave her permission to use more casual ‘tu’. Just my age, no other reason. Not quite as formal in Madrid in settings I experience but, something to remember.

Hopefully the selfie Kathy took of the discussion group will arrive in my inbox soon. In the meantime, mass, and the crowd keeps getting longer.

Friday night

Washing was dry and I’d purchased enough food to set up a foodbank for a small city! Yes, I know they have food down south in Andalucía too. I just can’t help myself so yes, I have chorizo, cheese, hard boiled eggs, nuts and an apple to take with me. See what I mean? Partly it’s to put off having to eat out most meals and, well, a bad habit.

Me, take a roll and a hard boiled egg from breakfast for later, in some large, international hotels? Seems unlikely…. Anyhow, having the food was a blessing on the train.

Early Saturday

No lights!

No lights inside the building at 7, when I left. Without an iphone the internal stairs would be nasty ++.

Street life

My ‘neighbours’ have upgraded with some nice pot plants in front. Poor buggers. I wonder how often they are hassled and moved on. And, if it’s the same person/people most of the time.

At least it’s not as cold overnight in Madrid now, no longer 3 layers worth. Also, no more gym at 07:00 so my shoulders will be happy I’ve stopped lifting and pushing or pulling things almost daily. Still nothing to see for it although I thought I saw a teres minor last week. 🤓

Train

Within the Atocha station is a mini lagoon with lots and lots of tortoises. Sadly, they are being moved. Hopefully somewhere nice as I’ve always enjoyed seeing them. No, they don’t move a lot but it’s a bright little oasis, just near the loos.And I hope the oasis is staying. Fish maybe?

And, all too soon, the train arrived and I was heading backwards towards Almeria. No choice of seats when I booked but I ended up in the ‘plus’ class. Lucky. Wondered if we’d get fed and watered as it’s 6 hours. Sigh. We weren’t fed but you could buy ‘stuff’.

Swapped seats as lots were empty for the 6 hours, the most uncomfortable seats I’ve experienced. Still, definitely better travelling forwards to Almería and being on a train rather than a bus.

An endless trip all the same. Long flat sections initially, then hills. Many olive trees and gradually high, snow capped, mountains appeared. Snow is down much lower than I saw when in Granada on earlier trips. Guadix, the city with many caves, is near as evidenced by the badlands.

And finally the desolate, bare, stoney and hilly region that is Almería.

Getting out was so nice, into the warmth again. Oh how I’ve missed it.

Almería museum

Three or 4 stories of exhibits covering from the Phonecians, to the Romans and finally the Arabs. What was amazing was how few things there are to see in all those floors! Bet it won an architect award though, for good reason.

So, not my favourite museum in Spain, far from. About the most interesting thing I learnt was that the Romans called this place ‘Bari’ and the sea level was much higher then. I’m guessing the name became something closer to Almeria with the addition in front of ‘Al’ by the Arabs. You guessed it, I’m unlikely to visit that museum again, despite it being good for stair climbing.

Lots of little dogs around town, many on higher floors in behind metal grills. The best was a little pale terrier. Hidden in behind him with his pointy teeth was a cat, just like the eyes of the Cheshire cat. Yup, dog doing all the fierce, tough work and the cat just looking on. Sound familiar?

Castle

The best part of Almería for me remains the amazing ancient Arab fort.

I didn’t walk through it this time, instead, viewed it from an adjacent hill near the statue of..

And on the ground, as usual in Spain, many small, colourful, flowers.

Just near the Cathedral was possibly a practise procession but, with a difference. Don’t know what will eventually be on the cart but the headdresses the boys are wearing are different, more like an Arab one than you’d expect in a usual catholic spain. They were so slow getting going I left.

My room was still not serviced nearly 6 hours later so it was clearly the right time to blog – washing clothes can happen later. I’m still deciding: have coffee in nearby caf before I leave tomorrow or just along the way. Another 1st world issue. Same with when I might leave, at what hour.

And again I’ve decided I’m not walking out through the industrial estate alone and in the dark so, I’ll get a taxi through it. Had I stayed in an albergue I might know how many other walkers are around. Saw one guy with a pack, possibly not leaving today. Who knows what the future will bring? For any of us…..

And

I’ve committed to a booking for tomorrow night in the next town with accomodation, Santa Fe de Mondújar. And thank heavens again for the time I’ve spent learning Spanish. I understood her and she me.

Hooray…..

Madrid

Cronopios language school

Oh yes. Cronipios is a good school. My teachers were great, enthusiastic and helpful. None of the usual language school crap in which class members spend ages describing their life. Boorrrriinnggg. No, teachers in Cronopios are very aware we are adults and the class materials are very impressive. Beats Don Quijote schools hands down.

My only gripe is how late most students arrive. The problem was my fellow students, not the school. Truly. And today I was the only one of 6 who arrived. Worked well for me, 3 hours of individual tuition on a complex topic with Mario, a great teacher.

I am planning what to do later in the year as I really want to continue with Spanish. My plan today, after 3 weeks in the school, is to return for 4 more when I’m next in spain. That should make such a difference.

To get another apartment in Barrio de Las Lettras would be perfect. This suburb is great: south of Gran Via, bordered by el Paseo Del Prado and with the lovely Calle de Huertas passing through it. That street has lots of places to eat in and, like this area, is virtually pedestrian only.

For some reason the local businesses had up a poster today exhorting people to enjoy their street, Calle San Pedro. As you can see, it gives you a good idea of just how many businesses, of all types, are in just the one street in this suburb.

Apartment life can be instructive. You see what others really wear as it hangs on lines on pulleys outside your ‘courtyard’ windows. The thought of peg failure wasn’t nice for us higher up dwellers.

And no, that wasn’t my washing.

Blame

This time I’ve discovered some interesting differences between Spanish and english: for a start Spanish doesn’t ascribe blame as we do in english. You lose your keys in english, you say ‘I lost my keys’. In Spanish you just say something like ‘the keys of mine they are lost’. Nah, not me who lost them! Keys have lost themselves. I love it.

So, if you know anyone needing a good school in Madrid, tell them Cronopios.

Dog

‘Dear’ little ‘white’ poodle in my currently favourite breakfast cafe this morning. Irresistible. Sure. Until I tried to pat it. Yup, it started to growl and bark at me.

Its owner gave it half a takeaway cup of white coffee. Once the coffee cooled the poodle scoffed it. Owner smelt, and looked, like a street person. Bar owner/manager clearly didn’t want her there, not because of the dog as others come in every morning. Just her.

Thinking of dogs and breakfast: one day I just caught the last of two dog trains as they passed. I lost count too. 😆

Locker

I have left two small bags in a locker in the centre of town for the next month. €77.50 was cheap compared to the risk of theft of its contents. What’s so valuable? My jeans, runners, notebooks, textbooks and spare underwear etc. etc. Not forgetting my new mug. 😁 Lots of stuff.

Lost the plot

All went wrong one day earlier this week, in a first world way. And no, I’m not blaming Fitbit for everything. But, it started the day by withholding my data. How else would I know how well I slept? The resetting tricks didn’t work. Nothing made it give me my sleep data. Nothing. Sigh. So I contacted Fitbit.

I now wonder if my Spanish is as appalling as the answer they sent, purportedly in ‘english’. Thankfully my numbers had magically appeared by then and I didn’t have to figure out what Fitbit said to do.

There’s more….

Dozed off at about 8pm in front of tv the night before so, headed to bed to read for a bit and for an early night. Woke me up properly then of course. So I read a blogger who is between Almeria and Granada at present. Big mistake. They stayed somewhere different in the first town. In the town, not a km before in the albergue like I did last time when you had to walk in, walk back out with the key and walk in again for anything. And why isn’t the option in my copy of the notes?

And then I focussed on a couple of sections before Granada I’d like to forget, one on the second day. Steep hills. Scree.

And the third day, my first 30km day will be a very hilly one. Nasty hills starting early and in the dark. On and on so I wondered what I was doing, leaving a school I’m enjoying.

My self doubts were no longer little molehills, not just thoughts about the challenges but full blown doubts as to whether I could do it. So, still WIDE awake and it’s after midnight.

I turned the radio on to soothe my twisted mind a little. But, it forecast doom and gloom for the world with voices that supported that possibility. Round and round in ever decreasing circles. Sort of felt like the ‘goat’ that graces Plaza Mayor on a break looked. A bit confused and odd.

And, should I be worried?

Well, I have the latest (Feb 2018) version of the very good information the Almeria camino group wrote including info on 2 options in the first town, my walking shoes are better than the runners I wore last time and, I did walked it alone last time without really knowing what was coming. Yes, I met the Spanish boys on day 1 but, we walked separately for the first x days. Over days we gradually spent more and more time together.

And I’m doing it because I enjoyed the section from Almería last time and want to see it again. Thankfully today I’m back to remembering it’s an adventure, I’ll again be doing something I enjoy and, if for any reason I don’t want to continue I can stop.

Almeria

Train early tomorrow to Almeria, the coastal city settled very early and with one of the best castles around. Even better, I’m going to the Almería museum before I start walking this time. Thanks to Benedo and Manolo! Again…

Remembering San Isidro and his successors

San Isidro? The patron saint of Madrid. Celebrated 12-15 May.

No pasarán exhibition

Saw a long line waiting in Plaza Mayor last weekend. Discovered yesterday that it was for a very moving exhibition, on the defence of Madrid by locals, the International Brigade and the Russians against Franco’s troops.

From initially unsuccessful attacks in mid 1936 by Franco’s soldiers, to their eventual success 3 years later, Madrid was a city under siege. Add to the siege aerial bombing by the German airforce. Photos of bombed buildings near my present apartment helped bring it home a little but more so the interviews with a set of oldies who lived through it and the various photos. Very moving.

The Madrilenos co-opted one of those beautiful little snappy mottos : aimed at the fascists (Franco’s lot), ‘they will not pass’ (no pasarán). But, eventually they did and, Franco ruled as a dictator until he died over 30 years later.

Lunch

I needed consolation after the exhibition. Had lunch at Gingers, one of the best here yet: fish soup and then salmon fingers. Sounds and looks mundane but not so. And yeasty bread. Hmmm.

It was then time to go home to tackle prepositions again.

Student life

I’m moving to level B2 next week, the higher of the two intermediate levels of Spanish. Hooray! But only one week in school to go. 😭. More time would be good so l know I’ll be back sometime, after the school moves to a bigger place next month.

However, except for one student on one occasion last week, all my fellow students in my 3 hour morning class come late everyday. From 5’ to 40’ late. Must be hard for Mario, the teacher, to have to identify the page we’re working on again and again. We remain pretty diverse: Russian, Norwegian and Romanian. Very occasionally 1 or 2 Chinese students come too.

Back to some history

As you’ve probably guessed, the past lives everywhere here if you know where to look. During an excursion on Friday we visited a house, an apparently nothing house on a street not far from the Plaza Mayor. But, inside, you can see sections of the Madrid city wall, the Christian wall, extant in about the 15th or 16th century. The current house has it as a support. True!

Visited another museum, one focussed on San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid. Don’t ask. However, what was most impressive was the bones of an auroch and of an elephant found around Madrid. I was especially impressed by the huge size of the auroch skull. Just look at it.

Forget your little woolly mammoths! Tough life being on hunting duty as a Neanderthal in auroch season.

Paco the philosopher

Paco is a poetry loving philosopher. As a hairdresser, he’s interesting. Told him my hair was very thick and needed cutting. Yes, my Spanish is good enough for that. Some outcomes are that I now: won’t need the brush from the kit Emirates distributed on the flight here, know my scalp is pink and, I’ll need a hat even if the sun doesn’t ever shine again. 😏

A hairdresser-come-poetry-loving-philosopher, perhaps more than regular hairdressers, needs to talk. With 40’ of conversation to deliver he clearly felt obliged to keep cutting, and cutting for that time. And some more cutting. Note that I don’t know how to ask in Spanish for a crew cut to test if my ears stick out. Nor could I ask for a cut that means I won’t need to use hairwax for weeks to come.

Sigh. Despite hearing his stories for the second time I still can’t work out why he keeps sharing with the very depressed guy whose kids live in Scotland nor where his own 12 year old son lives. And his sciatica still precludes him distance walking but he’s doing Pilates. Sigh. Perhaps another hairdresser next time! If my hair ever regrows enough.

About town.

On a Sunday the road, Paso Del Prado is shut to traffic for hours. Dancers filled one section today.

Other areas have constant entertainment too. From kids teasing a ‘goat’ to a band (?Salvos) to the guys who, while constantly one step in front of the police, are trying to sell things from the central sections of major pedestrian thoroughfares.

If you are hungry there are so many options everywhere. From the San Miguel market to cafes and restaurants. Everywhere. Snacks and more.

if you still can’t find something to interest you, what about the following: some fancy dress and some new decorations; another reminder that the past is all around is the plaque high up on a modern wall showing the location of the Gate of Guadalajara through the city walls in the Middle Ages; a snack that, as it’s permitted on the Atkins diet, is well, going to be tasty and um fatty; and a beautiful living green wall.

Then there are the pedestrian walk lights around here. Different.

Still some more weekend to go. My last in Madrid for a little while. Next weekend I’m heading down to coastal spain to start walking. Another blogger suggested I check facebook for the Almeria Friends of the Mozarabe. Phew: the washout i had to jump last time when with Benedo and Manolo is currently being filled. Now to get going before it rains down there!

For the week

And finally, as a heretic visiting a local church this week that had a very long line waiting for the Friday mass, being amazed again at some of the edifices we humans construct. And thinking how astounding our commitment is that we support a huge group of related workers after the building phase, providing their institutions a tax free existence and supporting their efforts in many ways over the centuries. What impels us humans to do this now and since time immemorial?

Ubiquitous entertainments, a scam and school

Speaking of the weather

Forget global warming! Based on this week in Madrid it’s not happening in this country.

The week started deceptively. Cold enough that snow should have been lying on the ground with continuous hail falling and making life really miserable. But no! It was snowing down to 800m or so, lower I’ll swear, on all the hills between here and Segovia and Avila. But neither snow nor hail in the city. So far. Cold lances through my jeans and gloves are essential.

The tv advised that tomorrow would be worse over most of spain: colder, windier and with snow down even lower on the hills. Poor poor people out walking caminos in Spain now. It’s much colder than the cold and wet 2013 in which I first walked in Spain. Lots more snow too than that year.

Still, once spring gets into gear it’ll warm up very quickly, look at historical temperature data. 😁 (And I’m deliberately starting down south in the warmer and drier weather.) 🤨

Meanwhile, despite the rain, invisible ice and snow, the crowd outside the Prado slowly waited patiently, shuffled forwards, waited some more and so on for hours.

Entertainment

An unexpected outcome of the recent power failure in the apartment is I can now change tv channels. It must have caused the tv magic box to reset. It means I have more options than the programs on gold fever, wedding dress selection and life for people weighing 300kg or 300lb. (I prefer the South American name of that last program, ‘kilos mortales’, picturesque.)

And I now have news channels, shopping channels, sports channels, religion to go, programs such as Hawaii 50 and the back catalogue of Paramount films a la 1940, and many much loved spanish soapies. As well as the wedding dress, gold fever and 300 something channels. All, of course, only in Spanish. And with a quality that is inversely proportional to the number of channels. Yup, not good. U tube here is a bonus.

You want to know about my wild nights here?? Hmmm. 💃💃💃💃. You’ve heard all there is to know. 😏

Being ripped off or not

Headed off to the local paper shop to buy a school workbook. On the way i was stopped by a woman who told me she wanted money for the train as she’d just been robbed. I had a feeling it wasn’t true, that it was a scam, but I really don’t know. Told her I didn’t speak Spanish, in Spanish of course (true), and kept walking. I watched her afterwards. She had also mentioned the police but was heading away from the local station. She didn’t stop any other women in the street and 99% of the time I’m picked as British, German or Swedish (yeah, a foreigner). So, I’m guessing it was a scam. But still feeling uncomfortable that it might not have been.

And at first sight I wondered what I was seeing just after, which end did what:

And another bit of confusion derived from the following statue.

Except for her unremarkable (unfilled) lips, her other perfect attributes left me remembering a woman I met last year. Yes, the one married to a much older man with a lot of money and who (she, not him) was obliged to remain perfectly well endowed. Left me wondering again why sculptors often based their female designs on male bodies.

Continuing local news story

My favourite news story here remains THE master of laws degree and the leader of the PP party in Madrid, Cifuentes (Cs). Did Cs earn her masters, if not, how comes she claims one and, does she in fact have one? Who signed the paperwork etc? Lots of shots of Prime Minister Rajoy, same party, giving her the double Spanish kiss. Story is of great interest here.

She has finally resigned! Days later. Wish I could figure how it got to this stage. Who blew the whistle and why she would (apparently) falsely claim one when she was such a senior politician in Spain and it was checkable. Why?

Finally the police are actively investigating what happened. Very interesting.

Purchases

Two things I’d planned to buy in Madrid, a new pocket knife and a hat. If ever you need a pocket knife here, Simon’s, in the centre, is great. He’s helpful and has a good range.

And as to the hat: I knocked back the €125 panama hat as a little (?) more than I wanted to spend. That left me buying a more expensive version of my daggy old ‘solar powered’ hat. Oh well. The price? I’m still getting over the trauma. No photos until I’m wearing it but I’ll be looking for feathers or ribbons to personalise it! Anything.

Wait, and you’ll see why soon enough. When you do, remember I started with many options I liked. And maybe you’ll puzzle about the outcome like I still am. However, it will be effective at protecting the crunchy tops of my ears, an area that suggests sunscreen is imperfect. So, despite my options I bought…..

Where are you from?

Interesting how indirectly politics still enters our classes. The content of our textbook and conversations are carefully constructed to be devoid of political content but: South Koreans are not from Korea but SOUTH Koreans and people from the states of Russia are not Russians but from a named place within Russia. Like the Catalans who resist being spanish. In something as apparently innocuous as giving self identification information in class (where are you from) you can guarantee interesting information.

Classes

Nine expected in the class yesterday with a new week but, only 5 turned up. And the next day 5, but only 3 of us had come the previous day. The Chinese couple miss about 50% of the classes, him even more. Hard for Mario, the teacher, at times to not be obliged to reteach content. He doesn’t. Thankfully. We’d never get anywhere if he did.

Next week we should all go up to the higher level of B. This system has only two levels for B, B1 and B2.

The one hour daily discussion class today was brilliant. Five of us present. Three on a ‘tribunal’ who had to examine the other 2 individually to establish if their ‘marriage’ was real or one of convenience. Brought out the best in our ‘couple’. She, much older than him, waxed indignant so beautifully that we could imply her ‘marriage’ was a sham despite her being rich etc. And he was very droll coping with our various doubts. Oh yes, both were excellent.

Living in Las Letras suburb

More on this later but I was wondering today if I traced a radius of 100m from where I am now just how many shops, bars, cafes and restaurants would be in my net. The answer is: a lot.

I am very happy with this location. Interesting places all around. And, of course, the ubiquitous Irish pub, relocatable to almost anywhere in the world. Which country? City? Allll the same. 😇

Madrid life as a foreigner

(Agggh) Disaster?

And then there was none! No power so no lights, no tv, no microwave, no internet …. Dead. Lots of rapid chats with the landlady over Airbnb. Thankfully she answered immediately. I knew the apartment had shorted out but couldn’t reset the switches. She said she’d come, from 45’ away.

I changed the order of switch resetting, yet again, and finally got the right combination. Very pleased she answered quickly, was willing to help and that I didn’t need her. Phew. Heater must have come on as stove and MW were in use. Sigh.

Gym

Another woman following my lead and wearing shorts to the gym! Yes, it’s possible she’s just the second most daggy member after me. Cruel!

And 2 more today. Did I mention the mornings are not quite as cold? 😊 Still, doesn’t pay to get there at 7:00 (weekdays) or 9:00 (weekends) as the gym always opens a little later despite us enthusiasts waiting impatiently outside in the cold.

Exploring Madrid

Cold and wet for some of the weekend. At the entrance to an exhibition of drawings in the museum for the national library was an amazing scene.

Pity it was such a miserable day!

Besides the exhibition of drawings by Rosalie Weiss, there was another to do with the development of knowledge of our world, specifically scientific knowledge. Imagine, they showed copies of some of the most important books underpinning our knowledge base: books by Newton, Boyle, etc. And more modern items from a robot to a satellite. Wow.

See this in the context of this suburb. On many buildings are small plaques naming significant writers, poets and artists who lived at that site or extant house. One example was Diego *** who obviously lived out his last years in the Convento before dying there in 1648. This type of acknowledgement is not uncommon around here.

School

How come some days feel like disasters? I just couldn’t get things going one morning this week. Firing on 2/6 cylinders. It was as though I’d forgotten everything overnight. Slept better than previously. Nothing obvious. Usually go to gym and have the same breakfast before school. So why?

Some days are just not as good. Sigh.

My current morning teacher is Mario, and he’s excellent. He repeats concepts, uses a wide vocabulary and defines words better than anyone else, ever. And the good news is I’m with him for another week. Hopefully two.

The size of the class is ever changing. From 4 to 8 to 7 to… Everyday different. Same people but many don’t come to every class. And they ALL arrived late at least 4/5 days this week. One always comes 10’ late. One up to 40’ late one day. Poor teacher just patiently persists.

Next week? Who knows. Interesting how much harder it must be for the Koreans with a different script and a non-Latin based language to come to terms with spanish.

The afternoon class was good every day. Well, on one, it took 5 explantations of the game we were to play, a simple game made complex by Laura confusing us as to whether we were or weren’t in teams. At least the other 3 students looked confused too.

The best bit was the history lecture at the end of one class. And on Friday afternoon, a local walk to see some of the important features of early Madrid. A couple of the gates from when it was a walled city in the 15th or 16th century are near here. Exciting.

Well, had it not rained and the streets been so crowded, the walk would have been great. It was interesting but hard hearing the teacher even with just 4 of us chickens crowding her. The 4 of us are continuing together next week. Fingers crossed no one else joins us. 😏

Market

The fruit and veggie market near here, Mercado Anton Martin, is not easy to recommend. Many stalls are shut and those that aren’t, sell many products that are not fresh. Tomatoes, for example, just wouldn’t be saleable at home. The asparagus is much better.

By contrast, the Mercado de La Paz, a km or so north, along Paso Del Prado has great stuff. More expensive but, fresher. You can’t select your own fruit and veggies in markets here, just watch carefully and reject any items that don’t look good. Bought more asparagus, a huge tomato, more dried beans and some wide flat green beans. Selecting the dried beans wasn’t straight forward: so many types, sizes and colours.

At the entrance to this market is an old fashioned bar, ideal for a quick coffee before trying to keep the wallet shut inside the market.

Otherwise it’s been too cold, and at times wet, to go the the parks and walking. Maybe next weekend will be better.

Life goes on

In the meantime, house redecorating can sometimes require power +. Yes, a small ‘bulldozer’.

And I love the little, plentiful (not ‘common’) dogs around here. This one was old, 12.

Some of the historical buildings as well as the restaurants and cafes are beautifully decorated. And many have very impressive painted panels.

Scandals

Why do another country’s scandals, and its source of many inches of press, seem more interesting? Three here at the moment: whether the leader of Madrid did earn a masters degree in law or the paperwork was falsified and if so, by whom; what the release of Carlos Puigdemonte (ex-pres of Catalonia) means for the relationship of 🇪🇸 with 🇩🇪; and how the ex-queen (mother of king) and the present queen (daughter in law) are getting on. Yup.

Best this week though was the photo of Trump with his hair blowing about, looking almost like a flying nun. But, ridiculous.😏😇😏

School, apartment and hot chocolate

School

Day 1, yet another Spanish language school, Cronopios. I attended this one for 2 hours in November and thought it possibly better than the one I previously attended in Madrid, Don Quijote. So, I’m back.

Nervous. Yes. Just hoping the classes are small, I can keep up and don’t have too many significant gaps for my level, B1/B2. Also hoping I have nice classmates.

Because it’s a school day I was at the gym just after opening, at 07:00. Very quiet, just how I like it. And so far the women aren’t copying my wonderful dress sense, cargo shorts and a singlet. Guess it’s just a matter of time. 😏 Ha ha. (in case you think I’m serious).

Early gym and so an early breakfast too. Too much english spoken in this part of Madrid. Two women at a nearby table were chatting. Dammit, in english. I want to listen in to gossip in Spanish. Hope I don’t have to find another breakfast bar to listen in.

There is a real bar up the street. Saucers, each with a teaspoon, line the bar top, waiting for coffee orders, and the are men sitting on stools at the bar. Just like a more regional bar. I’ll pass for now and stay with the citified version as later I’ll have no choice.

And I loved seeing the very little kids also heading off to school, along my street. So cute.

So how were days 1 and 2 of school for me?

Well! No wonder I’m reluctant to speak at times. My gaps are glaring, to me anyhow. I’m in a lower class than I’d expected but it’s clear it has much to teach me. Much.

The teacher speaks rapidly, and he and our textbook use a wide vocabulary. Exactly what I need.

The 3 hour morning sessions are the first in a Spanish school in which I understand almost all of what the teacher is saying and can answer most of his questions. No, I didn’t say my answers were correct or in good Spanish. But the classes so far have provided the types of experiences I need. Of the 4 of us there yesterday and the day before: two of us understood and the other two looked like I often felt in other classes, a rabbit in the spotlights.

The afternoon session is only for one hour and provides a focus on conversation. The woman running this one is a dynamo, there are only 4 of us in this class too and it moves! Quickly. One comes from my other class (Romanian) and the other two (Finlandian and a Brit), a different one. Very diverse professions: a project manager currently unemployed, an economist/physio, a gynaecologist and me, a retired academic. So, an interesting group.

From discussions of what we wanted to be when we were a kid versus our current job to a sort of pop psychology discussion it’s been fun and dynamic. The teaching materials are excellent. And we all contribute.

My only disappointment with this school is the daily activities all students can attend. Let’s say, they are geared to people much younger and more sociable than me. I much prefer the lectures in Don Quijote, on art, history, culture and many such topics.

The apartment

My landlady was supposed to have come and gone hours ago with spare sheets, a microwave, small saucepans and €€ to repay me for the kettle I replaced. The Airbnb says it has a microwave. No, it has an aged bench-top oven. Lids for two small saucepans but no saucepans that fit them and, two very very big saucepans. No soap at all despite what is said in the Airbnb description. She was due about 5 hours ago, when I was in school. Maybe she’ll be here today, maybe not.

Ok. She arrived 5+ hours late with the saucepans and money to replace the kettle but no microwave. She said she will be back in 40’ with the microwave. Taking all bets on when, day and hour, she’ll return. So far it’s only 1.25 hour later, on the same day. So far….

Yes, she returned the same evening. Setting up the microwave and sticking somethings on the floor that should have been fixtures took over an hour. Her accent and speed of talking is very difficult for me. So, good practise. 😁

And she forgot the sheets so it will all play out again. Soon. Soon.

Morning class day 3

Our number doubled this morning. Eight: Romanian, 4 South Koreans, a Norwegian, a ? and an Aussie, me. So, quite a mix.

Past tense, past tenses, and more past tenses. Why the Spanish have to make some of the distinctions they do beats me. Past finished, past habitual, past very very recent and compound versions. I know when I can do it I’ll enjoy the great subtleties Spanish offers. Until then…..

If my hair wasn’t gray yesterday then today it would be. I’ve been over the past before. I still can’t get it right at the frequency I want, 95%+ of the time. Anyhow……

Difficult to show how hard we work. A photo of our classroom before anyone else arrived conveys nothing. Does it?

Apologies 😋😋😋🤓🤓

Four of us were hived off into a group leaving the other 4 with, presumably, a different task. Ours was to incorporate a set of words including princess, prince, sword, shield, brave, castle, dragon, mountain etc. into a story. There is an obvious story, a traditional one, and an infinite number of other options.

I ‘guided’ my group into an alternative option. Yes, the princess had the sword and shield and rescued the prince. It was too much for some and so they made sure our couple married immediately the dragon was killed. I always disliked group exercises but this was ok. Sigh.

What has my life become? Am I forestalling dementia or learning something else entirely? No comments requested or considered.

End of day

Finally, the little shop on the corner near me was open. Each morning I can smell biscuits, cakes, many things wonderful from outside but, it’s not open at convenient times. Today I made sure I got there. Chocolate, the French way: hot milk with choc bits you stir in. Very nice, neither the thick nor the very sweet Spanish versions of a hot chocolate but a very nice French hot chocolate. Unexpected. Yes.

And now, back to the past, past something, to see if I can figure where I go wrong and where I went wrong.

😊

Madrid Airbnb (5’ from Anton Martin station)

Wow! First impressions are very good. Yes, 2 doors that open and face the morning sun, one each from the bedroom and living room. Sorts of facilities I’d expected and in good condition. Landlady seems nice and we operated in Spanish.

The area is surrounded by restaurants, bars, shops selling drawing materials, and not too far from a gym. After a coffee I’ll go to see if I can join it. Fingers crossed. And it’s all near my new school.

Ok. A bit more time to explore in the apartment. It’s short of decent bowls. The thing on the bench isn’t a microwave but an ancient grill. Ugh. The kettle doesn’t work. There are no small saucepans to fit the small sized lids. The knives are decades past their best. There are no matches to light the gas and both lighters in the back of the drawer are empty. The TV, described kindly, is old. Probably not the model John Baird built in the 1920s, but early and run using two old remote controls. There are strange packets in the freezer. I’m ignoring them. A small cupboard door in the kitchen is hanging half off. Best kept shut. Haven’t tried the shower or relied on the heating yet. Hmmm

Post a trip to two parts of the very large El Corte Ingles store I have an electric kettle, a very nice new mug and bowl, matches and a few more odds and ends. Back to the apartment to try out the heating and shower.

And the washing machine! I wanted a 30’ wash. It had a 3h light that I couldn’t turn off although I’d selected a 30’ program. Sigh. The clothes were deeply, very deeply, washed. A lot. Sigh.

Gym

Joined the gym. Thanks to a sale it cost me half the usual price and I now own an orange combination lock, orange towel, an orange drink bottle and orange earphones from the introduction pack. Guess the livery colour? Yup, orange.

And I now know why only men go to the lower floor: to grunt over very large weights together. The machines and a mat on the floors above, among the non-grunt sized weights, were fun.

Once again I’m wearing the wrong gym uniform: travel shorts (cargo), a singlet and wrinkles are not what women wear here. The men wear shorts but no wrinkles or singlets. Two days later and it’s clear I’ve not started a fashion change. But, I’m comfortable, will keep fit for the interim 3 weeks, as I become weirder without regular exercise. 😏

Now, in case you are wondering, El Papa was not here for Easter. He sent a standin. And rather than cleaning up sins I think the guy in a red skirt found some dog poo. The amazing bit was the number of priests beside the very small church I’d never previously noticed in an area seriously devoted to shopping.

Not far away the usual group of black guys with very temporary pavement ‘shops’ were hanging onto the ropes used to carry their goods in a sheet. Not long later I saw them disappearing in a very different direction, presumably having been moved along. Again.

Easter Thursday evening

Lots of shops were shut and the crowds in the centre unbelievable. Huge. Just ambling, as the spanish do. In groups. Ambling. Never hurrying. Rarely giving way on the footpath. Interesting how street behaviour differs between countries. I wonder what it says of the people?

Listen to great music, buy lottery tickets, many options if you need entertainment.

Good Friday

You could have shot a gun up my street this morning and not hit anyone. A quiet street with mainly only foot traffic, it was almost deserted when I went to the gym at the very early hour of 09:00. Just one dog walker and her small charge in the distance.

My favourite breakfast place should open at 10:30. It didn’t but my nearby second favourite did. Still very quiet.

Luckily commerce prevails and my favourite supermarket (El Cortes Ingles) was open. Still stocking up on the other essential things missing from the apartment like soap and hand wash.

Easter Saturday

No newspapers today as it’s a holiday/festival. Luckily commerce continues and some stalls at the local fruit and vegie market were open. The asparagus was sensational. Beats any I’ve ever bought in Australia, ever.

And a breakfast place quite close provides bottles of olive oil and fresh minced tomato so it may be my daily start as it opens at 7 whereas the earliest the gym opens is 08:00! True. Told you 09:00 is early here. Almost unimaginable a gym opening at 08:00 on week days a busy city. Whoops, strike that. Have found it possibly opens at 07:00 on weekdays. That will help organise my day: early gym, breakfast then school. Homework after school, depending on the activities they organise for us. I’d love to cross town and sneak into lectures in another school I used to attend. They were good and I’d understand more now. Sometimes in earlier years it was little more than the title!

Spring is coming

Flowering cherries in a major pedestrian thoroughfare and down the green strip near the big Retiro park. The ‘goat’ from the Plaza Major has relocated. Seeking better pastures???

Days are cool, no, cold, in the morning. Mostly glove-wearing cold. Too cold to sit in the park. That was until today, a much warmer day later on. Two great dancers performing outside the botanic gardens, beside Paseo Del Prado. Alongside the sun absorbing locals. The line to get into the gardens was about 50 people long. And it’s not free! I hadn’t realised. Tulips are out and looking spectacular.

Once everything is back to normal after Easter here will be more interesting still. The local restaurants include vegetarian, Russian, Indian, Mexican, Korean, various regional Spanish ones so, no lack of choices. If I have to eat out that is.

Saw a dog, admittedly much better dressed, that reminded me of Charlie. Yes, sigh, it took after a set of small town ankles that moved near it.

And neighbours over the street have a development project. From mattresses alone the other day they now have a better shelter. Dammed cold at present so I don’t know how they do it.

Planning

Another first world problem: so many things validate you now through your phone. I’m using a Spanish sim but my accounts only like Aussie phone numbers. If I try and change my number they won’t recognise the Spanish phone number. And apps, such as the RENFE train app, don’t like Aussie credit cards. Even PayPal insisted on contacting me via my Aus mobile number this morning to validate me. So I’m going to have to pay the exorbitant roaming fee Telstra charges to get a message to prove it is me in Spain. I told you, a first world problem! This follows a tortuous problem with one aspect of setting up a new iPad here again, because of their insistence on contacting an Aussie phone number. That was resolvable. Thanks JP. And yes, I could pay cash for the train but having an electronic train ticket would be preferable. Sigh. 😔

Ahhh. Success. And without resorting to the overpriced Telstra roaming for one message. PayPal offered options this time including secret questions rather than just my Aussie mobile. So, I’m now going by train to coastal Spain, Almeria to be precise, once school finishes. Phew.

Sydney to Madrid …. again

Dubai, Wednesday 28 March 2018
Local time in Dubai: about 05:00. Lots of orange lights on highways and causeways. Still a short distance to go after about 14 hours flying time. Overnight, so it’s not too tough, especially flying in an A380.

Wheels down. We must be near the airport.

And then we landed. First there’s the wait for those of a higher class to move out. Then those of us waiting behind the closed curtain can escape.

Almost always good having a break in Dubai, especially at mealtime.

Dubai to Madrid
Less than 8 hours flying time to Madrid from here and, today, a very high staff to customer ratio. One actually asked to be asked to do things! Shock and awe!

You are right. I’m off to spain again. This time for a mix of Spanish language school and walking.

Flying into Madrid
Lots of snow north of Madrid and so much more than my rather poor photo shows. More than I’ve ever seen here previously.

There goes the plans for weekend walking on the camino Madrid. An early leg involves walking through those currently snow covered mountains to Segovia. Hmmm. Not so keen now.

I’m in a new hotel for a night as I stuffed up the starting date for my Airbnb apartment booking. Adding an extra night wasn’t an option by the time I realised. So, I’m staying nearby, virtually opposite the Prado. Hotel sounds good but the lift wasn’t working just now so I had 6 floors to walk down.

And my first spanish words today were to say the lift’s not working.

Summer
The 4 or so months since I was last here have been great. Except, our much loved Jim dog left this world. But, Charlie arrived. He’s small, old, and determined. Generally sweet and quite sure I’m his best chance for a new life. He’s now going to realise I’m just one of his newly devoted attendants.

And then there were frequent outings in the new kayaks. Plus Spanish lessons, drawing lessons, dogtraining, walking training (me, not the dog whose legs are short and his 11 years too many for more than 4 or 5km). Barely enough time to scratch amidst so many self improvement activities.

Flying out might sound like a rest after an idyllic, busy, summer. Not quite.

Spanish language school
My weeks in a different Spanish school will be intense and I’m a bit nervous. Need to improve my conversation skills. Each day here I’m confronted with the gaps between my english and spanish skills: listening, speaking and reading. Every time I think I’m catching on I find a basic issue that’s beyond me.

One of my first tasks is to join a gym as I’ll be here nearly a month and walking in Madrid doesn’t cut it for me. Not enough high hills. With those outside the city currently snow covered, a gym it is. So now I have to do the joining, make sure I pay for just the one month and don’t end up with a trainer or anything else. In Spanish.

After Madrid and school
Present post school plans are to rewalk the Camino Mozarabe from Almeria. Nothing written in stone so we’ll see. If not now then, later this year. Whatever, I’m also hoping to catch up with Victoria, my companion during the final stages of my last walk in Spain.

Breakfast
Planned first on visiting my favourite breakfast place, a km or so north of here. As it’s a Maundy Thursday lots of things may be shut. Fingers crossed this one isn’t.

You guessed! It opens today at 10:30 instead of the usual 08:30. My other option was shut so down the list to anything open! Yes, ok but its olive oil is from a sachet and the tomatoes were so so. Coffee, fine.

My underlying  preoccupation today is JP, in hospital for a day procedure earlier than we’d hoped. Friends will pick her up but I’d rather it was me. They are good at sending updates so that’s something.

Moving to the apartment: with Airbnb you never really know what you’ll get, if the photos are 10 years old and miss serious problems or the neighbours are mad and very noisy.

WordPress

Dammit. They’ve changed the app again. And so far doesn’t seem easier or better. So please forgive issues…. For example it’s appended a draft from 2015 I didn’t publish. So, if I’ve not yet fixed them, just ignore oddities.

Review of camino 

Quick review
The walk this sept/oct was a continuation of the Camino Mozarábe from Granada to Merida. We then continued north on the Via de la Plata. I stopped at Salamanca, not having enough time to walk to Santiago again. (I walked the first part of the Mozarabe from Almeria to Granada in October 2016, and the other option earlier, from Malaga to Cabra).

This year Benedo and I walked from Granada, met Manolo in Córdoba and, a day later, after Cerro Muriano, met Victoria on a very dark stretch of road in the wee hours. Benedo and Manola left us just before Merida to go back home. Victoria and I continued together until Salamanca. I left there for Madrid and she kept walking, headed to Santiago and later Finisterre. 

Data

34 days of walking and 3 rest days, 2 in Córdoba & 1 in Merida

Point to point distance = ~600+ from Granada to Merida to Salamanca

Steps: 1,073,813 (Fitbit)

Distance walked: 762.51km (Fitbit) – this includes the many incidental km visiting castles and looking for bars, supermarkets and accomodation along the way

(My Fitbit gives reasonable estimates of distance during steady walking when checked against my map.)

Resting in Salamanca

After over a month of close togetherness with others it’s strange being alone again. It’s odd but I almost have voices ringing in my head. Travelling closely with someone else for weeks on end obviously ‘creates and fills a space’. Sometimes that space is filled with conversation, sometimes it’s almost physical, just being aware they are there or have just left. 

After two days in Salamanca I go to Madrid. I’m trying to arrange spanish classes there. If I can’t I guess I’m going to spend a lot of time in bars and watching spanish tv. Even if only to justify my new book of spanish verbs, hardly riveting but each new verb I learn plugs a gap. And it should reduce some of my mangling the language. 

Not easy to recall some of the new words during a conversation and I’m resigned to limited improvement unless I can figure out how I can live in the Hispanic world for a while. Irrespective, I’ll definitely continue as a regular visitor. 

Wednesday 1 November 2017

V left at about 07:30 and, as we’d traversed the complicated way out a few times, she should be well along the camino by now. Her maps aren’t really good. Neither were mine the first time and she has a considerable advantage in being spanish. She’ll manage. I’m guessing it won’t be easy for her at first, being alone again.

I like Salamanca and always like to check on some of my favourite carvings on the ‘new’ Catedral. 

Thursday 2 November 2017

Another lazy day with the hardest choices relating to which bar and what to drink. Yes. Tough. 

Good walking around the town.  Have to say naming a restaurant after white snails was clearly not a success as it’s for sale or to rent. And then there are the Bimbo trucks. No idea what they offer. 

By contrast, it’s clear that Christopher Columbus offered at least one pigeon something yesterday.


And the shops in the Plaza Mayor sell great looking cakes as well as cats’ tongues (chocolates) and other interesting looking options. 


I still don’t understand how it was that I found so many english speakers on my first camino, the Via de la Plata from Sevilla to Santiago, and this time, except for the 2 Americans on my first day, none. Not one. Even in the streets here in Salamanca I’ve heard very few snippets in english. Time of year? Or what? 

Having heard from V it’s clear her boots are better with the inserts and her new clothes are warmer. It’s great to hear well she’s going.  Hard to talk to her though as her phone company coverage is truly dreadful. WhatsApp ends up offering a better way of chatting. 

For me: Madrid, by train, tomorrow. 

A day in Salamanca 

We met Monica and had a drink late yesterday in the Plaza Mayor.  V and I then headed back to the hotel with take-away in hand. She hadn’t had sushi before – she’s now a convert. 

Tuesday 31 October 2017
Today started well. There is a very nice churrería near the hotel, small, busy, and very unpretentious. Great chocolate and churros.

I wanted a book of spanish verbs (yes, another) and V needed some warmer clothes for her next stage towards Santiago.  

We did it all. Even did a bit of touristing: looked into la casa de las conchas, the new cathedral, the interesting round church, San Marcos, up the far end of Calle Zamora, and I can’t remember what else. 

Tomorrow is a holiday, like the day of the dead in Mexico (El Dia Del Muertos; here: Dia De Los Santos). It’s also apparently halloween. (Hmmm, um, who cares). So, sigh.  

Of more interest to me, everything will be shut except for bars and restaurants. Fingers crossed my lovely friend with a bar around the corner is open and I’m planning a very lazy day and time in the bath anyhow.

Next stage

V will leave early tomorrow, Wednesday, possibly in the dark, as there may be trouble getting a bed tomorrow in her next town. You can’t tell as there’ve been some days with 1 peregrino and others with up to 15. October is a quieter time of year for VdlP and just bad luck if you end up arriving with lots of others. 

We know of an Aussie guy heading off tomorrow too. A friend of Monica, he apparently has a painful achilles tendon problem. Others? No idea. 

V has been a wonderful friend. Infinitely patient with my murdering, and sometimes brutal, spanglish, an immense help in improving my facility and confidence with the language. Being with a spaniard also helps as she understands subtleties and the niceties I sometimes don’t. 

So much more than that, she is so easy to travel with. We like enough of the same things and have similar ways of operating so that being with her has been so easy and has increased my enjoyment of this walk immensely. 

It was really so much more fun, like my time with the boys last year and, with Benedo this year for our first week from Granada. In the end I’ve spent over a month living closely with from one to three spaniards and it’s truly enhanced my enjoyment incredibly. I have been so lucky.

Over a month and I’ve still hardly spoken english, just written it. I’m getting so confused I had to ask Monica (French) yesterday for the word ‘sushi’! Yes, I know, technically it’s not an english word but, you also know what I mean. 

Truly, a bigger world has been opened for me this trip. I’ve even understood responses from some of the oldies in small villages. Yup. 😁🤗

l owe a lot to my friends Victoria, Manolo and Benedo. Very good friends and wonderful walking companions. 

San Pedro de Rozados to Salamanca

Walking was hard on Monday 30th October with a cold wind from the east crossing us. Felt like snow somewhere. I’m guessing not but it wasn’t my preferred temperature nor ideal conditions for my last day of walking this time in spain. 

I did like the metal sculpture in a small town (with no bar!).  And the jacket made ‘her’ a class act!


The actual walk was about 24km but with no bars open we stopped for a picnic. 

Definitely not our best as we couldn’t escape the wind for the last of our eggs (cooked about 3 days earlier, just pre-a-salmonella revival) and olives (a fellow traveller in my pack for about a week). The bread and cheese goes on waiting to be eaten on another day.  Ugh. 

Amazing how long bread is sort of edible. Well, if washed down with chocolate milk! You know, of the 91% milk and 9%? variety. ‘Sort of’… No. Age doesn’t improve bread nor does travelling in a pack. Cheese is semi indestructible in the cold. 

By this stage the distal phalanx on my R index finger was turning black. The first of the 5 or 6 gates in this stage was very challenging. 

Clearly not assembled correctly I was contemplating climbing it. The spikes along the top put me off that and the adjacent fences were built by the same person. He clearly has a perverse sense of humour as all are high and topped by barbed wire. 

Only one option left to open the gate, brute force. If only I’d moved a certain finger away first! Oh well. At least it was worth waiting for V to arrive to get some sympathy. 😐 The rapid colour change proved I was deserving. I just needed a sling. Ha ha. Surprisingly it didn’t hurt, the cold saw to that. Give you an idea of how ‘un-ideal’ the day was?

And then there were the intermittent dust storms, just before the cross on a hill overlooking Salamanca. 

Very unpleasant. I’ll swear I was wearing 1kg of dust by the time we arrived. The basin agreed as I later washed some clothes! 

My shorts need a washing machine, nothing less will stop the crackly sounds as I roll them up. 😎 I hasten to add, they HAVE been washed a few times over the past month but…..,

Salamanca

We arrived and it was clear how tired V is. 

I don’t think she saw past the bath once we checked in. We were upgraded to a suite as I’d booked a twin but they didn’t have a twin. Let’s say, I wasn’t unhappy about being upgraded! 

I left V heading for the bath while I went to get coffee. Then I remembered the local cheesecake place. I was heading back and felt compelled to stop for a hot chocolate. Not my drink of choice so guess I’m pretty tired too. Not for lack of sleep. Clearly walking for a bit over a month has taken it out of me in a much deeper way. 

Later we have planned to meet Monica (French, speaks some english) near the Casa de Las Conchas – the house of the shells. 

 

Fuenterroble to San Pedro de Rozados

Spanish men
I was highly affronted last night! Turns out the second trio of Spanish guys was worried V had been left on her own as I raced ahead. Not sure if they thought we’d had a falling out but they didn’t think she should be alone. 

If only they listened properly and exercised their neurones a little: she left Malaga alone, managed the whole distance alone until the day after Córdoba, having met only one or two other walkers in that time. Meaning, she’s clearly capable of managing alone and doesn’t need me or anyone else to hold her hand and to stay with her. We’ve always automatically walked together in the dark, as we did with the boys in pairs or fours, as more eyes help in ensuring you stay on track. 

I hasten to add these three men always walk very very closely together, are never apart and must feel a bit vulnerable and believe it affects others similarly. Oh, especially women since they felt obliged to comment. 

Even as they left the supermarket in Fuenterroble they were in a tight formation. Second lot of Spanish male ‘triplets’ who’ve affected us. Weird. 


And yes, the fourth guy was, I’m sure, deliberately keeping back if only from the noise they make: chat chat chat. 

V wasn’t totally surprised. Sigh. Thankfully one of the nicest guys I’ve met this trip was spanish, Jésus, or I’d have wondered about the men here. 

End of daylight savings

Starting today, Sunday, light now arrives at about 07:30. We changed over last night. Thankfully. Made starting today easier. Was a bit confusing as I don’t know how all my devices knew to change as our signal varied from nonexistent to nearly nonexistent. 

As we left the Fuenterroble albergue the guy in charge offered us breakfast. Ha ha! Waited until after we’d made arrangements with a local bar to tell us they offered breakfast to peregrinos. 

I wasn’t sorry we’d set up going to a bar as, except for a very pregnant Mrs Puss and another puss on heat, V and I were the only females and the religious donativo felt very blokey. 

At this time of year most walkers on this route are men and I’m happy that again we avoided sharing with at least 5 of them last night. 

Moving on

A very foggy start to the day’s walk. Some frost on the ground too. 

Great track after a short time on the road. We left first, no torches needed today. Hooray. 

Beautiful bucolic splendour. The sun came up and cleared the fog away. Soon after we started climbing up to the set of windmills along the crest of the hill. And then slowly down and along flatter (undulating), dry countryside.

Pigs, cows, lots of oak trees.  Oh, and an odd (very) peregrina picnicking along the way. (If you can’t see the road what road…😎😎😎)

And finally our town for the night, San Pedro Rozados. 

San Pedro Rozados

In this town in 2013 Ekhardt and I ended up in a small house with a room each. Overflow from a hotel or albergue and great for us. 

This time I arranged a room in the hotel E and I had eaten at last time. Decent sized room, bathroom and just 2 of us. Thank heavens. Sharing my last night this walking trip in spain with 5 other snorers – no thanks. 😁 

Interesting lunch (at 16:00 or a bit after): farináto (a mix of fried bread crumbs, pig fat, egg, cinammon and annisette), a mixed salad and then spaghetti. The farinato is a local speciality and very nice. Luckily we were sharing it and the salad so not too much. 

Very interesting, the farinato – to me a tastier version of the migas (breadcrumb etc mix) from further south in spain. Again a much loved local dish that I guess was once leftovers eaten by peasants. If not, leave me with that delusion. 

Salamanca

Tomorrow we will meet up again with one of the very few women we’ve met so far, Monica (French), in Salamanca. 

Yes, Salamanca tomorrow. Just 24km between here, San Pedro de Rozados, and there. I’ve got a hotel booked and am looking forward to it. V will stay a night or 2 and then head off towards Santiago. I’m staying until Friday.

By the time we arrive I’ll have been walking for nearly 5 weeks (4 + as I had 2 days off in Córdoba and 1 in Merida) and have clocked up a bit over 600km. 

My shoes may well deserve to end their days here, in spain! They are seriously considering their options. 😂

Reminds me

A false friend found labelling a drawer in our room in the albergue last night:  


 If you translate the following word for word you end up with a very very strange notice. 

Juegos = games

De = of 

Cama = bed

But, it actually means a set of bed linen: sheets and pillow slips! Who would know! And yes, I looked inside and was more confused than ever. 😂😂😂

La Calzada de Bejar to Fuenterroble de Salvatierra

Walking some days is like being in a very pleasant trance. Legs go up and down rhythmically and on and on, avoiding rocks, small stones, empty puddles and holes. On and on. Up and down. 

I love the sensations, especially in the early morning as the sun rises. The temperature starts to drop just before the sun rises, soon after you start walking. 

The surrounds change from silhouettes to trees and rocks or houses. Gradually shapes form, the sun rises and provides some heat. And the temperature rises, just a little now as we move further north to colder places.



Leaving La Calzada de Bejar

Our Casa Rural last night was good (Casa Rural Jorge). Nice rooms, a dueña who cooked our lunch and later left us the makings for breakfast and a snack today. (Hmm, if a huge bread roll with jamon and cheese qualifies as a snack – especially when combined with slices of her nice fresh black Russian tomato. Oh, and washed down by a chocolate milk (91% milk, 9%?sugar). And the discount on the room went towards paying for an expensive meal each and our bocadillos. 😏 Our dueña, when asked, turned on the heating to keep the house warm overnight. Made me very happy. Very very…. 😁😁😁

I just love some of the houses in La Calzada de Bejar. I’m sure luck alone keeps them intact! Hard to believe in their physical supports. 

Moving on 

We left on the cusp of dawn so it was well after 8 but still not light. Crisp, cool air.

And then, suddenly, 3 men behind us! Surely the macho ones couldn’t have stayed in the same town! Imagine them only doing only 10km yesterday. How humiliating for them, if true. 

Hard to tell if the same guys as in the dark they were similarly dressed and at least one came from Andalucía. Phew, different guys. The sort who are fellow peregrinos, not macho creeps. 

We let them pass us by slowing. Same with an Italian guy. Then there was the German we met in the first town, looking for a bar. Bar was shut but the guy seemed weird. Unusually for a German, he speaks only German. Very unusual in my experience as they and the Dutch are mostly at least bilingual. 

And yes, all 5 men were likely to stay in the same town as us. Sigh. Same room most probably given my last time in Fuenterroble. Imagine, if you can, 5 snorers again (no, I didn’t include me 😎).

In the middle of nowhere I saw a cat and, not for the first time. Local and just out hunting at a distance? Or, just well adapted to the rural life. Who knows. 

Kept going. Nothing open on the 20km to Fuenterroble. Nothing. So we kept our money. Pity for two towns as it doesn’t take a lot to part most of us from our money. 

Towns can change. For example, La Calzada de Bejar with múltiple casa rurales now is very different from my visit 4.5 years ago. They need one or two people to see ways of stopping the peregrino money just walking past them. Not every peregrino will stop at a bar but, many will if it’s open and they can find it. Sounds obvious but people in small towns here often seem unable to change. And life goes on how it always has. Their loss in many cases as the population ages and kids move away while €€ are walked through the town daily. 

Fuenterroble de Salvatierra

Arrived at the albergue agree and was delighted to be led to a 2 bunk room. Saved both bottoms for V and I. If we are lucky we will also be the sole users of the adjacent bathroom. I guess I was in a big shared room full of bunks last time as I arrived with a guy, Ekhardt. 

This was my first ever donativo albergue, run by the church. It’s one I’m happy to donate more to than is usually expected because I believe the people here actively contribute to supporting people in need. Not just peregrinos, locals. 


Next stages

Tomorrow will be longer: about 28 or 29km. My last ‘long’ day this time. My final day, Monday, into Salamanca, is only 24km. So, two days to go. And we now have bread, cheese, eggs and more chocolate milk. 

V is much stronger as a walker and much more sure of herself now. In saying that I note she left her home town, 50km from Malaga, and managed perfectly well by herself until she met the boys and I the day after we left Córdoba. So, she will manage very well and is possibly very happy to be alone going forwards after Monday. I don’t know. 

For me, walking with her has been a pleasure and not just because she has helped me so much in my listening to and speaking Spanish. She is very nice and easy to travel with. I still can’t get over how well the 4 of us rubbed along together and then just her and I when the boys left. We were all so very lucky in the others in our group. She is such a nice kind and thoughtful person. 

After finishing this camino

I am currently planning to spend a couple of days in Salamanca and will then go to Madrid. Possibly a week in an individual conversation class there is just what I need now. Plus time in the Spanish language context. So, plans but, still soft.

Baños de Montemayor to La Calzada de Bejar 

Another surprising day! Started one way, changed unbelievably. 

Let me start at the beginning: we left Baños de Montemayor in the dark, without finding an open bar.

 

Headed towards La Calzada de Bejár, a very small town part way to our planned destination of Valverde de Valdecasa with its albergue. 

The route out of Baños winds up the hill above the town on the old roman road, the calzada. A bit along the highway you briefly join is a petrol station and a bar. 

The most reluctant bar guy did make us coffee (chocolate for V) but he had no bread. So, no toast. And no, I don’t understand the apparent reluctance of some here to toast old bread or to use frozen bread. 

Ok, he heated a stale croissant for me. Not to be recommended. Meanwhile I frantically tried to order a new iPhone on an obviously very busy Apple website. No success initially. Did get my order through about 20’ later.

By then we were on a really lovely track, cool dawn light filtering through between very large old chestnut and oak trees. Fruit and leaves from both carpeted the gravelled track. Leaves are changing colour and falling as winter approaches here. 

The track wove slowly downhill. I was hoping to find the word ‘Tasmania’ again, written on a notice on the left of the track last time. Sadly it’s gone or, I missed it. 

Interesting old bridge.  Somewhere under the backpack. 


The track continued along another side of the valley, beside farms, mostly with cows. 

And then we saw them: the 3 men from the other day. V has a visible visceral response to them. Fascinating. To me they are just blokey bores, full of themselves and with an inflated sense of their abilities. Quite clearly if we were to compete, based on what I’ve seen, I could outwalk them but their sense of superiority has to be heard to be believed. 

They don’t bother me but I miss the subtleties as they are spanish. As they do bother V I’m just as happy to avoid them. And would work to avoid sharing accomodation with them. I still remember my night with Benedo and 4 other Spaniards with horror. Not just the snoring, just I’d have preferred not to run into them again. 

Ok. We dawdled to ensure they were ahead. Arrived in La Calzada de Bejar, a very small town. This is a town that fascinated me last time. Full of very old 2 story homes, many in poor repair but with a distinct regional look. And, as the name indicates, it’s on an old roman road (Calzada).

And many of the houses show the age of the village: supporting poles on strange angles, bent supports under verandahs etc. 


A few have been tarted up and the church looks loved.


Not sure who, or for what, the cats were waiting. They were still sitting in the same place hours later.

Found the bar and, of course, the 3 guys. We discovered the bar is shut in the town we are heading to and, as there is no shop there, no way of getting food. So we decided to stay here, in Calzada de Bejar. It’s only 10 km or so after Baños de Montemayor but, we were going to have a very long or a very short day anyhow before Salamanca. So it might as well be here and our ‘heroes’ will be well ahead. Maybe, as they don’t actually walk that quickly, despite their inflated self belief. 

Who knows what tomorrow will bring. Our accomodation is comfortable, our own bathroom, and no other peregrinos.  Our duena made us lunch, salad, a paella and supermarket flan. She’ll also sort out breakfast and make us each us bocadilla.  The solitary town bar is very close, currently filled with older men playing cards or dominos. Suspect there are few children in this town of 50 (?) people! 

Cáparra to Baños de Montemayor

We walked from Hostal Asturias along N630, a north-south road, to one of the best little towns on this section of the Via de la Plata, Aldeanueva. 

Aldeanueva predates the Romans, was then part of their network of towns connecting north and south Spain and is the most delightful place. Plaques showing the roman towns exist in the entrance and exit to the town. 

We wanted a photo of us both with the first one. Grabbed a little old lady to help us. She has clearly never used a camera, had little concept of viewing an image on a small screen or was nearly blind and just couldn’t get it. 

V was in her element patiently explaining how to hold the camera level and pointed at us while pressing a button. I’m not sure our assistant ‘got it’ so much as accidentally waved and pressed at the right time. She was a sweetie though, quite nonplussed to start with as she thought we wanted a photo of her and she didn’t really want one taken.

The town gets more and more attractive as you walk to its central plaza. Balconies with plants, some narrow, old, curved streets and then the centre. And a churrería. I am walking with an ‘addict’ so we stopped. I really enjoyed both the churros and thick spanish chocolate today. 

A small arched bridge in the centre of town joins both sides of the town. Wow!

More beautiful streets and houses and a very old church, with the Rosary being said as we passed. So we didn’t go in.  At that point a local offered to take photos of us.

How, you might well ask, did I not know about this town? I walked through it 4.5 years ago! But, E and I were walking 30+km days and going from A to B. So we continued up the N630 road, bypassing this most beautiful town. 

We ate at one of the impersonal restaurants alongside the road. Uninteresting. Yes. Very and so different from today.

Next time I walk this section of the camino I’m staying in Aldeanueva and, visiting a nearby town called Hervás, an old Jewish town. 

I wasn’t looking forward to today as I knew most of it was on the highway, the N630. But, I wasn’t exhausted when we arrived. Why? Fitter, perhaps and it was only 20km, not 30+.  I was able to appreciate it all so much more. 

Baños de Montemayor

Last time here E and I had the works at the thermal baths. I nearly froze and wasn’t interested in a repeat. 

We are staying in Hostal Martin, very pleasant and not far from the start of tomorrow’s 20km to Valverde de Valdelacasa. Albergue there is booked. 

We are on the countdown to Salamanca when we go our separate ways: V to Santiago and beyond, me to Madrid and maybe Toledo for a few days before flying home. She has made the past few weeks such fun. We get on very well and travel together easily. And she speaks Spanish properly!  Meeting her has contributed immensely to this camino for me. 

Carcabosa to Cáparra

Today was a special day in 2 respects: the stunning scenery on the way here and the Roman Arch at Capárra. 

Scenery

Except for the start, today we walked on tracks. Mostly we were alongside the old roman road or very near it. Roman roads are marked with green ‘tile’, the camino with yellow, and a shared track has both colours.

Lots of this area is also used to graze animals – a ‘long paddock’ – and is between old stone fences that continue for most of the distance.  The light changed as the sun rose higher. 


Lots of old oak trees, open grazing areas. Wow. Really is one of my favourite sections between Merida and Salamanca. Yes, if you have time to walk only a short section of the Via de la Plata then this probably should be it. If not from Merida, then from Casar de Cáceres.

Roman Arch of Capárra

Stunning! Last time I was here the Roman Arch of Capárra was in the middle of a farming area. Now it’s in an archeological site with its own interpretation centre (and a machine that mislabels cans of drinks). Actually unbelievable. 

Some inscriptions on the Arch are still legible and however you look at it, it’s astounding. 2,000 years nearly. Wow!  

And more of the original road leading to it from the city gates, originally in very thick city walls, have now been excavated. 

 

The Roman Arch at Capárra is truly amazing. Apologies for banging on about it but it is amazing.

Once apparently in the centre of the Roman town of Caparra, it still stands proud with this section of the camino passing under it, 2,000 years later. Now it is surrounded by recent excavations. Four and a half years ago there were sheep. Not now. 

The excavations have exposed the remains of temples and the main square as well as of public baths, entrances through the city walls, shops alongside a terrace. And there is a huge area yet to be excavated. 

Hard to do it justice with photos or words. Visit it if you can! 


Apologies but there is a rat in the ranks just above: a black clad peregrina with a solar powered hat seen clambering up a hill on the way to Galisteo fell into a hole here. Apologies for the blatant opportunism  😏

Other peregrinos

And the ‘ugly’ peregrino of the day, from Malaga, was at Capárra. We’d arranged for a lift from Capárra to a nearby hostal. As we waited 3 peregrinos arrived. 

Two absolutely collapsed under the Arch and one came towards us. A cocky middle aged guy who managed to piss off V in about 10sec as he dismissed our distance today (about 20km) as insignificant and generally made himself out as a very big man doing 35+ each day.  You know the sort, looks women up and down like goods on offer and big notes himself. Yawn. Yawn. 

V is pretty tolerant and not easily pissed off but she said later she was very pleased we wouldn’t see them again. Can’t help but agree while hoping he gets a blister or has an incident requiring a bit of humble pie. Also hoping he is reincarnated appropriately. 😁

Galisteo to Carcaboso

The 4 of us left the albergue at about sunrise, 08:30! I love the walls of Galisteo, an old walled city, obviously. Inside the streets are the usual curved ones. 

Almost impossible to get from A to B unless you’ve been there a while. Took the group ages to get from the walls they’d been climbing to my bar yesterday. And I’ve similarly been lost in this town before.



A short walk today. We had planned 30km but after about 5km V’s legs needed a break. Suited me. I’ve started intermittently feeling something nasty 🤢 around one hip joint. It’s longstanding, usually settles quickly and doesn’t even merit the Camino drug of choice, brufen. 

Anyhow, 4 of us set out together. Crossed the beautiful, high bridge with a stork’s nest on top of a pole. The entire stretch was road but, strangely, I remember it as being more difficult last time. Not sure why.

 I walked with David this time, a Spaniard living in Canada. He’s interested in Spanish politics so I caught up on his ideas of the Catalonia situation. Interesting. 

Carcabosa
Last time I was in our destination, Carcabosa, I was impressed by the little old lady who has a hostal/albergue here, Elena. Ekhardt and I had to keep going the day i first met her: we had plans. 

Coming back today to stay suited me. Elena is as lovely as usual but with more back pain than 4.5 years ago. She is one of those very old, warm, welcoming women. A hug for all new visitors. An enterprising person, using an old house as she has. 

And so, in Carcaboso, we farewelled David and Monica who will now be a day ahead of us. They are heading to the old Roman arch and town that we will get to tomorrow. 

The albergue/hostal is an old house, or part of one. Our room is on the north side so it’s cold while the south facing patio is hot. 

Good for my washing but I’m lying on the bed covered by a sleeping bag and wearing my lovely warm feather vest. First time the vest has seen the light of day this trip. Hopefully opening all the windows near the warm bits will eventually heat this room too. 

Lunch

It’s currently nearly 17:00 and we are not long back from lunch. I had chickpeas with chorizo and V had soup. We then shared a tomato salad, chips and meatballs. Dinner will be fruit, hard boiled eggs (we have a kitchen again), cheese and bread. 

I can hear you echoing us, yet again: la vida de las peregrinas es muy duro! (A pilgrim’s life is very hard).  Ah yes. Indeed.

Milarios

Carcabosa was once an important place between other significant Roman towns. Not a lot to show for it now except two exceptional milarios (roman distance markers), a large stone water container and the remnants of arches. Thanks to Manolo who recommended we check them out. 

There are also some derelict buildings, once hostals or similar. Once at least 4 in the same street there’s not much to see now. Inside the ceilings have fallen down. Definitely not structurally sound!

Maybe this town could benefit from some development of such past ruins. Hmmm. A very expensive thought. 

Yesterday

Heading towards Galisteo yesterday we walked through some beautiful pine plantations early on, past oak trees stripped for cork and through a really beautiful track.


First time this Camino: we crossed creeks  with running water. Obviously, unlike last time, not much but, enough to need to cross on stones at times. 

And sometimes up hills and once a bit of clambering to cross a road. 
So, all in all another good two days. 

Canaveral to Galisteo

Both the start (Canaveral) and the end (Galisteo) today were in the same accomodation as 4.5 years ago. Km of the camino were also the same, along very pleasant tracks through oak (bellota) trees. So much else had changed. 

Until we got going we had 2 options, 28km or 16 today and 15 tomorrow. As you can guess, we chose the 28km option. 

Tomorrow may be a mere 11 and the following day was to be 39 but, apparently there is now somewhere to stay in between. 

I’m happy about that as while I know I can walk over 35km I’m not sure I’d have Victoria’s company at the end. Her endurance is building but she just can’t keep going as long as I can yet. As a day progresses she noticeably slows. But, she is walking more quickly overall, stays with me for much longer periods and, has a lot less general body soreness. Despite some blisters she persists. 

So far in the albergue it’s only Victoria, David (another Spaniard), and I. The guy in charge gabbles, at a rate of knots. Luckily it’s pretty straightforwards or I’d be wanting him to take a valium, anything to slow him down. He can deliver a sentence in english but reverts to very rapid spanish.

It’s 18:00 and Monica, the Frenchwoman has just arrived! Heaven knows how her day has been. We saw her leaving, ahead of us this morning. We, luckily, had no problems and travelled pretty quickly. V’s phone said at 5.25km/hr but I doubt it. 

We did a side trip to a small town called Grimaldo believing we could get food and coffee there. I should have guessed it was not going to be a success. 

Crossing a creek and keeping our feet dry was not easy. Creeks on well used routes usually have stepping stones or something so you are not at such a risk as we were. Got across, bush bashed, another bad sign, and climbed a hill up to the town. First bar shut. Second bar shut. No obvious shops. 

V asked an old lady about the bars and for a shop. Basically, there was a possibility one bar might open later and there was not one shop in the town. So, a futile detour and back to the track for us a little wiser about reading ‘tea leaves’.

Back to the start: I started walking with Ekhardt on this stretch 4.5 years ago. A big difference is we walked through a town mid morning (Riolobos), stopping for drinks and tapas. Later, we walked a long way on the highway. And that was hard. 

Today, after our side trip to the rather grim Grimaldo, we stayed on walking tracks. This made such a difference. I arrived in Galisteo feeling quite comfortable. V was knackered and still resting while I headed off to explore the town again. (Code for: a coffee and a coke alone, ignoring conversations around me and the option of joining some others!). 😁

Galisteo is the town with the amazing walls, yes, an old walled city, in the middle of nowhere. 

I went out at about 18:00 to see the walls again and to buy some food. Yes, sunlight and everything was open. I’m never going to adapt to that. And yup, I’ll keep practising.  

By the time I got back 2 bike riders had arrived. One is from Austria. The other? No idea. 

Tomorrow? Who knows. I’m not keen on continuing to the place I stayed last time but am very much looking forward to time in the old roman arch at Caparra again in the next day or so.

Casar de Caseres to Canaveral 

A gorgeous little dog was waiting for its mum in the bar this morning. Churrería, actually so the options included chocolate and churros (or porros, the thicker ones) or, unusually, migas (the breadcrumbs plus stuff) or the usual coffee and toast and tomato. 

The dog stayed out for a while but just couldn’t last the distance and slowly snuck in. The boys over the road stayed there, gossiping and smoking. A really dear little dog, clearly much loved and with a firm morning routine. 


Much cooler this morning. Definitely jacket or jumper weather, even gloves. The sun was dawning as we left town, giving us a most amazing display. 

A few hunters around today being Sunday: the swimming pool guy is obviously a hunter with dogs to flush the rabbits or birds.

A few milarios as it was mostly a joint Roman road and a Camino.


The track was very straight forward, easy walking generally, undulating on gravel. Well, until the last 10 or so km that I suggested to V that we walk on the road. A good idea as the others reported it was a bit rugged on parts of this section of the track. And I like the sense of humour that left bones named as a peregrino’s. 

Amazing roadworks to the side of the road turned out to be a highway to nearby Portugal! Years ago it was said to be for the railway. Clearly not so as the railway visibly operates now and is adjacent to the existing highway beside the dam. Amazing bridges, one nearly complete, one not. 

We picnicked above the dam, off the road a little and just before the second bridge and the start of the last 10 or 11 km. 

Today was a long day, somewhere between 32 and 35km. More than we’d hoped to do as there is an albergue after about 20km. We’d rung that many many times over the past 4 or 5 days, eventually getting a response and the advice that they may not be open, unless they’d fixed their water supply problem. Half an hour before we would have arrived they sent a text saying it wasn’t going to open. That was ok as we were aware it might happen and had enough water. 

Canaveral

Finally arrived at the fairly unprepossessing town of Canaveral. Finding the bar open was a great joy, as I waited for V. We separately visited the new albergue. Private and expensive, for what you get. 

We are in the hostal, a bit further on. For €35 we have a reasonably sized room, 2 decent beds and our own bathroom. 

The albergue was €15 per bunk bed with a shared bathroom or a strangely shaped room with two singles next to each other and an antechamber with another single. Yes it had its own bathroom but €45 for 2 or €30 for one. I’m much happier here, same hostal as I was in last time. Only problem: dinner is still at 20:30! Too late for me. 

Tomorrow? Not a short day, possibly 28km or so. 

Cáceres to Casar de Caseres

Walking today was almost like a duty. Except for leaving the beautiful city of Cáceres. 

Eleven km to cover, get going. Not with much pleasure or joi de vivre today.  Victoria and I started late, after I did FaceTime with JP, then after eating breakfast in Granier’s, getting money from our respective banks and buying batteries for her torch and chocolate milk, mostly for me (91% milk – 9%?). 

Not much more to say. Well maybe except, imagine starting at 11:00. Gave us more time in a very nice hotel in the very type of room I’d envisaged. With a view I enjoyed.


Ok. Arrived in the town. Remembered it from last time. Pretty much unchanged.

A fourth woman just arrived in the municipal albergue and joined us in the second room of it in Casar de Caseres. As the first group, we are next to the showers. The next lot (apparently 2 men) will get the other room and sleep next to the toilets. Almost unbelievably, I’m in the same bed as 4.5 years ago. And, unusually for now, there is still only one power point in the room.

Anyhow, we are now a group of 4 women: 1 Spanish, 1 French, 1 German, and 1 Australian. And we have spanish or english as the most shared language. Hmm. 

The German woman said she has problems with her peroneal muscles. The rest of us have had blisters at some time or other. Yes, life as a pilgrim is tough. The boys had it as a daily mantra: as they had a beer or food they’d look seriously at each other and say ‘la vida de un peregrino is muy duro’. (The life of a pilgrim is very hard). Well, maybe it was once but nowadays?? Think: electronic maps, thousands on most routes most years, WiFi……. Yes, it’s very tough. 

What we did buy today is some of that amazing sheep’s cheese we ate in Merida: tarta a la serena.

 We bought a round of it in Casa de Casares where it’s called Queso de Casar, will let it warm to room temperature and it should be liquified when we remove the top in a hour or so. Hmmmm. So yes, the life of a pilgrim is tough!

Valdesor to Caceres

Made record time to Caceres from Valdesor, a short 13 km or so. Started out alone after a late breakfast and soon caught up to Monica. She is the Frenchwoman who we’ve been travelling alongside for a few days. And, for the first time in weeks I could freely chat in english. Yes, I really enjoyed it. And as I told her, in my experience, it is very unusual to find such a fluent english speaker who is French!   

My past two days have been a big surprise. My last time in Valdesor was something I didn’t want to repeat. Ever. 

This time, everything was different. Everything. From the albergue to the walk this morning has been good. The meal last night was very good, so different from the plastic snack I grabbed from the service station on the way out last time, in 2013. Of course, today wasn’t after nearly 30km and my blisters are considerably better managed nowadays. 

Anyhow, it’s been a very strong lesson for me: context is everything. Being with nice people (Victoria, Jesús and Monica) made it for me. (We convinced Julia to pose with us).

Having the bar owner, Julia, meet me with the albergue keys yesterday contributed too. One outcome: the best sleep I’ve had in weeks.

Bar at start of old Caceres 

I started Caceres in a bar, waiting for Victoria. I thought she was at least a km behind, as she left later and is slower anyhow. And I was really only there as the shop next door had some of the best peaches I’ve seen. That says a lot given the excellence of peaches in spain at this time of year. 

So, saw the bar and thought I’d wait for her. She now has an electronic map herself so it’s not as important as previously. With the boys it was always nice meeting the first person into a town in an early bar so I thought it would work. 

I was very cold when V and J finally arrived, about an hour behind me. They got lost, as I did my first time here. This time I did a lot better with the arrows, and some help from my map. I was very pleased to see them both. 

Reminds me: Jesus is such a nice guy. I’m sorry we are unlikely to meet him again as he is walking longer distances than I want to if I have an option.

Hotel

When I booked I asked for a room with a balcony or an external window. Thought I wasn’t going to get it  as we were checking in and the guy on the desk assured me if I wanted that I needed to pay for a superior room but that they were full. Bugger. 

I nearly dropped dead when I walked into a room with an external window and a type of balcony. In fact, you can see the Plaza Mayor from here. Wow!!! Yes, it’s everything I wanted. And, despite him being a bit tedious, I had booked a superior room. His english was worse than my Spanish and I know he didn’t impress V either. We think he thought us vagrants in shorts, boots, and with a pack each! 

Lunch at a nearby restaurant was interesting. An unusual menu left us having to select 2 things on toast, 2 tapas and 2 desserts. You can tell making a selection wasn’t easy! 

Things on toast were both cheese based: grilled sheep’s cheese and cheese on cherry jam. One tapas was migas, breadcrumbs toasted with some garlic and mixed with jamon and I don’t know what else (not on my list to repeat) and the other, goats cheese under caramelised onions on grilled pork (wonderful). Desserts: cheese cake and figs filled with ? and dipped in chocolate. 


Yes, light on veggies. Dinner was fruit and freshly roasted chestnuts.

Museum

As you may remember, old Caceres is like a town from the middle ages. Lovely old buildings in the curved streets all within remnants of the old walls. Looks impressive from the bell tower of the cathedral and from below as you wander around. 

And the museum: makes my list of interesting ones. My first time in it, sheerly through ignorance of what they have here. Many items from Neolithic and Palaeolithic periods, fascinating gravestones from centuries before the romans arrived, 

Roman ‘letters’, inscription written by a group I recently learnt a little about from Benedo, the the tartesios. 

Fascinating. Amazingly we ran into Monica in the museum, arranged to meet her afterwards and lost her! We’ll be in the same albergue tomorrow so will catch up then. Was most odd: improbable we found her and equally probable we could never have found her again. 

Tomorrow: short 11km to Casar de Cáceres with an albergue that’s not well designed. Nor do I remember it as expensive so, all can be relative. 

Alcuescar to Valdésor 

Tonight’s town, Valdesor is not one I ever wanted to visit again. In April 2013 I stopped at the albergue here for a very short time and left quickly. 

I am not sure why now but, I couldn’t leave quickly enough. Given the last 13km from here to Cáceres made it a 40 or so km that day you can guess I was desperate, for whatever reason. 

This visit could not have been more different. I was the first to arrive and found Julia waiting, with the albergue open, for peregrinos. 

What a nice welcome. The place has been tarted up and being here feels very different. Positive, and in the end all 4 of us staying here tonight will have eaten at Julia’s bar. So she’s enterprising, not something you find as a pilgrim in most towns here.  She clearly goes out of her way to entice pilgrims to her bar. Smart! 

Start of the day

Yes, breakfast at a local bar and it was still dark after 08:00 and V and I were somewhere out of Alcuéscar. Low clouds, or fog, covered parts.


Then, olive groves and, paddocks of fig trees. Sheep in the long paddock, a few goats, and a few cows. V said there were bulls too but I think she imagined them!

Back to the sheep: one paddock had a large dog sitting among the sheep. The dog suddenly got up and trotted to one side where it appeared a ewe had just given birth. The dog ate the placenta while the lamb struggled to stand and the ewe kept stamping one leg every time the dog moved. 


The 4 of us in the albergue tonight all started from the Alcuescar monastery. And all of us took it slowly, stopping in a bar in each of two different towns and 3 of us picnicked near a Roman bridge, the other opposite a Dolmen (very old monument built in the Chalcolitic period, prehistorical, well before the Romans arrived in spain). 

And yes, three Roman bridges today! Wow!

Two differences for me today. First was that today was much easier. The difference? Hmm, one option is the solar powered hat! With apologies to my much loved Panama-type hat I left it in the last albergue. There’s a lot less heat in the sun here and the solar powered one is a little warmer on cool mornings. However V rescued the panama and, looked more fetching in it today that I did previously. So the hat has another innings. 

The second difference today was that I walked with Jesus! Well, in the sense that the very nice guy with us in the albergue tonight is called ‘Jesus’. Takes getting used to it being a common name for men here. Anyhow, he, V and I tried to lighten our packs by having a picnic along the track together  (ie, eating as much as we could from our respective pack while knocking back food offered by anyone else).  

Weather update 

We are so lucky here, near Cáceres, we are missing the heavy rains and floods the Mediterranean coast of spain is currently receiving. 

However, here is becoming a lot cooler every morning and it was dark well after 08:00. Thankfully daylight savings has only about a week to run. 

The rest of today’s walk: the milarios, the Roman signposts, still stand alongside the camino. 


And I enjoyed the day! It’s surprisingly good walking the same tracks again over 4 years later. And such a different experience! I understand a lot more now of what I’m seeing and hearing. And, somehow I’m staying in a quite different place each night. This way it feels almost as though it’s my first time here. Irrespective, I’m enjoying this section more this time than the last. 

Aljucén to Alcuescar

Track today
About 20km and very pleasant. Along a national park, through farms and just delightful walking. A little rain was no hardship, warm and falling for only a short time. There’s been enough though that there was pretty heavy mud in parts along the track and a little running water. Still, easy going.

Funny that I remember many sections of this part of the track but only one town so far. I don’t know why. 

Last nights albergue (Rio…) in Aljucén was memorable, very pleasant and run by nice people in an organised manner. Reasonable price, at €10 each for a bunk bed. €3 more for breakfast. I highly recommend it. 

Snorers

Sometimes I hate albergues though as you don’t know who you are sleeping with and, more importantly, their nocturnal habits. Our new roommate last night snored the whole night! Sure, softly but, she snored and how is it that snorers always go to sleep first? A cosmic puzzle. And it’s not the first time I’ve noticed it. (Benedo was a classic. )

And to add insult to injury, 3 of us for breakfast and guess who ate 80% of the tomato left for breakfast for the 3 of us! Nationality? Yes, my old bête noir. I am again intrigued by the different attitudes and expectations. I was still very very surprised at such blatant thoughtlessness. And, we’d shared food with her the night before. Thankfully she is in a separate room tonight. 

Fixing blisters

I leant something new today: leaving salt overnight on a blister can reduce its size. This was the first time I’d even heard of that approach. V’s nasty blister-on-blister blisters, one on each foot, both reduced to flat overnight with salt under tape! Today, with tape over the newly flattened blisters and she’s much more comfortable and able to wear boots again instead of socks in sandles. Lucky for her with the mud on the track. 

Alcuéscar

Us same three pilgrims are at the donativo albergue tonight, one run under the auspices of the Catholic Church. It’s a very different type of albergue. 

It’s only my second church connected one, that I remember. 

The guy collecting the documentation was very nice but speaks only Spanish (very rapidly and with a regional accent) and French. His offsider speaks only Spanish. Of us pilgrims, all female, one speaks Spanish and a little english (V), one english and a little spanish (me), one french and some english. 

So dinner was an awkward meal especially when the two guys chatted in rapid Spanish to each other. Thankfully dinner didn’t last long and I got to try a persimmon for the first time. Loved it and would like another. 

Sorry, but, no pictures tonight (except for one of the lovely beans, first course for lunch today). I’m tired, it’s tedious to transfer pictures from my camera to my phone but, most of all, the internet in this location is very slow and loading them is almost impossible. Not even sure I can post at all. So sorry. 

I am still tired. Just not picking up my energy level despite thousands of calories in both fats and sugars. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get it together as I’ve got about 200km to Salamanca where I am definitely taking a break. 

After tonight, it’s only more night before Cáceres. As it’s a short day there and an equally short one to the following town I’m not currently planning on stopping two nights now. 

My walk from Granada so far 

It’s been about 3 weeks of walking to here for me, nearly two of them with Victoria. We start the day together but I’m much faster and wait along the way for her to catch up. We eat and shop together and, blessedly, she doesn’t snore. Phew. 

She’s also contributed considerably to my Spanish conversational skills. Has a very nice way of correcting me when I run off the rails and, of offering options and explanations. At times my brain still freezes and refuses to recognise that I do know some Spanish and can speak it. Almost like it locks up after time in overdrive. 

Walking without poles this year has been fine so far. But, my pack weighs more than I’d like and I’m not quite sure where I’ve gone so wrong, about 1kg wrong. 

Anyhow, overall, I’m managing just fine, enjoying the walking a lot, and have reestablished my passion for chocolate milk. That adds to the weight day to day and to a level of pleasure in reducing it!

Bedtime soon for me so, hasta la mañana. 

Merida to Aljucen

Last night in Merida

Silly but, I feel more tired tonight than when we first arrived in Merida. It’s as though when you walk day after day your adrenaline levels rise and stay high. They take a day to drop and then go right down. Feels that way to me tonight. I’m finding it hard to get any energy to even pack. Also, unusually for the last two weeks, I’m not hungry.

The chocolate and churros this morning were nice but heavy. And left me disinterested in food for the day. Thankfully we’d bought some fruit at the local market today, the wonderful peaches plus bananas, kiwi fruit and oranges. I’ve stuffed in what I can as not eating before a day of walking isn’t smart. We should get breakfast at a cafe on the way out tomorrow plus, we’re not leaving early so that makes it even more likely. 

I was surprised at how little english I’ve heard in Merida this trip. I heard two guides speaking in english to their groups but almost all the tourists I’ve seen and heard are Spanish. Anyhow, a very different experience from my last trip to Merida when many tourists were english speakers. Quite possibly just the time of year as it was April last time.

Aqueduct in Merida 

Today I visited the main aqueduct. Last time I only learnt about it when leaving town and walking north. Early in the morning then it was a ghostly shadow. Seeing it later afternoon, today, was better. And of course, we saw it again this morning. 

A poor solitary, and perhaps confused, stork was standing in one of the nests above the support structures. Most odd as it was alone and the others have all disappeared to wherever storks go for the winter. Has it lost its partner? Who knows but it looked to be searching for something. 

Breakfast in Merida

Should read: breakfast with the bulls. The cafe was a veritable shrine to toreadors and bulls. From the two bulls’ heads hanging on the wall to the multitudinous photos and newspaper cuttings it was a shrine. Nothing less. More later but, our lunchtime restaurant had a similar theme, bulls and handsome bullfighters. This time with the family as well. 


We’d had to spend time in our chosen breakfast bar as V had forgotten to collect Benedo’s torch from the albergue. He’d very kindly lent it to her as hers is weak, one you wind up as you go. His is very focussed and ideal for finding yellow arrows in the dark. So we left later as the albergue opened at 09:00 plus, we didn’t need to hurry today. 

Rain

My first day in the rain this camino. It’s cooler and I was able to try out my new, lightweight, montbell rain jacket. One unused item less in my pack. The other two are bits of cold weather gear and I’m happy not to need them yet. 

Didn’t rain heavily and as it lasted only an hour or two, not a good test for the jacket. The forecast suggests daily opportunities for more serious testing lie ahead. 

The section leaving Merida seemed to take forever, mainly because it’s the usual uninteresting suburban stuff. Finally reached the Prosperina Embalse, a dam constructed by the Romans about 2,000 years ago. Yes, it’s been fixed over the centuries and used more or less at different times. 

To me it looks very sad and uninteresting, as it did last time I walked here. The difference is, walking with a Spaniard I learnt a bit more about it. Victoria pointed out it’s very popular in the summer when local temperatures can be in the 40s and, we are currently a long way from the ocean. It has river sand and alongside are many bars and cafes, all shut at present. Anyhow, there is also a Red Cross building that I now know is really a first aid station which supports the idea of many people coming here in the summer. 

And I noticed the new signs showing you where you can fish but, the fish are not to be killed. 😏

Later the track changed to a gravel one, undulating, and finally a village. One of the very few with not even one bar! Very unusual. Kept going to our destination, Aljucen. A small town it at least has bars and restaurants, possibly surviving only because of us peregrinos passing through most days.

And, it’s the first time this walk I’ve seen so many grape vines, another change as I move across and now ‘up’ Spain.  

Lunch

Ok. To say the restaurant Sergio’s, in Aljucen, is unusual is an understatement. Go back to the 50s or 60s, imagine how a Spanish bar may have looked then. Not quite the 3 flying ducks on the wall but, the equivalent. Along with a strong focus on bulls and toreadors, again. 

And lunch? No choices, or virtually none. Soup, a nice thick chicken based soup with chick peas and small noodles followed by salad (tomato and lettuce) and a fish based tortilla. 

She also cooked 4 slices of eggplant for us plus we had a large bottle of homemade lemonade (sugar, water, lemon). Desert was fruit. Given everything, I’d expected lunch to cost about €8 or 9 each but no, €11 so quite expensive. But, the food was fine. 

Albergue

This is a family run albergue, €10 per person per night for a bunk. One of those places where it’s €1 extra for this, €3 for that…. But, it will do us. The bonus: wifi and power points near our beds. 

We have company tonight, a French woman about my age. She speaks French, Spanish and english and, she is probably watching costs as she picnics only and isn’t sharing accommodation with her friend who is staying in a nearby hotel. I did notice it was more expensive as we walked past it but, considerably cheaper than in many places. 

There were 15 in the albergue two days ago. Not the one big group but a series of small ones. I’m very pleased we are behind them, apparently an unusually large number for the Via de la Plata in October, usually a slower time than March and April. (I previously walked through here from Sevilla in April 2013. I didn’t stay here and don’t even remember the town even). 

Now, a few hours after lunch, it’s time for a quick sleep. 

Didn’t happen! Blogging and trying to get some photos of the owner’s hobby took time. Honestly, the most amazing little panorama made of acorns, 7 pigs and the Spanish shepherd with his crook! They are so cute. Truly. 

Surprisingly, no bulls!  

Dinner last night
We both determined dinner was vegetables, whether grilled or made into soup it had to be vegetables. Possibly 7, or 8, menus later we returned to our hotel as I’d seen vegetables on their (expensive) menu. 

Not only did they have grilled vegetables but they also had a regional specialty, sheeps cheese. Not just any sheeps cheese but a round with the top removed and the contents warmed leaving a thick melted cheese within. (Torta de la Serena). Served with thin slices of toasted bread. Oh wow. Oh wow. We shared the cheese and a large plate of veggies. Expensive in the end but a peak experience, both the cheese and veggies.


I’ve never fully adapted to Spanish food. Too few vegetables for me and salads almost inevitably based on iceberg lettuce, my least favourite. I’m sure I miss some good things through ignorance at times though. And, had V’s sister not suggested she try Torta de la Serena neither of us would have known about it. 

Roman theatre and anteteatro

It’s my second or third trip to both. Both are well presented and fascinating. Imagine standing on the site where gladiators fought each other or poor, tormented, wild animals. 

You can also sit in the adjacent (amazing) theatre where the romans and their descendants watched whatever. Wow.

Today’s theatre was different: a choice between a high scissor lift with a photographer (boring and noisy) or, a couple getting photos done after their very recent wedding. Her dress had a very extensive train and she wore the most amazing bright red shoes underneath it. So, different from my last time here when I watched a school play in the theatre. 

Breakfast

I should have started with this: an unusually successful FaceTime chat with JP, thanks to the very good wifi in this hotel, and then a breakfast to kill your liver. 

The breakfast was in a churrería so, chocolate and churros. The chocolate was, of course, the wonderful thick Spanish type. 

So, many calories from the deep fried churros and the sugary thick chocolate that I won’t eat for hours more. (I’m ignoring the very nice green olives I ate with the coke light.) Anyhow we bought fruit and some nuts for later at a local market and both headed back for a nanna-nap. Such is the life of a peregrina. Tough. 

Tomorrow

Yes, I’m continuing up the Via de la Plata.  So we start by heading north to Alcuescar, ~20km from Merida. Rain is forecast (70% chance) but I have my fingers crossed it won’t despite my new jacket needing an outing. 😎

San Pedro de Merida to Merida

After a very pleasant night in San Pedro (a brufen each and 12 hours off our feet) we headed off just before 08:00, still in the dark. Almost day by day we can see it’s getting darker every morning plus, we’ve been heading west still. Until today. 

From here on, north, and in a few weeks the end of daylight savings. Phew! Will be a bonus for us walkers. And yes, I’ve enjoyed the walking so much to date I’m continuing north, up the Via de la Plata rather than going to school for a few weeks in Salamanca. 

I get so much conversational Spanish along the way plus I am very much enjoying the walking. So much so that I have trouble figuring how far I’ve walked and for how many days. It must be well over 300km and going on for 2 weeks. But, who’s counting 👍.
Merida

A short 15 or 16km walk from last night. Along the way the countryside seemed to flatten out a bit, lots of cereals and, for the first time, hunters.

Two hunters out in the open paddocks not far from the city each had a shotgun and dogs. Suddenly a shot would ring out as birds flew up into the sky near them. I saw one bird, a pigeon, drop to earth near me, dead. Neither that hunter nor his dogs picked it up.

Another different walk today. One small town had more storks’ nests than I think I’ve ever seen on the one building. Six or seven of them. 


And then the outskirts of Merida. Behind Victoria were the 2 peregrinos from our last night, them with the disappearing albergue key. 


Over the next few km we saw an old Roman aqueduct and the hippodrome or circus. 

The highlights for me today though were arriving, checking into the hotel, and visiting the Roman museum in Merida. 

We are staying alongside the main plaza, Plaza de España so the museum was a relatively short walk and we had to go as it is shut tomorrow. So we raced up there after a shower. I like this museum and it’s about my third visit. Not only did we arrive in time but, it was free today. And I enjoyed it as much as ever. 

On our way to the museum we had to stop for a drink. Frankly, we are both knackered. Benedo and Manolo were catching a bus from here to Sevilla at about that time so we happily toasted and messaged them as we did so. For both of us they really added to the fun until now. 

Tomorrow some tourist stuff including a visit to the very impressive Roman theatre and a churrería for chocolate and churros. 

Medellin to San Pedro de Mérida 

San Pedro de Mérida strikes me as so forgettable that if I don’t write this now likely I won’t remember i was here tomorrow. In fact the other two towns between here and Medellin are singularly equally uninteresting to a walker except for one thing: both had an open bar at the time we needed it. Breakfast at the first bar was good and coke light at the second very welcome. Lunch here was essential!

Today is memorable for me for a real reason though: the boys, Benedo and Manolo, are 15km ahead, having needed to get to Merida today. Neither Victoria nor I fancied 40+km so we walked just the 26 or so to San Pedro. 

Sad to part from the boys but they both have work at home, in the Canary Islands, next week. And we missed them this morning! Their uncanny ability to find yellow arrows in the dark is amazing. My electronic map is essential for me as be blowed if I can find the ‘flechas’ like they can. V shows some promise. 

She had a hard day today and, like me, needs a break.


The countryside was very different with a crop I’ve never seen here before: flood irrigated rice. The usual maize and almonds were near the rice. And I loved the stork’s nest on a pole. First time I’ve seen that since the last walked the Via de la Plata, in 2013, and fell in love with walking in spain. 

Finding accomodation 

So, Merida tomorrow. A 15km walk, hotel already booked for two nights. No albergue: had I not already had an ambivalence to them in some places I’d have developed it today. There is one here, in San Pedro, but find the keys on a Saturday! Ha ha. Good luck. Everything is shut. It’s a strange system in places.

The Spanish couple with backpacks who suddenly appeared on a street in front of me, and who can’t have come from Medellin or I’d have seen them earlier, finally found a key somewhere. Then they decided not to stay in the albergue and were going to give us the key after they picked up their packs. 

They disappeared from the restaurant they’d been in, didn’t bring us the key so I suggested to V we stay in the hostal over the road from the restaurant. We are now happily ensconced here, a two-bed room for possibly not a lot more at €12.50 each. 

We have a bathroom, balcony (sort of) and a tv (‘spose it works). And we are none the wiser as to where the couple came from, why they didn’t want to stay in the albergue and why they didn’t bring us the key. In fact they moved into the hostal but I’ve neither seen nor heard them again.

Next stage

Now, back to Merida. I’ve booked the sort of hotel I want to stay in for two nights. Costs me the same for 2 as for me alone so it’ll be with V too.  We will continue north towards Salamanca on the Via de la Plata. Don’t know how long I’ll keep walking. 

Maybe I’ll get sick of the attendant hassles of a camino or maybe I’ll continue to just love the walking in the early part of the day especially, from sunrise on. 

Maybe V and I will stay walking together for a while, maybe not. Who knows. She is nice and it’s great traveling with a native speaker. At present we usually use Spanish (conversations are neither long nor involved) but she can speak english. When I’m tired that it is such a blessing. I’m looking forward to meeting native english speakers again. It’s been a couple of weeks since I have. 

I’m also so looking forward to the short day tomorrow (15km), the same bed for 2 consecutive nights, and a rest. Roman ruins and museum on Sunday as they’ll be shut Monday. So a whole day of nothing on Monday. I need it. Had a nana nap late this afternoon and will still sleep tonight. I’m tired.

Feet

My feet are begging for a rest. They and me have managed without poles quite happily but now need some time out. 😁 Time without a pack making them pound their little selves so hard on the ground, especially when on sealed roads rather than tracks. Hard!

Back to Medellin

And the lovely town of Medellin last night: I had some techo problems and couldn’t find some of the photos I wanted. 


Campanario to Medellin

A very strange photo with 3 types of lights would provide an ideal way of describing our start today. We left Campanario in the dark a bit before 05:30. Backtracked to get to the Camino from the albergue and kept going and going. 

We started as a group of 4 and eventually spread out. M stayed back with V. Eleven km later we arrived at the base of a steep, well lit, hill we’d seen in front of us for km. Fires, burning off straw, to our left and, B in front with his torch.

On top was a castle and the town? Not one bar was open! So, 07:30, we’d been walking for two hours and still no place to stop for breakfast. Quick snacks all around and on we went. 

Next town, La Haba, an hour plus+ away was our next hope. Sure enough! A bar and, happily, toast! By now V was almost knackered and just about in tears. She’d had little to eat yesterday and ~35km for a day can be scary. 

Five minutes of our resident comedians, coffee and food, she looked a lot better and was more herself. I was pleased as I didn’t want to stop so soon but would have if she needed help. The boys have to be in Merida on Saturday and face a long walk that day, tomorrow. V and I are not constrained by time. 

Another 5km, drinks, and another 8 km to our end for the day, Medellin. 

One ‘disaster’: V fell on her face at some stage late in the Camino and has a graze plus underlying lump on one cheek to show for it (less ended considerably by a bit of ice and compression). I promised not to use that photo!


By the time we arrived and ate it was after 16:00. Checked in, showered, washed clothes and rested briefly. Briefly because Medellin is a very special town.

At 18:00 we all dragged ourselves off beds and up the hill behind our hostal to see an amazing Roman theatre,

a adjacent church from the Middle Ages and

the remains of a very impressive castle. 
What an amazing place, Medellin! Known to have been populated on and off since the Chalcolithic period. What a history. Wow!

So our last night with the boys was pretty amazing. And sad we are heading in different directions so soon. Time with them has passed so quickly and again been so good. They are great guys.

Castuera to Campanario

Our first port of call on leaving today was, of course,  a town bar in Castuera. The women’s toilet said it all, about the place of women in many bars, especially early in the morning. 

The light was impossible to find in its dark interior. Once you found that you quickly realised the door into the toilet, right next to the men’s, only closed with brute force. Yes, I did notice the whole toilet move as I forced the door shut and later, open. I decided not to be perturbed by the whole bowl lifting. 😏

Get the message? It’s not designed as a place for women. 😳.  

The bar looked to be full of more men than usual. Why? It’s a national holiday today, 12th October, and, from looking at their clothes, lots of those guys were going hunting later. After a quick start in the bar.  

The sunrise wasn’t as spectacular as I’ve become used to here despite the scattered high cloud. The countryside is pretty dry, undulating. Interesting trees, a small sanctuary for farm workers to protect them from the sun, a huge stone mason’s yard and pigs. I’d like to say I turned vegetarian immediately after seeing them. Hmm. 😐 

We stopped after 10-12km and ate. 

Breakfast in the bar hadn’t been good as the option was a small bit of plastic cake or nothing. No bread for toast. Big deal holiday for everyone but bars and restaurants. 

We arrived, found a bar. By the time V arrived the boys were on beer #4. We had consumed so many tapas: chips, various small sausages, croquettes, cooked bits of the fatty section of bacon flitches, and various other things. 

After she had a few non-alcoholic drinks V and I left them to it. Finding the albergue was a little complex and involved some traipsing over vineyards to get back to the right track. A little more signage would have gone a long way. A regular problem on the Camino for me. 

The albergue is an old train station. Blessedly it has two things I really wanted: a separate room for the boys (phew, given their afternoon) and a washing machine. 

Monterrubio de la Serena to Castuera

Today was to be a near 40 km walk, for the boys at least. I suspect they are grateful they decided to stay with V and I to do just 18 or so km. After so many km on the road yesterday doing 18 straight off on another sealed road was hard on our feet. If followed by 20 more, even on a track, it’d be a very tough day. 

And yes, I have blisters on the other foot now. And V has very painful quadriceps bilaterally. (Why? Upper 1/3 or 1/2 of quads but why?) The boys? You wouldn’t know! They could be limping horribly but they would decry any suggestion of an infirmity. 😉 

No, wait. An update. Benedo has problems and at lunch was wearing an ankle support on his leg with the bad knee. And, he and Manolo are looking for ways to reduce distances to no more than about 20. I hadn’t realised that we do have options on the 40km day. So, good news as I have little interest in heroics when not essential. Forty km in the heat and with no stops representing heroics.

So, despite it being a short day more than a couple of us were pleased to arrive in Castuera.

Sunrise was the usual spectacular event. 

Amazing colours, especially when seen through the olives. Today, more olive groves again, this time with a very rich looking red soil. Another flock of sheep also, this with young lambs and no bells. 

The highlight was our stop for the eggs we hard boiled last night. So it gives you an idea of how today was a good day but without any really exciting highlights. Maybe the very old castle up on the hill to our north should rank but it soon became obvious it wasn’t much more than a ruin now and, we weren’t going to that town anyhow. Or the monolith beside the road. Sigh. Not a lot to recommend today except we got here! 

Last night B cooked dinner, spaghetti with a tomato sauce, and can do so again as our albergue in Casuera also has a functioning kitchen. 


Interesting: this is the third relatively new albergue we’ve encountered in the last few days. Says something about the growing popularity of the Camino Mozárabe. 

This albergue has power points in the right places. A relief. And my small bunk room downstairs was cool and I finally needed a sleeping bag. Hooray! No wifi, unlike the last night’s albergue which had working wifi. The night before had wifi too but the password wasn’t right and the power points scarce. 

Tomorrow is a 20km day. The map suggests only 2 are on the paved road. Phew. 

Hinojosa to Monterrubio de la Serena

The Hinojosa Del Duque museum was shut but, the church was open. A group of 5 very old women, and 1 equally old man, was saying the rosary. 


From outside the old church looked to have 3 dog kennels on top. Highly improbable!
The boys suggested they were probably pigeon cotes. If so, the pigeons have been displaced, by cats. Way up on the roof at least three cats looked as though one ‘pigeon cote’ was their home. Don’t think on where the pigeons might be now. 

Being lost in town

For the first time, I realised in Hinojosa Del Duque that Spanish towns are not laid out for any casual visitors. Looking for places, a museum and then a supermarket, with Benedo and Victoria confirmed this for me. Remember, they are both Spanish and unlike me they understood the full answer every time they asked a question. ‘Left at the x, then turn at …….! So it was very interesting and reassuring and went a long way to explaining why it has always been so hard for me to find things. Like supermarkets. Like albergues. 😎

Speaking of which: at least one of the guys had had 4 beers after dinner. They arrived back at about 22:00 and came in quietly. B had taken his mattress to the other room, across a narrow passage from us 3. 

The nocturnal boy-concert wasn’t even half as horrible as the guy on the dreadful night a week or so ago before Córdoba thankfully. 

Walking today

The 33km was really quite manageable for me. Leaving at 05:30 is the key. Over two hours in the pre-sunlight period means you can get ahead. Not always easy finding the track but today wasn’t hard that way. And another spectacular sunrise.

The dogs are impressive: the ones you see and the distance over which others hear us.


After about 3.5 hours we all stopped and had breakfast. It reduced what each of us was carrying and gave us all a rest. For me, that’s almost an ideal walking duration first up and it wasn’t hard, undulating, off road farm tracks.    

The rest of the day, until we arrived at about 13:00, just got hotter and the road harder as we ended up doing about 8km on the highway. A narrow highway with trucks and cars from both directions and with little chance of walkers escaping. We are a careful lot and all 4 of us survived!


Do all 4 of us walk together? Only in the early part of the morning, while it’s dark, we are leaving town and have the same energy levels. As the day goes on we spread out. 

Terrain

Has changed to larger acreages and almost totally grain.  For the first time since Córdoba a so-called river had water in it.  And we crossed over from Andalucía to Extremadura, alongside a very lonely looking railway track and an old signal in the middle of nowhere.


Monterrubio de la Serena

Another white town with a lovely (from the outside) old church and an albergue, pretty new. 

Tomorrow is either 40km or 20km. V and I had earlier said we were only going to do 20km. It’s different for B and M as they have to be in Merida on Saturday to get transport to Sevilla on Sunday and then fly home to the Canary Islands. Not possible for them to do it unless they do 40km tomorrow. So what are the boys doing? 20km with us tomorrow and the bus from the town before Merida on Saturday!

Yes, they clearly enjoy walking with us or they’d have chosen 40km tomorrow. Better for B’s knee too as I know it hurts and he is not as strong a walker as me. 

I was chuffed! Yes, I can’t understand the three of them at times, especially an excited B, but I very much enjoy their company and walking with them. I am so lucky to have ended up with such a group. And V joining us was good. She is really nice. 

We lunched in the Plaza de España. 


Albergue

Has a bunk (2 beds) in a small windowless room downstairs and 6 upstairs. YES! I chose downstairs as I need a long sleep tonight. V and the boys are all in the upstairs bunk room. Another bit of luck. We seem to be the pilgrims at our pace, so far anyhow. 

Alcaracejos to Hinojosa Del Duque

The countryside is still changing. More animals now, sheep and cows and a few goats, grain and a few of the oak trees loved by the jamon pigs. 

Didn’t see any pigs but they must be around.
The smartest sheep wear bells, making a lovely sound as you approach. And the cows all eat together. 


And some of the oak trees appear very old.

Today was an easy day as we had breakfast in Alcaracejos, our starting town, walked 9 or 10 km and had another drink plus tortilla, a nice, recently made one. Not heavily salted like those made for tourists in Córdoba, near the Mesquite.

Then only another 12 or 13 km and we’d covered 23 with little effort. Nice, tidy, towns today. Narrow old bending streets with white houses in the towns. 


I was impressed by the old farmhouse and by the horse drawn cultivator. 

In one town, a statue of an idealised pilgrim.


V had problems with her feet. Hardly surprising when her boot inserts have folds in their heel sections! If they were mine I’d pare them back but I’m loathe to suggest it in case it doesn’t work. 

And yes it was my idea and my knife that’s left her with 1 pair of shorts and 1 long pants now, instead of 2 of the latter. Worked well. 😁

Arrival in Hinojosa Del Duque

Forget about resting. The keys of the albergue come from the police. They’d disappeared by 13:30, when we arrived. Not due back until 15:00. Somehow M convinced someone to take their ID cards and my passport plus our peregrino passports for copying and stamping respectively. And he got the keys so after lunch we can move in. 

No museum today as it’s Monday and it will be shut. Pity. 

Lunch

A heart attack in the making: Russian salad, potato chips and a fried roll of meat wrapped with cheese and jamon. 

If I have a heart attack, look no further although V, ever practical, said it was just 1 meal. And in case you are wondering it wasn’t something I want to eat ever again. 

I guess this is a regular local meal. The restaurant was recommended by a local. Hmmm, say no more. Before you ask, no, I’ve not seen a thin local. 

Night in Alcaracejos 

I’m bloody hopeless sometimes. If I tell you I got lost in the small town of Alcaracejos last night some of you will have no trouble believing it. The boys headed off to the bars. I was finishing my blog but intended to follow 10’ later. I did. I took a shortcut. Fatal! 

In the end I had to use my map to get out of the small town with all its streets circling around some mysterious centre where the 2 bars and the restaurant supposedly are. Crawled back to the albergue with my metaphorical tail between my legs. Shortcut = bad idea with my level of navigational skill. Going unescorted = bad idea too. 

The good news is my pack’ll be lighter now, minus a can of sardines, some dates and nuts. Me? I almost cried, realised then that I am tired and tried to do a Pollyanna that I wasn’t away for long. Humph. 

Other nocturnal event

B and M arrived back at the albergue and we discussed tomorrow, Monday. Transpired that V was planning to leave very early despite it only being a 23km day and the difficulties in navigating alone for hours in the dark. 

In the end we convinced her she was better sticking with us as a group makes it easier. And yes, she is a bit slower. More, I think, a lack of endurance with her limited experience at distance walking. I was very pleased as she is a good addition, a nice person. 

Villaharta to Alcaracejos

Hey, psst. Want to go boar shooting? It’s all on next Sunday at the finca on the (very empty) river between here, Alcaracejos, and Villaharta. I’m happy to not be walking through there as, while I understand the poster now, I wouldn’t have realised what was happening on Sunday 15th!

Long day today. Possibly about 40km when you add in getting to the cafe, the restaurant and then back to the albergue. My Fitbit won’t believe its workload: half a week in a day. 

The walking took us from 05:30 until 14:00. We stopped for a snack breakfast on a little track after 3.5 hours of walking and kept going for another few hours before our next snack. 

The bonus for me: the 2 hard boiled eggs the lovely woman in Villaharta in the Hostal Mirasierra prepared. If you ever visit that town stay in the hostal/bar.  And the sunset last night from the Hostal, over the Andalucían town, was beautiful. 


Leaving 

At 05:30 it was dark! Alleviated a little by the slowly disappearing moon but, dark until about 07:40! Finding our way was generally ok as four people are better than two. Even better, we have Manolo. He is amazing at finding arrows! Truly amazing. 


Along the way the temperature changed from us being cold enough to wish we were wearing gloves to being hot. So hot that the seat in the direct sun, while cute, couldn’t call me no matter how tired I was.  


The old crosses just appear along the way and today we had a very different town ‘laundry’. A well and 4 shallow troughs. I prefer the other system with higher and larger troughs with running water. This looked very primitive. Very. 

We all stopped near some pigs and their farmers. The old guy asked V if I was German. I heard and asked him why he thought I was: skin and hair colour and height. 

We all stayed together for quite awhile. Victoria started lagging. Not surprising. She is doing her first camino, alone, all the way from Malaga to Santiago. She is taking a year off from nursing, rethinking her life. 

So the other three of us arrived and headed into the town. Had a couple of drinks. By then I’d got a response to a message to V. So Manolo left to find her and collect her pack. She wasn’t far away and the gesture was so typical of these guys. Honestly, we’ve segued so easily into 4 of us travelling together. With walking, M is the strongest, then me, B just behind and then V with her very considerably lesser experience. Such a good group of people to be with. Wow!  


A lot of the conversation is over my head. An excited B is 100% impossible but the others take care and use basic Spanish to me so I know what’s happening when it matters. Otherwise I’ve moved into mental chats in Spanish, a positive step. P

The boys are clearly quite funny and they, especially B, flirt so unashamedly with women they don’t know. For example, they turned on the charm with the albergue woman. Very funny to observe and she clearly enjoyed it. 

As did V and I when M insisted on showing us the entire contents of his wash bag. (Would you buy a used tube of toothpaste from this guy?)


Dust

The temperature when we arrived was 35C so you can see it’s hot walking the Mozarabe in early October! 

The bonus is everything is so dry that we get covered in very fine dust, clouds of it, if cars passing don’t slow down. How could it be a bonus? Well, if we had rain so much of the tracks we walk would be extremely muddy so, on balance, this is a good time of the year to be here. 

Albergue in Alcaracejos 

It is new and very nice. B and M have 2/3 of the beds in 1 room. V and I have the same in the other (snoring management 😎). And my first washing machine for weeks. Wow. 

Tomorrow, to Hinojosa del Duque, is 21 or 22km. Don’t mention the day after that. Please. An hour or so after we left this morning I’d decided to catch the bus and to avoid a few days of walking. I think I’d be ashamed now to do so, to be strong enough but unwilling to try, to not have the mental fortitude so, watch this space. 😌

Cerro Muriano to Vallaharta

Another 20km today so, about 200km so far.
Yesterday 

Dinner was a very nice peach, a can of corn and some yoghurt. The town is small with ‘our’ house on the main road, opposite a supermarket, general store and X bar/restaurante/hostal. The name of the bar apparently came from it being marked as ‘X’ on a map. So they called it the X bar. The road was busy and kids hung around outside the shops until late. 

Left early today, Saturday 7th October. Only ~20km but early is better as it’s cooler.

The moon is still visible in the early morning. With the yellow light of early sunrise, the moon and the bellota (oak) trees it’s pretty special. 


Once again the vegetation has changed totally. No olives now. The oak trees, so beloved of the jamon eaters (yes, the acorns are a favourite of the pigs), are all over the place here. 

Even saw some sheep. And a very different type of pine plantation, softer green pines, not so tall. Not sure what they use them for as they were clearly plantations with rows.

And then a bonus! The small town of El Vacar has a bar. And, it was open! So our half way mark was well spent as we’d left too early for breakfast.

El Vacar has an old castle so I got my daily wish for a coffee and a castle. 


Soon after I passed a small roadside shrine, so old no name is still visible. Just faded plastic flowers and a sort of stone well. Sad. 

Other peregrina 

We saw another walker yesterday coming into Cerro Muriano but didn’t meet her. Today she was ahead of us as we left, slightly slower than us, so we caught her. Victoria is spanish, from Malaga, and is nice. She speaks some english! What a bonus for me.  

Having the boys together means I find B almost impossible to understand. He speaks more quickly and drops the ending of most words. I suspect V’s and my levels of the other’s languages are similar. I and so sorry my lovely American couple are 2 days ahead. 

All 4 of us are in a hostal, the boys in 1 room and V and I in the other. Phew, another snorer free night coming up. Hot outside and inside. 

The supermarket opens at 18:00ish so I’m heading there soon. 

Tomorrow

38 km! Aggghhh. The distance! And the heat! 

Córdoba to Cerro Muriano

About 20 km. 

A very easy morning as i had left by 07:00, stopped for toast and coffee and arrived in Cerro Mariano by 11:00. 

The boys were a couple of km behind. Breakfast with anisette takes longer! Plus, they were staying in a different part of town. 


Leaving in the dark with the moon just past being full, and relatively short town outskirts meant a really good start. 

A Roman bridge, tracks alongside and through rural areas continued the great start to this next section.  Many arrows, once out of the city, a couple of hermitas, a few cyclists and a strange, large monument that should have had water. Might look very impressive then with its large central arch. 


Then, I was passed by another walker. My new best friend was born in Córdoba, has always lived just near the Mesquite, and expects to die there. Speaks no english, seemed to enjoy walking with someone as not long after I had a 5’ break. I soon caught him again. He was obviously waiting for me. 


He is retired and walked from Córdoba to Santiago a couple of years ago but, in july! Pretty amazing with temperatures over 40C. He said he left at 03:00. Very impressive that he could do it at all in july. 

And he showed me a small statue of Christ he’d placed in a hollow tree. Yes. Hmm. No, I don’t know why either but it was clearly important to him to show me. 

Enjoying walking

I’ve sometimes wondered why I put myself through the hassles of caminos with (sometimes) snoring companions and crappy food and being away from home then, I remember. Like the other day when I found myself walking along with a silly look on my face as dawn arrived. I enjoy being outside, walking and the freedom of the lifestyle. I also like it that I can do it.

Boys

The boys finally arrived, 30 – 60’ after me. We then spent the next 3 hours in the bar on the outskirts: many beer or, cokes or coffee. And lunch, a salad and fried eggplant for me. 50,000 calories I’m guessing. 


Really good seeing Manolo after a year. His first question was if I was ok as I’d lost weight. Observant! 

Hostal

We have a place for 3. Really a house with 3 bedrooms so we each scored one. I happened to get the room with the double. Luck. My guess is they’ll go to the bar again soon. Me, no. I’ll read. 

As we walked to our place a man accosted me. I didn’t recognise him at first. He works in the hotel I like in Córdoba! A nice guy and I now know he lives here, in Cerro Muriano.

Córdoba: a rest day

Breakfast in front of the Roman temple, an area updated in the year since I last visited. And it looks so good now. It’s down near the ever-shrinking market, opposite the town hall (ayuntamiento). 


No photos until I found some lens cleaner. Somehow I’d wiped olive oil on the camera lens. Thnx JP. 

Remember I told you I have to trouble with aspects of Benedo’s Spanish. He says he can’t say a few sounds properly. Well, he kept saying something like ‘odio’, not a word I’d associate with him as it means ‘I hate’ nor was it ever meaningful in context. After a few days of this I finally realised he was saying ‘otro’ which means ‘other’. Hmm more things made much more sense afterwards. 

Anyhow it’s good for my Spanish, the having to listen very carefully, and to extend my vocab. This week has meant more on vehicles, mud, irrigation, compost and the handling of olives, preserving in salt and pressing them. Not things I have a big call for usually but… 

Escaping

I’ve been looking for escape routes around some sections of the Camino Mozárabe between Córdoba and Merida. Just as I was looking for bus routes (escapes!) it occurred to me that it’s the wrong way to go about it. I’m going to try to take it day by day instead. I’m sure I can no longer do 30+ km days, especially in the heat. Maybe it’s not true and, maybe I can as I’ve done about 160km already walking here from Granada. 

Everything (feet) should be settling down and should do so even more over the next few days. If I don’t try I won’t know. I would like to reduce my load a bit though but, can’t see how as I don’t want to dump very good gear (sleeping bag, montbell jacket and vest) and it still might get cool. (And 🐖 might fly too). Anyhow, I’ll continue to lump stuff that on another year might have been essential. 

Funny but changing from focussing on escaping to just going on is a bit of a relief. Seems improbable, contradictory even, but it’s how it is. 

In case you are wondering 4/5 of the bepaunched guys in jocks, who contributed to the (non celestial) concert one night recently, aren’t going on beyond Córdoba. Phew. 

However there many more peregrinos on this camino than I’d expected. Two Germans were at the same pension yesterday but left well before sunrise. We only saw their footprints, and the 4 Spanish were behind us. A day earlier there were 10 Italians ahead of us. So, time of year and, more people escaping some heavily walked routes elsewhere I guess. Certainly the Mozarabe stats show increasing numbers and many people like us won’t show up at all as we’re doing sections only. Eventually I guess the numbers will be enough to support a few more facilities along the way. 

Preparations

Feet and mind are very happy for a rest day. I’ve refreshed my supply of werthers toffees, bought dried dates and figs and have a tin of sardines. Dates, though, are bloody heavy added to everything else. Hmm, a little reduction in their numbers today? What a good idea. 

I’ve been in touch with Benedo and we have a day off from each other. I wanted a break and am sure he must have needed one too although I know he’d have been happy to meet. Have told him I’ll meet him and Manolo along the track to Cerro Muriano tomorrow. 

Museum 

A brief excursion to the archaeological museum: coffee outside, then the museum, one I like. Today the older section beside it was open. 

Definitely worth visiting it for the Roman statuary, tiles and Arab carving and the inside section for the historical outline and different displays. 


And of course, the bars of Córdoba: so varied and so ‘visitable’, like the one outside the museum and the one near my hotel. The tapas at the latter was a very nice pasta, very nice indeed. 

Future blogs

I expect wifi and broadband access may not be as good over the next week. Some places look pretty isolated so individual blogs may be a little separated. I’m guessing: olives, dusty track, mixed quality meals, snorers, more Spanish practise…. So, if no blog, guess one or all of those was the focus of my narrowed existence for the day!

Santa Cruz to Córdoba

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a very small town with 3 pensiones and a very small shop with few choices. So, rice puddings for dinner. (I’d experienced lunch in the cafe. 😁).

It was very hot last night. Benedo was positively melting when he came back from having a few beers. Hard to explain but we were in a room at one end of a passage. A double bed in the room beside us and a kitchen in another plus, our bathroom in another. Just outside our door was an air conditioner. 

The other end of the passage had a locked door. If there’s a fire, know I tried to escape but that door, and the bars on the window, saved my estate from paying for a cremation. 😏 So, we left the bedroom door open and ran the cooling system for most of the night..

We planned on leaving by 06:30 as we expected it to be a long walk in the heat, a couple more than yesterday, Tuesday (about 23km).

At the other end of this last stage to Córdoba is, for me, a nice hotel room, alone, and with a balcony and a kettle. I offered to share with B but a double bed was the only option. And I’m not going there even if it was a big double. Might be easier to nudge him as he snores but……

And did he snore last night! He said he has sleep apnea and is supposed to lose weight. Now, if beer had negative calories he’d be very successful. 

Last day to Córdoba 

Estimates of the distance range from the 26km down to about 22 or 23. The disparity made no sense until we were nearly in Córdoba and we realised: the low numbers only count the distance to the outside of the town. 

The reality: there are a couple more km to the centre after that! About 3! 


We did well today, about 5 hours of up and down many small hills in the dusty tracks. 

And no, we didn’t leave at 06:30. Guess who is a gossip and who last night left his hat in a bar that wasn’t open at 06:00 as the guy’d said it would be. Lent him my buff to cover his receding hair bits. Then realised my solar powered hat was deep in my pack. Recovered it and, by then, the other bar’d opened up and he and his hat were happily reunited and it was after 06:45!

The farms changed over the course of today’s walk. Olive groves grew increasingly less frequent 

until we were in grains of some type and sunflowers. Both had been harvested already. Then we came to hectares of what looked like a fruit tree but, had no drip irrigation so it seemed unlikely. Sure enough, they were almond trees.

Finally, Córdoba. 


B is staying in an albergue somewhere, Manolo arrives late tomorrow and he is looking forward to that. They are leaving Friday, as am I. 


The next stage to Merida has 3 days I have no intention of trying to walk. Nearly 40km in this heat doesn’t seem like fun. I can’t imagine B will do them easily, especially with some being consecutive days. I know his knees are grotty, often cause him pain but, he is a bloke and wouldn’t want to fail Manolo. However, B is 11 years younger than me and M another 8-10 than him. I am aware of some of my limits!

Love the requirement that dogs in Córdoba pee into particular drains. 😂😂😂

Lunch in Córdoba 

Yup. Eggplant fried with honey (molasses) drizzled over it; grilled asparagus and shrimp, fried. Very fatty meal. Very tired.

 Very nice to lie down. 

Castro Del Río to Santa Cruz

Hostal in Castro Del Río
If you ever end up in Castro Del Río and need accommodation, go to Pension Antonio, Calle Olivo 7. 

The boss’s name is Antonia and she is lovely. She could not have been more welcoming. Even took us upstairs to show us the very warm roof area for drying clothes. And, it had a cold tap, basins, detergent, a clothesline and pegs. Everything for sweaty pilgrims.

Our room cost €34, €6 cheaper for peregrinos (pilgrims) than if I’d booked through booking.com. We had a window above our heads enabling a breeze overnight as it was a hot evening. Very comfortable for me but Benedo said he sweated a lot overnight. 


We’d had a nice lunch nearby, both choosing salad and liver. Oh, and coffees, of course. 

A very welcome part of the story of Pension Antonio is that we could breakfast in the adjacent Cafe Antonio anytime from about 06:00 on. 

Castro Del Río to Santa Cruz

We left before 07:00, having had a reasonable breakfast and a few coffees. It was dark until about 07:40 and from then until 08:00, dawn. Olives, olive groves and reasonable tracks after a short time on the highway in the dark. 😳  

The perfect symmetry in most olive groves is evident when they are young.  Tractor width and easy to set up the drip irrigation used in many areas. 


Mis-translations (mine and others) can be very funny on occasion. 😂 

Espejo

This is a small, old, town with a castle overseeing everything. I loved seeing the castle getting closer and closer as we walked up and down the small hills before it. 


We could have largely avoided the town but, it would have a bar for beer, coke and a coffee. You’d think so anyhow. So, up we climbed. Lovely narrow streets and mostly white houses. 

And no bar that was open. It was only 09:45. The exception? A shop (find it!). 

Hint: the door was open. 😏

As we were high on the hill, just below the castle, and leaving town we finally found a bar. And yes, Benedo had earlier asked a few locals and they were helpful, but wrong. Many seem not to know much beyond their own streets and habits. Anyhow, eventual success.

Beside his beers Benedo had a bocadillo, a roll with jamón and tomato. Why? Well, the silly bugger was carrying a lot of extra weight. 2.55kg to be precise. He’d bought a melon yesterday and for reasons I still don’t really understand decided to carry it today for a break. Yes, we had a great break about 5km after Espejo but he could have brought a much lighter snack. 

One of the best ever outdoor street garden displays is on the Camino Mozárabe on a street coming down from the castle. Even better, as we were admiring it the gardener was way above us on her roof so we could tell her how beautiful it is. She seemed delighted. 


A few metres after we met a really lovely old lady. Unbelievably, if you’d seen her trotting down the hill, she is 85. Very impressive and we chatted with her for a while. 


Finally, out of Espejó, past lots of olives and the residual stubble from whatever cereals are grown locally.

And finally, the melon:  I said we needed shade and a river for a stop to open it. Shade was good and there never was going to be a river on this last section.

The melon was a little warm but very nice. Green, firm flesh. Not honeydews, these are shaped more like an American or Australian Rules football, darker green externally and with pale green flesh. 

The funniest sight for the whole day was the man on a quad bike with two dogs.  Only as he came close could you confirm he had two greyhounds, one tied on each side, by a pole connected to the front of the vehicle.  The setup did look unusual. 

Training for the Itarod perhaps? No, greyhounds, not sled dogs after all. 😉

And then, after Espejó, an old Roman bridge. Not just any bridge as the ruts on top are very deep. Whether they were added to stop falls to the side or developed with considerable use over time, who knows. 

Santa Cruz
Nothing I’ve seen her so far suggests you should visit unless you are also walking to Córdoba. Our pension, Casa de Pepe, is unlikely to become famous. And the food likewise, even with half a bottle of vinegar dressing the scrappy bit of salad (ugh).


We could have walked 37km directly to Córdoba or, in 2 stages, via Espejó and Santa Cruz (?23km) and 25km for the remainder there. You know which option we chose.  Yup. Better option.

My new American friends (who owe me coffee for the bill they left me to pay in Moclin), left Córdoba today. After overdoing it early they’ve seen bus interiors since, I’m sorry to say.  They are walking some more, towards Merida. Given the distances on some stages I guess that like me they’ll learn more yet about the buses. 

😜

Baena to Castro Del Río 

Not a good start to today. I was a little irritable to begin with and then it got worse, our first bar had no bread yet so we had just coffee and water. Let me go further back in time.
Night in Baena

An interesting place. Not one on my list of places I must revisit but, interesting and occupied forever. The Moores were relative newcomers in their time from the 8th to roughly the 12th centuries.  

The castle must have once been big and impressive. I love the bend in the church tower. Let’s hope here remains earthquake free!

People come out as the sun goes, lots of interactions, not fraught, as in one of our cities but slow pace ones. Remember, it’s still very much daylight at 20:00 here at present.

Baena albergue

Anyhow, the practise run for us all being together in the albergue started at about 17:30 last night. 

I think all 5 guys, the 4 Spanish friends and Benedo, passed out. They did, if you assume only sleepers snore. Honestly, the man near my head was impressive. I’ve heard a few snorers in my time but he wins. 

Why didn’t I change the end for my pillow? I had B on the ground on a mattress at my feet as he couldn’t have climbed onto the top bunk. And the world’s (possibly) supreme snorer with his head near mine. HE was the one who could have changed but he didn’t. Don’t forget Benedo snores too but I can cope with his more consistent style. Maybe I should have turned around. 

A night from hell

There are some partners in Madrid who have to be so very happy their men are away. The snoring was truly what you might expect from some very large pigs. I’m not sharing with these guys again tonight or ever. Couldn’t bear it. Ever. Honestly. 

No, it was nothing to do with paunches bulging over jocks or their loudness. Easy to cope with. 

The snoring was just impossible, even with an earpiece jammed in sleep was a lost cause. 5 straight minutes of quiet and sleep might have been possible but no. Not even 5’ of quiet in which to pass out. Truly horrible. I made noises at my neighbour. Someone said something about sleeping but I didn’t understand what he said so don’t know if it was to his friend or me. I’ve heard snorers before but not like this. 

And life is too short to put up with it ever again. Happens to us all and yes, I’ve been the offender before. 😏

Morning

Hmmm. As you know, the morning started with with me grumpy. And when we found the closest bar it still had no bread to toast so the omens for the day looked pretty bad. 

Two coffees and glasses of water later it picked up. What a bonus when we found an open bar with toast, just up the street. No tomato but it had jamón. So, more coffee, water and some toast and jamon. Two, or was it 3 more bars up our street were open by now. 

Sating our food and coffee needs made for a much better outlook for me. A shorter day ahead, only 20km from Baena to Castro Del Río. 

The best thing today was realising I understood a lot more of what Benedo was saying. At times I had great difficulties and asked him to repeat bits. Sometimes I gave up and did a ‘just think of England’. But less often now. His problem with certain important Spanish sounds makes it harder in some ways but, does me lots of good. And, he is patient. Sometimes he knows when I don’t understand and sometimes I can see he just suspects 😏.

Benedo is a very nice man. We walk at the same pace and he talks more than me. So it works well. Oh, and did I mention he is very sociable and chats up everyone. I noticed the 4 snorers didn’t seem that keen on him. Rated them for me very quickly. Only one more town we could end up with them. Trust me, we won’t! 

The sorts of things Benedo and I talked about today range from the weightings of specific words in Spanish, divorce, Catalonia and its issues, Roman history, olive growing and many other topics. He clearly enjoys chatting and doesn’t seem to mind telling me things again. Probably a bit like having a pet something that you still hold some hopes it will eventually learn something. 😸

Walk today

Olive groves. And more of them.


We started with coffee and food, loved the early light, and then wore out a bit. Not because of the distance (or my blisters). No, it was hot and with no intermediate town for a break. 

Saw lots of granadas growing. I forget their english name as I’ve really largely seen them here.

Tomorrow will be further, about 25km, and we will have a town not long before half way. That will make it easier. Possibly, as it may be uphill to a castle. 

Castro del Rio

The site of an old Roman fort on the river, and who knows what before, is a classical white town in the older section. Narrow streets, 2 or 3 story houses with all the windows and inner doors shut against the 40+ heat of today. If you believe a local thermometer. 

And more of the plastic bottles filled with water on either sides of a doorway. I do not believe that would stop my beloved 🐕 peeing. No, no empirical data but I’d be surprised. 

The main industry relates to olives: growing, planting and harvesting them. 


There is a castle on a hill in Castro Del Río. Another? You say. Yes, this place was important at times over the millenia. Embarrassing but, I walked many streets trying to find the top. Found the church up there but, um, hmmm…. 

Tomorrow: second last day before Córdoba. I had a prior booking there. Looked to change the bed to 2 but it wasn’t possible so Benedo’ll stay in an albergue for 2 nights. Manolo is coming in late on the Thursday, ready to start on Friday. 

My feet will enjoy the rest as I wander to the places in Córdoba I really like. 

Alcaudete to Baena

My Fitbit and I don’t always agree. For example, it often reports I’ve slept well when I’m sure I haven’t. Today though it got it right. I did sleep well, despite my friend purring alongside me. I warned him I might snore. He leaves me for dead in both volume and duration. He does, however, respond to whistles or noises.  

Anyhow, my Fitbit: it recorded lots and lots of steps! As it should have. And confirmed my days of 30+km are done. For the time being anyhow. 

Only about 24 or 25km but in the heat you can add more to cover the suffering when there is no natural stop (= bar) from the start to the end. 

Nothing! Oh, except for olives and olive groves not much else. And the region is so so dry.


 Even as we left the hotel at about 07:10 for breakfast it was warm and I didn’t need to wear long sleeves for once.  

Looking back at the silhouetted castle was great. 

Got to the stage later though when I had to break out a Red Bull. Gave up on Pepsi yesterday. Warming it over many hours in a pack in the sun makes it taste awful. Red bull may not give as big a volume of liquid but it weighs less and gives a bit of momentum to a tired body.

B is quite agitated about the referendum in Catalonia today. I wish I had understood all he said when we were talking about the history of the present situation. But I didn’t. Seems to be a one-way lane to me as an outsider. Certainly interesting to follow.

Baena

We’ve been here for a few hours but I’m still having trouble thinking of it as a place I might ever want to visit again. Not even interested enough in the remaining bits of the Baena walls to explore them more closely. 

Albergue 

We arrived to find the fourth from the group of 4 Spanish pilgrims had caught a taxi and selected the bottoms of 4 of the 5 bunks. That left B and I sharing the same bunk. He very graciously offered to climb. Not easy as there is no ladder and I, frankly, couldn’t do it safely.   

Water in the shower is tepid. Except I’m lying down and tired I’m not wildly excited about this place at present. Four more possible snorers, plus B, is not exciting and it’s the time of day when I don’t understand much Spanish so it’s all going on around me. 

Even more exciting is the guy on the lower bunk right next to me has his head up this end, less than 20cm from me! And he snores. Aggghhhh. Scottie, please beam me out of here. Please😁😁😁😁😁😁 So, one snorer on top, one virtually sharing my pillow.  And a room full of paunchy middle aged guys in jocks. Well you might envy me. Well you might. 

I would have preferred the hotel down the road but I know B doesn’t want to pay much and we ended up in a hotel last night. Here costs €10 each and last night, €20. 

Oh well, tomorrow will be a shorter distance. Lucky, as I have a couple of blisters I’m already nursing. Toes that were operated on 10 weeks ago seem ok. So far. And I love my skinners after a day in boots💕. 

Added to my petty concerns, today is Sunday and so the shops are shut. I’ve got used to lovely Greek yoghurt for dinner. Something to look forward to tomorrow. And more dried figs tonight for a light dinner. 

Alcalá la Real to Alcaudete 

The day started as usual, in a bar: toast and tomato and, coffee, for us both. Local men hunched over the bar chatting.

We walked about 23km. The weather was very pleasant. Sunny, and, for quite a while the camino was in the shade. As per many days walking here, olive groves are ever present. Ahead, behind and on every side. 


We could see watchtowers on top of some of the fairly high hills around us. A great system for ensuring security over earlier centuries.

After about 12km we, happily, arrived in a small village with an open bar. While Benedo got drinks organised I crossed over to a small shop. Best of all, the woman there was selling locally dried figs. Didn’t look totally exciting but I bought 2 handfuls. Literally, she grabbed a handful, then another. No gloves, no pretence at such an option. Hands. 

The figs were so nice that 5 minutes later I thought I’d better race back and get another 2 handfuls. I now know why all the trees we see have none. Locals collect and dry them. Not with sugar, just open them and dry them. And they are really nice. Not as desiccated like the commercial ones at home, just dried. Perfect. 

Again we walked past one of the old public clothes washing places. Most towns here still have one, clearly long unused.


And we had some different signage today.  More colourful. 


Alcaudete

Finally arrived in Alcaudete. Benedo had tried, unsuccessfully, ringing to reserve a place in the albergue since last night. In the end I got a hostel via booking.com. We had to ring to get someone to come and open up for us. Two small beds in a small room. And it’s what we needed. He would have preferred something more basic. I had suggested a hair shirt to him earlier as an option to too much comfort. He laughed.

Lunch

A good lunch outside, in a small cafe. Small fish (boquerones) with olives (tapas) followed by salad, soup and fried eggplant with honey. Was good.

Castle

As a self respecting town that is part of the old tracks across Andalucía, Alcaudete has a castle. Of course. 

We walked up there. Up one old street, down another, along another, and the castle was visible at times and we just couldn’t find it. Eventually did. Dates back to the 16th century but is built on something much older. And trust me, if you wanted to invade the tortuous streets make it hard. 

The castle was shut this afternoon. Oh well. So was the adjacent old church.

So, we repaired to a bar. Found the 4 Spanish guys whose paths we keep crossing. One, at least, was very unhappy with the albergue in Pinos Puente, the one I didn’t like. His complaints were similar to mine plus, he said it was dirty (it was) and there was dog shit just near it (I assumed it would have been hosed away). Clearly not. And he contacted someone and it will apparently be delisted this coming week. What a good idea. This is only the second time I’ve come across a place I really didn’t like. The other was such that I walked 10 more km (after 30), to avoid it. And two hostales but, they didn’t claim to be albergues.

Speaking Spanish 

As the day goes on my facility with it drops. Like a stone. 😸

Two problems: my lack of Spanish and Benedo’s accent and obvious enjoyment in relating a story. My lack? Better than it was 2 years ago but…. 

Him? When he is really wanting to get something through his dropping of word endings and problems with some important sounds means I end up hearing a blur of words at times, distinguishing the odd one or, finally, just shutting down. Trust me, red wine makes my comprehension much worse as it speeds up his motor bits! Oral, that is, and words blur totally. 

We rub along pretty well. All day and all night together and no signs of homicide yet. Our paces are much the same and his determination is always high. And we both are happy to be quiet in the evening and go to bed at children’s hours. 

After Córdoba there are about 3 days I don’t plan on walking. Each is about 40km. However, I’ll see how I feel. Manolo will have joined us by then and they’ll leave about 06:00 for 8 to 10 hour days. I may need to find options. On this section of the route there aren’t bars every 10 km (ideal). No. So I don’t expect them then. However, I’ll be fitter by then and sure of my feet so, I don’t know. 

Moclin to Alcalá la Real

The distance for Moclin to Alcalá la Real? 20+km. Not too steep or otherwise difficult except…..

Previous evening (Thurs 28/9/17)
Finally I met Benedo again. Finally! He texted me to ask if was here. I’d been looking for him. The other lot of apartments is supposed to be closed, according to my book. They aren’t! He is staying there so that sorted out who was where nicely.

He is a lovely teddy bear. Was so nice to see him again. As usual, in the only bar in town. He has to be tired, getting into Granada late last night from Las Canarias and walking well over 30km today. He got lost, not surprising given the lack of signage, of yellow arrows pointing the way. And then it must have been very tiring to climb a very steep hill up to Moclin at the end of the day. 

Manolo has prepared a booklet for them both with maps, details of accomodation and towns. Fills in the gaps in my booklet. Hmm, there must be a decent Spanish language version of mine that I missed. Oh well. If all goes well we’ll walk further than towards Córdoba than either of us had planned. Or, we’ll catch a bus as we’d both previously planned.

I’d forgotten how hard Benedo finds it to slow his speech for me but he is also patient and seems willing to tell me the same thing multiple times in different ways. He likes talking, making him a good companion. And good practice for me. Was very tiring listening to him today, trying to get my ear in again.

Feet

My feet are holding up so far but, I’ve only walked two days. Given my toe surgery in July I’m happy so far. And the choice of Keens Targhee II was inspired. Better than the runners I wore last year. Those were too slippery on the marble bits on the streets of Granada and the Keens weren’t, plus, they feel solid on some tough terrain. So far they are not eating toes on either foot. Time will tell. Combined with the Skinners, my feet are happy. For once. 

Alcalá las Real

Ok. We arrived at about 13:00, having left at about 08:00 after coffee. After a steep exit from Moclin it was pretty flat and generally not steep for long. We saw watchtowers on many of the surrounding hills. A constant reminder of the history of the area: armies coming through again and again and people needing to watch out for possible invaders. 

Lots of asparagus growing in this section, looking a bit sad in places as it is so so dry. We walked through small towns, on short bits of scary roads and through olive groves. Lots of fruit trees and nearly all looked sad and very dry. The blackberries are also dried up memories of fruit. Sadly.

At one of the small blocks a group was making wine, pressing the juice and putting it in containers. Leaving their dear little pup, a young Yorkie, wasn’t easy. He’d have fitted in my pack. 

We walked and walked, expecting coffee at about mid morning. No such luck. We did the whole distance on eggs I’d hard boiled yesterday and water. Oh, and 1 Pepsi Max. Benedo stops and drinks every time we walk past a water fountain that doesn’t have the not-potable sign. A good habit. 

At the start of the day I was gradually understanding more and more of what he was saying. Then I reached saturation point. During lunch in Alcalá I barely understood anything he said. Funny, it’s clear I have real limits. Get tired and my capacity to understand goes. Rapidly. To near zero. 

Tonight we are in a hotel in Alcalá la Real, a town with an impressive castle. We could see it from km away and then not again until we were almost on top of it as we’d arrived. 

Four Spaniards left moclin a little after us and have arrived at this hotel also.

Lunch was not exciting: soup followed by things with chips. Vegetables? None but I didn’t choose the mixed salad, the often horrible iceberg lettuce one. I should have. Ugh.

Must go and look for B. Think he’s being polite and waiting for me to shower and wash my stuff. I finished ages ago and stayed up in the room to blog. And to enjoy silence and thinking in english. And no, he’d gone up to the castle. I went last year and loved it so I hope he enjoys it. I’m sure he told me he was going to do it but, as I say, my comprehension dropped to about zero at lunch. 

Pinos Puente to Moclin

Moclin is a cute little town, high in a hill. The distance from Pinos Puente should be only 13.46km, or 16, but…..,

Starting with yesterday

A nice quiet afternoon back at the tractor shed. The rain stopped, I did my washing and listened to an audiobook.  Taking group selfies with an iPad mini is fraught when it is balanced precariously on a pillow on a chair. 😎

Spent most of the rest of the day talking to Babette and Mark while watching ants do amazing things with crumbs and bits of skin off sausages.