Thursday, 30 April 2015

Salamanca to Villanueva de Campean - 433kms to go

Scroll down for the first day

People watching in Plaza Major in the centre of Salamaca is a little different than doing so in a small provincial town such as Caceras which I passed through a week or so a go. Here the people are more self aware, particularly the women who seem to have developed a hip sway that can only be described as provocative. That said, it could be all that leather they wear rubbing. 

There are various stone seats in the middle of the square and I watched four elderly men resting on their walking sticks and constantly stroking long shiver moustaches all talking with no one listening. Eventually they got up, shook hands and made to leave when one passed a remark and they all sat down and started again. It appears no one in this group was going to be allowed the last word.

A groups of young nuns in fawn habits occupied another of these concrete learning seats and they, from their animated actions and coquettish giggles, appeared to have found humour in the scriptures. At least that is what I hope they were talking about. But even in early spring, with the sun bouncing off the western side of the golden stoned collonades, there was a buzz of slow motion excitement, as if the town was casting off its winter gloom and was ready to embrace another chaotic summer.

As I have mentioned, I have been here before but never had the chance to visit the cathedral, today I did and spent two hours wandering the cloisters, side chapels and  choir stalls to be drenched in middle age architecture and art. I'm glad I made the effort. 

I keep saying that I must take a break but I do find it very difficult to spend a whole day not heading north. I suppose if I dug real deep I could find somewhere to stay for another night but a gentle amble North is probably on the cards for tomorrow. Stay too long anywhere and you strart to gather moss. But Monday looks like torrential rain, so the decision as what I do then may already be made for me. I've had one drenching, I don't want another.

With only 16 Kms to cover I had a lie in. It was a public holiday in Spain and nothing was going to move very quickly today. Especially as it was a cold day. Around 8am I ventured outside. The streets were in the process of being power hosed clean and the granite sets were particularly slippery underfoot. As I made my way towards Plaza Major cafe shutters were rattling open and there was plenty of yawning and bum scratching going on as, somewhat optimistically I thought, sun blinds were extended. One man came out kicking a stack of chairs in front of him, grunting with every heft of his leg. He wore a black tracksuit with the number 10 on it. I would have put his track suit trouser waist size at 36". It was tied tightly well below the 44" belly that flopped over them. Not a man happy with his lot, I thought, and I couldn't help wondering what he was number 10 at, probably the number of chairs he could heft with one kick.

I made a quick diagonal across Plaza Major and found Calle Zamora, under the arch, and casting a straight line over three roundabouts I came to my first stop of the day. A Repsol garage for a breakfast of coffee and tuna sandwiches. 

In view of the on off rain I stuck  to the N630. Half way along a man came running from a house waving a stick to attract my attention. Did I speak Spanish, Dutch, German? The answer to which was 'no, no no.' Did he speak French, I asked. No. So that was that then, except. He continued to warn me of something that was happening ahead. As far as I could gather the police were issuing tickets to any pilgrim found walking the hard shoulder of this road. I shook my head and walked on. Two seconds later a police car passed in the opposite direction. The occupants beeped twice, I waved, they waved back, or at least I think  that's what they did. And that it seems was that. I will never know what turned my Spanish informant into a raging frenzy.

Passing the half-way point is physiologically quite important for me as I was no longer walking away from a start but now walking towards an end. Silly? Possibly, but it put a spring in my step and by mid-day I arrived at the village of Calzada de Valdunciel and went to the motel I thought I had booked. They had no record of a reservation and were full. No problem, there was a hostel in the town which had eight beds. Trouble was, there was not a soul in sight to ask for the directions  to it It, was as if someone had suggested the tax man was coming and the village has decided to go on a bus trip for the day. I returned to the motel and after a lot of arm waving I ended up at the local plaza. 

Somewhere, hidden in this warren of little lanes and haphazard housing was a hostel. An elderly man shuffled across the square, the clacking of his walking stick suggesting it needed a new rubber tip. 'Hostel?' I said. He caught hold of my arm without a word, obviously judging, correctly, that he would get no sensible conversation out of this linguistically deficient Englishman.  We walked through the lanes like father and naughty child until eventually the walking stick waved at a house and if by magic I had arrived.

At least I could say 'Thank you,' which  I did , profusely. 

There was no one in attendance but I could see one of the eight beds was taken. I got out my sleeping liner and rolled it out on a bunk. That was now my home for the duration of my stay.

This is Lisa a fellow pilgrim who bought me a beer for my birthday.

For want of anything better to do I went to the 7pm mass in the sturdy village church. I appreciated the time to relax and meditate. I smiled when I saw the initials inscribed into the arm rests on the church pews. It reminded me of the tine I wa a five year old in the 1950's being sent out to Mass with a penny for the collection only to use it to inscribe my initials into the pews.

had planned a short 20 Kms hop to the village of El Cubo de Tierra del Vino where I would wash my clothes. The red line of earth I followed led me alongside the motorway and fields of corn. I came under a motorway bridge and on one of the pillars saw a sign that said if you have H2O go left, if you don't go right. Well, I had water so I went left. Then I came to a wide river. What it was telling me was that the river was on the left if you wanted to wade it, and there was none on the right. Well, the river looked too deep for me. I could imagine loosing my footing in that and my iPad and phone would be gone. I retraced my steps and took the twenty minute diversion.

The motorway reflected in the river I declined to cross.

At 11.30 I reached my destination and followed the signs for the Hostel Touristico. Eventually I came to a house that I thought the signs had indicated. I opened the door and gave my best 'Hola'. There was no reply, which was not unusual and I entered. It looked promising. A nice kitchen and bathroom with a decent lounge. I continued my 'Hola'. This would be nice place to stay. Well of course it would be. I was only strolling around someone's private house. Eventually an elderly lady shuffled towards me. I recognised my mistake. She had obviously had this happen before. 

She took my arm and gently led me outside. I apologised profusely, bowing and scraping as I went. I held her hand to my cheek and she took it away, holding it to her cheek and kissing my hand and wishing me Buen Camino. Imagine if you had discovered some smelly hairy stranger wandering round your house, would be so beneficent?

Eventually I found the hostel. It was run by a man and his wife who knew how to roll out the red carpet. It was a thirty Euro stay including dinner but as I had been pretty frugal up to now it would not break the bank. I was in no need of lunch but was given a plate of canap├ęs and a carafe of the excellent local white wine to tide me over. My host decided that a man of my chest size should eat whether he wanted to or not.

I was also quite lucky with the room. There were several rooms. One double. A triple and another with bunk beds. I assumed that the single room would be more expensive, not a bit of it. Each bed was priced at twenty euro. I couldn't get into the single room with the double bed fast enough, wedging my backpack in the doorway and almost sending my host backside over elbow thorough the kitchen door.

Mrs Host was a tiny rotund lady a very good cook. Dinner was a fish soup that demanded second helpings. Eggs with yolks as yellow as the summer sun and overlaid with red peppers in oil followed. 
A mouth clearing helping of salad vinegette and a huge plate of steaks appeared. For the first time in my life I had to decline a second helping. I opted for an orange for postre. Needless to say I slept the sleep of the dead.

Eventually I found the right place.

Washing day.

The weather forecast was not good. Heavy rain was forecast but when I awoke it was still dry. I decided to leave early for the short 13kms hop to Villanueva de Campean. It fitted into my strategy of walking every day while still allowing plenty of that day as a rest stop. 

It was 7am on a Sunday and I strode purposefully through the deserted Main Street with my Tilley hat tipped to what I would describe as a Clint Eastwood angle. The only sign of life was a cat mewing to be allowed back into his house after a night on the tiles. He saw me and scarpered under a rubbish bin. I felt like the guy who had come to clean up the town and now, baddies dispatched, was off to find another Dodge City to clean up. Then two cats squalled and hissed as they started a fight over territory. The noise made me jump six feet in the air. I quickened my step and left them to it. 

It was an even wide gravel track along which I made good progress. The sky was leaden and all the while the heavy clouds threatened a deluge but only spots arrived. The track led alongside wheat fields that stretched to the horizon. There was nothing to protect against the strong and biting South-west wind. Around 8kms in the track turned East and at last a line of pines lined the road to give that longed for protection. The views to my left were spectacular.  Strips of cultivated land some freshly turned into red and brown furrows. Others in varying stages of green depending on the crop sown. In the distance a could see a shower plume refreshing the land and the gentle undulations of the shallow hills resembled a freshly plumped duvet. It was like a Constable painting. 

By 9.30am I arrived at my destination and found the hostel. It was immaculate but empty. I went outside and confirmed that I was indeed going into a hostel and not another private house. It was ok. I selected my bed and found luxuriant pleasure in wallowing under the shower in a large and modern wet room. I had a tin of tuna, a tub of pasta salad and an orange to look forward to for lunch, other than his wife and family by his side, what else could a man want?

Monday, 27 April 2015

Aldeanueva del Camino to Salamanca 461 kms to go

A number of people have asked me why I am walking such long distances and the answer to that is simple. It is recommended that one allowes up to 56 days for this trek. I simply do not like being away from home for as long as that. I have allowed myself 36 walking days which brings into focus the problem of accommodation. It is more set up to fit the needs of those who wish to walk no more than,say. 20-25 kms a day. This means I sometimes have to double that distance if I want to keep within my allowance. When I get to where the via de la Plata joins the Camino Frances, that intersects from the east,  then I can take my time as there is a plethora of hostels and hotels, and I am not averse to staying in the latter. There is an alternative but far hillier route to the north west but I know that my knees would never stand up to the descents where I find myself dreadfully unsteady, with or without walking poles. Both routes are about the same distance to Santiago de Compostela so there is nothing  to be gained by putting future treks at risk.

So back to the present. What can I say about the motel.  Yes, what can I say about the motel and its food? I asked if  the soup was a regional concoction. Well, if you include something shipped in by the regional branch of a national soup supplier it was. I shan't bother with the rest. I kept trying to remember where I had seen the shower curtain before. Then, as I got into bed it came to me. I last saw it in the film Phsyco. Perhaps we had better move on.

My next stop was to be 41 kms away at Fuenterrobel de Salvatierra. It was a cold and somewhat depressing start. The sun was hidden to the east by the mountains and seemed reluctant to rise. The arrows pointed to a track that two Germans were returning from. The track was blocked. And if the Germans can't permeate it, no one can. I returned to the road, refusing to follow the directions to get off it. In the town of Banos de Montemayor I could see that there was to be a steep climb out of the valley. The yellow arrows pointed towards a lane way from the road which had a steep incline to it. The road had very little in the way of a walking refuge but had meanders that took the heat out of the climb.

The Germans set off with a thigh slapping bratwurst munching enthusiasm up the correct route. I took the easy option and stuck to the road. Half way up I left Extremadura and entered the region of Castilla and Lyon.

Once at the top I could maintain a brisk pace, but not so brisk that my legs kept reminding me that I had walked 50kms yesterday and had to persuade them to walk another 41 today. 

Under a bridge I came across a lovely serpentine ceramic display of the route from Meriva to Astorga.
 Only one yellow arrow was in existence and it clearly showed that one was required to walk down a lane to follow the route. About a kilometre in a came across two pilgrims who were consulting books and maps. They had not seen an arrow for some time they explained. I pointed to the motorway that was high above taking traffic north to Salamanca. I pointed to the sun which was on our right which was East and where it should have been. I told them that there had been no other lanes leading off this path, but try as I might they would not budge. Short of dropping to the ground to listen for the distant sound  of boots crunching I was at a loss what to do. It they are still there when you pass through give them a kick up the backside and tell them to get moving.

The lane was for me a long and painful descent to the valley floor but the reward was to walk through countryside that resembled my home on Dartmoor. Huge cubes of granite littered the fields and others leaned precariously ready to fall at any millennium. The smell of gorse was pungent and the bright yellow flowers a timely reminder of what I was missing.

From the time I left my bewildered friends in the forest I saw no one else. I passed through villages  whose name I instantly forgot as soon as I left. I saw a dog in one village and a man in another. But a never saw both in any village. I was like tumbleweed rolling in and out and leaving no trace. Some villages were typical. Long rows of single house barricaded with ornate and impenetrable window bars. Others by were held up with pillars that appear to have filched from some long forgotten Roman village. 
Occasionally I would rest in one village or knock on the door leading into a darken hallway in search of a refill for my water bottle, which was never refused. I pressed on through the warm day, along side fields where the wire was held in place with granite posts that would last many, many generations. 

Long into the day I came across a shepherd with a large flock of sheep. I resisted counting them in case I fell asleep. He had four dogs two of which walked to my rear. I called to him and he waved me through. The other two dogs crouched low watching my every move. He gave a command and they moved away. I cleaved a path through the flock and as I rounded the corner came across a ewe that has just given birth and was licking off the afterbirth. The lamb was attempting to,stand. I appreciate this happens a million times a day but it seemed as if this new birth has been especially saved for me. I wished the lamb a happy life and continued on my way.

Just after five I made my hostel in the small village of Fuenterroble de Salvatierra and my hostel.
l like to  have a FaceTime conversation with my long suffering wife each day and can always find a bar with wifi. The local bar here was owned by a lovely homely lady who was fascinated with what I was doing. She exchanged waves and conversation with my wife and we were joined by a local who insisted in lifting up his dog and showing it to my wife. 

That evenings meal was somewhat different than the previous night's. A wonderful courgette soup, a hearty beef stew and a sweet of tart and apricot covered in streams of chocolate. Now that might seem that I new what I was talking about and understood what madam was saying. Not a it of it. It took a table full of pilgrims to attempt to find out what was on offer, much to everyone's amusement.

I asked for white wine but it does seem it is a rarity in these parts. I think my bottom lip must have protruded a bit as a she went away and came back with a bottle which I have to be very careful not to drink the whole of the contents from. At the moment there is half a bottle left. I have now been offered a large coffe and a liqueur, my goodness me. I hope I can get up in the morning.

So, for a day that started out pretty ropey it all turned out quite well. How was yours?

Tomorrow will be a special day in this trek. But I will tell you about that later.

It was the usual,dormitory set up,with one exception. There was a wood burning stove blazing away in the corner. I paced out the distance to the exit across the tinder dry wood floor and made sure none of my gear obstructed my way in case a swift exit was needed. Breakfast was a great assortment of fruit and toast. Someone pointed out to me that I was the only one drinking tea. That's because I'm English I explained. In fact it came home to me at that I was the only Englishman walking this route.

Today was a thirty kilometre walk through fields bounded by snow capped mountains with a long haul to the highest point on the trek. Downhill on rock strewn tracks was as painful as ever but from then on it was fairly flat standard fair walking. 

But today was also special as when passing a pig farm of all places I was also passing the 500 Kms walked mark. I had covered that distance in fifteen days and had another twenty left to complete the other 500.

Nearing the end clouds, of what appeared to me to be Black Kites, crowded the sky.

I located the hostel in the tiny town of San Pedro de Rozados, but that's all I located. It was open but empty. A private house that had been converted to take pilgrims. I shouted, opened doors and generally clumped about the place.

The only response was a rub on the shins from a Siamese that led me inside, its tail erect and swaying like a cobra poised to strike. Well, there was nothing for it but to make myself at home and have a shower. Having mentioned how unsteady I am on downhill runs the same apples when in the shower, I am always looking for something to grab hold of. The problem with this place was that if I did that when falling the whole building would have disintegrated around me and I would be left stark naked standing in a cloud of brick dust and embarrassment. The toilet had the usual warning all Spanish toilets have which roiughtly translated means don't throw anything in here you have not drunk or eaten. The toilet was around 1930 London east end with a touch of Dali thrown in in the way the rust meandered down one side and the paint peeled off the seat. But, anything that gets rid of my body waste and has a shower that provided hot water is ok by me.

The sheets were damp but I found a heater in the room, plugged it in and turned it on high. All the time the cat, who I decided I would call Sammy, for no reason at all. 

I did one other thing, I shaved. I had been growing a beard for the last ten days and I was hating what I was seeing. My face was  turning white and I looked over 100 years old. Not only that it itched and smelled and bits of food and toothpaste got caught in it. It took forty minutes to clear it completely and as I looked in the mirror I welcomed myself back.

Eventually another lady pilgrim arrived and filled in form. I thought I had better do the same as she appeared to know what she was doing. I showed her my form, which was in Spanish, and she nodded, but asked why I had put 1812 as my date of birth. I told her not worry as I was sure none would make an overture so out that. And all the time the cat followed me around.

I had allowed myself one luxury on this trip, a circular battery operated hair trimmer. I have very little left and I like to keep,it short. I took it outside and started using it to the great merriment of the other pilgrims. I had chosen to have a number two,quite short, and as my hair wafted off in the wind I was the subject of many a phone video. A Dutchman said his wife as a good cook me would present me with a fabulous meal if  I shaved my chest hair. I told him I would rather eat stale bread than lose a nipple.

At 7pm everyone left the hostel and went to the bar leaving me and Sammy alone. Sammy stayed on my lap and purred and I snoozed. What was delpidated had become cosy.

Tomorrow I am off on the 24 kms hop to Salamamca. It is a national holiday on Friday and I have been told all the accommodation is taken. It therefore looks very much as if I will be sleeping in the streets on my birthday.

The journey to Salamanca was swift, along broad white gravel tracks, through the usual sleepy town and alongside fields of yellow rape seed. By 12.30pm I was in the centre of the town searching for a hotel. I found one near the cathedral, they could do one night. That would have to do. I would celebrate my birthday a day early. My wife had given me a birthday card which a took to the Plaza Major, ordered a beer and tapas and opened my card. I found I also had one from the dogs, so I sat there for some considerable time giggling inside as passers by
tried to see what my two cards, that I had propped up on the table, we're all about.

For the rest of the day I will explore, and tomorrow I will walk north into my 69th year.


Friday, 24 April 2015

Caseras to Aldeanueva del Camino - 579kms to go

Friday in Caseras was heaving with couples, families and lovers strolling under the high walls of the old town. The buzz whizzed around the large main square like swarming bees and the cafes in the collonaded walkways could hardly cope with the orders that were flooding across their radar.

I picked a sunny corner of the square and, sophisticate that I am, wrapped my lips around a three cheeses pizza The size of an aircraft carrier and sipped vino blanco from a bottle.

I had no problem finding my hotel as I had hung my washing on the second floor balcony that was my bedroom and the steady drip of water onto the street had some townsfolk wondering why the weather forecaster had missed the shower they were passing under.

I did consider another night but instead opted to have a gentle stroll to a tiny town called Casar de Caseras. There I found a pharmacy, bought some blister plasters and enquired as to the whereabouts of the aubergue. The Chemist beckoned me out of the shop and I followed him down the street into a noisy bar before he shook my hand and left The bar owner got his stamp out and beckoned for my pilgrim passport. He checked it, stamped it, and it was his turn to march out of his shop with me hopping along after him.

Across from the bar an L shaped two story building with the obligatory red tiled roof was approached by a grand set of steps which in turn led to the familiar dormitory of beds. He shook my hand, I made a donation into his tin and without a word that I understood being spoken I was once more homed for  the night.

I followed the instructions for the shower, which said I had to wait for the container to fill, so I waited, and waited, and eventually it started to drip, then stream then flood. I had no idea how long this bonanza of hot water would last as I had no idea as to the size of the container. So I soaped and sluiced in record time. 

Returning to the bar to type my blog a very old lady meandered her way across the road clinging to her walking frame, spoke to me and sat beside me. I told her I was English and did not speak Spanish. She ignored this and was more than happy to rattle on to me and I was more than happy to shake or nod my head where the inflection in her voice made it seem appropriate. Thirty minutes later she left. We were two strangers who had enjoyed each other's company without understanding one word of what was said. I did, though, notice that her walking frame used wheels, I wonder what she would have considered to be a reasonable offer for it

The weather was due to turn for the next few days and thunder storms were forecast. I wanted to get to Salamanca by the end of the month and to do that meant yomping along which meant an early and dark start from the hostel. Fortunately my head torch found the first arrow easily and from then It was plain sailing. A broad grit path through undulating countryside where plates of granite lay on the surface meant good headway could be made. The views were long and clear and if ir stayed like that I would be happy for it meant rain was not imminent . I had some 39kms to cover to Canavarel and had arranged lunch in such a way that I could get at it without having to stop, which I didn't,arriving at the excellent and modern Hostel Turistico at around 2.30. 

The  only thing that might have stopped me was a dog. All are either chained or behind bars but this one, quite large, was in the middle of the track. I picked up a few big stones but kept my pace. The dog sniffed in my direction, I could see that it was blind, old and covered in sores. If it were my dog it would by now be enjoying the everlasting sleep. I didn't need the stones.

Passing the reservoir at Alacantara

I looked out the window the following day and I could see very little through the sheets of rain that were thundering down. The only thing moving was a ginger cat racing for all was worth along the road. It was going so fast I fully expected to see a man with a red hot poker in close attendance. I asked the local sage when it would stop. 9am I was told. At 10.30 it stopped. I slid my poncho over my head and stepped out. I hadn't gone two kilometres when it started again. I put my head down and best foot forward, which was a mistake, because I missed a yellow arrow and ended up going an hour out of my  way. The one good thing I did get out of it was that I met this little fellow. From what I can find out it is Fire Salamander. I called him Spot.

The sun came out eventually and, as if in apology, the countryside sprung to life in an explosion of colour and the 280 degree views from my elevated trail were stunning. Distant rolling hills, two elderly granite viaducts. Protrusions of granite formed mini mountains in the fields where the cows and horses were steaming in the warm sun while lapping the fresh water from the newly filled dew ponds. You could even here the grass growing. A number of kites thought it would be a good idea to go hunting and myriad butterflys danced around the vegetation like drunken ballerinas. 

My destination was the little hilltop walled town of Galisteo. My courtship with Mother Nature was to come to end end as another huge bank of black cloud came up from the south-west. I was only an hours walk from the town but sufficient distance away to ensure that everything that had dried out would soon be soaking again. The spots of rain became heavier and as I struggled to get my poncho over my head a car stopped alongside me. The driver, a young man, opened the door and told me to get in. Now I know one is not supposed to talk to strange men but I had know him for at least five seconds and the rain was beginning to bucket down. I couldn't get in fast enough

It turns out he was the manager of the local hostel that I was aiming to spend the night in. Now I must have done something decent in my life but I can't for the the love of me remember when. Still, gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

It was Sunday and I was short of food for the next day. Simply nothing other than bars open in these remote villages on a Sunday, so 'twas more in hope than expectation that I tramped up the hill and through the main gate of the old town. Sure enough the local Spar was closed. I ambled around and noticed tucked away and easy to miss in the corner of the main square another general store. I went over and shook the door, closed. As I walked away a lady came from and adjacent house and opened the shop, switched on the lights, put her hand on her ample hips, and waited. I made my purchases and left. She switched the lights off, locked up and left too. Not a word as a exchanged. Looking back on it that evening, if I didn't have the goods as proof, I could easily believed I had dreamt the whole thing.

It was a nice hostel and I had paid for breakfast. I counted that there were eight beds and six breakfast packs laid out. I new exactly what would happen if I wasn't careful. So I took my pack and put it in my rucksack. If someone was going to dip out it wasn't going to be me. By the time I had got back from using the Internet in the local cafe I saw that five other people had had the same idea.

I am a little behind schedule now if I want to arrive in Salamanca on Thursday, so tomorrow will be a 50kms day . At the least the sun is going to shine.

There were eight men last night in rows of four double bunks in line against the walls. There were only two that snored, the chap,in the bunk below me and the one whose feet were closer to my ear that I would rather have them. So I appointed myself snore monitor. When the chap,in the lower bunk started I would jump on my bed, and when the other started I would rattle his bed bar. Sometimes I bumped when I should have rattled and vice versa but it did work as I fell asleep during the middle of a bump.

My breakfast pack that I had secreted in my underpants where not even the fearless would dare to go consisted of two packets of biscuits, two lemon fingers, and a Tetra pack of milk and orange. Some people are very good opening these packs but not me. In the absence of scissors I rip it with me teeth and the contents invaiarablybfo into the other chaps coffee. And so it came to pass today, except that it was the orange juice that ended up in the  coffee. I he didn't notice as he was happy to drink it.

I started out at 7am, but I did have a get out clause if the trip proved too much. The first ten kms was on road which, after the town of Carcaboso, gave way to a broad gritted track and then a walk though oak and meadows where the only thing that disturbed me was the chirp of a thousand birds and somulant clanging of cow bells. It was another of those magical little places. When I sat down for lunch the cicadas chorused in unison that I had no time for that, I still had twenty kilometres to go.

At the half way stage my bail out point came. There was a hostel just off the track. But he weather was good, the track was flat and easy and I was half way there. I pressed on with no one else in sight.

The weather remained fair except for catching a few drops from the rain that was fallong on the nearby mountains many of which were snow topped. It was light and sweet rain and actually very welcome as it had been hot. A few kms from my destination, Aldeanueva del Camino, I came across a German lady on her own. She was in some distress as she couldn't find her way to the town we were both going to. She had got herself into such a state she had even rung home to see if someone could check out the lie of the land on Google maps. The trouble was, she was four foot nothing and the yellow arrow she was looking for was on a post some ten foot from the ground and hidden by vegetation. I took her hand, calmed her down and showed her the sign. Her relief was instant. 

She followed at a discreet distance behind me into  the town and having done my Superman bit I hoped that I didn't get lost. Eventually she peeled off and I assume went to her hostel.

It was luxury for me tonight. A motel at the end of the town, the sort that has a bath with step In it that is so small you can rub your nose with your knees while scrubbing your privates. Still, it got me clean, it got me a good nights sleep, and I am now once again on schedule to reach Salamaca by Friday. 

You may wounder why it is important to me to get there on that date. It's simply that I want to take my day off there as the 1st of May is my 68th birthday.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Alcuescar to Caseras - 701kms to go

Scroll down for day one.

With the length of this route I know that my feet are going to suffer, particularly the soft pad behind the toes. I have a decent pair of walking boots but on a considerable portion of the trail there are rough irregular stones that go on for miles which means you are always searching for the best part of the track. Often there is none which mean my feet burn which makes me irritable which meanI get really teed off when I'm trying to get to sleep and the chap in the next room falls asleep with his television on which happened in Merida. 2am and some idiot from Dallas speaking in Spanish was trying to buy a ranch, I think. I got out my list of Spanish swear words, banged on his door and said a few. There was a grunt and snort, like a pig troughing. The TV went off and Mr Idiot and me went back to sleep.

There was also the case of the dripping water bottle. I could feel the water dripping down my leg, I had put the cap,on skew whiff. Not a problem, except that it had drenched a book that contains all the distances between towns and daily lodgings. (Not that I can add them up as I've proved. Did you know I once made a chair that ended up as a milking stool for a cow with very long udders.). 

Needless to say the pages were stuck together and needless to say the last thing you do is try to pull them apart. I walked with the book for hours waving it in the sun. I think, I have got away with it as only the first few pages are gone.

I am staying tonight in a building that I think used to be a convent but has been converted for the use of pilgrims. Back to dormitory living again but payment. Including evening meal is by donation so it's worth giving generously or the place simply would not exist. 

One is also,expected to attend evening mass before the meal but that's no hardship. I could do with a bit of saving. I have no idea if anyone will be listening but I will say a few words for a good friend who has survived 20 months longer than his consultant said he was going to. So maybe we can get another long extension to that.

It was also very moving in that most of the men here are elderly and mentally and physically disabled, but the way they treated receiving the sacrament obviously meant very much to them. I'm glad I went.

am writing this in a cafe and I see that they are about to show bullfighting on the TV. Still very popular here. I think it's time for me to leave and get some washing done.

The evening meal was part of the donation and was pasta, soup, two types of meat and apples. I don't know how they do it but it was rustic and the company was good with numerous nationalities represented. We all pitched in to clear the tables and then, with the door being locked at 9 pm, it was time for bed.

The bunk beds were of the ex-prison type and the mattresses were old yellowing foam held in place by  rusting cross wiring. A rather large man climbed into the top bunk and his mattress gradually sunk towards me. Eventually it stopped within shoulder turning range. I just hoped he didn't suffer from a windy bottom. 

Now one is expected to put up,with a little snoring but one guy who had secreted himself into a corner obviously knowing what he was like set the room shaking. No one slept. Someone kicked his bed and he just grunted. It was if he was giving birth to something that was not human. Several people upped sticks and took themselves elsewhere, I was about to then fell asleep. In the morning I saw several people watching to see which way he went.

I had also given birth, to my first blister, and it had to be on the outside at the rear of my left ankle where I simply couldn't reach because of my dicky knee. I got my plaster out and leant against the toilet wall, gradually sliding down it like a drunk whose lampost has just moved. A lady cleaning her teeth took the plaster from me and gently smoothed it into place. I expected her then to collect her harp and fly away, but she returned to cleaning her teeth and I made my way out. The guy running the  hostel was a large, avuncular man and  had a beard a stork could nest in. He shook our hand as we left and wished us Buen. Camino, it was all very civilised.

The first 10kms was along a rough track, and as I reached the first village I saw a sign indicating that it was 29kms to Caceras. I also saw a stork nesting nearby. 

The marked way was along a rough track that shadowed the road. The road was in good condition and had a hard shoulder about a metre wide, but only a fool would take it. I took the road.

Around lunch time I went into a shop to buy some lunch in a village close to the road. It was a small shop in a small village. The shop was about the size of a Victorian hallway and stacked with very little. I have demolished the shelving in this type of shop before so left my rucksack outside before coming away with a tiin of lentils in choritzo sauce and some milk fruit pots. I also had  a thee day old banana I found at the bottom of my sac it all formed a splendid repast. Although I did forget that lentils do have a habit of making their presence known so it was a somewhat windy afternoon.

I made Caceras by 3.30pm. The tepreature guage outside a pharmacy read 38c. It was in full sun as I had been, the pharmacy in the shade registered 27c. No wounder I was rocking a bit. I found a hotel at a reasonable price. I wanted to stay here for a couple of days but I could only stay at this hotel for one night, it is the weekend and beds are few. I booked in and decided to move on tomorrow.

I returned to my room, threw my clothes into the bathnand jumped in with them. Then we both washed ourselves clean. 

From now until Salamanca it is simply a head down and get on with it walk with nothing of interest in between, so I will be posting again in about a week.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Zafra to Alcuescar - 741kms to go

A few more kms under the belt today, 49.5 to be precise, on trails like these where I am the only occupant. But it wasn't ment to be like that.

The hostel as I have mentioned was somewhat underwhelmed with visitors which ended up with me sharing a dormitory of twenty beds with one other person. On getting ready for breakfast in the morning, (12euro BandB) what a snip, I noticed a lady fully dressed sitting on her bed with one of those 'I wish my mother was here' looks. She was hugging herself and looked for all the world is if she would rather be somewhere else. I smiled and gave her a thumbs up, she descended even deeper into her Slough of despond. As that is the limit of my counselling skills I gave up. 

She sat beside my at breakfast which was the sort of food that is a disaster zone for me. Little bits of hard toast with butter marmalade and jam. Sure enough, as soon as I crunched into it split into numerous pieces most of which landed on my walking shirt. Well there was only one thing to do, I licked it all off. She laughed, I had done my good deed for the day. 

I left Zafra at early light, the shutters were going up and the street cleaners were hard at work. Three were needed. One to blow, one to sweep and one to push two containers. I suppose you could call that full employment. Once out into  the countryside I was on my own. As I was to remain for the rest of the day. The first 20.5kms took me to Villafranca de Los Barros where I went into the local market to purchase some oranges, and a tomato for lunch. I though this would be a simple affair, but no. As I rummaged through the produce madam took what I had decided to buy out of my hands. She then proceeded to hand me a much bigger and juicier selection than I had chosen. I think she had a soft spot for pilgrims.

Lunch and ice cold slushy drink were taken on the cool steps of the market before I set of for the afternoon trek to Torremejia The afternoon was hot and getting hotter. There was no shade, just acres and acres of sprouting vines. The track was dusty and empty save for me and the occasional farmer who while passing kicked up a dust storm that I had to wade through. The sun got hotter and I could feel,it burning the back of me legs and left elbow. While flat the track seemed interminable, even longer and harder than yesterday. I thought back to an earlier day on the trek when I sat in a bar and and supped lager from  a large frosted glass. What I wouldn't have given to be there now.

I had no intention to walk so far in such heat but once I had started out there was no turning back. I have great stamina and did the camino France's in 22 days for no other reason than that is my pace of walking. The only thing I can think is that I didn't pay sufficient attention to the distance chart I had brought with me and got the distance wrong and didn't realise I would be walking 50kms. One thing is for sure, I won't do that again. 

At 6pm I stumbled into the hostel. Booked in showered, and I am looking forward to a three  course meal of stir fry and deep fried squid. The fire in my legs is abating and no doubt tomorrow will be a less strenuous day. In fact I shall take a day off to recover.

It wasn't meant to be Torremejia which you can see in the distance. I even have my carelessness etched on my pilgrim passport for all time. The red stamp bottom left is Zafra on the 19th above and right is Torremejia on 20th and bottom right Is  Merida on 21st.

had decided to make this day a short hop as I have to admit the !ast two days had been quite a strain. The short leg to Merida took me around three hours and on crossing the Roman bridge and entering the town I started to scan for hotels starting in the main square. I was going to treat myself to a room of my own and a bath, and a day, well, almost a day, off. 

The first hotel I came to was off the main square. As this unkempt specimen came through the revolving doors dripping dust on the thick lush carpets and not having shaved for four days I am certain I could hear the prices rise. Far too high for me. I enquired if there was another nearby that did not require me selling a kindney. I was pointed up the road. I thanked them and left, still dripping dust onto the carpets.

I am now ensconced in my own room with bath, albeit my boots are as ripe as rotten herring. It is time to explore.

Merida was created as a retirement town for Roman Soldiers in around 23 BC. And has more Roman remains than any other town in Spain. My first port of call was to the amphitheater and theatre. Magnificent and well preserved, unlike me. Then the Temple of Diana followed by the thermal baths. There was more, but if I had endeavoured to see them all I would probably have walked another 40kms today.

With the temperature now approaching 30 degrees I am going to sit in the main square with a beer and munch on a large Queso Oveja. I think that's posh for cheese sandwich. Tomorrow?  we'll. that can take care of itself.

Merida to Alcuescar 37kms

I went out in the evening in Merida to buy some lunch for the following day. I don't know what your preconception is of Spanish drivers but In this town go anywhere within ten feet of a crossing and they stop for you. Except once. I was waiting at a crossing when a pair of police motorcyclists came along. One nodded for me to cross but unfortunately the information never got to his colleague as he carried on, only stopping at the last moment, while being thrown forward by the force of his braking, making himself look a bit of an idiot. He glared at me and I shrugged my shoulders and pointed to his mate who confirmed my story.  He waved me across but I had the feeling he might have wanted to get his own back at some stage so I kept away from crossings after that.

You can also eat quite cheaply over here if you don't have the right money. I bought a tub of mixed pasta tuna salad which I'm partial to, a small jar of pork pate and some rolls, which I was assured would go well with the pate, for next days lunch. I wanted soft rolls as the bread tends to harden from the heat on my backpack.  I had some coin but was twenty cents short so proffered a five euro note only to be waved to the door of the shop. Now that might not seem much but add it up over the course of a few weeks and you could buy a set of corn plasters with what you save.
For the rest of the  evening I sat in the square surrounded by eleven tall palm tree that shaded a number of perfectly formed orange trees, whose fruit is not to be eaten if you want to keep the plaque on your teeth. I sat under a canopy sipping beer and munching on black olives. It was still very warm at 9pm. Pidgeons danced between the chairs trying to court and eat at the same time. The sun shone on the fifty plumes of water that shot upward from the bottom of the yellow three tier fountain. All around was a cacophony of voices that swirled around the wonderful mix of old Spanish architecture. A boy chased  A blue and white ballon and could not understand why the slight breeze kept taking it way from him. This were the families of Mereva at their social rest. The town is compact with narrow bustling streets and shops that sell everything you could want to wear, eat or drink. And it is very Spanish. 

I liked this place. A lot. If you are doing the via de la Plata then I would suggest you make this your first day off. If the weather is good you will not regret it.

My next stop was to be Allcescar and on the way out Merida presented me with one last glory. It's magnificent aqueduct  where everyone of the tall columns had a stork nesting on it. It was a wonderful sight.

A slight hiccup on the way out saw me having to retrace my steps to find a yellow arrow but soon was all well and I was alone on a cycle track which meant my progress was sift to the village of Embalse de Proserpina 10 Kms away where a huge lake one flowed on
We those 10 Kms to provide water for the Romans in Merida cross that fine viaduct you see above.

It was then once more into the countryside, with my only company black and white herons that I disturbed at their morning fish and flocks of egrets that shimmied away at my approach. Low granite slabs littered the fields and a more peaceful and rural scene would be hard to imagine. 

At lunchtime I settled down to enjoy my repast. I dipped a roll into the jar, scooped out some pate and crunched into it. There was chocolate in the middle of the roll. I looked at the packet and it said 'new formula' well, they weren't wrong there. I immediately wondered if I had been served by the wife of the police motorcyclists I had crossed last night. Whatever, it actually tasted very nice. Try it sometime.

The afternoon was another hard hot slog. The morning cloud cover that had been so welcoming had gone and the sun shone hard and long. The compensation was a flower steen way that guided me to my destination. The lavender in particular was pungent and smelled great when rubes into my salty beard. I am now at my destination for the night. An aubergue that also doubles as a hospital for handicapped men. I have covered  nearly 138kms in three days I, think it's time to slow down.