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A Spanish Pilgrimage 2010. Week 1

So, this is it. The first step of getting a better work-life balance and the first step of exploring the world outside of taking a week of vacation here and there. Its nothing new for many people but for millions of others its almost unfathomable, taking time off of work to rest, relax and maybe hike a thousand kilometres or so. There are so many reasons that I could have used to back out, the latest excuse would have been the volcano spewing ash into the atmosphere.

As I get off the phone with Air Canada I sit pensively looking out at the grey clouds above Vancouver. I am privileged to have friends who allow me to crash on their floor, or should I say, friends who go out of their way to make you feel comfortable in the spare room, with a clean mattress, sheets and access to the fridge. After moving all of my possessions into storage I am left with one 60 liter backpack with little more than a pile of clothes inside. It really is time for me to be on the road, not sitting on the phone for hours on end trying to fly to London.

The volcano in question is Eyjafjallajökull, most people will remember the unprecedented air traffic chaos. Our party of four is due to set off on the hike on Thursday, two have cancelled flights from the UK and will be taking an over night ferry before renting a car, the other member “K” is currently in Puerto Rico and should get into Seville only a day or two late. The few hours I have spent on the phone have given me some options with regards to my travel plans…..

1. Wait until next Sunday, hope the plane actually leaves and that the other volcano, Katla doesnt decide to also erupt. Apparently Katla is due to explode and has a tendency to erupt a little after Eyjafjallajökull. If I manage to get to Heathrow I then need to get to Seville which would likely add another day to my journey and I would eventually be ready to hike either Tuesday 27th or Wednesday 28th either trying to catch the others or asking them to wait around for me.
2. Cancel my YVR-LHR flight and figure out how to avoid the volcano. Maybe fly to the East Coast, Puerto Rico, Africa or the other way round via Tokyo.

I chose option 2 and after a little refinement I finally have a plan:-
1. Vancouver to Toronto, Thursday 22nd @ 9:50, 4 hr flight
2. I will be staying near the airport over night as I do not feel like flying and running between planes.
3. Toronto to Lisbon, Friday 23rd @ 21:25, layover at Ponta Delgada (a small island in the Atlantic, will be nice if I can get to the beach) from 07:20 until 15:05 and on to Lisbon for 18:10.
4. Stay in Lisbon, preferably a semi decent hotel as I am sure I will be fed up with hostels after hiking for a couple months.
5. Leave Lisbon on the bus for Faro at 10:30, arrive at 13:30
6. Leave Faro for Seville at 15:30 and arrive around 20:00.
7. Hopefully I have somewhere to stay overnight in Seville!

This is going to add some additional costs to the trip but that is the way it goes I guess 🙂

Etobicoke Creek trail.

On Friday 23rd April I spent the day in Mississuaga and took a quick look at a map and saw some information for Etobicoke Creek trail. So I figured, what better than to warm up for a month long hike than a nice stroll down by a creek. I thought a nice day spent walking down to Lake Ontario would help between flights, the Sun was shining and the weather was mild.

The trail starts off nice enough down by the creek, although a little smelly (maybe a sewage plant nearby) then after about 4K, you end up on the sidewalk in a semi decent neighbourhood. As you proceed through the neighbourhoods they seem to progressively go downhill so I decided to pick up the pace. After 5 or 10 minutes I was looking around for the next part of the trail, walking back and forth along the same part of the estate a couple times, trying not to look like a tourist. It turns out the next part of the trail does not really exist so I spent the next little while hiking along a six lane highway. I hate walking on highways and pavement but I couldn’t find any other way. At this point it was around lunch time so I ducked into Sherway Mall and got a salad and also a new camera….I forgot to mention whilst walking through the trail part of my hike the lens on my cheap old camera broke, even worse than normal, anyway now I own a new cheap camera ($100). After my purchases I pushed on towards the lake, saving my luxurious lunch for the beach. It took well over an hour and another 5K to find my way down another busy road and a small housing estate. Finally, I stumbled upon a small beach that stretched over into another beach and around the corner. You can smell the lake as you approach but it is strange to not have the salt air when you cant see the other side of the water.

After eating lunch for five minutes and taking a few photos I decided that its not about the destination but more about getting there and its okay to only take five minutes at the beach after a three hour trek. Only another three hours and 15K to go before I get back to the hotel, woohoo. The final part of the hike was similar except starting from the lake made it easier to find the end of the Etobicoke creek trail and that lasted for a few KMs before I ended up in familiar territory, pounding pavement and speed walking through dodgy suburbs.

Maybe I have been spoilt in North Vancouver, walking out of the backdoor onto a trail that runs 20K+ into the Lower Seymour Conservation Area. At least I have something to show for my trek, two blisters, a new camera and a renewed appreciation for my favourite hike from Keith Road to Rice Lake.

Vancouver to Sevilla in six easy steps.

On to step 2 of my journey, Toronto to Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, this step involves getting back to the airport after my 6 hour hike and getting on the plane around 10pm, flying to Sao Miguel island in the Azores overnight with a lot of Portuguese families. Sao Miguel is 4 hours ahead of Toronto and the flight was 5 hours with little sleep, at the airport I left my bags in a locker and decided to head out into town at around 8am. The walk into town goes through some rougher looking areas and is not well marked, my blisters continued to get larger but the town is nice and I had a quick look around while telling a lot of people I don’t speak Portugese, once they realised I was English they put me to shame with their fluent English, better than mine!

After heading back to the airport to start Step 3 I went through customs and sat around for the flight that was delayed by 30 minutes, explained to more people that I was not Portugese and got on the plane for another two hours and another one hour time change. By the time I got to Lisbon it was around 7pm, I helped an old lady with her bags, she spoke no English but it worked out. Jumped in the taxi and got to my hotel by 9pm, a quick shower and then a futile attempt to sleep, even with the multiple time changes and lack of sleep I still have no luck so I end up chatting at 5am on instant messenger with a couple friends.

Continuing on with step 4 involved packing my bags in the hotel and finding my way to the metro, rushing through Lisbon with few photos or chances to look around. The metro took me to the bus depot which looks pretty dodgy from the outside and I sat and waited for bus number 1 for an hour and a half. A 3 hour bus journey completes step 5 in a luxurious air conditioned coach. Time to catch up on my sleep as it is around 3am PST (11am Lisbon). At Faro I hopped off the bus and took a quick look around the town, as it was Sunday the shops were closed but as usual the bars were open. The final step from Faro to Sevilla, a packed bus, air conditioned but about 20 years older than the first bus. Everyone is trying to sleep as it is a 5.5 hour journey that involves multiple stops along the way. Little did I know that Sevilla is another hour ahead of Lisbon, so to my surprise it only lasted 4.5 hours, it must be my lucky day.

At last I get to see my fellow hikers and get some sleep, or do I???

Continue reading after the photo gallery.

Sevilla by night.

We all love the postcards of ***** by night, you get a black background with a lot of lights and the faint outline of buildings and no idea where it really is or what is really in the picture. I had a real life experience of this on Sunday evening.

From the bus station I had planned to meet Odette (My Mum, who I will refer to as Odette, its a long story may sound strange but it works) and John who were travelling down via the ferry and car from the UK. I sat around in the station waiting patiently for an hour or so and dusk started to fall. As I was planning to be escorted to the hotel I didn’t bother with maps, contact information or anything, always a bad idea! I had to make a decision, wait, try to contact them, find some maps or go to the hostel over the road. Outside the station was an easy to follow sign pointing to Tourist Information so I figured I could pop over there, grab some stuff come back and see John and Odette waving and calling me. Once I got to the tourist information booth I didn’t grab anything as it was undergoing renovation. I trounced back to the station, hopefully looking around, nothing. By this time it was 21:30, I went to look at the telephones to dial the number so I could call them to find the location of the hotel. There was no information on international dial codes so I had to eek out the information from the shop keeper inside the station who spoke little English and I speak zero Spanish .

A quick call provided me with Hostal Oasis at Plaza de concepcion, Odette and John were still in transit and would meet me there. My only option was to get a taxi which as usual involved more streets than necessary and a rather hefty $20 bill, at least he could read my writing or I would have ended up god knows where. As he dumped me out in the square he waved his hand in a circle and I had no idea where the hostal would lie. The square is currently undergoing renovation so I walked around with my two backpacks, one on the back and one on the front, time passed to about 22:30, I had walked around both directions, up a couple side streets and was preparing to either sleep outside or go to another hostal and figure it out the next day. I decided to take a break and sit in the centre of the square. Whilst I sat down with my bags hanging off my shoulders, slowing building up my frustration I heard a faint shout “Ol!” then again and “Hi Ol, over here”. The only response I could muster “Hi Mum, do you mind if I swear?”

As I was led down a side alley I was so relieved I no longer worried if I was going get a private room and a good nights sleep or not. On the side of the door was a small sign about as useful as a wet paper bag, written on the sign were the words Hostal Oasis. At last it’s time to sleep, or not……as it approached 11pm (2am PST) I had a quick chat with John and finally met the other member of our party who had been waiting in Sevilla for a few days for us all to arrive. I emptied my bag and went through what I needed to take, Odette and John advising me that I didn’t need this and that and despite my protests it was all put on the not needed pile, destined for a journey to the UK via Spanish post. Finally, I crawled into bed and as the room emptied with everyone going to the bar I feel asleep for an hour or two.

Tomorrow the real fun begins as we head out on the road!

26 April. Sevilla to Santiponce. Todays distance 10km. Total distance 10km complete/990km to go.

Odette and John were sharing my dorm and came in after a quick drink. I rolled over and led looking at the ceiling, slowly drifting back to sleep. The other residents were taking part in the festivities and rolled in a few hours later. From then on I got zero sleep until finally, about an hour before getting up I fell into a slumber, that totalled about 2 hours of sleep all night.

All four of us grabbed some breakfast and went out to mail my “un-needed” equipment to the UK, buy a sim card for my cell phone and get our paperwork for the trail. As always nothing is simple and we went from one person to another at the cathedral and got different answers so finally decided to walk to another Hostel to grab our paperwork and head out to Santiponce. At this point the hiking is through Sevilla side streets and up the roads walking on asphalt, the sun is getting high in the sky with the temperature hitting 30 Celsius. WTF am I doing? Who had a crazy idea that I should hike for a month in Spain, its been a complete pain in the ass (PITA for future reference as I will likely use it a lot) getting here and now it is hot as hell and the hiking sucks. We continued through the streets of Seville and on the roads through the suburbs, through Camas where we stopped for a quick lunch. 10Km’s later we trudged into Santiponce and made a decision that two would go to find a hostel and two can take a break in the shade. I scored the break as John and “K” headed off into the midday sun.

Odette and I slouched around in the shade almost dozing off and moving every so often to ensure we didn’t end up back in the sun. Eventually John and “K” came back and explained that we would be staying with a friendly lady up the road. It turns out Carmen (or Carmella I am not 100% sure) was married to the towns mayor and often rents out the top part of her house to pilgrims.

At last a semi-decent nights sleep.

27 April. Santiponce to Guillena. Todays distance 13km. Total distance 23km complete/977km to go.

Its nice not to have to worry about setting an alarm, John and “K” are prepared and wake everyone up around 6:30/7:00am. The morning ritual is going to be get up, pack up, go to the local bar and drink, coffee only no alcoholic beverage. On the way out of Santiponce we start on the roads for a couple of km’s then move onto a long straight road along fields of various crops, wheat, potatoes and a plantation of orange trees. We meet our first pilgrim friend, a German guy called Yuli, we all managed a hello in one language or the other and find we are all going to Santiago before heading on at various paces.

The weather continues to be hot and it was mid day by the time we got to the next town and had lunch. I was feeling more positive and had high hopes for another good nights sleep but my jaw almost hit the ground when we found the local refugio. It was a single room with 10 beds, two communal shower stalls and two washrooms with Saloon style doors that let the smell and noise out into the sleeping quarters. “K” borrowed a brush and proceeded to brush the floor and Odette started to empty the garbage, I helped by sitting around and watching them. As more pilgrims came through the door there were greetings of Hola and a mixture of various languages. As the pilgrims continued to enter I counted two too many, this led to one bed with two people sharing and a guy called Raphael (we nicknamed him Mr Hawaii, in reference to his shorts before we knew his name) who slept on the tennis court outside. There was also a pilgrim who had lost her passport and was backtracking to Seville and sleeping in a tent outside the hostel, it must really suck to plan a two month hike then hit a bump 10 or 20 days in and have to cancel everything.

After eating and returning after lights out we got into our beds and prepared to sleep. All was good and quiet for a few hours then something happened, it was like a subwoofer hooked up to a snoring machine and resonated through ear plugs, mp3 player earphones and I think you could even feel the sound waves. All of this noise was coming from Johns direction….no way could it be John but I could not be bothered to get out of bed to find out, then another started up, others on top bunks were restless and started to fidget adding to the cacophony of sounds.

Eventually it all stopped, then people started to stir…..its 6am and is prime hiking time. I start to crawl out of my sleeping bag and prepare for the next day of hiking.

28 April. Guillena to Castilblanco de los Arroyos. Todays distance 19km. Total distance 42km complete/958km to go.

First order of the day….discuss last nights sleep. Who was snoring last night? Each of us has differing opinions, defending ourselves and accusing others. It turns out that John and “K” were closest to the source, John had the pleasure of sleeping in the bottom bunk with the snorer on top. “K” was in the bed next to John and his new found friend. Odette and I on slept on the far side of the room so fared a little better.

As we left early in the morning we were sporting our headlamps and looking for the trail markers, either little yellow arrows painted on anything from a tree, back of a sign or on the ground, also we have to look out for small blue and yellow tiles on buildings or concrete scallop shells in the sidewalks/pavements depending on which country you are in. As I have international readership, gotta keep you all happy 😉

After about an hour we stopped for a quick coffee at a roadside bar. I brought oatmeal with me so I had some for breakfast, at last something went right. Some things in Spain are not quite up to the same standard as the UK/Canada and I decided not to use the washroom with no toilet seat, no toilet paper and a tap that was held in place with a piece of wire. After breakfast we hiked up through some farmland and meadows with a view of the valleys. We also had some more roadwork but as we started out early we managed to get into the refugio before the really hot sun came out. At the refugio we secured a room with 10 places to sleep next to a room with the snorer and another 3 beds, opposite was a room with 20+. This was a high class refugio with separate toilets and showers, and even internet access.

From our morning experience John and I decided to take a look around town and find the best way out and onto the next town. It then became clear that the next days hike was no piece of cake but enjoying the sun and a cold drink our worries soon melted away.

For the first time since leaving Canada I actually got 5+ hours of sleep!!

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