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A Spanish Pilgrimage 2010. Week 2

You will probably notice some new words in my vocabulary courtesy of my Spanish trip. These are my translations although I double checked some of them in my dictionary, any new words I think of will come up here.

2. Albergue – Spanish and similar to refugio but they tend to have a kitchen and better facilities.
3. Hostal – Spanish, cheaper than a hotel and can be a shared accomodation although I have a private room in my curent Hostal El Pilar.
4. Pension – Spanish for guest house, this may be run by a family or as a business.
5. Peregrino – Pilgrim, basically me. We tend to walk a long way and say hola to each other every time we see one another.
6. Credencial – Spanish again. All pilgrims have a credencial and get it stamped at each town they stay overnight (or other towns if you so please) without this you may not get into all accommodations or get the pilgrim rate.
7. Hospitalero – Surprisingly a Spanish word, again. This is the warden, usually volunteer who takes care of the refugio/albergue.

Thurs 29 April. Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almaden de la Plata. Todays distance 28.5km. Total distance 70.5km complete/929.5km to go.

We all knew this was going to be a tough one, primarily due to the distance and the heat that we were expecting to experience as we arrive at the destination after lunch time. John and I had also warned the others about the 16km of road walking that we had to start the day. Eager to get through the pain as quickly as possible we all got up early and I got my head down and left the others to it. I quickly found my stride and passed a few other peregrinos on my way to the 12km mark. At that point I sat by a small river and had a Vega bar for breakfast, I bought the bar in North Vancouver and had carried it all this way. I sat around waiting for the others as the sun strengthened and started to heat up the black asphalt. As they arrived we had a quick chat and I hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders with a sharp exhalation of air as the weight sat down on to my back.

I had thought the worst was over but the next couple of kilometers were up a steep road before we entered El Berrocal natural reserve. Now this is what I came for, we sat around in a meadow under a small tree which offered a lot of shade and we had a snack of rice cakes and jam. My enjoyment only lasted a few minutes before we had to get up again and proceed through the natural reserve for another 14km give or take a couple. The shade soon disappeared as the sun burned high above our heads and as we turned each corner looking for a place to eat lunch we came across a small river crossing our path. Soon after we took our boots off and ventured knee deep into the water John decided enough was enough and down to his underpants slid into the water, deep enough for doggy paddle but not much more. I soon followed. Our peregrino friend Yuli came around corner and soon changed and dived into the shallow pool of water. After lunch we tied our wet clothing onto our packs and started what I thought would be a quick hour or two hike into the next town.

The cool feeling after our swim stayed around for a while but the hours of hiking dragged on and the sun became hotter. The final steep hill was a killer and we all struggled to the top and dumped our bags before enjoying the vista before us with the valley to one side and Almaden de la Plata to the other side. The walk down the back side was also steep and way longer than I was expecting. Soon though I walked through to the Albergue with a couple of Spanish guys, upon arriving they called the hospitalero via their cell phones. By the time she arrived the others had dragged their gear through the door and we all checked in for 5 Euros each. Moving into the room of twenty beds our eyes went to the end of the room where John had met his very good friend the snorer whose bed was as close as you could get to Johns, this was not a good situation for any of us, especially John. K done his best to persuade the hospitalero to allow us upstairs into the other rooms which were locked and we were promised at 9pm she would come back and open it all up. Although this was the best we could get none of us were convinced that she would actually return and open up the remaining rooms.

As luck would have it the room eventually filled out and as we returned I ran up to see if the upstairs had been opened and when I called back down there was a big move from the four of us into the brighter more inviting upstairs. We moved all of our gear without bringing too much attention to ourselves as we were sure we would be crammed out if everyone knew. As it was, when we returned later to retire to bed we were joined by a couple from downstairs who were getting frustrated by their lack of sleep. When I get enough sleep I become more cheerful, this is turning into a better trip by the day. Another great night of sleep, although I almost knocked myself out in the middle of the night when I got up and forgot I was on the bottom bunk.

Fri 30 April.
Almaden de la Plata to El Real de la Jara. Todays distance 16.5km. Total distance 87km complete/913km to go.

Everyone was up early and refreshed from a good nights sleep and ready for an even longer hike, unfortunately this did not materialise. I have some issues with the backpack that I had not tried on before the hike, there was no way I could continue to hike with it unless I removed a rib a two. John even swapped his backpack and took my backpack for a while to give me a break but it sucked for him too. We entered El Real de la Jara fairly early around lunch time and went to the local bar to grab a drink and find out where we could pick up a new backpack, as expected it involved a trip to Sevilla. Odette and I were ready to go and catch the bus when the barman through K’s translation told us “There is no bus from this village you have to go to a village up the road.” So the next plan was a Taxi, luckily the barman knew one of the local taxi drivers, there are two taxis in this town which is not always the case. We were told it would be here at 14:00 about 2 hours time and so left to find the accommodation.

The guide book we are following led us to a large house where the owners would rent out various rooms, they even had a four bed bedroom so we would not have to share with anyone else. The downside of this room was the window had now been built into the conservatory so no fresh air could come through, luckily no one really smells too bad at this point. Once we had settled in, cleaned our clothes and had lunch we sat around waiting for the Taxi, 14:00 came and went, the owner of the house called the Taxi driver and we had a new time of 15:30 which also came and went. Eventually at 16:00 we left for Sevilla, about 87km as that is how far we have walked. Its amazing how quick it was to drive back to Sevilla as it has taken us five days to hike this far.

Once in Sevilla at the store the Taxi driver said 10 minutes so Odette and I jumped out and raced in, grabbing at backpacks and sandals, my sandals that I borrowed are giving me blisters. I tried on a few backpacks and ended up spending around 90 Euros. We ran outside and sat around in the shade and the sun waiting for the Taxi driver, as seems usual in Spain 10 minutes passed, then 20 minutes. Odette grabbed the cell phone and called the Taxi driver who spoke his Spanish whilst Odette spoke English, then I pointed out a word for her to say….”Enseguida! Enseguida!”, basically instructing the Taxi driver to get his ass back here immediately. The driver came back within minutes and drove us back to El Real de la Jara, in the end everyone left happy and we went off to find dinner.

Continue reading after the photo gallery.

Sat 1 May. El Real de la Jara to Monesterio. Todays distance 21km. Total distance 108km complete/892km to go.

What can I say, good nights sleep and a new backpack. I still have to figure out how to pack everything in the best manner, my usual packing involves piling everything up on the bed, positioning the bag at the side of the bed and pushing all the items into the bag. For the most part it seems to work but I need to figure out distribution of some of the heavier items. Today is the first day I am trying vaseline under my socks, John swears by it and apparently Odette and K also do the same.

Todays hike has taken us on dirt trails and asphalt and we are starting to see lots of storks flying around. Aside from the usual scenery, that I can’t easily describe, the most interesting part of the hike was seeing two dogs. One was chasing what seemed like its owners car up the road, the dog was about as big as a cat and ran up and over a couple of hills before disappearing along with the car over the horizon. The second dog looked malnourished and seemed to have puppies somewhere, it was so hungry it started to follow us up the road until John gave it some bread and it wagged its tail and retreated to eat it.

We were staying at Hostal El Pilar and whilst at the village bar we had a chat with a couple of young American ladies from Seattle and Atlanta, they were both teaching English to Spanish school children. After our brief chat we moved into another area of the town where John started to take photos of the elderly Senoras who shrieked with laughter when John showed her the instant picture, the Senora must have liked John as she tried to drag him to her home to feed him. Later that evening we went back to the church and met the rest of the local Senoras who took us to a shrine of the Virgin Mary. They all crowded around as and proudly stood to have their photos taken in front of the shrine. It’s amazing how laughter can transcend the different languages and whenever Odette laughs all of the Spanish Senoras join in.

My feet are not looking too got at the moment and I don’t usually wear hiking boots. My ribs have been aching since the backpack that didn’t fit seemed to be putting pressure on the three that I had dislocated a few weeks ago. Things are slowly getting better and I am finding my rhythm, lets hope it continues.

Sun 2 May.
Monesterio to Fuente de Cantos. Todays distance 22km. Total distance 130km complete/870km to go.

Usual start, up at 6am, coffee at the bar and then a couple hours hiking with a fruit break followed by lunch in the next town. The weather changed a little today and instead of the hot sun we had a mist for most of the day, it was nice and cool and hiking through the meadows was a nice change. I managed to pick up another blister even with the vaseline, I am now building a pretty good collection on various parts of my feet. My left boot seems to be rubbing my achilles tendon so I will have to see how that hampers my desire to go as fast as possible.

John and I entered the village first and started to eat our potato chips at the church whilst waiting for the other two. Lunch has been a challenge as the food selection has so far been a challenge to my current diet of limiting wheat, milk, almonds, pineapples and green beans. We have found some rice cakes and corn cakes and I had to avoid wheat and milk for the first few days of the trip to help my stomach settle. Lunch most days is now canned sardines, anchovies, mackerel or tuna on rice cakes, I know the guys at work love me when I eat this kind of fish for lunch, its nice to now be accepted as normal. I was desperate to crack open a can of fish and after a while we had to call Odette and K on the cellphone to find out that they had decided to find the albergue and eat lunch later. Originally we had planned to discuss hiking onto the next town but as my feet are giving me grief at the moment I am happy to stay there and laze around in the sun. We all go down to the new albergue which is a converted convent and get a private four bed dormitory, woohoo another good nights sleep….at least that was the plan.

Before retiring to bed Odette sorted out some of my blisters, more moaning from me and quite a bit of whining too….it doesn’t matter how old you are you can still moan and whine to your mum. Then we all kind of hung around the court yard talking to various peregrinos. We also learnt that some pilgrims in the dormitory next to ours had been ill the night before and not moved on. Our plan was to get up at 06:00 and start our hike and as the albergue shut down at 22:00 we were all in bed ready to sleep.

From here I don’t really know what happened but an hour or so after lights out I had to go to the washroom, then after I got back into my top bunk I had to go again. Then I didn’t bother going back to bed, and neither did John. This may sound a bit gross but I guess it was a 24 hour bug that caused the ejection of various food substances from my body. John was also sick but settled down on one of the sofas whilst I couldn’t decide if I wanted to lie down, sit down, throw up or empty my bowels….yep it sounds gross but thats the way it was. For hours I would be up, down, on my front, on my back and so on. I don’t know if anyone heard anything or not but I really don’t care, it had to come out and as I was taught when I was young, two fingers down the throat always speeds things up.

As the others stirred around 6am John was back in bed and I was sleeping on the cold, hard tiled floor. The floor was hard but I was comfortable and content to stay there just a little longer………

Mon 3 May.
Fuente de Cantos to Zafra. Official distance 26km, our distance who knows? Total distance 156km complete/844km to go.

After a rough night spent mainly in the washroom with a couple of hours sleep on the floor of the dormitory I headed out with the others. At 07:30/08:00 we left towards the bottom of the village and took what we thought was the correct old roman road, it turned out to be the incorrect road. I had been promised a short 7km hike to the next village, taking a break and purchasing some water. After a couple hours hiking and no sign of a village anywhere we all started to worry. Throughout the trip so far the signs have been few and far between and on this trip I think we picked up an alternate trail.

As I sat on one of the stones indicating the direction of the alternate trail the others approached and we had to make a decision….
1. Follow the unknown trail and assume it comes to a village where we can get our bearings.
2. Hike over the horizon some 10’s of km’s away with no sign of any life.

We took option 1 and proceeded up a rarely used trail, bushwacking through a swampy stream and climbing over rolling hills hoping a vista of a sun drenched paradise laid ahead. Through Olive groves, fields of Peach trees, past farmers labouring away and eventually picking out the distant view of the highway. At least on the highway you can hitch a lift 🙂

As we carried on down one of the many hills and round one of the thousands of corners we saw a collection of white houses and the obligatory church in the centre. At last we found a town, Medina de la Torres. I led in front of the church face up, staring at the sky trying to figure out a way to make it to Zafra. The towns Senoras passed asking if they should call an ambulance and the others insisted I was okay. John sat quietly on the bench as he had a rough night too as K and Odette went from the supermarket to the town hall to find a taxi or a bus, as usual differing answers from everyone. After a while they scraped me up off the floor and dragged me down to the bar to ask the bar man about a taxi, no luck, the last place was the tabacco shop. As far as I am aware the taxi driver in this town retired some years ago, well now he is out of retirement. This town has moved up from a no taxi town to a taxi town, how is that for progress?

Odette and I got in the taxi and zoomed off to Zafra in a typically Spanish fashion. We got dumped out in front of the hotel where I was going to stay and the driver went to the local shops. I found a nice room, took a warm bath and passed out on the bed for a couple hours. After a good sleep I met the others at their albergue and had some oatmeal but not too much as my stomach was still pretty upset. Then I retired to bed for another 10 hours of sleep, sweet 🙂

I have also now officially given up on trying to get a stamp in my credencial for everyplace we stay. I am happy that I am not a perfectionist as I prefer to wallow in my own self pity at being sick.

Tues 4 May. Zafra to Torremergia. Todays distance 48.5km. Total distance 204.5km complete/795.5km to go.

After sleeping for a few hours yesterday afternoon and then staying in bed later than usual, I got up around 07:30, I feel pretty good, my stomach is still a little unsettled but I am ready to hit the road. I strolled over to the albergue where the others were staying as Odette and I will be going to visit the post office to offload a spare backpack and I can also top up my balance on my Spanish cell phone. All of the chores were complete by 9:30am so we set off from Zafra and I pushed a fairly quick pace. After a couple hours we started to overtake some of the other pilgrims, a couple picking wild asparagus and a 72 year old who combines hiking and taxi rides to complete his pilgrimage. Our pace led us to Villafranca within four hours, that means we were covering 5-6km in an hour and when carrying weight this pace can cause foot issues, namely blisters!

Even with our speed we were still passed by two pilgrims, albeit on bikes. Liam and Barry shouting out comments to me, “You’re a long way from Canada.” and “Hows it going?” at least the Canada patch seems to work as now people speak to me in English. Once we got into Villafranca we met up with John and K, then Odette chose the easy way out and stayed the night at the pension, good job or I may have been collecting my inheritance sooner rather than later. Before I left I had the chance to catch up with Liam and Barry and chat about the camino, Ireland, volcanoes, Spain and anything else we could think of. I patched up one blister and set off on the second half of my days hike, after completing 20.5km I had another 28.5km to Torremegia, crazy eh?

So off I set on my own listening to various albums on my mp3 player, I started off at a brisk pace and then found the sun getting hotter and the shade was disappearing as I hit ridiculously long straight, hard roads leading off towards the horizon. What have I done? It helped momentarily when Liam and Barry breezed past shouting various comments to me including how much my Mum was missing me already. As they disappeared a few clouds came up on the horizon and a stiff breeze blew straight into my face. Kilometre of gravel track after kilometre passed, the odd farmer lifting their hand to wave as they sat atop their cabless tractors. At one point as I passed a corjito and I was looking at the barking dog I heard “Agua! Agua!” and saw the homeowner offering me water from the hose, I showed them my remaining liter of water and shouted “No, gracias” and continued my pace.

Hours passed, no one in front, no one behind. No markers for distance just in my mind the thought of the hours passing by and my eyes constantly searching for shade, even a small patch would be nice. During this part of the hike I was hoping to reflect on a few thoughts and think about what I was doing and why I was doing it but those thoughts gave way to questioning myself about which part of my body hurts? How much further to walk? I wonder how hot the sun is? How much water do I have left? and various other non-productive thoughts.

Just before I got to the 5km mark before town I found a piece of shade and ate an orange for a temporary boost of sugar. That saw me into town and weary on my feet I asked Mr & Mrs Barcelona where the Albergue was and they indicated left & left, easy I thought until I went left and then left and then down a couple more streets then looking up and down the other streets before I stumbled upon the grandiose doorway. When everything hurts and you are tired no one is quick enough and everything is slow, the albergue host was really great but I just could not appreciate anything at the time especially the long staircase I had to climb to find my bunk. The only energy I could muster the rest of the day was to get to the supermarket and stock up on sugary drinks and chips. I slept well though!

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