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A Spanish Pilgrimage 2010. Week 3

Wed 5 May. Torremegia. Todays distance 0km! Total distance 204.5km complete/795.5km to go.

To allow the others to catch up and to allow my legs to regain some level of usability I had agreed to wait for my three amigos before heading to Merida. The achilles tendonin my left leg has started to get a little sore, either the blister on my heel or rubbing from the boots from yesterdays decision to hike 48km in 9 hours. Although the albergue was comfortable, the snoring was pretty loud and as much as I shook the bunk the guy below just wouldn’t shut up. I was the first one up and made a little bit of noise trying to stir the rest of the room who had, according to the snoring slept way better than me. I guess they just like to sleep in.

Downstairs a couple other unknown pilgrims had stirred and were waiting for breakfast from the hosts. I helped myself to some hot water from the microwave with a contented smirk as the others watched me make my Oatmeal. After finishing I wandered back upstairs and packed the rest of my gear with 3 of the other 8 people who were now out of bed. My plan was to go down to the bridge and sit watching pilgrims walk past and offer the usual greeting of “Hola, Buen Camino” and eventually leave with my party to the next albergue. From 07:30 I sat looking into the distance as the Sun rose and warmed the concrete, the metal structure and my left shoulder. 08:30, 09:30 and so on passed, farmers cut their crop as the hawks circled looking for a tasty morsel below and generally frolicking in the warm gentle breeze. I moved from the bridge to the shade under the Olive tree as an older Spanish guy walked past we offered a quick greeting and he was off on his circular walk down to the stream and back.

After my snack of chips (crisps in the UK) I decided to get up from my shady bliss and look down the trail, in the distance I saw some pilgrims struggling to cross the stream and as they crossed the railway line following the old trail I peered into the distance to establish their identity, no one I knew. As the Spanish guy came back our conversation went something like this, courtesy of google translate….
Spanish – “Tus amigos han caminado por el camino por los campos.”, “Your friends have walked down the camino through the fields.”
Me – “I am waiting for some people coming down this trail.” I offered some hand signals.
Spanish – “¿Estás seguro de que esa gente no son tus amigos?”, “Are you sure those people are not your friends?”
Me – Waving my hand a little more, “No they will come down this way”
Spanish – “Si, buen camino”
Me – “Buenos Dias”
Spanish – “Buenos Dias”

I walked up to the bridge again, I knew they had started early but must have been overtaken as they would follow the book and the route that leads down the correct side of the railway tracks. I checked my phone, the low battery meant the radio had been disabled so I removed the battery and rubbed it in an effort to warm it up (I don’t even know if that works or not) then shoved it back in the phone, with the boot up the radio came back on and I had three text messages in Spanish….who knew what they meant.

In desperation I sent a text message and then had to remove the battery again and repeat the process to get the radio working. A text message came back from Odette and I sent a quick response, then the phone rang, with a brief conversation I found they were at the next albergue and they had managed to sneak past me on the wrong side of the track. So much for following the book! So much for me counting pilgrims! I got to five then went to meet the others.

Thurs 6 May. Torremegia. Torremegia to Merida. Todays distance 16km. Total distance 220.5km complete/779.5km to go.

Last night at the new albergue I had Raphael (Mr Hawaii) read my tarot card, most of you know this about me so I dont mind sharing, the following quote was translated from Spanish to English…..
“A person with a balanced personality who listens to his head more than his heart. You need to listen to the child within and follow your heart instead of your head”.
As this trip is supposed to be spiritual as well as a damn long hike I guess I need to take this on and see where it leads me! Raphael also provided a reading for the others but I cant tell you what he said.

After we rose I let the others go off for their morning coffee while I sat on a bench outside with the backpacks to my side and various locals going about their daily business. As the time approached 7 the dark gray/blue sky lightened and as the sun rose the cockerels and birds started to crow and sing their songs. Soon my companions returned and we began a fairly uneventful hike with my achilles and blisters giving me some grief. The hike felt a lot longer than 16km.

Once in Merida I told the others I was not walking anywhere, except to the hairdresser to get my head shaved. Oh yeah, almost forgot I no longer own a beard. Once it all came off a few of the other pilgrims looked a bit confused and must have thought my twin had shown up. For most of the afternoon I sat outside in the shade watching the day pass and the various animal life go about its daily business. An ants life seems pretty tough as they constantly move items around especially when you get someone like me sit right in the middle of the path.

Before my haircut I was laying on my bunk minding my own business when I heard a couple of english words with a Canadian twang, two backpacks landed on the bed next to me with Canadian patches….at last someone else to talk to. Two blonde girls in their twenties set about their bunks, one was very chatty and the other looked at me as if I was crazy, after an hour or two she warmed up to me, especially when we started talking about the Canucks who are currently losing to Chicago 2-1 in the playoffs. The two girls have come from the Sunshine Coast and are in their early 20s, I will let you all imagine the reaction from most of the other guys in the albergue especially when they started their yoga poses. They were both excited to be taking on the challenge by foot and bus where they deem necessary. I wish them well on their journey.

As everyone tossed and turned and snored the night away I listened to music and continued my thoughts on my journey. I am now not convinced that I am here just to hike. The hiking has been interesting and a challenge but some of the people have been more interesting. Its strange that I am starting to be more comfortable in a dormitory with snoring people than in a private room all to myself, I wonder how long it will last.

Fri May 7. Merida to Alcuescar. Todays distance 39.5km. Total distance 259km complete/741km to go.

I was up first out of all the 20+ pilgrims, 6:00am, got my stuff ready then sat around waiting for the others. Odette was quickly ready so we set off, leaving John and K to their own devices. We knew this was going to be a long hike with an escape route at 17km. When Odette and I entered Aljucen at 17km we had a break at the bar, coke and ice cream before lunch. We bumped into Noel and he told us K and John were 500m to a kilometer behind. We both changed into our sandals and continued our hike down the road. I have found hiking in sandals is better for my achilles but not as good for my blisters. Wearing the sandals without socks has already given me a couple blisters so now I wear long hiking socks with my sandals and shorts, good job I am not worried about looking a bit strange.

Following our guidebook didn’t help too much as the distances seemed to be way off and the hike was a long arduous hike uphill with uneven footing pushing the blisters on my warm, sweaty feet. Its very challenging mentally when you think you are within an hour or two of your destination and it takes an extra 2 or 3 hours to get there. Identifying milestones can also be tough so sometimes its just best to plod along, keep your head down and think of the food and drink you get at the end of the day. The killer today was hiking uphill for a couple kilometers then realising that we had walked 5km less than we thought and the next 3km was uphill followed by 2km downhill. At least our destination made it worthwhile.

We were a little confused walking down from the village on top of the hill as there were three different directions to take, we selected one and just went for it. As we approached the building a large white cross on top came into view and the size of the complex became clear. There were three or four buildings all behind a black metal railing with statues standing in courtyards. The complex is a home for handicapped men and offers accommodation and food for pilgrims, all you need to do is donate a little cash. Although I am not religious I feel I should respect others beliefs and was more comfortable accepting their food if I attended the church service beforehand. It was a pretty standard affair, albeit in Spanish with a little Spanish guitar music that was until the priest/vicar or whatever the guy at the front is called, asked all the pilgrims to stand up and walk towards the alter…..I have been blessed!

So after the service I felt I could eat the food without feeling too guilty. Soup, salad and some Pork, all good until Odette has a good idea. The host was looking for volunteers to help with service and then washing up, somehow I now have to wash plates, glasses and cutlery for 30+ people. As the dirty plates pile up on the trolley we wheeled it into the kitchen and my task was just to rinse the bubbles off the plates, all pretty easy really. John stood back and took some photos of me wearing an apron and passing plates from Odette (washing) to K (stacking). It was over pretty quick and we all had a laugh with the Spanish host (who took a shining to Odette!).

On a side note, my achilles has now been iced. I bought a bag of peas from Spar (like 7-Eleven), it worked great.

Continue reading after the photo gallery.


Sat May 8. Alcuescar to Casar de Caseres. Todays distance 51km. Total distance 310km complete/690km to go.

A few days ago John had mentioned there was a music festival in Caseres the issue was the distance we had to travel to get there. Today Caseres was in distance for me, the other three were planning to stop in the village before and I would make my final decision in that village. Odette and I started out at 07:00 and the hike was fairly easy. I have found hiking in my sandals is better on my achilles and I hiked 10-15km in sandals today.

When we all arrived at Valdesalor a few other peregrinos were waiting outside a house and in German we found out that the mayor lived in the building and had the key for the refugio. I guess the mayor has a little something on the side as the villagers said he was having lunch at some house and he would not bring us the key. Before the others had found this out I had already eaten my mackerel and rice cakes and left for Caseres. Soon enough Odette called….”Ol, I should have come with you, the refugio does not have any hot water and it smells.” I had the guidebook so gave some brief directions and then found out that John and K had changed their minds and were also following me out of the no horse town.

Once I got into Caseres I got a feeling for the size of the festival, people everywhere, tons of english being spoken and I also stumbled upon one of the large stages. The atmosphere was pretty good but with all the people around I could not find the way to the albergue, it was full anyway and had apparently turned away 40 people. So I called the others and waited around for them, in hindsight I should have just spoken to a few people as later a Spanish reveller had asked if I was a pilgrim and after a quick conversation I got the feeling I could have stayed on their floor. It was a bit tough to get that far when they see three other people with you.

Finding a bed for four was impossible, everything was full. The rain started to pour down and we holed up in a bar, I think Odette had 3 cups of coffee within the hour. I was ready to hike another 12km to the next town but Odette’s legs were shot so the eventual outcome was for us to get a Taxi up the road to another hostal and stay there the night. At least I got an internet connection and posted some updates on the blog. Some people may think we cheated by skipping 11km, I think many of the pilgrims would have tried to get a horse/mule ride and if they had the money they surely would have paid for it. This is no different when things go a little south you have to do what you need to do.

Sun May 9. Casar de Caseres to Embalse de Alcantara. Todays distance 20km. Total distance 330km complete/670km to go.

John and K had decided to go back to Caseres to sample the architecture and atmosphere, Odette and I had decided to continue hiking, I still want a vacation after this is over. This 20km was pretty tough, it was grey and raining and both of us found our feet were giving us grief. I think walking with blisters changes your gait slightly so that can cause other issues. As we approached the lake from the road we had to cross a 1km long bridge with the wind driving the rain into our faces, then it stopped once we got inside and it turned out to be quite a nice afternoon.

Our initial stop was at the albergue until we found there was no hot water, luckily they had an internet connection so I found the Lakeview hotel just before the albergue had British owners. Instead of hiking on another 14km we stayed at the Lakeview and got a number of positive outcomes….
1. Conversations in English.
2. Odette fell in love with their puppy.
3. We had all of our clothes machine washed, they are so clean and soft 🙂
4. I got a roast dinner, roast potatoes and the works.
5. We got to meet their brand new pet pigs.

Let me explain some of this in more detail, the couple had bought the property three months ago as a fishing lodge and had not realised that pilgrims walk past and stop in for food and accommodation. They haven’t stopped in the last few weeks as business has been brisk. Shortly after moving they had found a box that was whimpering and when it was opened a puppy not more than a few days old was inside, its lucky to have survived and is now crazy as hell, running around everywhere. The owners have a vision of what they want and it seems to involve animals, their new friends own a farm and gave them two pigs that will consume the leftovers from dinner and they are also getting two cats. If you like fishing or are hiking by then it is well worth the stop, probably the best nights accommodation I have had in Spain so far.

One thing they had noticed which confirmed my suspicions….being a pilgrim does not make you a nice person, some of the stories they had are shocking. I have noticed that it does not matter what your faith is or if you don’t have a faith at all, religion does not necessarily make you a nice person. It does not matter where you are from, being a nice person is not related to any of the various nationalities we have come across or how you look or how much money you have.

You really cannot make a judgment by the way anyone looks, where they are from or even based on some of the things they do. Maybe we all need to be more open to each other.

Mon May 10. Embalse de Alcantara to Grimaldo. Todays distance 26km. Total distance 356km complete/644km to go.

I let Odette have a lie in this morning, breakfast was a little late and we had to pay the bill. The hike was reasonably easy until we got close to Grimaldo when the hills became larger and steeper, good job we slept well last night.

I had read about Grimaldo on a web page and the guidebook had a one liner, “If you want to stay at Grimaldo turn left through the first gate after the stream.” so we did. We hiked up a steep hill and into the village where a middle aged guy pointed us towards the bar and refugio. I guess his Mum was running things inside and quickly started to prepare us a coffee and coke, both are easy to order. We then got our phrase books out and paid the bill and established that she ran the refugio and would show us around.

There were no windows in the bedrooms but there was a small kitchen with a working microwave (remember that it works). As per normal we dumped the bags and fixed our feet then sat around for a while. Odette went to look for a supermarket and came back empty handed, its no wonder the bar runs a refugio when they know they can have all the pilgrims buy lunch and dinner from them. Dinner always happens around 20:00 and it can be a long day hanging around waiting, all you can do is look around and study the dodgy electrics and try and figure out where the power comes from and then how they can get away with the live wires being visible.

Just before it was time for dinner Odette decided to have a cup of tea, or should I say try and have a cup. The microwave mysteriously was not working, neither was the coffee maker or other appliances in the kitchen. I guess its better for business to prevent people cooking at dinner time in the refugio, no wonder the electrical wires are all over the place. Dinner came and went, we had a chat with a Swedish lady who had been traveling for six months, also some German friends who we have seen a few times and an old German lady who seems to cry at the end of everyday….I do not know why anyone would want to do this hike if it makes them cry everyday….I know I am close to tears after every hike but thats another story.

Tues May 11. Grimaldo to Carcaboso. Todays distance 28km. Total distance 382km complete/616km to go.

Odette and I had a chat with a couple German guys yesterday who have a better book than us and this was their next stop so we are following them. At this rate I may actually get through this hike with enough time left to go on vacation, I know I need one.

We were up early and on the trail in the dark, leading the way with our headlamps through long grass and rocky trails. The sun was shining but not too strong and we got into Carcaboso in the early afternoon. After checking the price at the nice looking Hostal we went to Bar Ruta de la Plata and met the owner, I think she was 75 and I think she liked me just as she likes her grandson. All day she served in the bar and came up to the hostal to hang the washing and generally check on me. It all started when we went upstairs and Odette threw her bag down on her bed and the Senora gave me an extended tour of her property, all in Spanish but we came to an understanding.

Odette finished all the washing and hung it out to dry and as soon as the rain started the Senora was up getting the washing back in and then instructing me how to bring all of my washing in whilst I was in shorts and t-shirt without socks on, it was pretty cold. Later in the day I was using the German guide to plan the next few days trip and see how quickly I can get this challenge complete, suddenly the Senora burst in and ran out to the balcony dragging her bed sheets back up the wall. She came in, blurted something in Spanish and hit me round the back of the head, just like my Gran would have. Apparently I should have been watching the washing dry.

It seemed that she then decided she liked me, maybe she would adopt me to run the bar! As she came to the realisation that I could not stay and would be leaving the next day she proceeded to explain to me how to get out of town and take a short cut. A few blank stares and multiple attempts by the Senora to explain how to get out of town then led me to get a piece of paper and a pen. From memory she drew me a map of the next few towns and the quality was better than our guidebook.

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