Walking without a donkey. Olocau and Sierra Calderona: Part 2

Olocau, 12-14.12.16. Part 2

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Sun rising on the Sierra Calderona, from the house 

We walk in and out of the village taking Theo to school, picking our way over the stepping stones across two streams. I am so hot and sweaty, despite it being so late in the year, that I change into shorts and vest top with sunglasses when we get back. The golden dogs appreciate the shade.

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We eat delicious oranges that lie under the tree as we walk. At the local bar we are served bitter local olives, quick-cooked sardines, and peanuts in their shells which they grow in the garden – all free tapas with our beers.

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The house sits on the edge of this protected area of natural beauty and the daily T’ai Chi is in the shadow of this marvellous scenery.  My host helps me plan the next day’s walking on his GPS which is invaluable once I get used to it.

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Duration: 8 hours. I went slowly to eke out the wonderfulness.

‘Walking: it (silence) hits you at first like an immense breathing in the ears. You feel the silence as if it  were a great fresh wind’. p.59 A Philosophy of Walking, Frederic Gros.

Of course it is not silent really. If it is not birds; insects; leaves hushing, it is my brain’s noticings and internal conversations.

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As on the Caminos, it’s not unusual to find small cairns or piles of stones in significant places. 

There’s the smell of pine, and it’s a very cold 5 degrees as I start. The only sounds are the very high-pitched, fine bird song; the buzzing of insects; tutting of grasshoppers; and wind in the trees. Later there’s a period of hunters shooting, which seems to go on and on. When I am out of the sun, the cold air penetrates my clothes and hair.

Number of others I encounter: A pair of cyclists who I hear before I see them. Then they pass me and it’s only the birds again. There are only two walkers who happen along when I am lost and help me back onto the right track. My luck hasn’t run out.

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As I climb, the Valencian plain comes into view, and I look down the rocky slopes to the mountains, so far in the distance that my phone camera can’t pick them up very well.

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I walk along a smooth, wide, red-clay track which changes after a couple of hours to brown, yellow and sometimes gold. I am struck how different the colours are from Northern Spain. All around me are trees and shrubs of grey-silver, yellow-green, spring-green, brown, and a whitish pink.

It is really quiet. Twice I hear a noise which makes me turn, and it’s a red admiral butterfly’s wings moving – truly. I imagine this is how the wilderness might feel. I change into my shorts when it gets too hot and feel like a boy exploring exciting lands when I should be in school.

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Great big boulders blocking the path. 

I think there might have been recent rock falls, perhaps in the torrential rain I missed last week, because the path was all but blocked with giant boulders at times. I found myself clambering up to the summit, the Pico, on my hands and feet. There’s a little ‘altar’ at the top with a visitors’ book in which I write. I add a small white shell from the beach in Finnistere, which I have in my pocket.

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And then it was worse coming down, dangerous, and I often slipped and fell. Later as I rested, I heard rocks falling and saw movement of the undergrowth on the opposite slope. There was a wild boar, a large, heavy, dark animal which I had been often told about – so exciting!

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Afterwards, I visited the village for a welcome beer and wandered around. A beautiful church, an interestingly decorated house (with Charlie Chaplin),  and an alternative zebra / pedestrian crossing, all caught my eye.

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I extended my stay an extra day to have one last wonderful walk in the tranquility, and thank my hosts Georgie and Phil for their generous hospitality. I hope the Shiatsu and other help I gave around the house conveyed my gratitude.

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Walking without a donkey. Valencia and Sierra Calderona: Part 1.

Olocau, 9-11.12.16. Part 1

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View from the house

My wonderful hosts, family Anniss, live in the small village of Olocau on the edge of of the stunning Sierra Calderona national park.

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The walk to school – stepping stones. 

On my first day (Saturday) we walked to the nearby Iberian settlement which has recently undergone major smartening for the tourists (signs, wifi, new dark brown metal safety fences on top).

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There were trees I have never seen before: carob, persimmon, pomegranates, plus oranges and lemons, and flowering cacti.

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Pomegranates

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Persimmon

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And the higher we climbed, the more magnificent the views.

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There are bulrushes and giant versions of my house plants!

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The sun shone (although they had recently suffered 2 weeks of unusual and torrential rain and were to have a repeat after I left).

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On Sunday we sunbathed on the terrace and put up Xmas decorations…outside!

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On Monday I visited the elegant and colourful city of Valencia, and once more the sun kept me company.

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Nuestra Señora de los Descamparados 

The facades are particularly attractive.

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I loved the Jardin de las Hésperides (free to enter), beside the Botanic gardens (which you have to pay for – how I appreciate the Edinburgh ones being free), and an interesting exhibition (also free), in which I particularly enjoyed the work of Carmen Van den Eynde and Toya Legido.

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Carmen Van den Eynde http://www.carmenvan.es

Toya Legido http://www.toyalegido.com

I liked the simple churches:

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Although I had to admire the interior of San Nicolás and the small part of the Catédral which I didn’t have to pay to see.

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The fisher of men and elaborate ceiling of San Nicolás 


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And the font and artwork of the Catédral 

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Even the ticket office at the art deco station is impressive.

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Here I sat in repose, with my tin of mussels for lunch.

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I came across the Ceramic museum towards the end of the day. It is so close to the cafés and other buildings surrounding it, that it’s hard to get a good photo.

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Overall one very attractive city!

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Walking without a donkey. Las Matas

Happy days with Barry and Maria José just north of Madrid (Las Rozas area) 7.12.16, 8.12.16

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Beautiful Madrid scenery. 

I arrived in Madrid at 6am after a broken night on the bus. (We stopped at services at 2, lights on and announcements made!). When I arrived it was dark, and I whiled away a few hours in a just-opened câfé until kind Lucia had woken up and I could collect my bag which she had been guarding for weeks.

Of the many journies I made, only one Spanish bus (Madrid-Léon) was late (and I was so keen to get there early). All the others I took on my many trips up and down the country, were on time, relatively affordable, and efficient. Many had a toilet, and also free wifi so I could write my blog while I was between stages. Indeed,  if I’d been able to work out the logistics, I could have watched films, and charged my phone on board too! I took one Bla Bla Car but generally found them very difficult to book online, and the driver didn’t say more than one word to me. The trains were all modern and made announcements in English as well as Castillian and the local dialect. Passengers on British trains eat constantly, but here there are no food trolleys or buffet car, not on the Vittoria-San Sebastian or local trains anyway.

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Rather disturbing sculpture by Antonio Lopéz outside Estación Sur / Atocha Madrid.

I was invited to stay at Lucia’s house in Madrid for a while and have a cup of tea, which I gratefully accepted and then left to meet Barry at Atocha / Estación Sur. He’s a South African Shiatsu practitioner who has been living in Spain for quite a while, and a contact given to me by Rebecca.

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More public art at Atocha (can’t find name of sculptor). 

We met beside the tropical garden inside the station and I was fascinated by the turtles swimming, climbing, and sitting on top of each other.

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Hard to see in this photo, but there are 100s of small, swimming turtles in an indoor pool.

Barry and I went on a local train (like the Cercanias shuttle to Aranjuez, this was cheap and stopped at all stations), and he pointed out the herds of deer standing proud in a park on the left as we made our way north in the same direction I had come a few hours earlier.

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I am so lucky to be staying at friends’ houses with beautiful grounds and pools.

We arrived in the sunshine and walked to their gorgeous and predominantly self-built house which is big enough for a large Shiatsu room AND a teaching hall.

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During the time I was with Barry and his partner Maria José, we had satisfying, long discussions about the positive effects of Shiatsu; Barry’s interesting life (born Kirkcaldy, bought up in South Africa, moved to Bulaweyo, travelled to London with £100 in his pocket…works as a magician as well as Shiatsu assistant /teacher etc); language (Maria José is a linguist and Spanish literature tutor, now learning Greek); Spanish politics and much more.

We had a fascinating walk in Torrelodones (I left my camera in the house so no photos) along what was planned to be a coast-to-coast waterway. There were sweet smelling shrubs, wild asparagus, and the chunky rocks I was going to become familiar with when walking in the bottom half of Spain, but which landscape is so different from the verdant Galician countryside I was used to.

We visited an artisan deli and bought manchego and Portuguese custard tarts; and I sampled the most delicious food: fresh tomato salad, pumpkin soup, pasta made from an ancient form of wheat (not spelt) and homemade pesto, all sourced locally from farms they have visited. I exchange Shiatsu for these necessary comforts.

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Las Matas station – photographed for the sake of contrast with the countryside I prefer. 

Two days later I was back ‘on the road’ through Madrid to Valencia. Every time I moved between places, I found the numbers of people and vehicles, the noise and busyness, very hard to manage. What I hoped were old anxieties and prickly, protective behaviour, resurfaced quickly in response.

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Sunrise from Las Matas

To be sure I was leaving with more stimulating memories. It’s amazing that all the people I have stayed with so far were unknown to me beforehand. Bar one, they have been Shiatsu contacts from many sources and more kind people you couldn’t meet.

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Taken from the bus – beautiful scenery through the tinted window at top speed. 

 

Walking without a donkey. Via de la Plata: Day 9

Vilar de Barrio to Xinzon and Ourense (again) 6.12.16  16km

Aim: Not to focus on what I do not have, but what I do.

Stops: One, to charge my phone and ‘recharge my batteries’ on the outskirts of Xinzon.

Got lost: I thought I was, but actually it was one straight main road between Vilar de Barrio and Xinzon, so, impossible.

Other pilgrims: I was not on the Camino, so none.

Weather: Beautifully sunny. Of course.

Lesson learned: Just because there are huge signs indicating a train station and also a bus stop in the centre of a village, it doesn’t mean there are any means of public transport in or out.

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A beautiful sunrise from the window of the albergue. Cold outside until mid morning. 

Having spent time planning my route into the mountains last night, I was surprised to find myself debating whether to continue. I was about to embark on the steepest climb into the mountains to Laxa, but I slept badly and had been sent various messages telling me of snow and rain further down the line. I realised that once I was at Laxa I would have to continue at least one more day as I would be in the middle of nowhere, and it dawned on me I was really quite tired, and the pain in the back of my knee, though not bad, wasn’t going away.

So I took the tricky decision to stop walking and take a bus to a town where I could get to Madrid. I had promised my hosts I would be with them on 27th November (10 days before), and cancelled at the last minute, which seemed to be becoming a bit of a feature of this trip – not something I had ever done before in the UK and therefore very uncomfortable. Each time I was acting on strong, strong urges to continue to walk.

But, there were no buses (later I discovered it was a holiday), and no trains (they don’t stop at the very well advertised and signposted station), and the taxi was going to be between €25-30. I tried asking about a school bus, or anyone going to somewhere who could give me a lift? But it transpired that I would have to walk.

There were more kindnesses from the man who charged my phone behind his counter, and the man in the petrol cubicle who drew me a map, and they fortified me in my resolve. Off I set, back along the long straight road I had come in by – for a particularly hard 3 hours’ walking. I even tried, weakly, to thumb a lift for the first time in my life, (before the motorway junction to Madrid), but no-one stopped and I made it to Xinzon by lunchtime.

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Where Xmas preparations were in full swing. 

I only had half an hour between arriving at the bus station on foot, and leaving by public transport, but it was enough time to be sent on a wild goose chase to buy a ticket that I actually had to buy on the bus itself. I sat in the sun for the 10 minutes it was late, soothed by the warmth. The question I debated was, where will I stay tonight?

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I don’t know what or who this is a statue of but I liked it. 

On arrival in Ourense, I booked the first bus I could afford to the capital and that took care of where to stay – on the bus. Then I shamefacedly contacted the folk in Las Matas and Barry kindly invited me for the 2 nights after.  (I have noticed before that if I stop pushing myself when I am tired, and take an easy way, my plans start flowing again and decisions come easier.)

The first time I visited I had promised myself that I would come back one day to go to the natural hot springs. And here I was, back sooner than imagined and, apparently, a happy 5 minutes from the out-of-town ones. So, with plenty of free time before 24.15, off I went to laze in sulphur waters, and what an experience: one of the best of my trip.

For €4 there are 3 pools made from magnificent slabs of granite that glitter by the Miño Rive (river) and motorway. The delicate sliver of a half moon was initially suspended in a bright blue sky in which the sun was setting. Then the moon got brighter and stronger as the sky darkened to inky blue, until it was totally black and I was red! One and a half hours of bliss and steam, lying back, intermittently leaving one pool for a freezing plunge, before a hotter one. I could feel my scratches, bites, muscles and joints being eased by the healing waters. The relaxation room has even got hot slabs to lie on.

This life, full of unexpectedness and new experiences.

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I met a woman on her way down who showed me the way. She had her empty plastic bottle and showed me her poor sore leg. There was a group of older people with their feet in what looked like a sewer (and smelled a bit like it), collecting the water. She said it works for her.

The lovely baths were followed by a walk by the previously really busy river, with now only the occasional individual. I traced and retraced my steps in the pitch dark to find the complicated way back through unlit undergrowth, camper-van parking lots, disused industrial buildings, and bulrushes. What with clambering over railway lines, across dual-carriageways, under motorway passes, and jumping across rivers, I guess I’ve been taking a few risks lately. With my rucksack on my back, my phone torch in my hand, and my heart in my mouth, I was thankful I lived to tell the tale.

 

Walking without a donkey. Via de la Plata: Day 8

Xunqueira de Ambia to Vilar de Barrio  5.12.16  13.4km

Rousseau wrote ‘I have never thought so much, existed so much, lived so much, been so much myself,…as in the journeys which I have made alone and on foot…intoxicated with delicious sensations.’ p. 70, A Philosophy of walking, Frederick Gros.

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Today’s aim: not to assume I know what will happen in the future.

As I have walked, I have thought a lot about the future, and at the moment I have decided that it’s a mistake to assume we know what will happen in 10 years time. Imagine if we were wrong and we don’t live that long, and we had said no to something because we thought we knew. I am still interested in using the present as a way of planning for the future.

My second important thought for the day concerns the chains of people’s kindnesses: if Merce hadn’t encouraged me I wouldn’t have left Pamplona and started the Camino; if I hadn’t walked with Alain I wouldn’t know the way of the pilgrim; if I hadn’t followed Clémence I would not have known how to work my way backwards through the Via de la Plata; and if the lovely man from Seville hadn’t let me copy the chemin from his GPS I wouldn’t be here now…

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This morning I am able to go more softly, and the morning is simply wonderful. I climb up and over rocky hills amongst Autumn colours (oak and bracken), and the landscape is stunning, the views breath-taking, and all the small happenings seem to have such value.

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A woman as small as me, in her pinny, and with a faint odour of cooking about her, but with perhaps an added 20 years, wanted to tell me, as I traipsed through her village, that I wasn’t going to Santiago (no, that’s right!). She wanted to know where I came from, to tell me which was the next village and how to get there, and to check, did I have something to eat? Bless.

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The second half is all very flat and rather monotonous. I somehow manage to get lost, despite being able to see where I am going miles ahead, and stopping lots of farm and heavy goods vehicles to ask the way. I clamber up and down river banks getting scratched by brambles whilst trying to find a way across. I retrace my steps quite a lot, and generally get a little downhearted.

Annoyances: Clouds of midges. How do they get right inside Google my clothes like that?

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It’s a series of long, long straight paths crossed by equally dead-straight roads for several hours, and the chocolate and bread I ate as I went along sat heavily in my stomach (the Spanish diet contains so much wheat!). I found that it was much harder to walk in this type of landscape, than on the gorgeous hillsides of the morning.

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I arrived in Vilar de Barrio at 3.15pm after walking 6 hours from where I started, and rather stupidly with no break. No wonder I felt exhausted, and had tired feet and middle back. For the first time it felt a bit of a strain, yet another new place after 8 straight days of hiking. However an ultra high-speed hot shower hit the right spot, and it wasn’t long before I was sitting with a cold beer and this fountain view.

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I had had hot sun all day and it was 16 degrees in the shade outside the bar, which given I was sitting in a t-shirt and flip-flops on 5th December wasn’t at all bad.

By 4.30pm the clouds were looming over the hill and I needed to eat. The supermarket was about to open but once again the hostel had no utensils and I still didn’t have a pan, so I decided to treat myself to cafe food, the first time on my own.

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Unfortunately the woman who cooked at the cafe went into hospital unexpectedly, so I had to wait until 8pm for the restaurant to open. Run by a much older couple, and with a verbal menu, I told her (in Spanish of course) about my vegetarian and fish diet and was offered verduras soup and tortilla. Ideal! In fact the former had chunks of mutton in it (though I didn’t have the heart to send it back so it was probably the first meat I’ve knowingly eaten in 30 years). The latter was the best I’ve ever tasted AND she wrapped the leftovers up for my lunch for the next day. Another much appreciated kindness.

There followed another night alone in the hostel, this time with underfloor heating, which was lovely for doing barefoot T’ai chi on in the light of the following morning’s sunrise.

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Walking without a donkey. Via de la Plata: Day 7

Ourense to Xunqueira de Ambia  4.12.16. 22.2km

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Municipal gardens, Ourense.

Aim: to keep myself safe

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River Miño, showing the modern bridge and not the famous Ponte Vella, Roman bridge which Ourense is famous for.

I prepared a very careful hand-drawn map with directions from the internet yesterday evening, and struck out on my own at 9am, after a very slow start because I needed to buy a lead to charge my phone and it was a Sunday – would all the shops be shut? The night before I had been told there would be a ‘Chinese’ shop open, and wandering through the old city where bric-a-brac stalls were being set up for the flea market, this info was confirmed. But could I find one? No. Instead I saw a sign in a cafe for wifi and phone charging, and the kind barman used his own lead: the first of many bartenders to help me out this way.

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View of Ourense from the old Franciscan Monastery,  now the municipal albergue for peregrinos (those who are walking the Camino).

It was a long walk out of the city, made worse by my tendency to distrust the people I asked for directions. In the meantime I found first a ‘Chinese’ shop and bought a phone lead, and secondly the hot baths I had been told about. They look like a surreal, steaming, swimming pool right in the centre of the city replete with people in rubber hats. I made a promise to myself that I would return to bathe there one day.

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Surreal, steamy baths. 

The next part of the day’s walking was a long slog on tarmac through the industrial area, but I was very glad not to get lost, and it was at least all flat.

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Stops: a coffee at lunchtime in a bar opposite a temporary street stall selling plates of pulpo (purple and white octopus) and potatoes, which were then eaten by Spanish couples in the bar, washed down with red wine. Happily, I was able to buy fresh bread to take away.

As the chemical smells receded, I walked through a residential area with the familiar vegetable gardens and spotted a well, not more than 5 paces from the front door  right on the edge of the street and stopped to photograph.

 

Railway lines crossed: 3 times. Surely this can’t be right, despite the yellow arrows clearly showing me the way? No trains in sight – perhaps they don’t run on a Sunday.

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Chapel Sta Agathe.

I scrambled down the bank and round the corner and discovered the little church of Saint Agatha on the hill behind the railway lines. In the sun, the simplicity and calm of the stone structure set in green grass was refreshing.

Until, that was,  I dipped into my pocket for my map and it wasn’t there. Yes, I decided that I really did need it as I had no other way to know my way. I hadn’t met a single other pilgrim on route that day, and though locals are keen to help there aren’t many to be found in the wilder parts. So I took off my rucksack, and retraced my steps, back over the railway line, until I found my scraps of paper by the well I had photographed 20 minutes earlier. Thank goodness.

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Nearly half way.

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The rest of the day was picturesque in parts… 

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…with unexpected delights.

As always there was a steep climb up from the river to the village at the end of the day. Alarmingly, I had to walk through and out the other side and only then arrived at the albergue to find it deserted.

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So I removed my boots and socks, found myself a bed, had a cold shower (to be fair they had a problem and the plumber was there early the next morning), and settled in with my bread and cheese before a cyclist appeared. I discovered the next morning that he was from Seville, with a computer job, had ridden 70km that day, and had a handy GPS. Kindly, he spent time letting me draw a map from it for the day’s walk – such a lucky break.

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Did I keep myself safe? Well, I didn’t get seriously lost; and it was a good call to go back and look for my map because I needed it. On the other hand I walked for miles along very busy roads with no pavements; and I think that was the first time in my life I have roamed along and over train tracks. I survived another day walking a considerable distance alone with my rucksack, and arrived safely. so let’s leave it at that. Plus I got another good picture of a donkey!

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Walking without a donkey. Via de la Plata: Days 4-6 

Day 4 – Laxe to Castro Douzon  1.12.16   19 km

Doorbells rung to ask the way, and tractors stopped for the same reason: 1 of each.

Items of clothing lost: 3. All necessary for the cold weather.

Doing T’ai Chi in the garden of the albergue before we leave is bitterly cold due to the unusual cold wind, especially as I lost my gloves and thermal leggings yesterday. We are high up here in Castro Douzon. There are swimming pools for adults and children though, and a playpark, so it must be lovely in summer. 

Today there’s a lot of walking by the busy roads with no pavements, which is hard on the feet, and less scenic. There are great vistas from the top after a good, steep climb though: layers of purple and blue hills in the distance, bright green fields, terracotta and stone villages, and matching trees.

Descending into valleys, we discover solid bridges over gleaming azure streams, reflecting the sky, which are full of vibrant green weed.

And we talk about women’s rights, pensions, how to say ‘kiss’ in different languages, and swap information about our 3 cultures – Maroc, French and British.

The local people kindly stop and tell us we are going the wrong way, and point helpfully in the direction of Santiago de Compostella. So we all learn to say that ‘no, we are walking ‘contrario’ towards Seville’, in Spanish. They also offer useful information like where and what to eat, and who serves the best ‘pulpo’ (octopus,  the local delicacy – delicious when tender). 

Weather: The sun shines but it’s colder. There’s the usual hard frost as we leave in the morning. 

Once we have arrived after our day’s walk, we get our credentials stamped and pay our dues, thankfully remove our boots, hobble to the dormitory to choose a bed and shower. Later, after visiting the local supermarket for supplies (flour, milk, eggs and sugar for crêpes; sachets of chocolate powder and of course pasta for the youngster; a tin of mussels and a sachet of olives for me), I visit the bar to catch up with family and friends no longer walking with me. The bar is owned by the same family and buying a tea (€1.20) allows me to sit there for more than an hour without any suggestion of buying more. It’s only when I’m given a lot of free crisps that I think I ought to order a small beer to make up for my second hour!

There are similarities between the two hostels – both have unexpectedly hot showers – bliss! Neither have working wifi. Both offer a blanket per person, and have heating, so our clothes and towels are dry by morning. Both have kitchens with utensils, and we can choose when to have the lights on or off. I’m getting used to the fact that there are always good things to be happy about. 

Day 5 Castro Douzon to Cea. 2.2.16.  13.7 km

Bites sustained: at least 100 overnight including 16 on my face.

Other pilgrims: 3 men and a dog. A good story of a 100% blind man who is walking his second Camino. The guide dog learns the scent of the/another walker going the same way, and then tracks the smell and can lead his master on the right path. These Caminos can be incredibly complicated – in the middle of forests there are very often places with 4 options; the country path regularly crosses the busy main N routes with lorries driving at top speed; villages can have very small, winding streets leading between farm buildings; and there are times when fully sighted people are searching for a yellow arrow here and the blue/yellow Camino shell there for a good while before finding the way, so I am really impressed.

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Beautiful weather -lovely to sit outside for our morning coffee as well as on arrival at Cea when I fall asleep in the sun and dream.

During the day’s walk we move through landscapes of assorted pines, chestnut, silver birch, oak, and eucalyptus; broom, brambles, gorse with gay yellow flowers, heather, and bracken. Pink, yellow and blue houses, many of them like huge mansions, which I’m told are for extended families, have balconies and balustrades, big and small, and statues in the gardens. There are cows, sheep, horses and of course donkeys out the back.

Every dwelling has a ‘huelta’, a vegetable garden, which at this time of year has turnips, and really tall brassicas which look like sprout plants with huge leaves at the top but no actual sprouts. Plus the odd red pepper still gleaming in the sun, a few left-over tomatoes dangling, and sharp-cornered patches of dry stalks now the sweetcorn has finally been cut. Vines are domestic and hang from structures which double as terrace rooves. 

There are more dogs than I’ve ever seen in one place -usually on the end of a chain or rope and barking their heads off at our approach. My companions love them all and attempt to talk to and pet them despite the rumpus! In Finnistere they seemed to run wild around the town,  crossing and re-crossing roads unaware of danger, but here they’re mostly behind fences protecting property. 

The simple churches, mostly with a single tower and bell, are always to be found amongst the houses, however small the village, and sometimes on their own in the countryside. Many have fancy cemeteries adorned with colourful flowers, real and plastic, and ornate grills. Often there’s a stone cross nearby. 

Cea is one of the prettiest towns I’ve been to. As with so many places, there are abandoned properties, but here there are also many places with interesting pasts, a wide array of shops, banks cafés etc, a large central square, and old and new architecture. All the places I’ve walked in are clean and well-kept, and here there are red and white geraniums and the most ornate house number/name tiles.

Day 6 Cea to Ourense 3.12.16   23.3 km

This was a hard day. When I walk there are times of joy, prompted by the beautiful scenery, or the sun on my skin, or the sheer pleasure of putting one foot in front of another. There are also times when this wonderful opportunity to reflect on the past, examine the present, and deliberate on the future raise myriad emotions. They pass with the movement, and there is space for tears, but it isn’t always easy. This is one of the reasons I am doing this. 

Luckily today is particular beautiful and that helps with the processing. 
 

Walking without a donkey. Via de la Plata: Days 1-3

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28-30.11.26

Direction Santiago de Compostella towards Salamanca, contrario. Usually people walk towards Santiago but I was already there and needed to get to Madrid, so I decided to take the other direction. As someone recently said, my life doesn’t seem to be simple!

Day 1 – Santiago de Compostella to Outeiro. 28.11.16. 20km.

Aim: to walk into my new future

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Pilgrims leave homespun crucifixes and other mementoes beside a bridge over the motorway very near to Santiago. 

Stops on the way: none

Got lost: I lost count. Extremely difficult to follow the Way backwards.

Flagged down van: once. Possibly dangerous as female alone.

Fell over: once, followed by ‘happy’ hour needling the gorse thorns out.

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Beautiful views 

Other pilgrims I met: 5. Two going my way, including another French person from Brittany. Are all Bretons as kind, generous, and positive as these? If yes, I am going to live there so it rubs off on me!

Today’s topics: loss, shame. There’s a lot of time to reflect, that’s part of the benefit. And as I walk there’s an increasing sense of perspective bought about by moving forwards through the countryside, and through time.

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Colexiata de Sar

Weather: so hot I walked in vest and short trousers.

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Mountains in the distance

Units alcohol: zero

Lesson learned: I often don’t know whether I will be going up or down hill. Metaphorically speaking, this is a useful life lesson. If I focus on the place where I am, I am best placed to deal with what happens next.

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The landscape is different from the Camino Francés 

Day 2 – Outeiro to Bandera 29.11.16. 18km

Aim: Hoping that speaking 3 different languages a day will keep the dementia at bay.

Stops: yes, breakfast of coffee and eggs on toast to make up for the lack of facilities at the Xunta of Gallicia municipal albergue. Also for heat!

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Early morning light 

Got lost: only 1 small detour because I sensibly tagged along with someone who’s walked it 4 times, albeit in the ‘right’ direction.

Didn’t flag down any vans, nor did I fall over.

Other pilgrims: 1 Italian pilgrim, one Spanish, heading for Santiago.

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Pines and peaks 

Today’s topics: anger and responsibility

Weather: hard frost, deep fog, hot sun

Units alcohol: 0

Lessons learned: don’t lose your temper with the person who can help you.

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Fog sits in the valleys making for a magical view

I am woken rudely from a dream by my alarm. I can’t remember it at all, after being awake on and off all through the night. My hand is sore from yesterday’s fall. T’ai Chi helps!

Last night the lights went off and we were disorientated in immediate total darkness, without warning, at 10pm. Now they come on equally suddenly at 7am, as we 3 sleep in a 16 person dormitory, and off again at 8am before the sun is even close to rising. Good thing I have packed my rucksack so often I can do it in the dark.

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Still some Autumn colours but it’s nearly winter  

There’s no heating and the showers are less than luke-warm, despite it being late in the year. With no utensils in the kitchen it is nearly impossible for me to heat water or drink tea, but one of my companions kindly lends me a pan, and she was also polite enough to the woman who looks after the albergue, (who eventually turns up after 2 hours and 2 phone calls) that we get given 3 small plastic cups. Can’t get the wifi to work, the power sockets don’t seem to charge my phone, and obviously I can’t wash things through as usual because they won’t dry. For the first time I had to wear my thermal underwear inside my sleeping bag, so it’s not my favourite hostel. The thing is I have been spoiled rotten recently with hot baths, delicious fish, and a picnic given to me by a kind friend that morning. It’s a really hard place to be, even if it is clean, safe and only €6.

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Morning is breaking 

So we create our own generosity, we 3 sharing tea bags, the pan, helping with holes in the knitting, and huddling under our sleeping bags while we write our letters.

The shells from the beach at Finnistere, and the precious gifts I received, add to the weight of my rucksack, so I ditch the ridiculous skirt and tights I bought in Madrid for a special occasion, together with body lotion I now have no need for.

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A stone pilgrim in front of the Iglesia de Santiago de Taboada

Day 3 – Bandera to Laxe. 30.11.16. 17km.

Aim: to have no aim

Stops: pre-prepared food and a swing in a children’s park in Silleda

Got lost: no!

Fell over: no! I have a baton now, new to me, and it helps with my occasionally sore left hip. My right hand is empty.

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Ponte Romano

Cars, lorries and vans flagged down, bars and shops visited to ask for directions: loads and loads

Other pilgrims: yes, we are 6 in the albergue: 3 men and 3 women – French, German, Swiss, Spanish, and me

Today’s topic: learning to accept other people’s decisions

Weather: straight into the sun at 8.30am (now on my right, whereas it was always on my left when walking the Camino Francés), though possibly less heat

Units alcohol: none

Lessons learned: travel with experienced walkers wherever possible, if they’ll have you. Like gold dust they are! We sing Frère Jaques in a round.

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The viaduct over the Rio Deza 

Language is an ever important issue for me as I switch backwards and forwards from French (with my companions in real life and in my head with those I no longer walk with); to Spanish (in shops and at the albergues); to English if I am lucky enough to get wifi and talk to family and friends of an evening. So I discover that I must speak simply or I can’t be understood. This means I can’t say what I want, discussing nothing complicated like politics or ethics, and waiting for others to tell me things rather than asking or anticipating.

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Ancient pathway 

Then there’s the issue of understanding – turns out that I sometimes think I know but it turns out later that I was wrong.  And. Even if I do know what someone has said, they are at liberty to change it, or they might forget what they already said and feel differently, and so say something else. Indeed, my interpretation of what they mean, even if I understand the words, is not necessarily what they do mean. Actually, I reflect, you never really know what other people mean.

We walk for an hour in silence everyday which is a refreshing chance to calm my mind.

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Collecting herbs from the wayside for my tisane. 

I’m beginning to forget I’m a Shiatsu practitioner. I’ve got the longest finger nails I’ve had in 28 years of practice. I’m very careful when I give my 16 year old friend some Japanese hand massage in the evening. Luckily it’s her first time and she said she loved it.

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I finish the first 3 days of the Via de la Plata remembering the smells of farm manure and chemicals, and the sounds of the leaves falling.