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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Silla to Benifaió & First Comments on walking El Camino with a dog

Welcome to today's Camino walk!  A very blustery one today - I half expected to see Winnie the Pooh and Piglet walking along hand in hand somewhere!  Kaishi didn't seem to mind at all but in the end I had to put on my shades just to keep my eyes from running and getting sore.  It was lovely and cooling so 27C did not seem so warm, but wind is one of the harder things to walk in and I have to admit I was quite glad it was only an 11km outing today and not a full day Camino!  

It was such a great day and we met many friendly people.  The first was a young girl from Canals on her way to her high school.  She told me she had four dogs and she practiced her English and me my Spanish!  She asked Kaishi's name and where she was from.  Everyone was petting her today and we met a number of people who wished us a "Buen Camino".

El Camino Levante with a dog... 
So on the subject of dogs, I want to add in a few thoughts, because certainly when I was researching walking with a dog, the comments were mostly negative and generally said "DON'T" in capital letters! From most of what I read, unless walking the northern route where dogs are now more common on the walk, the general opinion has been that it is impossible.  Well, certainly for this first part of the route - the 77km or so from Valencia to Canals, this has not been the case.  I only have two more sections to walk to complete that distance but I can't see that it will be much different from my experiences so far.  I probably won't take a dog with me into Valencia as the first part through to Silla is very much paved and that's not much fun for a dog over 15km.  From the other blog write ups there have been days that were not so exciting for the dogs too - but they certainly weren't days where the dogs could not come along.  Today was great because when we got to the section through the rice fields Kaishi could have some off leash time and I'm sure that once we are on the more country routes these times will increase.

What I do suggest for anyone wishing to walk with their dog is the following:

*  Your dog must be good around livestock and certainly leashed during times where you pass by livestock
*  Your dog must be taught to use a muzzle and be comfortable and confident with it as this is very helpful for any sections where you might like to go by train or if in crowded places it will help others feel more confident about your dog.  We must remember that even if we have total confidence in our dogs, not everyone here is comfortable with them - especially if they are large dogs.
*  Your dog must be good with very large vehicles and much traffic - cars, lorries and high speed trains, so it is advisable to do some training for this.  There are sections alongside railways and busier roads and it will not be fun for either of you if your dog is ducking and diving at scary noises every few seconds.
*  Your dog must be good around other dogs - even if that is on the leash rather than just running free - and also another good reason to have them confident in the muzzle.  There are many off leash and stray dogs and they do sometimes come running up to greet or come running up looking quite scary.  Your dog should ideally be used to ignoring all this fuss and staying focused and with you.  
*  Always carry the muzzle with you although of course you don't have to have your dog wear it.  So far I have only needed mine on the train.  It should be the correct size and your dog must be able to drink and pant and if necessary vomit.  It should not be tight and restrictive of these functions.
*  If you are going to walk with a dog - make sure it is a suitable breed!  Mine are athletic, fit and well conditioned to all kinds of surfaces both tar and rocks, thorns and scrub, mud and gravel.  It is no good taking a dog from a nice comfortable house where he only walks nicely around the houses and in the park on a walk like El Camino!  Also, I would not take a small dog, and you certainly won't want to carry that extra weight if he or she gets tired!  You want to travel as light as possible and for those traveling with a dog you will want to travel lighter than most of those walking because you will need to carry extra water and because your dog will be using more energy than usual, an additional meal/snack for your dog.  You will be hungry and thirsty from the walk - so your dog will be too.
*  I would not do this without a back up vehicle and planning the stages so that my dog(s) will not walk 20 and 30km days.  I have planned the entire route from Valencia through to Santiago in (apart from I think one part) maximum 27km stretches.  However, the dogs will only do a maximum of 15km in a day and usually around 10km each.  They may even do alternate days and if necessary they will have a break and not walk at all.  I have planned all the "dog swap and pick up points" in advance and having a back up vehicle means that I don't have to carry all their extra food and I can also have extra water available.  Although there are many fountains along the route - there are stages where water will be short.  Also, it is important to have back up if there is a veterinary emergency and of course, one has to have some basic dog first aid along with the human kit - although mostly it is the same.
*  Make sure your dog is ideally on a good quality dried food/pellet diet.  I have fed my dogs the same veterinary recommended pet food all their lives - from the puppy food up to adult and old age for my older dog.  The oldest one is now heading up to 12 years old and has the heart of a 4 yo (according to the vet) and still has all her own teeth.  It goes to show what a good quality diet can do for your dog - but also it gives them energy and health, is portable and clean when you are doing walks like this (which cans of squishy meat are not once open plus they are heavy) and I can also carry a little extra measured out ration of it for the extra energy they require doing so many km's.  You need to make sure the food is something you can order ahead or get easily where you are going if you don't have room to take it all in your support vehicle.  I think you will be able to tell from the pics as this blog goes on that they do not lack for energy and "shine"!
*  Finally, and this should go without saying, that basic obedience and a good recall are essential.  Sitting before crossing roads, being polite around people and not pulling on the leash are all necessary for taking a dog on this kind of journey.  Certainly it will not be a fun for you and it will exhaust you even more if your dog is always pulling you along.   

My view so far is that it is entirely possible to do, but I will report more as we go along.  However, it is different from doing it alone and one has to plan carefully.  There are times when I might wish to take a longer break or do some sight seeing and on those days I have located pet friendly establishments which I will contact in advance.  Also, a lot of the first part of the route is being walked as day hikes and then as we get further away, 2 and 3 days hikes and then from Toledo onwards, the idea will be to walk 2 x 1 week sections with breaks in between and then do a final three week walk from Zamora through to Santiago.  For anyone who lives in Spain or can take a number of holidays here - it is possible to walk this Camino in shorter sections covering fewer km each day - and hopefully this blog will help you do that if you so desire.  I will add other specifically dog sections throughout and information on pet friendly stays that we like and so on.  

Today's Hike:

A lovely walk today even in the more built up areas and it did offer us a lovely long section through the rice fields where Kaishi could have a run and a play for a while.  The way was easy to pick up in Silla and find our way out of the town.  In the guidebook there is a hostel called the Hostal Moreno for Pilgrims to stay at on route and on the back of some of the road signs as we made our way through town, there were stickers indicting the way to this hostel.  The first picture I wanted to include to help others walking this route was a photo of "El Salvador Car Outlet".  For some reason the picture did not come out - but here the route turns right and it is marked with a sign and a scallop shell.   However, one is looking (or I was) for a glass fronted fancy building with cars on the forecourt... but the outlet is more like a large shed!  It made me smile, which is why I wanted to take the photo, but you will just have to imagine it - the sign over the door does say "El Salvador" so you can not miss it.  From here the way is easy and all through the fruit trees and then rice fields.  One sign that also amused me is the following - I'm sure it is a regular road sign showing the priority right of way, but it happens to have a yellow arrow and it is in exactly the right direction!

Shortly after this, and taken especially for my South African friends - some fruit trees with a "mielie" fence!  I just had to take a picture of this!  From here we found a grove of strange trees which look as though they have slightly prickly leaves, more like holly but not so sharp - yet they grow acorns!  I took the photos so I could check them out on my return and sure enough they are a type of oak - the Holm Oak which is found most commonly in the Iberian peninsula - particularly Spain.  For the botonists amongst you, it is apparently a sclerophyllus variety of tree - the name coming from skleros - hard and phyllon - leaf.  These trees have small, hard leaves with a waxy outer which cope with the climate, reducing evaporation and surviving dry conditions.  It is an evergreen and you will see what I mean about it looking like a kind of holly but with acorns from the pics below.  

Holm Oak - Acorns.  Opposite is
the little grove of oak trees


For information purposes I include the next picture of the "X"s.  These are often to be found where there is some doubt about which way you should go and often appear where there are a number of possible paths, even if there is an arrow clearly indicating the correct route!  The "X" of course lets you know that the route is not in that direction.  In the guidebook there is a lovely photo on the section through the rice fields and on the way to Almussafes, of one of the Camino signs.  Sadly, it has fallen over, but on it are lovely little carvings of the community of Valencia (where this route starts) and Galicia (where it ends).  Kaishi decided to lie down next to it to keep it company while I took some pictures.  It was just after this that we were able to have some off leash time and you can see from her exuberance how happy she was to bounce around and let off some steam.  She also discovered a particularly muddy irrigation ditch - as of course there is a lot of water through here used for flooding the rice fields.  Much of it is being harvested at the moment, but between the rice it is pure mud! Dog heaven!

Almussafes, as the name suggests, is taken from the Arabic Almansaf and indicates the rich and varied history of this area.  Almansaf means "the half-way point" but some suggest that it comes from "el mazaf" meaning "customs-house".  This is possible because it was a trade route and merchants passing the Torre del Racef had to pay tolls.  The Racef Tower (pictured below) is an Andalusian building dating from the XI-XIII centuries. 

Information says:  "In some cases it appears as the Tower of Mansa, and when cited in some Christian documents it has the name of RACEF, which may refer to "near a road construction." As noted above, the word mazaf (customs) refers to the fact that people came to the tower pay tolls. It was totally renovated in 1996 an was framed within a building called "the Castle" which was demolished in 1981. It is a square structure built of a slightly trapezoidal brick wall system. Its base is 10 meters and it has a height of 24.70 meters spread over five floors and culminates in a terrace with battlements. The normal access to the tower is by the first floor and the north side but now this is the ground floor, where there has been built a staircase that leads to the upper. A door was found on the west side at five meters high and is preserved.  It would have had a wooden staircase that was removed when the tower was to be cut off." 
Apparently visits can be arranged by calling locally - 961 782 050 

For a little more history of where we get "Andalusian" here is a little from our friend Wikipedia:

Al-Andalus (Arabicالأندلس‎, trans. al-ʼAndalusSpanishAl-ÁndalusPortugueseAl-AndalusAragoneseAl-AndalusCatalan:Al-Àndalus), also known as the Moorish Iberia, was a medieval Muslim state in parts of what are today Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, and France. The name more generally describes parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania governed by Muslims (given the generic name of Moors), at various times between 711 and 1492, though the boundaries changed constantly in wars with Christian kingdoms.[1][2][3]
Following the Muslim conquest of Hispania, Al-Andalus was divided into five administrative units, corresponding roughly to modern AndalusiaGalicia and PortugalCastile and LeónAragon and Catalonia, and Septimania.[4] As a political domain, it successively constituted a province of the Umayyad Caliphate, initiated by the Caliph Al-Walid I (711–750); the Emirate of Córdoba (c. 750–929); the Caliphate of Córdoba (929–1031); and the Caliphate of Córdoba's taifa (successor) kingdoms. Rule under these kingdoms saw a rise in cultural exchange and cooperation between Muslims and Christians. Under the Caliphate of Córdoba, al-Andalus was a beacon of learning, and the city of Córdoba became one of the leading cultural and economic centres in both the Mediterranean Basin and the Islamic world.
Kaishi's Exuberance in the rice fields
Today's Markers were
often the GR-239 signs

As we entered the small suburb "El Romani" there was a signboard that gave information on our friend the Via Augusta and how it is being marked and preserved.  Follow the blue line...

Once in Almussafes the guidebook, as usual in towns, is essential, although there is an error!  It is important to realise that this can happen and to use one's common sense, read the map and trust one's judgement.  The guidebook tells us to turn right at the police station onto Calle Santa Creu.  The police station is easy to find but the road to the right is in fact San Miguel.  It is easy for these errors to occur as often a street that crosses over a main one can be called one thing on one side and something different on the other - this is the case here.  If we cross over we clearly find the yellow arrows on the road, although they are by no means easy to follow through all of the town and the directions in the guidebook with the street names, along with double checking the GPS are most helpful.

Today was market day and it was lovely to wander through the crowded streets with Kaishi as it gave the feel of how things may have been in this old town, all through the ages, especially as the "merchants" were all around the Racef Tower and spreading along the street to the 13th Century church of San Bartolomé.  Heading out of the town, the markers are faint and not so easy to follow into Benifaió.  Fortunately the way is pretty much straight but referring the the guidebook and GPS will help in a couple of confusing spots.  I left the route where I started it with Akina on Friday and made my way to the train station.  A lovely gentleman waved at me frantically telling me that I had missed the direction and must turn around and go back!  I smiled and told him that today I go home and he then asked - "Ah, by train?"  On confirming this he directed me to the station and asked how many km I have walked so far and how I am walking El Camino.  We had a short conversation and he also wished me a "Buen Camino" with a big smile and a wave.  A lovely way to finish our walk and head home.

Kaishi by the rice field irrigation channels - just after wading in the mud!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Benifaió to Algemesí and an intention...

Having decided to walk El Camino Levante as a meditation, I knew that I would learn a lot about myself and because it is a more solitary route it is a good one for learning to be alone and to face ones demons, because they do appear on such a long journey.  However, something else has been nagging at me, a thought that has been returning to me over some time:  that this is an opportunity to walk for others and to put a dedication and an intent into each step.  That intention is as follows:  

To dedicate each step to all those who have been victims of genocide through the ages and to bring a mala, with one bead representing each of the 56 known genocides, along with those thought to have occurred in history (plus one additional bead to represent all the unknown) to Santiago de Compostela by way of El Camino Levante - Valencia to Santiago.  To carry with me the words Kwan Seum Bosal - the bodhisattva of compassion, one who perceives the cries of the world and responds with compassionate aid.  To offer the intention with each step that these things should never happen again.

In view of this, I asked my teachers at the Dharma Centre in Robertson, RSA, if they would be happy to create the mala that I will take with me.  They are holding a Zen retreat this weekend and they will ask all those joining them if they will be a part of this.  It will mean a great deal to me and all of those who take part will be joining me on this journey having put their love and compassion into the mala and in turn their love and compassion will go out into the world.  Once it is created I hope they will all allow me to publish a group picture of them here along with the mala I will carry.  They will be with with me every step of the way and will carry me in those times when my feet are tired!

For more information on the Robertson Zen Centre go to

And so to today's walk.  An easy one I have to say, certainly in terms of navigation!  The road was directly up from the station, about 4 streets and then straight, straight and more straight!  The markers were excellent and easy to find and the roads well marked.  Basically, we walked straight until we got to the station in Algemesí.  Sadly it was all tar again but then I am not expecting much other than tar until we start the walks the other side of Canals.  It is intensively agricultural and so there are many connecting roads for vehicles in and out of the orchards.  Harvest seems to be in full swing for some crops and we met many tractors taking products out of the fields.  

In other areas new fields were being prepared for planting.  It was a humid morning but with lovely cloud cover, so it was quite pleasant walking.  I also had the chance to give my new walking shoes a good outing - 12km - and they and my feet did well!  My big old walking boots are overkill for a route like El Camino Levante and are much too big and heavy.  In addition to this, the mice had visited them while they were still in RSA and so they are no longer waterproof!  With the weather changing I need something other than trainers for the walks and today was the first time I carried my waterproof jacket with me.  I also had the chance to try out the new CamelBak bags that I bought especially for the Camino walks - well, the hip bag anyway.  

The canals in the orchards - on a beautiful
morning for walking
One pack is an attachment that will go onto the outside of the rucksack and is designed to attach onto "other" things such as bicycles or saddlebags or pretty much anywhere you want.  This will carry an additional 3 litres of water and this will help with the extra water I need to carry for the dogs.  The hip bag straps tight so it doesn't bounce around and carries a litre.  This is nice for general dog walking too when you don't need to carry so much and it leaves your hands free.  It is so much harder walking when you are carrying something in your hands.  This has made me reassess carrying a stick with me - unless I feel I need to have one handy for adding energy around me if we meet strange dogs.  So far, I haven't really needed one but it will be something I leave at the back up vehicle "just in case".  It is also a perfect piece of equipment as it allows me to have my guidebook and route map, phone with GPS and camera, lip-salve, tissues, pen, cash and keys, all right where they are easy to access in front of me.  Trying to negotiate towns with phone and map in hand - always when you don't need them, and in the rucksack inconveniently when you do need them - is a pain, but having them at the waist is perfect because it means you can still be hands free, yet have quick and easy "sneak a peek" access when you need it.  These day walks are excellent for giving me an idea of what I need and don't need and how to organise my equipment.  

The Camel Baks... and one of the grand houses

Yes, that's a Camino arrow peaking out from the irrigation

Although not an historical route today, we passed many, what were once, grand houses.  One could easily imagine horses making their way into the courtyards and ladies with fans in the windows.  Once we were in Algemesí we met our first dog where a stick would have been handy - although he was small and fluffy and exuberant, but he launched across the road to Akina leaping and barking.  She was great and although barked in defense, soon realised he was all noise and she ignored him while his owner called and called, desperately trying to persuade the furry energy ball to return.  I thanked him and he smiled and also apologised, but there was not serious issue.  It just goes to show how it is the energy that provokes because only a few metres on we met another dog (on leash) and they virtually walked past each other side by side without batting an eyelid.  Just before the station we saw a German Shepherd lying relaxed, tied to a bicycle, while his owner had a beer at the little bar.  The owner was delighted to see another dog out - doing things - and waved and called "Hola!" enthusiastically.  We responded likewise.  

All too suddenly today's journey was over!  Only 2 1/2 hours to do the 12km and that included a half hour stop for breakfast!  We weren't rushing, just going along at a nice rhythm.  At Algemesí station we met a lovely man who came out to tell Akina how beautiful she was and me that he had spent time in Newcastle and so we chatted in English and Spanish.  Several people on the platform smiled at Akina and one young girl kindly took a picture of us together.  For the first time on the train a number of people came up and gently stroked Akina as they got ready to get off at their stop and she sat proudly as though her sole purpose in life was to travel on trains to be admired.  

This should give you a bit of a feel for "The Road" and our walking experience so far - you'll catch a quick glimpse of the new shoes in action, as well as Akina walking with me!  

Akina on the train - announcements, noises, doors opening and passengers pushing past... she's a star!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Camino Levante - Algamesi to Carcaixent

So here we are again - another Friday, another Camino walk - but this time of course it's the real thing and no longer a practice walk although of course we are still walking in short sections.  Today Kaishi and I took the train from L'Alcúdia de Crespins as usual but this time stopped at Algamesi.  Today Kaishi was superb!  No complaints about her muzzle and very quiet and relaxed on the train journey - which today was thirty minutes.  To mark the fact we are going "official" I have included the pics of the Credencial - Pilgrim's Passport, although I will get the first stamp in Valencia at the Cathedral, another in Xàtiva and then one in Canals.  There are only 40 spaces for stamps and you only need daily stamps for the last 100km.  I understand (although I am getting it confirmed by the Amigos in Valencia) that you can add pages yourself if you run out of space for the stamps (sellos).  Stamps can be obtained almost anywhere on the route - municipal offices, police and Gardia Civil, inns, bars, places you stay, churches and so on...  The route pictured below and printed on the passport is the most walked and commonly know - Camino Francés which runs from East to West across the north of Spain.  The Levante route is shown on an earlier blog.
I have started my diary and have been planning the stages, especially those that I am able to walk from home and I have been working out where dogs can be swapped, dropped or picked up.  So back to todays adventure.  Arriving in Algamesi it was actually easy to find out start point as the route passes practically right alongside the station.  However, for those whose posts I have read who say they would like to walk the Camino without guidebooks etc because they want a more "authentic pilgrim experience"... I DON'T recommend it!  Really, invest in a guidebook - even if you only use it to help yourself find your way through and out of towns, because even with a guidebook it can be very confusing!  Not all towns have easy to spot yellow arrows or shell markers and some just seem to disappear once you are in the depths of a town.  Today was a good example, they were doing repairs to an old building right where I was supposed to walk, so the route no longer existed there.  Without my guidebook and knowing the next streets I should meet, I would have been very lost - as it was it took me almost an hour to find my way around and out of Algamesi.  The other suggestion I would make is carrying a mobile phone with Google Maps or some other GPS type device because I was able to request the road I needed to find out of town and navigate my way around the trouble spot and back onto the Camino route.                   
Maps, diary, train timetables etc... involved in the
planning of the walk with the dogs   
Another confusing thing about Algamesi is that the shells here are round the other way - so you are not following the route to the point, so it feels like you are walking in the wrong direction.  This also threw me for some minutes as I thought I must have taken a wrong turn or be following the street in the wrong direction.  It was only once I was out on the open road again and in Alzira that the shells reverted to their correct orientation.  Although a lovely old town in the centre, I did not get as much of a chance to look at Algamesi as I would have liked because I spent most of my time with my nose glued to the guidebook and GPS.  Once out of the town we were back in our old favourite - the orange groves and the markers were much more helpful as you can see here with Kaishi next to a giant yellow arrow that will leave you in no doubt as to which way to go!  You continue until reaching a rather busy main road, and here 
I did go a little wrong and missed a short section of the route (maybe 500m) because the road and round-a-bout were so busy.  Apparently this part is a piece of old preserved Roman highway - but I missed it!  I could see the covered wayside cross mentioned in the guidebook and went straight to it - it is a 14th Century cross and chapel where it is said that King Jaime I died.  It is a lovely old cross and opposite it can be seen the yellow marker arrows - where I again picked up the route.  Shortly you reach the outskirts of Alzira - the opposite of Algamesi with excellent markers, including a number of other GR and footpath routes including our old friends Via Augusta and El Cid.  There are also signs for the Route of the Monasteries that can be walked in this area.  As I crossed the bridge and entered the town, a man was cycling toward me with three dogs on a bicycle attachment - just like when ours go out!  Kaishi could not believe her eyes and the dogs were having a good work out.  I waved and called out to the man saying they looked great - he gave a big grin back, but sadly he was whizzing along too fast and by the time my camera had turned itself on he was around the bend and heading out in the direction I had just come from.  I so wish I could have included their photo here! 

Following the markers through the town you come across much of the history of the area.  According to the guidebook, Alzira is an island according to the Arabic definition of it as "al-yazirat" or "a land set apart".  The Via Augusta used to cross by way of two stone bridges but these have not survived.  The city was heavily fortified and has some magnificent city walls which can still be seen and the route follows these old city walls as you enter the town.  They were apparently both a military defence and prevented the town from flooding.  One could not imagine this today as there was only a small trickle of water flowing along the river bed - so small that one could step over it!   

As you walk along the walls (you can see them in the small picture in front of the palm trees) in an old part of town, there are many beautiful buildings.  One you pass is the remains of the hospital of Santa Lucia and here is a house where King Jaime I is supposed to have died.  Quite impressive for him to have died at the cross and here - the guidebook finds this quite amusing also!  There is a plaque on the route which can not be missed.  As you can see, Kaishi was reading it with quite some intent!   
The way from Alzira was easy to find and we passed other lovely monuments on the way, including one building almost entirely covered in tiles, the 13th Century church of Santa Catalina Mártir (on the site of a former mosque) and the fountains shown below which are outside the church and near to yet another monument to King Jaime (we passed several more!)
By the fountains at
Santa Catalina Mártir  Church
Because he seemed so popular I thought I ought to look up his history - here is a little from Wikipedia:  
James I the Conqueror (CatalanJaume el ConqueridorAragoneseChaime lo ConqueridorSpanishJaime el Conquistador,OccitanJacme lo Conquistaire; 2 February 1208 – 27 July 1276) was the King of AragonCount of Barcelona, and Lord of Montpellier from 1213 to 1276. His long reign saw the expansion of the Crown of Aragon on all sides: into Valencia to the south,Languedoc to the north, and the Balearic Islands to the east. By a treaty with Louis IX of France, he wrested the county of Barcelona from nominal French suzerainty and integrated it into his crown. His part in the Reconquista was similar in Mediterranean Spain to that of his contemporary Ferdinand III of Castile in Andalusia.
As a legislator and organiser, he occupies a high place among the Spanish kings. James compiled the Llibre del Consulat de Mar,[1] which governed maritime trade and helped establish Catalan-Aragonese supremacy in the western Mediterranean. He was an important figure in the development of Catalan, sponsoring Catalan literature and writing a quasi-autobiographical chronicle of his reign: the Llibre dels fets.  
James I
King of Aragon, Valencia, and Majorca, Count of Barcelona, and Lord of Montpellier
King of Aragon
Reign12 September 1213 – 27 July 1276

James also wrote the Libre de la Saviesa or "Book of Wisdom." The book contains proverbs from various authors, reaching from the time of King Solomon to nearly his own time with Albertus Magnus. It even contains maxims from the medieval Arab philosophers and from theApophthegmata Philosophorum of Honein ben Ishak, which was probably translated at Barcelona during his reign. A Hebrew translator by the name of Jehuda was employed at James's court during this period.[7]
Though James was himself a prose writer and sponsored mostly prose works, he had an appreciation of verse.[8] In consequence of theAlbigensian Crusade, many troubadours were forced to flee southern France and many found refuge in Aragon. Notwithstanding his early patronage of poetry, by the influence of his confessor Ramon de Penyafort, James brought the Inquisition into his realm in 1233 to prevent any vernacular translation of the Bible.
According to Wikipedia, the king fell ill in Alzira (he is shown in this monument lying down and not looking too good!)... and that he gave up his crown in here with the plan to retire to the monastery of Poblet.  However, he apparently died before he could do this, on 27th July 1276 - in Valencia!  Remarkable!  He died in three places!!  No wonder there are so many monuments to him.

Tiled house near the Church of Santa Catalina Mártir
As we turned toward Carcaixent a man with a horse and cart was exiting the road we were about to take.  I got my camera out in time to take a photograph as he was also exercising (ride and lead but from the cart) two Appaloosas.  When he saw me taking the picture he put his horse into a sliding stop (!) right in the middle of the road and smiled and waved and asked if Kaishi was a puppy.  I said not, but that he had lovely horses, that Kaishi knew horses from her time in South Africa when I had some.  He smiled and waved and watched us as we headed off and we waved back, following El Camino and the horse's hoof prints all along the route into Carcaixent.  

Entering into Carcaixent we followed the route to the place where we picked it up last week and then peeled off through the backstreets (actually crossing the route again where it heads under the railway lines) and made for the station where we finished breakfast/lunch while we waited for the 12.03 train to take us back to the car.  Despite our delays today, the route seemed very short and we were at the station by 11.25.  As before I'm looking forward to the next section - Benifiaó back to Algamesi.  For those who may read this and feel like it is strange that I am walking it in sections "backwards" to Valencia, this is because when training the dogs to get used to the train, I wanted them to do short journeys first and then increase their length of time on the train.  When the time comes to do the section from Valencia, I plan to walk 15km from the Cathedral through to Silla and for this stretch, due to the city walk and road sections, I will do it without the dogs.  The intention is that Michael will also walk with me and do it as his first section.  After that I will pick up the Camino again from Canals and walk it in the direction of travel - toward Santiago de Compostela.  

Thursday, 13 September 2012

When stacking wood - just stack wood!

I'm sure some of you who know me will be smiling at the title, but I just had to share this morning's chore with you.  Yesterday a huge pile of wood was delivered ready for the winter.  It arrived in a tipper truck, so neatly stacked, it seemed such a shame it would just be tipped onto the parking area outside the house.  The wood stack that is left over from last year is behind the house along a wall - dry and the most protected part of the property, so with a cover it's a good place for firewood.  This wood was to join it - making a new stack but the tipper truck would never be able to tip it at the actual location, although he would be able to get very close.

How the tipped pile looked - although this was taken
after I had stacked and tidied about a third...
When he arrived, he did a marvelous job of getting a chunky vehicle into a small space and tipping exactly where asked.  The pile (1.5 tonnes) looked large and quite daunting and being a hot day I decided it could sit there and I would start on it another day.  The location is not the easiest to get to with a wheelbarrow - even if the wheel hadn't fallen off the one that came with the property - because there is a path around the house and a kind of palm tree growing between the wall and the path.  It was going to be a case of moving it by hand, which actually I prefer as years of using wheelbarrows hads caused upper back problems that get aggravated when using one even for a short time.

Today I awoke to a cool and cloudy day - perfect for walking the dogs, so we headed off in the car to a location right up above the village and walked and ran and played for an hour before heading home.  The clouds were still with us and the temperature perfect for a bit of wood stacking!  So, after breakfast, I got stuck in.

What could have seemed like a depressingly huge task turned out to be fun - like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Planning to walk the Camino and planning the stages, how to make sure the dogs don't do too much and how to break it down into manageable parts has been a good lesson in breaking things down.  To think of a 1300km walk is overwhelming, but to think of 10km one day or 15km another... maybe with longer stretches occasionally - makes it all seem possible.  Some years ago one of the horse trainers I studied with used to say of seemingly impossible tasks or problems "isolate, separate and recombine".  Both the walk and the wood stacking can be subjected to this formula and it works... isolate the issues (break them down into smaller chunks), separate them off so that they are all individual, smaller pieces  that they can be more easily dealt with, and then put it all back together again.

The stacked jigsaw
Looking at the walk, I can do almost 1/4 of it entirely in day trips from my front door - that's almost 300km.  A further substantial chunk can be done by making two or three day trips away from home.  This will mean the long stint will be more manageable and less overwhelming.  With the wood, I decided initially to stack only the bits that had rolled and strayed across the parking area and to do just a little each day.  Once I had started it looked much tidier, but I still had energy left and decided to do a bit more - I would move the part that was furthest away from the pile and start stacking that and at the same time this would make the pile a little less of an overspill toward the gate.  I had nowhere else to be and all I had to do was stack wood.  The chore became a jigsaw puzzle and so the only focus was the wood - how to place it, how to make sure it would not roll, how to stack it best that the outer wood (even though it is all to be covered) would best protect the wood inside, how to make sure it was neat against the wall without encroaching the walkway, how to make sure it was slanting slightly up and back to the wall to prevent slippage, how to place smaller pieces with bigger ones, how to fill smaller gaps so as not to waste the space and how to overall make it look neat.  Before I knew it the pile was half the size and I only made myself stop so that I would not risk getting sore which might mean I would not be able to complete part three of my Camino walk tomorrow!  The slightly overwhelming task of stacking all that wood now looked manageable and nowhere near as daunting or as large as it was.  The bonus was that stacking was a joy, not a chore.

It's not always easy to do this I know - especially with emotional issues.  With physical labour it is easier and you can see the fruits of your labours, plus the physical work feels good for the body.  All we can do is keep practicing and working at taking this kind of thing into the more challenging areas of our lives.  Something about the Camino walking and the wood stacking feels good - it is more earthy, more grounding I suppose and feels more like how we are supposed to be...  Living here in Spain and doing these things again. things I have not done for a long time (in fact many years) certainly brings it home...  that we spend far too much time in our heads and that this is not always healthy, especially if we spend too much time there!  Coming back to the now and just stacking wood is essential!

(Thank you to all my teachers who have helped me to stack wood xxxx)

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Santiago Cake... and a decision!

As I was unpacking one of the remaining boxes I found an old "Floyd on Spain" cookery book that I did not even know we owned!  Leafing through I found a few recipes that I have been trying and very delicious they are too.  It has been a pleasant and unexpected find.  On one of the pages near the end of the book I noticed a recipe for Santiago Cake and decided to look up the history of the cake.  The following was taken from Claudia Roden:

Tarta de Santiago—Galicia 

This is a splendid cake. I have eaten almond cakes in other parts of Spain, but this one is special. Pilgrims and tourists who visit the great Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, where the relics of the apostle Saint James are believed to be buried, see the cake in the windows of every pastry shop and restaurant. It is usually marked with the shape of the cross of the Order of Santiago. I have watched the cake being made in many sizes, big and small, thin and thick, over a pastry tart base at a bakery called Capri in Pontevedra. This deliciously moist and fragrant homey version is without a base. There is sometimes a little cinnamon added, but I find that masks the delicate flavor of orange and almonds and prefer it without it. 

When I suggested to a man associated with the tourist office in Galicia that the tarta was a Jewish Passover cake, I was dragged to a television studio to tell it to all. The hosts thought the idea made sense. The Galician city of Coruña is on the Jewish tourist route, because of its synagogue and old Jewish quarter. Jews from Andalusia, who fled from the Berber Almohads' attempts to convert them in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries came to Galicia, where they planted grapevines and made wine. 

Read More

From Wikipedia:  Tarta de Santiago, literally meaning cake of St. James, is an almond cake or pie from Galicia with origin in the Middle Ages. The Galician name for cake is Torta whilst it is often referred to Tarta, which is the Spanish word. The filling principally consists of ground almonds, eggs and sugar. The top of the pie is usually decorated with powdered sugar, masked by an imprint of the Cross of Saint James (cruz de Santiago) which gives the pastry its name.

Santiago Cake
A typical presentation with the Cross of the Order of Santiago

The symbol of the Order of Santiago is the cross of Saint James, a red cross terminating in a sword (cross fleury fitchy in heraldry), which recalls their title de la Espada, and a shell (la venera), which they doubtless owe to their connection with the pilgrimage of St. James.

Cross of the Order of Santiago.
In the version by Keith Floyd it is made with only lemon zest rather than lemon and orange, but either will work equally well.  It also contains flour and one blog I found said the following:
I have never walked the camino but I have also made the tart -: it was originally a Passover cake ( hence no flour) Jews fleeing the Berber people of north Africa brought it with them -: so I make it for Passover and dust a star of David on top Yum

So - having finally decided, after some deliberation about routes and sitting down to plot my Camino practice walks, that it would be sensible for a number of reasons, to walk to Santiago from Valencia.  More than this though, it has just started to "feel right" and there is an excitement in the fact that I have actually started. In order to celebrate this decision, I decided to bake myself a Santiago cake!  I hear what you say - any excuse - and no I didn't really need one, but it did seem fitting... so here is the Keith Floyd one that I tried out today (with flour) and in response to the post I quoted above and Claudia Roden's theory about it being a Passover Cake - I have included the flourless recipe from Claudia Roden below also!  Take your pick and enjoy!!

Keith Floyd's Cake:

3 large eggs (the better the eggs, the better the cake – really)
225g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, quite soft
175g self-raising flour
125ml water
225g ground almonds
Grated zest of ½ a lemon
To decorate: icing sugar and a handful of flaked almonds
To serve: a glass of Fino. OK, you don’t have to, but I would and I bet Floydy would too.
1. Set the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4. Line and grease a 20cm cake tin. (I know, lining and greasing is deathly dull but it is important for this cake.)
2. Mix together in a big bowl the eggs, sugar, butter, sifted flour and water. You really have to give it some welly and mix it all well, so use a processor or a whisk.
3. Tip in the ground almonds and grated lemon zest, then mix well but quickly. Overdo it and your almonds will get all oily. Nobody wants that.
4. Put the mixture into the cake tin, level the top and pop it into the oven.
5. Check it at 50 minutes with a skewer (or knitting needle, as I use). It might well need an hour.
My Santiago Cake!
6. When it’s done, take it out of the oven and leave it in the tin for 10 minutes. Then take it out of the tin and leave to cool completely.
7. Dust over your icing sugar and throw on the flaked almonds.
This cake will keep for a fair few days as long as it’s well wrapped up or in an air-tight tin. You could serve it with slices of poached pear or some vanilla ice-cream. Or just that glass of Fino.

Claudia Roden's Version:
Serves 10

blanched almonds 250g
eggs 6, separated
caster sugar 250g
orange grated zest of 1
lemon grated zest of 1
almond extract 4 drops
butter to grease the cake tin
flour to dust the cake tin
icing sugar for dusting the cake
Grind the almonds finely in a food processor. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a pale cream with an electric mixer, then beat in the orange and lemon zest and almond extract. Add the ground almonds and mix very well.

With a cleaned mixer, whisk egg whites until stiff and fold into egg and almond mixture – the mixture is so thick you need to turn it over quite a bit into the egg whites. Grease a spring-form cake tin around 28cm in diameter (preferably non-stick) with butter and dust with flour, then pour in the mixture.

Grind the almonds finely in a food processor. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a pale cream with an electric mixer, then beat in the orange and lemon zest and almond extract. Add the ground almonds and mix very well.
Put the cake into an oven preheated to 180C/gas mark 4 for 40 minutes or until it feels firm. Let it cool before turning out. Dust the top with icing sugar. If you like, cut the shape of a Santiago cross out of paper and place it in the middle of the cake before dusting with icing sugar. Then remove the paper shape.
For an interview between The Observer's Rachel Cooke and Claudia Roden from 18th March, 2012 - check out the following link: 
She discusses her new book, published on 15th March, 2012 by Michael Joseph:  The Food of Spain, a celebration. 

"Predictably, Roden has a theory about tarta de Santiago: she believes that it was originally a Jewish passover cake whose recipe lived on thanks to the conversos (Spanish Jews who converted to Christianity, usually under pressure) and, of course, this makes sense when you consider the Sephardic cakes of almond and orange she championed inA Book of Middle Eastern Food. In Spain, she says, some people are beginning to celebrate their Jewish heritage after years of denial. "I went to stay at a convent where I was visiting an 85-year-old nun who I'd been told had many great recipes – and, by the way, it was true: she gave me 40. But the amazing thing was when we went to Seville cathedral together. In a side chapel, she pointed out the name of the family on her mother's side who'd built it, and it was clear they were converts from Judaism."