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Friday, 7 September 2012

El Camino Practice Day 1 - Xàtiva to Canals

So finally I got started!  With birthday money I purchased a new ruck sack - 40li as recommended by other Peregrinos - some lightweight, quick wash walking shorts and tops.  I loaded up with some of the equipment I will be carrying (not fully loaded yet) and while watering the garden, found a scallop shell that seemed appropriate to attach to the rucksack. Having made a bocadillo the night before, boiled some eggs and frozen my water, I was set.  The alarm went off at 06.30 (still dark here) and having had a night of rain it was fresh and perfect for walking.  Kaishi was my companion for the day (Akina goes next time) and having gathered her water, my water and provisions from the fridge, we set off to the train station - L'Alcudia de Crespins - to catch the 07.33.  

The ticket to Xàtiva was one Euro and the journey took 6 minutes (2 1/2 hours to walk back).  Kaishi had been practicing with her muzzle over the week (dogs can travel on the local commuter trains - Cercanias - as long as they are leashed and wearing a muzzle) but she was not impressed.  This was her first time on a train and she nuzzled my leg - but was very good and after a few moments, lay down quietly and waited for our stop.
Not a happy face!!

History of St James's Scallop Shell:
The following is taken from Wikipedia:  The scallop shell, often found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings, even if its relevance may actually derive from the desire of pilgrims to take home a souvenir.
Two versions of the most common myth about the origin of the symbol concern the death of Saint James, who was killed in Jerusalem for his convictions about his brother, John. James had spent some time preaching on the Iberian Peninsula.
Version 1: After James' death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.
Version 2: After James' death his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James' ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young groom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in seashells.
The scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of James in Santiago de Compostela. The shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God's hand also guided the pilgrims to Santiago.
The scallop shell also served practical purposes for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. The shell was the right size for gathering water to drink or for eating out of as a makeshift bowl.

After a bit of faffing about at the station - organising guidebook, camera, phone with GPS for finding our start point, tying Kaishi to my belt and so on... we finally got going, heading up through the streets of the deserted town, after all it was only 8.00am in Spain and no one is active at that time unless they are a mad hiker.  I saw another two mad hikers - heading off in the opposite direction.  They waved and smiled and hoped very much they were not on El Camino, because if they were then I was heading the wrong way!  I found the Church of Santa Tecla but not a shell in sight... hmmm... walked around wondering how hard it might be to pick up the path "mid-street" because of course one doesn't know where the markers will be placed - especially on one's first day!  As it happens they are at every turn or change of direction, for the most part, or where there might be some confusion.  Logical I guess, but having chosen Santa Tecla as a landmark and the fact that it is mentioned in the guide book, it did not have any obvious markings. I wandered back toward where I had seen the hikers and up on a wall there was an arrow, a picture of a hiker and something saying "Via Augusta"... it looked like some kind of walk, so I headed that way.  Then, there it was, my first shell...  Excitement!  Then... ah, which way is it pointing?  Standing in the middle of the street feeling a bit stupid at not knowing such an important piece of information, a small moment of panic set in - and of course the mind freezes over.

 

Breathe.  Think.  What had I read... as I included above, the idea is that the shell symbolises all paths converging on Santiago - so that must mean I need to follow the shell to its point.  I set off again with the instructions from the guidebook saying "Pass the Carrer Blanc and continue along the Camí de la Bola".  Common sense would suggest that I should head down the Carrer Blanc, not pass it.  Avery helpful young Spanish guy stopped to give me some pointers, asking where I was headed (Canals) and he insisted that I should follow the Carrer Blanc... I must have looked doubtful because the gist of what he said was "Well, you can go by another route if you like, but Canals is definitely that way!"  I decided to trust him and also apply some breathing and thought - of course - if one takes the Spanish rather than the English, one needs to "pass along" rather than "go past" the Carrer Blanc!  And so I did.
My very first shell!

Having decided to "trust the way" it all became very obvious and very easy from there on in.  Shells appeared on walls just as you needed them and there were back up yellow arrows and red and white route markers as this Camino is now a designated long distance footpath.  These are knows as GR - taken from the French Grand Randonée - and is thus also knows as GR 239 Camino de Santiago de Levante.  At this point the route also follows the old Roman road, the Via Augusta and you also get Via Augusta road markers.  All in all, to go wrong on this part of the Camino would be quite hard work, but you do have to pay attention, because if you wander along without awareness and there is a turning, you could walk right past a very significant way marker!

Kaishi had been very patient with me, despite various stray dogs, dog walkers, cats and other distractions, she was taking it all in her stride and wondering, I'm sure, when we would get going.  By now it was 08.30 and we were only just heading out of Xàtiva on the right path.  However, the Camino is not to be rushed, but to be experienced and after the rains of the previous day, it was fresh, clean smelling and whisps of cloud draped themselves over the crags where the castle dominated the town.  I decided to celebrate this moment by taking a photograph of Kaishi and my rucksack.  Of course, there are other people occasionally strolling
along the route, walking dogs or jogging and if you stopped, even if you are obviously taking a photograph, they want to help you and give directions.  I of course smiled and thanked them for being so helpful with the enthusiasm of someone who has been lost for days and finally has been guided in the right direction.  They would wave and grin for having been so helpful.  Just as the reading material suggests, many along the route were excited for us - were we walking El Camino!  Wonderful - Buen Camino!  Yes, go that way, head up... you can't miss it.

Along one of these roads there were about twenty cats, being cared for by someone as there were little bowls of food lining the road.  Kaishi was overwhelmed and could not decide who she should try and play with first - she had never seen so many cats at once!  However, by cat number 12 she was exhausted at trying to make a decision and walked quietly past them all.  

After crossing the railway between Novetlé and Anahuir, we decided to have breakfast.  We had worked up a bit of an appetite by now and it was heading on for 09.15.  We found a rock next to an orange orchard with a view of some more local cats who were living in a small shelter opposite.  They were now totally boring to Kaishi who ate her breakfast with gusto and then lay down to sleep while I munched on my roll and peeled a hard boiled egg.

The picture here is of us at breakfast - the lovely portable red bowl was a gift from my friend Liesl in RSA for just such adventures.  She has one of Kaishi and Akina's brothers - Mandla, and a half sister Lebo.  This mention is for them!  









                             


The Via Augusta markers are to be found in the form above       
and left - as blue painted signs with a white wheel - or as one of these obelisks - also with the symbol of the wheel. 


Via Augusta
Via Augusta
Via Augusta was a Roman road crossing all the Hispania Province, from Cádiz in the southern tip of current Spain, to the Coll de Panissars, where it crossed the Pyrenees close to the Mediterranean Sea, and joined the Via Domitia.  
The road stretched around 1,500 kilometres (900 mi)), passing through the cities of Gades (Cádiz), Carthago Nova (Cartagena), Valentia (Valencia), Saguntum (Sagunto), Tarraco (Tarragona), Barcino (Barcelona), and Gerunda (Girona). It had branches passing through Hispalis (Seville) (where it joined the Via Lusitanorum), Córdoba, and Emerita Augusta (Mérida). The road was named after Emperor Augustus, who ordered it renovated between 8 BC and 2 BC. (Wikipedia) 

We headed on after breakfast toward the village of Ayacor and what a find this is.  If only I had known at what time I might arrive, I would have forsaken breakfast and sat at one of the little bars in the square below the church.  It was a time travel experience - as I headed up the very steep hill into the village, the church bells struck 10.00 am and before they had finished I was sitting on a bench in the village square sending a few messages back to friends in RSA to share the experience.  In the centre is the village fountain and as you head up the hill, on the left, is an old Medieval washing place - with the water still rushing through it and the stone seats surrounding it.  
           
Right - the steep hill heading into Ayacor and up to the village square and church.

Left - Kaishi and I below Ayacor, trying to get us and the hilltop village into the frame to send to UK and RSA friends.

I was astonished at how quickly we had made it back, only a short walk now and we could see Canals ahead of us.  Entering the town there is a magnificent marker column telling us that Santiago is only another 1200km.  Kaishi and I were just very glad to have made our first practice hike to our intended destination!  Now we diverted off the route and followed the GPS through the streets and back to the car parked in L'Alcudia.  Kaishi slept all the way home and most of the afternoon, although she could not resist a leg stretch with the others later in the afternoon.  What a wonderful day and experience - and I was already looking forward to doing it again and trying a bit further!






















The marker column in Canals - with both Via Augusta and El Camino markers

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