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Saturday, 8 September 2012

El Camino Practice Day 2 - Carcaixent to Manuel

This time Akina was my companion.  I plan to make this a regular Friday jaunt - swapping the girls each week so they can share the long distance walking experience as they will do on the Via de la Plata.  I hope that Ndzilo will occasionally join me for a few kilometres but these days out are a bit too much for her - so she stays and "babysits" while I head out with one or other of the girls.
Akina observes a passenger approaching the train

Akina was amazing!  I was a bit concerned as the journey was much longer than Kaishi's so she would have to deal with a new experience over more time - 20 minutes as opposed to 6.  However, she dealt with hissing doors, the train energising, people and suitcases, loud announcements and high speed trains sounding their horns as they flew through the station and immense speed!  She lay down for most of the journey and only tried fiddling with her muzzle once.  She also experienced automatic doors and her first time in a "ladies"!!

Akina waits patiently in the "ladies"!!
 As with my last trip, I checked our location and

followed the GPS to our start point.  I like to pick up the Camino at a mid point between where it enters the town and the station.  When I walk the next part of the route I will always join on where I left off and then retrace my steps to the station.  It was easy to find and Carcaixent is a beautiful old town.  This is somewhere I would like to come back and wander around for a morning because there is so much history, but it is not possible to enter the public buildings or museums when you have a canine companion sadly.  Although I am sure Akina would have been fascinated to learn about its history of silk manufacture to know that this is where the Valencian orange industry started.

The buildings are beautiful and the architecture as in many Spanish towns, stunning.  At this square with the church the Camino follows its walls and then the main route through the centre of the old town as it does in most of the towns it passes through.  Of course, in the Middle Ages, this would have been the main thoroughfare for travellers.  The sign you can see on the left of the picture on the wall of the church is the Camino waymarker.  Close up below.
It's not surprising that this was the centre for the orange industry once you head out into the countryside again as there are hectares and hectares of orange groves.  Today they were busy running all the irrigation ditches into them and flooding sections - which was great for Akina as she got the chance to cool off, paddle and drink at many stages of the long journey.  It was much harder today as a lot of the route was along tar tracks and crossed by the railway and main roads many times.  Fortunately there are usually underpasses to use but even so, it makes a much more tiring day being in a busier area.  The guidebook suggests finding an old abandoned village of Ternils just off the route on the way from Cogullada, however, it was easy to miss the direction in Cogullada as there were umbrellas up outside the bar with the sign and so I had a short diversion... but you quickly realise that you are on the wrong route and can retrace your steps.  Ternils is apparently only 10m off the route with romanesque style with hints of early gothic.  I was very much looking forward to visiting this National Monument and resting for breakfast, but I managed to miss it - I think it is surrounded by lush orange trees and I somehow just did not find the way.  Akina and I stopped for a break in the shade of oranges which was very pleasant, quiet and cool.

Breakfast beneath the oranges outside Cogullada
The way is marked on this part of the route with the usual shells - although a little confusingly at times, they have decorated the Via Augusta markers with two scallop shells - one facing in each direction!  Not so helpful when the shell is supposed to indicate the direction of travel.  However, there are often yellow arrows also that indicate the way and a number of these nice wooden waymarkers - also sporting the red and white GR long distance path mark and as was the case today - some El Cid Route markers as this follows much of the Via Augusta.

El Cid Route as well as Camino
and Via Augusta

From Cogullada we head through the groves to the town of Pobla Llarga.  So far my least favourite place on the route and not particularly clearly marked.  You really have to read the road names and people seemed less friendly - no smiles or buenas dias today!  It was 10.30 as we passed through and the town was only just getting going, but those that were opening shops or wheeling pushchairs and walking dogs today were not in a friendly mood.  I was glad to pass through the other side - not by the most attractive route - and head on toward Manuel.  This was a busier section with many new main roads and new railway lines put in - and we had to walk through industrial estates which was not so pleasing on the eye and tiring on the feet.  It's much hotter walking on tar and concrete too and so Akina and I were glad to see Manuel approaching and were ready to get on the train home.  However, one very beautiful spot on the route is by the stream - Barranc de Barxeta.  It is spanned by an ancient Moorish bridge known as the Pont de l'Ase.  

The Pont de l'Ase

As we entered Manuel, there is another Medieval washing place, although definitely NOT as attractive as the one from last week in Ayacor!!  Anyway, I took a photo because I wanted to at least give you an idea of one of these places - this is now under a house - and you can see, when you stand next to it, the water flowing beneath.  This has far more the touch of "modern concrete" about it!  
It is interesting because as I write this, despite today not having been as nice a walk as last weeks for the reasons mentioned above, I find myself warming to the Camino Levante and wondering, as it goes past my front door almost literally, whether this is the route we should try.  The research does suggest that it is hard for a first route and that finding direction is not always easy - although the new guide and the fact that it has now been designated a GR will have helped.  According to some guest hikers we had at the Casita a couple of weeks ago, Spain seems to be really putting some effort into marking and caring for its walks - they say they have seen a huge change over their last few years of walking here -so possibly the Levante will be better marked than some previous Pilgrims have found.  According to the Confraternity of St James - they feel it is well marked and their information on the route says the following (note for more on the CSJ check out their website listed in my eariler blog about El Camino):

The Route.   Starts in Valencia and initially goes south to Xátiva, then westerly/northwesterly via Albacete, San Clemente, Toledo, Avila, Arévalo, Medina del Campo, and Toro to Zamora.  From Zamora there are three options: continue to Astorga and thence by the Camino Francés to Santiago, go directly through Galicia on the Via de la Plata via Puebla de Sanabria and Ourense to Santiago or turn west after Zamora and go via Bragança and northeastern Portugal, joining the southern variant of the Vía de la Platain Verín.  The distance from Valencia to Zamora is c. 900 km and to Santiago c.1300 km.  Allow 7 weeks or so for the full trip.
Distinctive features of the route. The route is long and passes through some of the most beautiful and historic parts of Spain. There is little pilgrim infrastructure but there is adequate low cost accommodation in convents and hostales at regular intervals. Daily planning is necessary because there are times when pilgrims have to carry food and water for the day.
This is a solitary route and there are few other pilgrims however the local people are aware of the route and are invariably pilgrim friendly. However most people in rural Spain cannot speak English and some knowledge of the Spanish is essential.
The route is suitable for mountain bikes and given its length the majority of pilgrims at this time travel by bicycle.
Waymarking.  Waymarking is good throughout this route. It cross a number of other routes on the way including the Camino Sureste and the Don Quijote with its distinctive green markers. Care should be taken at the intersections with these routes – particularly when leaving Medina del Campo. The maps provided in and with the Guide to the route produced by the Amigos in Valencia are very useful. In 2011 there continued to be some disruption to the route caused by major road works. However the maps in the guide make the direction of the route very clear. Some pilgrims may wish to take a compass with them.
Terrain.  Generally not strenuous but care should be taken to deal with the effect of walking in the heat which can be exhausting.  There are many days with very little or even no shade:  days of vineyards, orange groves, and maize affording no shelter from the elements.  La Mancha although beautiful is particularly barren with long stages.  A few steep climbs including the Alto de la Paramera, 1345m, approaching Avila.
I have, however a calling to the Via de la Plata.  In many ways I can walk both - or at least a large part of the Levante and hopefully all the Via de la Plata.  It's easy to do excursions from here to different parts of the Levante route, even further afield by car and walk a section or number of sections over a few days.  Research suggests the Seville route is the longest at a 1000km but the Levante route is 1200km from Valencia the CSJ say 1300km (!)  Looking at the map (see below) certainly the Levante route would appear longer when compared to the Via de la Plata route shown on an earlier blog.  The Levante route might be more possible with the dogs and easier for the support vehicle and us in terms of starting right from home and not having to trek to a more distant start point.  It also may mean that when we do the bulk of the route, it won't require so many dedicated weeks, because earlier stages will have been completed in sections.  It also might be easier with dogs because it avoids some of the issues with the Extremedura flocks guarded by sheep dogs without shepherds.  It doesn't mean we won't meet challenges but the farming is different on the route the Levante takes to the Via de la Plata.  This is a question I will no doubt ruminate over for a while - and there is no rush.  The answer will come I am sure - and I think that will be partly due to trying out sections of the route and testing the signage.  It should also be noted that the Levante route joins with the Via de la Plata at Zamora.

The Camino de Levante

For a good description of the spirit of the Camino, how it brings a meditation and awareness to life, have a look at the link below, it makes some insightful comments.

The following is taken from an interview with Anglican priest, Andy Delmege who walked the Camino Levante - for the full interview, go to
He has also written a book - "Walking becomes the praying"

"The simple goodness of walking and praying the Camino was a falling more deeply into God. The walking became a deeper loving. The incarnatedness of pilgrim prayer, its coming out of kilometre after kilometre, mile after mile of effort, is tested because the Camino is also a School of Charity. I have already written of how generous the people living along the Way were. One important thing for me was to learn to receive it. It can be more testing to learn to live with other pilgrims. Busy albergues can be challenge. Everyone is crowded into a simple dormitory with some showers, facilities for hand washing clothes, and maybe a kitchen. Everyone is tired. Most people want to get an early night. Some people snore. Some people get up to prepare for walking at four in the morning. Dealing with this is an exercise in the practical love that comes out of praying. It is also part of learning basic pilgrim attitudes. These seem to me to revolve around gratitude; to be grateful for the love and care expressed in so many ways, while accepting the difficulties and discomforts with grace."
The final part of the day's walk entered Manuel along a lovely old street where there were some old tiles on doorways and lovely old doors.  I stopped to take the following pictures before arriving in a village square occupied almost entirely by men at tables outside the cafes which surrounded the square. A man who I had passed a number of times irrigating his oranges laughed and waved because here we were, meeting again.  After giving Akina some water and finding my phone for the GPS directions to the train station, I set off - following the shell markers as the route apparently crossed the Avenida de l'Estación... hmmmm.  Something did not seem quite right about the route, especially as I was in Manuel and the station is L'Ènova y Manuel.  I decided to ask someone.  I really should trust my Spanish, I thought he said "Oh no, you are going the wrong way - you need to turn around an go straight for one kilometre".  He looked very concerned for me and worried that I would have to walk such a distance.  Maybe the rucksack on my back and hiker like appearance was not realistic enough to show I had already travelled around 12km?  Anyway, I nodded, smiled, thanked him and although I trusted him and turned around I was not 100% sure whether I had understood correctly.  I decided to head in the direction he had indicated and then ask someone else just to see if they gave me the same information.  They did.  
Still not trusting I had understood correctly - I guess this comes to most people when learning a language, you don't quite trust that you have got the right translation because you aren't sure if your language skills are up to it - I repeated a few things, asked for a road name, checked again that the man I asked really did mean "go straight for a kilometre - you can't miss it"... and headed off.  As it turned out, both sets of directions were correct - it really was straight and a kilometre, maybe more!  It was in fact back down the road I had walked in on and then continuing past where I had first turned into the town.  It was now about 12.15 and the back streets were deserted, shutters down and that Spanish ghost town feel was descending.  Occasionally a lady would emerge sweeping her steps or shaking a duster from a balcony - I'd call out a greeting and they would wave and smile.  A few children were playing in some side streets but on the whole I walked in silence.  All it needed now was Clint Eastwood to appear and some tumbleweed to roll past!  The temperatures were soaring and I felt bad for Akina who was patient but clearly getting tired.  She would sit and gaze up at me when we stopped in some shade to give her a break or some water, totally trusting that I knew what I was doing.  

Akina waiting for the train home on the
platform at L'Ènova station.
About half way down the deserted street was a sign in glorious bright yellow with a picture of a train on it and the magic words - L'Estación!  We turned here and headed out on to new roads, very new!  I don't know how long the station has been there, but the round-a-bouts, access roads and car park were almost shining with newness.  The station itself was a bold statement on the landscape and looked naked as there was nothing surrounding it.  From a distance as we approached, the trains could be seen pulling in and out and the whole thing, including the modern Spanish trains, looked like the set from a Science Fiction movie.  We entered the building - deserted - and had to help ourselves to the automatic ticket machine.  I pressed the button for single and return hoping there would be an option for single, but if there was I missed it - I managed to buy a return, thus more expensive than my single ticket out which would be a greater distance than the one I was about to do back to L'Alcudia.  Not that it mattered.  We had made it and were glad to sit on the empty platform seats and wait, listening to announcements made with only us to hear.  The announcement of a train approaching the station alerted me as ours was not due for another 20 minutes.  The lines started to sing.  Then, almost without warning the train was upon us - tearing through the station at what could have been anything up to 310km per hour (193mph)!  This was one of Spain's AVE trains, their own version of the bullet train.  

Trying to stay relaxed yet keep her safe, I pulled Akina to me.  It's a terrifying thing to see a train moving at such speed and only 2 metres from where we were sitting.  Akina was always the dog that needed most confidence building and was more shy.  She has come a long way and is so much braver but she astonished me and showed me yet again that the message of the day was to "trust".  She leaned against me and just watched it go by.  All this took only a second or two but it was fast and furious with a strong wind stirred up by the movement of the train.  Then silence again.  Akina lay back down and dozed.  Minutes later our own, slower commuter train arrived - much busier than the morning's train - and after our approximate 14km walk, we took a seat for our trip back to L'Alcudia, the car and home!

Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) is a service of high-speed rail in Spain operated byRenfe, the Spanish national railway company, at speeds of up to 310 km/h (193 mph).  The name is literally translated from Spanish as "Spanish High Speed", but its initials are also a play on the word ave, meaning "bird". As of December 2011, the Spanish AVE system is the longest HSR network in Europe with 2,665 km (1,656 mi) and the second in the world, after China.  (Wikipedia)

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