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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!

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