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Monday, 12 November 2012

Holding hands across the Camino - La Font de la Figuera toward Almansa

What a wonderful and very special day today was!  We started a little later than planned because although the forecast was for cloud and sunny spells, the torrential rain that fell during the night, continued on through most of the day.  The advice is, that if you have the right clothing, it's really no problem, because although the wind was icy, I was snug and warm in my walking gear, stopping to add items of attire or remove them depending on the conditions.  I was also very grateful to my back up vehicle and support driver Michael - without him, today would not have been possible, because the dogs, although they had a fantastic run and enjoyed their walk, by the 10km mark, whenever I stopped to take a photograph, they would huddle under whatever vegetation was available and look at me with "Can't we go home now" eyes.  

Masooda's special group - thank you for joining
me today!  It made it a very special day.  Well done,
you were great and inspired me on a wet and cold
day for walking.  
The special event of the day was that my friend Masooda joined me for the first 10km - but in South Africa. I will add in some photos from her "parallel walk" when I receive them and some comments from the students she took with her.  She was walking with her rescue Lab cross Collie - Zoe, with the intent of raising awareness for movement in schools.  Also, her attention was drawn to the fact that young people can benefit so much from exercise, fresh air, good diets and letting themselves get out of "pretense".  They all walked Zoe and participated in exercises of calling her and having to "mean it" or otherwise Zoe ignored them.  Dogs are great teachers and show us "who we need to be" - calm, assertive, firm, fair and compassionate.  Not always an easy combination for human beings.
I met Masooda when she was starting to learn about dogs and I have seen her grow and change.  She has learnt so much and it's great to see her taking on this special role of helping humans with her dog, something close to my heart.  I was with her when she adopted Zoe and appropriately, I also had our first "Spanish" foster dog (Sasha) with me today for the first part of the walk.  She came to join our family yesterday while she is looking for her forever home and I hope she finds the right humans as she is fantastic, easy, will go anywhere and everywhere and is so friendly to other dogs.  Our girls took her under their wing immediately and whoever gives her a home will have the most amazing companion.  She is the perfect size too and fits in anywhere!  More of her later in the blog - sitting on her "box throne" surveying her "dog subjects" in the car!

The start, the washing place is to
my right
The starting point was the medieval washing area in La Font de la Figuera.  Shown above, it is a huge area, the largest one I have come across and people still come to wash here.  As you can see from the spouts outside, the rain was really coming down heavily and the other photos which I promised on the last blog, to help Camino walkers find there way, also show the conditions of the morning.  As you leave the washing place on the right, head straight on and up a hill.  The yellow arrow is on the corner of the wall on your left.  Continue up the hill and another yellow arrow will appear on the armco on your left.  This is the last one for a long stretch up the new paved way until the finger post markers.  I am sure they will add more soon.  You follow alongside the new road being built (a large cutting of major works) keeping it on your right.  

Left - the arrow on the wall as you leave the town.  Right, just on the end of the armco, the yellow arrow indicting you continue straight on up the hill.  The nice new paved way is pictured below, with fancy street lights.  The new road is on your right.  Continue along this paved way until you reach the finger post which will take you right, over the new road being built, and onto the Camino route which will be clearly marked from here.  You will turn left once you cross the bridge (another finger post indicting the way).  Things may look a little different as the road reaches completion so the various pictures shown below may not be current depending on when you walk your Camino.  These photos were taken today - 12 November, 2012.






The yellow arrows as you can see are marked on anything at the moment, including a singular concrete, temporary road barrier.  You are however, on the right way - just keep the new road on your left now and you will soon pick up the more permanent arrows which will take you all the way through to Almansa.  I was concerned that we would struggle today with all the new road works going on, the new railway having been put in since the maps were drawn and new main road intersections now complete - but the markings were clear and easy to follow.

The new road going in past La Font de la Figuera
The dogs did very well, although it was very wet.  They wanted to run and play to keep warm and right at the beginning of the route they put up a rabbit.  Ndzilo cut her foot running over some rocks and so she had to go back to the car.  She was most put out at having to miss out, but I'm sure once she saw how soggy everyone else was, she didn't mind so much.  Kaishi "tandemed" Sasha for today, which allowed Sasha to go and explore but ensured her recall when they went off exploring.  At one time when Kaishi decided to run, Sasha's little feet hardly touched the ground!  As Michael said, she is so small and easy to take everywhere, but in a strong wind she'd fly!  She did about an hour before heading out in the car with Michael and Ndzilo to our meeting place.  Her pads are still soft and not conditioned to hard walking (plus she is only a year old and not up to long, long walks yet), totally unlike our girls who have been doing this since puppyhood and have pads that could sand varnish off old wood!

Once they had turned back (Michael to wrap up warmly in a fleece blanket and the Ndzilo and Sasha to curl up under blankets in the car) I continued with our other two girls.
  



The first part of the walk is on a tarred road, which then makes way for sandy tracks.  Most of the walk is not too muddy, even in the wet, but we did have some times where we had to paddle a little!  The route is superbly marked and very clear.  


Fingerpost just before the border between Valencia and
Albacete

Strange, corrugated iron construction
after the landmark Casa del Mojón
Blanco.  It appears on your left.
We crossed over into Albacete - leaving Valencia behind us.  By this stage the dogs were reaching their limits, although actually they would have been willing to go on, but I just did not want to ask them to do more.  They were so cheerful and full of joy - the day was just another great day for a dog to have fun.  Only when I stopped and they shivered could one really notice that perhaps they were now ready to curl up under a fleecy blanket in the warmth of the car.  I called Michael and sent my GPS location via "Whatsapp" (such a FANTASTIC little application - where I can send locations and photos on route using a very small amount of my internet connection and thus not incurring SMS costs) and he was on his way.  Shortly after these photos, the dogs were in the car and I was warming up with a mug of coffee.  I unpacked my bocadillo to eat as I walked - I prefer to sit and relax, but today I wanted to keep the muscles moving - and headed off.  Michael was to meet me at our final destination a couple of hours away, well for me anyway! 

The way goes under the railway (not mentioned in the
guide) and you have to clamber down the storm
drain.  A bit "slippery when wet"!
From here we headed towards the landmarks of Torre Chica and Torre Grande.  According to the guidebook, it is thought that these two once flanked the Via Augusta Roman road.  Today they are two working farms and they were in action as I passed.  There is a new railway not mentioned in the guidebook and there is much construction going on with the new road here.  The way is well marked but there is a confusing sign where the yellow arrows point both left and right.  Looking at the ground, you will see writing which indicates the cycle route and when you get to the underpass for the railway a little further on you will see why - you have to clamber down a steep storm drain!  The arrows are excellent and the way is still clearly marked.  They have done a fantastic job of keeping it clear despite all the ongoing work.  I was most impressed.  The way here is very open and the wind was biting.  

Snug in my snood!
I was grateful for my rain jacket and hood, but as the wind whipped across the plain to my right, it was still able to find its way inside and penetrate my ear!  I stopped to find my snood and this solved the problem completely!  It might seem tempting to put off stopping to rummage in a soggy back pack, but believe me - do it!  Snug and warm it made the journey pleasant despite the wind and driving rain.  I took a lesson from the dogs - the day was just a great day.  Not bad, not good, just a great day for being on the walk - being in the moment and enjoying what I had.  It was a great challenge and good to know that I could do it.  I won't be able to choose the weather on my two day, three day and week or longer hikes, so there was no point in backing out of today.  Meet the challenges with spirit and the enthusiasm of a dog and you will enjoy the rain and icy wind.  Really!  My shoes did well - dry warm feet - another essential on a day like today and I had dug out my "happy hands" fingerless gloves that my friend Debbie knitted for me.  My hand were truly delighted!  They are perfect Camino gloves, as they allow you to access your lunch, take photos, use the guidebook and send GPS location messages all without removing them.  Thank you Debbie!!!! 

One happy hand!!
As I passed under the railway again (also not mentioned in the guidebook) someone who had marked the way had painted a wonderful large, yellow scallop shell on the wall.  What fun!   
   

One of the "Torres" flanking the
way and it is thought, the old
Via Augusta
From here I headed on toward the motorway which you can see on your right and the big new intersections built over the Camino.  As you draw closer, the signs are a wonderful blue with the yellow scallop shell on them.  A bigger "sign" version of the tiled markers often seen along the way.

The Camio runs along the side of the railway and
when you cross under it, there is a fabulous hand
painted scallop marker, painted by someone having
some fun when they were indicating the way.


Cerro Prisioneros - where the way turns left and we
pick up these wonderful blue and yellow signs






As you approach the big intersection you will also see that they have put in special warning signs to motorists, to look out for Camino-ists crossing the busy roads and hiking alongside them.  A little amusing as it felt like there should be a huge line of us trying to safely cross the road - like those towns in England where people stand with buckets to collect toads during their spawning time, so they can safely cross without getting squashed!  There was however - only me.





Special sign warning motorists that the Camino crosses
 the road ahead



After crossing the busy intersection, the way curves up a hill which brings you to a wonderful view, down and across the plain to Almansa.  The main A-31 sign on the road we have crossed shows how far we have come so far and the directions we have left and the directions we will go.  It was quite a momentous occasion and I felt a real sense of achievement on reaching this point, now 134.6km since I left Valencia.  As if to mark the occasion, the sun shone a few rays across the valley and onto the scarp beyond.  Below me lay Almansa and as I drew closer, the Moorish castle came clearly to view.   

The town derives its name from the Moorish "Al Manzah" which means "lookout point" and you can see why.  It commands 360 degree views.  The town marks the limits of the kingdoms of Murcia and Valencia and is a very historic town.  Next walk, I have scheduled only 6.6km so that I can meet Michael and enjoy a bit of sight seeing in the town before continuing on toward Albacete on the next leg of the journey.  

The sun came out to make the
occasion - Almansa lies below
us

The "support crew" and vehicle!



Ndzilo (back), Akina (left), Sasha (middle) and Kaishi
(right).  Nothing beats a greeting from dogs!

Wonderful to be in dry warm
clothes




















Sasha on my Camino box (of dry clothes etc) - it's her
"throne"!



Sasha surveying her subjects!







Robertson Mala - Masooda's beads
"Can one walk without falling God is within - what one seeks without is within, we are without"
So, back to holding hands across the Camino with my friend Masooda - she was one of the group who added beads to the Robertson Mala - her beads are shown above.  While she was many, many miles away walking with her group, I was walking with her side by side, mentally holding hands in support.  It was a beautiful and amazing feeling and I would love to invite others to join me - if they wish.  Walk on one of the days I walk, send me your photos and a few words about the day and the purpose (if any) of your walk.  Just having positive energy join us is wonderful. 
She shared her thoughts of the day and I have included a few here along with those of the students who went with her, who learnt a little about genocide and joined the walk against the madness of it.  Thank you to all of you - you really do make a difference:

I was really excited about this walk-  I initially planned a town walk but was pleasantly surprised at the school principal's enthusiasm to consider a walk at such short notice just before exams.  Then again, I know I have marvelled at her ability and courage to see to the heart of matters many times.

We started out from school at 8:05am, concerned about the looming rain and just as we had expected, it came down on our arrival at the trail - In Wales this is often seen as a welcome, but us South Africans prefer it dry when we walk.  Some positive affirmations about sunny weather were made en route - and sure enough just as  we had gathered to dry off under Cecil Rhode's statue, the sun started to smile upon our request.

The Grade 8s were from Mountain View Academy (10 pupils - 9 boys and one girl) plus their Biology Teacher Ms Wilson - a vibrant, compassionate person who speaks the language of youth well.  We left the school in two vehicles, and I took sometime getting Zoe acquainted with those travelling in our vehicle.  She was quite good until a pupil approached the car unexpectedly- as soon as he had leaned his head inside the open window - Zoe gave a loud bark to indicate a stranger was present.  That doesnt happen often, except at traffic lights when people sometimes approach the car.  I could have muzzled, but I wanted to teach her to be around others and relax - and a muzzle wouldn't do that.  I thought about how being territorial was similiar in nature to why genocide is insited.  Perhaps its because people don't get to voice the anger, or to realize a way of co-existing.  Mostly what I observe amongst youth today is the lack of clear boundaries.  It makes it hard for them - even tough in some ways they believe its a kind of freedom.  
We spent sometime chatting to the group about some of the activities and intentions for the walk.  Zoe had a few exercises with 4 pupils....sniffing... with the instruction for the group - no talk, no touch, no eye contact.  It was amazing to see her test their ability to get her attention from 10 metres.  Even with treat in hand - if there wasn't a definite sign of command or enthusiasm...she found others walking by more interesting. Marco gave it a real go with getting her attention. Zoe conceded.

We started up with the intention for each pupil to walk with Zoe.  We didn't have many pack leaders, but a few did surface, which you will see from the pics.  Zoe seemed to instantly take a liking to Elandra and Darren.   While some of the group seemed to influence the energy of the group, Zoe tagged alongside them when they walked her - but eventually she was walking them. I had to laugh when they complained how hard it was to get her to walk when she decided to sniff at something along the way.  I laughed out loud and said - I never have that problem now - even though I used to.  She knows you're not in charge.

It was a very scenic route with robben island on one end and the rest of Cape Town in the distance, the route spiralled towards Camps bay And then quickly climbed.  A short exercise by Ms Wilson helped the group to find a way to be more praising of each other.  Some were hard put to commit to praising others who seemingly felt betrayed at the rquest to praise someone who pressed their buttons with mocking jabs.  While often intended as humour - it wasnt always flattering.  I explained to one pupil that humour of that nature can only be appreciated if there is trust.  If you want to have a positive impact - what are some of the ways you could build trust? 

I'm not sure as yet what impact the walk had.  I know that some who were concerned about the steepness and the heat wanted to cut it short.  Yet on return I realized they had willingly taken a a longer route in the end and there was a sense of accomplishment having finished ahead of the expected time.

I arrived at home quite tired- and yet on another level I felt extremely present.  Each moment seemed to give itself completely.  During the class I teach at 4:30pm I sensed a greater stillness as though fatigue felt was as liberating as a day of rest. My next walk will be the Promenade Inshallah.
Darren with Zoe

Darren: The hike was cool, especially with the dog. Although I don't get why people hate each other. We are all the same.  I find genocide stupid.

Jannan: I thought that the hike was exciting and tiring, although it rained, it was really hot, I liked it.

Collin: I felt that if you push yourself, take your time and it was nice that we tried something new.

Michael: The walk was very fun and being with different people allowed me to understand their limits, boundaries and religions.  Genocide sucks.

Marco: It was an amazing experience, tiring yet peaceful. That's how this world should be.... Peaceful. We should accept that we are all people with different views.

Chris: it was boring in the beginning, but it got better when we started to walk up the mountain. Mrs Wilson gave me and marco detention for angueing.

Ivana: the hike was tough, but the fact that it was for a good course motivated me to go the extra mile and finish the hike.

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