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Monday, 3 December 2012

El Camino de Santiago - Levante Route: Three days from Chinchilla to La Roda

From my first two day trip last week, to my first three day trip this week!  Chinchilla to La Roda and the end of my second stage on the Camino - a total of 265.5km!  

Leaving Chinchilla
My next stage will be La Roda to Toledo, which is structured as 3 x 3 day walks and a 1 x 2 day walk.  After that, well, I'll be into the 2 x 1 week walks before the final push!  This week was full of surprises, one being that it was not only the walk "out" of Albacete that had changed but also the walk into Albacete!  This was not on the map given to Pilgrims in Higueruela, but the path is marked superbly and I have outlined where I walked on the maps.  However, this may change because the Camino actually runs right along the new Autovia being built and I have no idea how they will plan to route the walk once it's built.
Great Camino sign as we left Chinchilla
On the other side of Albacete and in fact through Albacete the way is completely unmarked apart from one faint yellow arrow on the cathedral.  Certainly that's all I found!  I had a rough idea where I was going to head and so we checked it out with the car the day before I started walking and found the route - down the main Paseo, through the industrial estate and out under the motorway bridge.  Here the arrows are easy to follow again but they are not just yellow - some are blue (following what appears to be an old sheep herding route) and there are often a multitude of arrows and colours all competing for the Pilgrim's attention in order to direct him or her where to go!

Day 1 started in Chinchilla and was bitterly cold.  By the time I had walked only a few hundred meters along the road below the castle, I had stopped to wrap up in my snood, neck warmer and fleece hat!  I did not check the temperature but on Day 3 the thermometer registered -4℃ and with the wind blowing there was a wind chill taking it down even lower.  I was most grateful that I had not thrown away my skiing thermals as on Day 3 I would change into them at the half way point, very glad of the support vehicle which would keep me out of the wind while I changed.

The walk was lovely and the view of the castle in the early morning sunshine was impressive.  We planned to return to visit the town on Saturday as the walk was going to be slightly shorter and we would have more time to explore.  The next days do yield up some historical interest but the walk itself was quite straight forward and so the pictures will tell most of the story.  The first day was in fact the least exciting of our walk so far mostly because of following the road workings of the new Autovia.  I was impressed at how the Amigos have kept the path well signed, placing arrows wherever they might be seen among the mounds of earth excavated from the new road.  We were a tad foiled on with our dog swap point as it was on the other side of one of the main roads and due to the new route, it never crossed us over to the old route and entered Albacete from the opposite side of the town to the one indicated in the guide map and on the accompanying maps.

The Amigos are doing well to try and keep markers
obvious under the most trying conditions
We were glad of a hearty packed breakfast and lunch as the cold was biting and both Akina and I were very hungry.  However, we did not sit for long because perched on a rock the cold soon penetrates every bone and the warmth you build up marching out along the route is soon sucked from you.  Akina frets more than Kaishi and would not settle.  Kaishi is a more relaxed dog and she will hunker down as low as she can make herself to keep warm and stay out of the wind, but Akina will pace up and down giving me looks the plead with me to hurry up and get moving again.  Akina will hunch up and trot about, tail low and although still running and having some fun, she is more like a dog with a purpose, who wants to exercise but get it over with!  Kaishi will bounce and play and be joyful for whatever we are doing.
  
Frost on grass - it was beautiful
Michael found his way to us by the GPS position I gave him and parked up just along from the Parador of Albacete.  On my "Desert Island Discs" of luxuries to take on the Camino, a Smart Phone/GPS is a must and I would go so far as to suggest that if you travel without one you will be mad!  In modern times, for safety sake and due to the fact that things change so rapidly, it is wise to be able to check where you are using GPS.  On Day 1 it saved us much angst and meant that we could rearrange a dog swap point and warm up with a hot coffee from the prepared flask.  Back in the Middle Ages and even until quite recently, towns had one main route in and one main route out - it was not so easy to get lost and of course the route through the countryside would be obvious, used by travelers, traders, herders and the like.  Also there was a culture of hospitality - so you did not have to book ahead for accommodation.  Now I would recommend that you do this ahead of your arrival.  There are places you can still take a chance, but it is sensible to phone a couple of days in advance to know that you will have a bed for the night when you arrive at your destination.

On this subject I would recommend knowing more than just a few words of Spanish as although the hotels often have English speakers, the hostels often only book you in using Spanish.  It's all very well preparing your speech before you call, but if you can't understand the answer or if they ask you how many nights or even repeat back to you "tonight" when in fact you want two days time, will cause you some grief if you don't have some understanding of the language.  If you are going to stay in a Municipal Auberge at a weekend you might even have to know from where to collect keys - as although the Ayuntamiento sometimes hold them or you call the Ayuntamiento to book - remember they are often closed by midday on Saturday, if they open at all, and everything is shut on Sunday.
  
For the next little luxury that I would recommend to any Perigrino - I suggest a heating coil that you can carry to plug into a two pin socket and clip onto a cup for a hot mug of tea/coffee or chocolate - or whatever you prefer.  The beverage itself is easy to carry and lightweight, a tin mug is easily carried on the outside of the backpack and the heating coil slips neatly in its pouch into a waterproof clothing bag. If you like a hot drink in the morning and can't get going without your tea or coffee, or if you like a soothing hot drink before bed time - the heating coil will serve you well.  For me, walking in cold temperatures was much more pleasant having had a lovely hot drink before opening the door to the cosy warm bedroom and facing the bracing morning air at 07.30!  Most of the hostels do not provide in room tea and coffee making facilities so this luxury is number one on my list.  Also, don't forget your toilet roll as in the larger hostels (although the one I stayed in was kept spotless) by the early hours of the morning there is no paper left! 
A hot drink was MOST welcome at this point!
After the hot drink and dog swap, Kaishi and I made our way past the Parador and into Albacete.  Be observant here as it is all too easy to wander along the tarred road and miss the turn.  It's not long after the Parador, if you keep your eyes open, you will see a yellow arrow directing you onto a farm track off the road to your right and heading into Albacete.  Here Kaishi bounced across the field to a strange looking, grey object which on closer inspection I could see to be a hand bag.  I was about to walk on when I thought that just "maybe" there might be something in it and I should check before walking on. If that something turned out to be old tights and nasty socks I would leave it where it was, but if there was some ID I would carry it with me to the police in Albacete.  I crossed to the bag and unzipped it - there was a purse which had obviously been opened and the contents removed, a brand new but now somewhat bent notebook, some other things and there, peeking out of an inner pocket - a driving license.  The decision was made.  What if this bag belonged to someone who had not yet managed to sort out a new driving license, what if the purse or notebook had been given to her on Mother's Day by her children or, the thought did not bear thinking about, what if it belonged to someone who had been raped or murdered and who may as yet, not have been found...  Hopefully it was just a stolen bag and someone would be reunited at the very least with their ID.  Whatever the story, the bag was going with us.

Where to turn toward Albacete
The track into Albacete was definitely not the most salubrious we have walked!  A little run down, heading toward blocks of flats and strewn with rubbish along the way.  On reaching the town, we turned left, the arrows following the curb line to our right, but as there was no path on the left side of the road, this was unhelpful as we needed to cross over to the central walkway.  At the end of the road at the round-a-bout however, the arrows were clear again and led us on a kind of ringroad to a point where they directed us in toward the city centre.  We followed them for a while, but it was not long before they disappeared and this was the last we saw of them until we were out in the country again beyond the industrial estate mentioned earlier.  The map from La Posada, in Higueruela helped as you could work out where to go, but it was still fiddly and took up time.  I had managed to find a very good deal on Booking.com (excellent, fast, efficient and easy to use site) in a pet friendly hotel right on the main Paseo that would take us out of town to the industrial estate and back onto the Camino.

Our pet friendly room at Hotel Castilla - we got a room
at 38 Euros which also allowed us 4 dogs!  Very good
value for money, friendly staff and good English for
those who have only very basic Spanish.  Check out
Booking.com or www.hotel-castilla.es
Despite advertising that it was pet friendly, we were a tad nervous of entering with three large Ridgebacks and a medium sized wiry haired Sasha dog!  We should not have worried - they were welcomed with open arms and the staff did not bat an eyelid.  One of the gentleman on the check in desk came out to open doors for us and told us how much he loved dogs and has three of his own.  The hotel has free wifi, parking below the building (7 Euros per night - very good value), TV, 24  hour room service and other services.  

Lunch on a park bench with "the
bag"!
The dogs in their pet friendly (admite mascotas) hotel
The Castilla
As we finished our walk, Kaishi and I sat on a bench in a small park and had lunch while waiting for the support vehicle.  It was icy and we were glad we would soon be curling up in a warm hotel room.  I was looking forward to a hot shower, a snooze and a good hot meal too.  However, first we needed to find someone to stamp the passport and the police so that I could hand in the bag.  Both were possible at the Ayuntamiento where the police often have a small office.  I was surprised that the officer did not take my name or number, in case they needed to know exactly where the bag was found - but at least it was now in the hands of an official.  The receptionist at the main desk kindly stamped the passport and we headed back to the hotel by way of a wonderful bakery where we picked up a large flat pastry covered in sweet sticky pine nuts.  Naughty but delicious and very welcome after the cold walk.  The sign also said that the opened at 07.30 so a fresh bocadillo for breakfast was going to be possible (oh and accompanied by a lovely nutty meringue!)

As we walked back through the town we found a little palace, a remnant of Albacete's past, hidden among the tall modern buildings.
Albacete is in fact known in history for it's knife making.  For more information do check out the following link:  http://www.aceros-de-hispania.com.


Apparently at the beginning of the twentieth century, the city began gaining importance as, during the Spanish Civil War, it was the headquarters and training camp of the International Brigades, whose political commissar was André Marty, also known as the "Butcher of Albacete".  The name, according to Wikipedia, is derived from the Andalusian name for the area, the city having been originally called البسيط Al-Basit, in Arabic, which translates to "the plain" in reference to the plateau that characterizes the geography of the area.

As usual Wikipedia comes to our aid with many interesting snippets of history:


The origins of the city are uncertain, although the first few confirmations of its existence are found during the Moorish domination of the area. The earliest documentation is from 1269, when Albacete was only a small village, dependent on the borough ofChinchilla. Before that, it had been a small Moorish village. Its name is derived from the Arabic Al-Basīṭ, "El Llano" ("the plain") referring to the planiform nature of the geography of the area.. It was taken by Christian troops in 1241 and was under the dominion of Alarcon.
Around the first quarter of the 14th century, in the time of the famous writer Don Juan Manuel, Prince of Villena, who was the governor of Murcia and, therefore the Lord of these lands, which were to become later the Marquisate of Villena, the village began to develop and its population to increase. In 1375 it was considered a borough and became independent of Chinchilla, and a century later, in 1476, the Catholic Monarchs rewarded Albacete for supporting the Crown by granting it a licence to hold a market once a week.
Don Quixote and the Knife Shop - he and Sancho Panza
get everywhere and get to advertise and promote any
type of goods around this area.  Here they were in a knife
delicatessen combined.
During the Revolt of the Comuneros (1520–22), after initial protests, Albacete supported the new emperor Charles V who, in 1526, granted the feudal estate of the town to his wife, the Empress Isabella of Portugal. During this period, building started on the church of San Juan Bautista (St John the Baptist), which was later to become a cathedral.

Albacete is located in a strategic position between Madrid and the east coast of Spain and its agricultural wealth led to the growth of the borough during the next few centuries until Philip V granted permission for an annual fair (1710). This fair was later held in an enclosure built by Charles III (1783).
The railway reached Albacete in 1855, and the Madrid‑Alicante route passed through the town. Later, Albacete was also connected by rail to Cartagena. In 1862, Isabel II granted Albacete the title of town. Street electric lighting was inaugurated in 1888, thus being the first capital of a province in Spain with electric lighting in its streets.


Pocket knive of Albacete crafted with reed-deer.


Albacate Knife Museum
Plaza de la Catedral, Albacate 02001 - Spain
Phone: +34 (0)96761 6600


Albacate is known for its excellent knives and the making of knives in the town can be traced back to Moorish times. There is a museum dedicated to the making of knives and it is located in an old palace called the Casa de Hortelana. An exhibition covers the evolution of knife making and you can also see a display of the best knives made in Albacate in the last one hundred years. The museum also has a shop.




The mind boggles...?!
Once settled in our hotel we showered, rested and changed before heading out in search of that hot meal.  We passed various protests at the current political situation and as usual in Spain, the streets come alive at night and we made our way through crowds until we found a cute little bar with some interesting dishes advertised, including something which translated into English as couches of gluttony! I was tempted but instead went for one of the rice dishes.  Local to the region are rice dishes which come either dry or with stock - the latter making a kind of ricey soup.  We ordered the lobster one which came in a huge casuela and was delicious and filling - perfect after the long, cold day.

Day 2 started out as another cold one and I was glad for having researched the route the day before so we could get off and really step out to warm up.  We got all the dogs moving and Ndzilo, spotting a fox, took off for some time and we were quite worried about her until she came puffing and panting back in her relaxed jog as though butter wouldn't melt!

The route heads along the Paseo and over the bridge, ignoring signs to the station and heading past the Hotel Beatrix and through the industrial estate.  At the end of the estate it turns right to "wiggle" under the motorway and pick up the old route, marked with yellow arrows.  Where it turns left onto a track it is in fact marked with a blue arrow and then with a yellow arrow on a large tractor tyre.  There is a strange red marker that you can see too and this appears to link with the red "Don Quixote" route markers that we are starting to see around this region.  To find out more go to:  http://www.culture-routes.lu/php/fo_index.php?lng=en&dest=bd_pa_det&rub=82 
This Spanish route (the first European cultural route based on a literary figure) received the accreditation ‘‘Cultural Route of the Council of Europe’’ in February 2007. The Route of Don Quixote starts in the city of Toledo, the capital of the Autonomous Community of Castilla-la-Mancha.  

Over more than a thousand kilometers in the territory of Castilla-La Mancha, a region famous for its windmills, travellers can let themselves be guided by their imagination and relive the adventures of the gentleman created by Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote of La Mancha is a humanist symbol and a universal cultural myth (the novel is one of the most translated texts in the world after the Bible)

      
From the Paseo, head over the bridge out of town and toward the industrial estate.  Pass the Hotel Beatrix and continue straight along the edge of the estate until reaching the end.  Basically keep to the right hand edge of the estate and follow roads in that direction until you see the new roads and motorways to your right.  Turn right this bends and turns under the bridge and out onto the new route.  The industrial estate is remarkably pretty for what it is with trees lining the roadways!





Looking back toward the industrial estate - it is on the other side of that bridge but you will come "under" one bridge and then over this on and down onto the dirt road where you will pick up the yellow arrows again.  The old route is the one on the left of the picture but you can not at this time access the Camino from the way laid out in the maps or in the guidebook.


Overjoyed at finding the arrows again
and knowing we were on the right
track!






There is a lot of maize grown in this area and at this time of year they are harvesting.  Sometimes into the big bales I have mentioned previously and sometimes removing the cobs and kernels as they were doing on this day.

For my South African friends (again) - a Spanish Mealie!




Below I have included the stages of the route as I walked them from Chinchilla, through Albacete and then on towards La Gineta.  The tracks are marked on the map and so I just traced the line with pen and marked it with arrows to show the route here.











I just love these shadow pictures and my mother pointed
out that they remind her of the ghosts of all those who
have walked these roads before and who are keeping
me company along the way.  It's such a lovely thought
I had to include it here. 
The day was long and tiring, mostly because of the featureless plain, the cold and the fact that the day before had been quite a hard one.  It slows things down when you are not entirely sure of the route or where it will take you and when you have to track down parts of it.  I had decided to take both the young Ridgebacks on this stretch and once they were picked up I would walk the last few kilometres into La Gineta alone.  As I neared the rendezvous point a nerve starting pinching in my shoulder and I was very grateful for the support vehicle ahead, which drove down to relieve me of my back pack as well as pick up the dogs so that I could give my shoulder a rest.

As you enter La Gineta there is an abundance of markers on the underpass, including stencils of the route names - both El Camino de Santiago and El Camino de Santiago Suroeste, the Southwest route.  When I was trying to book accommodation there was really nothing for La Gineta.  I didn't believe that this would be the case when I arrived but in fact, it really does seem that way!  It's a little surprising because it is not a small, small town and it is very pretty in the old part.  Surprisingly so, with old shields marking on the walls that tell of who used to own buildings and land here.  As you leave the last arrow on the edge of town (I found only one in the middle of town and then you pick them up again on the way out - also in abundance as though they used up their quota before the town and only got a new issue of arrows once out the other side!) you will pass a "Gaudi" house on your right.  Someone has paid tribute to his work by making their own in this little town and it is really very good!  If you don't know Gaudi's work, take a visit to Barcelona or Google his work, in particular that of the "Park Güell".
The Work of Antoni Gaudí
Gaudí's work is admired by architects around the World as being one of the most unique and distinctive architectural styles.
His work has greatly influenced the face of Barcelona Architecture and you will see Gaudí's work all over the city.
Antoni Gaudí was born in Reus in 1852 and received his Architectural degree in 1878.
From the very beginning his designs were different from those of his contemporaries.
Gaudí's work was greatly influenced by forms of nature and this is reflected by the use of curved construction stones, twisted iron sculptures, and organic-like forms which are traits of Gaudí's Barcelona architecture.
Location of Sagrada Familia to the nearest metro stop. Click for a magnified view of this map
Location of Sagrada Familia to the nearest metro stop. Click for a magnified view of this map
Gaudí also adorned many of his buildings with coloured tiles arranged in mosaic patterns. This added another important dimension to his buildings which is so often overlooked by architects - the use of colour.
The combination of original design, interesting shaped stonework, and vibrant colours in Gaudí's work give the viewer a truly breathtaking visual experience.
Park Güell





Antoni Gaudí Park Güell Entrance Dragon Fountain
Antoni Gaudí Park Güell Entrance Dragon Fountain
Park Güell was commissioned by Eusebi Güell who wanted to create a stylish park for Barcelona aristocracy.
Antonio Gaudí parc Güell - large organic looking columns made from stone.
Antonio Gaudí parc Güell - large organic looking columns made from stone.
The park contains amazing stone structures (see below), stunning tiling and fascinating buildings. You can see from this picture the Gaudí dragon fountain that is at the entrance to Güell park. This dragon is adorned in beautiful coloured tiling and there is something rather hypnotic and magical about it.
Here you can see a walkway supported by twisting rock pillars that seem to be growing out of the ground like tree trunks. Although these are rather irregular in shape they do feel strangely natural too.
Antoni Gaudí Güell Park - mosaic seating area adorned with multi-coloured tiles
Antoni Gaudí Güell Park - mosaic seating area adorned with multi-coloured tiles
Gaudí was strongly influenced by natural shapes and used them in his work.
At the top of Güell park is a terraced area where you get a wonderful view of the park and of Barcelona City. Here you will find multi-coloured tiled mosaic seats as shown in this picture. The vibrant colours of the tiles are truly breathtaking.


Park Güell also has a small house in the park which Gaudí lived in at one stage. The house has now been converted into a museum and contains interesting furniture also designed by Gaudí.
The town was very quiet and of course very little was open, but we did manage to find a very nice man in a local bar who had provided Michael with a flask of coffee earlier, who was happy to give us his official "bar stamp".  

The quiet streets of La Gineta



From La Gineta we had to head back to Albacete - due to the lack of accommodation.  If one was walking without dogs, and feeling energetic, then it is possible to make the stages between towns longer and so reach a destination where there is accommodation, but my Camino is a little different and to be honest, I find 20km per day a perfect and comfortable distance with energy left to do some sight seeing. 

 From here on, much of the route can be split into average days of 20km with towns providing accommodation easily accessible.  There are some shorter days and a few that are 23 and 25km, but not many.  These also usually follow a slightly shorter day or will be followed by a shorter walk, so I think I will have the balance about right.

Because this was a slightly shorter walk and because I had been able to leave early as I started from where I was staying, we planned to visit Chinchilla to explore the old town there and have lunch.  What a wonderful discovery it is!  From the outside it does not look much, a town dominated by a castle but with the modern buildings below it does not look very exciting, but drive in through the city walls, under the archway into the Plaza Mayor and you could be back in the Middle Ages.  It is the kind of place that could easily be used as a film location as it would not take too much disguising of modern paving and road signs to have the place looking like it may have done a few hundred years ago.   

Entrance and exit to the old town is through
this arch the picture is taken from inside the
Plaza Mayor
Heading up the steep hill toward the old town, you can
glimpse the old buildings above you.   
















































Located on a hill that dominates the plains of La Mancha, the town of Chinchilla de Monte Aragón has a remarkable castle built in the 15th century by Juan Pacheco, marquis of Villena, and a beautiful medieval historic quarter.
Chinchilla de Monte Aragón calls for a serene walk through its streets, in order to admire the great houses and courtyards, and discover the quarter of Hondón, with its typical houses dug on the earth. It preserves the remains of the wall, some Arab vestiges, and the gate of Tiradores. It also has an impressive moat, dug on the rock, ten metres wide by six metres deep. In the urban centre we can still find ancient Arab public baths, as well as several emblazoned houses from the 16th to 18th centuries, such as the ancestral homes of López de Haro, Núñez Robles, the Palace of Barnuevo, the 16th-century house of Tercia, and the old public granary. In the main square, or Plaza Mayor, we find the City Hall, which dates from the 16th to 18th centuries. The most important religious building is the parish church of Santa María del Salvador, with overlapping styles from Gothic to Baroque. Other interesting buildings include the hospital of San Julián, the convent of Santo Domingo, and the remains of the convent of Santa Ana.  
http://www.spain.info/en/ven/otros-destinos/chinchilla_de_montearagon.html

The Arabian Baths - 11th, 12 and 13th Century
For a really good website which gives you lots of history and information on Chinchilla and its monuments go to www.chinchilla.es.  It also gives information on other things to see, do and where to stay.  It is of course the town's website so it is in Spanish, but the history seems very thorough.  It is a shame that some of these monuments are not being kept up and some, such as the Arab Baths, can only be seen through a crack in the door!  I took the photograph shown here through the crack!


A rough explanation about the baths is that they were "in a building dedicated to the hygene and these baths are the “hamman”.  The one shown here is currently under a private house but was originally a public building inheriting the character in function and construction the concept of the Roman spas.  The Muslims however reduced the dimensions of their baths and standardised them. Like the Romans, all the buildings of the Arab baths had a lobby or entrance (“al-bayt al-maslai”), a cold room (“al-bayt al-barid”), a tempered room (“al-bayt al-wastani”) and a hot room (“al-bayt to saiun”)."

Chimneys seem to come directly out of the ground!
Another discovery I have made is that there are "cave houses" around Spain and Chinchilla has some good examples.  They are of course cool during the heat of the day and generally maintain an even temperature all year round.  I discovered them quite by accident, although there doesn't seem to be lots of detailed information about their history.  As Michael and I wandered the streets, admiring the architecture and heading up toward the castle, we came across a row of chimneys that seemingly came directly out of the ground!  These turned out to be the flues from the cave houses.

Entrance to a cave house, although
some are much more excavated directly
into the rock.  They line the cliffs below
the castle
"In southern Spain, there's a long tradition of cave dwellings. Here, the caves were dug out of hard clay and earth. Near Granada, a network of ancient caves are sometimes inhabited by homeless people. Many purpose-built caves have been renovated to include modern security, air conditioning and electricity as well as running water. It's something of a trend for Europeans to own a refurbished cave house, either as a vacation home or a permanent residence."




Restaurante Cafe Dalia












We had lunch in this restaurant in one corner of the Plaza Mayor.  It has good reviews and is apparently the "place to eat" in Chinchilla.  We had a delicious bowl of chickpea, vegetable and meatball (chicken) soup - which was again described as "stuffed" (I love these translations) before heading back to Albacete.  The support vehicle was able to park on the Paseo and could see my hostel sign from the parking spot.  However, dogs and human alike were to spend a very cold night!  Next time the -12 sleeping bag will definitely be in action!

Dogs are often left outside on small
balconies during the day to get fresh
air - not what out dogs would
consider as a good "back garden"!
The hostel I stayed in (the Atienzar) was like a rabbit warren.  The rooms and corridors winding forever back into the tardis like depths of what had appeared from the outside, a very narrow building.  Initially I had some resistance to the "shared bathroom" but I simply told myself that it was like being on a Zen retreat and overcame the ego telling me it would much rather have a fancy hotel room and privacy!  It is very strange how the mind reacts as I have no problem at all about a shared room or bathroom on retreat but something about this raised all sorts of objections from within.  However, change the mindset and the resistance goes away - a good lesson.  After all the bathroom was spotless and well kept and only a short walk from the room.  I was a bit concerned about the abundance of lively female gymnasts cavorting about the corridors.  I wasn't sure if there would be much sleep if they came back in celebratory mood - however, I hardly heard a peep out of them on their return.  Once they had left for their event I had the bathroom all to myself and managed to get some rest before heading out for a light snack, having had our main lunch in Chinchilla.

Day 3:  The alarm went off at 06.50 and I dived into the bathroom ahead of the gymnastic hoards and packed up ready to be out of the hostel by around 07.30.  The night had been mostly a good one with a good amount of sleep among the other gymnastic activities going on next door to me and above me!  These were nightly frolics and were not something that would have been televised on the Olympics!  Certainly if they had been I'm not sure the couple upstairs would have scored much on timing.  Anyway, enough said!  The cold outside was biting and Michael had been glad of a gas station open for early morning coffee.  I had put my heating coil to good use and was warm from the inside with a nice cup of Earl Grey.

The old tree lined road to La Roda
At La Gineta we headed out of the town, across the main roads and out into the countryside where the dogs frolicked like mad things in order to warm up - chasing each other in circles, their hind ends almost running faster than their front ends!  As Michael and three of the dogs turned back I continued with Akina.  The walk today was not difficult although it seemed long.  I think the flatness of the plain in some ways, makes everything seem so much further.  The track was mostly straight all the way to La Roda, but had a few right angled turns.  At one point I was a bit concerned as we only had a blue arrow to direct us and I was not sure if we had stumbled onto a different route.  However, it was taking us in the right direction and in accordance with the map - and soon we picked up the yellow route markers again.  The hunters were out in abundance, walking with their dogs in lines across the wide open, ploughed fields.  Akina was great and even stayed next to me off leash as the hunting dogs did their work.  We were pretty hungry by around 09.30 but needed to get past the hunters before stopping, but at 10.00 we needed to refuel!  Akina had her dog pellets and I had my bocadillo, a clementine and some chocolate peanuts.  We huddled next to a maize field and tried to keep out of the wind, but after 15 minutes we were on our way again.  The meeting place was not far and although sadly there was no hot coffee for us today, there were long johns in the travel box in the car and this is when I changed into them.  Bliss!!!  Walking after that was a pure joy.  Akina was glad to have a quick romp with her friends in a wide green field before curling up in the warmth while I continued on with Kaishi, who being her usual self, bounced and ran, wagging with joy at every scent and sight around her.

Our picnic spot - with scallop shell and
arrow
The Way after this was a delight, and there were a few more trees and features in the landscape.  The old road to La Roda was a delight and I could imagine sheep being herded into market along it over the centuries.  There were also a few more olive groves again and we found one that offered some nice shelter out of the breeze and where we could actually sit on some dry ground to finish the rest of our previously hurried breakfast.  I treated myself to another of the nutty meringues that Michael had bought for us and more clementines - they are so sweet and delicious and fresh off the trees.  These ones were a gift from one of our Chella friends - Julia.  I had told her a few days before that she had brought them at just the right time for us to take on our walk with us!  They are also a lovely, sweet and juicy refreshment - a fruit juice still inside its fruit!






The Tajo-Segura
I checked the map and could see what looked like a huge ditch marked on the map.  When we reached it, this in fact was exactly what it was.  It must be quite scary in full flood and there were warnings posted all along it - the concrete sides would make escape impossible if one fell in during flood and it would not be easy to clamber out even on a day like today when it was almost dry.

La Roda - it looks close but is still surprisingly quite a
distance on foot!  
On the other side of the Tajo-Segura, La Roda came into view.  It seemed close but was actually still quite a walk!  Michael collected Kaishi and headed into town in search of the famous "Miguelitos" which the guidebook tells us we "must eat" before leaving the town.  In fact it says that you "can not" leave before trying them!  I hoped that there would be a cafe open and selling them as it was Sunday!

We entered La Roda by way of the Plaza de Torros, a very small and old style bull ring compared to the ones in Valencia and Xàtiva.  I guess this must be more what they would have been like in the ordinary towns across the country for many years.  The arrows are easy to follow and take you directly to the centre of town and then head toward the church.  I had hoped, being a Sunday, that it might be open and I could get a sello there - but sadly, it was yet another closed church!  Joy of joys though - Miguel had found Miguelitos!  Enough to put a big smile on the face of any tired Camino walker!  A Miguelito is a small pillow of puff pastry stuffed with a confectioners custard.  Mmmmmmmmm!  With a hot chocolate and a café con leche we were in Heaven.    


They are a quite simple traditional cake consisting of soft puff pastry with a creamy custard-like filling and covered with sugar powder.

In La Mancha Miguelitos are usually eaten along with café con leche. (Wikipedia)
Me in marzipan Heaven!
To round the trip off, we bought a selection of marzipan stuffed cakes and marzipan crafted sweets in various shapes - ducks, bread sticks, lambs and so on.  If I lived here I would die of marzipan poisoning as I love the stuff!  They even had a "no azucar" version - sugarfree, which we also tried and found just as delicious although the texture was a little more "doughy".  The first day of the next walk starts in La Roda and my instructions to Michael are that I "have" to have these in my lunch pack and, as the walk is slightly shorter on the first day next time, I might just have to indulge in a marzipan breakfast before setting out!!  

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