Wednesday, 16 January 2013

El Camino de Santiago - Levante Route: Three days from Mora, through Toledo and toward Rielves

Tobi - "Es ist nicht gut, außer man tut es" Erich Kästner.  There is no good, unless you do it.

Central - Tobi's 4 beads
An appropriate start to this three day walk - one of the prayers sent with the Robertson Mala from Tobi.  I had always wanted to make it at least to as far as Toledo on the Camino, long before I had decided to commit to the walk and walk with the mala, so arriving in the city was a momentous occasion and marked kilometre 475 of the walk.  The toast at the end of the day was to "just doing it!".  Heading on past Toledo on day three, onto the Toledo to Ávila section of the walk took me to kilometre 488 where we finished the three day section of walks.  From now on, we need to spend longer away - the next two sections being for at least a week at a time.

We had booked at the Posada de Peregrinos again and our former room was taken by someone who wanted to stay longer - or that is at least what I think had happened!  Ana was wonderful and let us have a whole apartment for ourselves and the dogs, which included a sitting room, twin room, self-catering kitchen with washing machine and a little porch area where we could keep the dog food, bags, boots and which was also a private entrance to the accommodation.  We had all this for the same rate as the previous room.  We were warm, cosy, private and very quiet - so a good night's sleep was had by all!

Day 1:  Mora to Nambroca

Kitchen facilities at the
Posada de Peregrinos
We started off from Mora at 08.00, dark and cold but without the rain promised by the forecast.  The temperatures were not as low as usual but with the wind, there was a wind chill factor that brought an icy edge!  When we arrived in Mora the castle at Almonacid looked a lot further than the 11.1km noted on the map and it is interesting to note how being able to see where you are going "to" puts a whole different psychological bent on things!  Somehow it seems different when you can't see the final destination at first, but it later comes into view.  Being able to see it right from the start of the journey sets the mind to thinking "Wow, that's a long way?!  And that's only the first swap point, I then have to walk that same distance again!  Surely that's further than it says on the map... ooohhhh I'm not sure about this..." and so on.  A whole dialogue starts to take place.  When you can't see the destination, the mind takes a much more "one step at a time" approach and lives far more in the moment.  So with Tobi's quote in mind: "There is no good unless you do it", we set out.  Of course, once moving and enjoying the walk, the distance proved no problem and our timing was as it ever is for around 10 or 11km.

Ancient meets modern - the distant caste of Almonacid
with modern solar panels in the foreground
Before reaching Almonacid however, we passed through the lovely little village of Mascaraque which has a lovely church and chapel.  There is also a Moorish castle which looks as though it might now have been converted into private accommodation as it is well kept and the windows look "lived in".  (I checked this on a local website and it seems taht this is the case)  The name of the town apparently means "The King's little town".   On the final approach into the town, we seemed to walk along an old cobbled route, beautifully laid and a good example of what the roads into town may once have been like when they were stone rather than mud tracks.

Akina on the old road into Masceraque

Mascaraque church and Moorish
The guide suggests the Mesón Patio Manchego for those arriving at midday and there were a number of cute looking restaurants through the village, but we were there around 08.45 so passed on through.

Take the right fork
The walk is well marked and easily found and the track out of the town and the roads mentioned in the guide are clearly marked on the walls of the buildings.  Stay to the left of the road as you head out of the village and walk up the quieter road to the left of the main one.  The main road would bring you out onto the round-a-bout at the end of the village.  Taking the quieter suggested road on the left will bring you out onto a path lined with trees with the round-a-bout to your right.  It is tar but used as a walking path and not by motorised vehicles and there is a Ruta Quixote sign board on your right as you cross over the road.

The castle looks quite imposing
ahead of us on the trail
This path then heads out of the village and onto some wide open fields - or certainly that's the case at this time of year - and then it forks, with the Pilgrim taking the obvious "right" hand track!  This leads around the base of the castle to the right and then into the town of Almonacid.  The route on the map seems to suggest that the Camino enters the town from the dirt tracks through the back streets, but in fact the route is marked down to the main CM-400.  It is not far along this road before we head back into the town but there is some distance on the main road and the signs are not as the route is shown on the maps.  

The way out of Almonacid de Toledo
The view we leave behind us
On leaving the town the guide explains that the Camino is almost at once off the road to the right of the main road and this is the case as the photo shows and it is clearly marked.  Almonacid was a strange sort of town as it appeared not to have any bars of any kind!  Very unusual for Spain and we had hoped to find breakfast here.  Only once the support vehicle left town did I receive a message to say that "a bar" had been spotted!  Fortunately I had a bocadillo with me - although somewhat dry from having been purchased earlier the day before from what was not perhaps the best bocadillo stall - but it staved off the morning's hunger!  We joked a little about the town as according to the guidebook it was given away three times by various kings and we were sure this was because it didn't have enough bars!  Everyone who took it on realised that it was the "unwanted gift" and tried giving it away to someone else!
Keep an eye out for markers - there are red and white GR route markers
on rocks and walls that are sometimes a little hidden, but they are there

The following couple of hours we walked, now with Kaishi, was just delightful.  The sun was out and the trail was lovely, winding through pretty countryside and along old tracks.  There were a couple of times we had to really look for the markers as they were a little hidden by vegetation, but the way was quite obvious, it was more for peace of mind that one wanted to see the route marked.  The picture here with the white building was the one time where we needed to make sure we were 100% on the right path, because just before this the track forks.  It seems as though the left fork goes to a private dwelling, but one can not be sure as it is not easy to see from the path, however, just ahead there is a marker and the track again forks, this time the Pilgrim takes the one to the left in this picture and heading just out of sight.

The Roman Arched Bridge
Along the track the guidebook tells us that we might struggle to cross the Guadalete stream and that we should look for a single arched Roman bridge in the undergrowth which is strong enough to carry us across.  There is in fact a new and easy to cross bridge, but it is worth looking for the Roman one anyway for the sake of seeing a piece of history - hiding in the grasses but still standing strong.

First cattle grid
This part of the walk is one of the prettiest we have had for a while, and the feel of it was so lovely that we strolled along at quite a gentle pace and there was so much great sniffing for Kaishi with lots of lovely reeds to explore and play in.  It also heads onto a private estate, bounded by two cattle grids.  At first it might seem as though you have taken a wrong turn, but in fact, the path does go right through the very private looking zone and some lovely uncultivated land.  The guidebook talks of a bar or wire across the way, but there are most certainly now, two cattle grids.  There is no marker at the gate, so it is easy to doubt the way and think that the grid should not be crossed, but look a little ahead and to the right and there is a rock with the red and white GR route marker on it.  This confirmed for me that we needed to go across the grid and once the other side there are a number of markers and yellow arrows along the route.

The route marker a little ahead and
to the right of the cattle grid
I was very glad for having taken the girls to some agility classes because persuading Kaishi over the cattle grids was less of a chore.  She took it so steadily and felt her way carefully paw by paw.  I kept her close to one side where she would be able to stay on the earth and cement surface for longest and where she could get purchase on the outer bar of the grid that supports all the others.  In this way it was like walking a very narrow plank or a dog version of a tight rope.  She was excellent and really felt her way along and hopped onto "proper solid ground" the other side of the post that you can see in the picture here.    

The uncultivated way toward the Romaila Estate house

The estate is a wine estate (called Romaila) and the house, when you get to it, is very imposing with large amphora or Roman style wine jars, scattered through the grounds a decorative garden art.  The vines are well kept and the driveway is lined with cypress trees which we cross in order to continue on the Camino, through the vines and on to the second cattle grid.

Cross the tree lined path and make
your way along a track through
well kept vines
Arriving in Nambroca
From here the path is long and straight and initially heads up a long shallow hill.  Once at the top it is possible to see the final destination for the day - Nambroca.  Many of the dirt roads have a significant camber on them because they are driven by vehicles that tend to stay in the middle and wear tracks either side of a raised centre.  It's worth noting that this can cause quite some discomfort on the legs and back after a while if you stay on once side or the other.  Walking in the middle is not always possible of course because it can be quite rough and more grassy and uneven there.  I try to choose the flattest route but where this is not possible it is advisable to alternate from one side to the other so that one leg is not taking all the strain.  One will be walking long and the other short due to the camber and this is very noticable when you are covering many kilometres over a few days and for those walking continuously over a period of weeks, it will help even you out!

Day 2:  Nambroca to Toledo - via Burguillos de Toledo and Cobisa

Early morning light over Burguillos
de Toledo church
According to the guidebook
this is a Renaissance
juridicial marker with
Corinthian capital and
lamp and cross
A lovely day today for walking and positively "hot" at +5C!  Especially as there was no breeze and I had wrapped up warm in hat, snood, gloves and windproof jacket!  With Burguillos only 4km from Nambroca, we were there in no time at all, just after 8.30 and to our delight the Ayuntamiento was open and sporting a scallop shell above door height and next to the street name!  I left Akina outside and before I could even ask about a sello the lady behind the desk was smiling and waving her stamp at me!  What a lovely and cheerful way to start the morning.  She then wished us a "buen viaje" as she sent us on our way.

The duck pond just before the ducks
leapt into action!
The route took us past a churreria advertising churros and chocolate "todos los días" which isn't always the case with some churrerias where you go in, hopeful and full of longing for delicious, liquid chocolate, pure dark gold as it were, and fresh churros, like piped long doughnuts for dunking and are met with "not today" or worse, slightly stale, chewy, cold churros!  I was sad that it was too soon really to allow myself to stop today, so I headed on out of the town and past the duck pond mentioned in the guidebook.  On seeing us the ducks quacked and leapt into the water, swimming rapidly towards us in the hope (I guess) of the duck version of churros - left over bread!  Sadly my personal churrerria was not open "all days" so Akina and I quickly left the disappointed ducks and headed up the hill out of the town toward Cobisa.
Akina outside the Ayuntamiento where we got our sello

As we passed through a housing estate, complete with barking, fenced in dogs throwing themselves at us (Akina looking at them as though to ask "what's your problem") there was one house a little out of the ordinary.  A kind of log cabin, a little like some of the houses that line the old town streets of Albaquerque and in the same fashion as those cabins, hanging out garlic and peppers to dry.  Sadly from the picture you can't see the whole house, but from the side it was very reminiscent of those I had seen on a trip to New Mexico... ooohhh maaany years back!

Easy to go straight on - the marker rock is that one just
in front and to the left...
The visible side of the rock...

On reaching the end of the estate, the road continues up and alongside some open fields where it then meets with some dirt tracks.  Peregrino beware!!   The rock sporting the red and white marker has it painted on the side away from you and it is very easy to miss!  As the guidebook suggests the road goes straight to Cobisa but does not indicate that it is tar, it is easy to feel that one should go "straight on" and is not aware that in fact this part of the path follows the little tar road all the way to the next town.

The "other" side of the rock!!
Pilgrim beware!
The Quixote marker with the Camino marker also on its post is off to the right and when strolling along confidently, it is easy to continue onto the dirt track and up a long hill - but that is "away" from the correct direction!  I did this and had to turn back - very frustrating as it added on another 2km or so and a hill that I hadn't needed to climb.  But this is the way of the Camino too.  As I had not packed breakfast because we planned to eat in Cobisa, the support vehicle shortened our walk back and we were breakfasting on morcilla and eggs only half an hour later than we had planned.

Log cabin with garlic and peppers drying outside

From here the route heads through the town and out onto a quiet village road that goes past a garden centre on the left.  As you turn off the tarred road onto a stretch of dirt track the ground starts to fall away from you, at first gradually and then more steeply revealing the beautiful city of Toledo below.  Initially it looks like any city, with old spires and towers breaking the skyline ahead, but as one gets closer there is no mistaking the prominent and dominant edifice of the Alcázar on the horizon.

The posh end - Los Cigarriles
The road winds through what appears to be millionaire's row above Toledo the various "Cigarrales".  The homes are stunning and have the most amazing views, and from around different bends and breaks in the vegetation, the Alcázar pokes its head.  It seems strange that for weeks I was climbing steadily up to the plateau of La Mancha, initially starting at sea level in Valencia and now, suddenly I descended almost all in one go down into the valley holding the river Tajo below Toledo.  The walk and the view have been worth it.  Although seen many times in photos of beautiful cities, chocolate boxes and jigsaws, nothing can prepare you for the awe inspiring view of Toledo as you approach from the Camino route.  It follows the main road in - so beware, because this is not clear from the guidebook and the directional markers suddenly stop as you drop onto the main road - and for anyone driving to the city, make sure that from whichever direction you come, you drive around to the south of the city and approach from that direction!  You will not be disappointed.  It's stunning from all angles, but the south side is truly magnificent.  The pictures will speak for themselves but even so, they can not convey what you will see when you experience it for yourself and especially if you have completed El Camino this far from Valencia!

We were circled and "escorted"
down the hill toward to Toledo
for some distance
We begin the descent

Kaishi on the long descent and one of the fabulous "Hollywood Hills" style houses of Los Cigarrales

The Alcázar peeks from behind
many of the houses and buildings
on the way down through Los

Toledo as the Peregrino sees it on arrival - the first
views of the river and city a little closer

Gradually the city comes into view more and more and reveals itself with each step that the Peregrino takes towards it.  The walk into Toledo was one of the longest, not due to distance but because although we did not have a huge distance to cover over the day, it was impossible not to stop and just admire each new view as the angle of approach changed.

As I drew closer to the town I swapped Kaishi with Ndzilo.  Although the girls have covered the most kilometres on the walk, Ndzilo is a special girl and now in her twelfth year.  I felt it appropriate that as a well traveled dog, one who has been to so many places with us through South Africa, has lived with us since just after we arrived there and who suffered the most on the long and terrible journey the dogs made to Spain, she was the one who deserved to walk the last part of the journey with me down into the city.

Shaking paws with Ndzilo as we make it to our destination
Ndzilo: From Chrissiesmeer where she was born to Toledo Spain!

We make our way along the river to
the bridge where we cross into
the city

At last we find a yellow arrow again and some Camino

Of course, the momentous occasion could not be celebrated alone or with only one of the Ridgebacks - so we
all walked together across the bridge and stopped to record the moment half way across

The view of Toledo that most people will recognise - but there is nothing like standing here in person and
looking out of the city spread before you
With the Robertson Mala outside
Toledo Cathedral's entrance for worship
From here, we gradually made our way up through the town to the Cathedral where I really wanted to receive a stamp as a significant part of the Camino route.  The plan was also to hopefully see inside and to light candles in memory of loved ones, for those who are sick and in suffering and in memory of the victims of genocide.  I hoped to have a photograph taken at this point with the Robertson Mala.  Sadly this was not to be and the experience at Toledo Cathedral left something to be desired!  I want to write a few words on this as others on this journey may be looking forward to a special experience at the Cathedral and will be greatly disappointed.

In a time when the church is losing many members, it was surprising to be turned away at the door (as a peregrino of the Camino de Santiago) and told that I should go and get my stamp at the tourist ticket office opposite.  There is no entry for pilgrims unless you too pay the entrance fee which at 8 Euros is quite steep!  In fact on the day that we arrived, the entrance fee appeared to be in the region of 11 Euros?!  I crossed to the ticket office and approached the desk where to one side a lady was being quite abrupt with a couple of elderly Japanese tourists who could have been better helped and more politely dealt with.  I was therefore standing in front of the other lady on the tourist reception desk who was more interested in playing with her phone and various text messages, than helping visitors!  When I asked if it was possible to obtain a sello I had a "yeah, where d'ya want it" kind of response!  I have to say that it was most out of character from my experiences of Spain so far and not something I had not come across until this point.  I was then sent on my way with barely a glance and the passport pushed back at me.

I decided to try the entrance for worship in the hope of accessing the candles - which fortunately I did - but no photography is allowed inside (which is common in many countries but so far in my experience in Spain has been allowed in almost all areas and all buildings) and we could not get any further than the candles.  We were lucky enough to see the magnificently carved pillars ahead of us, but that was it.

I have to say that it was a somewhat disappointing and rather sad end to what had been a beautiful entry into the town, a very special day and the end of the first third of my journey along the Camino Levante.

Day 3:  Beyond Toledo!  Toward Rielves...

Wow, well here we are and by the end of the morning's walk had completed 488km of our Camino.  Sadly the first part of the route was a bit of an anti-climax after the spectacular arrival into Toledo, but then you can't have fabulous views and perfect walks every day!  What we did have in the early morning sunrise however was one of the most spectacular early morning views of the Camino so far and I did my best to capture it on my phone and the picture is below.

On a small matter of amusement, we came across this pedestrian crossing on the route.  It was part of our regular walk from the accommodation and I filmed it in better light the previous day.  Having searched on YouTube I notice that there are a few other cities that have these delightful crossings and they are so amusing!  However, I was always brought up to "not run" across crossings - the opposite of what this one suggests.  The interesting thing you will note if you watch it however is that a car has jumped a red light and tears across the running green man!  If anyone had been on the road at that time I think it might have been curtains!  Running or not!

At the roundabout at the edge of Toledo you start to pick
up the yellow arrows again
Akina and I left from the Posada de Peregrinos and walked out through the busy morning streets of Toledo, past businessmen and students hurrying to work or study and between crowds of people bustling in and out of the various hospitals we passed along the way.  This included pyjama clad, sling wearing smokers in slippers outside the gates!  Akina took the traffic, reversing signals, car horns and street hustle all in her stride.  The way out, although unmarked by arrows, is easy to find and we were soon at the roundabout where there is a sign directing us to the Hospital de Parapléjicos.  This is actually the direction we take.  The guidebook mentions the petrol station that is on the roundabout (Repsol at the time of writing) and a sign for Talavera, but the Hospital sign is the easiest to follow.  From there the arrows are easy to follow and off the next roundabout, there is a fingerpost and yellow arrows that take the Pilgrim onto the river path.  

There is a lovely seasonal restaurant right here on the river - or it certainly looks as though it will be a place to sit on summer evenings.  Maybe if I get the chance to return in warmer weather!  The restaurant will be on the left and the pathway along the river bank wends its way until it meets a tarred road.  The vapours from the river were rising into the air as we left Toledo behind us.
Merendero seasonal restaurant

Early morning river mists

The river ahead of us looking toward what appears to be an
old weir station or the like

Once we reached the road, it was tar for quite some distance.  Initially this did not seem as though it would be a problem because the lane seemed quiet and I thought initially that the occasional passing car was just going a bit faster than usual.  However, after a while I noticed that all the cars here were speeding along these lanes - city drivers living in the country, used to heading in on the motorway connection not far from us and taking advantage of little traffic?  It appeared so!  Then, in addition to the speeding cars came the gravel trucks and cement lorries.  These too were moving at quite some speed and to top it all - the road often did not have a verge and certainly no pavement.  Akina and I did not enjoy huddling into a hedge every so often or leaning back out of the way of dust, wing mirrors and vehicles that often did not pull out to give us much room.  I called the support vehicle which had left later as the other dogs were walking along the river before being due to head to our final meeting point.  I continued walking in the hope that things would change.

New road systems not marked
on the map
Various quarries along the way,
the arrows above are on the
All around us were gravel quarries, mineral excavations and new road systems.  Finally the vehicle caught up with us just as I had reached what appeared to be a quieter lane, but still on the tar.  I swapped Akina (who was now very cold as she had been on leash and moving at my slower pace for some time) with Kaishi and attempted the next section "with dog".  Although much quieter, we were again forced to throw ourselves into hedgerows when cement lorries or local trafic came past in a whirlwind of dust.  There were some opportunities for Kaishi to run around but I had to keep my ears pricked and call her back or put her on leash where there were bends and turns in the road or I could hear the rumble of wheels in the distance - one advantage one has when walking on a quiet road mostly populated with heavy vehicles!

The BIG arrow on the roundabout!

The road as it was much of the way
toward Estivel

Everyone wanted their route marked on this wall near
Casas de Monterrey!
Finally we reached the dirt road which provided a much more pleasant walk, although only without heavy vehicles after a final mineral operation around the Casas de Monterrey area.  At Estivel we found a delightful farm with an old aquaduct system delivering water.  The effort that had gone into building the arches was quite something!  The place was neatly kept and led us past a ring for training show jumping horses and a small arena although none of the horses were in sight.

Yes, you DO go this way!  Keep the trees
and paddocks to your right and you will
find your way around the buildings as
the road bears left and again meets
the Camino and its markers
Coming into Estivel with it's lovely aquaduct to bring
water to the farm
The final farm that we passed through on the way to our rendevous was also a horse farm and in the distance behind white paddocked fences I could see them in their winter woollies grazing.  It's nice to see horses out and kept more in line with how I like to see them - outside and not cooped up in stables for almost 24 hours a day as a number are kept locally.  This farm was also very neat, and the arrows are clear but when you follow them alongside the paddock fence you do get the feeling that you are about to walk into someone's private yard!  A lady was scrubbing her floors and threw out a bucket of water (in our direction but I don't think it was personal - just a bit medieval!)... and returned in doors.  This seemed to indicate that she was not about to accuse us of trespassing - either that, or she was off to fetch a shotgun.  As she did not reappear and I could now see that the road went "around" the end of the buildings and again picked up the track - we continued on our way!  

The way toward Santiago - in particular the mountains that
will take us on up to Cebreros before delivering us
down into Ávila 
Shortly ahead, I could see Michael and the other girls in the distance and I let Kaishi go and meet them at which point the mad game of chase was begun, particularly delightful to the dogs on this stretch of the route because it was a deep sandy path and there is nothing that delights our dogs more than scraping up sand and inviting your friends to play or racing through it and flicking it up behind you.  It takes them back to their puppyhood I am sure, when the sand arena we had laid for the horses was their favourite playground!

As we made our way together toward the car, pairs of what I can only think were storks, clacked their beaks on their nests.  Such strange creatures!  It seems they are pairing up already, although to me January seems like a strange time, especially as ahead I could now make out the mountains that take us up to Cebreros and they already had snow on top.  Seeing it, I had my doubts that I will be able to make it across them before the end of January and later on, in a news bulletin we saw in a services while on our way home it showed metres of snow in the NE of Spain, far more than on the mountains I here, but a reminder that the time of year is a bit against us.  It might already be too late for the mountain section.  Having said that, my original plan had been to walk the next part of the Camino around March if possible, but we will have to see!  Watch this space and I will let you know.  In the mean time I have to make sure I don't lose the walking fitness that I have built up!

Robertson Mala makes it to Toledo - 475km from Valencia by Camino

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