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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

El Camino Levante - Day 10 Ávila to Gotarrendura

Akina on the Medieval road toward Cardeñosa
This was a beautiful walk after the road section.  This too has changed from the guidebook and map as there seems to have been a large road built and instead of going around the lake (there are still markers for the first part of the way along it) the new markers take us all along the main roads out of the city and then along a long stretch of tar - although not main road - to the village of Narrillos de San Leonardo.  From here the walk is lovely and through the country again, but still with a few changes, including a huge new road being built that is not marked on the map.

Cattle grid on the route with an enormous red and yellow
arrow cunningly marked!
The day however was one where we again followed the original Medieval paths most of the way, often treading on paving stones that ran
through vanished villages.  In the photo here of
These are think are the ancient
ruins of Cenalmor mentioned
in the guidebook
Akina, there was a very large open area that almost seemed as though it might have once been a market place and there are stones along the route that fill in areas that might have been past houses.  There is one such village on the route that has long been destroyed only leaving a huge pile of stones - it is Cenalmor, a long lost Jewish village.  There are also old iron age villages along the route and the whole way has a feeling of ancient times, reaching out to touch the 21st Century.

Akina by the cross in Cardeñosa

The roads also passed many of these wonderful village crosses, usually marking the village boundaries and the roads entering/exiting the village.  This part of the route in some ways has felt the most like a medieval pilgrimage and these crosses would have been seen ahead, marking the way for many down the centuries.  They are actually quite beautiful set against the skyline.

The way out of Peñalba de Ávila

All the villages were so quiet, almost deserted.  We hadn't got food with us expecting that there would be a bar open as so far even on a Sunday we have been lucky, but on this occasion - we ran out of that commodity on the food front!  We would see people disappearing into their houses with bread or shopping bags, but could not tell where they had come from.  After a dog swap in Cardeñosa, I took Kaishi on with me while Michael headed back toward Ávila and a supermarket... the one he had seen was closed, but we were in luck and he managed to rustle up lunch for us for when we met south of Peñalba - even managing to get coffee and chocolate doughnuts!  A real treat and worth the hungry moments during the morning!

Wonderful ancient tracks were the main feature of the day
and again we found many Medieval paved ways.
The scenery reminded me very much of the green lanes
and byways of England and there were a few times
when we could have been up on the Ridgeway
Kaishi on one of the days Medieval roads

Sign outside the Albergue
Adobe walled buildings as
you enter the town
Finally we made our way into Gotarrendura and what an amazing little village this is!  Wow, it has to be a "must stay" on your Camino, even if you don't need to!  The friendliest village on the Camino and the BEST albergue.  In the guest book in the albergue a number of other pilgrims had said the same thing, including one couple from (if I remember correctly) Germany who have walked over 6000km of Caminos and found this the best albergue yet.  And I can see why!  As I entered the village the sign at the beginning of the town told the visitor what they could see and numbered where they could find it.  It was clean, tidy and well signed, even though it is so small it shouldn't necessarily need many signs!  There is a pilgrim rest area, specially made to relax in - perfect on a sunny afternoon and as you get to the albergue there are phone numbers of who to call in order to be let in.  At the bar it is the same - pilgrims welcome and numbers on the door.

The wonderfully restored Albergue - has adobe walls
and run on solar energy
Everyone knows everyone else and calls them up to find the right person to help - I even got met by the mayor in person who welcomed me (remember this is a Sunday) with red carpet style treatment - phoning the lady who would show me into the albergue.  The ayuntamiento was open and nothing was too much trouble to show a visitor where they could get refreshment and rest.  One lady in the guest book had arrived in a similar situation, without food and with nothing open, and the village had clubbed together to provide for her.  The gentleman in the bar spoke really good English and wanted very much to practice it as he said he didn't often get the chance.  When we asked him how it was so good, he said he had learnt from video games (yes really!) as at one time they were all in English and so you could only play them if you knew the language!  A plus point there for video games then!

Washroom at the Albergue - all
new equipment, clean and
well kept
The sleeping accommodation - beware the other bunk
does not have a ladder - as commented on by one
of the previous occupants!  It can mean a climb over
a fellow pilgrim!
The Albergue in Gotarrendura is easy to find and right at the entrance to the town, just off the Camino. I requests "donations only" to stay, but to be honest it provides more than most of the hotels and hostals we visited.  You could even plug in the heating - which is off in most of the hostals and hotels in October and November and so they are quite cold to stay in!  I sometimes even had to put my sleeping bag inside the bed!  Here it was warm and lots of extra blankets provided.  There are electrical sockets a plenty (unusual even in some homes) and there is a kitchen with fridge and washing up supplies, sinks and some catering equipment.  There is also a little common room/reception room (including the supply of a first aid kit), shower room, cooker and a washroom with two washing machines!  I didn't have enough to do a full wash (if I had known I would have held on one more day but had done it all by hand in Ávila and hung it around the bathroom and out of the window!) but I did do a small wash and use the line provided outside.  Here it is worth making note of the good advice offered by one of the Pilgrim Associations - to carry a little washing line of your own and some pegs with you.  I did not carry a line as I could use the one in the car or peg the little I needed to wash (and made of fast drying fabrics) to my backpack.  Mostly everything was dry by morning just hanging on a balcony, over a chair or over the top of the shower, but if things are damp, pegging them to the backpack to flutter in the breeze works find - unless it is raining of course!

The church at the end of the village
as you head out on the Camino - next
to it is the "Pilgrim monument"
If you stay here do be patient with the shower.  I was just about to give up when the hot water arrived, and looking at the set up with solar panels on the opposite roof, it's just that the water is taking a while to travel the distance to the shower room.  Once running I had perfect hot water!  The bedroom has four bunks which are new with new mattresses and so are very comfortable.  I had one of the best nights of my whole trip here.  As you have to go out of the room and outside to the shower (although actually in a kind of hall off the bedroom) it's also great advice (as given by the Pilgrim's Associations) to take a pair of flipflops with you.  They are also handy in some of the cheaper hostels where there is a shared bathroom and you need to take a trek down a corridor.  Some of the hostels offer you a choice - a more expensive rate with an en suite shower/bathroom or a cheaper option where you share.  I always opted to share if there was a share option as the bathrooms were always spotless and at the time of year I walk, it is not busy and often it was like having a private bathroom anyway.  Remember that in the albergues, they often only provide blankets - so take a pillow case with you if you don't carry a travel pillow.  The one you need is the long thin Spanish type, otherwise you will have an interesting time trying to fit a "square peg in a round hole" (if you get what I mean!)    
Me with the pilgrim monument at Gotarrendura - just fabulous!
Rest area signed in
Notes showing route changes
and tarred route
The bar we had found earlier specially made us supper and although not usually open late or catering on a Sunday, they still looked after us with a menu del día at around 19.30.  They shut at 20.00 on a Sunday so do try and arrive by 14.00 latest in order to let them know you are there and need some supper - there is nothing else in the village, so if you miss the opportunity, do be prepared to self cater at the Albergue.  At the bar and in the Albergue, signs were up for pilgrims in 4 languages - again the most helpful place yet.  I really recommend that you stay in this little town - even if it had not been originally part of your plan on the route.  Certainly (as we were to find out) the next places were far from friendly and were not a patch on Gotarrendura for making the pilgrim feel welcome.

The huge new road that is not marked
on the map nor mentioned in the guide!
Gotarrendura has a museum - sadly not open on Sunday afternoon so we didn't get a chance to explore, but I'm sure it covers the fact that St Teresa was born here and her family continued to live here.  The dovecot of her house is still in the village and can be visited although sadly we did not find it on this occasion.

The Mala had now completed 634.4km at this point.

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