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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

El Camino Levante - Day 3 Maqueda to Almorox

Early morning in Maqueda - by the
15th Century Juridical marker
The landscape from Maqueda to Almorox is beautiful - but it is a 12km stretch non-stop and you need to take water for the whole of this stretch.  It was a cool day and so we were not as thirsty as some might be if you do this in the spring or hotter weather and we walked it early in the morning, but do take enough with you.  It's also not quite like the 37km stretch earlier on the Levante route where there is no water and nowhere to stay nearby - so if you managed that, then this is a walk in the park!

The town was important to the Moors and the name comes from the Arabic Maqqada - meaning stable, firm or solid.  The castle dates from the last third of the 15th Century and the town used to be the capital of the Dukedom of Maqueda.  The only part left of the Moorish fortresss is the remains of the watchtower.  The church forms part of the town's defences (as does the cathedral in Ávila).  There are also Roman remains including a capital which is now a holy water stoup.    

In Maqueda just next to the juridical marker
There was some rough walking on this section - uneven rocks under grassed country tracks and deep ruts but it was absolutely beautiful with skies to match.  In some ways it reminded me of walking on top of the moors in England.  As you leave Maqueda it is not clear where you go - the guide says you leave by way of the old carretera and after 100m you turn right, but it certainly seemed further than 100m and the arrow is not clear until after you have turned.  It is not far, in fact from the main road junction which you can see ahead just before the turn.  In the photo Michael has already turned onto the track.

When reading about Maqueda the guidebook mentions (on more than one occasion) the novel called Lazarillo de Tormes.  Apparently Lazaro was given a thrashing by the parish priest of Maqueda and had to beg alms in the neighbouring villages to survive.  Curious as to what this was all about, I met with our helping friend "Wikipedia" to gain more insight.  It is a Spanish novella which was published (in 1554) anonymously because of its heretical content.  It is referred to in Don Quixote.

The obscured right turn off the old carretera out
of Maqueda.  The arrow is a little way down the track
when usually there would be one on the road or the
triangular sign on the left here...
Lázaro is a boy of humble origins from Salamanca. After his stepfather is accused of thievery, his mother asks a wily blind beggar to take Lazarillo (little Lázaro) on as his apprentice. Lázaro develops his cunning while serving the blind beggar and several other masters.

Besides its importance in the Spanish literature of the Golden AgeLazarillo de Tormes is credited with founding a literary genre, the picaresque novel, from the Spanish word pícaro, meaning "rogue" or "rascal". In novels of this type, the adventures of the pícaro expose injustice while amusing the reader. This extensive genre includes CervantesRinconete y Cortadillo, and El coloquio de los perrosHenry Fielding's Tom Jones, and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Its influence extends to twentieth century novels, dramas, and films featuring the "anti-hero".
Lazarillo de Tormes was banned by the Spanish Crown and included in the Index of Forbidden Books of the Spanish Inquisition; this was at least in part due to the book's anti-clerical flavour. In 1573, the Crown allowed circulation of a version which omitted Chapters 4 and 5 and assorted paragraphs from other parts of the book. An unabridged version did not appear in Spain until the nineteenth century. It was the Antwerp version that circulated throughout Europe, translated into French (1560), English (1576), Dutch (after Flanders revolted against Spain in 1579), German (1617), and Italian (1622).

Lazarillo introduced the picaresque device of delineating various professions and levels of society. A young boy or young man or woman describes masters or "betters" with ingenuously presented realistic details. But Lazarillo speaks of "the blind man," "the squire," "the pardoner," presenting these characters as types.

Significantly, the only named characters are Lazarillo and his family: his mother Antoña Pérez, his father Tomé Gonzáles, and his stepfather El Zayde. The surname de Tormes comes from the river Tormes. In the narrative, Lazarillo explains that his father ran a mill on the river, where he was literally born on the river. The Tormes runs through Lazarillo's home town, Salamanca, a Castilian university city. (There is an old mill on the river, and a statue of Lazarillo and the blind man next to the Roman bridge [puente romano] in the city.)

Objections to characters not being "high-born" continued to be made in the literature of other countries for centuries. It resulted in censorship of novels by Pierre Beaumarchais, one of whose plays was used for the operatic libretto of The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The 1767 première of the German comedy Minna von Barnhelm, by Gotthold Lessing as well as the 1830 première of the French drama Ernani, by Victor Hugo caused riots simply because these dramas featured middle-class characters, rather than nobles or religious figures.

Lazarillo is the diminutive of the Spanish name Lázaro. There are two appearances of the name Lazarus in the Bible, and not all critics agree as to which story the author was referring when he chose the name. The more well-known tale is in John 11:41-44, in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. The second is in Luke 16:19-31, a parable about a beggar named Lazarus at the gate of a stingy rich man's house.

In contrast to the fancifully poetic language devoted to fantastic and supernatural events about unbelievable creatures and chivalric knights, the realistic prose of Lazarillo described suppliants purchasing indulgences from the Church, servants forced to die with their masters on the battlefield (as Lazarillo's father did), thousands of refugees wandering from town to town, poor beggars flogged away by whips because of the lack of food. The anonymous author included many popular sayings and ironically interpreted popular stories.

The author criticises many organisations and groups of persons in his book, most notably the Catholic Church and the Aristocracy.

These two organisations are clearly criticised through the different masters that Lazarillo serves. Characters such as the Cleric, the Friar, the Pardoner, the Priest and the Archbishop all have something wrong either with them as a person or with their character. The self-indulgent cleric concentrates on feeding himself, and when he does decide to give the "crumbs from his table" to Lazarillo, he says, "toma, come, triunfa, para tí es el mundo" "take, eat, triumph - the world is yours" a clear parody of a key communion statement.

In the final chapter, Lazarillo works for an Archpriest, who arranges his marriage to the Archpriest's maid. It is clear that Lazarillo's wife cheats on him with the Archpriest, and all vows of celibacy are forgotten.
In Chapter 3, Lazarillo becomes the servant of an "Escudero" or squire.  Wikipedia

The beautiful walk from Maqueda to Escalona
"The Stream"!
The guidebook tells us that around 5km along there is a stream which, when running high, might require you to remove your shoes to cross it.  I was hoping not as the autumn weather and cool morning was going to make that a rather icy experience - but I was up for the challenge if necessary.  The stream when we reached it was obvious, down a slope between reeds and although we had had some recent rain, it was not running so high that we could not jump across.  The part directly over the track was too wide to jump (although Akina loved splashing in it of course and a pigeon came down to drink as we arrived)... but through some longer grass to the left, the channel is cut a little deeper and the ground is high enough and channel narrow enough, for the pilgrim to jump over.  If there was a lot of rain however, it would require some wading and I think it possible that more than just the shoes and socks would need to be removed!

You can jump over here or there
is an even better place more to
the left with a deeper channel
and slightly higher ground
As we headed downhill into Escalona the castle ahead and the track we followed yet again made me feel like I was walking into the past - the setting was just like something from the middle ages.  Around me all I could hear was dogs barking and cocks crowing, a rough track between bushes shielded me from modern buildings and the castle ahead framed by the trees I walked between held me for a moment in a time gone by.

Arrow is on the red roofed shed on the right - some
distance from the left turn onto this track
Just before heading down this track, do beware as the arrows are not obvious and it is easy to continue straight on and end up on the main road which will then take you into Escalona.  It is possible to go this way but you will miss the most pretty decent down to the river.  A gentleman coming out of his allotment stopped me and directed me onto the track for which I was most grateful.  The arrow can then be found on a red roof of a shed.  Along the track were hunters with dogs - well looked after actually and a huge pack of all shapes, sizes and varieties including some rather tubby looking terrier types, corgis and podencos.  There must have been around 12 of them all together and they were happily trotting along with their humans.  They and Akina all ignored each other, unlike the manic chained and fenced dogs further along the track that looked quite terrifying and I hoped the fence would hold!

Escalona Castle through the trees - a very Medieval
The approach to Escalona is truly impressive and one of the best on the Camino.  The others that stand out of course are Toledo and Áviala (which still lay ahead of us at this point).  The way enters across an old bridge without a walkway (so take care as it is very narrow) but there are little inlets along it to pull into - which Akina appreciated as we waited for the cars to pass before hurrying on to the next one.  We met an old gentleman who greeted us and admired Akina (she is getting very used to this now) and he was saying something about the fact that the ayuntamiento should put in a foot bridge or way or crossing for pedestrians.

Akina admires the view from
the bridge into Escalona
As we reached the other side, the very steep climb up the steps to the town walls and castle became obvious and the older gentleman took a break and sat for a while at the bottom while we dragged our tired legs up the steps.  Or at least I did - I think Akina could have trotted another 12km without batting an eye.  Michael and the other dogs were coming down to greet us and they made the perfect picture.

After the "big climb" up we followed the arrows through the narrow medieval alleyways toward the Plaza Mayor - a lovely open space with a veg market - even on this Sunday!  Next to this was a fabulous "churreria" where we had a tasty tostada, a coffee and some hot chocolate with fresh churros!  Yum.  Well deserved I'd say!  The lady was wonderful, as being a Sunday the ayuntamiento was shut and she did not have a stamp, she called the local police and arranged for me to go and get a stamp there.  I trotted off to the station and after a few moments hunting for the bell, a young policeman came out and pointed to where I could get in.  He was keen to speak English and was a huge fan of Liverpool Football Team and told me he had spent holidays in Liverpool and London and was going again.  I chatted a bit in Spanish and him in English and what wonderful, friendly and helpful policemen - pretty much as I have experienced in every encounter with the police here.  He wished me a Buen Camino and I headed off to the cafe to finish another coffee and then stock up with fruit in the market before heading off toward our overnight stop in Almorox.

A "welcome" sight - the welcoming committee!

The Sunday market and sign to
the churreria!
The wonderful churreria itself!  Do visit!
The way heads across the Plaza Mayor and out through St Michael's Gate, turns right and heads out of the town and down a rough track to the river where the ayuntamiento has built a new bridge for Pilgrims over the busy ringroad and then an old Roman Bridge over the currently dry river bed.  Sadly you can only see its "Roman-ness" from the side as the top has modern concrete bollards and tar over it.  A lady accompanied us down the street - taking my shell in her hands and asking me where I had started and and asking me if I was going through the campo or on the road.  I said that I walk on the track and Michael takes the dogs in the car.  She wished me well and went on to her house.  Before leaving Escalona a few Spanish riders and their beautiful horses made their way out onto the street - it always amazes me how calm everyone is about horses on the street - in other countries (or UK in particular) the drivers get very annoyed about horses "in the town" and here they even turn up with them and have a drink at a bar in town.  The horses consequently are usually so chilled about everything.
Puerte de San Miguel
the exit gate from Escalona

The track is then one hellish rough and rocky climb up onto the plateau that leads to Almorox.  It was tiring and only reminded me of the hill climbs to come (!)  There were also an abundance of scrambler bikes who were a tad surprised to see us on the track - but the lead rider slowed and signaled to the others that there were other "users" of the track ahead.

The "Roman bridge" below Escalona and before the
rocky pathed climb!
Once at the top the plateau was fairly flat going and it had turned into warm day.  I got through a lot of water and we hit a tar road which is always less fun to walk on and far more tiring than walking on rough tracks!  The feet ache in a whole different way.  For most of the distance - some 5 or more kilometres, there was a huge stud.  The horses here were living in herds, sometimes mixed and with hundreds of hectares in which to behave as a "wild" herd.  I came across this elsewhere with stallions running the mares too and it is lovely to observe them.  They were truly magnificent Spanish horses too.  I tired a lot on this next part of the journey, for some reason today seemed to drag on and the kilometres just seemed longer!  By the time I entered Almorox (I dropped off my rucksack and the dogs just before the town and the tarred road) I was desperate for the day to finish and could not wait to get to the accommodation to shower and sleep for a while.  I reached a bench next to a bus stop and sat down to wait for the support vehicle, I could have slept right there.  A bus started to pull in and the driver signaling to me - was I waiting for the bus.  I raised a heavy hand and summoned a smile to say "no" and he drove on.

The view from my balcony in Hostal San Jose
When the car arrived I was very grateful for some wonderful nectarines and cold bottle of water - and as so often with these things, as soon as I had a little sustenance and we were driving, I started to recover and feel more myself.  I won't deny being glad that I did not have another 5km to walk though!  The accommodation in Almorox (suggested in the guidebook) is easy to find and at the beginning of the town, but it was actually quite expensive.  We had located a place just over 8km from Almorox at Hostal San Jose (Cadalso de los Vidrios) and on arrival found we had a huge room with a bath and balcony.  It was 25 Euros and for an extra 5 Euros the wonderful lady who ran it allowed Michael to use the facilities and bathroom.  Perfect!  We both had the chance for a glorious soak - well after the 2 hours it took to fill the bath a couple of inches!  OK - I exaggerate, but it must have been the slowest filling bath in the Universe!  However, it was well worth the wait and with a lovely sunny balcony overlooking the trees in the valley, I could hang out my day's washing and let the rays warm me as I dozed at the end of the tough day's walking.  The hostal is huge and in the summer it would be a great place for families to stay as it has a huge pool and play area.    For an affordable stay in a lovely area check it out on  Adding to the delight during our visit was an adorable and cheeky puppy learning to greet everyone who passed by.  The friendly welcome was much appreciated after the long day - and memorable along with the other wonderful welcomes we received on this part of the journey up to and including Ávila.  Sadly, we had a couple or less welcoming experiences (our first on the whole Levante route so far) after Ávila - but that's for another day.

It was in Cadalso de los Vidrios that we had an unexpectedly good meal.  It's always the way, you aren't expecting anything, it's a small town and not busy.  You are recommended a place to eat and you will take anything as you are hungry, tired and just want sustenance before bed.  The bar looks average and then you get served the most delicious and delicately cooked meal!  I'm not into veal, but Michael had the thinnest and tenderest of veal steaks cooked to perfection - and he's been looking for the same standard ever since of course.  This will turn into another "perfect crème brûlée" hunt - sorry readers - an in-house joke!  Sadly I can't even remember the restaurant, but if you stay at the San Jose, the lady there is bound to recommend it!  This same wonderful lady also had a private and quiet parking area at the back of the hotel (just under my balcony) and allowed us to park there and use it as our camping area with the dogs.  Perfect!  It also meant that in the morning, with our drive back to Almorox, we would leave in good time as Michael did not have to drive back to pick me up.  Having located the start of the next day's route, we were all set... but mentally, I had no idea what lay ahead.  It was to be my hardest day on the Camino, and not at the expected point either!

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