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Sunday, 17 November 2013

El Camino Levante - Day 6 Cebreros to El Herradón

Taken by flash as we headed out at 07.30 in the dark - it's
hard to believe that I started in Valencia, almost
600km ago
It was lovely to wake up in a big comfortable bed with tea and breakfast in the room before leaving.  I packed provisions in my water and map pouch and left the rucksack behind for the day.  I knew it would be hard going and I had already promised myself the walk only without the additional burden of the weight.  Just over 18 months ago, I had been so sore in my hips walking while still in South Africa that I wondered if I would ever do long walks again and it was always worse on hills, even small slopes.  I had already managed some tough and steep hills without struggling, so was very proud of the achievement and so glad I had managed to do it - but I did not want to push my luck and not be able to complete the walk.  So taking the bare minimum but making sure I had basic first aid and the provisions, map, phone and protective gear, Akina and I set off in the dark.
The lights just being turned on one by one as the
town below woke up
The night before as usual Michael and I had gone through our various check points and dog swap points and as the road criss crosses the path many times, we had decided to meet at a number of points along the way to check how I was doing and for rest stops and refreshments.  With us both staying in the same hotel and my being able to start from the place I stayed, Michael was going to find us bocadillos and coffee and then meet higher up on the pass.  We guessed he would have plenty of time as it would be slow going for us on foot up the steep slopes.

We made our way through the dark streets that were just coming to life, past the church and to the slope that would take us up above the town.  An icy wind cut through us and we passed another lone dog walker in the shadows.  I could just make out the first arrow on a pylon ahead and we started the climb.  Amazingly it was not too bad and soon I could turn to look down upon the lights just waking up in the houses below.

Slowly the morning light flooded the valley below
us and still we climbed
The hidden spring
I was surprised how easily I was walking and it felt good to be going up.  I covered more ground than I thought and did not need to rest as often as I had anticipated.  The town became smaller and smaller below us and Akina was the perfect companion, exploring and trotting ahead, coming back and checking on me and staying with me and then trotting a little ahead to explore.  At one time she disappeared and I looked around wondering where she could be, and then I saw her sitting in a hidden alcove behind heavy undergrowth.  I followed her in and there she had discovered an ancient spring, surrounded by stones and no doubt a place where pilgrims had gathered refreshment in days gone by.  Without Akina I would have walked on by - and I wonder how many others on this route have missed this little gem?  As we made out way back to the path and pushed open the tall weeds, a magnificent sunrise greeted us and the warm rays welcomed us to a glorious day for heading into the mountains.  Our timing was perfect, others have had rain and some snow, others walk it in the heat, but for us, we were without clouds and in perfect walking temperature.

The sunrise that greeted us at the hidden spring

The Medieval Road - still in existence
The guidebook informed us that much of this path was a Medieval pathway with paving that still existed.  A little way ahead, there it was, stretching before us in all its glory and it filled me with excitement and inspiration - you could feel the energy of those who had walked before and it reminded me of each step that I was taking with the Mala specially made for us by the Dharma Centre and Sangha members in Robertson, South Africa.  I had it with me to cross these mountains, it had to complete each step with me - even if the backpack didn't.

The astonishing thing was that in the end I reached the meeting point ahead of the car!  I had made really good going and we laughed about it being a bit like a "Top Gear" challenge - will the pilgrim on foot or the car win?  I was amazed that it was not as hard as the "firebreak" day but then it was nowhere near as hot and a cool breeze met us in the shade.   As we reached the top of this section, where the car would meet us (with wonderful coffee and bocadillos!) Akina and I sat in the sun and read the sign "Arrebatacapas - 1068m.  This wonderful name apparently refers to the winds that all but blew off the capes of pilgrims!  As a few friends said to me "hold onto your hat"!

After enjoying a wonderful coffee - most welcome - and tucking into some breakfast, we set off again, this time I was with Cressa and Kaishi together.  The section was high up on a plateau mostly with various climbs in sections but nothing like we had just completed.  Every now and again the road would wind and snake below us and we could just see hills stretching out behind us.  The area was mainly one of cattle and breeding horses and it was lovely to see the herds running wild across the hillsides.  Occasionally, when we came close to one of these, I put on the leashes despite the dogs being equine friendly and trained to horses, the owners wouldn't know that and the horses themselves were quite wild.  I met with various hillbilly gates again which were impossible to open and so I squeezed through between the wire edges - fortunately I didn't have my pack or else I would have had to keep taking it on and off to throw over the fences, not that there were many.  Kaishi and Cressa would wait patiently and then be invited through the gap to follow me.  Cressa was great and loved her time exploring and running at 100 kmph in a multitude of directions!  Sometimes it seemed all at once!
The Mala that has traveled with me from
Valencia - these four beads were threaded
by Kevin whose message was
"A Brave Way - Enjoy the Practice"
and, as always, it fitted the day's walk

Akina at the first flat point above
Cebreros before we started our
upward climb again to the
At one point there was one of the major route changes, although easy to follow.  However, the car was lost as it tried to find me for our meeting and refreshment point.  It was quite disheartening at one time when I could see it on the ridge, I could see Michael walking about trying to spot us, but he could not pick us out from among the rocks and scrub.  Then, he got in and drove off and we were so, so close.  There is no signal up here so I could not make contact and he could not locate me on GPS/Find Friends.  Logically he kept to the road and headed back and to where he could find a arrow on the road as the guidebook suggested that at some point I would have to follow the main road for a distance.  I called out to him at one point and set a herd of the horses galloping past us.  It was fascinating to watch as the stallion moved on the mares, sent them away and then came trotting toward us - magnificent and bold and protective of his mares.  He came very close and then followed at a short distance, calm and self-assured, just checking that we were no threat.  At a certain point he let us move on ahead of him and he stood watching for a while until he finally turned and headed back to the mares.  It's something I have always wanted to experience and had only ever seen on television.  It was a privilege and one of the memorable moments of the trip.
The road appeared winding below us and the hills
stretched out behind
Ndzilo at the stone marker
Once we had met with the car, I left the dogs to catch a lift while I walked the road section.  The guidebook says that it's a 100m section, however, it's a LOT further than 100m!  More like a km.  At the next point I decided to give Ndzilo some one on one time and walked with her up over the next rise.  There we found a wonderful old stone marker and as we looked back we could see how high we had climbed and how far we had come.  The way was easier for a while, along a plateau stretch and from here we started to descend into San Bartolomé de Pinares.  The views were beautiful with the most amazing boulders and rock formations forming a kind of other worldly landscape.  Here we could also see an enormous herd of goats on the opposite hillside and while I squinted into the distance at them I became aware of a similarly large herd approaching us.

Skull at rest by the GR route marker
Akina and I stepped up onto a rocky patch above the track and waited for them to pass.  I did not want to split the herd or spook them - or even risk 700 goats following us (!) as often goats do follow humans with dogs as they don't seem to realise that the human and dog they meet might not be their shepherd with his dogs - despite the fact that they were following him only a moment before!  It has happened to me on more than one occasion (not with so many goats though!) and I have got very good at making a "shhhh" noise and waving my arms to try and persuade them in the correct direction!  The shepherd realised what we were doing and waved, his three dogs running protectively toward us, concerned we might be about to do some goat rustling.  He called to them and they headed off - Akina remaining very good next to me despite looking nervously over her shoulder as the three had ganged up around us.  With so many goats and all of us wanting the same right or way, it wouldn't have been easy to keep moving or bypass them.  It took some time for them to pass - the goat equivalent of a freight train making its way over a level crossing!  Once past, we headed on down a very, very steep hill into San Bartolomé and to our hostal for the night.

Landscape heading down into San Bartolmé
The town was like a sleepy Medieval village - only dogs barking to warn of our approach, but not a person in sight.  The landlord and landlady were wonderful, welcoming, friendly and enthusiastic.  They welcomed dogs to their door and were so dog friendly they allowed all of ours to stay in the room with us that night.  They were also like something out of a Medieval tale and it felt "just right" to be supping in the very place we were to stay.

El Patio where we had lunch
and stayed the night
Here we had lunch and a lovely cold beer, but we had not finished for the day did not tarry long.  I still wanted to get to El Herredón so that I could start from there the next day, otherwise it would be a long, long walk into Ávila and I did not want to risk not making it as this would be the landmark of our trip - 600km from Valencia and the half way point.  It was also going to be another very steep and hilly day and adding more km onto this kind of walking was not my idea of fun.  I had made my plans and was going to stick to them.  I did however decide to drop off my pack and walked with Cressa on her own as she also does not always get the chance for some one one one walking time.  It was hot, hot and she darted from one shady patch to the next - as always enjoying the chance to explore.

Akina above the steep decent into San Bartolomé de Pinares
Portable Bullring in El Herradón
On entering El Herradon I had hoped we would find a bar to celebrate as this was quite a milestone for me.  I had been looking forward to this moment with nervous anticipation and some apprehension as I had no idea how I would do over the mountains - but here we were, we had made it!  Nothing was open and it was another ghost town.  Despite this fact, they obviously raised enough local interest to have a bullfight as the ring was still up at the edge of town.  Regardless of your views on this activity, the rings are quite magnificent and the portable ones quite amazing.  They travel from town to town where there is no permanent ring and put them up over a day or so and then they sit there, for a few weeks until it is time to dismantle and move on to the next event.  Not to worry, we planned on getting ourselves a bottle of bubbly for Ávila which was now only a day's walk away!  I could hardly believe it.  The half way point!

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