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Sunday, 25 May 2014

El Camino (Levante) - Montamarta to Granja de Moreruela (22.4km)

May God accompany you...

Montamarta to Granja de Moreruela (22.4km) May 8th, 2014

Peregrinos everywhere!  It's just astonishing how different it is now I am past Zamorra.  It was also very interesting to note my own reaction to all these pilgrims (on this day all 8 of them!!)... I had previously had 800km all to myself and now I discovered I felt quite possessive about the camino!  I felt a bit irritated and annoyed that there were so many and where was my solitude?!  On thinking about this I was quite astonished at the amount of emotion I felt over this.  Attached to the solitude I guess?!  Hmmmm - food for thought and "beware"!!  It is amazing how quickly and where we create our comfort zones!  I could fully appreciate why pilgrims talk of walking the more solitary routes and then, if they have decided to head north and join the Camino Frances, they find it a bit of a shock!

Kaishi leads the way as the sun rises
As it happens, over a few days and after meeting and seeing familiar faces at different stages of the route, in different bars and accommodations and befriending and chatting to some of them, I could understand the camaraderie yet everyone understood that this was each individual's camino and did not intrude or link up with another unless that was invited.  I was most impressed and there was a kind of apart but together support - a bit like being on a silent meditation, when a group of people not talking to each other can feel warm and supportive, actually far more than they sometimes do when they are talking!

After a few days, I enjoyed being on the camino with these other peregrinos, although I never did quite get used to them being "behind" me or overtaking.  I preferred to stop and let them pass and go their own pace, otherwise I felt almost as though I was being driven along at a pace that I hadn't set.  This too got easier and was not necessarily a problem if someone was walking fast, caught up and passed - but where there was someone kind of "just a little distance behind" it often felt uncomfortable.  A bit like when driving and someone is just going that speed that means they are a bit too fast to overtake, yet you are going to be too close on their tail to stay behind.

Sign indicating we should go
under the new railway via the
underpass
We started the day heading uphill from the Ermita and again witnessing a beautiful sunrise.  It was glorious and a beautiful walk.  In fact, almost every single one of the 10 days had the most stunning walks of the whole camino so far, and to be honest there have been some pretty amazing walks!  The way this time was breathtaking and inspiring, so much so that often I just wanted to keep on walking.  It was addictive and the walking makes one feel so close to the world and its beauty, it seems the most natural thing to do.

Kaishi at the camino marker above the dam
Approaching the dam


On reaching the top of the hill there is an underpass going below the new railway and on this occasion there was a sign, still covered and yet to be fully "unveiled" to mark the way of the camino.  From here we climb a little more through a beautiful woodland path which brings us onto the main road which we cross.  At this point we have to be careful to look for diversion signs and where to go as there are huge lorries and earth moving vehicles working as part of the railway construction.  This section at the time I walked it was easy to follow, but further on peregrinos were again abandoned on the busy and dangerous highway.  Re-crossing the road the track heads across fields and then winds gently upwards taking us past some lovely houses with a view over the dam.  On this section was another of the fabulous camino markers like the one in Montamarta.

Yume exploring near Castrotorafe
Marker and the castle ruins ahead
On meeting the support vehicle I decided to take a lift up the road next to the building works.  Lorries were coming like lunatics and there was little room to walk on the edge of the road.  The day before one had come so close to a peregrino the suction as it past had spun him round.  It was certainly not a place I wanted to walk the dogs and I decided to take the luxury of a lift past this dangerous spot.  On stopping where the Camino should cross the railway again - nothing.  Lots of markers but no indication where to go.  Later on in the walk we discovered these signs indicate that there will be pilgrims on the road, not that there is a Camino crossing at that point - which they generally indicate on other parts of the camino.  We wandered about trying to find the camino again and then discovered a sign right at the point they are about to start digging more works for the railway.  This is not likely to be accessible in the near future - maybe not even as I write this, less than a week since my return.  This will mean that peregrinos will need to continue along the main road - or at least until the railway is finished and hopefully they will then be diverted onto nicer tracks.  A little further along, toward the ruins of a magnificent castle - Castrotorafe, which was the seat of the knights of Santiago and a very important settlement in the Middle Ages - there was another left turn off the main road and I took this one.  At the end of this track we again pick up the markers, a large one shown in the photo above.  Here I passed a pilgrim walking in the opposite direction - much to my confusion, but I thought she must be choosing to walk on the road for some strange reason.  I was to meet her and pass her and she me, leapfrogging each other, on several occasions the following day.  On this stretch I took little Yume who was delighted to have a go "on her own" and have quality time with me.

Peregrinos in the distance!
From here it was a straight open route to our next meeting point, just outside the small village of Riego del Camino.  Here there are signs in three directions - one onwards, towards Granja de Moreruela, one into town and one to the albergue.  This is mentioned in the guide as a basic refugio with beds and hot water so it's possible, should they wish, for pilgrims to stop at this point.  At our meeting point there were two large mastins guarding a field next to some horses - they were roaming loose on the other side of a fence and Yume was at first keen to say hello.  However, their barks and my warning returned her to my side and she was then excellent at ignoring them even though she was off leash.  As hoped, she was learning a lot from this daily and extended walking.  The mastins, seeing we were no trouble, also just silently watched us pass and followed on their side of the fence at a distance - keeping a watchful but unworried eye.

We headed on over some wide, flat country and near some pines I put the leash on Yume as there were still a few processionary caterpillar nests about - although dirty and grey and on their way out.  There were two peregrinos on my tail, a distance but gaining on me and I stopped to take off my long sleeved shirt and put on sunglasses and nip behind a bush.  I set off again and they were closer but somehow never catching me up.  I felt like I was in a Monty Python movie - The Holy Grail, where the knights are advancing on the castle and yelling and never getting any closer and then suddenly there they are!!  I kept expecting to turn around and they would suddenly be right behind me!  However, I got into Riego del Camino where we hoped to have a coffee break and pick up a bocadillo.  As I neared the town I reached into my camelbak for my phone to let Michael know that I was nearing the meeting point... and it wasn't there!  Sudden panic.  I knew exactly where it was!  Where I had stopped.  I had been in such a rush to put my pack back on and move off before the other peregrinos descended on me that it had slipped off the pack and onto the grass.  Now I almost ran the last km to the meeting point, and when I arrived - no vehicle!  I wandered the town - which was almost completely dead and which was so in the Middle Ages still that they had the goats living under the houses in the middle of the town.  I hurried back to the meeting point - poor Yume now thirsty and hot as the sun's intensity increased and still no vehicle.  I couldn't even ask to borrow a phone from someone as of course I hadn't got Michael's numbers written down - a huge flaw in the back up plans and one I intended to rectify immediately assuming I got my phone back.  Finally - there was the car!  Late as there hadn't been any cafes or bars anywhere selling food and so Michael had been driving to find provisions.      I bundled in Yume and we set off back down the road and turned onto a track that would take us onto a drivable part of the camino.

As we got to my stopping point - there it was!  The relief was unbelievable.

The AVE railway construction runs along the camino.
These blue signs with yellow arrows are very
confusing as they are for the construction vehicles, yet
are identical to some used to mark diversion on the
camino!!
We drove back to the meeting point as various peregrinos (including my Monty Python cast extras) passed by - I'm sure they must have thought I was leap frogging!  Much relieved and grateful for food and a refill of water, I set off again - having let the others get a good distance ahead - maybe a km or more up the slight hill ahead of me.  Akina accompanied me as she copes with the heat much better and we strode out for Granja.  Over the rise, yet still with a good view into the distance, there wasn't a peregrino in sight - and not a sign to be had!  The new railway now cut right across our path and continued into the distance right over the top of the camino.  I saw fresh footprints in the sand and dust and followed them.  Finally we found an arrow here and there and eventually the camino turned from under the railway workings and found its way across the countryside again, the little concrete pillars marking the way.  It was beautiful again - thankfully, as the heat had been even more intense and tiring on the deep sandy railway construction surface and that kind of walking drains the energy.  Fortunately there were some deep puddles which had collected from where the tractors and their bowsers constantly dowse the surface and so Akina could get an extra drink.

Finally the Camino reappears from under the railway
workings
As we reached the top of another rise, the nice track again got overtaken and diverted by the railway.  And then - no more signs and in addition to this, still no sign of any pilgrims!  Suddenly they were walking fast!!  Having not wanted to be with anyone else yesterday and trying to avoid them earlier today, I would now have given anything to know we were all on the track together!  I scouted around for the footprints I had been following earlier - I knew the tread well, and there they were.  So off we went... into nowhere and into what seemed like an impassable area where the railway vehicles were really working intensely.  We were not on the right track.  I could see the town way to my right and this route was taking us away.

I conferred with my back up vehicle which was already in town and had located a pilgrim's bar and Albergue.  I wanted Akina picked up and new water brought for her as we had now run out as we had been ambling around for ages.  The only thing to do was head back as scrambling down vertical banks was not going to be possible.  The moment I got back to a bridge - which ran right across the railway and which was crossed by speeding trucks with construction material, there was a marker!!  It would have been SO easy for them to have marked the way.  If I had known or thought of it then, I would have built one of the wonderful arrows to help others... and I know more would make this mistake, because as I entered the town, the two Python peregrinos who had been behind me all morning and overtaken me in Riego... were suddenly behind me again!  They must have gone a long way wrong and turned round and walked all the way back, to be in this position!  Yet nearer still to the town, more pilgrims were coming from all directions, I guessed they had also gone wrong and somehow negotiated the building works to get back on track.  In fact the next day the track went to where we would have come out and I guess that some of those I met had got onto this part of the camino and back-tracked.

I struck gold with Hostal Galicia 
The kitchen!!
We were all delighted to get to the bar and order an ice cold beer.  Many of them sat with the peregrino menu and were tucking into platefuls of delicious looking thick lentils.  Mmmmmm!!  We only hoped we would get the same later!!  Our booking for the night was a little ahead of where we finished, and where I would be walking the following day, so I had booked two nights.  As it happened, although the numbers I had called were seemed to be redundant, as I was to find throughout this trip, there is a lot of accommodation and many people arriving to take rooms without booking.  I struck gold with this one though.  Coming into Tábara, the check in is at Hostal Galicia II (980 590 136) on the edge of town.  They are happy to drive you to the accommodation which is pretty much central but lovely and quiet.  At 15 Euros per night it is amazing - I had a kitchen, bathroom and a suite of rooms (!) all to myself.  If I had needed it I could have done a good wash with the machine and in the perfect weather, the little washing I did have dried quickly on the courtyard line outside my room.  The owners and the bar staff were delightful - so helpful, friendly, welcoming and willing to chat.  I heard voices in broken Spanish through the evening as other peregrinos also discovered the delights of the hostal and in communication with the host.  As with every accommodation I have stayed at in Spain so far, however basic, it was spotless.

The roadworks that cross the route and
mean diversions and sometimes no redirection
at all, just road walking until you find
a way to get back on the camino.  The
various arrows at the top of the map
direct pilgrims on or to albergues or
the town at Fontanillos de Castro
Dinner was at the Roble (Oak) bar just off the town square and with a big scallop shell proclaiming pilgrims welcome and over the two nights we were certainly surrounded by them!  Germans, French, English and American with a couple of Spanish.  Most were older - 50's and over - and not the 20-30 yo demographic I had expected.  We got the lentils we had craved - although a little thin I have to say and not as chunky and heart warming as those we had spied at the Albergue in Granja (!)...  The service was friendly and warm and actually, what more can one want?  If you want to stay in the Albergue in Granja, it is actually welcoming and looks very nice and the room fee from what I could overhear seemed to be 5 Euros.  I do believer however that it is "floor" showers and toilets and not beds - so if you have a back, hip or other physical challenge then it might not be for you.  Floors sadly no longer suit my back and also I did not want to carry the extra weight of carry mats on these trips even if I could cope, but it's not worth locking up so that I would not be able to walk at all.

Rerouted through the fields with the
railway in dashes... circled is where a
redirection sign really should be placed
as so many of us (all I believe) went
wrong.  Some walking many km out
of their way on a very, very hot day
and near the end of our water. 
If you decide on the Galicia and arrive on foot into Tábara, then as you get near the town there are two arrows.  One seems to take you into a field (which is correct if you are continuing on the Camino or going to the town centre) but if you wish to check in and go to the Galicia II check in point - you need to follow the arrow where there is also an "A" painted.  I do not know if this refers to the Albergue, as I did not see it, but it will take you to the right point.  The Albergue here is apparently very basic - floor and showers only.  I recommend the Galicia if you have the funds!









   

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

El Camino (Levante) - Zamora to the Galician Border: With VERY important route info!

Arriving in Montamarta on the first leg of our Zamora to the Galician border
camino trip - the Robertson Mala is in my right hand and fits well with this
fantastic Camino marker

Zamora to Montamarta (17km) May 7th 2014

I hope that my latest wanderings along the Camino will help others who are setting out on any of the routes that head through and out of Zamora - these include the Via de la Plata, The Levante, The Sanabres and Mozarabe.  My Camino Levante route has now crossed or joined these routes since leaving Zamora and it was amazing to find so many Peregrinos walking them!  Having completed my first 800km and met no one - and I mean "no one" on route (although I did see that others had signed into various hostels and albergues ahead of me) - I now met dozens!  On my first day there were 9 of us including me, but on others I counted upwards of 16 or 20 on route with yet more ahead or behind me. I don't know if this is because these routes are more popular from the area around Zamora onwards (making it easier for most pilgrims to reach Santiago in one go) or because we are in the main walking season - May to June seems very popular on most Caminos.

During this trip I met one German lady who had started in Seville on the Via de la Plata and was planning to walk the whole route in around 7 weeks.  None were walking the Levante and at one albergue they confirmed that those coming from Valencia were very few and far between and they too said they rarely met another peregrino until past Zamora.  At the end of our trip and on the drive home we followed the Via de la Plata route and crossed the Camino in a few places.  There were yet more pilgrims heading north and even at this time of the year, the sun was beating down on them relentlessly and with little shade to be found in some places.  I had great admiration for them walking this route at this time, as I had chosen to do most of my Levante route during the months of September to November and even in December and January, in order to avoid the heat on the stretches through open La Mancha countryside.  Many of the blogs and info sites suggest that these routes can be very dry and some stretches are many kilometres without the opportunity for water - they rightly advise that walking them should not be done later than June.  As we hit Seville the temperatures were 36C - and yet we are only in May.

Sunrise out of Roales as we set off toward Montamarta
The first part of the Camino out of Zamora is all busy tar road and not pleasant, in excess of 5km.  However, from Roales to Montamarta, it's a lovely open walk (although tiring and not easy due to the rubbly surface!) and due to the lack of signs it is easy to make a mistake in the route!  Many (and I mean many) peregrinos end up walking another 10km or so on the busy and dangerous main road!  It was only after I got lost here and seeing how others had built helpful arrows in ambiguous spots for those who followed that I thought of doing the same.  I was lucky enough to do this on the way home as the drive back passed by the exact spot.  Already there were many peregrinos on the road and on tracks through fields on the opposite and wrong side of the road.  I have no idea how they got on or if they walked km's out of their way, but hopefully we saved some.  We certainly saved three Japanese peregrinos, directing them over a bridge that crosses the new railway line (still being built) and then right toward Montamarta.
The railway comes from our left and eventually meets
and crosses the camino - this bridge is to my left and
behind me as I stand on the camino

This is the bridge we need to cross
it is on my left and is the position
from which I took the other
photograph
I was fortunate to have access to the back up vehicle for the dogs, so I could get collected off the main road and delivered back to the camino, but most pilgrims do not have this luxury.  What happens is that the new railway is on our left as we walk, it gradually sweeps towards us and then cuts across the camino.  At this point there is a bridge, but there are no markers here.  Many, like myself, go straight on but this meets another bridge and squeezes you onto the main road.  Other pilgrims turn right and then immediately left onto the main road right next to the bridge and still others cross the road and think the camino continues on the tracks on the opposite side of the main road.  None of these options are correct.  We need to cross the bridge and immediately turn right after it - shortly along this track we will pick up the camino markers.  In fact from the top of the bridge it is easy to work out where the camino goes, but from below, it is just not possible to tell because of the high banks of the railway.

One of the camino markers common in this area and which
will be picked up again after crossing the bridge.  The markers
are superb and easy to spot - it's just that so often
there are no signs that indicate to the peregrino (when there has
been a diversion) where he or she should go in order to get onto the
track where these markers will be found!  
North of Zamora this new high speed AVE railway route crosses the caminos many times - and where they are working on it, the routes can be a nightmare to find.  On a number of occasions there have been diversions, some of these taking pilgrims on tar roads for many kilometres - one section from Puebla de Sanabria being around 20km almost all in one stretch.  Many times where work or roads have been made I have found that diversions try to take peregrinos onto other tracks and get them back on the camino as often as possible, but here, diversions just took us onto the tar and left us there.  On these roads, trucks and cars thunder past at great speeds and some come very close to walking peregrinos.  I saw one narrowly miss a man heading towards Montamarta.  Some of these trucks are those carrying gravels and sand etc to the railways and they come thick and fast with much dust and are so huge they are very intimidating and quite frightening.  There are signs up warning that the Camino de Santiago is following the road and to beware of those traveling it, but they do not always make much difference and some are very few and far between, so it's easy for drivers to forget to still look out for those on the road.

House on arrival in Montamarta with many Camion signs
Tile as found on the house
behind me in the photograph
Sometimes peregrinos were so focused on walking the road and staying safe, keeping their heads down and walking that they missed some of the correct directions onto lovely and breathtakingly beautiful countryside.  Some seemed to "choose" to travel the tar roads, which I found a little strange but maybe they found it easier.  Certainly one man who seemed to be towing his backpack on a trolly would have struggled with some of these tracks unless he could fold up the wheels.

The arrow we built to help
direct pilgrims over the
bridge (we put one the
other side also)
The off road sections were often quite strenuous climbs through rocks and on narrow paths, with muddy streams running along them where mountain streams over flowed or meltwaters were still coming off the mountains, still holding onto a little snow at their tips.  The diversions on the roads were often of course much further to travel so a day's walk of around 20km could easily end up being around 28km.  This is very important to bear in mind when planning your walk - leaving later or without enough water could cause some stress, especially on the sections where there are fewer villages.  Those planning to walk within their abilities might also find that routes are much further than they anticipated, and certainly for me, I find tar work much more tiring and mentally and emotionally far more draining.

The statue of "Zangarrón" in Montamarta
Another frustration that occurred was that I try to book the first part of my accommodation, or as much as possible, in advance of my trip.  It's important when there is more than just myself involved - there are the dogs and Michael supporting me and leaving things to chance is not responsible.  The albergue in Montamarta never answered my calls or messages, even though the numbers rang.  On arrival it seemed as though the original and official albergue had closed, but there were so many options of accommodation.  There were even people out in landrovers driving the camino handing out leaflets to try and encourage peregrinos into their accommodation.  Spanish ladies would approach me in the street and just ask me if I would like a place to stay for the night - yes, yes they said, even with a dog!  I am not sure they would have taken three!!  Anyway, I had booked another night back toward Zamora as it was pet friendly and I had no idea if I would arrive in Montamarta and run the risk of sleeping under the stars (!) but I needn't have worried and so other pilgrims should know that there is accommodation aplenty in this delightful and friendly little town.

Entering Montamarta - as with a few towns in this area there are "stuffed"
figures climbing up lamp posts and tall tree poles (as you might be
able to make out in this photo if you look up by the church tower!)
I have not been able to find out what this is about.  
The leaflet that I received in English, German and Spanish is for "The House" - restored and converted into B&B and hostel for pilgrims.  Two floors with bedrooms, living room, kitchen and bathroom and it is located on Calle Pinilla no. 9, Montamarta.  The phone number is +34 650 405 236.

I got my sello in the ayuntamiento and there is a great little bar next to it with a good cold beer to celebrate arrival.  For the dogs, there is a stunning lake (the reservoir Ricobayo) with the Ermita de la Virgen del Castro perched on a rocky outcrop over it.  It has the most stunning view.  The dogs ran and ran and played - loving the chance to swim in the cool waters after the day had turned hot.


The tradition of Zangarrón (from Wikipedia and with odd translation!) 

According to tradition, this typical character goes out on New Year and Epiphany, in the early hours of the day walking the streets of the town asking for a bonus, which he can then give as donations from his peculiar shirt. During the morning, he runs to catch the unmarried young men and gives them these donations. He also participates in a point of the liturgy of the Mass, bursting at the altar and spiking with his trident, two loaves of bread.
The anthropologist Francisco Zamora Rodríguez Pascual acknowledges that Montamarta is one of the municipalities that has best preserved this ancient tradition in the province of Zamora and so testified Julio Caro Baroja when Zangarrones commented that "still alive".
  • Outfit: the popular character appears as a "devil" wearing a unique dress made of two towels, a brown or red on one leg (depending on the day of event), and yellow on the other leg, which are sewn to each one simulating a trouser and covered with paper flowers.  Carrying a quilt and like a knotted blouse the quilt is sewn with an opening to make it like a bag where the bonus and chorizo is collected and offered to the runners once caught.
  • Accessories: on the shoulder are hung three bells, while the face is covered with a flamboyant mask of quirky cork in black or red, crowned by two hare's ears and colorful paper flowers. In addition, the Zangarrón carries a trident with which he incites and traps single waiters with great cunning.



Ermita de la Virgen del Castro - Montamarta

The loop that takes you over the railway
bridge and was not marked when I
crossed.  Many pilgrims stayed to the right
of the railway instead of crossing over to keep
it on their left.  I added arrows at these points
The first little route change at Roales

























The arrow we built to direct pilgrims over
the bridge.... although we saw some
Japanese miss even this (although we rescued
them!)
We built these on our return as we saw
so many people getting lost and I had found
arrows that others had built along the route
as I walked and I was grateful for them.  I did
not think of it at the time, but was inspired to do
it - so on our return home and as we passed by the
exact same bridge, we helped to redirect a number
of pilgrims in the same predicament