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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
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
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
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!


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