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Monday, 18 August 2014

El Camino (Levante) - Faramontanos de Tábara to a point near Bercianos de Valverde (20km)

In the early morning these trees looked
mysterious and beautiful, but the camera
has washed out the early morning light a bit
Faramontanos de Tábara to Bercianos de Valverde (20km) Saturday 10th May, 2014

Another superb and beautiful walk even if a little confusing with the new rail road construction, but not as bad as we have had!  There are pros and cons to walking in May.  The plus sides are the stunning spring flowers and amazing bird song that fills the air around us.  There are many more peregrinos so it really feels like the Camino and it can be sociable, and this in turn also means there is more accommodation available and food is easy to come by.  The daylight hours are longer, so for those who don't mind traveling in the evening or starting early, quite a number of km can be covered.

The trees have so much flock falling from
them it looks like frost or snow as we walk.
Later on the route I could wade through it
in some places, just like snow.
For me I prefer to start early around 6 or 6.30am so that I get the coolest walk, finishing anywhere between midday and 14.00.  Leaving later, as I was surprised to see many pilgrims do, you can be walking into 27-29C at 15.00 - although this is not hot compared to June or July.  In fact some of the routes, like the early parts of the Levante and up onto La Mancha, or from Seville on the Via de la Plata are not recommended for July walking.  On our return we headed south to Seville and crossed the Via de la Plata a few times, sometimes seeing pilgrims walking in big open spaces with the sun beating down - even now in May.  

An actual apology for the inconvenience!
The down sides are how hot it is even now and the heat is of a different quality.  I much prefer walking in October and November if possible, and prefer to carry the extra layers and warmer gear.  For me, it is much more comfortable.  The fact that there are more pilgrims can actually be more of a downside if you are someone who prefers a more solitary walk, although at this point on the camino, despite different routes coming together it is nowhere near as busy as the Frances!

Looking back towards Tábara from the new diversion
on the Camino.  The way is open and flat from here
for some distance, but pretty and lovely in the cool
of the morning air.  
As I headed out on this morning we met deer, standing beautiful and proud in a clearing.  When it saw us it bounded off and I was impressed that Akina did not follow.  It was the first of many early morning deer I met on this Camino.  The rail way tracks again interrupted our path and there was yet another diversion.  However, for the first time ever we had an apology for the inconvenience!  Both before and after the bridge that took us across.  However, the way is still possible over the newly built surface - yet this time I had taken the bridge and added on a number of metres more to my journey!

Yume accompanied me from
Tábara to our next meeting point
As I approached Tábara, I met two gentleman walking in the opposite direction.  Having just passed an arrow with an "A" I wondered if I had perhaps taken the wrong route, especially as the way was undefined.  They assured me that I was heading the right way and were cheerful.  They were French but we conversed in Spanish - rather amusingly.  They were friendly and I wondered if they had been into the town early to purchase provisions.  The track did seem a tad out of the way, but maybe the "A" stood for Albergue and they were staying there, but did not want to walk along the main road.  I was puzzled but let it go.  I was to meet them again a few times - posing a mystery that was to be solved some days later - they were always walking in the opposite direction!

The dogs chill out while waiting for me to join them for
my doughnuts and coffee
I met the vehicle and swapped dogs, this time taking Yume with me for a shorter stretch - although as usual it ended up not as short as I had hoped for her, but being a high energy dog she always seemed to cope.  I was just a bit concerned with her being so young still.  We again crossed the railway and again there was a diversion which we had to guess at a bit, until we finally found the arrows which directed us on our way!  Thankfully Michael and the GPS confirmed that we were going in the right direction, and this always served as a bit of a confidence boost to know that at least we were not far out even if we strayed.  Gradually the pilgrim starts to climb.  It is a long and at first gentle incline, but as it goes on for some time, it is strangely tiring!  It was also getting warm, so our meeting point at the summit was welcome.  What a wonderful break too - a delicious coffee and a wonderful fresh doughnut!  I sat in the car while the dogs played and told Michael about an amazing and bright green lizard that I had seen.  Sadly too quick for me to photograph.

Better not collect those mushrooms
without authorisation!
The field on the left is the mushroom field!  Beautiful
walking - very tranquil
From here the track heads down and then along a flat kind of valley for some distance and the way is just beautiful, lush and green and welcoming.  It feels remote and lost in time.  The guide says that there can be flooding and puddles to negotiate, although there was very little water on the route and Akina did not manage to find as much to drink as usual as what there was looked rather nasty and I did not want her drinking that.  One can tell that it is wet and perfect conditions for mushroom growing as the area is set aside for farming them.  We found other places similar to this in this region, mainly for Boletus which is the base for a number of the regional dishes here.

Akina on the track leading to the restaurant sign!
Part way along the track after we left the car was a rather curious sign, it looked like it was a restaurant sign and when I got closer I discovered that it was!  In fact, it was for a place on the Camino that is the Sanabres.  I would actually turn right instead of continuing straight on along this camino as the Levante rather combines with and follows the Via de la Plata route.  However, the sign was tempting!

Restaurant and rest stop sign
also offering to stamp credentials
This section of the route really brought it home how busy it can be once pilgrims really get into the walking season.  Signs abound as do restaurants and signs for accommodation.  Sometimes local accommodation owners get quite inventive with their signs and others (as I was to discover later) even built rather elaborate and welcoming rest stops for peregrinos long before they would even reach the owner's bed and board.

The day was heating up and in fact, it became so warm that as I approached a plethora of signs, I stopped to change into my shorts!!  The first time I had walked in shorts since the early days of the Camino back in Valencia.  I was now drinking from my Camelbak regularly and was getting a bit concerned about the lack of water for Akina.  The stretch seemed much longer than I had anticipated and despite the time of year the streams were already just muddy ditches in most places.  Akina is much more able to cope with heat than Kaishi though and is very much a "Ridgeback" that can cope better than most dogs in hotter weather.  She did not seem at all bothered and was hardly panting.

Yes!  Legs!  Finally carrying the shorts in my
backpack paid off and I got the chance
to wear them!  



The crossroads of signs.  I turn right here and the Sanabres
goes straight on




















Sanabres Mozarabe direction markers and sign for restaurant with
accommodation - complete with pamphlet holders!


Akina on a bridge - each little pillar
has stones placed by peregrinos
on top 












    The view as we headed down the hill on our final stretch of the day's walk was lovely.  In the distance, I could see the hills we were due to climb in a few days - and this reminded me of how I had seen the hills ahead the last time we had made a trip on the Camino back in the autumn when I headed over hills behind Cebreros.  These are not so high, but imposing all the same.

The day started to get tiring.  Although not far to go the heat (and for some reason "day 4") always give me a low energy point.  I could see the car marked on the GPS and knew lunch awaited me, but it just didn't ever seem to get any closer!  One step at a time!  One foot in front of the other - that's all you can do.  And so we made it.

Michael and the other dogs had walked out to meet us and it was lovely to be reunited.  It lifted the spirits and the energy levels and we got to the car which then took us to a quiet and cool picnic spot under some trees, shedding their snowflake flock.  However, just as we were about to make our own cheese and tomato bocadillos, up popped an old gentleman who decided he would chat to us... and chat to us... and chat to us!  Plenty of Spanish practice today I thought (and more later on when we reached the bar in town where I stayed)... but my brain needed food.  It's impossible not to chat though when someone is so enthusiastic and friendly and wants to share their time and companionship along with their love of their home land.  It's what makes the Camino and the people of Spain a delight.

The church at Rio Negro
We learnt that he was 82 and had just been working on his allotment, a patch of land for vegetables that many Spanish seem to keep often in the middle of nowhere and not attached to anything, seemingly just set up where they fancy.  He proudly told us that he never took any medication and never needed to see a doctor.  He said he had never even had an aspirin in his entire life.  He asked us about the Camino and where we were headed next.  As usual he laughed about Michael taking the car, even though we try to explain about the dogs.  The closer we draw to Santiago and the more popular parts of the Camino we walk on, the prouder the people get of their Camino.

Room at the hostal belonging to Bar Palacio.  Book in
at the bar who serve good home cooked food - in particular ask for
the lentils - they are delicious!!  15 Euros for the night.  
After we said goodbye and tucked into our bocadillos we watched the dogs play and then sleep in the falling flock until we were ready to move on and find that night's accommodation.  I had booked ahead at the Bar Palacio in Rio Negro where I would walk to tomorrow.  We arrived to another set of friendly and welcoming faces and actually a few other peregrinos arriving to take up the accommodation as the Albergue (the pretty and renovated old Pilgrim hospital) seemed to be shut.

The lady who seemed to really run the place a real "madre" was Esther.  We found her in Bar Palacio where the bookings are taken, sellos are issued and food is served.  She was the most warm and welcoming lady and she too captured our attention, chatting to us alongside her friend about how hard work in the fields and good home grown and home cooked food was the success for longevity and health.  Also, not partaking of alcohol! She explained that it gets very cold here and that the Rio Negro is so called because it freezes in winter and you can skae on it.  It was hard to believe sitting outside with a cold beer in 28 degrees, but the road signs displaying snowflakes back up the fact that in winter this is a very different place!  Esther too proudly announced that she was 81... a day for the octogenarians I think!  She showed me to her hostal, which was an old farmhouse in the middle of town with a beautifully kept courtyard where she even offered us for the dogs to stay.  They would have been a bit isolated and worried in a totally strange place outside, so we thanked her but declined.  The rooms were comfortable and simple, and it felt like I was stepping back in time.

With Esther at the Bar Palacio - Rio Negro
The overnight camp spot for Michael and the dogs - a
beautiful location by the river
She asked us what we would like to eat that evening and we told her our love for lentils and she told us that there were lentils and beans on the menu and that they taste best when made the day before.  She's not wrong!  When we came to partake of the fair later in the evening they were delicious and we ate plate after plate until bursting!  As I sorted out my things and went for a shower in the accommodation, more and more people were checking in.  Germans, English and a nice Spanish speaking man who we later discovered was called Carlos and he was from Venezuela.  He invited us to meet up with him in Sanabria (which we did) and he walks different parts of the camino each year.  He was quite a walker and moved at a fast pace.  He just likes walking and apparently each year meets up with a friend who lives in the area.

With everyone discussing their age and it being Michael's birthday tomorrow, we ended up saying that we were going to stay at the cabins for a week and then I would walk a different section each day with the dogs but we could have some "holiday" time together between times.  Everyone congratulated him and we said to Esther that we would return in a couple of days when I finally walked into Rio Negro officially and would have lentejas for lunch!  She was delighted and promised to stamp my credential when I walked in on foot the next time we met.   

The dogs enjoying a good run and play at their overnight camp spot on the Rio Negro itself!  
  

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