Monday, 22 November 2010

Dodging Bullets

Just to let you have a sneak as to the title of the next chapter.


What can that be about ??? Tune in soon to read all about my next great adventure...


Sunday, 14 November 2010


I had been looking forward to arriving in Merida for several reasons. Firstly, to hopefully see, some very significant architecture from the Roman empire, and the Roman ruins. Also so that I might get a few days to catch up with the blog and rest my feet. Though in good shape, needing a rest was well on the cards.
The feeling returned throughout the day that I had missed something important about the ´√Ėmens`, over which Santiago had spoken some weeks ago. He had said to pay attention to them. Well Paying attention to, and becoming immersed in them was of course very different. What for example had the omen of the snake been about ? Obviously I kept a keen eye out on the ground as I walked, hoping not to surprise one and get a nasty bite !!! But I felt certain that the meaning was far more subtle thatn that with a more practical angle. What does a snake signify, was my first train of thought. Well, a snakes behaviour by nature is very secretive, quiet, hidden from view, no doubt to protect itself. From stories about ´original sin`, the snake features heavily in the assumption that a snake is somehow evil, and therefore untrustworthy. The Bible clearly defines the role of the snake as one of a malevolent and cunning creature, twisting truth ´til it is unrecognisable. But what if anything did this have to do with my feelings about its relevance in my journey ?

The walk was very relaxing, I soon caught up with a few of the group from the last evening, and walked for a while with Sacramento. A Spanish lady, widdowed, with time on her hands, like me, to follow her dreams. We talked at length about how our realities had become what we had once only dreamed of, some years ago. She had herself travelled extensively over the past few years, to places that had had an attraction to her, now that she had the time and the opportunity. I recounted my own euphoria, of only a week or so ago, when I realised that I was indeed living the life I was born to live. I had ´become`, or at least felt as though I had become, the ´World Adventurer` I had wanted to be. My other dream was to become a writer. Now, this is my reality !!! Obviously, I have yet to ´become` a published author of a book, but now I trust the Universe to grant me this reality too, if I live in harmony with my choices. Yes, of course I have had to make some sacrifices to achieve this begining of my journey towards that goal, But I feel on top of the world with my present reality...

Arriving at the gate to the city of Merida, a huge arched rail bridge, began the confusion of the way. Few clearly defined arrows, led to us getting lost for a while. We stopped for a refreshment and to ask the way, the Australian girl insisted on buying us all a drink, but I turned down the Amber nectar, in favour of the local Mahou. Paco the Ex-police officer found us our way to the Roman bridge crossing the river. It was a very long low bridge, I guessed that the Romans had realised the river levels didn´t change that much here.

We were looking for the Albergue named surprisingly, ´Pan caliente` (Hot bread). The name gave me the idea of a warm welcome, rewarding rest and solace from the journey, and some hot food in our bellies.
What we got however, was a locked door and no warm reception from our travels. Paco took charge as was his way, and rang the number scribbled on a note hanging from the door. He spoke to someone, who came staggering along to greet us fifteen minutes later. It was then that I knew why I had been thinking about the ´omens`. This guy, for whatever reason, oozed a very real and unfriendly aura. A snake in a mans body, his eyes furtive, his behaviour hidden and cunning. Now as I previously said, I try not to judge, only observe what I see and feel. Here was someone attempting to test me at this. From the very begining of his arrival, he had tried to lure us off to someplace to eat, well before we had even gotten into the Albergue and set ourselves to rest. He kept insisting that we go with him. Fortunatley a few of the group had also sensed this oddness, and like myself, resisted this coersive behaviour. Because we wouldn´t go with him, he tried to tell us that we had to leave our bags outside. What was this guy on about ? We are the pilgrims for whom this Albergue is open, are we not ?

Later I set off to see the Amphitheatre, and Roman theatre, a well known and very well preserved site. I have to say that I was really impressed by the Romans for their ingenuity and design styles. The feeling of sadness however, filled me as I sat observing the silence in the once cruel, bloody arena of death. Oh yes, you could almost hear the raised ghost voices of the baying crowds, as down below the blood curdling screams of slaves being torn apart limb from limb by the Lions, and Gladiators, were echoeing skyward........
History seemingly has taught us little about sparing one another cruelty, as I thought of our present world. How someone could enjoy the death of another human being, or animal, in such an environment was beyond my comprehension. But I left having enjoyed the experience to go back in time for a while. Seemingly Merida had been a point of great interest to the Romans in thier campaign to rule the world, as they once had. The historical significance lost on me, as I only felt the thread of death, coming from every place I walked. I thought of the odd feeling I had gotten whilst walking earlier. I had seen a stork, still whole but dead at the side of the main hyway. Now sitting here in the main plaza, infront of the townhall building, I spied another, very much alive in its nest on top of the facade. Funny, I had been told that they had all left on their winter migration to Africa, this one possibly had missed the boat.
The stork, a symbol I supposed of new life, new birth, the bringer of babies, was in contrast to my feeling of death in this place. Strange omens once more opening my eyes to things changing. And then, as before, so many times here on my present camino, a feeling arose, that I was waiting for a new connection.

That was the moment I looked up and a friendly face was smiling back at me. Tim was a young guy from down under, and I invited him to sit at the table I was sharing with Catherine the 72 year old German walker, and take a drink with us. Catherine had an arrangement to meet Hanns, her walking partner, so excused herself, wishing us a plesant evening.

"I was expecting you", I said.

"Were you ?" his reply.

"In a way, but Ill explain later, just glad you got here".

Like me Tim had followed an odd route to arrive on the Via de la Plata, and we shared stories about the way so far, in all its painful glory. He was also very encouraging about my book Idea, and it transpired that he was also attempting to write a book during his travel adventure. What an amazing coincidence. (Not) He told me that he had himself read a book written about the Camino, published by an Australian ex diplomat, that had figured heavily in his desire to come to walk across Spain. His job had been in the News paper business, and I realised that he would probably be a good source of ideas about publishing my own. If not directly, indirectly his experience would no doubt prove useful in my aims to become a published author. Also like me, like most of us who came to walk the Camino, he was dealing with the inner road to clarity. I sincerely hope that my encouragement and words, helped to open his heart and mind wider, to more wonderful paths yet to follow, of understanding and enlightenment, on the road to Santiago. I have to say a great big thanks to Tim, for his encouragement, and to ´My` Santiago, for his continued wisdom.
Then came John, the ´other` English pilgrim, who had just finished his Camino for this year here in Merida. He comes every year to do a part of the Via de la Plata, as his time allows. Together we went to eat at a place recommended by John, and spent a very pleasant evening recounting our tales of heroism and suffering, and the whole of life too.
Back at the hot bread Albergue, tensions were getting heated (No bread available) as some pilgrims (No names mentioned, You know who you are) were also feeling the negative vibe from the Hospitalero.

´Come on children, get into bed now, and cut out the talking`.


Staying here in Villafranca, was a lovely way to relax. There was not a typical Albergue here, a few hotels and a pension.One hostal, that had four beds per room, similar to the normal routine had space, and a kitchen, washing machine internet facility and great hot water showers. Everything and more a pilgrim could need. It was however one of the more pricey of venues to date but not absurdly high. During the afternoon out shopping, searching for somethings to make a meal back at the hostal, I met the Australian girl again. She like most of us had begun alone, but gotten caught up in the movement of walking in a group, where the people all seemed to follow a similar rhythm, and by nightfall all arrive to the same town. We joked about how she kept finding me turning up where she also happened to be !! I promise I was not stalking her !! Funny, I thought it was my aftershave that kept drawing her to me......

We returned to the hostal together with our provisions and the idea to put together a small meal, talking about how everyone today had seemed disjointed in their arrival times andd eating patterns, which had made it almost impossible to organise a group meal. A few of the group must have also had the same thought because all of a sudden there were lots of people with stuff to prepare, so we did almost have a group meal. Everyone shared waht we had and soon the wine was flowing and the beer uncapped. By sunset the small group, sharing our meagre provisions watched the sun setting, out on the open patio. Again this was a lovely trigger for my memories of eating with the Kings of Leon, and new pilgrims, so many times on the road to Santiago.

By the time I rose in the morning everyone had gone, set off on the long hike across the plains. Only Carl remained. He was a Dutchman, and for some reason seemed to have walked so many caminos, including parts of France, Germany, Rome, and even some of Morroco. Up to now he claimed to have walked some 2500km`s, and was presently walking like me, to Santiago. One thing was obvious, he liked walking !!! Unlike most of the other pilgrims he seemed happy to walk only in jeans and a teeshirt, I presently needed the feel of cool air around my legs, the days were very warm. After setting out finally we met in a bar opposite, for the constitutional coffee. He liked about three or four before he set off for the day, and I also sensed that he wanted a bit of solitude, so said I would possibly see him sometime later in the day. As I headed off, he shouted after me, " I`ll catch you up !"
I wondered if he was some kind of speeding bullet, my rhythm was quite strong at the moment. I did like to take a few breaks during the walk to appreciate the nature around me, whenever the mood took me. If the scenery was particularly breathtaking I would sit for a while to breath it all in.
I made sure I carried some provisions with me today, as apparently there was a national strike. In fact I had almost taken the day off in support, when the hostal owner told me about the huelga general. Apparently it was a national walkers strike.... Isobel later clarified that she had meant it was a national workers strike, her English pronunciation throwing me into some confussion.....

During the morning walking, I seemed to catch, and overtake all the pilgrims from the previous evenings  accomodations. My bag the heaviest it had been for a long time, yet my pace somehow the fastest I had ever walked. Not that my particular desire had been to walk in a hurry, but I was like the TGV, cruising across the caminos of Extremadura. Carl later told me that he had intended to catch me up, but could only find a cloud of dust whipped up as I screamed through the heart of the Sierra Grande. I arrived early afternoon in Torremejia, surprisingly full of energy after such a speedy walk, covering some 30 plus km`s in record times. Only the Older German couple had arrived ahead of me, they would set out at dawn.
This facility like so many others was very plush, Apparently the former residence of some Marquessa of the region. As you expect it carried some of the character of the old days, and lots of pilgrimage symbols, as well as many of the luxuries of modern living. Thanks to good old European funding we pilgrims were able to wallow in luxury for hardly anything.

Whether because of the strike or just a local lack of interest, there were no restaurants open this evening. The huge band of pilgrims had to make do, with a few tapas and bocadillos in cafe Casa Blanca. But despite such meagre choices, everyone found something to eat, and we soon retired to the Ritz for our well earnt rest.

Saturday, 13 November 2010


The previous day having been spent in the cybercafe typing, had left me with a headache. They only had artificial lighting in the room and it had the affect of bluring my vision. I spent the morning partly typing, partly listening to Klaus, who was such a lovely guy. He had plenty to talk about, I got the feeling that like me, he needed this chance to share his thoughts, with someone who knew what the experiences were that he had had, and could possibly share some enlightenment as to their meanings. (I have no idea why he was asking me.) we seemed to talk a lot about relationships, particularly, ones that had begun on the Camino. We had both had this experience. One or both of us had followed one or more relationships since our beginings of camino experience. I had to reflect somewhat, as my own thoughts returned to last spring. So many great adventures, and so many new camino friends. The love shared between some of those aquaintances as ever alive, sharing messages of support and friendship, even a camino reunion last autumn in Bavaria, with three of the four ´Kings of Leon`. And without doubt, these relationships were what the camino became all about. I wrote some poems during that camino, as a way of remembering the experiences, and my responses to them. (blog still active) As you can read, some of the people I had met feature heavily in my own camino, and they became √≠mmortalised in literature, beacause of their part in changing my view of the world in which we all live. I really hope I have done these wondeful people an honour, by this memorial.....

Klaus had discovered, by chance, a very odd set of scenarios he needed to work through, and one of his ´Camino loves` had helped in this endeavour immensly. But largely, this was what was holding him back. He found that his thoughts had not yielded a totally fruitful harvest. I hope that I was able to shead some light on the burden he carried, over choices he had made then, despite two people having been involved. We swapped contact details, as Klaus was readying to leave, I was going to miss him. But of course I have my own rhythm, and he had his camino to walk. I am sure we will remain friends, people like Klaus are hard to come by. Hugs and best wishes declared, I set off back to the grind of typing, Klaus set sail on the oceans of change, towards Santiago, ahead of me.

Staying the extra night in Zafra had been a good choice, a wonderful rest for me. Of course here were new pilgrims coming to the Albergue, and as ever they were a varied bunch of people. Too many to name, but surely some of the people to become important in my camino from here onwards. The present camino for me, I hoped would take in a wider view than before. Not only did I want pilgrims to be the ones I met, but local people too, people who witnessed this passing of strange folk through their cities and towns. I wanted to know what it meant to them to be hosts to such travellers. I had the pleasure to meet, and spend time chatting with, a young courting couple, who noticed me as a pilgrim and began asking lots of questions. Antonio and Maria Jose made a lovely couple. He an open minded young Spanish guy, she a talented, pretty young Spanish woman. I have to say that talking with them, reminded me about what my camino should show. Not just about the love and kindness of people trecking across the countryside, but the way in which for centuries the local populations have lived with the passage of wierd folk, who cover huge distances daily on foot. Antonio and Maria Jose, to me, were the epitomy of the openness of this nation. They showed me a care and friendship, that is lost in so many european cities, towards immigrants, or people passing through. I was asked so many things, and hope that I was able to be clear and relevant to the interest showed, hopefully setting seeds of consideration to the young people of Zafra. Maria Jose, who could read English reasonably well asked if she could have my Blog address. It was both my pleasure and wish to them both that they one day might follow their own camino, to find out first hand what this camino was about, and the joy to be found following the ´Way`.

Surprisingly, as I had been one of the last to rise, I seemed to one of the first to actually leave the Albergue. This was another of the five star accomodations provided by the Junta de Extremadura. The day was cool, but temperatures were likely to rise, by mid morning. strangely the track seemed to head off almost towards the sun, which at this time of the morning signified an Easterly direction. I began a climb into the hills outside of Zafra, and soon tuning more Northward, I felt happier. As I was passing through the next village, Los Santos de Maimona, I met up with a pilgrim who, as yet I had not had the pleasure of meeting. Peggy all the way from South America, was a young  and vibrant pilgrim, who drew me to her peacefulness immediately. We walked together for a few hours before finding ourselves in a small town, and stopping for refreshments. I remarked on how her name didn´t sem to be typically from her region of the world. She explained that some time during the 1960`s there had been a beauty queen from her country, named Peggy Cock. Her farther had been very enamoured with this pagent winner, and thus named his daughter in that memory. I had thought to myself at the time, surely Peggy Cock had not been as lovely as the pilgrim Peggy. Funny how some people choose the names of their children. Walking with Peggy was another of those fabulous experiences as we shared stories, talking a lot about following peaceful routes in life. Oddly enough my friend had left her job recently, as things did not seem to hold the same value to her anymore. A familiar story to me also. Taking some time out of her ´normal` life, to rest her body and her mind, had been what she had decided to do, though walking the kind of distances she wanted to do, would hardly give her body much rest. I sensed a bouyancy about her, desperate to share her passions. When we arrived in Villa franco de los barros, I deceided to stay, Peggy wanted to go on, as she had a plan to cover a lot of road before she stopped for the night. We had our drink together, and then hugged our goodbyes. Despite the blisters that we all get in the begining, she still wanted to move on, it was only early afternoon. She said that she didn´t expect to meet again on this camino, as her rhythm was strong, strangely I felt that we would definately see one another again. The pain would get her for sure, no-one can keep that pace up, I knew from my own trials. I wished her well despite this knowledge, and she set off along the road. Having been the victim on several occaisions of my own stupidity, I knew that despite the will of the mind, the body, untrained could not take this kind of punishment. It needed time to immunise itself to this type of regular activity, before setting huge challenges.
I set myself up, under a tree in the town square, in the shade, just besides the church. I was ready for siesta, and also found this to be a great way to soak up the energy and mood of  towns and villages I passed. Incredibly easy to feel their rhythm this way, even with my eyes closed. In fact, possibly because of this !!


Without a guide book I rely on either other pilgrims, local people or the hospitaleros of the Albergues to find out all about the following days walk. It makes for interesting travel, though I do recomend a guide book, for those of you who are not able to go where the wind blows. I had an idea that I was in for a 20km walk to Zafra. Being a Sunday, things were closed, no-one working except a few local farmers. Antonio my host popped in to the house, busy looking for some tools he needed, he was preparing for a festival next week. He was surprised to see that I was still at the house, but happy as ever to wish me the complimentary ´buen Camino`. I finally got my bag packed and headed across the square, to have my breakfast with Matea. She was smiling bright and so chatty, as a grandmother should be, with time to spare she kept me entertained until I was ready to leave. She told me that she had seen other pilgrims pass through already this morning, so I might get to see some new faces.

The way was reletively easy for a change, now my feet were healing faster, and I even considered going back to Arcos to finish that part to Sevilla. But no, I will leave that for the end of my Camino, when I will be walking stronger. I had other reasons I wanted to go South again aswell. Some strange Magic had been working since the begining and I felt that it might be where my destiny lay. Here and there I was begining to see the first of the vines that grew here in Extremadura. Such changes over so few days, the terrain much more level here. After a couple of hours, I spied an odd sight, well rare. Another pilgrim, Wahey !! It took me about   45 minutes to catch them up, but chatting again was such a good thing. Elisabeth, a French walker, was very happy to oblige me, with an hour or so of her time. Later I sensed that she needed some privacy, so excused myself and left her to some solitude, and her blisters were holding her back too. I forged ahead through the railtrack cemetry and into Zafra alone. I had previously seen one other pilgrim ahead on the road in the distance, possibly the older gentleman that Matea had told me about. It was bit of a new experience for me, so used to seeing so many pilgrims on the Camino Frances, being spoilt for choice so to speak..

Upon arrival  into Zafra, a lovely large town, I found that the Albergue here had opening times, so sat relaxing, whilst I waited for the end of the siesta period. When 5pm finally arrived, I was greeted by a young lady, pleased to see her second pilgrim of the day. Tabitha spoke a little English, though she was very shy to use it. Seemingly though, I had misunderstood the sign, which was for another building entirely, she had been open all the time, I had just needed to ring the bell..... Durghhh... Still it was a beautiful Albergue, one of the nicest, such luxury for us poor pilgrims. I soon set off to discover the town, and explore the architectural delights.

I had a feeling that I needed to wait for some reason, so found a bench in the park I had passed through earlier, watching the world go bye. Sure enough, after a few minutes had passed, a lone pilgrim passed behind me, missing the arrows, few as they were, clearly unsure as to where he needed to be. Lucky for him, I knew where the Albergue was, and he happily accepted my help to guide him there, via the short route. Klaus, a German pilgrim, of a similar age to myself, was a breath of fresh air. We soon found that we had so much in common and could share a humorous tone. Once he had checked in we set off to find somewhere we could both eat, and spent the whole evening sharing our tales of the Camino our journeys so far, and laughing ´til our sides ached. It was so good to laugh like this, a release of pent up frustrations with aching limbs and tired feet. Klaus had started his camino in Sevilla, but had also walked the other Camino, though earlier this year, and like me was keen to do another. He had returned a week or so ago and set out to reach Santiago before the bad weather was due. I had no idea what he meant by this, the climates had been good to me so far. We also found much to talk about our individual missions, and I soon realised we were of a similar creed with regards following the way of a peaceful warrior. Back finally at the Albergue, with two minutes to spare ahead of the curfew, we both were happy to get into bed and sleep off the effects of so much merriment (wine) with our meal.
Trying to get into the top bunk when you are pissed is not a clever thing to do, nor let it be said, quiet !!
Fortunately the other pilgrims were already asleep soundly.