General, Walking

Mérida to Cáceres

Mérida to Cáceres

Mérida to Cáceres

Day 14 – Mérida to Aljucén – 15 km
Today was a beautiful walk – varied, with trees, some climbs with views, a beautiful small village El Carrascalejo, close to Aljucén, with an old church and bar alongside, that just looks like one of the houses except for the noise from it to five it away.
I spent the night in my first ‘casa rural’ – a beautiful old building dating back to the early 1900s, with stone floors and domed ceilings.
Walked a while with Kathleen from California, and met my first Australian pilgrim.

Day 15 – Aljucén to Alcuescar – 21.5km
A hilltop village where I stayed in a small basement type apartment, again with domed ceilings.
I was sitting at the church waiting for mass to finish so that I could get a stamp for my pilgrims credential, listening to beautiful singing. Everyone came out and I noticed they were all women. i asked the priest if it had been a special service just for woman and he said ‘No, for men and women, but only the women come, the men are in the bar drinking beer’! From the horses mouth..

Day 16 – Alcuescar to Aldea del Cano – 17km
Another easy days walking – I could get used to this! And another first – my first night in an albergue rather than private accommodation. For the princely sum of €6 I got the bottom bunk in a two bunk room – the only reason I stayed was that I got there first and managed to nab that bed. I shared with Stephanie for the USA, while the other room of 7 beds was filled with snoring men of various ages… With only one shower and toilet, I made sure I got in there asa soon as I arrived. very nice clean place, well maintained with great facilities.
Stephanie and Scott initially only stopped to fill up their water containers, as they have been camping most of the time. When they saw how nice it was and the price, they decided to stay, which was fortunate for me as Steph was carrying her espresso pot and made me a fantastic coffee in the morning – and she didn’t snore, bonus!!!

Day 17 – Aldea de Cano to Càceres – 24km
Another dorm stay, as being a festival weekend everything else was booked out or way too expensive. 5 bed dorm but luckily only two other women, unluckily one snored…
I had a pre-rest day here before moving on to Madrid for some serious R&R! Hung around the Church of Santiago for ages but never managed to get a sello, instead had coffee at ‘La chica de Santiago’ on Plazuela Santiago outside the Church of Santiago served by bar owner Santiago! Close enough for me…
I finally managed to get a stamp from the Santa Clara Monastery, where I had to talk and pass my credential through a small revolving hatch.

Next stop – Madrid!

General, Walking

Sevilla to Mérida

The plan had always been to get the bus from Sevilla to the end of the first stage, Guillena, and start walking from there. So this I duly did – to then find myself ‘trapped’ there for two days while it pelted down with rain. Now, some would say that walking in the rain and getting drenched is all part of the ‘true’ camino experience (more on that subject later…) but as I have ‘been there, done that’ I had decided that I would wait out any rain. I am only carrying light rain gear, good enough for getting me to shelter if I am caught out, but not the stuff to walk through hours of heavy rain with.
Waking up on the third morning, to more rain, I decided to throw in the towel and get the bus to Zafra, so that I could still have a chance of making my self-imposed deadline of getting to Mérida in time for my birthday, with the accompanying ‘spoil’ of two nights in the Parador as my present to myself.
The bus from Sevilla to Zafra took less than 2 hours (7 days walking!), running every 2 hours and cost €11.35. Zafra is a beautiful old town that I got to enjoy as much as I could between bursts of heavy rain for the afternoon that I was there.

Day 10 – Zafra to Villafranca de los Barros – 19 km
Saw my first fellow pilgrim before I even left the outskirts of town, and as I came over the ridge there they were, stretched out in front of me, at least half a dozen. It was quite confronting, as I had got so used to being the only pilgrim walking between Câdiz and Sevilla.
It was a pleasant walk with a variety of scenery and surfaces, so unlike what I had become used to.
I booked into the 3-star Hotel Diana at only €30 for a fantastic room -equivalent to any of the hotels I have stayed in outside of Spain for a much higher rate, and far superior to anything I have stayed in during my trip so far. They also offer a very good afternoon Menu del dia, which I took advantage of, along with three other pilgrims staying at the albergue but who had been told about the lunches here.
I then had a siesta (the wine…) before heading out for a wander. Found a lovely artisans shop opposite the church – Artesenia Extrumadera – with a great range of locally made goods: bags, umbrella, glasses case, purses made from CORK material; fantastic timber drawers; ceramic 3D modern art ‘pictures’ for the wall; embroidered pendants.

Day 11 – Villafranca to Almendraléjo – 18km
Lots of pilgrims on the road today! Walked a little while with 2 others before heading off on my own again.
I decided to deviate 3km off the route to break the 30km leg into two days, heading for Almendraléjo. Booked in to the Hotel España, a 3 star hotel for €25 – great value in a lovely building, I slept really well as it was very quiet.
Stumbled on Pámpano Vinatería, a cafe/wine bar, while out wandering. I had a fantastic risotto lunch, coffee plus a small sherry. Got charting to the owner, Piedad, who invited me to return that night for a wine & cheese tasting starting at 9pm. what a delightful evening, so glad I went.

Day 12 – Almendraléjo to Torremejía – 16km
The traditional one-street transit town, yet I managed to find some buildings of interest – the church, the old palace (now an albergue), and the Casa de Cultura with a beautiful mosaic on the outside. The Hostal Milenium (2 star) was very old and tired but clean. Not much here, so after a quick look around and an early dinner, I headed for bed.

Day 13 – Torremejía to Mérida – 15km
Well, made in time to celebrate my 50th birthday! The Parador was a nice spoil – big room with siting area, tv, bar fridge, full bath (which I took advantage of for a long soak), domed ceilings, in an amazing old building. I alos got stuck in to breakfast there in the morning as they had a full selection of gluten and lactose free options. €15 eat as much as you like buffet – I think I got my moneys worth! I thought I wouldn’t eat another thing all day but ended up having late lunch at Shangri La vegetarian restaurant near the Temple of Diana.
Mérida was interesting because of the sheer quantity of Roman ruins – a bit overwhelming, really. Every corner you turn has another example – undertaking any new building here must be a nightmare! It is not a particularly pretty town as far as building and character goes, but it doesn’t need to be with all that history!
I did the rounds of all the major sites, like the aqueduct and Roman circus, then popped in to the Roman artefact museum. So glad I did – the remains are amazing, but so is the building – quietly understated, displaying the artefacts to their best, enhancing rather than overwhelming; I took more photos of the building than the displays!


Jerez to Sevilla


Well, there has been a real mixed bag in this section!

Day 4 – Jerez to El Cuervo – 29km
After a rest day in Jerez, during which I played tourist, tasted sherry and even spent an hour in the roman baths, it was time to move on again.
Today was another big day. I started walking at 7.15am and reached Guadalcacin on the outskirts at 9am. I had researched this section a bit better and really scanned the map, so I had a better idea of where I was going. Nevertheless, I still made a wrong turn towards the end – it didn’t cost me any distance (probably saved a little) but meant I walked the last 2km on the road, pretty boring.
Booked in at Hostal Santa Ana for €15 and had a siesta!
This is a really strange town. According to the Spanish guide it is a very old town, but it appears very new – it must have had a serious facelift, with neat straight streets, newish buildings as well as a lot of very new ones, and a modern statue just across the road from the bar. It doesn’t have any of the ambience of the places I have visited so far.
It is really interesting seeing the range of people in the bars. Early mornings are definitely for the men having black coffee and toast, and the older woman who sit around having milky coffee and chatting. Lunch time 2-4 is basically everyone. Late afternoons seems to be the woman meeting up for a chat before heading home. From around 7pm it is everyone, including the kids. Outside of those hours during the day, most bars I go past only have men in them.

Day 5 – El Cuervo to Lebrija – 12km
Decided to have a short day today. A pleasant walk, capped off by arriving in a charming town – I am glad I made it a short day and got to enjoy the afternoon and evening here.
Booked in to Hostal Mellizo at €20, as recommended by the local policeman!
Bonus – I found a cake shop with 2 gluten free options, tocino de cielo (egg yolks, sugar, water) and a coconut macaroon (€1 each). The tocino was so good that I bought another one on the way back after dinner! A recipe here:
Headed to the plaza for dinner and sat on the benches watching the world go by, with all the old men!

Day 6 – Lebrija to Las Cabezas de San Juan – 20.5km
An easy walk to start, but took some navigating towards the end. Las Cabezas is high on a hill and visible for quite some distance, and doesn’t appear to get any closer…
Enjoyed the luxury of a studio apartment for €40, new and clean with kitchen, washing machine and small enclosed courtyard, no wifi. Took the opportunity to wash everything, and it dried in no time in the heat of the courtyard.
No sello here as all the churches were closed for the Semana Santa parade.

Day 7 – Las Cabezas to Utrera – 34km
After a breakfast of potato tortilla at the services on the way out of Las Cabezas (good cafe and toilets), this was A VERY long and hard 9 hour walk – all paved or heavily compacted dirt, mostly along canals, railway and road, pretty boring. No shade, nowhere at all to stop along the way or buy refreshments. A good leg to skip completely.
Limped in to the Hostal El Marchinero, just next to the large shopping cente on the way out of town on the route via Alcalá, which I would be taking. €30, clean and tidy, but no wifi.
Sello at Iglesia Santiago – a very old almost crumbling church, where they wouldn’t accept a donation as I am a ‘pilgrim’.

Day 8 – Utrera to Alcalá de Guadaira – 18.5km
Nice 4 hour walk through farmlands and farmsteads, then suburbs to Alcalá. Only a bit of ‘boring’ walking. Perfect distance too, allows early arrival to enjoy the town before moving on.
Booked in to the Hotel Guadaira in Alcalá at €30 for the first night, then €44 over the Easter long weekend. I took a bit of a break here and stayed for 4 nights. I walked the 15km to Seville without the pack – what a luxury! – and then get the bus back. As I’m not a big city person, especially with the madness of Semana Santa (Holy Week) and Easter, it was a perfect compromise.
I wanted to stop in order to write up my guide notes. There are currently no English notes that I could find for the Cádiz to Sevilla section (Via Augusta) except for the first 50km, so I’m going to translate the very sparse Spanish guide and add my notes. I’m going to pass the notes on to the various camino associations and forums that I accessed so that they can pass them on if they want.
I also needed to do some work (drat) and catch up on my diary! I’ve been using the voice recorder and it needs writing down before I forget – I’m already beginning to confuse places as it is all just rushing by.

Day 9 – Alcalá to Sevilla – 17.5km
First half of the walk was lovely, a path along river and through farmlands. Then it starts taking you away, towards the city, through some track works and a farm field that is also used as an illegal dump. From there it is on to the roads into the city for about 8km, firstly through industrial estates, then the less salubrious parts of town, steadily improving as you get closer to the centre. As I was walking without my backpack and walking poles, I didn’t really attract too much attention, nevertheless I kept a firm hold on my day pack after reading reports of pickpocketing and petty theft.

Via Augusta completed in 9 days of walking, 14 days on the road (including rest time at Sevilla).

I suspected I was not going to enjoy the long sections without any ‘recreation’ breaks. And realistically, on the long distances I’m not going to average more than 3.5km an hour all up.
I’ve decided that from now on I am going to bypass those sections by bus or train. That should also give me a bit more time to spend in each town, as when I do short distances I get to the destination by midday at the latest, I’m not knackered and have time to wander around. Getting in at 5pm, tired as hell, means that all I want to do is shower, eat and sleep!
I also want to do multiple day rest breaks more often; just walking every day means it is all flashing by, I’m not taking much in and not really getting a chance to speak Spanish or even find out anything about the areas.
After all, I am not in a mad rush.



General, Walking

Cádiz to Jerez

Decided to start my journey off with two nights in a reasonable hotel, so ended up in the Hotel de Francia y Paris at €40 for week nights. I was sceptical as the foyer smelled a little stale, even though clean, but the room was a nice surprise. Obviously recently renovated, with new paint, furniture and bathroom. I hope this is the standard of 3 star hotels I can expect.
I am hoping to stick to a budget of around €50 per day, allowing 20 for food and 30 for room.
Menu del dia at a nearby restaurant – salad, pork with potato, coffee and a glass of red wine for €9.50, Bread also included, and I could have had a dessert instead of coffee. The standard around here seems to be between €8.50 and €11.
Got my first sello (stamp in pilgrims passport) at the cathedral just before mass, so it is now ‘official’!.
Cádiz old town is surrounded by the sea, with mostly steep rock faces, and has LOTS of churches and old buildings, as well as a few good museums. Plenty of bars and cafés, pretty easy place to just relax for a few days. Lots of plazas – mostly with cafés but some just quiet areas to sit in the shade and rest.
Once you leave the old port, you get a lovely long beach on the southern side, flanked by high rise Benidorm style accommodation. Would be nice if you wanted a beach holiday exclusively, as it is right on your doorstep plus lots of bars and restaurants, but not the nice typical ones like in the old town.

Day 1 – Cádiz to Puerto Real – 32km
Hit the road by 8am. Passed the Iglesia then up the back of the cathedral to the seafront walk. Threw a shell from my beach into the water to commence my journey.
Pretty boring walking to start, just through Cádiz beach section then along the road. I deviated onto the beach instead of the track along the back of the dunes, as it was be the last look at the sea for a long time! Approaching the firing ranges I should have gone back to the track sooner, as I found my way blocked by a body of water that I had to walk around.
Got my first ‘Buen camino’ (good journey’) from 2 older guys out for their morning walk! I don’t think it is common to see pilgrims here as some people looked at me as if I had two heads.
Followed overpass at firing range – they fired 2 rounds just as approached (in my honour, of course!) – then on to a dirt road most of the way to San Fernando. €1.55 for lunch – banana, capsicum, salami, apple – which I ate in the park. San Fernando seems like a nice town, but as I still feeling good I decided to continue.
What a walk! Lots of train work near the beginning so the track was hard to find, and along muddy tidal paths at times. A petrol station was a welcome break – Fanta orange, toilet and a rest. I was starting to feel it now – the route in to Puerto Real seemed to go on forever! Walked around 32km in just under 10 hours – way slower than I am used to walking (without a pack and on formed paths that I know like the back of my hand…).
The town itself is not nearly as nice as Cádiz, And I couldn’t find a single hotel or hostal just walking down the Main Street! Tourist info was closed – I eventually asked two men in a square and they pointed me towards the Hostal Bahia del Sur Cádiz, just opposite the church – €20 for a private room with bathroom, basic but clean so I am pretty happy with that. Headed out for dinner – first coffee and pimientos at a bar down on the seaside (€2.30), followed by tapas of pork and tortilla at another bar, with red wine and a coffee on ice for €5.30.
Amazing to see shops like opticians open until past 8pm, with lots of people out doing general shopping.

Day 2 – Puerto Real to El Puerto de Santa Maria – 12km
Started walking at 7.45am, lots of people out already, school kids plus office workers. A few shops like grocers and bakers open, plus some of the early morning cafes, breakfast here consists of juice, coffee and toast.
Most of the walk was through a Parque Natural, on formed gravel paths most of the way – heard a lot of birds and scuttles in the bushes.
Arrived around 10:45am – much nicer town with a more relaxed feel. Found the Hostal Manolo – looked good from outside, and inside matched. 200 year old building, lots of knick knacks – paintings, display cabinets, ornaments – definitely a lived in place. A central courtyard, open to the roof (with just a perspex loose cover so obviously not much rain) with chairs and sofas to relax. €26 for a single room with private bath – definitely a step up from last night, brighter, and with hot water. Let me leave my pack as it was too early to check in, so I went up to the church and got another sello.
Had a big lunch – half portion oxtail with chips (€5) plus mixed salad (€2.30) – each a meal in its own right!

Day 3 – El Puerto to Jerez – 21km
A beautiful morning for walking – overcast with a slight breeze. The section out of El Puerto wasn’t too bad, and once on the back roads it was lovely. Well used cyclists route – I saw more people than I expected, even a walker going in the opposite direction, a Jerez local who recommended a hotel.
4 hours to the Plaza Santiago (16km), which I was happy with. Then the fun and games started, as without a map I tried to find my way to the city centre. I Ended up walking about 5km extra, as the pilgrim route actually carries on out of town from Plaza Santiago and I only realized after a while.
Booked in to Nuevo Hotel on Calle Caballeros as recommended – really good, single room with bathroom for €20 without breakfast, clean and tidy, beautifully finished old building, TV, aircon, wifi. Hotel has been in the family since the 1930s.
I’ve had the most amazing grilled tuna with chips and salad for €6.50 at La Parra Vieja nearby – it was so thick and big I first thought they had given me a T-bone steak by mistake!
Dinner of 3 tapas (jamon, tortilla, papas alioli) plus coffee on ice for €4. I could get used to this…

Photo: L-R: entering El Puerto over footbridge, my first storks (nest on top of tower), amazing metal sculpture, skilled wood carving for Santa Semana (Easter) parade.


Less than 3 weeks to go!

Wow, where has the time gone? I have been planning this trip for over two years – it seemed SO far away! Now it is about to happen. I’m excited, nervous, deliriously happy, anxious… all at once.

Physically I am well prepared, having just completed a 50km charity walk in 13.5 hours, for which I have been training for 6 months. Mentally I am actually pretty laid back about the whole process – after all, Spain is a densely populated, well organised country and it is not as if I have to pre-plan for every eventuality. What will be, will be…

This trip is a celebration of my 50th birthday. It is a chance for me to indulge my passion for the Spanish language, tradition, culture and food. I will be on a constant lookout for local regional arts and crafts. I plan to spend as much time as possible with local Spaniards, rather than limiting my interaction to other foreign walkers.

Why am I walking? It is not a ‘pilgrimage’ as such for me – not in the religious sense – but rather a way to get to see the country at a pace that is slow enough to take it all in, travelling through rural villages and towns rather than being confined to the ‘tourist’ coastal areas. I love walking. I relish being able to do as I please – stopping, starting, looking, resting, rushing – when and how I want to.

The plan is to walk from Cádiz in the south, through Santiago de Compostela and on the Finisterre in the north west – basically a coast to coast – over a three month period during the Spanish spring. There will be no rushing from accommodation to accommodation just to make sure I get a bed – I’m happy to use private hostals, casa rurals and hotels were necessary. I am not in a mission of any kind, so if I find a particular section is not working for me, I’m happy to take a bus to a point further along the route. I’ll be doing a few side trips – definitely to Madrid, maybe to Granada and possibly even over to visit a friend in Lisbon. The main goal during these three months is to enjoy Spain in any and every way that I can.

In Australia, I live less than 150m from the beach; I am going to miss the beautiful sunrises over the water, the moderating effect of that great chunk of ocean on the climate, and the refreshing sea breezes. Being away from the coast for so long will no doubt make me appreciate it all the more once I return. In the meantime, I will embrace the hills and valleys of the Spanish countryside as I travel from south to north with the march of spring.

Join me on my journey!