Camino de Levante 6/4 – 2/5
It´s springtime 2011, half a year has passed since my last walk along the beautiful north Atlantic coast. This is the sixth time I wander to Santiago de Compostela. I do not know the reasons for my way to continue in this way. Many have asked why? I actually have no rational answer for that question. There are probably several reasons, but one is the Spanish history. Another is my interest in the photography.
I come to Albacete April 5 on Tuesday night. I have brought an unused pilgrim passport and a guidebook in German from “Outdoor”, by Ulrike Bruckmeier.
6 April, Wednesday. From Albacete to La Roda. The sun is shining and it’s maybe 25 degrees when I come out from the hotel in Albacete. It soon becomes warmer and I feel the dry climate. “La Meseta”, or the plateau lies at an altitude of about 700 meters above the sea level. I do not know if I will walk 22 km today to La Gineta, or 42 km on fairly flat ground to La Roda. There is no hotel in La Gineta. Nor any good youth hostel, just simple accommodation with mattresses on the floor. Someone discourages me. We’ll see. The first day, I usually walk a rather short distance, probably I will take the bus from La Gineta. Anyhow, I am in a very good shape, but I probably underestimate the heat and the sunshine. There will be no water available within 22 kilometres before La Gineta, but I’ve enough during the way. I’m walking on a nice gravel road across large fields. Soon the road becomes dead straight for seven kilometres. There are no trees that can give me proper shade.
A blister begins to tickle. I won’t stop in the dusty heat, I’m thinking more and more how nice it would be to take the bus to La Roda, which also is a much larger village than La Gineta. There… in La Gineta, at the bus stop, is the bus to La Roda, “waiting for me”. It takes one second for me to decide myself. I go on board and pay the driver. It is cheap and easy to go by bus in Spain. I easily find Hostal Molina in La Roda.
7 April, Thursday. To Minaya. I will not be as optimistic today as I was yesterday. I am satisfied with 20 kilometers to Minaya. Shortly after La Roda, there is a resting place with information about “Ruta de Don Quijote”. For a while I enjoy the shade under the generous roof. The Don Quijote route passes San Clemente and continues up to Toledo. In Minaya I’m looking for a truck-café, which also is a guesthouse, Hostal Antolin. A woman at the front desk is talking cheerfully with three policemen from the “Guardia Civil”, I’ll wait a while before I ask for available rooms. Oh yes, she says kindly and smiles, sure there are rooms available. The guesthouse is really nice, although many heavy trucks outside are arriving and leaving.
8 April, Friday. To San Clemente. The morning is fresh and nice. The afternoon becomes bothersome hot, windless and maybe 30 degrees. There is still no sign of any pilgrim on the route. But plenty of sheep comes against me. They are filling more than the entire width of the road and they do not voluntarily let me pass. However, closer to “Casas de los Pinos” I see some more trees. Apart from some children, running between the houses, I meet Don Quixote himself on his horseback, his stallion Rosinante. The faithful squire and companion, the peasant Sancho Panza, is as usual sitting on his donkey Rucio. I say hello to the guys, and takes a lot of photos of the magnificent memorial. As most people know, the novel “The brilliant Knight Don Quixote of La Mancha” was written in the 1600’s. The goal for Don Quixote was to win the love of his beloved “Dulcinea,” the sweet in Spanish.
9 April, Saturday. To Las Pedroñeras. It’s hot and I have soon walked half way. The water bottles are now empty. After a few kilometres more, I see the ruin Santiago de la Torre. Somewhere here, it shall be a tap with fresh water. A car is approaching in a cloud of dust. It slows down and stops. A farmer kindly says “hola” and stretches out a one-litre bottle of cold fresh water, heaven, and furthermore sparkling water, as I love. He says “buen camino”, drives away and leaves a new cloud of dust behind. He must be a mind reader. Or, does he know? Now I can see the water-tap. And a sign; “Not Potable”.
12-13 April, Tuesday-Wednesday. From Villacañas to Toledo. It’s hot on Tuesday morning, when I leave “Hostel Prickley”. At lunchtime I walk on a gravel road and stops to eat a little bit in the shadow of the only house I can see. I sit comfortably on a small stone-staircase and listening for a while at the wind. It is absolute quiet. It is ringing in my ears. A small dot moves in the horizon. What could it be? Is it a shepherd? “Good heavens” it is a wanderer, the first one I see on this route. I walk a little bit to meet him, greet and start to talk. He does not say many words. He is a bank employee named Juan Lopes. I bubble of chatter lust while he unfortunately cannot speak any good English. Rather soon, I choose to continue myself, such a pity.
Coming finally to Toledo on Wednesday. What a charming town. In addition, at the tourist information centre there is an incredibly friendly and helpful personnel. In the evening it is dark in the old city core and it is difficult to find the right way among the narrow streets. But, fortunately I have my GPS.
14 April, Thursday. From Toledo to Torrijos. Halfway to Torrijos, I stop for a moment, looking at a large farm. Then, I continue straight ahead rather than follow the route to the right. I do not notice at all that the route markings are missing. Eventually, I realize that I am on wrong track, and heading towards “Albarreal de Tajo”. The GPS is out of function. The batteries are discharged after my round tour in Toledo’s old quarter. But my mistake provides me something positive in return. Soon I stand in front of the largest poppy field I’ve ever seen. It is so beautiful. I stop there and enjoys. I come somehow, back again to the route to Torrijos. It is still good, despite the mistake and the detour of ten kilometres.
17 April, Sunday. From Cebreros to San Bartolomé de Pinares. It’s a lovely morning. Today’s stage is only seventeen kilometres long to San Bartolomé de Pinares. The route uphill is rocky and it is a beautiful view with heat haze over Cebreiros. After some kilometres, at the pass “Puerto de Arrebatacapas”, the route has risen to 1.068 metres above sea level. The route leads down again and I partly walk on asphalt. Soon I come into a terrain with big rocks. Along one side of the road there are huge boulders with strange shapes, which look, as at any time fall down on the road.
I arrive to San Bartolome de Pinares, where Maria Jesús is hanging laundry in her garden. The young beautiful woman is the Society’s Mayor. She smiles and shows me the way to the municipal youth hostel, which is clean, nicely and absolutely free. She smiles again and proudly points out, that nothing shall be paid.
18 April, Monday. From San Bartolomé de Pinares to Ávila. I am walking on nice forest tracks with grazing white cows as spectators, and on asphalt roads up to Puerto de El Boqueron at 1315 m. It is the highest point before Zamora. I continue downhill on a road and come into beautiful green areas and a mountainous terrain. I am looking now at a crowd of young bulls, butting wildly with each other. One of the bulls has a calf, and I do not know what “he thinks” when he stands, and just stare at me. I think, the fence is not high enough. Takes some pictures and feel it’s best to proceed. It seems to be an area where one breed lots of of bulls.
In the evening I stay in the beautiful city of Ávila, located in the autonomous community of Castilla y Leon. It is the capital of the province of Ávila. The city is known for being Europe’s best preserved, with its 2½ kilometres long city-wall in the roman style, 88 towers and 9 gates. Ávila is also the highest situated town at 1.130 m above the sea level in Europe. It was also included in the UNESCO World Heritage List 1985. I stop for the night at a nice little hotel inside the city walls.
Ávila is sometimes called the Saint’s city or the stone’s city. One also claims in fierce competition with Zamora, that here are the most bars and restaurants. In addition, there are most Roman and Gothic churches per capita in Spain. The “Holy Teresa of Avila” was born here in 1515. She was an eminent mystic and writer during the Counter-Reformation, in addition nun and theologian.
22 April, Saturday. From Medina del Campo to Castronuño – Toro. Today, it’s Good Friday and I would like to sleep a little longer in the nice hotel room at the Hotel San Roque. Many are traveling around today, so I think I must leave. In Castronuño I find nowhere to stay overnight, no guesthouse nor hotel, as I feared. A friendly Spaniard suggests that I take me to the next town Toro, where there always are plenty of rooms. Ok then, a taxi to Toro. Very true, I get a room at Hostal Zamora in the centre.
23 April, Saturday. A trip around Toro. The day will not be as I had planned. Instead, I’ll walk around Toro and look a little closer at the city. Toro is an ancient city, conquered by Hannibal 220 BC, possibly named “Arbukala”. The city survived thanks to the Romans who renamed it to “Albucella”. The modern name Toro might depend on the bull and the traditions of the Celt-Iberian people. Also, Toro conquered by the Moors during the 800s, but were driven out by Alfonso III, who restored the city.
In the outskirt, I see a memorial from the Battle of Toro. I look at the memorial and the statue that is Isabella of Castile. The battle took place in this area in 1476 and concerned the Castilian throne. Thus, the Battle of Toro ended by a dubious victory for Isabella. She and her husband, Ferdinand II of Aragon, gave anyway stability in both Kingdoms. This helped to lay the groundwork for Spain’s unification. I go back to the hotel and stay another night at the Hostal Zamora.
24 April, Sunday. Från Toro till Zamora. This is now the last stretch of Camino de Levante. I leave Toro behind me and come out on large fields. The route mostly runs on asphalt roads. The mighty Rio Duero is flowing slowly at my side. It is the third time I come to Zamora which has now become one of my Spanish favorite cities. I will stay over the night near the big square “Plaza Mayor” at Hostal La Reina. The menu for the evening will be a kebab plate. Not particular Spanish, but hamburgers are also not typical Spanish food. In many cases, the clock time actually determines when and what to eat, at least for hungry pilgrims.
25 April-2 May. From Zamora to Santiago de Compostela. I continue to walk on Via de la Plata to Granja de Moreruela where I can either continue west to Ourense or north. From Granja I am travelling by bus north, first to Villafranca del Bierzo on the French route and then further on to O Cebreiro. From there I am walking ca 160 km to Santiago de Compostela.