Camino Mozárabe – Via de la Plata 1/10 – 29/10
Now it’s time again. This will be my third pilgrimage since October 2008. Half a year ago, I got the perception that one of hundred pilgrims from Scandinavia walks Via de la Plata. To walk from Granada to Merida, as a Swede, is then even more unusual.
I have already bought a guidebook from “The Confraternity of St. James” by Alison Raju. On Wednesday afternoon, September 30, I come to my hotel room in Granada, which I have booked in advance. I would love to visit the red Alhambra Palace nearby, but the weather forecast for the next day changes my plans.
Granada is the capital of the Spanish province of the same name and is located in Andalucia at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in southern Spain. After the Western Roman Empire, the Visigoths ruled the area. In 711 the Moors invaded, and then the Caliphate of Córdoba was created. From there, the area was ruled for centuries.
The so-called “Reconquista” had begun on the 700-century. First in the 1200s, the Christian kings had taken back the central parts of Spain, but not the emirate of Granada. The Palace of Alhambra was instead built there, from 1250- to 1300-century. The Emirate of Granada and the Alhambra Palace continued to be Islamic for another three hundred years, but one gave up in 1492 for a Christian army under a unified Spain.
The Palace of Alhambra is a uniquely preserved building of the western Islamic architecture. The gardens there are among the oldest in Europe. The expression ”The Moor’s last Sigh” originates from the moment when Boabdil, the last Moorish ruler, left Alhambra after the siege of Granada in 1492. He turned and looked back at his beautiful palace for the last time. His mother is said to have exclaimed: “Weep now as a woman, what you could not defend like a man.” Alhambra was taken up 1984 in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
1 October, Thursday. From Granada to Moclín. The tiny town is located 32 km from Granada at 1.300 m altitude. I take the bus some kilometres from the city centre to avoid the rain and the morning traffic. The last 10 kilometres I walk, painfully uphill, to Moclín where I will stay for the night in a private room. From the Moorish castle, built in the 1200s, the view is usually magnificent in clear weather over the Alhambra and the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
2 October, Friday. To Alcalá la Real. The morning is beautiful. Beneath Moclín is the fog and the clouds. I follow the arrows along the route downhill. The route then slowly go uphill and in through an olive grove. A yellow arrow, point down to a ravine, with four-meter vertical edges. I cannot pass and must go back up along the ravine. It’s probably thirty degrees now and I am sliding backwards on each step in loose sand or sandy soil. Eventually, I succeed to orient myself. I aim at some landmarks in the form of high electricity pillars. I’m up, and there is next yellow arrow.
In the evening I am in Alcalá la Real. Both guesthouses, mentioned in the book, are fully booked. It becomes hotel Torrepalme in Alcalá la Real for 46 Euro, which is a little over my budget. Should be hungry, but I fall asleep already at eight o’clock.
3 October, Saturday To Alcaudete. It is a brilliant sunshine all day long, but also a troublesome sunshine. The terrain is beautiful hilly, olive groves as far as the eye can see and mountains in the background. It is dry and dusty. To have sufficient with drinking water and protection against the sun is more and more important. Also, fill up water at every opportunity, even if the water is not finished. I think of nothing. Only, to walk and find the walking rhythm, which is not yet completely present. Or, I’m wondering what I’m doing here in southern Spain. I’ve recently walked thousand kilometres on Via de la Plata. There is also no one to talk to along this route. But it is also so, that the monotonous wandering alienates my mind from stress and worries. At half past four, I arrive to Alcaudete and find a guest house, the Hostal Hidalgo. Outside, I talk to a couple of German youths who just have come here by car.
4 October, Sunday. To Baena. In the morning I arrive to the lake and the natural reserve of “Laguna del Conde o Salobral” in the Córdoba province. It is a one meter deep natural salt lake, which usually is dry in summer. The area is an important nesting place for many migratory birds. Here one can see the flamingos and herons. Only salt-tolerant plants, thrives in the lake due to the salinity.
It’s getting incredibly hot in the afternoon. I have very little water left. It is seven kilometres left to Baena. I must cover my arms against the burning sun. Now, I have to walk the last few kilometres with only one decilitre left, by now warm water. I walk another kilometre and all water is gone. A Cortijo, a farm with horses, cackling chickens and barking dogs, pops up along the way. I have to come to the house there, and ring at the doorbell. It’s a bit risky to pass loose angry and barking dogs, but I have no other choice. The clock at the door, does not work, so I bang hard on the door and out comes a young couple, which just finished their siesta.
I have seldom been so well received by unfamiliar people. I get my water bottles filled and I drink plenty of fresh cold water. Oh, so good. I was also asked if I want a beer. It’s tempting, but I think it would fit better, little later in the evening. I will stay for the night in Baena at Hostal Rincón.
5 October, Monday. To Córdoba. The olive groves are huge and the sun burns. When I arrive to Castro del Rio, I have large red spots on my hands and arms. I have now two possibilities. To stay in Castro del Rio after 20 km, or walk another 16 km along the route, turn to the south for another 5 kilometres towards Santa Cruz and spend the night there. However, doubts about finding enough of water along the route, makes the bus directly to Córdoba as the most sensibly alternative. After 36 kilometres by bus, I come to San Fernando in Córdoba, where there are a lot of hostels.
It is early evening and I want to visit the beautiful mosque, here in Cordoba, here called the Mezquita. The building originates from the Islamic architecture in North Africa. It was originally a Christian church, “St. Vincent”. The construction began around the year 600 AD. After the Islamic conquest both Muslims and Christians used the Church. Prince Abd ar-Rahman purchased the Christian part, and converted it to a Mosque. As usual, he also connected it with the Caliph’s Palace, with a raised walkway. The reconstruction lasted throughout 200 years.
6 October, Tuesday. To Villaharta. In Córdoba there is no labelling of the route. I take the bus to Cerro Murriano and continue 21 kilometres by foot to Villaharta. In the small village there is a guesthouse, which is closed now. People at a bar say that the Mayor in the village usually can arrange overnight accommodation. The Mayor is practicing football in full swing with the youngsters in Villaharta. I’ll wait a little while before I interrupt him. He understands me directly and takes me up to the locker room, and arranges a mattress for the night to sleep on. He is a very helpful Mayor and I get roof over my head.
7 October, Wednesday. To Alcaracejos. In the morning the rain hang in the air. After Villaharta there is a rather long mountain range ”Sierra Morena” which is a kind of border for the central plateau the ”Meseta Central”. It ranges all the way to Portugal. The route to Alcaracejos through forest and olive groves does not feel attractive. I choose instead the 37 kilometres long asphalt road. In a cut of the road construction, I stop and take some photos of a beautiful geological folding of the mountain. Later on in Alcaracejos, I get a small room at the Hostel La Amistad with a comfortable bed.
8-9 October, Thursday-Friday. To Monterrubio de la Serena. It’s overcast on Thursday morning and it seems to be a really nice weather for walking. I will stop fairly early after 25 kilometres to Hinojosa del Duque. The weather is changing on Friday, sunny, cloudy and sunny again. In the afternoon I come into the province of Badajoz in Extramadura. I find a nice room in Monterrubio Hostal Vaticano. I also get a message, that my walking friend Mimi from the last year, will accompany me from Zamora. It will be fun.
10-11 October, Saturday-Sunday. To Campanario. In the morning I have some blisters from my new Meindl Borneo Pro boots. I want to walk a shorter distance today and try to bring my feet in good order. Blisters on the feet and knee injuries are the most common problems for walkers. It is said that one third of all walkers at, longer distances, breaks due to such injuries. I am staying for the night in Castuera at Hostel Los Naranjos. On Sunday morning my feet are much better. The blisters are almost gone. It’s sunny, beautiful and comfortable to walk on the flat land in Extremadura. It will be a fairly short walk to Capanario and I plan to stay for the night in Avenida la Constitution 55.
12-13 October, Monday-Tuesday. To Mérida. It’s public holiday in Spain on Monday. After some ten kilometres I come to the small village Magacela located on the slope of a mountaintop with a ruined castle. The view from the village is magnificent over the entire region. I follow the route markings, proper and also poor, to La Haba, Don Benito and finally to Meddelín. The town Meddelín was founded by “Quintus Caecillius Metelus Pio” in 70 BC. Much later in the 1500s Hernán Cortés was born here. He is most known for having built the city of Veracruz in Mexico. Nowadays, he’s statue beneath the well-preserved Arab castle in Meddelín. In the evening, I stop at a small guesthouse Hostel Rio. On Tuesday I walk to Mérida. The large municipal pilgrim hostel looks pretty good, so I will spend my night here.
14-20 October, Wednesday-Tuesday. From Mérida to Astorga. The route continues north along Via de la Plata. I’ve recently been walking there, so on Wednesday I will go by an ALSA bus to Salamanca. On Thursday, I walk out from Salamanca. I am familiar with the route here, mostly on paved roads. The landscape is flat. Again, I’m passing the large prison on the way to “Cubo de la Tierra del Vino”. I stop there and stay for the night at Albergue El Cubo. The route continues at approximately 900 m height above sea level to Zamora.
Here it is carnival and the city is full of life and movement. Whole pigs are roasted on skewers and a lot of sausages are grilled. I get really hungry. The market is in full progress. Drums and trumpets will sound and the musicians are flowing into the crowd. There she is. Mimi has just arrived. It’s so nice to see her again. We stay here for the rest of the day enjoying the lively market in Zamora. The following days we continue to walk to Astorga, which is located on the French route