Monthly Archives: September 2011

Morning Blues

Walking through the landscape is a profoundly serene and beautiful way to see a country. The views change from moment to moment, unfolding uniquely with each step. The light scent of dew on the grass combines with the perfume of spring flowers as my boots brush by. Often I hear the soft murmer of animal voices, bird song, and gurgling water carried on the breeze.

This 12″ X 16″ oil painting, titled “Morning Blues”, was just a few yards down the pathway from the previous  painting featured in my post “hillsides Carpeted with Wildflowers”. The Via de la Plata in the south, between Sevilla and Monestario, is a wonderland of undulating hills, oak and olive trees, and a multitude of flowering shrubs and plants.

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The past  few days the landscape has changed to a much less cultivated way. We have been walking through 2 national parks where there are miles of cork oak and Holm oak trees spreading their twisted branches to silhouette against the blue skies. Below the trees there is a carpet of bright green grass with white daisies, pink, lavender, yellow and blue wildflowers. The trees throw deep shadows in interesting patterns over this beautiful land. In the higher mountains there is tall pink heather and yellow scotch broom surrounding rocky outcroppings. It is hard climbing in some places and our feet are beginning to tell the miles.

The skies are an incredible color. In the early morning as the sun rises it is a deep violet-blue that lightens to an intense cobalt as far as the eye can see. It has been in the high 80ś every day, which is perfect. We have started earlier each day because the early morning light is so incredibly beautiful and the temperatures are cool. It gets very warm for walking with a backpack by mid day.

We have been following the Via Pecuaria, an ancient Roman road stretching to the north. Militarios, or monolithic type stones about 5 feet tall, are scattered along the way. The Romans placed them at regular intervals to accurately marked the distances of the Via Pecuaria. Today some remain upright in their original positions,  while others lie in the fields. It is amazing to think of this timeless landscape having been walked this very way for so long.

It is entertaining to walk through the unfenced landscape filled with animals milling around us. There are  flocks of sheep and lambs,  cows, and pigs roaming the forests. The herds of goats have tiny new kids, which can not have been over 12 inches tall. Two friendly horses came up to me for a scratch and nuzzled me behind the ears. The pigs root around to find the acorns that have fallen from the trees for their dinner. This gives them their distinctive black color, and gives a unique flavor when they become jamon! (ham) As we walked past a serene pond, I tried to talk to them. I started a pig stampede! You can not believe how fast they can move. It was hilarious how fast they ran, jumping, snorting,  and wringing their tails, and bucking. I laughed until I had tears running down my face and my stomach hurt. Who knew they would be so frisky in the wild?

Distance from  Almaden de la Plata to El Real de la Jara= 10.2 Miles

Actual Distance Walked 12.24 Miles

Accommodations= We stayed in a private home, the Alajameinto Molina, for 10 Euro per person. It is a quiet, lovely home with a shaded patio, a fluffy gray cat, and bedrooms for 2 persons. They have been welcoming guests for many years.

There is an Albergue at the beginning of town, but it was very small, damp feeling and not very clean.

Hillsides carpeted in Wild Flowers

Spring time in southern Spain is an unbelievably lovely time of year. The rolling hills  are every shade of green imaginable, and the skies are a clear blue. Walking through the miles of oak forests carpeted with wild flowers is a thing of beauty.

Each morning we set out just as the sun was rising. Dramatic shadows cool the valleys as the sun places a warm blush on the treetops.

It was impossible to take painting  supplies along on this long trek, but I have simulated Plein Aire painting from my reference photographs. I try to place myself back into the scene by reading my journal entries for the day, slowly looking over my series of photographs while savoring a cup of cafe con leche (coffee with milk), and thinking about how it felt to traverse the meadows and hills. I set up my easel in my back yard, enjoying the sunshine and quiet melody of the birds. It gives me the opportunity to relive the experience and notice the details all over again.

This is an oil painting on Fredrix canvas, 12″ X 16″, of the landscape near Castilblanco de los Arroyos. To see other art work please visit my website at

Oak forests and whitewashed villages

This morning we decided it was insane to walk 16 kilometers along the main highway, up hill, with no shoulder to travel on. We asked about a taxi, and a young woman said her husband would drive us to the entrance of the Parque Forrestal de El Berrocal. Santa Mila and Santo Alejandro had arrived in our lives! He did not want to take any money, but we gave him kisses on both cheeks and some Euro to cover the expensive gas and his time. I am sure this act of kindness saved us, because the day was hot (over 85*F on March 30) and the full distance was nearly 20 miles through the mountains.

The walk through the park was 12 miles of sheer beauty. The gnarled oak trees tumbled down meadows carpeted in tiny white daisies and other wildflowers. Hawks and vultures glided on  the air currents above us across cobalt skies. Streams cut through the rocks like they had been perfectly landscaped.

One little stream was so inviting that we took off our boots and cooled our feet as we had a picnic. Frogs serenaded us and skittered into the water’s grassy edges.We made sure that our feet dried completely in the sunshine before we put our boots back on to avoid blistering.

The last mile was straight up in the mid day sun. It was very difficult, but the view from the Mirador at the top was stunning. We looked down upon the whitewashed village of Almaden de la Plata nestled in the valley far below.  the town was founded by the Romans to service the marble quarries near here. It was later home to the Knights of Santiago and today is a sleepy, pretty little town. The town square is graced by orange trees and lovely wrought iron benches. At the head of the square stands a tall terra cotta colored bell tower topped with bright tiles and storks nests. In the lovely little church, trimmed in bright yellow ochre paint, the local people were preparing for Santa Semana, or the Holy Week proceeding Easter.  Life sized sculptures of biblical figures, accompanied by huge silver candlesticks and other ornate treasures were being brought from storage and polished. These will form the decorations for large floats that are carried through the town in religious processions by the town’s people to celebrate Santa Semana.

Distance from Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almaden de la Plata= 18.9 Miles

Actual Distance Walked11.8 Miles

Accommodations= 75 Bed Municipal Albergue 5 Euro per person

The Horses of Andalucia

The horses are fantastically beautiful here. You see guys just prancing down the street on them. It has been said that an Andalucian man without his horse is like a matador without his cape. These beautiful creatures  have been a source of pride and an integral part of the Spanish culture in work, leisure, battle and every day life for centuries.

When the Romans came to Spain around 200 BC they were very impressed by the Andalucian horses. Centuries later, when the Moors conquered the area, they prized them highly and bred them with Arabian and Berber horses. Their blood lines have spread throughout the world, helping to establish the royal horses of Denmark (The Fredriksborg), the Austrian Kladruber, several British breeds, and the famous Lipizzaners of Austria, to name a few. They were also taken to the Americas by the Conquistadors, establishing horses in the New World for the first time since prehistory. This is the horse that became “The very cornerstone of classical riding.” Whether they are used as carriage horses, working on ranches , in competition, or for pure pleasure,  their gentle temperament combined with a graceful, ballet like stride they are a national treasure.

About 50 per cent of Andalusians are usually grey or white, the rest being bay or black. I find this odd, because light-colored horses sunburn! You would think that in a hot, sun drenched country evolution would have produced more horses with dark coloring.

The saddles that I have seen the local men riding have very unusual stirrups that are about 6 or 8 inches wide, supporting the rider’s entire foot.  The saddles have very high seat backs, and they come up in the front but do not have a saddle horn. However, they look very secure. The riders usually have very tall beautiful boots.   Last night I saw a man on a beautiful gray horse, and I did a thumbs up. I told him “Muy guapo!”, or very handsome. He laughed and smiled, waving a great big “Muchas Gracias!” I meant the horse was handsome, but if he thought I meant he was handsome, I guess no harm was done. I can see I need to be more clear in what I say!

Guillena to Castilblanco de los Arroyos

This morning I asked Judy, the Australian woman, if she wanted to walk with us. What a treat she turned out to be! Filled with a can-do spirit, good humor and a smiling personality, she made the miles slip by easily. After 2 hair raising miles on the busy main road, we turned up the hill through olive groves and rolling hills planted with sunflowers. The silvery colored olive groves gave way to oak forests carpeted with intensely purple Spanish lavender, and bushes of rock roses bursting with cream-colored flowers sporting burgundy centers. It was a long, steady climb up through the fragrant flowers and herds of brown cows. The cubic white houses of  Castilblanco de los Arroyos spill down the hillsides, forming graphic patterns of light and shadow against the blue sky.

In town we found a pretty church with multiple stork nests on high places. Many of the storks were involved in what we think is a mating ritual. They move their heads in intricate ways, fluff out their wing feathers, and communicate with a series of clacking noises by slapping their bills together.Their rhythms and dance were fascinating to watch and listen to. The storks migrate each year between Spain and North Africa, and some of the nests have been occupied for hundreds of years.

This morning I woke up with a sore throat and by tonight it was obvious that I needed help. I located the Farmacia, whining, “yo Soy inferma” (I am sick) while pointing to my throat. “Necesito dormir.” (I need to sleep) Presto! Drugs to make me sleep, something to snort for my nose, and some tasty orange things to chew up every 4 hours. The Farmacias in Spain are great! You can get over the counter, reasonably priced medicines that in America would require a visit to the Doctor and a prescription. Feeling much better already, we went to a sidewalk cafe to meet other Pilgrims. I was trying to ask what they served breakfast, and the owner flagged a Spanish man over. He started explaining in perfect, fluent, rapid German exactly what was on the menu. I had this completely dumbfounded look on my face, as my German is worse than my Spanish. He kept trying and trying until I finally said, “Yo soy Americana”. The entire bar was in hysterics. My German genetics must have been showing powerfully because they were really sure that was where I came from. It was so much fun because everyone started talking among the tables and laughing under the stars of the clear, warm Spanish night. What a sweet way to end a beautiful day of walking.

Distance from Guillena to Castilblanco de los Arroyos= 11.4 Miles

Actual Distance Walked=11.80 Miles

Accommodations= Municipal 24 Bed Albergue above the town, 5 Euro.

The Virgin of Granada

A lovely church dedicated to the Virgin of Granada dominates the town square of Guillena. It was built at the beginning of the 1400’s  in the Mudejar style, which blends Islamic and Christian design elements. I was attracted to the tile imagery set into the white wall of the church.  The virgin portrayed is known as “Our lady of Sorrows“. The late afternoon sun warmed my back as I sat drawing her, wondering of her significance to the town. She holds the crown of thorns and a piece of cloth in her hands, as a halo of thorns circles her head. Tears appear on her face as she walks away from the scene of the crucifixion in her royal purple robes. Although this is a sad scene, the portrait somehow touched me deeply.

Why did the people of this small Spanish town choose her to be their patron saint? What are their deeply held beliefs? She seemed to be saying to me that no matter how terrible things seem, you must still walk on with dignity. We are capable of bearing the unimaginable. Things have to get better from here on out.  She reminded me of the deeper and more significant meaning of things that happen to us,     setting us on our personal Pilgrimages through life.   She seemed to be looking to the  light on the wall to her left, and traveling toward it. Symbolically, it cast a lovely multi-colored shadow. Do we walk to the light or to the darkness, or do we always encounter both on our journey?

This drawing was rendered in Faber Castel colored pencil and highlighted with a Micron ink pen. I used a Bee Paper Company Professional Series, 93 Lb.  Heavyweight drawing paper, 9 X 9 inches. It stood up well to the pressure applied by the color pencils, and had a nice tooth (texture) for layering the color.   This is the first drawing that I have done in colored pencil. I liked the waxy textures achieved by the layering of colors, and the variety that can be achieved with only a few basic colors.

Meeting the People: How’s your Spanish?

It was another 80* day with blue skies as we began walking our Camino. As we were walking along the side of the road just out of Italica, an old man in a small truck honked and pulled to the side of the road. We had just seen him do this to Judy, an Australian Pilgrim who was just ahead of us. Assuming he had something helpful and of great significance to tell us, like the road was under construction and there was a detour that was not clearly marked, I stopped at his open car window. Tiny and shrunken, he whispered something in a raspy voice like it was his dying breath. I motioned to my ear indicating that I could not hear him and he  waved me closer. I leaned into the “caro”, getting my pack stuck and knocking my hat off in the process, as I listened intently. He mumbled some more and as I leaned closer I heard the word “Beso“, or kiss. As I started to retreat he grabbed my arm in a vise like grim, be lying his status as a near invalid. As I tried in vain to exit the window, he told me to “entrada el coache”, or get in the car. I don’t think so! Pervert Alert! I told him I am married  and pointed to my wedding ring. Unfazed, and not relinquishing his iron grip, he somehow managed to pant a kiss on my cheek and stroke my arm. Where did that other hand come from? I don’t want to know! Desperately I blurted out the most ridiculous thing in bad Spanish, “Mi esposo is muy grande!  Es muy fuerte y tormentoso!” This sort of means, ” My husband is right behind us and really big . He is strong and has a stormy personality!”  He released me quickly and we continued on our way  laughing.

We  soon crossed under the freeway and were in rolling hills and lovely farm country. The farm land is very rich, and men are out on their John Deere tractors tilling and planting. I understand they grow acres of sunflowers and cotton here, so that may have been what they are planting. In other fields, The wheat is already about 8 inches tall and a bright green carpet on the rolling hills. It was very warm walking but the color of blue in the skies is so intense that I would not want it any other way. We saw our first storks of the journey circling above an area of wetlands. Small black winged, white birds with long orange legs fished along the edges of the marsh. In the mud by the stream we saw a perfect paw print of a rare, endangered Iberian Lynx.

This morning’s walk was just over 8 miles to a little whitewashed town called Guillena.  We had entered town by a different route than our guide book described due to a washed out trail. A nicely dressed man offered to show us to the Hostal Frances where we were going to stay.  It was getting to be such a long distance that I began wondering if he was another pervert. Just then  a short, round Senora eyed us suspiciously and began talking to him. Looking very uneasy and beginning to sweat, he proclaimed, ” I am taking these 2 Pilgrims to their hostal! Tell my wife I will be home soon! Nice to see you, Maria!” Satisfied, she waddled off and we proceeded much more quickly onward. He delivered us to our door as promised,  bowed, and wished us a Buen Camino.

We wandered through the delightful old section of town and found a good looking local bar for lunch.   There were all these cured hams hanging everywhere, and the owners were very friendly because we were trying so hard to learn how to say the name of their little town correctly. We ate huge  ham and cheese bacadillas, or sandwiches, accompanied by a beautiful local wine, as we were tutored by the entire bar full of patrons on how to correctly pronounce “Guillena”.    I would say it exactly like he did and he would patiently say , “No Senora, Guee Jee NA!”, and I would say it again perfectly. He would patiently say No Senora, Guee Jee NA …… around and around we went with everyone contributing to my lesson. I finally got it right but I still don’t know what I said differently. We had a very jolly time and then proceeded directly to siesta!

So how do you know who the good guys are and who the perverts are? My philosophy is to stay open, smile, and try to interact with anyone I can on a positive basis. I listen hard to understand some of their language and respond as well as I can in my very basic Spanish.  The one thing that does not change is the smile on my face and the sincerity that I hope projects  from my heart to them. They love the fact that you are trying. It is a miracle every time that I get to see how wonderful, helpful, sincere, and fun the Spanish truly are. Once in a while you encounter a bad guy, just like in any society. You do have to be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to your intuition. But would I miss all the interaction with the great people because I am afraid to smile? Not on your life!

Distance from Italica/Santiponce to Guillena= 7.2 miles

Actual Distance walked= 12.15 miles

Accomodations= Hostal Bar Frances, main street toward the end of Guillena, only a moderately nice room above the bar for an incredibly expensive 46 Euro for a double room. (Included breakfast of 1 piece of toast and 1 cup of coffee) We were told by the people here that there is a nicely remodeled municipal Albergue here now the church, which would be worth checking out if we had not already paid at the hostel Bar Frances. Albergue photo from Karl Martin Nagl, Germany:

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