Monthly Archives: November 2011

Why walk when you can take the bus?

We started out the wrong way to the bus station, under my leadership, then reversed direction. It soon became obvious that it was the pensioners day to go to Merida. There was a swarm of canes and white Q-Tip hair-doos as we all bee-lined for the autobus. We reached Alemendrajo in 15 minutes, which would have taken us all day to walk. In another 15 minutes we were in Merida, 2 days walk away. It was like stepping from one century to another in an instant.

After a full day in Merida, we went to the Plaza de Espana to watch people come out and the sun disappear. The plaza was full, and we began to see many Pilgrims we knew. We talked briefly with the French people, Dora and Bernard. Katerina and Matias were gazing into each others eyes longingly. Alan, Steve and his lady Claire, the Australians, and Julio, the Spaniard, joined us. Everyone spoke of the difficulty of walking such a long distance in the heat. It was 95* F, or about 35* C, today on the shadeless trek.

We had watched Katerina and Matias struggle into town, hardly able to think, and we had to admit that we had taken the bus. I felt very bad. It made me feel like a faux-Pilgrim.  We should have at least tried to walk it out. If we could not possibly make it, we could have gotten a ride at that point. We did not even try. I felt embarrassed and ashamed, like I was a quitter. It is entirely too easy to justify taking the easy way, and once you begin it can become a habit. Every parent has said to their children, “Just because everyone else is doing it does not mean you should. If everyone jumped off of a cliff would you jump?” The Camino is, of course, a metaphor for life. Do we give up, or never try something challenging to begin with, so that we won’t fail or be uncomfortable? Do we take charge of our lives and do what we know is right for us, or do we let life happen around us and push us with the tides without a focus or goal? Stepping outside of our comfort zone is the only way we will ever grow. Each time we achieve that growth, it is ours forever. We become stronger and stronger, gaining new knowledge and confidence, each time we try.

What did I come to Spain for? I came here to walk. As the landscape zoomed by the bus window in a blur I wanted to scream, “Stop! Slow down!” I came to see this amazing country at a foot travelers pace. I miss the rhythm of walking each day and slowing into the landscape.  I want a journey of uninterrupted continuity. I want to feel the sunshine on my face, the wind in my hair, and the ground firmly under my boots. I want to feel my fitness building, as well as completely un-plugging from the fast pace of my normal life. It is a profoundly beautiful and intimate way to see a country.

As we talked with Alan about these feelings, he just listened patiently with a gentle smile on his face. We spoke of our regrets. He simply and wisely said, “Your Camino begins again tomorrow.” Never a truer word was spoken. I am resolved to begin again and not look back.

Distance from   Villafrance de los Barros to Merida=27.34  Miles / 44 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 8.99 Miles / 14.5 Kilometers

Accommodations= Hostal Senero. 16 Euro per person, per night, in a double or triple room with an en-suite bathroom.

There is a new Albergue near the river. 12 places, 5 Euro per person. We chose to stay in a hostal because we were staying 2 nights.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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The Beauty Under Foot

How often do we rush through life without noticing the small things? Mary Jean Irion said, “Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.” Why is it that it seems we only pay attention to the beauty that is everywhere, even under our boots, when we are walking the Camnio? I resolve to pay more attention every day of my life.

Colored Pencil on paper. Image Size: 8 1/2″ X 8 1/2″.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


Zafra to Villafranca de los Barros

It was up and down hills covered in vineyards and  olive groves, but mostly gradually down, all day. We passed through the pretty little town of Maimona, featuring a church with a beautiful plaster work facade in tones of cinnamon and warm apricot. Scallop shells and other symbols of the way  were intricately carved, and it  featured a puerta del Perdon, or door of pardon. Pilgrims of old who were too sick or injured to continue to Santiago could pass through the door of pardon and receive the same absolution as if they had made it all the way. It seems that it was the intention of trying, and making the journey with everything that you  possessed, that counted for forgiveness. That is a good philosophy to remember.

We arrived in the small town of Villafranca de los Barros at mid day and set out to explore. We found hauntingly beautiful and soothing music in the warm yellow church at the heart of the village. In the small, shady plaza beneath the church, a friendly Spanish man and his wife greeted us. They were Friends of the Pilgrims, and they welcomed us to their town. They bought us a cool drink and asked if there was anything they could help us with. We told them we had been unable to find scallop shells, or conchas. They took us to the Pilgrims office and gave us extra credentials stamped by the archbishop of Merida, conchas, maps, and brochures on the area. They would not accept even a donation. They represent the sweet, gentle goodness and spirit of giving found along the Camino. It was quite simple yet heartfelt, one Pilgrim to another. Additionally, they informed us that our destination for the next day was having the annual wine festival and that every room in town was already booked. They recommended that we take the bus to Merida, as we felt it was impossible for us to walk 28 miles in one day. We were somewhat disappointed in having to take the bus, but it was the only sensible thing to do with our bodies beginning to talk back to us.  Judy has blisters that she is treating. We all have swollen feet that have begun to burn and tingle.

Today was tough walking for me. I may have had too much food or water in my pack, increasing the weight. Perhaps I was not careful how I packed things into it, or it was positioned wrong. I developed a muscle pain that shot from my lower back through my hip, and all the way down my leg to my calf.  My right foot began to tingle and I was just slapping my foot along the path by the end of the day. I came dragging into town like  Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame. I was drooling pathetically. I felt like I had experienced a stroke. I asked my friends to monitor me , and by the end of the evening Judy confirmed that I was drooling but dismissed the possibility of a stroke and diagnosed mas vino.

We spent the warm, sun filled evening in the square visiting over a glass of the beautiful local wine. Julio, a Spanish Peregrino, Alan, Judy, and I played a pictionary version of trying to communicate. It was so much fun and truly exemplified the spirit and great joy of the Camino for me. We talked soccer (futbol), families, books, and a variety of other subjects. It is difficult because you have to listen and watch so intently, but it is very rewarding. I am understanding more Spanish each day. Who would have ever thought that I would have the job of  interpreter? It is not that I know how to speak Spanish, but rather that I am unafraid to try. When I look foolish, people are very gracious and helpful. The words that I knew are now easy to recall, and I am learning new words each day. As the evening came to a close Julio went off to watch his futbol game and we returned to the hotel for dinner. I learned that Alan and I were on the Camino Frances 3 years ago at the same time and had met many of the same people. We met a 77-year-old German Pilgrim named Hubert. He has walked 8 Caminos and looks fantastic. He told us sadly that he can only walk as far as Salamanca this year. His wife won’t let him go for more than 3 weeks now, ” at their age.” He rings her each night at 10:00 and they plan the next day together. He laughed as he told us this sweet story of how they reassure each other so that he may continue.

What a day of contradictions: from struggling so hard physically on the trail to the wonderful emotional embrace of the other Pilgrims on this warm Spanish night.

Distance from   Zafra to Villafrance de los Barros=13  Miles / 21 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 15.8 Miles / 25.5 Kilometers

Accommodations= We discovered the pensione was closed due to a death in the family. We checked into the very luxurious Hotel Diana in the Center of town: a very nice hotel with a restaurant and bar on the lower floor. 70 Euro for a room for 3 persons, or 23 Euro each, with a luxurious ensuite bathroom. There is currently no Albergue in Villafrance de los Barros.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


Zafra

Zafra is a beautiful little town located at the base of the Sierra de Castellar mountains. It was once home to 3 very large convents built in the 16th Century. I think it would not have been a bad choice for a woman to live as a nun in former times. It was safe, serene, and relatively secure. You were spared a life of poverty and endless childbearing, with a chance to get an education above what most women could hope for. You even got the chance to live your faith by helping the community in some orders.

The Castle dominates the skyline, and beneath it spill the streets of the old town in a jumble. They are narrow and cobbled, bordered by white washed houses. Many of the iron balconies are already overflowing with flowers, some so thick that they create a screen. Palms sway above the rooftops and trees with brilliant pink blossoms are tucked into corners.  You wind down these pleasant streets and suddenly you are in the multi-arcaded Plaza Grande. In the 1400’s this was a marketplace, built to provide shade from the relentless sunshine. Zafra has been an important market town since those days because of the quality of it’s local goods and handicrafts. But tonight it was a great place to have dinner and a glass of wine, watching the crowds of people stroll, shop, laugh, eat and socialize. It was a bit like being back in Sevilla on this warm evening.

At our Albergue we Judy began talking to a man in the courtyard. She stopped and said, “Do you speak English?” He immediately replied, “And Australian too!” She asked, “Alan?”, to which he replied “Judy?” Amazingly, they had been conversing on a Camino forum  at home in Australia but had never met each other, and tonight he was our room mate.  Fancy that! It’s another Camino miracle. We so enjoyed our evening together at the Plaza Grande. He is a kind and intelligent man with mischief in his eyes and a contagious smile. He has walked many Caminos, and it seems to be his passion. It is wonderful to be around someone so filled with good cheer, the spirit of the Camino shining through.

Rest Day to explore Zafra. Distance walked 5.27 miles / 8.5 Kilometers

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


The Fortress of Zafra

The massive stone walls and turrets are golden in the evening light, silhouetted boldly against the clear blue sky. It dominates the skyline with its strength and sheer size. I think of all the history that has marched across this very spot, so many civilizations built and destroyed. Each unique and varied culture has left it’s mark on the psyche of the people now inhabiting this pretty little town. It reminds me never to take things for granted, never to say “Some day I will do this or see that.” We can never be sure what the future will bring. Life is too short for anger and conflict of our own making. We  should walk joyfully, loving our friends and family with a passion like there is no tomorrow.

“The Fortress of Zafra”, 12 X 16 oil on canvas.

Zafra is and interesting little city boasting pre-historic settlements and a large Bronze Age community. Straddling the Via Pecuria, it was an important Roman stopping point between Sevilla and Merida. It was “La Safra”, or Muslim “Cafra”, until King Ferdinand III conquered it in 1241. The city is centered on The Alcazar, or castle, built in 1437 which was formerly a Moorish fortress.  The interior was destroyed by Napoleon in 1822. It was exquisitely restored and today it serves as the Parador of Zafra, the town’s most distinguished hotel.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


Fuente de Cantos to Zafra

Last night I thought, “If I get to the first village and can not walk on because I am so ill, I will get a ride to Zafra and find a Doctor.” However, this morning I felt much better and was cheered up by Judy. She said, “We are super women! Not only that, the blokes are all staring at us because we are so good looking!” Yeah, that is the spirit! We proved it too, because we walked out of Fuente de Cantos at 8:35 and did not arrive at our Albergue in Zafra until nearly 5:00 and over 16 miles, making a very full day of walking.

It was sunny once again, although the temperatures were cooler. We walked on country lanes across vast expanses of rolling hills covered in vibrantly yellow-green wheat. Men were out hunting with their greyhounds and the wind whispered across the hills.

There were miles of silvery gray olive trees with a  riot of colorful flowers beneath their twisted trunks. Vineyards, not yet leafed out, followed the contours of the hills. They are like lines drawn across the landscape, becoming smaller and smaller until they disappear into infinity.

There was standing water everywhere from the rains yesterday. We had to ford several streams and walk around boggy spots in the trail. Small shapes of water in the fields reflected the blue sky and added a cool crispness to the land.

We are staying 2 nights in a beautifully restored Convent that is now an Albergue Turistico. We are sharing a room with Karl Martin. (I wonder what the sisters of old would have thought of that!) We had been unable to find Conchas, or the traditional scallop shells, to tie on our packs marking us as Pilgrims. Karl found a restaurant selling Conchas and bought one for me. He knew that I was disappointed not to have one for this journey, so he gave it to me with a shy, sweet smile. I was very touched by his simple gesture of kindness. It made me feel that the spirit of giving just for the pleasure of it that exists on the Camino is alive and well.

Distance from   Fuente de Cantos to Zafra=16.2  Miles / 26 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked 17.81 Miles / 28.5 Kilometers

Accommodations= Albergue Turistico in a restored convent of St. Francis. 22 places in rooms for 4 persons with private bath in each room. Beautiful, quiet, directly across and down 1 block from the castle. The Albergue Turisticos allow you to stay multiple nights (and make reservations) since they are privately owned. 10 Euro per person, 12 Euro including breakfast of coffee or tea or hot chocolate, toast, juice and fruit.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


The Way Near Monesterio

As I step softly through the tall grass dotted with salmon colored flowers, there is a hush over the land. I can hear the crunch of the yellow ocher gravel pathway under my boots and the tap, tap, tap of my walking sticks. I wind my way through soft gray stones peeking out of the grass and rising like small mountains to navigate. I think of the centuries it has taken to clear these fertile pastures  by hand of  so many stones. Patiently stacked one by one, they now form the walls enclosing each field and leading me down the quiet lanes. I savor this moment of perfection, learning not to rush onward. I am practicing finding joy and beauty that surrounds me in the present, waiting patiently for my mind to slow down.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

 


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