Tag Archives: women walking the world

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 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.”


Monesterio to Fuente de Cantos

This morning we walked down lanes bordered by stone walls on both sides, clear brooks, and prosperous looking little homes. The gray rock fences snake across the rise and fall of the land very poetically. As the morning progressed, we walked into more open landscape, with wide sweeping vistas of the farmland.  The oak trees have given way to vineyards, olive groves scattered with wild flowers, fields of wheat, and newly turned earth. They form a patchwork of undulating green and reddish brown. Deep violet lavender, yellow broom, bright pink lily like flowers and blue lupins painted the landscape under soft gray skies.

We came to a point where we lost the yellow Camino arrows and were following the stone markers for the Via Pecuria that is heavily promoted in this area. We decided to turn back, as the pathway felt like it was going in the wrong direction. Eventually we found the yellow arrows and got back on the right track. It became obvious just how far the pathways had diverged. Karl Martin, our German friend, continued on the via Pecuria. When we met him later he verified how many extra kilometers out-of-the-way he walked, although thankfully the 2 trails did come together near town.

The  day turned gray and violently stormy. We felt very exposed in the open landscape with lightning striking the ground and the wind driving the rain into us. Just as we were nearly to town, drenched to the bone, along came Antonio offering us a ride into the nearest town. He took us to an apartment that he owns, and for only 15 Euro each we had private bedrooms, a full kitchen, a living and dining room. He said they had a washing machine and drying. He did not say they worked. I put all of my clothes in the washer. It washed and washed and washed. Then finally gave up in a puddle of muddy water. I had to rinse and wring by hand. And since it was pouring rain, and “the dryer” turned out to be a clothes-line, I thought I might have to run the Camino naked the next day. Un daunted, Antonio brought us a clothes rack and turned the heat up in the dining room to about 90 degrees. We sat in our home-made sauna, drank hot water, and I honestly think this cured my cold! I feel much better and my clothes actually did get dry. Itś another Camino miracle!

Distance from  Monesterio to Fuente de Cantos=13.2  Miles / 21 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked 13.34 Miles / 21+Kilometers

Accommodations= We stayed in a private home, Antonio’s next to the travel agency, for 15 Euro per person. It is a beautiful apartment with several bedrooms sleeping 2 people, a full kitchen, dining room, living room, and a beautiful large bathroom.

There is an lovely Albergue Turistico in town for 10 Euro, 12 Euro with breakfast.

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.”

Sun Dappled Meadows

The colors of the night are still an inky black, indigo blue scattered with stars. The sky gradually lightens into deep violet, then periwinkle as my boots continue along the pathway. As dawn breaks the colors of the heavens are illuminated, glowing golden, pink, and apricot through the oak groves. The treetops are kissed by the sun and the meadows alight with color at the start of a new day.

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.”

Into Extremadura

We have now walked into the region of Extremadura that is more sparsely populated. We will be following not only the Roman Road, the Via Pecuria, but also the Canada Real. This was a broad road used in Medieval times to herd thousands of sheep, goats and cattle from northern Spain to graze on the rich winter pastures of southern Spain. Yesterday we say a silver fox hiding by a stream and have heard the call of the coo-coo bird echoing through the hills. Graceful white storks circle above us and roost in nests perched on church towers.

The open feeling of this land left it as a buffer zone between the Islamic south and the Christian north during the years of the Reconquista in the middle ages. As a result of the armies surging across this land from both directions, the towns were heavily fortified with walls and castles. Huge land grants were handed out by the King after the war was won to the conquering knights. Unfortunately, this left the local peasants without a way to make a living, and many of them followed the conquistadors to the Americas. Cortes and Pizarro came from this region to conquer Mexico and Peru respectively. As I look at this open land I think that the people from here who emigrated would have felt very at home in Mexico and the southwestern United States.

We decided to have a “Lay day”, as Judy would say, “after being completely buggered yesterday!” Judy is cheerful all the time and seems to always see the positive side of things. What a wonderful quality to have, and so easy to be around.

We visited the tiny town of Calera de Leon and delighted in the distinctive black and white patterned streets that grace the entire town. We came to men in the plaza laying the stones by hand in a checkerboard motif. Every street is a different pattern in black and white, charming in it’s unique way.

At the very top of the mountain we visited the Monasterio de Tentudia. During Islamic times a mosque stood here. When the critical battle was raging and the Christians were ahead, the leaders asked for more daylight. The virgin held off sunset until the battle was won, and the Christians triumphed. This is how daylight savings time originated! Seriously, it was declared a miracle and a monestary was built on top of this beautiful mountain. The courtyard of the mosque remains as part of the monastery. The arched brick surrounding the garden is a study in red and white pattern. Soft music played in the white washed chapel and a stunning ironwork gate led to the altar. Beautiful tiles enliven areas of the chapel. It is a restful place to spend an afternoon.

  Distance Walked:3.38 Miles around Monestario, Calera de Leon, and the Monastery of Tentudia

Accommodations: Hostal Bar Extremadura, Monestario

12 Euro per person, double room with private bathroom

If you would like to see my art or purchase “The Artist’s Journey” please visit my website at http://www.theartistsjourney.com

Dancing Oaks

As I walk along the quiet lanes bordered by stone walls I hear the gentle sounds of morning. Cow bells chime lightly, birds stir in the trees, and small streams find their way along the contours of the earth under my boots. The air is crisp and cool on my skin, and my breath forms small clouds. I walk contentedly through the dawn with my recent cafe con leche still warming me, its scent mingling with the dew filled grass in the meadows. I think that the world can not get any more beautiful. A moment later the sun peeks over the horizon, filling the sky with warm pink, apricot and golden colors. The oak trees appear to dance with joy at the dawning of another serene Spanish day along the Camino.

If you would like to see more of my art work or purchase my book, “The Artist’s Journey”, please visit my website at http://www.theartistsjourney.com

El Real de la Jara to Monesterio

The albergue in Monestario is closed, so we left a note in hideous Spanglish for the Senora asking to reserve a room for us at the Bar/Hostal Extremadura. There are many pilgrims competing for a few rooms, so off we went with a hope and a prayer under the pre-dawn violet skies. A crescent moon hung over the Castle as the quiet, stone lined lanes meandered across the hills. The hills were again filled with sheep tended by fierce dogs. We have left the province of Andalucia and entered Badjoz. The landscape is again changing to a more open and bare environment. The mountains are to the west now, and there is little shade.

Just as my feet were beginning to really hurt, a man roared up in a car motioning to us  and began speaking excitedly in German / Spanish. The senora did, indeed, make our reservations and we were meeting the owner of the hostel, Eduardo. He offered to take our mochillas, or backpacks, ahead for us. I was out of my pack before you could say, “It’s another Camino Miracle!” Ask and the Camino provides. The temperature was in the upper 90*’s F, so it was a relief to feel the breeze on our backs without the extra weight of our packs. I felt as light as the lambs cavorting in the nearby pastures.

It was a day of contrasts in walking. We had to navigate some ugly areas and busy freeway interchanges. Walking along the side some busy secondary roads and next to freeways was hair raising. The pavement is hard on the feet as well as intensifying the heat. It is not all pretty on the Camino, but such is life. In general, the friends of the Camino have done a fantastic job keeping us in the countryside and along quiet lanes.

At Monestario we took a rest day, or “Lay day”, as Judy would say. This is definitely the center of pig  country. The main industry  is raising pigs and turning them into the famous Iberian Hams, or Jamon Iberico. One of the merchants had a good sense of humor, combining the name of the town (Monesterio) with  ham (Jamon) on the front doors of his export business.

Judy is such a kick and I am so glad we have teamed up. We were sitting outside of the hostel, having just discovered that the bar and restaurant by the same name were all seperate, yet shave a building and a sign. Judy looked up with a puzzled look on her face and said, “Ayah, how’re ya supposed ta know? That sign up there has a different name yet. It says C L I M A T I C A CI O N ….” I said, “Um, that means air conditioned, or climate controlled.” We all laughed until our sides ached. I had to admit that the only reason I know the word Climatication is because when my son, Justin, and I were here when it was 120 degrees. W e would look for those signs and not stay anyplace with out it. The irony is that the air conditioners are fiendishly effiecient. It is so arctic inside that you have to sleep with all the blankets, towels, your coat, and anything else you can find in order to not freeze to death!

Distance from El Real De la Jara to Monesterio = 12.6 Miles

Actual Distance Walked=16.22 Miles

Accommodations= Bar / Hostel Extremadura, 12 Euro per person, double room over the bar with a private bathroom, and clotheslines on the roof.

There is a small Albergue in town, but it was closed in April 2011.


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