On our way to El Real de la Jara

Upon cracking an eye open this morning Robin quickly checked the weather. As luck would have it the forecast pushed the start of rain back til noon. That was all the encouragement we needed to get our act together and get out the door. Our host Jose was a no show for breakfast so we left our key and boogied out the door. We hoofed our way out of Almadén de la Plata with no food, and, most importantly, no coffee. There was a cost to this recklessness to be paid later on.

For now we accelerated under cloudy but dry conditions enjoying every kilometer sans umbrellas. We continued on through the beautiful Parque Natural Sierra Norte with its well prepared walking paths. We enjoyed our first of many of today’s encounters with grazing “black pigs.” The grazing areas are almost park like. They look almost landscaped. All you see are oak trees (the pigs eat the acorns) and grass in between the widely spaced trees. There is no scrub brush growth at all. Just acres of stand alone trees with pigs grazing underneath. Very bucolic. Our walk today was only 9 miles. This is very short by most camino standards. We thought this would be just another “walk in the park.” Well let’s see.

Onward we went enjoying the scenery and our new curious animal friends. We had up close encounters with sheep, goats (he wanted to eat my glove), and pigs (including a youthful wild boar) throughout most of the day. The attached photos will fill in the blanks. It was great fun. Towards the end of this stage there is one final hill to top. It was steep but reasonably short. Cresting this hill we faced a downslope path to a flat road that would carry us the last 4.6 kms into El Real. Upon reaching this road it became apparent our gas tanks were just about empty. Now we came to realize that starting out without breakfast was not a good strategy. We were definitely slowing down and craving food. It had been a vigorous walk with enough ups and downs to keep things interesting.

Oh, BTW we did experience a first on this stage. We had to cross a small creek that offered no easy way across. I opted for a rock hopping path that only allowed the water to reach my ankles. Robin opted for the barefoot approach and safe to say all ended well. Neither of us had ever before peeled off our boots to cross a stream. A new Camino first. We arrived in El Real and made a beeline to a restaurant we had enjoyed before. After a satisfying meal we hopped a taxi to our hotel, 8 kms before Monesterio. We now have redecorated our room with a web of clotheslines so that our in room laundry service can dry. Today was a great but tiring day for a couple of aging pilgrims. Let’s see what we can get up to tomorrow. All is well.

Leaving town

Early on leaving Almadén

Some of the neighbors dropped by

First piggies

He was ready for his close up

Notice my poise with a reluctant subject

This mini boar seemed to be adopted

The sun blinked and then it was gone

Almost home for the day

First view El Real de la Jara

A walk in the park

Today we arranged to be dropped off at the entrance to the Parque Natural. This cut today’s walk in half, and considering the weather (very wet) it was a good call. So at around 10:30 we waved goodbye to our host and headed into the park following the well marked Camino trail. At this point we were maneuvering under continuous light to moderate rain. The path was a typical senda, compacted sand and gravel, that was well drained. Nonetheless there were still low points where the path was flooded that luckily had stones or other ways of avoiding the flooding. So onward we went each tucked into the quiet security of our umbrellas. The park was quite beautiful and a world apart from the highway shoulder walking (17kms worth from Castilblanco) that leads pilgrims to the park entrance. We saw two pilgrims on the way to the park. One was the Spaniard we met last night and the other was a Scottish fellow who had fancied a warm weather holiday (good luck with that). The entire day, to Almadén, was virtually spent in the park. It was quite pleasant despite the rain. Only at the very end when we climbed the last quite steep, but short hill did my cranky knee object. A couple of Advil and I was able to hobble to the summit. Going down was also a wincing experience, but it was full speed ahead on the flats. We rolled into Almadén around 2:00 pm and managed to get through the gate of our hotel before the sky truly opened up. While we were checking in with our host, Jose, I could hear a tremendous racket above us. It was the rain pelting down on our roof. We just got in ahead of the deluge. Thank God. Oh, BTW, for future pilgrims, just before the town of Almadén you will find yourself approaching a descending rocky watercourse. It seems as though this is meant to be the Camino path, but take heart there is a nicely paved (tiled) path just to the left that will take you safely down to the village. Please take it. Alas we, and the Scot come to find out, didn’t. We picked our way safely down but it was not fun in the pouring rain. Avoid it even if it is dry. At check in Jose told us his restaurant and bar would not open until 7pm. We noticed some activity at a bar across the street, the Casa Concha, and decided to head that way after dropping off our backpacks. We were not disappointed. The food was particularly well prepared and seasoned. Robin and I each had a bowl of seafood noodle soup, Robin had a pan prepared bacalao, and I had the lamb chops. It was all first class. We also shared a plate of local embutidos and cheese to start. A great meal. Heading back across the street to our hotel we just dodged another downpour but are now snug in our room with the heater blasting and our stomachs full. All is well. Alas, the wet weather will continue tomorrow.

The park entrance

Starting out in the park

This is not the Camino path, thank God

However, this is the Camino path, we hopped the rocks at the side

Almadén appears in the mist

A Wet Day to Castilblanco

We set off from Sevilla by taxi to Guillena where we started our Camino. Skipping the first stage of out of Sevilla for us makes perfect sense. The area you transit through is mostly urban sprawl with a few shakey neighborhoods to boot. Nothing to miss unless you wanted to divert to the Roman ruins in Italica. Anyhow, we we arrived in Guillena around 8:45 and were soon underway for Castilblanco. The weather forecast proved accurate with a continuous light rain falling throughout the day. Yes, it was muddy and slippery but all went well as we gently climbed through olive and tangerine orchards towards our destination. We saw no people all day but we did have a staring contest with a few cows. We blinked first. Upon arriving in Castilblanco and checking into the Hotel Castillo Blanco we did see a young Spanish pilg checking in. He was our only pilgrim sighting for the day. Our plan tomorrow is to get a lift to the entrance of the Parque Natural (about 17 kms from our hotel) and walk from there to Almendén where we will spend the night. This move keeps us off a very narrow shouldered road and will give my aching knee a chance to get with the program. Currently sitting in a rural Spanish bar filled with kids and folks all getting on with their lives as we are getting on with ours. All is well, thank God.

Setting out
Life is good on the Camino

The trail ahead
Follow the yellow arrow

Sevilla

Our two days in Sevilla have come to an end. We have had a nice visit but have found ourselves ready to slip into the peregrino mode and hit the bricks. We stayed at the same hotel we did when here in 2015, the Vincci Rabida. It is quiet, clean, and quite close to the Cathedral. No complaints. A special bonus this trip was to rendezvous with two friends from home, Dianne and Bruce, who have been expatting in Spain for the past year. They are members of our Portlandia Pilgrim group and have recently walked the Camino Frances for a second time. It was a fun afternoon over a couple of copas and beers catching up with their many first hand experiences of living abroad. Great folks and intrepid travelers. We wish them all the best.

Waving goodbye to our friends we set off to see if we could get our credentials stamped at the Cathedral. Come back in the morning was the message we received. We had turned up close to 4pm and that wasn’t working. We were told that the doors open for visits to the Cathedral at 11:00, but if you just needed a stamp on your credential we were led to believe you could come earlier like around 9:00, and someone would assist you. The following morning we went to the post office and sent our small suitcase (street clothes) to Santiago. We purchased a box (Cajal verde) and the suitcase slipped in perfectly. All that and a three day delivery cost just 28 euros. The box and our suitcase will be (fingers crossed) conveniently waiting for us at our hotel in Santiago. We are now officially pared down to only Camino essentials. Truthfully, that feels just fine.

Leaving the Post Office we crossed the street and turned up at the Cathedral entrance queue just after 11:00 and went, as directed, to the head of the entrance ticket line and got our sellos. The counter lady was kind enough to also allow us to purchase entrance tickets without having to go back to the end of the line. BTW, even for January the line was quite long. Lot’s of Koreans. Robin explained that Korea has an extended winter school break and many people use that time to escape Korea’s bitter winter cold and travel. As luck would have it we located a nice Korean restaurant not far from the Plaza de España and slipped in for a little “Seoul” food. It was quite good. We finished our afternoon with a stroll through the Plaza de España and a walk along the river back up to our hotel. Now we are doing the final washing and repacking getting ready for an early departure in the morning. Our plan is to taxi to Guillena and then walk to Castilblanco de los Arroyos for our first stage. We have enjoyed beautiful weather since we landed in Spain , but that will change tomorrow. A harsh winter storm is now lashing parts of Spain. However, I think we will escape the worst of it with just a bit of rain, but more on that tomorrow.

So that catches us up for now. I am actually looking forward to posting from Spain as a peregrino instead of a tourist. Time to shift gears. Hasta luego.

Arriving Sevilla
Cathedral from our hotel

Friends from home, Dianne and Bruce
Street scenes

View from our patio
Inside the Cathedral
High alter, Cathedral
Choir
My tour guide

Tomb of Christopher Columbus

Cathedral courtyard

In the Juderia
Plaza de España with fleet in dry dock

Along the river

Cádiz

We arrived here yesterday in the early afternoon. We taxied from the train station to our hotel, got checked in and then headed out for a bit of a walk around and some lunch. Robin had discovered an Indian restaurant, Bollywood, close to the port, so off we went. The old town of Cádiz is quite small and can be circumnavigated afoot in a couple of hours. Yesterday’s goal was lunch followed by some bario exploring on our way back to the hotel. Our Indian restaurant was just what we needed and probably a bit more if you count the number of dishes but what can I say. When in Cádiz…. Once we waddled out of Bollywood we made it a point to try to log some extra blocks on our way home. It was fun and the weather was cooperating so our extended bario stroll was a great success. After a good night’s sleep and a late and leisurely hotel breakfast we set out for our circumnavigation of Cádiz. We left the Parador and made a right turn (easter’ly) and set off along the seafront for the Plaza de España and then from there continuing clockwise to points yet unknown. There was a strong wind blowing today from the NW and even with a forecasted high of 62 F a light down jacket felt just right. We ambled along snapping photos and just enjoying a lazy day under sunny skies in a new and fascinating city. We eventually made our way to the Cathedral that while immense and beckoning offered no way inside. All was buttoned up sadly and tightly. We did take a look at the excavation of a Roman theater next door to the Cathedral. An interesting visit and another reminder of the extensive Roman presence on the Iberian peninsula. Now that the cultural part of the day was satisfied we continued along the beach until we were quite close to our hotel. Off to our right we spotted a street that looked filled with Sunday revellers. We peeled off from the sea front and investigated. Clearly this was a local neighborhood weekend outing. The bars were brimming over with patrons in search of food and drink. It was festive, convivial and fun. We made a lap around the block and stepped into the organized madness of the Taberna Casa Manteca. I have included a short video to help you get a feel for a Sunday afternoon in Cádiz In short, it was great. We shared good food and drinks with strangers (now new friends) and made a mental note to cancel any thoughts of dinner tonight. We did eventually head for home, but the joy of our raucous lunch walked with us. What fun. We are now back at the hotel snapping sunset photos and reviewing our day. We are off to Seville tomorrow midday and two days later we shall emerge, once again, as pilgrims on the road to Santiago. More later from Seville. Buenas noches.

Day begins
Seafront

A seriously large and ancient magnolia tree
Sea spray on the seafront
Plaza de España just to the left

Spanish constitution was signed in Càdiz in 1812

When you see one of these head to an exit
Where galleon gold came to rest
Càdiz Cathedral
Ambling along
Roman theater, cheap seats

Cathedral from the seafront

A passing courtyard

Narrow old town streets

Lunch is getting closer

Taberna Casa Manteca, our lunch stop

And so it went on a Sunday afternoon

Leaving town
View from our room

Pampaneira and Córdoba

Waving goodbye to Almería Robin and I boarded an ALSA bus to the seaside town of Motril where our expat friends from Oregon, Sam and Laura, would pick us up. Our plan was to spend three days at their home high in the Sierra Nevada mountains near the village of Pampaneira. Hint the highest mountain in Spain, el Mulhacén (about 11,000 feet) is in the neighborhood. They were at the bus station as promised and off we went. The drive to their home was an eye opener or closer depending on the drop off at the time. They are very much off the grid with only a few neighbors. They have a beautifully renovated stone cortijo (farmhouse). Power is solar with a generator backup, hot water is solar, central heat and hot water backup is a wood pellet furnace. Fresh water is collected from ancient water channels that flow down from high mountain snow fields and then is stored separately for irrigation and domestic use. Quite a nice utility set up that works nicely as advertised.

Sam and Laura are avid hikers and their locale offers innumerable nearby opportunities for them to stretch their legs. They knew we also were up for a hike so a good portion of our time together was spent up in the mountains. Laura and Sam spoiled us with their genuine hospitality. Great hikes in spectacular settings, fantastic meals and a few bottles of vino made for a visit we shall hold dear for years to come. When it was finally, and sadly, time for us to go Laura and Sam kindly offered to drive us to the train station in Granada where we would catch the high speed AVE train to Córdoba. We arrived a bit early and had time to offer our heartfelt thanks for such a memorable visit. Apparently we didn’t break any house rules as they left us with a standing invitation to return. We will definitely be doing that.

We had purchased our tickets on the RENFE (Spanish Rail) app and once through the baggage screening we boarded. It was to be only an hour and twenty minute trip but lunch (airline style) was served. Surprisingly it wasn’t bad. We sat across from two Aussie ladies from the Central Coast area (a bit north of Sydney). They were fun companions for the short trip. So just as the lunch service was finishing we glided into Córdoba Station. A taxi was at the curb and 8 minutes later we were being checked into a very nice hotel, the Hospes Palacio del Bailio, our home for the next three nights.

Day 2. Today was mostly spent getting to know the city. We strolled about checking out various interesting barios, but the gem was a visit to Córdoba’s Cathedral, the Mezquita, a former mosque. It is an enormous structure that seems even larger once you are inside. Basically, it is a cathedral inside a former mosque. This region of Spain has a rich Roman history, a rich Islamic history, a rich Christian history and a rich Jewish history. Over the centuries various city structures were repurposed depending upon who was in control at that moment. The Mezquita is a perfect case in point. Google for the whole story. But some of my pictures will help you get the gist of it.

It is now day 3 and our time in Córdoba is almost at its end. We are off tomorrow to Cádiz for two nights, and then finally to Seville where our Camino walk will begin. Today was another day of sightseeing that found us taking the hop on hop off bus for a spin around town and then wandering around the old Jewish quarter and the royal fortress, the Alcázar. As the afternoon wore on we found ourselves in front of the Mercado Victoria, a food stall installation that had a bit of everything. We definitely over sampled but we keep telling ourselves the Camino will burn it off. We shall see. More from Cádiz later. All is well.

Sam and Laura

Our first sunset
Robin in front of Sam and Laura’s farmhouse

The dark line mid photo is Morocco

Robin and I around the 6200 foot mark

Sam, Laura and Robin on our morning walk

Sam and Laura’s drinking water comes from a similar source

Some horses horsing around

Whitewashed village in the nearby hills

Sam, Robin and me in the middle

Granada train station

Entering our hotel

Córdoba is famous for its patio gardens

Typical colorful dual arch supports you see throughout

Cathedral high alter

The choir

St. James

Mezquita courtyard

Roman bridge
St. Rafael, the patron saint of Córdoba
Alcázar, Royal fortress
Royal stables
Alcázar gardens

Local pub

Tea shop

Lunch at last. Mercado Victoria

Back at our hotel

A day in Almería

Robin and I opted to rent a car yesterday and drive to Almería. It was a good decision. We spent 4.5 hours on the autovia in perfect weather and arrived at the Hertz drop off at the Almería airport around 2:30 pm. A short cab ride brought us to the Hotel Catedral right next to the Almería Cathedral. Perfecto.

It is now Saturday (the following day). We cobbled together some things to do over breakfast, and by 10:00 am we were on our way to the Central Market. These markets are always interesting. Everything is out in open display. Packaged items are few indeed. The freshness of everything would elicit a cry of joy from any foodie. Robin’s eyes were scanning ingredients as menu options flashed through her mind.

From the market we went on a tour of the tunnels that were constructed as bomb shelters under the city center in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. This 4.5 kilometer network of tunnels sheltered many of Almería’s citizens when the city was being bombed. It did not require much imagination to conjure up what life must have been like for the families crowded into these rudimentary shelters. One interesting thing the guide did was to turn off the lights and play a recording of the bombings. The volume was set so what you heard replicated what the people down there heard during the actual bombings. Pretty horrifying. Glad to get out.

The next stop was the Islamic fortress, the Alcazaba. This complex was a work in progress for several generations beginning in 955 when the first fortress walls were built. It was only second to the Alhambra, in Granada, as far as final size went. This is a wonderful site to visit and surprisingly it’s free.

Continuing on we dropped down to waterfront and strolled along a tree filled boulevard searching for a drink and a nibble. We were not disappointed as soon enough we called into a tapas bar called the Ant. Curious name, but no bugs were spotted. Now I have tip my hat to the Spanish cultural imperative of offering free food with the purchase of a drink. Now admittedly in some cheapo places all you get are potato chips, but more often than not it is something of substance. Almería, being a seaport, offers an abundance of fresh seafood daily to its restaurants and bars. So this afternoon along with our draft beers (small ones) came perfectly prepared fried bacalao, and some small whole fish that Robin convinced me to eat without disassembling it. They were, fresh, moist and delicious.

Suitably restored we set off for our final stop of the day, a visit to the Cathedral. This was all according to plan as our hotel was right next door. This church is unique in that it is only one of two in the world (I believe that is what I heard) that served simultaneously as a place of worship and as defensive structure. Almería was a vital port even in its early days and therefore was always a tempting target for marauders. So when the Cathedral was built (1524-1562) all the gothic design elements were reinforced against bombardment and kept out of sight below a flat roof and raised exterior walls. This made it difficult to recognize the church for what it was from a distance while also allowing for flat areas where cannon and soldiers could be placed. Clever guys.

Leaving the Cathedral we rounded the corner and entered the Cathedral plaza where a cluster of tables ranged under a stand of stately palms beckoned us. We felt a siesta coming on but not before we enjoyed a nice glass of chilled white wine and yes another beautifully prepared fried fish tapas (this one was flat and required some disassembling). A beautiful day in another very relaxed city.

The Hotel Catedral

Central Market

Into the tunnels

Infirmary and operating room

Almost out

The Alcazaba

Strolling along the sea front
At the Ant unaware

The Cathedral cloister

Cloister

Organ