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Monday, 15 October 2012

Monesterio on the Via de la Plata

Real de la Jara to Monesterio 20kms Day 5

Wednesday 21st September 2012

Castillo de las Torres near Real de la Jara
After breakfasting in the only bar in Real de la Jara we could find open we walked out along Calle San Bartolomé. We had checked out our exit from the village the evening before. To our right was the Castillo de las Torres dating back to the early Middle Ages. Shayne and I would have liked to check it out more closely but ahead of us lay our last 20kms of walking.

I had arranged to phone my wife Angela later in the morning to meet us and take us back to Marbella. It would take her two and a half hours to get to Seville and Monesterio only another hour down the road by car. It was going to take us five days to get there on foot.

After five mornings we had our early morning routine worked out, water bottles easily accessible, bread rolls for our first stop at the top of our packs, the packs balanced and the map needed for the day at hand. It was our last morning's walk and we swung along at a good pace.
Bicigrinos on the Via de la Plata

Not long out of Real de la Jara we crossed the frontier of Sevilla province with Bajadoz, the first province in the Extremadura autonomous community.  We practised saying "On Day Five we walked out of Andalucia into Extremadura!" It sounded good and rolled off our tongues easily.

The enormous Vistahermosa finca took two hours to cross. Men were repairing stone walls, others checked on the pigs grazing beneath the acorn trees. Who owned this huge farm?  A sign advised us that we had come to the Ruta de las Contrabandistas, the Smugglers Route which came down out of the Sierra  de San Roque some kilometres off to our right. Ahead of us we could see blue mountains. Somewhere beyond the mountains was Monasterio, the end of our walk.

It was a warm morning and when we stopped for our midday break under a lone tree, inevitably we talked of when we might continue our pilgrimage on the Via de la Plata. Shayne's time was limited. Each time she walked in Spain she had to travel down from Germany and we still had around 800kms to go to Santiago.  Our next stint would have to wait until next year. As we sat and chatted we saw three cyclists approaching. Their saddle bags were laden and we could see they were pilgrims. Bicigrinos as a roadside sign referred to cyclists on the Camino. We exchanged the traditional pilgrims' greetings "Buen camino!

Without getting up we took a photo of them as they cycled past. Somewhere off to the north beyond them lay Santiago de Compostela. They would get there long before we would. It was then that we looked at each other. Perhaps we could continue our pilgrimage on bikes?  It would be an adventure. Something to plan in the winter months. Would rides along the Ruhr river on flat cycle paths provide enough preparation? Could I do some mountain bike training in Marbella to find out what kind of bike to buy.

Monesterio is only 10kms ahead!

Our discussion about biking parts of the long Via de la Plata route took us with renewed spirit and drive to the junction of the EX 103 and the N630 roads.  Monesterio and the end of our first adventure were only 10 kms ahead. It was hot now and a tunnel of eucalyptus trees took us out of the sun for a couple of kilometres. The climb to the port above Monesterio seemed never ending. 
A long hot climb to Monesterio

A monumental ham
Suddenly we were in Monesterio, a giant ham signalled the entrance to the town and the importance of the pig industry to the town. Just inside the town we heard a happy greeting from a passing car. It was Angela,  she had last seen us five days before departing in a taxi to the bus station in Marbella. We dropped our packs into the car and it felt good to be driven to the Hotel Moya at the entrance to Monesterio.
Pilgrims in the Hotel Moya Monesterio
The Hotel Moya offers special accommodation and meal rates for pilgrims and ater our very welcome cooling gazpacho soup and good helpings of pork chop and chips the waiter was more than pleased to stamp our pilgrim's credentials. By chance, across the car park from Hotel Moya we spotted the Ankay bike shop. I took a photograph of the shop, not guessing then what part it would play in our continuing camino.

Back: Almaden de la Plata to Real de la Jara Day 4

Saturday, 13 October 2012

VDLP Hostal in Real de la Jara

A Pilgrim's Breakfast

Andalusian countryside at its best
Almaden de la Plata to Real de la Jara 17.5 kms Day 4
Blissful pigs
Castle overlooking Real de la Jara
Well deserved monument to local economy

Tuesday 20th September 2011

Having broken down the 34km walk from Almaden de la Plata to Monasterio into two stages we had time for a short lie in and rest. The only bar open was virtually next door and we breakfasted on coffee and enormous doorsteps of toasted bread baked freshly that morning in a wood oven. Two or three old men stared incuriously at the Spanish Finance minister holding forth on the large flat TV screen above our heads.

Leaving our hostal keys in the basket on the  the deserted reception desk we closed the front door behind us. Once past the banks of solar panels and trial bike track on the outskirts of Almaden de la Plata we upped our pace to wind in and out of encina tree groves passing horses, cats and dogs.  It was a lovely rural setting, the Andalusian countryside at its best. There was water everywhere, in dams, ponds and arroyos. Money from the EU for financing rural projects had ended up financing irrigation projects, piping and water

We looked at the pigs with new understanding appreciation. They were happy and munched happily on the bellota acorns that fell from the trees. We were well rested and were seeing the normally dry landscape with optimistic eyes. Goats grazed contentedly, cows ruminated placidly and the pigs, big fat hogs and sows wallowed blissfully in rainfilled holes in the road.

Signs advertising lodgings in the next villages were wired to fences. The translations were quaint, on one, 'pilgrims' became 'pilgrins.' Little did we know that one particular sign the next day would play an important part in our continued pilgrimage
on the Via de la Plata.

Two cyclists passed us as we stopped for our first rest in the shade of the deep Arroyo de la Huerta del Corcho, The first made it across the rocky stream bed and about 10 metres futher up the far bank. The second cyclist fell off in the stream. They both pushed their bikes up the steep bank, following tracks  on the rutted road. We didn't envy them at all. Our climb continued for another two kilometres and we could see our cyclists well ahead of us as we dropped down into the private lands belonging to a family, proprietors of the Macarena Hotel in Sevilla. We had another four almost level kilometres to walk across their farm. Under the shade of an oak tree we took our last break on green grass, complete silence surrounded us and we sat happily in the idyllic setting of rural Andalusian campo. On our left their country home built on a rocky outcrop towered above the landscape. A worker we met in the village that night would tell us it had 365 windows and was only used at weekends.

As we walked past the municipal albergue at the very entrance to Real de la Jara along Calle Pablo Picasso, we glimpsed our German pilgrim friends again inside.  They were sitting at the wooden table with their boots and socks outside the door. They must have set off earlier than us. Shayne and I wondered if they had actually walked to the Real de la Jara.  Much later I would come to understand that it did not matter. Every pilgrim's experience is different, it is the journey that matters, not how one travels.

Our hostal, Hostal Rural La Encina was at the very back of the industrial estate. In front were the workshops of the Polígono, at the back, the dry grass of the lands bordering the town. Shayne and I sat in the bar for our first rehydrating beer. We explained to the girl that we had a reservation. She relayed the information to the bartender who made an immediate phone call. Elsewhere in the village Encarna the owner of our hostal closed up her photography shop and came to open up our room for us. She gave us the room key and front door to the hostel asking us to leave it on the bar counter in the morning.

Hostal Rural La Encina
She explained that paying her cash on entry would save her having to come back in the morning. We decided later that as a rule of thumb, cash works best in villages of less than 5000 inhabitants. I have grown used to the two way trust that goes with staying in small villages in Andalucia and would not have it another way.

After a shower and a rest we explored the medieval castle which dominates Real de la Jara on the far side of the village. A beneficiary of EU grants it has been carefully restored. An information panel explained that it was one of a belt of castles across Andalucia which served to confine the Moors to the southern territories of Spain.

Surprisingly our seemingly isolated bar restaurant on the outskirts of the polígono came alive in the evening. Workers called in for a beer and tapas on their way home. A family from the village arrived for an evening meal. We ate well on secretos de cerdo - pork secrets with potato chips, more beer and a glass of pilgrim's pacharán.  A skinny mother fox slunk in from the darkness for a plate of chicken scraps put out by the cook. He explained that the mother had just given birth, as yet he hadn't seen the cubs. The mother fox bolted the scraps down then disappeared silently back into the night through the grass below our bedroom window.

We paid our bar bill, said goodnight to our fellow diners and went upstairs for another excellent night's sleep, the only sound we could hear was the wind in the low bushes outside our room. Could I hear a mother calling her cubs? Perhaps I dreamt it. Contented that our last day's walk awaited us, we slept soundly.

Back: Castilblanco to Almaden de la Plata Day 3
Real de la Jara to Monesterio Day 5

Here is the address for our hostal:

Hostal Rural La Encina
Polígono de la Encina 7
41250 El Real de la Jara

Tel: 00 34 652 876 827