Thursday 31 March 2016

Yes We Camino

"Well this is it; tomorrow Anthony Tang and I set out on our overly ambitious plan to walk 159kms through the Sierra Nevada mountains from Granada to Córdoba. We are equal parts excited for, and confused by, this expedition as we're still not sure why we are doing this to ourselves. We have no plan for accommodation, less than zero training or exercise and no food or even set destinations for our 8 day hike. It's likely to rain, our shoes cost 11€ from Primark and we don't even know if there is a path to be found. What I'm saying is, we're not "super" prepared but you know what we do have? An adventurous, pioneering spirit, outweighing sensible objections to an objectively terrible plan. You know who else had that? Christopher Columbus and he 'discovered' America. That's pretty great, huh? I guess what I'm saying is, as long as we end up on the rite continent without infecting millions of people with smallpox, it's a win in my books. #justlittlethings #blessed".


I wrote that on Facebook at 2am Tuesday morning, hours before we were supposed to be heading out for what would be one of the hardest experiences of my life. Also, we had drunk a lot of beers that night which is probably not the best preparation for an 8 day hike through the second most mountainous country in Europe (after Switzerland). I'm pleased to report that, by the conditions I outlined above, our trip was a rousing success as we a) remained firmly in Europe the entire time and b) the only ones who got sick was us.


Before we go any further, I just realised I referred to Chuck as Chuck throughout this whole post so for those who don't know, Anthony = Chuck. I don't know why, I've just always called him that.


To clarify what exactly we were doing, here's a bit of background information on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Like a million years ago, St James (one of Jesus's apostles) was on a mission from God and went for a bit of a stroll and ended up in the far remote northwest corner of Spain where he died and was buried. Ever since then, pilgrims and people who just like walking have honored this by walking to the town of Santiago de Compostela where St James was buried.



There are half a dozen famous routes through Spain and Portugal that end up in SdC (as the cool kids probably don't call it) but you don't have to stick to a path. The point is you start anywhere and start walking. There are huge networks and associations set up to help pilgrims and all across Spain, being a very catholic country, people are often willing to offer up food, water and accommodation for free or very cheap to pilgrims. Not being particularly religious, Anthony and I were just doing it because it seemed like a nice way to see parts of Spain that you wouldn't normally see on the typical tourist trail.


The trail we decided to follow was called the 'Camino de Mozarabe', or the Mozarabe Way, which winds its way from Almeria on the southwest Mediterranean coast up through Granada, into Jaén province, through Córdoba and joins another path up to SdC at Mérida. We only had a week and a half off uni for the Easter break so we decided we would 'just' do the Granada-Córdoba section. Fortunately I kept a running commentary on Facebook throughout the trip so I'll intersperse those through here as well.


I arrived from Murcia on Monday afternoon. As I got off the bus in Granada, I saw it was a short walk to the hostel and I was unhappy about this and contemplated catching a bus. In retrospect, that was a bad omen for things to come. As I will have hopefully previously mentioned in the article about Granada which I haven't actually written yet, Granada is a beautiful city. Definitely one of my favorites in Spain and I was happy to be back, if only for a night. After a late lunch in Albacín, I met Chuck at the hostel. He'd just bought brand new, unworn shoes for the hike tomorrow. This was also probably not a good sign. The third bad sign was, instead of buying dinner, we went out for tapas which requires buying numerous beers.


Chuck was up early the next morning to go see the Alhambra because you really can't come to Granada and not. By the time he was back, we showered, packed and were on the road, it was almost midday.



Then this happened



Then this


While Chuck and I are wandering hopelessly through some sketchy, industrial Granada suburbs and along busy highways, I'll mention a few more things. The paths are "always" marked by yellow arrows and/or the sign of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I say "always" in inverted commas because that's just not true. Sometimes the path is very well marked and sometimes you can go a very long time without seeing and markings. Those are the times you need google maps. We also had a guide to the Camino de Mozarabe saved as a PDF on my phone but it was often more misleading than anything. As you can see, quality of signposting varies wildly.

This one was especially confusing


Eventually this happened

And we were back in business. That night we stayed in a small town called Pinos Puente in an albergue, which is basically when someone gives up a part of their home for pilgrims passing through. Lolo, our host, had an enormous home at the far end of town overlooking the river. He let us stay in his shed which had been specially converted to host pilgrims (or 'peregrinos' in Spanish).


The next day was a huge improvement over the day before in many ways; firstly, we were on the road by about 11. Secondly, we were on mainly dirt tracks through olive farms and fields. It was a bright, beautiful sunny day and the terrain was fairly flat and soft (walking on highways and footpaths really hurts your feet).

On the downside, it was incredibly hot and this was the first day of intense burning. This happened too;



Also, we had to climb a goddamn mountain right at the end of the day, before we reached that night's stop. This wasn't a hill or a gentle slope. This was 600m up over a short space.


The town we stayed in that night was called Moclín. A lady let us stay in her spare apartment that night, complete with a kitchenette so I cooked dinner for Chuck and myself. The only reasonably cheap and available source of protein we've been able to find in the small town stores we've passed through is tuna. Tuna is our lunch, tuna bologna se was our dinner and it's only a matter of time until tuna is breakfast as well.


Moclín is a small town, high up in the Sierra Nevadas. The entire municipality only has ~4000 people but the town would have only had a few hundred (if that). It does, however, have a 14th century Moorish fort that we jumped a fence and looked about the next morning before heading out.


Can never see too many Spanish forts. They're very moorish


Straight out the gate after Moclín, we found ourselves doing two things; going back down the mountain for steeply and getting lost. We were totally lost amongst a never ending sea of olive trees within about 10 minutes of leaving Moclín and eventually just resorted to picking the direction we wanted to go and walking that way through the olive groves. This strategy paid off when we found the path again and kept on walking. The rest of the day was spent on walking, walking and more walking. We climbed a hill through a disheveled olive grove (we consider ourselves olive grove connoisseurs by now), passed through a town called Emrita Neueva (which Chuck calls 'the dirty town with all the dogs' and had a surprisingly lovely stroll through grassy, green fields at sunset as we came into our stop for the night, Alcala la Real.


With a population of 22,000 in the town alone, Alcala la Real was the biggest town we'd pass though. Unfortunately this wouldn't matter because by the time we arrived Thursday night, all the stores were closed and would stay closed for Good Friday the following day.


(Shithouse Friday pic)


By the time we got to Alcala la Real, we were both sunburnt to a crisp although I was definitely feeling it more so, due to my pasty white skin. Speaking of white skin, here's a reminder about how they celebrate Easter in Spain.


The next morning, Chuck was feeling a little unwell. We managed to make it out on the road and it was an incredibly beautiful day, the path was lovely and not too difficult but the Camino was starting to take its toll on us. Chuck was sick, I had blisters, we were both sore, tired and sunburnt. I managed to fashion a solution to my sunburn problem;

I'm the Mozarabe guy around



Even still, we were struggling something fierce. That day was a day of just pure walking. We only stopped a few times (although one was for a nap) and by the time we got to Alcuadete, our overnight stop, we realised we hadn't even eaten lunch that day and we were both totally buggered. That night was a quiet affair, even by our standards. Within 20 seconds of arriving in our pensión (cheap hotelish accommodation), Chuck was facedown asleep on the bed.



That brings us to this morning. This morning we both agreed that another day of walking was simply not on the cards. Chuck is unwell, I'm blister ridden and neither of us has the energy or the muscles to walk another 25kms today. Today we're just going to hang around Alcuadete, read a book, have a nap, do some blogging and just generally enjoy not walking. The thing is, we were already on a tight schedule. We both had to be in Córdoba on Monday night and yet it's Saturday and were in Alcuadete with 3-4 days walk ahead of us. Most likely tomorrow we will just try and hitchhike into Córdoba but we'll see.




So as I write this, I'm sitting in Córdoba bus station, waiting for my trip back to Madrid. It's Monday and, despite everything, we made it to e end of our journey. We didn't walk the whole way, we hitchhiked and caught a bus part of the way but we made it. From Alcaudete, we hiked half a day to the main highway between Granada and Córdoba. We stuck out our thumbs and waited for three hours by the side of the road but nobody stopped. Eventually, Chuck had the brilliant idea of offering an incentive to people to give us a lift. A beer-y incentive. We walked back to a service station, bought a 5€ 6pack of beer and fashioned this sign. We got a ride within 10 minutes.

Well, technically we made two signs...

Our driver was a handsome bombero (fireman) who's hobbies include sailing across the Atlantic to fight fires in the Caribbean in his spare time. He left quite the impression on Chuck. Ol' mate bombero (we never caught his name) dropped us in the town of Castro del Rio, considerably out of his way. Castro del Rio was supposed to be the final stop on the Camino between Granada and Córdoba but after we discovered it was a 40km walk with nowhere to overnight along the way, we decided to catch a bus the next day.


That night we stayed in an albergue operated by the local council, an empty house solely used to house Camino pilgrims. Although Moclín was an quaint mountain town and Alcala la Real was the biggest, Castro del Rio I think was my favourite. The next morning we explored the town briefly before catching a bus into Córdoba. I've somehow lost a lot of the Castro del Rio photos off my phone (devastating) but it was very beautiful. Also, every home had suspiciously nice doors.

This lady insisted I take a photo of her door


On arriving in Córdoba, Chuck and I split up briefly. He went to find his friends from Salamanca that he was meeting, I ran into Sam and Michala from Madrid, soaking up some of the local sangria.

After that, we headed to the half mosque/half cathedral Mezquita. It was a beautiful building, decorated both in stark, Islamic simplicity and tacky, garish Catholic styles. The Mezquita is famous in Spain for its distinctive red and wet striped arches. Córdoba seemed to be a pretty town but I didn't get to see too much of it.


So does that make this trip a failure? I don't think so. The aim was never to make it to Córdoba for the sake of making it to Córdoba. Without meaning to sound too cliche, this was always about the journey not the destination. The whole Camino, whether you're doing it out of religious respect or simply to see some of the beautiful Spanish countryside, is about the journey. When we started this trip, we were tired, hungover, unprepared as hell, had no plans, didn't have a lot of the right gear, had no supplies, were way too unfit for such a big undertaking and we didn't even set aside enough to time actually be able to do the entire walk. We're sore, burned, battered, blistered, hungry and sick but we made it ~120kms, over 4 very long, very hard days up mountains, through streams, beside highways, through towns and cities and along paths made by Romans, Moors and Christians over thousands of years. We set out to do something great and whether or not we made it to the end is irrelevant, we kept going until it nearly killed us and I think that's pretty great.








































































1 comment:

  1. Bastante grande? Es sorprendente si me preguntas! Lo que una aventura increíble! Estoy muy orgulloso de lo que se propuso hacer y cómo perseveraste para lograrlo. Tienes toda la razón en que no sobre el destino, sino más bien sobre el viaje. Me encanta cómo abrazar la vida y hacer estas aventuras salvajes. Te amo.

    Pretty great? It's amazing if you ask me! What an incredible adventure! I'm so proud of what you set out to do and how you persevered to achieve it. You're absolutely correct that it not about the destination, but rather about the journey. I love how you embrace life and do these wild adventures. Love you.