On Monday I set out again, complete with fully loaded backpack, in an attempt to break the 25 km barrier.
Roly and I leave home on a bright and sunny day and follow the lorry road to the through track that winds around the mountains high above the fabrica. Walking with a full pack slows my pace a little, but we stride on, climbing all the time. I have ridden this end of the track many times but not walked it in this direction before. It is a lovely day with a beautiful blue sky, but there are gusts of very strong wind that force me to carry my walking poles under my arm as the wind is blowing them off course, threatening to trip me up. It is amazing how quickly I have become accustomed to the poles and how much they assist when walking uphill.
We take the opportunity to refill the water bottle at the deposito where there is fresh spring water flowing into the tank, and continue to the rangers’ hut where we stop to admire the view to the coast which is stunning. I’ve stopped here before but not had a proper look around. It is much bigger than I imagined. I have been told that it is possible to obtain a key in order to stay overnight, but I don’t imagine it would be very comfortable.
The track is made of rough white stone and can be quite dazzling in the bright sunlight. It winds around the hillsides and then turns back on itself and climbs sharply around the back of a peak which is quite hard going. When I have previously ridden this track I don’t remember it being so steep, but then I wasn’t doing the hard work, poor Liana was. Since starting my training I have come to appreciate how hard my horse works, and she is carrying a lot more than 10% of her weight!
We pass a couple of 4×4’s where the drivers are standing on the track with binoculars, I presume looking for birds.
At one point, just above the track, there is a small section of land fenced. Only 100m2 or so. A few of these enclosures are dotted around the natural park and I can see no purpose whatsoever for them. There is no sign of precious plants that need to be protected and they are not appropriate for penning animals. I would love to know their purpose.
When I judge we have more or less reached the half way point I tuck myself behind some rocks for shelter from the wind and give Roly his quota of biscuits whilst I attend to my heel that is feeling sore where the blister formed. I apply a special ‘compeed’ plaster and hope that it will do the trick. I become aware of voices and look up to see a couple, (Scandinavian I think) and I call a greeting. They saw Roly on the track and thought he was lost. They immediately ask me if I have seen the huge dog by the farm (above the fabrica), so big that it is worthy of comment. This animal must be responsible for the massive footprints that Lyn and I saw up there, so big that I took a photo. The couple are taking a small footpath off the track, right next to where I am resting, that they say leads directly into Cómpeta. If I ever again want to put on my walking boots when I return from the Camino, I would like to take this path.
In the meantime we set off again and suddenly the track changes from hard white stone to soft brown earth and is instantly easier on my feet. Roly must appreciate it.
I hear my first cuckoo of the year. This is always a very special sound, that all too soon becomes very annoying!
We are now on the level and I am not expecting any more inclines. At about 16 km from home we pass the fork in the track up to the right that I have taken on two occasions when I have ridden over the mountain to reach the village of Jatar in Granada province, on both occasions with a group of riders from Eva’s ‘Caballos del Mosquin’ stable. This is a three day ride with two nights spent at a hostel in Jatar. On the first, long, day we reach Jatar, the second day we took a ride to a beautiful pine fringed lake, where we could let the horses roam free whilst we picnicked, and the third day we returned to the stable. On both occasions David drove a backup vehicle with supplies for the horses and riders.
The first time I took part in this expedition I rode one of Eva’s horses, the huge and beautiful Descarada, a rather stroppy pure bred Andalusian mare. We were both fairly inexperienced and learned a lot during the three days.
The second time I rode Liana. We had only bought her three months earlier and we were still getting used to each other. Helen and Gretel were also on the ride and, as always, Helen was a huge support to me, the best mentor I could have hoped for.
Liana and Gretel had instantly become friends when introduced at Eva’s stable. Helen had just moved to Salares with Peter, and Gretel was liveried at Eva’s while a stable was being built on their land.
The banner at the top of this blog was taken at the lake, with Liana on the left and Gretel on the right. It was a fabulous day, five years ago now. For various reasons, keeping Liana at Eva’s did not work out and when Gretel’s new stable was ready we decided to take Liana over to Salares as well, where she stayed with her chum for three years until we had built our own stable at home.
Very sadly, due to an incurable illness that would have caused a lot of pain, Gretel was put to sleep a few weeks ago.
Liana and I owe Helen and Gretel a great debt of thanks for their friendship and support during the time I have known them. Helen is a very knowledgeable horsewoman and has always been very generous with her help and advice. She is a much valued friend and we will miss Gretel very much.
Back to the walk, I noticed a lot of caterpillar nests in the trees and saw many processions on the ground, though none as long as the five metre stretch I saw on my last long walk. I worried about Roly treading on them but just had to keep my fingers crossed that he would avoid them, either by luck or design.
We made a few more brief water and biscuit stops for Roly. I don’t really get hungry whilst walking. On longer treks I take an apple quartered and a few nuts to keep me going. As it has rained so much recently there are plenty of clean puddles on the track that Roly can drink from so I can have the bottled water to myself.
When the track forks to the fabrica I decide to change my planned route because I don’t think I will be very successful leaping over the streams with my backpack onboard. I take the reverse route of my training walk and when I estimate I have covered 30 km I ring David to pick me up. It is only about another 2.5 km to reach home, but there is a lot of climbing, including the dreaded track to our house, and I am very tired by now.
When I meet up with David, I regret giving in and wish I had carried on under my own steam. However when I return home and plot the walk on my ipad I can see that I have trekked 29.25 km and have broken my record in style.
This is another week when the weather forecast promised a great deal of rain. On Tuesday I took advantage of the soft wet earth and pulled a few sacks of weeds from the garden. Of course there are advantages and disadvantages to having a constant supply of horse manure. The advantage is that it is an excellent soil conditioner, especially in this area of Spain where the natural soil resembles dust. However the disadvantage is that horse manure is simply recycled grass seed and as soon as it rains the seeds ripen and shoot up into lush knee high grass. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to happen where Liana can take advantage of her recycling capabilities, but somehow the best grass always grows amongst my treasured plants or on the banks that are fenced off from the horse because they are too steep and too dangerous.
It seems to have rained almost constantly this year. March has seen the highest rainfall in Andalucia for 60 years. It is very usual for local landowners to spray with chemicals to kill the weeds. At this time of year the hillsides are a patchwork of lush green plots full of weeds bordered by clean brown stretches where chemicals have been used. I do not like to use chemicals for various reasons, largely because I love to see my cultivated and wild plants multiplying, and to find seedlings of violas, osteospermums, cyclamen, nasturtium, aubrietia and campanula, to name but a few. We also have a variety of wild plants growing on our plot – thyme, lemon thyme, rosemary, lavender, rock rose, bee orchids and wild clematis growing on steep banks. However without the use of chemicals I have to rely on elbow grease and a little supervised help from my four legged friend. Liana has managed to get onto my garden a few times, when she systematically ate all the fruit from my nectarine tree, completely ate my newly planted apricot tree and stripped the bark from a young lemon tree.
So on Tuesday I decided I would do some much needed weeding and at the same time supervise Liana whilst she grazed a small strip of land that is so lush with bright green grass that she has no interest in looking for anything else. The only problem with this strategy is trying to part the horse from the grass when I am ready to do something else. Ultimately we were both very happy with the work done that morning.
In the afternoon, once she had digested the grass (and produced yet more of the ’black stuff’) we went for a ride in the mountains – a very tough climb for Liana along a path known as ‘the bungee’ and then a more leisurely descent back home.
On Wednesday we drove down to the coast to return some walking sandals to the Decathlon store in Malaga. Unusually, the customer service was superb and I had my money back in seconds with no questions asked. I had thought these Merrell sandals would be suitable for occasional trekking on the camino, but on reflection they did not seem strong enough.
We also stopped off to buy my forthcoming birthday present. I had mentioned to David (probably on very many occasions) that I really wanted to take my ipad on my travels, but that I was concerned about the weight I would have to carry. I have spent many moments pondering what I could do without in order to take this essential piece of technology. Although I didn’t realise that I was hinting, David asked me if I would like an ipad mini for my birthday present – an offer I most definitely could not refuse.
Thursday was a foul day of lashing rain that kept me indoors. During the evening we watched the film ‘The Way’, staring Martin Sheen and directed by his son Emilio Estevez. It is the story of a father and son, frustrated by eachother’s view of life. The son sets off to walk the Camino de Santiago but has an accident and dies on his first day. The father goes to France from the US to collect his son’s ashes and on the spur of the moment decides to walk the Camino. I had watched it probably a year ago when I first started looking for information on the Camino. It is a very good film – highly recommended.
Incidentally, there was a real life accident that led to the death of a pilgrim during the first stage of the walk only two weeks ago. The conditions have been very difficult, with much snow and rain and freezing temperatures.
Friday was my birthday and after David granted me a lazy lie-in and I had received lovely happy birthday calls from Ella and Rosie, we planned to go out for lunch. However it was another horrid day and I didn’t fancy going out. In the late afternoon it stopped raining and brightened a bit, so we decided to go out for a shortish walk with David on Liana. We phoned Lyn and Jens-Kristian to see if they would like to meet up with us at a bar in the village for a birthday drink and they decided to walk to meet us. By the time we met up, it has started to rain again, so David made a dash for home with Liana and we walked on to the bar and David joined us once he had seen to Liana.
Saturday was a beautiful day and we went into Cómpeta to do some shopping. We split up on arrival, David taking Roly whilst I went in search of the last items on my Camino list.
I met up with David after 30 minutes or so and we had a drink on the roof terrace of Oscar’s bar/restaurant. We then wandered into the square where we met with Jens-Kristian. David ordered a coffee and I had a glass of wine (Well, it was after mid-day). Coffee is usually served with a biscuit which David always gives to the dog. As he unwrapped his biscuit he suddenly realised that the dog wasn’t with us – the poor little soul had been left tied up outside the first shop David had visited, an hour earlier. He rushed from the cafe to fetch him and returned five minutes later with Roly none the worse for wear.
On Saturday evening we went out to dinner with friends and to watch the band Guiri. Good food and conversation followed by lots of dancing to great music.
The sun shone from a blue sky again on Sunday and I took Liana for a long ride in the natural park. There were lots of walkers out and about making the most of the beautiful weather