Distance, 24 km
Elevation gain, 244 m
Elevation loss, 321 m
Total distance, 351.5 km
Daily average, 29.3 km
We knew it was going to happen! I looked at every weather forecast hoping that at least one of them would give us some hope, but alas they were all in agreement. It hadn’t begun as we left our cozy albergue at a few minutes to 07:00, but about two minutes later it started. Lightly at first, but building up to a good lashing. I got my umbrella out for the first time and attached it to my pack straps with strategically placed bungee cords so that I could use it ‘hands free’. As there was no wind it worked well.
It didn’t take long for the dirt track to turn to thick, sticky clay – the type you could build a house with. Unfortunately our job was to walk, not to build. The only thing that built, was the depth of clay clinging to our boots. One might suppose that there is a finite amount of clay that can cling onto a boot before naturally dropping off. But nope. The amount is infinite. I reckon I was at least three inches taller and four kilos heavier. Every step collected more of the sticky stuff, making the walk very hard-going – really tiring. And on a dry day this track would have been an absolute delight – interesting scenery including lagoons, rock formations, undulating crop fields. All that we have wanted from this camino came today.
We passed through a village with no facilities at 9 km and 4 km further brought us to the small town of La Melgosa where we stopped for a hot drink, being careful to rid ourselves of as much clay as possible before entering the bar. We needn’t have worried, the floor was covered in sawdust and a fire was roaring in the grate.
The rain had all but stopped when we left, still spotting, but nothing worthy of an umbrella. But all too soon our feet were once again feeling like lead weights. Kicking and flicking achieved nothing, except testing ankles and knees to the extreme. We walked on the grass verge when available, which helped a little, but there were so many gaps that we were constantly carrying half the weight of our packs on our feet. When we came upon a jagged rock we would do a quick scrape off, but two steps further would bring a full load again. We had another 7 km of this and hard ground was never more welcome than when we reached the outskirts of Cuenca.
The rain came down in earnest as we entered the city, by the bucket load. We found our way to the very nice municipal albergue and were met by Louis Cañas, the hospitaleo (phone ahead on 636 351 061). The albergue has 3 bunks and a single, a separate lavatory and shower, large table and a microwave, but sadly no heating – and it is really cold (although we did find an ancient radiator hidden behind a door that we plugged in to dry off our insoles). My boots held up quite well and didn’t let much water in at all. The rain isn’t really the problem but walking in the wet grass is what causes trouble.
I chose to walk this camino because I have wanted to visit Cuenca for many years. We have planned a day off here to take in the magnificent sights of the ‘hanging houses’ clinging onto the edge of a very deep gorge. Our stay also coincides with the Semana Santa parades which I would imagine to be spectacular…if they were to go ahead that is. We are informed that today’s parade is definitely cancelled due to the weather and most likely tomorrow’s as well. So much for a pilgrm’s holiday! I really think we deserve better. My halo isn’t serving me very well. Rain is forecast for days to come, just when this camino is due to get intresting!
But we didn’t allow the weather to spoil our holiday so we have been out and about in the pouring rain visiting el casco antiguo and popping into a couple of bars.
A french pilgrim was waiting for Louis when we arrived. He was starting from Cuenca, having walked here from Alicante last year. And when we return from our sightseeing, there are a couple of additional backpacks, but no pilgrims, although a peek in the registration book tells me they are spanish guys.