Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Camino Madrid/Mozarabe - post thoughts

It's hard to take pictures of Antequera. Tight and v-shape city on a slope.

In any case it is interesting that another 2 days of walking will land me in Malaga, a major transportation hub (flying in/out from anywhere in Europe/world). It would cool to be able to start walking the Camino Mozarabe from Malaga after flying in although majority of the castles are on the Granada route.

First about Camino Mozarabe. This is the Camino with the most variants. Granada-Baena, Malaga-Baena, then to Cordoba and ending in Merída where it joins the Camino via de la Plata. There is also 2 days from Jaén to Alcaudete and even Almería on the coast to Granada (I will give that a pass). I am happy to be able to cover as much of the both the Granada and Malaga route this time.

This is also my most unusual Camino, cycled Cordoba-Merída previously, walking Granada-Baena then opposite way down Baena-Antequera. I didn't even have a credencial for this Camino, using the credencial for Camino Vasco last time and Camino del Madrid credencial this time.

Overall Camino Mozarabe is unique, more technical and feels a little odd from the other Caminos because this whole region is like holiday place, hehehe.

Camino Madrid was better than expected. The beauty of the mountains in north Madrid and crossing it to Segovia. The best of all, the open spaces in the mesata to Sahagún. The open mesata uniquely Spainish. There is something about it that calms the mind and spirit.

That's it from me for now. The blog will hibernate until the next Camino. 

Camino Mozarabe - Day 8 - Antequera (back towards Malaga)

Last day of walking, at least on the Camino Mozarabe. Again a good cloudy day for walking. The info on the guild has Villanueva de Algaidas off to one side coming up which will reduce the distance to a 24 km day but 5 additional km overall. My map overlay is probably the old route and is almost a beeline of 28 km to Antequera. I took the beeline.

Terrain not as hilly today. At 13 km before Antequera can already see it on the foothills of the mountain. Turn to my right and I see Mollina (my friend' Michael's place) also 13 km on the side of a small hill. Antequera to his place is around 18 km thanks to geometry of the triangle. I would have walked to his place today but he will only be coming in tomorrow evening. No worries, I will do a side 18 km from Antequera to Mollina tomorrow to mark the end of the walk.

Suddenly I bumped into a few couples on nice rented bicycles cycling around. I imagined they are tourists renting bicycles in Antequera to cycle in the countryside huffing and puffing around even small inclines. I wonder if they know how to change gears on the bike?

Cartaojal for a break 11.4 km before Antequera, the only stop for the day. 

I had been to Antequera many times when visiting Michael so the place very familiar to me, it just feels funny walking in instead of via the car. The famous hill landmark on my left called the lover's leap by the Spanish but Indian head by the British residents (why must they change the name?).

Before entering Antequera I saw a pilgrim couple walking out. Surprised as I thought I would miss the walkers today as they would probably follow the guide to Villanueva de Algaidas. They are probably trying their luck to make it to Cartaojal today and maybe stay at someone offering their home for pilgrims for a fee (no albergue there).

The albergue in Antequera (new experience for me) is a parish place attached to the church of Santiago. 5 euros. 4 beds, cold, dirty and a bit of a smell with separate building for toilet/bath. Beginning to regret staying here instead of paying more to stay at a hostal. Found a spare mattress and moved it to the same building as the toilet/bar in a breakout room. At least it is cleaner there. Hope they don't mind, I will move the mattress back tomorrow morning. A bit later a Spanish pilgrim came in. He don't mind taking the cold damp room, great. A number of church people can be seen moving around the compound and other rooms for prayers (more than just the albergue) in the evening, hmmm......
Ah well,  it's just for one night.

Good to be back in Antequera. The fort was here since the Roman times (a section has recently uncovered Roman mosaic) and later the Moors. No need to pay to see it again. Also with enough Brits having residency here, no problem with food timing, lots of variety... almost too convenient...

I'll have more time here tomorrow morning before walking to Michael's place in Mollina around midday. Probably one more post tomorrow to end this trip.....

Monday, April 24, 2017

Camino Mozarabe - Day 7 - Cuevas Bajas (back towards Malaga)

Had a quick talk with the English speaking couple staying in Pension Sara in the morning. They mentioned they will start walking today but I didn't quite catch where or whether it's on the Camino Mozarabe.

The first leg was a long 20 km to Encinas Reales. Weather was nice, 3 straight cloudy day (sun still glaring for some reason). Was in my own element until 11 am when someone decided to turn up the heat on the route. Stopped 5 km before Encinas to have a break for food on a ledge above a stream.

Thought that if I were to meet any pilgrims walking it would be around then considering the timing and their walking up distances from the other end. True enough a km later saw a guy with a backpack walking towards me. He didn't even stop as he had his headphones on and just grunted 'hola'. Next a couple followed by another couple. It's hard to stop for a conversation especially when both parties are walking opposite directions. Only enough time to say hi and to mention that I am walking back to Malaga/Antequera (somehow compelled to say that) and Buen Camino. Then I had to cross a stream with no way to avoid getting shoes wet (with boots probably ok). With 8 more km on wrt shoes, why not...

20 km to Encinas Reales and had ice cream (sudden sweet tooth)  and coffee before finishing the last 5.7 km before 2 pm to Cuevas Bajas, a nice small town on the edge of a hill. Both the small towns are almost the same size.

The Spanish website says that there is a municipal albergue in Cuevas Bajas. First things first, stopped at the bar (actually three bars in centro) most convenient for me for a drink. Just my luck, the Bar Coyetano I was at is also the official keeper of the keys to the albergue on the next street. I had my drink and my credencial stamped right there too. Striked up a conversation with a Spanish and English guy who were drinking outside the bar. The Spanish guy works in London and is on a home visit while the English guy just relocated here (reverse situation). Like my friend Michael the Brits are moving up north. There are estimated 1 million Brits residing/retiring in Spain, mostly in the South near Malaga. Asked the English guy where's the best place to eat later and he said the same bar. I'll hold him to his words.

The albergue is modern and nice. Donation. Two level, beds and couch on top and dining (only microwave) and bathroom below. My shoes is starting to fall apart. A hole is developing on the right shoe and getting bigger. Hang in there buddy. Just one more day....

Thought I would be alone again today until just before 5 pm and a French couple opened the albergue door. At least I will have some company and conversation tonight as he speaks English.

Turns out to be not much of a conversation later. The couple are hardcore hikers. They started in Tarifa hiking to Ronda (non-Camino), and once they hit Antequera, followed the Camino Mozarabe from there. Retired with 2 months of walking this year, they can go almost anywhere they like using another Frenchman's personal GPS route as a reference when the Camino's route gets too boring or easy. Always chasing after beautiful vantage point rather than just following the arrows.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Camino Mozarabe - Day 6 - Lucena (back towards Malaga)

Leaving Baena I realized that it does have a fort, sort of.... The bars were still closed at 7:30 am so maybe I'll get my cuppa in Doña Mencia (8.7 km) away. On the last street just before leaving Baena..... an open bar. Yes...

Climbing up was hard so early in the day. I saw a Guardia Civil car that stopped to ask me what I was doing here (suspicious Asian looking guy)? I said I was on the Camino Mozarabe walking to Antequera. Happy with the answer they left. That's when I realized that I was on the wrong track (could also be a reason why that stopped me). It took a bit of weaving around the olive trees to get me back on track.

Once on top of the hill the road to Doña Mencia wasn't too bad. Dark clouds appearing, don't rain, please don't rain.....
Weather report did show a chance of shower. No rain later, phrew! The best time for walking is in the early morning. Fresh air, cool... mental serenity. I wonder how the rabbits cope with the clay mud building up on their feet when it rains? The mind wanders......

It's weird walking against the arrows. 2 hours later in Doña Mencia just in time for another coffee, this time with toast. Saw a nice mural on the Camino Mozarabe  and a water fountain in the shape of a guitar.

Leaving Doña Mencia I saw a railway station turned into a cafe/bar and many cyclists outside. That's when I realized the route to Cabra (13 km) from Doña Mencia is via the old disused railroad track and now used by cyclist and some walkers, but mainly cyclists.

13 km of virtually flat terrain on the ex-railroad! With tunnels, bridges, old rail signs, etc. In Cabra another coffee at the ex-rail station turned bar. I had already a bite at the rest point along the way but the potato salad tapas in the bar looks good so I asked for it. Was given a lecture that tapas are only given free with other drinks (mainly beer) and not coffee. Ok, I don't mind paying for it. Not happening. Later while drinking my coffee outside, a lady server brought me one. Nice. I shared some of the potato salad with one of the two stray cats hoping for some food from the patrons eating outside. I think it's also because the potato salad has bits of tuna.

I could stop in Cabra (funny name, goat) having already done 21.7 km or continue the old rail track for another 13 km to Lucena (total 34.7 km). Since it's easy walking on the old rail track why not? With a total of 26 km today solely on the track. How nice to be able to cycle on it. With an almost flat terrain it should take no more than an hour and a half for the 26 km. For walking 6 hours. Urghh.

Lucena it is and I left Cabra just before 2 pm and was Lucena at 4:30 pm after getting of the track (no more rail tracks anymore, sigh). I wonder how long is this excellent track and where else does it go. Another thing to research later.

Lucena is a big place and like Baena is a working city in the olive oil business. None of the places today after Baena has a fort on a hill. They are all situated in the valley of the olive hills.

No albergue in Lucena. A check with a Spanish site confirms there are albergue for pilgrims for the my last two stage ending in Antequera but not in Cabra or Lucena. A couple of hotels here and two hostals. My map only show one, Hostal Sara. Ok. Hostal Sara it is. Turns out to be Pension Sara and all the rooms has an attached bathroom. 25 euros. The lady there is probably Sara.

Lucena still celebrates the holy week today. Little kids carrying the display (bordering on child abuse). At least the supermarket (lots of them, counted at least 8 in a 1 km diameter) are open on Saturday evening after siesta. Tomorrow is Sunday, supermarket is essential today.

Lots of places serving caracoles (snails), it must be the season. Not into snails, just a menu of the day at a nearby restaurant. Hate to eat alone. Didn't see any pilgrims today on the Camino Mozarabe via the Malaga route although later in the evening at Pension Sara heard a couple speaking English outside my room. They were wearing boots! Hmmmm....

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Camino Mozarabe - Day 5 - Baena

Left Peter's place late today at 8 am. Henry wasn't even ready yet when I left. Gave 2 of the boiled eggs from last night (from half a dozen) to Henry for the day while I scoffed 2 myself just in the morning. A nice day, not very cold morning. A look at the terrain that hopefully the route will skirt in between the big hills/mountain. 

Start taking any photos that are not olives (enuf!). Some pines, cactus and soon left the province of Granada and entered the province of Cordoba.

Before the mid-point the route is passes through a lake. It was blue on the map. In reality it was dry and more like a salt lake. I wanted to go to the edge to have a better look but the dry hard reeds around the lake acts as an impenetrable barrier. 

At mid-point I was taking a food break, getting out of the sun under an olive tree when someone walked by. At first I thought it was Henry but thinking he couldn't be that fast.  It turned out to be a Spanish pilgrim Umberto from Vigo (Galicia) all the way to And Alicia to walk. Umberto said he saw me back in Moclin but didn't do anything. I guess last night he found another place to stay as he wasn't at Peter's. I supposed on the Mozarabe unless there are more municipal albergue one can easily missed other walkers. He wanted to take a picture of a Singapore pilgrim (many find that unbelievable), I took one of him back.

After 2 pm and 24.6 km, finally in Baena! I felt like a Peregrino Asado (roasted pilgrim). No castle here. Baena is a regional olive oil production city with lots of olive factories around. This is also where the Camino Mozarabe from Malaga and Granada joins before going up to Cordoba.

Yesterday, Peter mentioned that there is place to stay for pilgrims (kind of like an albergue for 18.50 euros). At this price I rather stay in a hostal paying a few euros more.

In town near the center I passed by a bar/restaurant with a 'P' pension sign. Had my coffee and asked for a room. 20 euros. Shared bathroom. Fine. The guy took a couple of keys and for every room he checks he closes the door (apparently the cleaners did not come in to work today). The only clean room available had an attached bathroom. For the same price, yay!

Worried about Henry. I hope to see him here and.so far after siesta (6 pm) and going to the supermarket I had not seen him.

On the way to Baena I was thinking. There are two more stages to Cordoba. A short stage to Castro del Rio (small fort) and a crazy 40 km stage to Cordoba! I definitely would not try that distance in this weather (instead split it into two 25 km day with a detour to Santa Cruz). Not nice.

Or...........

I walk back towards Malaga and stop in Antequera. My plan was to stay at Michael's place near Antequera for a few days before flying home 1st May. He will be there from Tue so it gives me 4 days to walk south. It beats going to Cordoba in 3 days, stay 2 nights and then take the train south to Antequera. I also get to enjoy a good part of the Camino Mozarabe (Malaga section). Heck, I can even walk the 14.5 km from Antequera to Michael's home. As I had already cycled the Cordoba-Merída section last year and visited the grand mosque in Cordoba, no need to see it again so soon. Besides, I already had the Mozarabe Malaga overlay on the map so moving against the arrow would not be an issue.

Change of plan. I am heading south tomorrow. It's my Camino, I can do it anyway I want......

Friday, April 21, 2017

Camino Mazarabe - Day 4 - Alcaudete

There were illumination on the castle in Alcalá la Real last night. Wanted to go down to have a better look but the wind was strong (cold). Can't even last seconds on the balcony from the cold wind. 

In the morning the cold wind still strong, subsided a little when I walked down the city and took a back shot of the fortress. Bar outside the hostal was opened when I left at 7:30 am so a happy camper with coffee in my stomach. 

All the way from Alcaláb la Real to Alcaudete there were flyers for the Acogida de peregrinos (like a private albergue) also with English saying 'shelter for pilgrims'. The flyers even helped me today in some areas where there were no arrows. For that I knew I had to stay there.

The way is again endless olives. Much better walking the rolling hills (or maybe I am getting used to this).

Midway a place called Ventas del Carrizal. It's a bunch of houses on 4-5 streets with a non-functioning clock in its center. Some guide says no bar, while others reported a bar. I didn't see any so I just walked on after a quick break for a bite just outside the town(let)? 

Then another break under an olive tree with my personal flower garden before making a final descent to Alcaudette. Total today 23.7 km.

Right before the Acogida a guy walking towards me asked if I am a pilgrim. Said yes, and he pointed to the house and told me to knock at the door with a scooter and red car parked outside. He certainly looked like a walker. Turned out he is Henry from the log in Pinos Puente. He got lost in the trail after the second day and had walked quite a bit on asphalt hurting his feet. In Alcaudete for the past 4 days to have his feet look after by the doctor. He had gotten better and would be walking again tomorrow. I knocked at the door and the owner Peter opened and let me in.

He led me to the sleeping area (5 beds) and was clearing a mattress (probably overflow area) and told me yesterday was full, including four Australians. What? Did I just missed everyone by just a day? Place is donativo.

In the evening the Peter cooked a kind of stew with rice and we had a nice time eating and chatting outside in the garden. It even had a view of the the castle tower.

This place is very new as Peter had only moved in a year ago and converted it as a refugio. Nice to have such company instead of hostals for a change.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Camino Mozarabe - Day 3 - Alcalá la Real

Sunrise pic looking back for the last time look at Granada/mountain near the horizon before descending from the high ground.

7:30 am and the only bar in town was still not open. The owner of the bar told me 7 am. Bah. No towns in between for today's walk. My map shows a petrol station (maybe there's coffee there!) after one of the main road crossing, my ETA 9:30 am.
Later it turned out to be an olive oil plant, not petrol station, bwah.......
Openstreetmap is going to hear about that from me...

Other than that the walk was great. It was slightly cloudy so it wasn't as hot as yesterday. Olives and more olives. A watch tower on a sloping hill (hard to see in the picture) that looks like the Mozarabe logo. Midway plots of land growing wheat (for a change). To avoid walking on main road, the path goes up and down the olive hills, crossing one main road at least 3 times.

Had some food outside the church at a small village with a few houses and no bar. I have to get used to hills and no towns between stages along this Camino.

22 km later I was greeted with a spectacular view of Alcalá la Real's fortress on the way down after the last hill. No albergue here. Check online and the central Hostal Rio de Oro looks most reasonable (28 euros). I even had a view (just little bit) of the castle from my room's balcony.

After shower, wash, rest I walked up to the big fortress to find it closed. Opening hours daily 10am- 5:30 pm, 6 euros. I just took shots of the city instead. In any case it's not like I am going to experience much more paying to go into all the castles around. Much better to enjoy a drink from town looking up at the fortress than vice versa.

Prepared myself for another town-less day by grabbing some stuff at the Dia supermarket.

Still no sight of any other pilgrims. This route can be quite solitary. Last year cycling the Camino Mozarabe from Cordoba to Merída I'd only encounter a English guy, a Spanish cyclist and a German couple, and that is the ability to move 3 walking days ahead every day.

Darn, one can get really spoilt by staying at hostals....

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Camino Mozarabe - Day 2 - Moclin - Sunset

Sunset from the fort at 9 pm. Good way to end the day.

It is on occasions like this that I wished I had a better camera.

The silhouette of Sierra Nevada mountain not picked up by the phone camera. The lights are from Granada.

Tomorrow the mountains will likely disappear as I walk away. Another castle awaits.

Nights are cold and days are hot. Forecast for the next week a little cloudy (good!).

So long as there's no rain it should be fine or I will be walking on (with) mud bricks with the soil composition on the olive groves trail....

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Camino Mozarabe - Day 2 - Moclin

After breakfast in the albergue, started walking just before 8 am. Gave extra donation to albergue for the Lolo's coffee maker. I used one capsule last night and one this morning.

The guide only shows the alternative route (that's what it says on the pdf) going along the valley of the two hills parallel me near the road. My map overlay shows the original route via the access road up along the hill. Since today is short I took the latter high ground instead.

From Pinos Puente to Olivares the olive trees was endless on all sides. I bet that the olive oil is Andalucia's single most produce crop.

Saw the ruin castle of Moclin within an hour of walking. It would be many hours later before I arrived. Had a break for food under an olive tree overlooking the castle (on the left knoll) just before the route goes down to Olivares and contemplating on the steep climb ahead. Down to Olivares, cross the stream, a quick coffee and started the climb at high noon.

Was it just me or does the Andalucian sun seems brighter and more fierce than the mesata on my walk earlier? I normally don't need to wear shades but the sun here are quite glaring to my eyes. The climb was steep with almost no shade. I stopped for a quick pause whenever I see any shade. There's a saying 'only mad dogs or Englishman' walking in the afternoon sun, you can also add pilgrims to the phrase.

Within the hour drench in sweat I am already up to Moclin. It felt like hours..... Total 16 km.

Same routine. Straight to the center, got a can to drink from the shop outside the town hall. Rested I went in the office to ask for accommodation. No albergue here, my map only shows Casa de la Placeta del Rincón and a hostal outside the town. The former is an extension building from a private resident and also the one that the person in the town hall recommended, close to the center (next street). Sweet!

Got there and the lady owner was still cleaning up. Told me to come back in half hour but I can leave my backpack there. A quick look shows it is a single unit with bath, kitchen, living/dining/sleeping area with makeshift divider. A queen size bed and a bunk bed. The registration on the door say occupancy of three. If no one else comes in today I am taking the big bed. 25 euros. Correction: I was wrong. It's 25 euros for the whole room/bath. When the lady came later in the evening to give my change, I ask for the Wi-Fi password and was let to another door up the steps. There I saw 3 more rooms (unoccupied with the same setup) where she gave me the password saying the signal doesn't go down to my room down the steps. She also said she only works here mainly cleaning. I think more as the reception in the other building was empty.

Went up to the castle and found that it was locked. Sign says it only opens on Sat and Sun (2 euros). Only for weekend tourist? The lower part of the castle is still accessible with a wonderful view of the Sierra Nevada. It's hard to take a picture during the day of that mountain range due to the sun and glare. It would be a wonderful spot for the evening, hopefully a better picture.

Camino Mozarabe - Day 1 - Pinos Puente

Yesterday night I suddenly recalled that the town of Jun near Granada uses Twitter to conduct it's business with its residents. Easier than using email and since anyone following the official accounts can see the tweets, more transparent. Things like reporting a broken street light to the local police to general announcements by the ayuntamiento (town hall) or the mayor. I check my map and realized it is only a detour of 7 km. Since today is 19 km,  a total of 26 km is still acceptable.


Instead of walking to Maracena (many reported is has many abandoned buildings and graffiti, I made my way up north 6.5 km to Jun and navigate south west later to Maracena.

Got there before 9 am. It's true. I was greeted with a obelisk structure with the iconic Twitter bird at the top. The middle is the town hall's Twitter account @AyuntamientoJUN and the lower probably the mayor. I got into the bar next to the roundabout, had second breakfast and tweeted the picture. Before I left I realized I made a mistake (should be @ and not #), delete and tweeted. Shows how much I use Twitter. Right now in the evening I still have not gotten a reply from them on Twitter. I am sad...

My way from Jun to Maracena looks way nicer than if I were to leave from Granada. Not surprised. The town of Jun,  Maracena and Atarfe are nice suburbs of Granada. Had a third breakfast is Maracena. Toast with homemade tomato paste you spread over the toast and drizzle with some olive oil. I prefer this to the butter and jam toast. Saw my first Camino Mozarabe headstone later.

No more eating in Atarfe (Atarf = limit in Arabic?). Leaving Atarfe to Pinos Puente along side the railway track I suddenly wonder if there were other pilgrims walking along this way today. Looking back I was greeted with the Sierra Nevada snowy mountain. The sun was getting strong (more so than in Camino Madrid) and temperature hot (mid 20s) around midday and I can't wait to get to Pinos Puente. Pinos Puente is no longer like a suburbs of Granada, people here are grittier and more heartland Andalucian. 

Once there I crossed the bridge just before 2 pm, bought a can of KAS Limon at the store before the shop close for siesta, found some shade and ate the rest of the empanadas (pies) I bought a day earlier. There is an albergue here but it is before the bridge, on the right all the way to the edge of town. Conveniently a police post right where I was eating my pies has a sign saying peregrinos info. I went and the nice young policeman tried to speak English to me. I asked where can I get the keys to the albergue (not wanting to walk there to find it locked). He said someone is there all the time. Turns out the albergue is a building in the same compound where the hospitalero Lolo also live. The albergue looked like automobile shed inside with no running water, the toilet/bath is in another side building. It has 8 beds, 2 without upper bunk,  Donativo. There is an enclosure with a baby goat next to the albergue, another big one for goats further up the hill, and one nearby with chickens. I guess I don't need to set the alarm for tomorrow....

Lolo said there are no restaurants in town, only around the circus before I came in. I remembered the circus is part of the main road joining other towns with a petrol station further up, maybe other facilities there too? After shower, wash and rest I went back and found a big Mercadona supermarket further down the road. The restaurant doesn't look good (one of those catering to truckers) so I decided to buy what I could at the supermarket. The albergue only has a microwave, fridge and one of those capsule espresso coffee machine (with many capsules!). Definitely going to microwave the milk for the coffee. Many of the bars in town were closed so I don't expect them to open early tomorrow. Besides, tomorrow's stage is 14 km of no town out of a total of only 16 km. With few or no towns between stages from here to Cordoba, a stage can range from 16 km to 39 km!

I bought a bit too much at the supermarket, roast chicken, tortilla wraps, mayo, tomatoes, cut veggie, cheese, yogurt, milk and more... wonder how am I going to carry the leftovers.

I prepared and ate a couple of wraps and some for tomorrow. After dinner, Lolo came over and we had a short short conversation (a weird mix of Spanish and English) as he gather some shrubs to feed the baby goat. He asked where is Singapore, the people, etc. I am second generation Singaporean, blah, blah, blah. He said his father is white and his mom gypsy and understand the different race and mix. Hearing that I asked if he plays the flamenco. He laughed and said no but his son who is around 20 years old is a flamenco dancer. Wow.

Writing this now with sun setting. It is now dark. What a tranquil and peaceful place. The same as what I wrote on the visitor's log. The last entry was 4 days ago from a guy call Henry. Many Spanish and French entries, two Germans, a Korean and a Japanese spanning the last four years.

Looking at the stars in the clear skies now. Getting cold. Going inside soon.....