Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Back in Granada.

Pilgrimage 1 Summary.

That was great fun. A fantastic adventure. Fabulous places, lots of good people and many interesting experiences.

Do it! If you get the chance to try it for a week, a month, a year...

I'm guessing it's going to take me a couple of weeks to complete stuff in Granada. Off to Alicante around January 12th for pilgrimage 2.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Madrid for a Day.

Absolutely shattered. I now know not to expect any sleep on a night train in Spain.

Tried selling on the streets of Santiago yesterday evening. Nada. Policia Local told me to move, so I took that as my que to head to the train station. Some sketching here if I can find a nice pedestrianised plaza. Probably not. I don't really like Madrid. First visit for about Seven years. I prefer the suburbs and contempoarary Madrid to the city center. To many roads, to many cars, to few big, wide plazas.

First ride on an underground since January 2005! First visit to any city of any great size for a few years. Despite being extremely tired, I've sort of just dropped straight back into the pace of things.

I suspect the police won't allow me to sketch by the palaces. I may venture into the modern part of town and sketch some contemporary architecture in large scale.

Night bus back to Granada and immediately to work when I get there. Already fucked. It's going to be a very stressful few days :(

But, then I can head on to Alicante and start pilgrimage number Two :)

Monday, 29 December 2008


Thank God I didn't do last night on a night train. Something I ate I think. Off shortly to see if it's safe to restore energy. Bit shattered. Very little sleep. But, I'm still planning to make a couple of sales this afternoon and get the train to Madrid for some city sketching tomorrow. Wonder if I'll get my bag nicked?

I was thinking I would have to research the Alicante to Santiago camino, but someone's written a complete step by step guide already

What's more, the guy who wrote it is hospitelrio(sp?) at the First albergue enroute :)

It's going to be much colder, much tougher and much more expensive, but I'm eager to get on with it. Possibly starting Second week of January.

Me yesterday sketching Santiago cathedral in my new Stetson engine drivers hat :)

Sunday, 28 December 2008

All Aboard the Night Train.

To Madrid. Tomorrow night, provided I make the necessary cash tomorrow. Almost there.

Interesting Drops Number 17: Three lottery tickets. "You never know" the man said. And, I guess you don't. By this time tomorrow I may be one of the World's richest pilgrims. On the other hand, I may well still be that elusive €50 away from a safe passage back to Granada and on to Alicante. We shall see.

Met some good people today. Plenty of numbers and emails exchanged for future meets. Another HUGE thank you. You know who you are. I'll be in touch some day - I'm afraid that's a promise whether you like it, or not :)

Last night here. What to do on a rainy evening in Santiago with very little spare cash? Suppose I could carry on working. Try to sell sketches under the arches. Better to pick up an extra Tenner than to spend another.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Aaaargh! More Wind and Rain.

It's back :(

Shouldn't really be moaning after a week of sunshine, but you tend to take it for granted and when it stops you're stuffed. I was planning to get an early bus tomorrow morning, but I now need good weather tomorrow and good money this evening and tomorrow.

This isn't really that easy. Fine when the weather is fine, but next to impossible if it's windy, or wet. I'm thinking new plan to take a bus to Madrid and hopefully make cash during New Year, then bus to Granada to finally complete jobs that should have been signed and sealed long ago, then onto Almeria for pilgrimage number Two. Still need a sponsor for that also.

There are plenty of dry pitches here, so with luck, I'll make enough to cover costs and pick up enough for a bus tomorrow. Currently paying €25/night for a very basic bed and shower hostal. Food and drink at about €10/day. Cigs €2.50. I need to do some washing - about another Tenner. Current outgoings are ITRO €40 a day. A single day of rain/wind/whatever to spoil income hurts!

Expensive day. Thankfully yesterday was a good day.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Chorizo, Eggs and Chips.

Fuck yeah! That hit the spot. Sausage, egg and chips Galician stylee :) Big fat juicy chorizo.

Almost time to leave Santiago, but I will surely be back. I've loved every minute here. Fantastic little city. And, I got good weather. My favourite cafe is just off the tourist trail, almost opposite Policia Nacional. Good selection of daily dishes for just €5 (with bread). Decent size servings, good food at good prices with friendly staff. It's very popular with the locals. Best to beat the rush and get there just after 2PM.

My favourite bar is now introducing it's customers to the listening pleasure of Neil Halstead. Can't remember the name. I'll come back to it in a later post because I'm sure to pop in for one final visit. Live music from the guy who runs the place (and his mates) every Wednesday. Nice place.

Tunes in my head today include 'Sitting on the Beggars Bench' - Neil Halstead and 'Dirty Old Town' - McEwan? Communist playwrite guy???

I took just Four albums with me on pilgrimage. I haven't actually played any whilst travelling, but they are there to give away, or share when opportunity arises:

1. Bunny Wailer - Blackheart Man.
2. PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.
3. Neil Halstead - Sleeping on Roads.
4. Neil Halstead - Mighty Machine.

I guess the first Three must be my all time favourite top Three. Number Four made the rucksack simply because it was new and very eagerly awaited. And, it is a beautiful collection of songs.

Another HUGE thank you. To Erva - you total angel! No doubt when I finally hit Barcelona I will be inviting you to share a good meal and a few drinks. I like your handbags :)

Hope to see you again someday, some place.

Rain forecast for tomorrow, so possibly my last day sketching here. The cathedral is an absolute monster challenge, but I'm going to do it big just one last time.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Tarta de Santiago

It's a bit like Bakewell tart, but without icing. Just a simple dusting of icing sugar over a pastry crust, stencil decorated with the cross of Saint James. Very nice.

The weather has been fantastic and the forecast still looks good, so I'm staying put for a few more days. May leave after Christmas. Cheap(ish) accomodation is available. I can save money here to get me back to Granada for a brief visit before heading to Alicante.

I have a stinking cold, but my new coat is well cosy. Think my new hat is staying with me for a few years at least. New image works well on the cash making front. Two sketches sold yesterday before I had finished them. Going to try a few small watercolours today with a panoramic 3 Meter sketch in a new pitch this afternoon. Nice square at the back of the cathedral. Few pwoplw around, but it should still be good enough to pay for bed and food today.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

If You Want To Get Ahead, Get a Hat!

My Fifth hat of pilgrimage! I seem to have developed a bit of a hat fetish. Three blew away, One is still in my pocket - a gift from a friend who is no longer with us. I'll never let that one blow away. And, now I have the most perfect Stetson Railway Network leather engine drivers cap :) Only cost me €85!!! FFS! What am I doing?

I've just completely reinvented myself on a very self-induldgement shopping binge. Spunked a load of cash on a very nice, light weight, extra warm, multi-pocketed coat for future treks across the winter plains from Alicante to Toledo. I also have a new pair of quality, light weight, multi-pocketed parachuter trousers. These are highly recommended for pilgrimaging.

I've also bought a bottle of detergent. Going to spend a Saturday night washing me togs and shaving me bonce. Hit it a bit hard last night. I need a recovery session.

Big spend, but it is almost Christmas after all and no other fucker's going to buy me anything!

Apparently Villa v West Ham is on GOL TV. I'm off to find a bar with telly before hitting the laundrette for an exciting Saturday night.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Monte do Gozo.

Monte do Gozo - the last albergue before reaching Santiago de Compostela, about 3KM from the city center. I gave it a miss walking in after what I had read. Specifically, the bit about the number of pilgrim beds available - 800! However, on arrival in Santiago I found all existing albergues closed for various reasons and the modern, purpose built albergue as listed in the guide I was reading turned out to be so contemporary that they had barely laid the foundations yet.

But, Monte do Gozo is available for Four nights at just €3/night. I'm not complaining. Good facilities. Warm. Clean. Safe. But, it's an absolute nightmare of a holiday camp come army barracks come open prison like complex. Dorm after dorm on the side of a hill with a central 'plaza' that has a 24 hour shop full of vending machines and not a lot else. Capitalism at it's worse borders with Communism possibly at it's best. It's a bit of a hard welcome back to the 21st Century after treking through forgotten villages full of friendly people. Another pilgrim, another number, another tourist, another cash laden ant. Nothing more. I'd swear this place was American owned if I didn't know it is actually state run. At the top of the hill is a modern sculpture of monumental proportions. The cheapest accommodation (pilgrims albergue) comes first. Lower down is mass holiday accommodation. Below that is some horrific hotel that really should have a golf course next to it. Perhaps it will do some day. But, €3/night. Can't grumble. And, they're pretty flexible on the lights out rule. A long walk back from the city, or a number 6 bus.

I'll take the Four nights and then book into a cheap city pension.

I can also claim Three days worth of free pilgrim meals at some swanky hotel apparently. Just have to photocopy my Compostela. I opted for the non-religious version. No doubt it's worth fuck all on ebay despite being exceptionally rare. I quick glance through the registry reveals that 90% of pilgrims took the religious version. Yet, only Two pilgrims I met told me that their walk had some meaningful religious conotation.

Anyway, still loving Santiago. It's a great little city.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

And...More Rain :(

Oh well. Forecast is good for the weekend :)

I have invested in a nice, new, shiney portfolio full of various watercolour papers. I'm going to sit in a cafe all day drawing and painting from postcards. This evening, I'm going to sit under an arch and paint a nice Navidad scene featuring the cathedral and all the sparkly Christmas lights.

Seems stupid to be buying a new digital camera at this time of year, but I really should be recording more sketches and paintings. My panoramic sketches have been going up in bars and cafes all along my route. I'll have to revisit them all some day. I'm leaving my mark everywhere.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

I'm Liking Santiago in the Sunshine :)

Really, really liking this city. Extending my plan of stay and making good money. Slight problem with Policia Local sketching in front of the cathedral, but other than that it's a very enjoyable city to sketch and paint in. Trying a few dynamic watercolours tomorrow. Pretty sure they'll make some good Christmas presents for someone.

Very similar vibe to Granada, but it has more dosh, more trendy bars (as well as plenty of cheap bars to keep me sane) and a tolerant, progressive attitude for Spain.

Plenty of sunshine today. I'm hoping it lasts. This city is a good little earner for the likes of me.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Santiago de Compostela.

Yay! Charity goal number 1 sorted :)

It's a fantastic little city. I've found a fantastic little bar with jugs of wine for pouring yourself a 40 Cent glass. But, it's still raining. Accommodation isn't to cheap. The Semanario albergue is closed for renovations until April next year. I'm determined to spend at least 10 days here though. Cash can be made even in the rain and there is loads to explore.

I like the accent in this part of Spain. A nice lazy lol to the tongue. If the rain would just fuck off for Three days, or so I would be sorted for stage Two. All good really despite the rain. I can hold my head above water until the there's a break in the weather.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Forests of Eucallyptus.

Not sure about my spelling there. I've stumbled into a tiny bar in a tiny village in the middle of a very wet forest of eucalyptus trees. There's a shed over the road with an entire family standing around Two very fat, dead pigs. Two old guys are singeing the corpses with blow torches. It would make a great photograph, but I'm all out of film :( Must sort a digital solution out when I get to Santiago. I want an all singing, all dancing, whistles and bells PDA solution with a sponsored 12 month contract. Please God. I've been a very good pilgrim (most of the time).

43KM to go!

Friday, 12 December 2008

Next Stop Santiago!

Yay! In the brief couple of hours of dry in Lugo it delivered. I'm now comfortably sorted for cash to see me to Santiago by Sunday. About 80KM to go. Big hike tomorrow to leave a 25KM stroll into town on Sunday. Where I go from there I have no idea as yet. May hang around for a week, or so until an incentive drives me forward. I've met so many people on this 'pilgrimage' and have so many ne invitations to visit people all over Spain and France. I could easily draw a map of free beds from here back to Granada :D

Very friendly police and people in Lugo when it isn't pissing it down. I will return to explore further some day.

Friday night in a small, drive through farming town in deepest darkest Galicia. Although, I'm still half convinced I'm in Wales. With my mind drifting as I hike I find myself looking up for sign posts to Newtown and Welshpool, or Knighton. Fond memories of teenage camping sessions.

Needless to say; it's raining again. Bucket loads. It will be tomorrow also. No doubt. Oh well, I'm getting use to it, but it really isn't what I moved to Spain for as beautiful as it is.

Thursday, 11 December 2008


I'm in Lugo. Yet another beautiful little city. But, it's still raining relentlessly. Total end of the world weather. Very cool little city and there's a photography festival on. Yay! PhotoGalicia 2008 - InnerCity. My sort of photography. I can see I'm going to get stuck here if I make some cash. If I make some cash!

I'm down to my last couple of Euros. I have repairs to repair. Zips are a busting all over the shop. My umbrella is holding up well mind. It's still good for going fwapperfwapperfwapper everytime I enter a bar :)

I need €40 to see me safely through to Santiago. I also need a shave and a haircut for when I meet God's earthly topman representative to collect my reward. A lavanderia to wash all my clothes. There is a peregrinos albergue here, so that's possibly just €3 for a bed for tonight and about €6 to wash and dry my clothes. Sleeping bag could do with a wash also.

Best get to work. I need to make €30 today and another €30 tomorrow to be safe again. I've been feeling a bit vulnerable surviving day to day cashwise. My compañeros have been very kind, but I need a safety wad in my back pocket. Parted company this morning, hoping to meet up with them again further enroute. They're a good bunch.

Off to work in the cold, wet streets of Lugo.

Ignore My Last Post!

I was obviously more drunk than I thought I was :D

Bleeding reservoir innit. Obviously. Didn't get it until this morning. Last night I walked along the river thinking 'spooky river, 'mysterious river', looking at all the relics of a village drowned 46 years ago.

200 stupid points for me.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


Hey! Somebody moved the church. Very frustrating when that happens in strange cities and towns, but equally reassuring when someone moves your hotel right in front of your nose when you had given up all hope of finding it.

This church (and much of the old town) was moved brick by brick about 45 years ago. Moved up river and up hill. A 12th Century church that had stood for...well...12 Centuries untroubled. Yet, 50 years ago the town became prone to flooding big style. The church was often under water. What's that about then? Today, the church stands proud and restored about Half a Kilometer away from where it was originally built. Surrounded by very convincing 'old' buildings. The old town remains where it always was. About 500 Meters down valley.

Climate change? World change. It's always changing. If you look at most coastal towns in Spain the houses are almost always a good 50 Meters above sea level. Sea walls count for nothing.

Off to Lugo tomorrow.

Today's tune stuck in my head is: The Wind Knows My Name - Fairground Attraction.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


I'm in a very nice little public library in the very nice little village of Samos. For some reason this place barely gets a mention in many guides and it's actually off track a little. There are sweets in the ashtrays, it's warm, comfortable and it has internet - all for free. It is stunningly beautiful here even in the bleak, relentless wet weather. Samos is famous for it's very magnificent monastery. A huge building about half the size of the entire village.

I have found some camino commradery. I seem to have joined a like minded bunch of walkers who have very kindly paid for my bed in last nights albergue. I'm cashless and on a dash to Sarria to make enough money to take a bus and a Two day sketching break in Lugo. The weather should be OK by Thursday. Hopefully I'll make enough to see me through to Santiago.

I'm currently sharing albergues and very nice, good value meals with a couple from Catalonia, a French woman and a bunch of guys from Majorca. All smokers and drinkers and all very relaxed, good humoured people. It's been a fun few nights even if very wet.

Villafranca went a bit strange, so I decided to head onwards. Standing by the river watching the rapids and admiring the elegant old bridge, a car suddenly crashed through the bridge railings and dropped 15 Meters, or so onto the path below. Did that really just happen? It did. The driver was obviously a bit fucked, but I think he survived. That threw me a little, so I walked on.

There is no doubting I'm now in Galicia (unless it's Wales). It is extremely beautiful, but it's also extremely wet and cold. Constantly getting soaked in rain, drizzle, sleet and snow. I've crossed the highest pass mind. It's relatively easy and straightforward from here on. I could easily be in Santiago by the weekend if I wanted to be. But, I'm hopeffuly off to explore Lugo for a couple of days tomorrow and may yet take other diversions before reaching destination One.

New plan for destination Two. I found a pilgrimage route to the sunshine of Alicante. From Santiago to Salamanca to Toledo and then directly towards the coast and Alicante. That's going to be walk number Two. I'm looking for a new sponsor. It should take about Three months. From Alicante, I'm going to take a Two week holiday in Majorca :)

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Raining Again.

More rain. Far to many things about this part of Spain remind me of north Wales and Snowdonia. Dark grey slate rooves and lots of rain mostly. Never mind, I have a portrait to complete from a photograph. That can be done in a cafe. Other commissions need outdoor space and dry weather. Hopefully tomorrow, but this rain, like in Wales, looks like it's going to hang around for days.

I'm whistling to myself again, so things can't be to bad. Today's tune; Walk a While With Me' - Ian McNabb. Links to his MySpace from the 'friends' links on my MySpace.

The albergue here is actually the nicest and friendliest I have stayed in yet. A good bunch of people. Some of these places aren't to bad at all.

Off to the Tourist Information office to look for pictures I can sketch in a dry place. Feeling loads better after a good meal and good nights sleep, but really need to up a gear on the cash making front. I've seriously underestimated costs over the next leg.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Villafranca del Bierzo

Last night didn't quite go as expected :D

Got about 10KM in and the rain came again, so I took shelter in the porch of an empty house. Rain didn't stop and I found an small 25 Litre oil drum to make a stove and stayed the night. Relatively easy walk into Villafranca del Bierzo in the morning. Small town deep in the valleys and sheltered by mountains on all sides. Apparently referred to as 'Little Santiago'. Very pretty and very friendly. Once again I find people bending over backwards to help in this part of Spain. Sold sketches and commissions lined up for tomorrow. Hopefully, the weather will hold out.

Albergue problem seems to have gone away. I have equal rights with the professional cheating pilgrims now, but I really don't feel a part of the community thing. Having to rough it with flu has left me feeling more than a little excluded. I'm using the places for the sake of a cheap bed and nothing more now. Finding far friendlier and more welcoming people in the villages and towns I pass through. That's pretty much the way it's been since I set off.

May stay here a couple if nights if I can source a cheap bed beyond tonight.

It's been a tough week. Surely it can't get any tougher?

Thursday, 4 December 2008

A Big Bag of Goodies :)

I really like these sorts of drops. 'Thank you' to whoever you are. It's a bit like receiving a Christmas stocking. A bag full of things you wouldn't buy yourself. Ponferrada was very good in this way last time I visited.

Cash and weather is not improving. I'm off on a scary midnight hike into unknown lands. Looking to arrive at next location early morning to prepare for a big panoramic sketch. I think a break in the weather and €20, or so is the best I can hope for presently. But, that should just about see me through to the next cash making opportunity. It's been very hard for a couple of weeks now, and I don't expect it to get any easier.

Off into the darkness with trepidation :)

I Won't Stop Walking Until I Know Where I'm Going!

Yesterday's hike was a bit tough. Over mountain passes through blizzards and drifts, but I am now in Ponferrada just 200KM short of Santiago de Compostela and I'm already wondering where to go from there.

Physically and financially it's getting very difficult. Mostly due to the weather. But, I can walk 200KM in Four days if I have to. I don't want to. I want to take it very slowly and arrive on Christams day, but taking it slowly is much more expensive.

I need cash. My clothes need washing. Sleeping bag needs repairing. It's raing in Ponferrada and I really struggle to make money in the rain. Off to stroll around town to come up with a new idea. Hopefully.

I would like to continue walking around Spain until I'm ready to move forward in other ways in about a years time (possibly longer).

Perhaps I should just focus on charity goal number 1 and make sure I get to Santiago before making other plans. The home stretch could be very tough.

Had to share a dorm last night with someone who left a flashing light on all night. WTF???? These professional pilgrims and all their gadgets are really beginning to annoy me :D

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Snowed In!

I'm stuck in a small village about 25KM West of Astorga. It was very beautiful yesterday. Today the weather is a bit shit and the mountain pass is apparently unpassable :(

I have to make a move. 35KM in snow and sleet to Ponferrada.

It's getting very tough!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Time to Blow the Lid :D

Ha ha!

I have walked over 1000KM. For most (if not all of the way) I was the only person/pilgrim (I'm not really a pilgrim, but anyway...) laying footprints. In 1000KM I have only met One other pilgrim on track, yet the albergues have often been full???

Zafra was my first clue. I arrived at about 5AM. Guessing that the bus station cafe would be first to open I headed that way. It was closed, but shelter was there, so I waited until it did open at about 6.30AM. Enjoyed churros and chocolate followed by cafe con leche followed by chocolate.

Then, pilgrim number one appeared. Complete with carbon fibre rods. Ten minutes later a whole posse of German pilgrims appeared. By 8AM the bus station was full of pilgrims. Where were they all going? I watched at the ticket booth as each one bought tickets to the nearest village to the next albergue. That's how carbon fibre walking rods and skin tight latex helps you. Not knocking any of them. Enjoy it in your own way, but don't try and tell me I'm not a proper pilgrim because I'm not using the right gear!

Cheating fuckers the lot of you :D

Albergues in Astorga.

Finally sussed the good albergue (San Javier). Not where I thought I stayed last time I was here (scumbags albergue). San Javier is the place to head for. Very nice and very reasonable.

I've made plenty of good contacts via established friends in this part of Spain. I'm pretty sorted again cash wise. All sketches completed today were commissioned. Booked into the nice albergue. Good nights sleep and I'm off again tomorrow morning. Flu has subsided greatly today.

The Wrong Sort of Pilgrim - An Explanation.

OK. Once again turned away from the pilgrims albergue. Tried to shove me out of the door before I had even got in. Explained that I accepted that I couldn't stay there, but just wanted an explanation. A bit of careful questioning and and explaining to them exactly who I was and what I was doing they remained adamant that I couldn't stay.

'This albergue is for peregrinos de Santiago de Compòstela'.

Yep - that's me. I'm walking to Santiago from Granada.

'No. You can't stay here'.

OK, but why not?

A quick glance at my credentials (book of albergue stamps) and they asked where I had been since Benevente on the 12th of November. I then explained that I'm walking for Two years and taking a break every two months, or working cities to make a bit of cash and generate a bit of local publicity. I went from Benevente to Ponferrada by bus. I then went into the mountains for a few days to explore forgotten pilgrimage routes and visit friends. I then came back to Astorga by car, took a bus back to Benevente, walked to Astorga once more before taking another excursion to Leon to meet a couple of journalists and sketch in the streets. Now I am back in Astorga on the Via de la Plata pilgrimage route.

'OK, that's why you can't stay here'.

Oh! No-one told me there were rules that I couldn't take a break.

Anyway, what I think he meant to say was: 'the albergue gets abused by alcoholic drifters who usually speak English'. This is where 'English' people often get a bad name in Spain. It's full of vagrants from all over the world. The common language is often English before Spanish. Naturally, local people assume they are all English whether they're German, Ducth, Scandinavian, Swiss, Israeli, or whatever.

That's pretty much the same impression I got in Leon. People tell me I don't look like a pilgrim. I don't I guess. I don't have carbon fibre rods and I'm not a bit fat german guy dressed in skin tight Lycra. My boots may well be scruffy, but they are actually custom made from specialist components. Some of the more serious hiking people recognise the labels. Other than that, I just look like a bit of an ordinary guy with a camera back pack. I'm always a artist scruff shyster and I enjoy a fair amount of red wine. So, I guess peoples perceptions are understandable. Actually, looking at myself again, I think I look a bit more like a sad hip-hop, midlife crisis comedy character. Baggy parachuter trousers and bodywarmer with designer hat. Don't really give a shit what I look like so long as I'm warm and comfortable.

Feeling a bit sparked out and drained. Stomach is still reluctant to accept anything other than straight water. Hoping to make enough here today to pay for a decent meal and bed before heading on. Very much operating on recovery mode, but definitely feel as though I am actually recovering. Nice sunny morning here today :)

I plan to get an Astorga stamp in my credentials from somewhere to try and avert any more albergue problems. Perhaps a few newspaper cuttings with pics of me in various towns en-route may help?

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Wrong Sort of Pilgrim - Type 3

This is really beginning to annoy me. What is it about me?

In Leon, the woman running the albergue accused me of all sorts of things. Street bum, alcoholic and worst of all; a tourist.

Where are all these new rules coming from and why do the cheating pilgrims get allowed in when I don't? It's all very strange. Last night (with flu) I ended up sleeping in a sheltered corner outside the cathedral. Obviously, I'm feeling a bit fucked now, but I'm OK. Could have been much worse. Bitterly cold wind. I 'slept' with 2 x T-shirts, 1 x shirt, 1 x body warmer, 2 x weather prooh coats and a sleeping bag. I was still fucking freezing. Not doing that again. Lesson learned: don't rely on albergues for accommodation. They can be a power crazed, choosy bunch of twats thinking they're going one step higher on the church hierachy. Fuck off! If you truly believe then you will be going to hell :D

Anyway, Leon ended a bit badly, but I enjoyed my stay and paid for half my hostal fees with sketches. I met some very nice people despite the albergue experience. A very BIG thank you to whoever it was that gave me the pilgrim souvenir T-shirt and Ibuprofen. Both greatly appreciated. In a half hallucinatory flu state, you appeared and vanished like a vision of an angel. If I wasn't wearing the T-shirt now I would believe I had imagined it all. Lovelly person :)

I'm back in Astorga. I'm going to have another try at getting a bed in the pilgrims albergue. Nothing has changed with me and my credentials, so I guess I'll get refused again, but I might get a better explanation as to what is going on.

Back on the hiking trail tomorrow afternoon. It's very windy and snowy up here in the mountains of the north! At least I have a very unique umbrella to take with me. Sketched brollies don't sell. Shame, because they're great fun to sketch on. Lesson number 2 learned: don't go investing all your cash in an unproven sales idea. Expensive mistake that. Still, I've recovered and I'm back on track. Sort of.

Friday, 28 November 2008

The Hidden Village of Villarbon and a Secret Albergue.

A post for a later date!

Took me a bit longer than expected to source umbrellas suitable for sketching on and the shop I eventually found doesn't open again until Five, so I'm spending the afternoon transcribing notepad notes to blogs before I lose my notepad. Lost my dictionary somewhere and had to do Two interviews yesterday. Totally lost without a dictionary. This post will have photographs and video clips added at a later date. It will no doubt be edited heavily also, but anyway...

High in the mountains on the borders of Leon and Galicia you'll find some of the most stunning views in the whole of Spain. An area of outrageously breathtaking natural beauty. Rich in diversity and packed with thriving wildlife, plants and forest of pine and deciduous tress. Snow capped peaks rising above the clouds below in the deep limestone gorges. Thundering waterfalls and lush green valleys. A natural park in the region of Bierzo known as Anceres. A circular range of mountains with exceptional hiking trails, hunting and fishing, or a simple country getaway.

If you know where and howyou be may be lucky enough to find the hidden village of Villarbon. A small cluster of derelict buildings (houses, a chapel, a tavern, dry stores) nestled amongst a forest of chestnut, apple, pear and cherry. Just Two houses remain in use. One, a weekend retreat for a local retired couple. The other is home and studio to an English artist and his Spanish actress partner.

Many factors make this village unique. As well as the fabulous views and´'other wordly' beauty, there is electricity, drainage, running water and street lighting! A very surreal thing in such a remote and seemingly forgotten location. There is also a fully functioning 40 bed albergue with hot showers and huge wood burning stoves offering basic accommodation to hikers, hunters, fishing folk and anyone who enjoys time in remote wilderness.

Accessible by car via a very steep 3KM dirt track. You really do need very specific instructions to find it. The nearest bar of any description is about 6KM. If you plan to spend time here you need to come prepared and fully stocked. A beautiful place, a very hard and permanent beauty tat can sometimes be very harsh. Not an easy place to live in, but a very, very nice place to visit for a few days.

Home to wolves, wild boar and some of Europes only real wild bears, pastures that were once the best wheat and potato growing fields are now dense thickets of wild rose and some spindly shrub named 'jester' (not sure I heard right). Gentle slopes below the village roll away into deep gorges. The horizon is one distant mountain after the next. Valley rivers offer some of the very best and most picturesque trout fishing anywhere. Ponies and cows graze the lush valley meadows with alder and birch lining the river banks.

40 years ago this was a thriving community. Often the case with many deserted villages in Spain, when franco expanded towns and cities with plans of industrilisation villages were simply abandoned. Faced with the choice between a very hard mountain life, or a warm appartment with all mod cons and regular work in the city, people fled. Those opposed to the Franco regime emmigrated to Argentina, Switzerland, Holland and other countries. Most simply took the new work in the nearest town, or city. Entire villages left to go to wreck and ruin. Climate change is also a factor in some villages. With rivers suddenly running dry and no summer supply of fresh drinking water.

I visited a week ago, or so and enjoyed wild mushrooms (Lepiotas are the local speciality) apples and pears with fresh baked bread and as many sweet chestnuts as you like.

I fried finely chopped chestnuts in pork fat with garlic beore adding the mushrooms and serving on fresh bread. A bit delicious.


Much more to come to this post at a later date...

More Snow :(

It's all going wrong in Leon. I have man-flu, or even real flu, it's snowing again. I have to make money and I really wish I hadn't just Googled the weather :(

I need a wet weather plan quickly.

There's a shop here that sells umbrellas. When it's sunny they're €6. When it rains they're €12. Bit to late to take advantage of such supply and demand situations, unless...

Sketching on umbrellas! Why the fuck not? I'm going to spend the afternoon customising an umbrella to sell in tomorrows rain. One watreproof permanent marker €2. One umbrella €6 (I can negotiate). Sell signed, original and practical work of art tomorrow for €50+. It's possible.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Oh Noes! Illness Strikes.


Shitty cold has turned into something crappier. To much working on freezing cold streets. Should have been more careful. I've been keeping myself fired up on coffees and brandies all day. Possibly not a good idea. On the plus side, I was treated to a very nice (and healthy) Chinese lunch today. Thanks for that :)

I'm off to seek sanctuary in a cosy hotel room with 22 Tonnes of Satsumas. Thankfully they're in season and good and cheap at the moment otherwise that may have been very expensive.

Hopefully up for a full on selling and sketching session for Saturday, but expect most of tomorrow to be spent in bed and within spitting distance of a bathroom :(

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Papeleria Heaven!

Beautiful day here. Very little wind and bright sunshine. Just spent about an hour trying to source more paper. Getting increasingly frustrated until someone pointed me in the direction of a paper warehouse. I now have 50 Meters x 1 Meter of parcel wrapping paper bought at the bargain price of €5. Three new pens. Mission: Turn 50 Meters of paper into €500 by Saturday evening. Rapido sketching. Weather and Policia Local permitting I honestly believe Leon can deliver. A nice big drop to a local charity and me comfortably sorted until Ourense. A BIG ask! We'll see what happens. Forecast doesn't look to good. I may have to find a wet weather pitch somewhere.

Can't remember if I've already posted this, but...

Imaginary Conversations.

Early on in my hiking I found myself turning to my backpack after each small break and asking in my head if he was ready to move before remembering that I was alone. That soon stopped. But, quite often when I reach an albergue after a long lone trek I find myself recollecting over the days events and recalling conversations with people that never happened. Very strange. One evening, after getting sorted and finished for the day in a small albergue, I sat down with a bottle of wine and thought about the very long conversation I had earlier with Two beautiful woman. A conversation remebered in great detail and the women were recalled in very specific and unique character, but they didn't exist. They were never there. The entire day had passed without me meeting a single other person, yet my head was full of memories of people!

If I wasn't totally fucking bonkers before I set off there can be little doubt that I am now :D

My pilgrimage is a very extreme contrast of social awarness. Four, or Five days in remote wilderness often meeting nobody followed by Four, or Five days working the streets of a city where It's not unusual to speak to over 100 different people a day.

Pretty sure I've been talking to my feet lots. They seem to argue amongst themselves frequently also. It's not just me!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Freezing My Fucking Bollocks Off.

Christ! It's getting cold. A bit of sunshine though and a couple of sales sees me safe in a new bed for a few more nights. €17 for own room with shared bathroom. It's very cheap here.

Managed to sketch for just Two hours this morning. Little by little. So cold I had to break to warm up every 10 minutes. Policia Local intervened, and to be perfectly honest I was simply glad for an excuse to pack-up and get a warm coffee. Very nice couple from Switzerland gave a very generous drop specifically for spending on such luxuries :)

OK, so I'm in the North and I'm likley to be in the North for at least a couple of months. The cold issue needs to be addressed. I'm on a mission to source gloves, long johns and a new scarf. Sadly lost my other, very old, very sentimentally valuable scarf on a mountain pass somewhere the other day. It was only a scarf and it can be easily replaced, but I felt a bit gutted about the loss for a couple of days. Almost like I had just lost a girlfriend. You tend to hold on to any companionship on lonesome treks. May only be fantasy, but it's all you have much of the time.

Right, where's the longjohneria???

Monday, 24 November 2008

Snowing in Leon.

Leon just went from being a very cool little city to a downright fucking freezing little city. Everybodies coughing, everyone is sneezing and I'm the loudest of them all. Wet, windy, snowy and cold. Unworkable sales wise. Never mind. I'm still enjoying myself and I've found a very nice little pension (Pension Blanca) for just €22/night including breakfast and as much internetz as I want. Paid for for just One more night and I'm down to my last €20 in pocket. I need to make a plan of action quickly. In the meantime I'll just prattle on the web waiting for God to intervene, or something. Make postcard sketches from postcards in the dry, warm comfort of a cafe possibly. That may be a solution.

I like Leon a great deal. A curious blend of Southern and Northern European culture which means you don't know when to pay for your drinks at the bar. I plan to stay a few more days and explore a bit more to see if this city has anymore to offer my future than Granada. I like it that much, but cold, wet and windy is very much the norm for winter so I'm told. High on your list of city weekend breaks - you won't regret it.

So, what to do in Leon when it's cold, wet and windy? You go to a cafe and take a large coffee with a couple of very large brandies followed by a big fat spliff. Then you go to the cathedral for a full, magical kaleadoscopic, stained glass window experience. The best collection of windows I've ever seen. It's so impressive you may be distracted and forget to look at all the other amazing relief sculptures and stuff.

Guess I better get me pens out and get to work!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

The Wrong Sort of Pilgrim?

I've reached Astorga. Once again the pilgrim trail has gone all commercial and rule driven. I was denied a bed in the pilgrims albergue for no good reason. The place was far from full, but I was sent to scumbags albergue down the road.

Scumbags albergues are church run night shelters for the homeless that offer a meal, bed, shower and even clothes. Usually run during day by young church going volunteers with a caretaker sleeping overnight. On less well known pilgrim routes these hostals double as pilgrim albergues. They're fine. Usually very clean and warm if a little basic, but they often fill with big drinking, heavy snoring street folk.

Looking after the unfortunate is a big part of Spain's culture. Very much a family oriented way of life and generally most can rely on family for help, but some lose family and slip through the state safety net. It is law that a free meal and bed is offered for one night only. A system that also gives vagrants an incentive to move on to the next town and not 'litter' the streets of course. But, it's also a service that anyone following old, rarely walked pilgrimage routes will find very useful. Especially during winter.

Off to sketch and try to make enough for a safe bed in Leon for a couple of days. I've met some great people in this part of Spain already. Bending over backwards to help me in anyway they can and a couple of contacts in Leon. A short bus ride from Astorga, I'm told it's an exceptionally beautiful city. Back to pilgrimage on Tuesday.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Back on the Pilgrim Route.

And, heading towards Astorga after a very splendid break in a secret albergue in a secret village hidden high in the mountains. Possibly the most beautiful place I have ever visited. Sunshine all week and the woods, forests and valleys all bathed in glorious sunshine everyday :)

But, rain cometh :(

Chestnuts, mushrooms, apples and pears. Plenty to eat for free. A perfect trout river at the bottom of the valley. A 40 bed albergue with 8 showers, loos and sinks all to myself and a huge wood burning stove to play with. All has been documented photographically on old skool film and will be published here at a later date. Very interesting history to this village. And, there are wild boar, wolves and bears! More later.

Must make Astorga in time to catch business tomorrow and make some cash to buy a huge umbrella. It is the only solution. I may then venture off track again for a couple of days to visit Leon. Looks to be a city with cash potential.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

A Small Diversion

A bus ride some 150KM off track for a Two week break from pilgrimage. I'll return to Benavente to start hiking again. In the meantime I have work to do.

I've noticed a big cultural difference recently. Things started changing gradually, but now the landscape, way of life, the people are all very noticably different. I'm liking this part of Spain a lot. Can't say exactly where I am for now, but it's very beautiful.

Tomorrow I will be hiking a further 20KM into the mountains and losing all internet for a few days at least, possibly longer. Logistically, things are going to get very complicated from here to Santiago. I have a lot to pack in, but I'm far further into my route than I expected to be by now, so there's no rush.

Back in a couple of weeks, or so???

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


Monster hiking through fine weather and effing foul weather. I have crossed Camino de Santiago and continue to follow Ruta Mozarabe/Via de la Plata northwards. I will be walking a huge loop around the north western corner of Spain and returning to the point at which I crossed camino de Santiago to follow that route eastwards.

I'm in Benavente. The free albergue is a rather cool, hard to find (very unexpected) dereilct railway station.

A small town with a castle that is now a Parador hotel, a huge flour mill, a couple of nice churches, an outdoor municipal swimming pool with water chute (for summer use only) and an exercise park that some bloke with no legs is currently using as I write from the library.

On a convergence of Two rivers, Benavente is pretty much surrounded by plains filled with poplar plantations used for producing match sticks and fencing stakes. At this time of year the are totally naked but for the gold tops of late falling leaves. Almost surrounded by plains, but not quite. Between the 'V' of the rivers are fertile valleys renowned for the harvest of varied crops they produce. There is a harvest fair here at the end of September each year.

I have invested in a quality body warmer and a pair of light weight combats. I now have 38 pockets. Pockets for cash. Pockets for cigarettes. Pockets for lucky stones. Pockets for rubbish. Pockets for pretty much everything. Took me almost an hour to find my pocket torch last night. Cash is low. Very little going to local charities ATM. I also have a schedule to stick to over the next few weeks. Hopefully here, Astorga and Ponferrada will provide a bit to see me through a few days (or, possibly weeks) in the wilderness. I may go off radar for a while. People have been goo enough to give their time for me to interview/film/photograph them, so if I have to take a bus ride off route for a while I will.

The rains have stopped. I'm all togged up in new, warm, dry clothes... I'm off to sketch in the streets of Benavente :)

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Beautiful Day Today :)

Blue skies, glorious sunshine and a crisp breeze. Perfect hiking weather, but I have a large panoramic sketch to finish. I have about €40 more in my pocket than I had when I arrived in Zamora, so another night in a cheap pension isn't a problem and I may collect a handful of €'s this afternoon.

A quick note about albergues:
Since reaching Zafra they have all been very nice. Some a bit pricey for what you get, but others are dirt cheap, or even free. It all evens out. Often they're restored, historically interesting buildings. Or, monastaries, or a room in the bishiops house! Most comparable thing in the UK would be 'old school' Youth Hostals. The deal is that you can stay One night only as a pilgrim. The albergue here in Zamora is located in the old quarters behind a very pretty little church. It has balconies with views across the river. A good kitchen and salon. Excellent showers. Dorms of 8 bunks. For the first time in about Two weeks I was not the only pilgrim. One other French guy hiking in the opposite direction.

From here on it looksas though there are cheap, or free albergues no more than Four hours hiking distance apart. With plenty of towns en route with sketching potential I should be fine.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Business as Usual

Today was better. No hassle from police. Enjoyed sketching and made enough to cover costs at least. Also remembered it is Saturday and stocked up on paper and pens. Zamora's alright in the sunshine.

Found a great little tapas/pincho bar. Second favourite in the whole of Spain so far! Bar Sevilla on Calle Alfonsod Castro. €1,90 buys a quality wine and quality snack from a huge selection. I went for tortilla with ham followed by paella. The paella was given a suspiciously long time in the microwave, but I could do with a good blowout and I have a hotel room with my own bathroom to enjoy ;)

And, whilst on the subject: best ever tapas/pincho bar in Spain so far was in Salamanca. From Plaza de España walk along Paseo del las Canalejos. Opposite the park are Two great bars. One is exceptional for fantastic local food. €2 buys a wine and whatever you want from a huge selection of traditional stuffs. Excellent.

Spain's Best Kept Wine Secret 2

This has been one of the most fun parts of pilgrimage for me. Seeing, and eating the grapes from the vine and trying the local good stuff :)

If you like a no messing, full bodied Crianza with clout check out a few Toro's. I like very much. Nothing subtle going on here, just a quality punch in the right direction at 13 - 14%. Yay! My sort of wine. No doubt those with more eloquent taste buds will notice some undertones of berries, or something. I'm sure it works on other levels, but I'm quaffing by the bottle.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Oh Dear! Intervention Policia Nacional.

Shame. I was enjoying Zamora up until now. May continue anyway, but he was a right arsey fucker. Undercover police (or, perhaps off duty. I wasn't aware that Nacional operated undercover on the streets) jumped out of car: 'You're not allowed to sketch here'. Why not? 'Because it's private property and you need permission'. Were can I obtain permission? He then told me where, but it's closed until Monday, so you may as well fuck off basically. I suspect he would be even more arsey if he saw me again. I also suspect he was just on his way home going off duty. I'm going with the second suspicion. Or, I'll try sketching in Plaza Mayor and see what happens there.

Big 'Boooooooooh!' to nasty Policia Nacional Zamora trying to spoil the charity cause. First poblem I've had since the first town outside of Granada. All the police have been generally friendly and helpful everywhere else. Just one cunt in a bad mood.

Onwards and upwards...

I guess if I was just to ask Policia Municipal if I could sketch in Plaza Mayor they would simply say no just for the sake of it???


Didn't post this yesterday because I wasn't 100% sure, but after a bit of local research it seems it was indeed a wolf. My first live, real, wild wolf spotting. About 4KM north of Cubo del Vino the track follows fairly dense woodland to the right and fields of corn to the left and there are wolves in the woods. Apparently local farmers aren't happy. As well as controlled, licenced culls many wolves are hunted illegally.

Thanks again for comments. I agree that Zamora has a very unique charm. What makes it very different in atmosphere for me is that there isn't an overbearing cathedral presence. As beautiful as cities like Salamanca are, there is no getting away from the ostentatious display of wealth and power from the state and church. Zamora has many small churches and a cathedral, but the cathedral's location doesn't impose on the rest of the town and the churches are all small, old and very pretty rather than dominating edificies designed to impose on everything around them. I like Zamora, but I don't think any city in Spain I come across will quite do for me what Granada does for me. Pretty sure I know what I'm going to do when I eventually return.

I've taken a €60 gamble and booked into a hotel for a couple of nights. It's wet now, but the forecast is good. A couple of hours sketching yesterday returned €40. I'm sure I can do that again today and take €100 or so over the weekend. Today will mostly be spent in the dry warm library researching pilgrimage and pilgrim routes. The one thought occupying my mind much of the time during lonely hiking stretches is why? Why did they do it? Beyond all the romance that religion plasters history with, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that pilgrimage was nothing more than a glamorised recruitment campaign for the crusades. A young Mozarabe man feeling a bit oppressed by the Moorish regime may set off to the lands of hope and Christian rule from the south, but what does he do once he gets there? Toughened up and fit for a fight I reckon he simply joins one of the many mercenary armies fighting for the Pope, or the King. Good pay and it's one way home at least!

Slight change of plan. Taking a more careful look at the map it makes sense for me to continue walking to Ponferrada before breaking to visit friends and places of interest in the mountains. So, about another weeks hiking ahead of me. Pretty sure Ponferrada and Astorga can bring in a bit of cash and there are cheap albergues to make use of in both.

Thanks to Tammo in Granada for the comments. I'm managing to maintain a very healthy float now, but things may have been very different without the generous donation to get started.

Thursday, 6 November 2008


Yay! Beat the rain to Zamora. Two relatively easy days of short hikes in glorious sunshine. Beautiful countryside and loads of wildlife. All looks a bit French along this stretch. Fields full of grape vines, maize and stubble with the odd coppice of birch and poplar here and there. Little wine villages with streets of bodegas.

Spent last night in a tin pueblo with no shops and just one bar. Albergue was just €6 and once again I had the place all to myself. I passed just Two other pilgrims on track. A French couple travelling in the opposite direction. €15 bought me a good meal with a bottle of wine and a couple of brandies. Friendly service and very friendly village also. Awoke to sunshine this morning and decided to skip breakfast to try and beat the rain. Couldn't resist a slight diversion to Morales del Vino. Took an early lunch with a couple of red wines wondering what on earth could be immoral about wine.

Wildlife: Fantastic. In one single momentary glance into the skies around me I saw a heron flying low ove a pond, a huge kite circling gracefully no more than 20 Meters above my head, a peregrin falcon , a kestrel, a pair of dark coloured ducks I didn't recognise, sky larks and countless other round nesting birds. Also saw foxes and all sorts of other birds I couldn't identify along the way. Loads of birds of prey.

Three days sketching in Zamora (hopefully with sunshine) then I take a break from walking for a while and head to the hills to fell trees and make logs and cider and other country stuff. Will build up my arms a bit. They feel as though they're fading to nothing compared to my legs.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Sticky Mud the Colour of Wine

That was a bit shit.

20KM in wet, cold windy weather mostly on roads getting sprayed by lorries. Not nice. When it wasn't road it was very clay rich mud that added a good Five Kilos to each hoof. Finally decided to walk along the unfinished new road. First layer of bitumen gave way under foot like a plush carpet. Soaked to the bone. Oh well - it only makes the coffee and brandy taste so much better when you eventually make it.

So, it's not a town with buckets of wine, but a small dead end village with rich red soil the colour of wine, or something. And, don't I know it.

One major redeming factor: mushrooms galore! All sorts. I have a huge bag of seta for dinner. To be lightly fried in butter with garlic and a Fly Agaric for after dinner experimentation. Only joking. Possibly? I'm in a bar watching a nature programme on large screen TV. The crocodile just ate the baby egrets mum and the football table is starting to not make any sense at all. Who knows what it's talking about???

Monday, 3 November 2008

Rain, rain, rain.

Is there anywhere in Europe it isn't pissing it down, or snowing? It's relentless here. Managed about Three hours hiking this morning. It's now chucking it down once more in that penetrating, cold London stylee.

The footpath also seems to have disappeared again. This walking on roads wasn't part of the deal in my over romanticising imagination. I was expecting quiet tracks through rural bliss between every town. Not to be sadly, although it has to be said that there is more track than road.

On the plus side, accommodation seems to be cheap and plentiful all the way from here to Santiago. Better still, I am the only pilgrim - I get the very nice albergues all to myself. Currently in some tiny village. Made use of facilities to wash my clothes and put them up to dry over the heater. Only to then be told that I need to be out by 8am because it's cleaning day. Hmmmmm??? No way my clothes will be dry and I need plenty of changes for the coming rain and snows. Also fancy cooking myself a nice hotpot to down with a fine red and a very late, contemplative night texting friends. Fat chance I'll be awake by 8am never mind out!

Thanks again for the comments. Very nice. A very nice company is now paying my phone costs and a PDA is on its way. I'll be scanning and uploading pics of sketches very soon. Also posting links to video clips and photo essays. I hope.

Next stop is a village called 'El Cubo de la Tierra del Vino'. I like the sound of that very, very much. I hope the rains don't spoil my downing of red wine by the bucket load :)

Saturday, 1 November 2008


At last. Some half decent weather. City full of tourists. Completed Three large sketches this morning. Sold them all. In total I collected well over €200 and I still have this evening and tomorrow to make more. If I can buy more paper??? Can't believe I still get caught out by Saturday afternoons in Spain. Hopefully a Chinese sell everything shop will be open with 'everything' I need.

Looks like I'm back on for a Monday morning start towards Zamora. The mural commission turned out to be HUGE. I'll come back to it after I've made Santiago de Compostela. It's at least Six weeks work. Very fun work at that. Didn't really need a reason to plan a return visit to Salamanca, but reasons don't get much better than painting big murals for a living :)

A big THANK YOU to Salamanca. Looking set for €300 to a local charity and enough to see me on my way to my next destination.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Dognammit! More Rain :(

And, the forecast doesn't look to hot.

I'm on a total rain avoidance plan. There is no decision to be made. I'm staying in Salamanca until there's a decent break in the weather. Hiking in the cold and wet isn't what I want to do. Not a bad thing. The longer I stay here, the more people I get to know and the more chance of picking up commissions. There's also someone here I would like to get to know a bit better. Seems as soon as I give up on one lost cause I'm eagerly chasing the next. A big part of me wants to settle down and stop moving, but it's not as big as the part that says 'keep on travelling'.

Even in the stinking weather I'm managing to make more than enough to pay for bed and essentials here. There are far worse places to endure the rains. Think I'm looking at moving on by Wednesday at the earliest unless I have an exceptionally good weekend. If anywhere can come up with an exceptionally good weekend cash wise in bad weather, then I suspect it's Salamanca.

Thanks for all the comments. It's nice to know people are reading even if I'm just blogging for my own memories as much as anything. When the sun comes back I'll start posting some decent photographs and links to video interviews.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Even More Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrier!

Despite the very horrible weather Salamanca is deliverying. Making enough between showers to cover cost of bed, food and drink and have bought winter clothes (although one of those €14 body warmers on offer in Carrefour may come in handy also).

Picked up a mural commission :) I will leave my mark on Salamanca in the way of a graffiti defying painting on a door in Plaza Mayor. Yay! Free bed for Saturday and Sunday courtesy of a very nice person, so I just have to cover the cost of One night hostal fees and what I make over the weekend should see me clear to Zamora. If the weather picks up I should make plenty.

Not nice working conditions at all. But, Im thankful that Im making enough.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Cold, Wet and Windy.

Brrrrrrr! Someone flicked the switch down another level a month early. Can't make any cash in the rain, and I can't sell in Salamanca's Plaza Mayor anymore. Shame. That was an almighty good pitch. Good news is that I do now have official permission to work the streets of Salamanca (if not Plaza mayor), so no need to worry about Policia Local. Only took 10 minutes at the town hall to get sorted.

Hoping the weather clears for the weekend to make some more decent money, but at the moment far more is going out than coming in. I need winter clothes. There's lots of snow where I'm heading!

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

A Pilgrim's Beard.

Just shaved mine off. Six weeks worth. I was turning into someone I didn't recognise. He was much older than me.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Salamanca Was Beautiful...

Then it started pissing it down.

Arrived pretty much skint. Slept in the cloister thingy of some old convent. Quckly drew a few postcard sketches. Sold them very cheaply to buy large rolls of craft paper for panoramics and started sketching Plaza Mayor. Very challenging sketch, but Salamanca was packed on Sunday and I cleared €120 in a couple of hours. Thankfully sorted with a hostal for a few nights and planning to stay here until Saturday to save some money.

Tough hiking distances. I need the rest. Stayed in my first, nice contemporary albergue in Olive de Plasencia. Only One other person there, so we had a dorm each and choice of showers. Bar, cooking facilities, TV plus DVD library. Fire place. Very nice and not a whiff of religion in the place.

Also met my first pilgrim actually walking. They do exist. There are more tracks on the paths now. It is also getting more commercial and more expensive.

Beautiful countryside once again. Found fig trees with ripe fruit and my first pomegranate tree with ready to eat juiciness. A tip for eating pomegranates the easy way: break the fruit up into small pieces in a bowl of water. All the crud floats to the top and all the goodness sinks to the bottom. Skim and pour the water out then stuff your face using a spoon.

If you're into renaissance architecture you'll love Salamanca. I haven't had a chance to explore much yet, but it is an exceptionally beautiful city. Or, at least it is when the sun shines. Chucking it down and the forecast doesn't look to clever. I'm off to the games hall for a few rounds of pool and air hockey with a couple of Swiss pilgrims I first met in Cordoba. It will keep me out of the bars at least.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Oh Noes! Cash Flows.

Gradually making my way towards Salamanca. Beautiful countryside once again. Nice sunny days and looking good until at least Monday, but getting very cold by night. No sleeping out ha meant paying for hostals/albergues in small villages with no supermarkets. It's proving to be an expensive stretch.

Passed by an old Roman town with the main arch marking the crossroads still standing. Very strange to find it in the middle of nowhere. Cappara. Large photo (click on it) - sorry. Not mine. Still not able to download and upload yet, but I have asked people to email JPEGS of sketches. I'll get my act together soon.

With very little cash I plan to hike big time and reach Salamanca sooner rather than later. Hopefully make some money to pay for new winter clothing and warm beds. A free bed is available for One night for all pilgrims. I'll probably stay at least Five days if money making works well.

Very tired! This is not easy work even if it is very enjoyable.

Onwards and upwards...

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Who Flicked the Switch?

Brrrrrrrr! Cold, wet and windy yesterday. Not that I cared much. I enjoyed a night in a luxury hotel courtesy of some very generous person. No cock sucking, or anything. Just a very welcome, no obligation gift.

It's definitely turned to autumn. The globes on the orange trees are turning bronze rather than green. The late afternoon shadows are noticeably longer. The deciduous trees are losing leaves. It's getting cold by night, but today was warm and sunny and the forecast looks good.

I'm about 15KM north of Plasencia - a small city I really enjoyed regardless of rain. Sold well. Collected good drops (20 Camel and a huge bag of fruit amongst them. Thanks to professor of English Antonio for a well considered bag of conference pears, apples, oranges and bananas. Appreciated greatly). A very workable place and a town I couldlive very happily in. Good people and some very nice places to enjoy outdoor life. The main church facade is well worth a bit of consideration. So much work!

My only quibble was one of the Policia Local who I couldn't quite sus. I actually hit him, but in circumstances that were beyond my control :D The idiot thought it would be funny to wake me my stamping his boot on the ground. I instinctively reacted with a hard, fast fist in the direction of the noise and cuaght him on the shin. Thankfully he laughed, but sometimes you wonder who you should be more wary of. I was sleeping under an arch in the main square. I may well have looked just like any other drifting down and out. Perhaps I am? Whatever his intention, or idea of humour, it makes you think.

Back treking in the countryside. It is stunningly beautiful around here. A very romantic. mountain surrounded landscape with streams running down hillsides through oak woodland and dry stone walls. I'm still in Extremadura and making slow progress towards Salamanca. Think I must have ascended 500M this afternoon. A short Four hour hike, but tough going with all the weight I'm carrying. Very enjoyable all the same. Off to search for the albergue here. Apparently it's a donation for bed deal. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Jesus Wept!

Rain, rain, rain :(

It's like being in Wales, but with prettier buildings.

Looking as though it's going to hang around for a while, so I'm going on an indoor tourist trail for the day. Cathedral, churches, museum, exhibition about ancient Andalus beings... plenty to keep a tourist dry and happy for a day.

I like it here. It's a bit more real and gritty than the over polished cities of Zafra, Merida and Caceres. I liked them also, but Plasencia seems a bit more liveable. More everyday people doing everyday stuff and not as many tourists (although there are still a fair few).

If the rain doesn't stop I will need to come up with a wet weather cash making plan. I'm all out of pocket money.

I've given up completely on the free pilgrim beds. I've given up completely on the whole relgious thing actually. It's all a load of bollocks. Nice churches and cathedrals mind.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Oh noes! Rain. A ha! A bus.

Cough, cough.

I have erm... 'travelled' some 40KM northwards to Plasencia. Started raining and I'm not getting wet for anyone whilst I only have one set of clean clothes. Did say 'no strict rules' right at the start.

Desperately low on cash. Hoping the rain stays away for a sketching session this evening.

Got hopelessly wasted last night. Shame on me. Bad pilgrim etc etc. Some woman found me sleeping outside a bar in shelter and offered me food and drink. Didn't quite understand what she was saying, but there seemed to be a catch, so I turned the offer down. Besides, I had just stuffed my face with quality paella washed down with red wine and followed by a few brandies. Not quite sure how many brandies. Seems I made many telephone calls I can't remember last night.

Not sure if I'm just a bit hungover paranoid, or if I'm getting bad vibes from this city. Just another drifter (wrong type of pilgrim) passing through. We'll see how the sketching is received. It's all in a good cause.

Really can't understand why anyone has a problem with what I'm doing, but it seems some people do.

Forecast looks good for tomorrow and the day after (that'll be Thursday I think. All days and villages are a merging and a blending into one big de ja vous thingy).

Missing Granada. Missing some good people. Felt a bit lonely for the first time this morning. Need a good bed and shower. No boooze till Friday :(

Just realised I can't spell without spell checker. How pathetic :D

Monday, 20 October 2008

Interesting Excursion.

Totally mad art in the middle of nowhere. How can anyone resist?

Only about 10KM from Caceres. Well worth a look.


Before I forget.

Caceres according to Wikipedia

Can't upload and download my own pics yet. One thing I noticed about the people of Caceres was a disproportionately high number of visually impared. Maybe it's a good city to live in for hearing your way around town? You wouldn't think that was the case for a very old town. However, when you think about it, maybe it is. Lots of unique sounds and and streets and alley ways of varying size and materials. Or, perhaps it's a localised genetic thing??? Dunno.

Spain's Best Kept Wine Secret!

Red wine lovers; go explore Ribera del Guadiana.Link

I suspect the price quadrouples by the time it reaches London and the UK. It will still be worth it.

I was drinking a 'standard' reserve. I suspect it was about Five years old, but I'm guessing. Absolutely ripe. Everything you could want from a good red.

Midnight Hiking.

I left Caceres late last night after a few brandies. One to many perhaps. I got lost.

Something extremely special about hiking through the night in strange lands by yourself. Lonely, scary and hauntingly beautiful. When daylight broke I spotted a road and headed north. Caceres was good for me in many ways, but I only sold one sketch. I need more money to make Salamanca.

Currently in a tiny village about 40KM north of Caceres. Unbelievably, I've found teh internetz! Local library running Linux.

There's a house here with a Noah's Ark chimney. Made me smile that did. Nothing else of note other than the fact I appear to be surrounded by dark skies in every direction. I'm shattered. I'm staying the night indoors, or out. There is shelter and it's still very warm by night. I'm struggling on the free pilgrims accommodation front. Seems I'm just not the right sort of pilgrim. I have finally met another walking pilgrim. Saw her initially in Merida and she claims she walked here even though I have still yet to see any other footprints. However, the paths are now hard and dry, so benefit of doubt goes her way. I'm still very suspicious mind.

Two old guys in the central bar of this tiny village. Matching chequered flat caps. One with a bottle of white. One with a bottle of red. 3PM. That's the sort of retirement I aspire to.

Not sure about my next move. Will sketch here even though there's nobody around. The skies are still blue directly overhead. May as well enjoy them. I suspect a couple of days of very wet stuff ahead of me.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Best Hiking Stretch Yet - Merida to Caceres.

Exceptionally beautiful! Hard work, but very enjoyable.

The new national road runs alongside the new motorway. The old national road follows the very old Roman road. People have travelled this route for Thousands of years. The trek from Merida to Caceres left me overwhelmed with a sense of history. The evidence of time seems to be soaking the ground you walk on. From the Roman remains of Merida to the fortified splendour of Plaza Mayor at the heart of Caceres and all the things to see en-route.

And, wildlife - loads of it. Saw my first snake since setting off (biter, a smooth snake). Lost count of the number of different species of migrating birds I saw. Only recognised a hanful of them. From vultures to pipits and everything in between including some parasite peckers on the backs of woolly sheep. A bird spotters paradise.

A beautiful, soft, undulating landscape that went from heathland with wind worn lumps of granite to oak filled woodland. Cloud carpeted mountains, lakes and streams with Roman bridges and aquaducts. Parkland with picnic benches. It was all just about perfect even if very exhausting. Beautiful sunshine with a fresh breeze for the first day. Second day was misteriously misty until lunch time when it cleared.

My only moan: free beds for pilgrims appear to have vanished. At Aljucen I asked around to find out who had the key to the albergue. Eventually made my way to a bar. Woman at bar told me she didn't have the key and led me to a guest house offering special pilgrim rates of €10/night. A fair price, but I'm looking to do this as cheaply as possible in true, hardcore pilgrim style. Registered for the albergue and was about to be handed the key when some guy turned up and stated that it would be €10 for the night. I was told it wasn't a public albergue. Whatever, I was neither prepared to pay, or argue. The nights are still very mild, so I took a few brandies at a bar and slept by the church. The religious aspect of this pilgrim route seems to have taken a commercial turn since I reached Zafra and joined the main Via de la Plata path.

On arrival in Caceres I found the city full of stages and ready to party. A ha! I've done it again. Prime weekend of a month long rock/pop/traditional/world music festival. Loud as they come and absolutely packed. Seems to be a very popular free event.

Really wasn't expecting to find what I found here. I'll give more detail later. It is a stunning little city!

The local paper (turns out to be a paper covering the whole of Extremadura) did good. I haven't had to pay for a meal, or a drink yet. Big thank you to the nice people at Telepizza in Plaza Mayor for free food and beers. And, an equal thank you to Cafeteria Caceres for more free beer and coffees. Tons of cigarettes from the very genrous people of Caceres and an offer of a meal from a couple of US students studying here. It's all good so far.

Anyone looking for a hiking/cycling/bird spotting holiday combined with city break would do well to consider Merida to Caceres over a week. You'll need some Spanish mind. It's impressed me greatly and hostal rooms are from just €15/night (very, very basic, but clean). The pilgrim paths are clearly marked and easily passable on mountain bikes with few steep climbs.

I have still not seen another pilgrim outside of a city. And, still only my footprints mark the trail, but the albergues are still full. What gives???

Thursday, 16 October 2008

An Infestation of Children

Don't get me wrong - I like children, but to many can sometimes be to much. I first noticed this in Llerena. Now in Merida it is far more apparent. I like it when children get interested in my sketches. I'm not so keen on the cycling, skating and walking over sketches bit, although the tracks and foot prints do add a certain authenticity.

Spain appears to be going through some sort of baby boom. Perhaps it's partly down to the recent financial boom? Designer goods and expensive German cars are to be seen everywhere here. New baby accessory shops seem to have opened in every town.

New money from foreign house buyers, EU grants, the new phenomenon of credit and an over producing construction industry. It's all beginning to crash, and it can only get worse. Makes you wonder 'what future for the new generation?'.

The new middle classes have enjoyed unprecedented financial freedom and social ladder climbing. That's all about to end. You can be born poor into upper class tiers and still be perceived as someone in societies top flight regardless. To maintain middle class status you need money always.

10 years from now when the first of the new priviledged generation begin their working lives, the vast majority will realise they don't stand a chance of achieving what their parents achieved. What effect will that have on society?


Time to move on. Merida has seen enough of this itinerant, freelance fund-raising artist. Back to the pilgrims way heading north. It's going to start getting colder :(

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Waking by Water

I'm liking Merida so far. Actually, I'm really enjoying the whole pilgrimage experience so far. Thoroughly recommend it for anyone wishing to take a holiday to benefit mind and body. That said, I managed to wake up on the river bank with a horrible hangover this morning. A very beautiful river bank mind, and another very beautiful sunny morning. Still hitting the high 20's degrees C by day here with very mild nights.

There are Two very elegant bridges in Merida that possibly represent what the city is about to me. A city of contrasts. Roman remains are everywhere. A restored temple and a well preserved theatre are perhaps the best examples amongst the amphitheatre, aquaduct, gateways and mosaics and many others. Or, perhaps the bridge Puente Romano is the very best example. An elegant, yet robust bridge that crosses Guadiana river a couple of hundred Meters south of the extremely elegant, neon lit Puente Lusitania. On one hand Merida is as traditional and conservative as any other small Spanish city. Family oriented in every aspect with a very rigid routine that has remained unchallenged for generations. On the other hand it has a very contemporary vibe. Modern pastimes like jogging and martial arts seem to be very popular. All the children seem to be very well educated on matters of health. I'm frequently being told that smoking is very bad for me. The neon lit bridge at night gives a very cosmopolitan, big city atmosphere at the river crossing. It lies. This is a very small and stayed city in reality. I like it, but find it all a bit to 'D&G image is everything' for a city to live in. I can't see a place for me here.

I went to the albergue to claim my free bed, but it had already closed. Most of Spain and Spanish culture happens at night. You can't really live the city if you're in bed by 9PM. So, I bought a bottle of wine and headed towards the churreteria where I intended to take breakfast in the mroning. I found a nice quiet spot by the river with magical reflected views of both brightly lit bridges and slept for a good 10 hours comfortably. No snoring pilgrims. No smelly feet. No monster coughing loudness at Five in the morning. I was woken by ducks quacking with feet of my ears.

Cash wise was a healthy day yesterday. Spoke to a local journalist and photographer, so maybe I've made a spot in the local rag today. That may help me, or it may not. It will include a link to this blog. I'll either get lynched by the religious zealots, or find that they have a sense of humour after all.

Unbelievably, my belly is growing despite all the hiking. Must do something about my very unhealthy churros and chocolate habit. I wake every morning craving fat, sugar and chocolate!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


Another very lovely, interesting little city steeped in history. Plaza Grande and Plaza Chica are great places to hang out and watch people. Very tranquil and relaxed plazas away from the main shopping streets. Completed One large panoramic sketch and sold a couple of smaller sketches. Took plenty in drops also. Paid just €10 for a bed in the Albergue, so managed to save a sizeable amount for a local charity.

Few people speak English here. My Spanish is improving noticeably by the day as I have no choice other than to use it. Communicating more effectively with local people means I explain exactly what I'm doing and ask which local cause they would like to see money donated to.

The bed could/should have been free, but I still don't have the 'official' pilgrims paper work to qualify as a real pilgrim :D Strange that all the albergues appear to be very busy, but I have yet to meet a single other pilgrim on what is now the main route to Santiago de Compostela - Via del la Plata. What's more, I haven´t even seen a foot print other than my own!

Plan to hike through the night towards Merida. A long stretch through moonlit grape vines under a bright full moon. Now I'm on the old Roman trading route from Sevilla to Santiago I expect to see plenty of Roman remains. I'm told Merida is exceptionally rich in Roman architecture. May spend Four, or Five days there if fund raising proves to be worth while.


Grapes! Loads of them. No wonder the red wine is so cheap around here; it doesn't have to travel very far. Looks like the grapes have just been harvested, but there are plenty of forgotten/late ripening bunches hanging on the vines. Big, lush, super sweet white grapes (I suspect Muscadet, but I'm no expert) and small black grapes the size of large blackcurrants, very juicy and only slighty acidic. I'd say it's been a good year for red wine grapes here :)

Junta de Extremadura 'Palace of Wine and Olive Oil'. A huge contemporary building in the middle of an industrial estate. As tacky as they come. I couldn't resist a visit.

Merida next. I'll get my cameras out and start posting a few photographs. In the meantime, try some Wikipedia info:

I'm actually making far more money than I was expecting. So any suggestions about good causes in Spain are still very welcome. I'm hoping I've stumbled upon a new career as a freelance fund raising artist. That would be a very nice way to make a living.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Holy Shit!

Llerena has been rained off so far. Totally rained off. I managed about 30 minutes sketching in the very grand central plaza when the skies darkened dramatically. Someone invited me to join them for churros and coffee in the closest bar. Within Five minutes the clouds burst into an almighty storm. Huge! The streets very quickly became rivers. A further Five minutes into a conversation about Spanish artists and the cafe roof gave in. A torrent of water came gushing down the stairs instantly flooding the cafe.

I spent most of the day drifting from bar to bar avoiding the rain. Shame I couldn't explore the town buildings and monuments a bit more. A very interesting place with very proud and friendly people. A tiny spot on my map of Spain and Portugal. It deserves much more. I really liked the place despite the rain.

And, OMG! OMG!!!!!!!!!

Red wine and quality tapas hits a record low of 50 Centimos a go! That's like 38p or, summat for a glass of decent wine and quality snack.

Still raining a little. I have strayed from Route Mozarabe once again. Putting a bit of an extra leg onto my journey. Long days hike ahead of me for Zafra to make a bit of cash. I've been told to head for Plaza Chica and Plaza Grande. Pilgrimage wise, I'm expecting things to change a bit. Bit more official and I'll probably finally meet other pilgrims.

Llerena will get a return visit from me one day. It deserves much more time. Very small, but very, very interesting.

Friday, 10 October 2008

This is Not a Cheat

Oh my Spanish!

What I heard as 'will be empty', I should have heard as is always empty because it's been turned into a museum and no longer offers accommodation.

¡Hola! Señora Policia Local - where's the albergue?

"There isn't one, but we will pay for your bus to the next town if you like".

Yep! I want. Thank you Jesus. A further slingshot 30KM into the future with a free meal and warm bed V on the streets in cold windy conditions with a threat of rain. No choice really. And, the fact that Policia Local were offereing me something. I couldn't refuse. In the name of pilgrim exploration I mean to take up all free loading options anyway.

A short journey through some more stunningly beautiful countryside. A nature reserve running alongside a picturesque stoney river with heron waiting for fish to pass and deer roaming the woodlands. A diverse mix of pine, birch, oak and lemon eucalyptus amongst many others. Old, derelict mills with stork nests on the chimeny tops. I started to wish I had walked this part.

On arrival in Llerena my initial impressions are WOW! Seriously wow. This was obviously a very important and rich town once upon a time. I'll explore more and find a bit of history before reporting back. May even get the camera out early. The central plaza offers a challenging panoramic sketch that I'm really going to enjoy tomorrow morning. It is a fabulous mix of architectural styles and totally unspoilt. First person I asked about interent pointed to a door directly opposite me and walked me through a glorious courtyard to the town library. This place promises much and it has free internet. I like it here already. I have to report to policia local at 9PM to be told where to go for my free accommodation. Don´t know if the library opens on Saturday. I'm making very good progress mind. I could well reach Merida way ahead of schedule. 40KM per day is nothing to me now and my ankles are well and truly up for it.


This seems to be a windy part of the world. I have now crossed the border into Extremadura. Despite the blustery weather and having walked 18KM along a very busy and fast road (no fun when loaded up. 40 Tonne lorries hurtling towards you at 100 KPH) I am really taken by the town of Azugua. Very friendly. Very generous. I thought I had strayed out of free tapas land until tonight. I'm paying just 70 Centimos for a red wine with tapas! I don't know if that's the norm, or of it's half price night, or if it's a special pilgrims discount?

The cross country trek I took for the final 12 KM is worth mentioning. Very beautiful. Following the remains of a very old road that is no longer in use. Crossing streams with groves of fig trees (sadly not ripe here yet). Stoney outcrops, pig farms, sheperds with goats and sheep and loads of farm dogs. Big dogs, but happily all barking madly with wagging tales.

I should be making a list of all the pilgrims priviledges I get to enjoy. Off to search for for the albergue for free meal, bed and shower. I'm told it will be empty.

Fuente Obejuna

Very small town with little prospect of any cash, but a very nice central plaza that was begging to be sketched. A very windy town also. Raised about €5 in drops and enjoyed sketching in the company of local children. Gave them a bit of entertainment and practiced my Spanish, so it was well worth the stay. A nice bunch of teenagers that kept asking where I was staying for the night. I suspect it was them who asked the preist to leave the church open. Yay! With the aid of a little enhancement it was quite a spiritual night. It also gave me an insight into pilgrim ways of a hundred years past.

Hanging on the wall of the entrance porch was one of the most viscious looking weapons I've ever seen. I guess there have always been times when the church was under threat and there are always plenty of goodies on display inside. But, the long axe come head chopping, brain piercing lump of iron in a church took me by surprise. All religions seem to have a far bloodier history than the peace they claim to promote.

As I left the town in the morning I passed the school. My friends from last evening waved from the windows and shouted "good bye".

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Art + Religion + Pilgrimage + Helping Children...

Free Meals, Beds and Showers?

Has to be worth exploring.

After sketching at the fun fair (sold as soon as I finshed it) I went in search of the free pilgrims meal, bed and shower. Think YMCA and then think 1958 and you´ll get a rough idea. Clean, warm and comfortable and free! Locked in a 8PM. Released at 8AM. Available all the way to Merida apparently. I'll use again if I get desperate! All those crosses and Jesus pics and being lockedin didn't suit me.


Whilst enjoying a high energy hikers breakfast ofchurros and chocolate followed by a couple of coffees,I happened to watch the news. Apparently there's a world economic crisis going down. Can't say I've noticed. I watched the weather forecast. Oh bugger!

1: That map of Spain is huge and sort of puts my hiking goals perspective. I have a very, very long way to go yet.

2: It's covered with rain symbols for today. No hiking, no sketching, no selling.

So, I stay in this small mining town for a rest day.

After climbing the mountains north of Cordoba the landscape changed dramatically. Gone are the never ending binary dot after dot, row after row of olive groves. They've been replaced by a sporadic spread of Spanish oaks. A sparse forest with pigs free-range foraging for acorns. Odd stumpy hills with intriguing castles and huge lakes. I suspect I must be close tothe border with Extremadura.

Yet another castle atop yet another hill. This one was a bit different though. I strayed off track to explore the distant tower.

Being the very bad pilgrim that I am,I accepted the offer of a lift to get me back onto the camino Mozarabe. Effectively this catapulted me some 30KM into the future. The guy just wanted to talk and talk and talk. My Spanish is improving at a rapid rate.

Met a fulltime pilgrim/alcoholic vagrant who gave me the low down on the pilgrim albergues (sp?) - government/church sponsored,very basic hostals. Be there at 8PM for a free meal ticket, bed and showers. Apparently it's very clean and quiet. Dorms of Four. I'll give it a try.

Off to explore the town I headed towards the art gallery which happens to be in a church. As I arrived a service was just about to begin. Being the very good pilgrim that I am, I stayed for 10 minutes and completed a sketch whilst listening to hymns. I fully intend to keep my mind open to the religious aspect of a pilgrimage even if I don't believe myself. I'd like to understand a bit more about other peoples beliefs and religious values.

As I left the church I found stalls and marquees being erected. Yay! Fiesta :) Free booze and partying.

Oh dear! I was doing so well :D

Without any planning, my pilgrimage seems to be falling into perfect timing. And, the sun has come out to burn off the rain clouds. Still reaching the high 20's degrees C by day here, but getting a bit chilly by night. Off to sketch sculptures in the park.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Camino Mozarabe

I'm hitting the road again. Heading to the outskirts of Cordoba to find Loma de los Escalones - the start of Camino Mozarabe to Merida where I'll join Camino Via de la Plata to Santiago. I'll also be popping in to Carrefore for some new socks and a sleeping bag.

Cordoba has been very good to me. A beautiful, and very safe little city. Made good money. No problem from policia local. Friendly people. Nothing to complain about other than some well dodgy, piss-taking cafe. I can forget that.

The Mezquita is outrageously ornate and magical. Literally like stepping through a door way into another time and another land. Easy to forget such elaborate and exotic religious buildings exist in Europe.

Nice little city, just a little to conservative for my liking.

Lots of good information about the caminos here. There´s a Society of Friends of the Camino de Santiago. The guy in the bookshop where I was going to buy a map is very knowledgable about the routes also. Apparently, it is very clearly marked. I don´t need a map. At each village/town I have to find the police station and ask for a key to the pilgrims sleeping place. Could be a church house, a farm outbuilding, a shed... anything. You make a small donation if you can.

I have a carrier bag half full of coins to take to a bank and donate to a local charity. I have enough cash to gat me to Merida. I'm told I may have problems with policia local there. I'm not doing anything illegal, but I may enquire about permission at the town hall on arrival.

I've dumped my stick of olive already. Instead I carry a roll of paper and an artists portfolio. The portfolio doubles as a sleeping mat, the roll of paper is an adequate walking stick. Instead of carving a stick I am filling a small, hand made, leather bound sketch pad en-route. I will auction it for charity on ebay when I return to Granada.

Looks like a long, tough and lonely hike to Merida. I expect to arrive at my destination in 15 - 20 days time. I don't expect to find much internet until I get there.


Friday, 3 October 2008

I'm On YouTube!

:D Someone posted me up on YouTube.

A quick explanation about how I'm playing this trip.

In each city/town/village I pass through I decide if it's worth staying to make a bit of cash, or get a free meal and bed. A quick exploration whilst completing postcard sketches on arrival and looking for any suitable pitch. If I stay, I complete a large panoramic sketch with an explanation about who I am and what I'm doing. I also ask for donations to help me achieve my goal. Money, food, beer, cigarettes, socks... anything. So far I have been given loads of cash by the good people of Cordoba and the towns visited between here and Granada. 1 packet of Chesterfield Classic Reds. 1 packet of Camel lights. Several assorted cigarettes and spliff. 3 cans of beer. A bag of small cakes. A bag of assorted sweet cake chocolate things. Some very strange 'lady food' from the US - Luna - because beauty starts from within. And, a big shout to Maria from Sevilla for the most considered drop of a pair of socks. My feet are thanking you loudly!

That's pretty much the way I plan to continue. This weekend in Cordoba and off again on Monday. I can't find any maps of footpaths between here and Merida. It's a long and often remote stretch. The weather is looking OK and I'm taking a gamble on not buying a tent. I'm already carrying way to much weight. An ounce more and I'll just fuck up my tendons again. Difficult to plan this stretch. Very little information available. Probably have to stick close to roads, or even walk along them for much of the way. Horrible, but it beats getting caught out on a mountain top at the worst moment.

Now I know what my limits are physically and mentally I plan to stay within them. Probably doing no more than 20KM in any single day between here and Merida. From Merida onwards the route should be very obvious with plenty of info about where to stay at night. Hopefully.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

You Know When it's Time to Go to Bed When...


Arrived late. Very early morning.

When a Toyota 4x4 starts singing to you in the voice of Johnny Cash about all your insecurities, fears, inhibitions and lemon groves (???) you know it's time to prioritise sleep. Seriously warped. Not sure what the Lemon Grove song was about, but I sort of liked it:

"You choose it,
you use it,
you choose to abuse it,
the world's gonna lose it,
take care of thye lemon grove".

Dunno? Madness coming from my sleep deprived head.

The visual hallucinations were stunning mind. Absolutely fucking beautiful. Olive trees became trees of dancing people. Not just abstract people, but real people full of character and recognisable right down to the minutest detail. Fucking lovely. I'd pay good money to enjoy that again in my own time. It will be realised as a painting some day.

I bought a bottle of wine. Drank it on a park bench and woke up some 13 hours later.

Bit more sorted in Cordoba now.

Yo soy an artista en peregrinacion a Santiago de Compostela por un carida de niños.

Yay! Why didn't I think of that earlier. Everyone's a winner and I'm collecting €150/day whilst under instruction from doctors not to try and hike for at least another Four days. Suits me.

So, now I'm walking for the benefit of a childrens charity also. No chance I'm going to give in. Enjoying a nice hostal bed, good cash, good food, good people.

Very tired still. Only writing this to remind myself. Hopefully mobile blogging will happen soon, so that I can type it all whilst still fresh in me mushed up brains.

Johnny Cash! He was a bit of a god freak no? Scary.

Alcalar de Real to Cordoba.

I made it to Cordoba already! I'm stuck here and nursing injured tendons. On strict instructions not to hike anymore for at least Four more days.

I slept for a solid 13 hours on a park bench. How tired do you have to be to do that?

Briefly, and typing with tired lazy fingers and brains, Alcalar de Real was excellent. Made about €30 on Wednesday eveining. Spent the night exploring bars. Got wasted. Thursday morning I returned to the park where I was sketching to complete a panoramic sketch. All was going very well until Policia Local stopped me and told everyone I wasn't really a pilgrim. They said I was a homeless alcoholic just looking for beer money. No-one believed them.

From Alcalar I walked to some other place about 20KM away. On arrival I realised it was just to small and a hopeless place to make cash. Took a vino tinto and very generous paella tapas for just €1 before walking on towards the next town - Baeda. What was promising to be a beautifully sunset evening sky suddenly turned black prematurely. Huge winds swirling and fuck all shelter. Spotted some lights by the distant motorway that looked like a service station, so headed that way fast as I could. Founs some sort of plastic shelter and waited, and waited, and waited for a very violent storm to pass. Eventually gave up and beded down for the night on the spot. It was fucking cold.

Set off at sunrise in the morning trying to retrack the path I was following. Eventually found it. Very nice track following and old railway line that serviced the olive groves (fuck all else to service). Beautiful morning. The sun slowly raised the valley mist bellow. By 10 it was hot, dry and typically Andalucian. However, the track took detours to take in nature reseves and lakes. As nice as that was I would prefer to be warned that a 20KM trek is about to become a 38KM trek. Fucking hard day. Very hard. Eventually made it to Baeda. Friendly Guardia Civil and some nice guy who bought me a drink. I needed out of there. I was already hallucinating from sleep deprivation by now. Spent the night on a bench by a church.

Onwards and upwards. Fucking rain. Loads of it. Didn't know what else to do other than keep walking, so walk I did. And, walk, and walk and walk some more. Another promised 20KM hike turned into almost 30KM. Found a small town called Castro de Rio, or summat. I was feeling very defeated by the time I arrived. It was still raining. No chance of selling paintings and I had absolutely no energy left. Slept in the porch of some community center only to be verbally abused by some old hag in the morning. I met her again later.

Sunday. Decided to sketch the main church and pretty much only tourist attraction here. One group of tourists passed by fleetingly. Totally lost by now and almost at the point of turning around. Then some guy I had asked for a cigarette from the previous day shouts out 'Hey, John, come and join our fiesta'. So, I did and some of the friendliest people I've met stuffed me full of all sorts of goodies and beer and sherry to the point of bursting. 'No' was never and option. About to stagger away to explode somewhere privately, I was informed that the paella would be ready soon! I had to leave the place before I got stuck for another night. The hag that abused me in the3 morning apologised because she did't know who I was.

Making my way to the ring road I heard someone shout 'Hey, John, come and have a beer'. I felt oblidged. Then accepted the invitation to tapas. And, another beer. And, a spliff.

Finally stumbled out of town and made a very slow Two day plod to Cordoba.