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.