Baena to Castro del Rio

Today’s stage was 20 km, so following my pilgrim novitiate/acclimatization/self-care principle, I explained the situation to the hostel manager. He understoood immediately, but instead of a taxi, offered to drive me himself to the Rio Guadajoz, the point whence the Camino departs the road. Unlike yesterday’s experience, he dropped me at the point, showed me the Camino signs and pointed me on my way with the farwell greeting, “Adios!” (a friend, JD, had e-mailed me the other day that I would meet “angels” along the way!). His free assist took 8-10 k off the day’s journey, leaving me a comfortable 10 k to walk.

As yesterday, when the destination hove into sight, I felt I could go on. But again, it took the best part of an hour to get into the town. I’d started walking about 8.30 am and was on the outskirts by 11.30 am, which caused a dilemma – too early to stop, too far to go on! In the end, I decided to stick with my plan. The next couple of days are short stages, so I plan to walk them. The discipline of daily walking is good training! Besides, I plan to have a couple of days stopover in Cordoba in a couple of day’s time.

I was happy with the morning’s walk. No trouble. Didn’t even take a breather for the first hour, but kept up a steady pace. It was a long, flat, macadam road running parallel to the river all the way, so not too demanding. I hope the easy stages are building a foundation for the coming weeks. Looking ahead, I note there are some very long stages, which I will have to find ways of negotiating!!

Weather is fine and sunny (I have been told it is unseasonably hot!). Another traveller on a different path, the Route of the Caliphate from Cordoba to Grenada, who was at the same hostel last night, told me he had seen some rabbits on his way. Alerted, I saw a couple of them today too. Also saw a snake at the side of the road, fortunately, a dead one!

Yesterday in the town of Baena I saw a man riding a horse. I thought I had stepped into the set of a “spaghetti Western”!

As I sat in the church plaza at Castro del Rio (always at the highest point of the town, which means always a steep climb!), one of the locals approached me and engaged me in a one-sided conversation in Spanish. He is a 78 year-old veteran of many caminos, moves quickly, takes a lighter pack than I have, has walked stages of up to 40k a day, and was a bit surprised at my “abbreviated” stages! I had been intending to stay at a hostel, but he informed me that the local police had the key to the local albergue (pilgrim hostel), so I took his advice and got a bed there. In the commercial hostels I have been paying at least 20 Euro a night, sometimes much more. This albergue is free! Another angel crossed my path!

The albergue is admittedly basic. Shared room with bunk beds. Shared toilet and shower. No wifi! (I used the wifi in the restaurant until it closed, and am currently using it while sitting in the park outside the restaurant!) However, an advantage of the fewer pilgrims on this camino at this time is that, as of the time I checked in, I had the albergue to myself. My “angel” had indicated that there was one Italian pilgrim there (there wasn’t) and 6 French pilgrims in the nearby hostel (no sight of them as yet). I am glad of the more economical stopover, as the hostels had been a drain on the purse! Even though I did enjoy the facilities!!

I have been having trouble adjusting to the different time scheme in Spain. The Spaniards take a break in the afternoon then get moving again in the evening. I don’t want to sleep in the afternoon because I am still waking up once during the night (the lingering effects of jet-lag from criss-crossing the world last month?). I expect the physical demands of walking will get me into a better pattern of sleeping very soon! The last couple of days I have walked around the town in the late afternoon and taken my main meal in the evening. This means I have missed the daily 8.00 pm Mass. Yes, that’s right, 8.00 pm!!! Today I managed to get a main meal at lunch, so hope to attend the evening Mass.

I will settle for a quick snack for the night, also for breakfast, and be on my way early in the morning to the next destination.

P.S. When I returned to the albergue, there were two pilgrims inside and two more on the step outside who could not get in. Apparently there were no more keys and they couldn’t rouse the insiders! They were glad to see me. So I am not alone after all!

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