Day 52 (18/Nov/2017): Tábara to Olleros de Tera (37km)

[Since I failed to catch up yesterday, I hope to post two updates today. I wrote most of this in Olleros. I was in a friendly but cold albergue. No regrets, though. The cold night was a price worth paying for a plate of homemade sausage and ham, served by a hospitalera who loves feeding her guests and who smiles like my late Nana.]
I was woken by Jose at 7:15 with some religious music on the stereo. There was some Ave Maria in there somewhere, and an old fashioned tenor. I would have rather woken to last night’s ’70s playlist, but it’s Jose’s albergue, his rules. I enjoyed the breakfast of coffee and toast with homemade jams, and we posed for photographs together in front of the albergue before I left.
Jose reminded me that I would come across a fork in the Camino, with a bar and restaurant if I took the path to the left. We said goodbye with a hug.
I followed the arrows out of town, climbing the long, curved flyover to cross the railway line that’s under construction and found myself in open country again. It took me a while to satisfy myself that this was the same railway line that I saw a day or two ago. The gantries for the electrical supply haven’t arrived at this stretch yet, and there are no sleepers by the side of the trackway. But there are spaces marked with tape, where the gantries will be inserted. It’s interesting to see the order in which a new railway line comes together on the ground, governed by some Gantt charts in Madrid and Brussels, where the pressure of a finger on a keyboard appears to send concrete, steel, ballast, and sleepers hurtling, as though weightless, across the country. Meanwhile, in Tábara, another pilgrim trudges his way up and over a big pile of dirt. (Yes. It’s a half-baked thought but I’m in a hurry tonight).
As I left Tábara behind, the track climbed with fields either side. I became aware of a group of dogs that were barking and racing towards me in the far distance. At first, I paid little attention to them, but soon I perceived that they were determined to come all the way across the field to protect their sheep from me, and also that there was a large number of them. (The next pilgrims after me on the same road counted nine!)
I kept moving forward as the dogs approached but these were determined hounds, emboldened by the pack. I took to throwing and catching a stone as I walked. In response, most of the dogs stayed in the field at a safe distance from my throwing arm. One, however, approached me from behind on the path, where I tried to strike a balance between warding him off with a walking pole but avoiding an action that might drive him to respond in anger.
Some time ago, I conducted a small experiment out of interest – picking up a stone in front of a domestic animal that was barking at me from a balcony. The pet didn’t change his behaviour at all, which leads me to believe that the fearful response of guard dogs is a behaviour that they have learned from first hand experience of having stones thrown at them. Without needing to defend myself, I made it past the dogs and continued to climb up the long slope. With some relief, I noticed that the barking died down and when I turned around, the most persistent dog was walking back to his pack.
Fifteen or twenty minutes later, I got my first inkling that some other pilgrims were following me, when I heard the barking start up again with a vengeance. I remembered that I had seen some rucksacks through the window of the hotel that I passed on my way to the albergue in Tábara, so I guessed that I might meet some other pilgrims and I wondered if it was the group of four Spanish guys that I’ve heard other people mention.
At the fork in the road that Jose had warned me about, I took the left path so that I could stop at the bar-restaurant in Villanueva de las Peras. As I continued along the track, a car pulled up next to me and handed me a flyer for the restaurant. It was, of course, the owner. I don’t know whether he does this drive every morning to trawl for pilgrim customers. It worked. I knew that I should not stop at the first restaurant but rather continue to Bar la Moña. When I got there, the same gentleman greeted me with a loud hello and a solid menu of pilgrim fare, despite it being well before Spanish lunch time. As I was ordering, the guys behind me, Uwe and Michael, entered the bar. We sat together and chatted over our meals. With lunch inside us, we set off together.
It was good to have some company for a part of the walk today. Uwe and Michael started their Camino in Salamanca just four days ago, and like me, this is their first Camino. For the first time I felt like a veteran, dispensing advice and opinions about blisters and albergues. Michael had some pain in the knee, so we parted company in Santa Marta de Tero, but not before I advised them to visit the statue of Santiago above the arch on the rear of the C11th church in the village. Jose told me that this was a C12th statue – but the sign on the church states that the building is from the C11th. I suppose I could find out if one or both of them is right, but it’s just nice to come face to face with this image that I’ve seen so often on literature related to the Camino.
By now it was 2:30 and I felt that I still had the strength and time to walk another 11km to Calzadilla de Tera. I took the path through large plantations of birch trees – I had seen clumps of birch yesterday and amused myself by shouting into the evenly spaced trees and hearing the echo, but these were plantations on a bigger scale. It was stunning, but also quite tiring for my eyes, to walk through these tall trees with the sun getting lower and filtering through their branches. Eventually I came across clearings where the trees had been chopped down. It seemed a little sad but inevitable.
After this woodland idyl, I came to a road with a constant stream of truck traffic to and from a quarry or mining operation up ahead. I allowed a couple of trucks to pass me before joining the road – water spilling out from the back of the truck that, I guess, was loaded up with rocks from some watery pit. After walking along the quarry road for a couple of kilometres with leaky, yellow trucks passing every few minutes, I reached the site where they were dumping their loads. Here was a bridge across the river and, to my great surprise, a picnic area with tables, barbecue grills, and pedal boats. It would be a perfect spot if it weren’t for the mucky quarry next door. Perhaps the quarry is related to the railway construction? I hope it will be a short lived aberration to this place.
I crossed the river and was pleased to find a pleasant path along the river towards Calzadilla de Tera. At this point I referred to my Spanish guide to albergues along the route and found that the albergue in Calzadilla only had one icon next to it – the icon for a bicycle rack. This suggested that it had no heating, no food, no washing line … This particular guide has let me down before with inaccurate information, but I started to feel apprehensive about Calzadilla. I saw that there was another village, two kilometres down the road from Calzadilla, but when I saw the name, Olleros de Tera, my heart sank. This was the place that someone had warned me to avoid at all costs in response to a question that I had posted on another pilgrim’s Facebook page : “It’s expensive and deadly!”
(Incidentally, I’m sure that the author of this comment is the beautiful peregrina that I’ve been chasing since before Córdoba. She’s five days ahead of me and she has a handsome peregrino partner now. I should stop chasing and wait for the next beautiful peregrina to catch up with me… It might be a long wait).
Well, Calzadilla didn’t light my fire at all. I found virtually no sign of life there as I passed through at 5:40. Of course, since it was Saturday, the supermarket was closed. An town without a bar or restaurant would mean a night without food. I decided to keep walking to Olleros. And I figured that I would ask at a bar if anyone knew of any rooms available to rent. Perhaps I’d find something better than the deadly albergue.
I continued along the Camino. The river became a concrete trench, like so many rivers in Japan, but the path was still pretty and pleasant. It took next to no time to complete the last 2km. Nonetheless, I felt the temperature drop during this short walk. It would be a cold night in Calzadilla.
On arrival in Olleros, I ignored the signs to the reputedly deadly albergue, searching instead for someone to ask for alternative suggestions. I spotted a group of elderly people, gathered for a chat at a covered bench, but as I approached them, another elderly lady down the road beckoned me – She told me with certainty “You are looking for the albergue. That’s where you’re going to stay. And you’re going to eat there too. It’s good.” She gave me directions and told me to tell the owner that I’d met his mother. No arguing with that.
When I opened the door to the bar, the lady behind the counter laughed and told me “You walk late.” It’s true. Late in the season and late in the day. She gave me a smile that reminded me of my father’s mother – my Nana – and she took me straight to the dormitory; a building made of lightweight, biscuit fired, bricks. I think it must have been a function room at one time. It has a tropical scene painted on one wall and a “Jamaica” sign behind the disused bar. I could see an old music system there with a stack of CDs. One was labelled “Pignoise and Reggaeton.” I wonder how many couples in Olleros danced and fell in love to the sounds of Pignoise in the Jamaica party room.
The hospitalera showed me that I could close a thin curtain to keep the heat from the two bar electric heater in a smaller space. In this sense, it was more comfortable than the sports hall that I’d stayed in. I had a lovely hot shower, changed clothes and went to the bar with its log fire for a super dinner – Homemade sausage and ham as a starter. Short ribs and spuds for my main course. I asked if the cheese was also homemade and the hospitalera laughed as though this was a preposterous idea.
Over dinner I had a chance to ask the locals a couple of things that had been bothering me:
Question: What are the long, low buildings with earth roofs and no windows?
Answer: They are bodegas (cellars) where we make our wine.
Question: What are these little houses in the country with vines or orchards in front and picnic tables and grills, but probably too small to be lived in?
Answer: Dunno. Show us more photos. Maybe recreational houses. “Casas de campo.” (Field houses?)
Question: Why do church campaniles here have steps up to the bells and little roofs near the bells?
Answer: In the rest of Spain, they have a rope from the bell to ring it. And the bell belongs to the church. But here, the bells belongs to the pueblo. We used to use the bells to communicate – not just to call the hours or announce mass. We struck the bells directly, not using a rope to allow us to signal different things with specific tunes. One tune meant “Bring the animals up from the low field,” another tune meant “Take them back down,” and other tunes could let people know that someone had died or some other event had taken place.
Question: So it’s like in the Canary Islands where people have a special whistling language that enables them to discuss Kierkegaard over vast distances and across valleys?
Answer: It’s your bedtime pal. You need to rest to walk tomorrow.
After I went to bed, it seems a big party took place in the bar. I saw some of the aftermath the next morning.

Categories: 2017 Camino Mozarabe (Almeria to Finisterre)

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