Guillena to Castilblanco de los Arroyes
Saturday September Twelve, 2020
If I was unknowingly nervous about my initial departure from Seville, I had certainly wised up by the time I awoke for Day Two of the Via de la Plata. With just a single day of experience under my belt I knew to be nervous because, while Day Two was a shorter distance to walk than Day One (only 19 kilometres), the temperature was predicted to be considerably hotter – topping 37֯C. The route was very much A to B also, with no towns or villages nestled away in the interim. Farmland was all that I would encounter between Guillena and my destination, with no chance of cafes or service stations along the way for water or other provisions. As such I did a lot less procrastinating upon waking and hit the road promptly at 8:00am, so as to arrive at Castilblanco de los Arroyes well and truly before the peak of the sun.
The swelling in my feet had gone down from the previous evening, but the bulbous additions of blisters had not abated. And so the better part of my preparations for the day involved carefully wrapping each one of my wayward toes. I even padded between my toes and the inside of my socks with balls of cotton that I’d picked from a field during the previous days’ walk. My initiative at spotting such a useful resource left me nothing short of chuffed and it filled me with wild notions that I could brave the wildest environs with the best of history’s intrepid explorers – Cook, Scott, Hilary.
With my ego boosted and my feet resembling an early prototype for a mummy I set off from the albergue to discover Day Two of the Via. The sun was only just beginning to creep over the horizon as I left, and its fiery shimmer was a perfect backdrop to begin the day with. The landscape around me glowed with a wonderful warmth that I shared with no one but the occasion rooster doing his bit to contribute to such an archetypal daybreak. The wonderful light kept me distracted from the murmurings going on inside of my shoes as my feet began their complaints that I was subjecting them to yet another hard slog through the Spanish countryside. For the first kilometre or so it was an easy enough walk alongside a tarmac road, and so their notes of distress were easy to ignore. But it didn’t take long before I finally hit the main attraction and moved off into rough farmland and a coarse gravel path that shifted beneath each step, giving my feet a bolder platform from which to cry foul.
The landscape that greeted me immediately shifted my focus though and arrived before me in full technicolour wonder, marrying up to all of my expectations of what the Camino would be about. First came an orange orchard, with trees heaped full of massive fruit that shone even more orange in the still fiery morning glow. They almost seemed luminous in the complimentary light, contrasted against the deep waxy green leaves that that appeared from. Then came more fields of cotton that stretched off towards the horizon, bordered by a hedge of gnarled and angry looking cacti. The contrast of the two side by side would have pleased me, except for the fact that the cactus stood between myself and a fresh batch of cotton for tomorrows blisters, so I moved on, disappointed.
By the time the sun was confidently in the sky the setting had changed once more and I found myself walking between olive trees, old and wildly knotted, and haphazard in their configuration. The path also lost its civility and opened up before me with gaping crevices where water had ripped through and washed out its centre. At this point the track began to climb also, gently at first, and then more brazenly through rocky outcrops. The wilder terrain played host to my only companions for the day – an ongoing stream of mountain bikers. Every half hour or so Saturday morning riders would zoom passed me, either solo or in packs. As they appeared they would each wave and wish me a good day or ‘Buena Camino’, acknowledging this lonely peregrino as he walked, making me feel less and less lonely as the morning wore on.
While the terrain was ideal for two-wheeled thrill seekers it was less ideal for my poor blistered feet who would pipe up every now and then with a gripe. Any discomfort felt though was quickly put to rest thanks to the outlook ahead as I climbed. It was so very typical of what I had expected a Camino vista to be. Olive trees that made way for open pasture full of horned cows. Pitted tracks that meandered alongside open fields with random stone turrets reaching from the barren soil high into the heavens. The sound of cowbells and the occasional neigh of a horse punctuated the setting that was all about muted khaki greens and ochres, and pale beiges and brilliant blues. The Camino was a moving postcard, with biting heat and a gentle breeze applied for good measure.
Castilblanco de los Arroyes greeted me just after noon with a large glass of ice-cold beer, orange juice and a bocadillo filled with translucent shavings of local pork. It was all well-received at a little bar just on the cusp of the town. With my belly full I reapplied my pack to my back and wandered deeper into my destination. Everything was painted white and reflected the midday sun brilliantly, but the glare only seemed to enhance the days heat for me and so I was relieved to venture deeper into the veritable maze that made up the heart of the town. There was no sign of a grid system at play, or of urban planning processes being applied throughout the history of Castilblanco de los Arroyes.
It was while lost within the labyrinth of narrow lanes and squares that small trembles of terror overcame me. The screen on my phone had gone black. And no amount of fiddling with any of its various buttons would bring it back to life. I thought its malfunction might have something to do with the heat, and that perhaps it would perhaps magically revive itself sometime in the near future. But in the meantime I was completely in the dark, and a little perturbed by the fact. My phone was everything to me, and not because it allowed me to post daily updates on social media for all the world to see.
No, what really worried me was that all of my Spanish usage derives from convenient language apps on my phone. Other apps provided me with useful information about what accommodation was available to me along the Way, and yet other apps displayed the route of the Camino itself. Granted, the Way is clearly marked for all to see by the yellow arrows and shells, but there’s something mightily reassuring about your digital device being available to you when in any doubt.
I calmly placed the potential for a melt-down to one side and explored the worst-case scenario where my phone had completely died, and I was left without connectivity. I was in a sleepy Andalusian town, on a Saturday no less, with no promise of an internet café, let alone a phone repair shop. I pondered the Camino without my phone and imagined what that would look like. No translator or maps. No ability to phone ahead and book accommodation. No transferring or exchanging of money. None of those absences seemed insurmountable and that was enough for me to maintain the forced calm. The Camino has been walked many times before without mobile phones, after all. It’s been successfully completed by many without phones and without any Spanish language skills either. And it’s quite possibly been walked without currency also.
I found the albergue the old-fashioned way, using my very analogue guidebook, and quietly enjoyed the idea that analogue might be the way my journey could stay in the face of zero connectivity. The albergue was closed however because, well, Covid, and so I made my way to a little bedsit instead. It was run by a wonderful woman who reminded me of my mother, and so many other mothers I’ve encountered in my life. She had a naturally disarming air to her and made me feel incredibly welcome within moments of arriving on her doorstep. She even used the line “Mi casa es su casa” as she showed me around the house. Bless. She led me upstairs and down a long narrow corridor to a little room with two single beds. It was like every bedroom at every grandparent’s house, full of frilly bedding and copious cushions, with bakelite lamps sat alongside the beds on darkly varnished side-tables. My room for the night had the added touch of Mary and baby Jesus looking down over my bed in ceramic form, while Sagrado Corazon de Jesus looked out over the second bed. Static companions for this lonely peregrino. But the companion I was most happy to see mounted over the bed was the air-conditioning unit, promising a blissful night of sleep.
I put it to good use immediately after showering and climbed onto the bed to find sleep with the lovely cool breeze floating across my body. I was close to unconsciousness when a huge explosion rattled about in the village, followed by another and another, setting off the local dogs who erupted in noisy protest at the cacophony. No sirens sounded though, and no murmurings of distress came from the streets below, so I tried for sleep once more, only to be startled to full consciousness again by more explosions. They continued intermittently throughout my snooze, and each time they vibrated about within the town’s narrow lanes the local dogs would reply in kind and keep me from anything resembling a restful repose.
When I finally ventured out again into the streets of Castilblanco de los Arroyes I headed straight to the church to take photos, as seemed fitting of a peregrino. It was there that I heard the explosion again, only this time it rattled right through me and left a deafening ringing in my ears as a cloud of blue smoke came wafting around the corner ahead of me. I ventured around the corner but could see nothing other than faint traces of the smoke above the tower. Then, as I was taking more photos, a woman appeared from a door and held out a metal vessel in her hand that proceeded to launch a firework high into the sky above the church. It exploded on queue I finally had my explained for the ongoing cacophony, although not an explanation for its purpose.
My only other intention for the day was to eat. And my decision on where to choose to do so was made easy by the half a dozen drinkers on horseback who crowded the street outside of one potential restaurant. It didn’t matter what they served, or how they served it, I just wanted a seat on their terrace with a view of such a wonderful sight. The waitress came baring bad news however – the kitchen had just closed. The owner however, recognising I had all the trappings of a peregrino insisted on opening the kitchen again for me, and I’m so thankful he did. Pork loin and fries. Two incredibly simple ingredients on a plate but packed with so much flavour as to send my tastebuds into a frenzy.
I retired to bed early, anticipating another early start the following day, but mostly looking forward to air-conditioned comfort.
Oh, and the wayward phone? It revived itself without any particular fanfare and I quickly forgot about all that adversity I was going to overcome.