We were no longer rookies at hiking the Camino, but we were far from being experts. More from the Camino Mozárabe…
Day 11 Granada to Pinos Puente (22.54 km)
We hiked on the outskirts of a big city and it was ugly. Industrial, dirty, and full of weird graffiti and old abandoned buildings.
We had planned on staying at a hostel, but it was full. Instead, we walked to the town hall to ask where the albergue, or house for pilgrims, was. This is a special accommodation for pilgrims at a discounted price. They are usually simple with bunk beds and shared bathrooms like a dormitory. Like everything, there are differences in quality.
It was about 4 pm and the town hall workers were on their way to their siesta. We got vague directions on where the albergue was. We tried to find it but got lost. After a quick Google search on our phones, we found a phone number. Someone answered and gave us directions on how to get to the albergue, which we then added to Google maps.
The albergue was simple and cheap. We had a good night rest. Dogs barking and roosters crowing woke us up in the morning.
Day 12 Pinos Puente to Moclín (15.78 km)
We departed among innumerable olive trees. Scenic and beautiful with a little stream to cross. (You can avoid the stream by hiking along the highway if you want).
We climbed the last hill topped with a castle.
Instead of an albergue we had reserved an Airbnb*. The owner described the accommodation as a “little country house.” We met the host at the local café-bar so she could give us the keys. It was small and attached to the other houses on its flanks, little European village style. Years of add-ons had yielded a byzantine array of doorways and steps awkwardly (and somewhat dangerously) stitched together at odd angles and locations.
After she left, we noticed that there was no running water. The kitchen, the shower, the toilet…none of them worked. We couldn’t find the valve to turn on the water. So we call her and let her know about the issue. She states she will fix it in five minutes. Sometimes five minutes turns to ten into 20 into 30, so we are naturally pretty skeptical. So we wait, but amazingly, in five minutes two men show up and turn on the water…success! (There was a key hanging on the living room wall that opened up a box on the front of the house where the “on” valve was). We shower and then have a nice dinner of Spanish tortilla and salad at the local diner.
* No longer posted on Airbnb
Day 13 Moclín to Alcalá la Real (24.53 km)
We hiked along olive trees and farms again. Along the way, we bought “fuerte” cheese at a little shop along the Camino. Free wine tasting, too.
Our destination, Alcalá la Real, was at the foot of a mountain with a castle on top.
This night we stayed in an Airbnb bed and breakfast owned by a lovely British/Norwegian couple. For dinner, we self-catered with box-o-salad, bread, wine, “fuerte” cheese, one euro paté, Spanish ham, and nuked lentil soup. At the grocery store, the wine prices ranged from 50 cents to ten euros. We paid three and a half euros for our bottle and it was delicious.
Our view with dinner was the illuminated castle.
Day 14 Alcalá Real to Alcaudete (26.69 km)
We began with blue skies but as the day progressed it became darker and cloudier. About an hour away from our destination, it started sprinkling. We put on raincoats and hoped it wouldn’t get worse.
Then, a woman in a car pulled over and rolled down her window.“It’s raining. Do you want a ride into town? I don’t mind, town is very near.”
We politely thanked her but refused the ride. “Cheating,” said Nick. Town was very near and we probably wouldn’t get too wet. I think authors call this foreshadowing.
Of course, it started to pour perros y gatos. As it was coming down, I was regretting our decision to not take the ride. We walked about two km and were soaking wet when we arrived at the albergue. We hadn’t put on our rain gear until it was too late.
Peter, a British expat, and alumni of the Camino de Santiago, greeted us at the door with his three dogs: a giant 90 lb sheepdog, a chihuahua (< 90lbs), and some sort of mop-like medium dog. “I wasn’t expecting anyone today, but welcome.”
We showered and, once settled, started chatting about the Brexit and other light topics while sipping cheap vino tinto and eating Peter’s homemade potato soup. All of a sudden, we heard a knock on the door. Another peregrino arrived. He was a Peruvian-Italian medical student in his early 20s.
This amazed Peter. Most of the peregrinos, or pilgrims, on this Camino are older. Peter thought the average age of his peregrinos was about 60. He claimed that in this one night, Nick, the Italian, and I lowered the average age by about 20 years. (It’s a new albergue, you can do the math to verify if you want. I won’t). We chatted the evening away and enjoyed the great company.
Day 15 Alcaudete to Baena (25.87 km)
On the way to breakfast, we could tell it was still wet outside.
The rain continued to bother us even though it was a cloudless sunny day. The farmland mud stuck to our shoes. As we walked, the dirt would build on our shoes. A mud ball would create a high heel on our boots and we would walk on our tippy toes. This was very heavy and slowed our pace down a bit.
Today was also the first day we had a companion on our hike. The 20-something was a nice guy and very curious about the US. We talked to him about the election and issues like healthcare in the US. This was his second one and pretty different and much less populated than others.
The fact that this was our first Camino surprised him, but he wasn’t the only one. The Camino Mozárabe is not a common first try because of the difficult terrain, long distances between towns, sparse tourist infrastructure, and no English speakers. When we finally arrived into town, we were so relieved to give our legs and feet a break from the heavy mud.
Day 16 Baena to Castro del Río (20.15 km)
We hiked a flat, short, and dry trail through yet more olive trees. Our new friend kept us company and we talked more and more about US politics and how our elections and government worked. Before we met our new companion, Nick and I had agreed to minimize our stays in municipal albergues. They are usually simple rooms with bunk beds, but they vary widely in quality and cleanliness. Since we were with our new friend, we were open to trying another one out in Castro del Río.
The next one was a municipal albergue. First, we picked up the keys at the local police station. The friendly police officer gave us instructions, most notably that the accommodation was free. No need to donate any money. Free.
Well, we definitely got our money’s worth from our stay. It was a bit dirty and cold with no kitchen or sheets. At least we had hot water for showering and a nice view from the window.
To make up for this, we had a pretty nice dinner in the plaza with wine, three courses, and digestives. Not very expensive to do this in Spain. Thirty euros for the two of us. We caught a nice sunset on the way back.
Day 17 Castro del Río to Córdoba (40.28 km)
We woke up early in preparation to hike 40 km (24.9 miles) and had instant coffee and bananas for breakfast. We got hot water from an old coffee maker without a filter. It made water with weird black particles in it. But sometimes you need coffee, right?
It had rained overnight and the ground was wet. Mud balls were accumulating on our shoes.
Nick was the lead of our three-person pack when suddenly he stopped. I kept going and skittered past Nick while he was stuck ankle-deep in thick mud. He used deliberate movements to try to wiggle his leg free without losing his shoe to the mud. It took a while and some muscle, but he did it. Afterward, he took off his shoes since they were very heavy and walked on the mud with socks.
There was another patch of mud ahead that look similar so I quickly decided to use my skitter technique to bypass it. My technique failed this time. I tried to run across the mud and immediately sunk. This time the mud was knee-deep.
Nick and our new hiking buddy were strategizing my next move. I kept my heavy backpack on and tried to lift one leg out. I moved one big, heavy step at a time just to sink knee-deep in mud again. It took six steps in total to get out of the mud.
I was beat. We had just walked ten km at this time. Thirty kilometers (19 miles) more to go and I was really tired now. To pass the time, Nick and our hiking buddy were talking about the US elections. This day was Election Day and it was still too early for any states to be called. Nick and I were sure that Clinton would win. In any case, our Italian friend seemed more interested in the US election system itself, not as much in Clinton or Trump. Plenty of political characters in Italy, I suppose.
We kept walking and walking along the muddy trails and ascended and descended along the rolling hills. Finally, we arrived into the big city of Córdoba. The city greeted us with a roman bridge and the enormous mosque that the Spanish converted into a cathedral in the 16th century. It was a very welcoming sight. All of us agree to have coffee to rest our feet before parting ways.
We drank our coffees happy that we completed our difficult day. We said our goodbyes and exchanged Facebook info. Nick and I checked into our very comfortable Airbnb, shower, rest, and have dinner.
We kept checking our phone, but still no election info from the US. We went to sleep.
Day 18 Rest
In the morning we visited the mosque-turned-cathedral.
Shortly after taking this photo a push message popped up on our phone informing us that Trump had been elected president. It’s a neat kind of place for this kind of thing.
Fun history fact: the Spanish repurposed St. James (Santiago) as “St. James the Moor Slayer” during the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula.
All in a day’s work. An interesting motif to have in a church.
But the Camino de Santiago is embedded in this bloody history. A huge part of Spain was ruled by Islamic kingdoms for about 700 years. Spanish rulers used the cult of St. James to rally the troops. The part of the route we are currently hiking is called the “Camino Mozárabe,” which roughly means the Route of the Semi-Arab Christians, i.e., Christians in Islamic southern Spain making their way north on the pilgrimage.
Afterward, we visited the old Moorish fort.
This was a good leg.
Next, we head for Mérida, a city famous for Roman ruins and the end of the Camino Mozárabe. And for us, the beginning of the Vía de la Plata.