Once upon a time in Spain there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand.
All the other little bulls he lived with would run and jump and butt their heads together, but not Ferdinand.
He liked to sit quietly and smell the flowers.
He had a favorite spot out in the pasture under a cork tree. It was his favorite tree and he would sit in its shade all day.
Last night there were just four pilgrims in our lovely muni… if you’re staying in Carcaboso look them up… it’s fabulous little place.
This morning we stayed in bed longer than we intended and we’d pay for that at the other end of the day… But this morning we didn’t care. Breakfast was laid out for us… four lots of bread for toast… four cartons of juice… 4 packets of cake and biscuits. Whilst the Italian boiled a little pot of coffee on the stove, I heated water in the microwave… oh what a happy pilgrim I was… because there was real tea… proper tea… and proper mugs. We left late but I cared not a jot because I had honey and toast for breakfast washed down with a mug of English tea.
We made our way out of town following a large group of French pilgrims… we hoped they knew where they were going… once we spotted our first arrow we let them walk ahead.
Here, beside a finca named Bombay, was the first of today’s challenges. A dog running lose on the path. Maggie has nerves of steel so I followed her lead… he’s fine she said… he’s not interested in us. And she was right… he ran off and we carried on.
As we walked upwards towards the distant hills the sun rose from her slumber and young cows suckled on their mothers as we ambled by. It was cold this morning… I even considered adding my fleece to my t-shirt and jacket combo but to be honest I couldn’t be bothered to stop.
We took the obligatory sunrise photos before walking on and this is where we encountered our second challenge. Two big dogs came bounding out from a gate… running around us and barking wildly. They weren’t small dogs… they were big… and my heart was pounding. Again Maggie took control and I just ran along beside her, following her instructions.
We turned around once we had cleared them and we looked back down the hill where one dog was still barking furiously at us. As we watched Maggie asked… is that a marker down there? We stared into the morning gloom beyond the dog… and of course it was a marker and of course we had run away in the wrong direction. So with some trepidation we retraced our steps hoping to skirt by the barking dogs and get on to the correct path. As we approached their gates both dogs ceased barking and quietly sat in their garden as we walked by… they never moved… never barked. It dawned on us as we walked away that they weren’t angry dogs chasing us… they were telling us that we had gone the wrong way! Some ten minures later, as we carried on up the hill, we heard them barking like crazy again and we assumed that some other poor pilgrim had also taken the wrong turn.
So on we trekked. Always walking up and always walking towards the distant hills. We crossed a cattle grid and my heart sank. Ahead there were cows… lots of cows… cows with young cows in tow… and there was no fence. Oh boy… This is what I’d been dreading the most…I am so afraid of cows.
But they were off a distance from both us and the path and not at all interested in pilgrims. Look at me I thought. I’m walking through fields full of cows and I don’t give a hoot… way to go Colleen!
On we walked and the views are fabulous. I’ve seen so many images of the Via de la Plata and I just dont recall seeing photos of these amazing open pastures and the hills and mountains… it’s not flat and boring… it’s everything… and in the morning light it’s magical.
More photos… more slowing down to take it all in… more hills to climb but oh what a great walk… so far at least.
A bit further on we came across huge granite stones… really huge… and in places it really looks like they had been placed there and not just random. We were convinced that we could see a stone circle? We imagined an entire prehistoric community living here amongst the oaks… any Spain/Via buffs out there please do tell us if there is any ancient history here.
We also passed fallen roman mile markers… just there in front of us, laying in the grass.
We’d passed the halfway mark and there was a confusing section where the Cuboid markers sent us one way but it felt wrong so we trusted out instinct and retraced our steps, and we’d been right to do so. If you come to this gate… follow the green route for bikes… basically stay on the path and don’t go through the gate… keep going ahead.
Back on the trail we reached more cattle gates. And this is where my walking buddy saved my bacon. I am scared of cows… really scared…and I was about to find out just how much. I love cows if they are in a field behind a fence but put me on the same path as one and I am terrified.
Today there was a herd of them. Not just cows but young bulls too… and mothers with nursing young… this was my worst nightmare.
I walked on… I can do this. I walked on some more… I can do this. But then there was a big black young male on the path in our way. He wasn’t moving. Maggie went ahead in the hope of encouraging him to move. He didn’t. She came back for me. I was hiding behind a tree. It will be ok she said. We walked on. He didn’t move. We walked on. Then a second one was there too. I ran back to my tree. Maggie followed me. She patiently suggested we wait a few minutes and maybe they would lose interest and move. One did so we tried to walk on again. But the second, bigger one was not moving. He stood his ground and looked right at us, just a few feet in front of us in the path. I ran back to my tree. This time I was retching. I was desperately trying to be brave but fear had a grip. I was surrounded by cows and bulls… maybe 20 of them close by. Bile filled my throat and my heart thundered. I wanted to cry… honestly I just wanted to sit and cry… but I didn’t. With my dear friend coaxing me we walked on. I never looked up. I never looked back. I walked to the gate and never stopped until I was safe on the other side.
My throat was sore and tight and my mouth was dry. I was bathed in cold sweat and I felt exhausted… but I did it.
My rejoicing lasted all of 30 seconds.
What lie ahead made me want to run back from where we’d just come. We had to cross a small paddock. In the paddock was a bull. Not a young bull like the ones we just passed… oh no… this was a proper big full on huge big old bull.
This time I was too scared to vomit. Too scared almost to breath. I had to remind myself to breath as I was holding my breath. Follow Maggie. Walk. Follow Maggie. Follow Maggie. Breath Colleen. Breath. Walk. Almost there. Open the gate. Open the gate. I can’t open the gate. Oh god. I can’t open the gate. OPEN THE GATE…
And then it was over. We made it. I breathed. We laughed. On we walked. I had a drink of water and breathed deep. I had just actually walked into a paddock with a flipping bull!
I started to relax but the day was not done with me yet. There were more. Lots more. NOOOO… PLEASE… NO MORE. Maggie sensed that maybe my nerves were shredded. She made an executive decision for us to make a detour and she lead me around the top of the field away from the herd. That was possibly the fastest kilometre that I’ve ever walked and I can assure you I was mighty glad to cross that final cattle grid and close that final fence… no more cows for today at least.
My phobia had stolen important minutes… the sun was up and it was hot again. I could feel the sun burn on the back of my neck from running with/from the bulls.. and we had still another 6km to go before we reached our destination.
We had a break. Biscuits from breakfast and juice. Feeling recovered we marched on. Through kilometre after kilometre of dry ‘trump’ grass and oaks… gosh it’s hot now. It’s 2:30 and we know we can’t be far. It must be there soon.
And then we could see it.
The arch. The symbol of this Via. This Roman path. This ancient way. Cáparra.
From here you have to phone the hostel and they collect you and tomorrow morning they’ll bring us back. We sat under a tree in the shade with a chap from Denmark and we simple enjoyed the view. Another milestone.
Today is also my dear sweet husband’s birthday. He went to an autumn pumpkin fayre and then had lunch with our son in his favourite restaurant in Bergerac… they had beef… which seemed rather fitting. Happy birthday Gerry.