Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 61: More adventure

The discomfort of inactivity is harsh enough, but without overmuch risk or exertion, time has been crawling painfully slowly across the western half of the Mediterranean. More than a week has passed without the joys of a pilgrim walk filling my day.

Although it's true I yearn for adventure, the broadcat order 'Await the Signal to Abandon Ship' came unwelcomed even to me. At least the fire struck at a respectable post-coffee hour of 9 in the morning. Dressed in a one-size-fits-all life jacket, I assured my designated group leader that I would certainly take off my backpack if and when the order would come to climb into the inflatable liferaft. A lot of people promised the same; everyone I'm sure intending to fight for the contrary.

Billowing sepia-black smoke streamed up from the Fifth Deck, Cargo Vehicles. The slight South Pacific men making up the emergency response team trotted by with air tanks and face masks. My assembly group of largely indifferent passengers was lined up and counted repeatedly on the upper-most deck - smoke 'em if ya got 'em - despite the no smoking signs. Europeans.

The hour passed and we fell out of rank. And the next and computers stashed under clothing came out of hiding and into use, groups of men played cards and dice. I buried my nose in a brittle yellowed paperback of 'Selected Short Stories/Great Authors of English' bargained for 1€ at a street stall near the Barcelona docks. At the third hour of the emergency, passing Corsica where I once spent a lovely New Year's holiday, caffe lattes were passed around, though too quickly cooled in the strong wind. The emergency was soon after declared over though the noxious stench of burnt rubber and melted plastic lingered all the way to Civitavecchia. If nothing else, a length of the 20-hour crossing was shortened by the distraction. And all of the instruction being in both Italian and Catalan helped push the mounted Castillian out of my feeble head and reintroduce the hibernating and unpracticed Italian.

A little sidenote in response to the comments about my boots, which were my biggest concern during the preparation phase of the trip... they've passed the 2,000-km (1,200-mile) mark holding up very well. The super durable Vibram soles of the guide boots have out-preformed the standard issue of hiking boots I wore previously. The trade off has been comfort - at the beginning they were as stiff and heavy as ski boots. Now, still heavy, they've softened up and I wax them every few weeks to keep the leather from cracking at the toe box. I think the heels will need to be replaced after another 500 kms or so, if I can manage to get back on the pilgrim trail!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 59: Chutes and Ladders

Okay, revised plan being implemented... I'm on my way to Barcelona.

We engineers are prone to whip up risk analyses frequently, at least in the nuclear industry. Checking around the shipyards, the travel agencies, various consulates led me to the conclusion the entry requirements into Algeria are vague at best and confusing by design. If authorities wanted, they could find any visitor to their country in violation of something. While the travel agents assure me that I could join on any tour group and separate myself once in country without problem with the police, I give high weight to the fact that the guards at the Oujda border point took plenty of photos of me and scanned my passport, so I'll be on their radar screen wherever I enter. Additionally there was my little flub with the Algerian consulate when I told him verbally that I was on my way to El Quds, Philistine, but on the little map taped inside my credenziale - the same as at the top of this page - I wrote Jerusalem. 'I do not recognize this place,' he said, 'How can I or any Algerian help you get to a place that doesn't exist?' This game could go tilt quickly.

The board game of Chutes and Ladders was a favorite of my toddlerhood - chutes send you back, but their fun, too and they make the game last longer; ladders get you ahead but then the game's over faster (so I concluded as a 4-year-old). So goes the pilgrimage. A chute back to Spain for a ladder around to Tunisia is the best solution, I've concluded with a tinge of regret. I really was looking forward to Christmas in the monastery of St Augustine. Ah well. The chute that could appear if I get on the wrong side of some authority in Algeria could send me straight to prisant and at best a further chute of deportation back to the US. How difficult for a peaceful pilgrim.

This conclusion sent me on a big search for options by sea. Barcelona - Rome - Tunis seems to be the most logical route, and the only workable solution that I found, taking comfort in the precedence that St Ignatius Loyola from Spain made his way to Barcelona to begin his pilgrimage to Jerusalem by ship. Still saddened by the turn of events, I stopped by the Bishop's office in Almeria to get guidance on ways to get to Barcelona by Monday when the ship sails. Guidance was given me by a friendly priest - a combination walking and hitchhiking - and when I asked his name, could you guess, Father Ignatius. Eerie but confirmatory and I've been happily working my way up the coast.

A normal level of adventure has ensued and I should reach Barcelona this afternoon - insha'allah, of course - to work out the next set of details.

There seems to be an opening in the world of Saints for a patron of border crossings.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 55: Happy Thanksgiving

Searching for the answer here in Almeria, Spain, I stopped in at the church of Santiago to seek guidance from the priest. Kind man he is but has little to offer in terms of advice for a pilgrim to Jerusalem. What he said, though, made my arm hairs stand on end: 'when I need to think hard for a solution, I think first of St Jerome.' Geronimo! I'm sitting going through the possibilities over caffe con leche and churros... where will St Jerome fit into the picture?

Happy Thanksgiving, fellow Americans =)

Next post will include the revised plan.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 54: Princess Pilgrim

'Pour votre sécurité, Madame.'

To a comical degree, my dear escorts in the countryside have hardly left my side. Following me from the moment I departed the church (turns out, Spanish, not French) in Nador, as I made my way along a quiet backroad through the agricultural countryside, the unmarked car followed me at my walking pace. After some time, as I enjoyed the sights of the orange and clementine harvest, another car joined the parade - a change of regions. Eight men in two cars driving on the shoulder 100 meters behind me at 5 km/hr. When I wanted water, a slight nod from me brought a car forward and a bottle was offered through the open window. When I wanted a rest with some tea, another nod and a car drove ahead to the next village and a suitable house readied itself for the event - always involving an assortment of Moroccan snacks. When a young man on a moped drove up along side me, greeting me with a smile and words of encouragement, my escorts thought him too close, came to a skidding halt to block him, and chased him to the dirt as he tried to escape across a field like a Starsky-and-Hutch episode. Arggh. I managed to slip away for a few moments into an olive grove to answer nature's call, but the men were displeased with my brazenness. This continued for the three days it took me to reach the bordertown of Oujda.

The landscape of the broad irrigated valleys full of fruit, nut, and olive trees is lovely. At one point, passing an open door of a small building, a man carrying a plate of food saw me and invited me to join him for lunch, such is the Moroccan hospitality. Raindrops were getting heavier and I enjoyed the idea of a small rest, I accepted (upsetting my plain-clothes friends) and entered into an artisanal olive press where the two workers took their lunch break and we all shared in the great plate of tangine chicken, orange squash, vegetables in a luscious spicy sauce eaten with torn pieces of flat brown bread. Delicious, and I learned all about the age-old efforts to turn the plump black olives into thick strong oil. Accostumed to the light-colored extra virgen olive oil of northern Europe, the product here is formidably powerful -- as the typical diner coffee in the US compares to turkish coffee. I emerged through the small dark doorway smiling, fat and happy thus relieving my chaperones of further concern. These guys are constantly on their mobile phones and I can imagine their relating my every move to some guy sitting in an office somewhere who's hearing the whole thing like a radio soap opera. How dull his day must otherwise be.

The end of that day necessitated a grande montée - 800 meters in 8 kilometers/2,500 feet in 5 miles. Googlemaps guided me to a dirt road up through a small village to the town at the pass. Though even the shepherds I asked urged that I stay on the paved road, the 7 additional kilometers and the fact that I so distain the highways were too strong for me to heed the advice, so off I went across a freshly harvest field to the track I could see on the hillside. The boys were not amused. Once we met again on the dirt road, they stopped and asked me why I wasn't afraid. Afraid of what? The wolves, they told me as though it was so obvious it didn't need to be stated. I laughed. There are hundreds of sheep around. What wolf would view me as better prey than a lamb? 'Je n'ai pas de peur, messieurs, mais si vous avez le peur, restez dans la voiture'. See you at the pass.

My rewards for staying on the dirt track were many. As it turned out, there had been a wedding celebration at the mountainside village and the celebrants made a great parade down the path I was climbing, singing joyful chants, firing off shotguns and blowing great horns throwing flower petals. Small old hacienda homesteads sat in tranquility with smoke coming from dinner fires. Some deer were grazing by a brook. A shepherd boy was playing some handmade pipes quite melodiously on a rocky perch. A girl leading her donkey back to the isolated farmouse, sang a lilt sweetly. I loved it!

Everyone I passed smiled and waved vigorously. It's not often that a stranger - especially a European (so I appear to them) with a backpack - passes by foot on an autumn evening. When my escorts decided that the path made for donkey carts was too steep and bumpy for their car, one of them - the youngest and most athletic among them - was compelled to get out and walk. I waved for him to join me rather than walk the 100 meters behind. We talked along the way, but the labor of his breathing inhibited much conversation. He had to stop frequently to catch his breath and then got on his mobile phone. Silly boy, 'slow and steady sets the pace, slow and steady wins the race.' He was incredulous that I wasn't afraid of being alone and out in a strange place at dusk and dark and that I had no apprehension about not knowing where I'd pass the night. He clearly had all these fears. Experience goes a long way. The small town at the pass would have some place to accommodate me, I was sure. And so it was. The police - who babysit me in the village of their domain as opposed to the Gendarmerie who take their posts outside of the villages - were waiting. The capitan, in fact, who joined me for dinner at the wonderful auberge run by a transplanted Breton, and a fabulous dinner at that with a French twist on Moroccan food. To top it off, a bottle of Moroccan wine, a fruity Beaujolais ended the day in energized harmony. How perfect the pilgrim day, despite the close surveillance 'pour votre sécurité, Madame'.

Things have sullied just a bit... I reached Oujda at the end of the third day and went to the French church. The priest in Nador had called him at my request to prepare him for my arrival. Nonetheless, the elderly priest greeted me but not only refused my request for hospitality, refused my request for a credenziale stamp. 'Bonne route, bonne chance, au revoir, pélèrine.' He turned his back and closed the door. Dejected, I asked the police standing by for assistance and they got me a gratis hotel room. Always a sad way to end the day. Always a sad thing when a priest turns his back. He even denied that the Nador priest had called him three days earlier. Sigh. Onward.

In the morning, I led my escorts the 13 kilometres to the border point. It took a half hour for the surprised Moroccan command to give me permission to exit Morocco. Twenty men in suits and uniforms stood by with hands on hearts and palm-forward salutes as I walked the last bit through the gate to the two-meter wide lane between the flagpost of Morocco and the flagpost of Algeria. At the gate, since no one among the armed guards greeted me, I shouted across to the guardshack in French: I'm an American and would very much like to enter Algeria, if you please.

Another dozen Algerian men arrived from the building at the distance and finally the guards emerged and asked for my passport. I handed it over the gate with some reluctance. I'd rather stay with my passport than stand in the neutral slice of weedy land, but they have the guns. A man in a dark suit and sunglasses approached and spoke in very poor French that I would have to wait a 'petit moment'. I managed to squeeze the words about my pilgrimage and show the map of my route in before he walked off with my passport and the dozen men.

A half hour later, he returned and said simply: 'Negatif, Madame.' My request to speak with a diplomat only got me the advice that I'd find one in Oujda. Au revior, Madame. Pass the Moroccan flag again, I got another entrance stamp in my passport to the great disappointment of the Moroccans. From their perspective the borderpoint is open; it's the Algerians who view it as permanently closed, since 1994. I'd been asking the Gendarmerie everytime I encountered them - can I leave Morocco through the border at Oujda? Yes. Wrong question, it turns out. Can I enter Algeria? No.

The consulate was of little help. Friendly enough, with words of 'I want to help you but because you are not a resident of Morocco, I can do nothing.' He told me that I can only enter by air or sea and that I'd need a visa, only attainable in my country of residence and costing 120USD. This last bit surprised me, since I checked into this before leaving the US. Stuck for the moment. Need a new plan. No time for distress. When in need of calmness, find some tea. Sit, rest, maybe eat a bit. A plan will emerge.

With the aid of the Gendarmarie and police, some travel agents... here's the plan that evolved: retun to Nador (by car as there's no need to walk the same path twice) take a ferry to Almeria, Spain and another to Algeria. The travel agents I spoke with all assured me that I don't need a visa and can stay for up to six months. I'll only need six weeks - insha'allah - once I get to Algerian soil. One little hitch is that it seems I may need to spend six days sitting around Almeria as the ship only sails once a week. A wee hiccup. The pilgrimage continues!

Route through Spain and Portugal

For economy of space in the sidebox, I've summarized the route I followed through Spain and Portugal, Days 1 through 36:

001 Bandiera 33 kms from Santiago de Compostela, SPAIN
002 Dozón 66 kms
003 Ourense 102 kms
004 Sandias 143 kms
005 Velín 184 kms
006 Sá, PORTUGAL, 228 kms
007 Mirandela 262 kms
008 nr Chaçim 306 kms
009 Mogadoura 351 kms
010 Bemposta 384 kms
011 Trabanca, SPAIN 419 kms
012 Ledesma 460 kms
013 Salamanca 494 kms
014 Valdecarros 529 kms
015 Muñico 569 kms
016 Avila 604 kms
017 San Bartholome 632 kms
018 San Martin de Valdeiglesias 674 kms
019 Torrejos 721 kms
020 Toledo 753 kms
021 Las Ventas con Peña Aguilera 789 kms
022 Pueblonueva 830 kms
023 Piedrabuena 867 kms
024 Tirteafuera 907 kms
025 Brazatortas 933 kms
026 Fuencaliente 975 kms
027 Montoro 1029 kms (yip!)
028 Villafranco de Córdoba 1055 kms
029 Córdoba 1081 kms
030 Montemayor 1119 kms
031 Puente Genil 1157 kms
032 Sierra de Yeguas 1197 kms
033 Cuevas del Belcerro 1239 kms
034 Atajate 1285 kms
035 Jimena de la Frontera 1327 kms
036 Algeciras 1369 kms

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 49: Chaperones and Prosperity

Another quickie...

My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, but certainly full of hope. It's hard to believe that I'm about to walk off the map of Morocco (though I never actually found one). In three days, I'll be at the frontier with Algeria and the Gendarmerie have assured me that I'll be able to pass freely.

The wonderful men of the Gendarmerie have become my most fraternal chaperones. I stopped at a pastural farm with a magnificent view of the sea yesterday afternoon and asked a Berber woman toiling in her kitchen garden for some water. Her husband motioned me to come up the slope and sit in the shade. Cold water was poured. The grown daughters of the house finished unloading sacks of manure onto the terraced garden and joined us. A short table was rolled out, a caraffe of coffee, another of hot milk... then some cookies, then a plate of olive oil and bread, a few fried eggs... a dish of olives, some dates, tangerines... laughter abounds. My lack of Arabic was hardly the issue, it was the lack of Berber that stunted the conversation until another daughter, one who'd lived in Spain for a while, joined the impromptu party, and communication began. Though an early end-of-day for me, based on time and distance, I asked if I might pass the night, and once more food started coming out the door. Yes! Of course! They wouldn't have it any other way.

I wasn't inside the house for ten minutes before the boys in red-trimmed steel grey showed up to interrogate the man of the house. There's a foreign woman inside this house; no harm will come to her. An unnecessary command, but it shook up the cheerful family who'd never had need to encounter the national police before. The women were suddenly in a tizzy. Lots of shouting going on. The Gendarmerie had been following me at a distance (I noticed from the hillside glints of sun on their binoculars like a spaghetti western) since I departed Al Hoceima, but to put pressure on this nice family was a bit close for comfort. I got a bit riled - politely, of course - but pleaded that they put the family at ease or I'd have no place to sleep. All was well within a quarter hour, but really, it was a short-lived ordeal.

That they mean well is unquestionable, but from their perspective, it's not that I'm a foreign woman passing through their domain that necessitates the close oversight, rather it's the demonstrable insanity - walking all the way to El Quds, Philistine [insha'allah] when I could easily hop in a taxi or hitch a ride through Morocco - that proves I could use extra help. They're really so sweet, all of the ones I've spoken with, and exhibit a level of gallantry beyond Jane Austen's descriptions of soldiers of equal rank.

Approaching the city limits of Nador today, I asked my assigned escort who'd been leap-frogging past me in an unmarked car every kilometer or so for the best way to get to city centre where I'd find the French church. I took the rare opportunity to accept a ride from him - entering any city by foot is mundane at best. First, though, we sat for some civilized tea - ultra sweet and stuffed with mint leaves. The questions that had mounted in my mind over the last few weeks about the conditions I see were all answered... the new houses come from the prosperty stemming from government programs - King Mohammed VI is apparently very well loved - and rather than bring electricity and water to the old-style adobe haciendas, new houses with integral utilities are being built. It's clear that the architectural style changes with such design criteria... the courtyards were needed to bring light to the small cubical rooms; electricity supplies the light in modern homes, thus, the new have no courtyards... Paved roads, irrigation systems, other civil projects are widespread... Trees are being planted in tidy rows for their agricultural virtues - almonds and olives I see a lot of - which will revegetate the denuded slopes stablizing them and reducing the dust... fisheries and commercial fishing co-ops are being created. Anyone with investment money wanting beautiful seafront property should buy it soon. My guess is that in ten years, this will be the hotest real estate around the Mediterranean.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 46: Same Same but Different

To look around and see through time and space, connections become clear. Most of the architecture I see on my coastal frollic through the mountains is modern. Odd in a way because people have evidently lived here for ever, yet nearly every house is built of modern hollow brick. Most houses are in some stage of construction, suggesting a level of recent prosperity. Yet there have been glimpses of the past in some isolated overgrown house of more traditional construction - mud covered adobe bricks sprung up from the earth... single story with wood posts protruding just below the flat roof; small rounded-cornered windows; blankets covering the doorway. With their center courtyards, these look exactly like the adobe haciendas of New Mexico and Mexico. The nopales cactuses - ever so ripe with fruit these days - cluster around them... In the yard of nearly every home, an adobe horno beehive bread oven, charred with use, for the yummy rounds of flat brown bread - just like in New Mexico. Same same, just different. A series of timelapse images from the 14th century to present would be fascinating to see the development on both sides of the pond.

I've noticed the women's dress... layers of colorful pants and tunics with a vibrant blanket tied around the waist; on top of the nearly-ubiquitous headscarf, a tall straw hat, sometimes colorfully adorned with ribbons or silk flowers. Very reminiscent of the hats of Bolivian women. Speaking in French with a host one night I made this comment. The hats, he told me, are made in China and are very cheap, so the women buy them to wear in the fields. Same same, just different.

Lots of agricultural activity in the steep fields... men plowing small irregular plots holding a wooden pole, the tip wrapped with metal, and drawn by a team of two little donkeys. There are a few motorized tractors, but the steepness and irregularity beg for the simple method. The soil is rocky, but the effort of the men with the donkeys doesn't seem so laborious. Another man with a basket supported by a string around his neck, broadcasts seeds for the next crop of alfalfa. The abundant mushroom-shaped haystacks would give Monet something to paint - they're everywhere.

Most families, it seems, live multigenerationally in the same big house... ten children, more... everyone sleeps on foam mattrasses under thick fleece blankets. I've stayed in many such homes by now, one more person always seems to fit in comfortably. I'm a pilgrim, a hajaa christiana... welcome.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 43 Loving it!

I've just got a sec... finding computers is not so easy...
The ruggedness of the Barbery Coast is incredible; worthy of legs that have walked a thousand miles. Progress is greatly inhibited by two significant factors: first, I'm following 'la piste' -the path of the road being constructed for many years now - beautiful as a earthen footway but within each hour of walking I've gone in each direction of the compass, so serpentine is the coastline, and ascended and descended hundreds of meters/a thousand feet, so mountainous it is. No exageration... my legs, my lungs, and my eyes get a workout - the views are spectacular, hidden coves, caves, beaches sometimes far below, sometimes underfoot. I can easily project my peaceful 21st century thoughts into the minds of pirates of yore and conclude yes, this would make a lovely place from which to launch my maleficence.

Villages are abundant. Fishing boats are pulled onto the beaches, wee goats and donkeys graze the slopes. This is the source of the second inhibitor to progress. The people are so overwhelmingly friendly, it's difficult to proceed. Earnest invitations to come and have some food (still tasty mutton left over from the holiday), sit and talk for a while, drink mint tea, please stay in my house, stay for some days... I was slipping out early one morning before breakfast when one of the boys insisted I have a bite. Another boy was sent into the yard to catch a chicken; two hours later, we were eating skewered morsels over a fire in a terra cotta pot. To sit for a rest and sip of water is to invite the village to join me, goats and all. It's fabulous. No problems, no fears, no dangers... sure, plenty of 'keefer' being smoked in long narrow pipes by most of the men, but I've seen tranquility, not violence from it. Sleeping in a private house has always come with a boy posted outside my locked door; my page for the night ensuring me a sound sleep (as if a pilgrim will have any other kind of sleep). Proud is the boy chosen for the duty.

So sweet the people, so gorgeous the coastline, so few computers (and those with French keyboards°#!@).

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day 38: Tangerines

Another very quick post on a borrowed computer...

Chaos isn't always such a bad thing. A rough and stormy crossing - bracing - across the Straits and the plans I had to meet with the brother of a friend for a few days of rest failed to execute. Props for the young Polish travelers who let me borrow their I-Pad and mobile phone anyway in the attempt to make contact. No worse for the wear, I made it to noisy and congested city center on my own and shortly after early darkness (slipping an hour across a time zone change again) found a French priest for the requisite stamp in my credenziale and assistance with lodging. Persistance is a blessing in such times, but all really is well that ends well.

As it happens, I've arrived in this Islamic land just in time for the killing-of-the-sheep festival. The weekend is pretty well devoted to the preparations. The actual ritual slaughter of the animals today being bought and sold on street corners is to happen tomorrow (Monday). Hemming and hawing all day about whether to continue on my way or stay an extra day in the Sparten pied-de-terre next to the church, I've concluded that to continue is the best thing to do... everything will be closed for the next two days because of the festival and there wouldn't be much for me to do in the cosmopolitan city.

The flip side to the decision is that it's often difficult to find people in a position to accommodate a pilgrim on a big holiday. I haven't walked on Christmas day for these last few years for this reason. Onward, though, is the right thing to do in this circumstance, so determined after many consultations with both some Tangerines I've met and many members of the thriving expat community... on a Sunday abroad, the local Anglican church in any big city is the place to find savvy English speakers.

Tomorrow, bright and early - assuming the rain dissipates overnight - I'll continue eastward to once again shout out 'catch me!' as I confidently fall back into the arms of humanity with the expectation that someone interesting will help me on my stroll. A stamp in my book, a place to sleep, and guidance on the next day's journey... As my French creeps back in and the Spanish takes a seat further back in my crammed head, I've been informed with nods of sympathy that I shouldn't expect farmers and villagers of the countryside to speak anything but Arabic... time to get out the cheat sheet I made and polish a few sentences by tomorrow!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 36: Perched on the Edge

...muy rapido, I'm borrowing a laptop from a kind fellow who was once a pilgrim to Santiago...

With a fanfare of rolling thunder and abundant rain, I've arrived at the edge of my map, the edge of Spain, and the edge of the continent. Tomorrow, Africa... wow.

I realize that many a pampered pilgrim would have given in and called a cab or flagged a ride or otherwise taken public transportation rather than slog through the last mountains, but snug under my raingear, I enjoyed the enhanced fragrance of eucalyptus towering above and mint being crushed underfoot, and came upon some water creatures as I forded the muddy brooks and some wild pigs feeding on acorns as I bushwhacked across a meadow... life goes on, even when wet. Time to dry off and get the last of the Spanish wine before the next gastronomic adventure begins.

Just as the darkness of nightfall encased the world around me, a small sliver of the setting sun broke through and illuminated the Rock of Gibraltar. The moon shines through the thin clouds that remain. Tomorrow, I'll glimpse the other Pillar of Hercules. Hasta mañana!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 35: Walk like a Goat

It's clear from my history of pilgrimages that I like to chose a route of historical significance but that I don't particularly like the crowds of the conventional trails like the Caminos de Santiago. I also shy away from highways - carretera in Castillian; estrada in Gallego and Portugese. A busy stressful motorway is a terrible place for a foot traveller. Aside from the traffic, who would choose to deal with the trash, hard surface, roadkill, and I can't stress enough that that's not water spraying off the back of the livestock trucks. Horrific!

I like the historical route and I like to chose my own path. Tranquility is more my style. Sometimes, small single-laned country roads; other times, nature trails or traditional footpaths connecting mountain villages. Farm lanes used by tractors are good; forest roads used by woodcutters are also nice, and fragrant, too. These exist in real life even if GoogleMaps doesn't record them. I don't use GPS and I've given up on searching for the wonderful 1:100,000-scale topographic maps like the IGN series in France. Why bother, I walk off maps pretty quickly. The best I've done with paper maps in Spain have been 1:500,000-scale road maps for each province. Whatever. Walk south. Cross the sea. Turn left. Walk east.

Throughout Spain, in my direct sun- or compass-aided excursions to avoid the dreaded carretera, I've encountered the various networks of Cañadas Reales... historically honored rights of way for livestock grazing. There's no path per se, except if the sheep and goats have recently eaten down the brush, but it is rather unobstructed and the rivers are all easily fordable. I walked along these around Salamanca and again south of Tóledo and have been more or less following another both north and south of Córdoba.

My standard three questions when seeking pilgrim help: a stamp for my credenziale wherever I pass the night; assistance in finding a dry place to sleep; guidance for the next day's 40 kilometers. Consistently, everyone tells me to stick to the carretera, that there's no other way. Of course, they've never walked 40 kilometers south of their town and only know how to go by car. I'm not a car. There's (nearly always) an alternative to the highways. Listen politely then go ask the shepherds and goatherds. My tried and true method.

The rapidity in which I've crossed Andalucia has surprised even me, but it's far more to do with the spacing of the adorable 'pueblo blanco' mountain villages packed with Paleolithic, Moorish and Christian heritage than with the endurance of my legs. I should arrive in Algiceras tomorrow evening and then cross over to Tangiers on Saturday, November 5th. I don't want to leave without commenting on how beautiful this region is - limestone mountains rugged and craggy with deep deep valleys and high high peaks, and it seems to my lungs and legs at least a million mountain passes that I've crossed. And, it's been raining. A rather warm rain as rains go, but wet and misty. I'm sure the glimpses of the distant sea are right there behind the white swirling clouds above and below me. There's beauty in rainy days, too.

Only a few more mountains left in Spain, and then a day or two of rest in Tangiers to prepare for the cultural change. More later.