Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

8 Days on the Via de la Plata - DAY 3 - Castilblanco to Casa Forestal

The morning was beautiful!
August 25 Tuesday

We left Castilblanco in the dark.
The sunrise was beautiful and walking was nice in the cool morning air.
Looking back at Castilblanco,
we could see lights coming on as people woke up and began their day.
Looking back at Castilblanco
Much of this day (the first half) was road walking.
We did not see much traffic, maybe 2 or 3 cars the entire morning.
The walk was up gentle hills and the terrain was dry.
There were occasional farms like the one in the following photo, with these pretty gates.
A typical farm gate
We saw herds of pigs all along the way, black and dusty. These Iberian pigs were already a significant part of the Extremaduran landscape even in Roman times. They are an ancient breed and the dehesa, extensive forests of scrub oak and cork trees, are their preferred pastureland. These are the pigs of the famous jamón ibérico, jamón pata negra (black-foot ham for the dark hoof that is left attached to the ham to guarantee its origin), or jamón de bellota (bellotas being the acorns on which the pigs range freely during the last months of their lifespans).  Cured in salt, they are hung in airy spaces for several months, then transferred to cellars for further aging before they are sent to market. The result is a dark, velvety meat with a characteristic mouth-filling meatiness, the epitome of fine ham. I will do an entire blog on these hams in the future.
Here piggy piggy piggy!
As the sun rose, the landscape spread out in front of us. It reminded me so much of the central California coastline with its oak trees. I can understand why the Spanish settled there now. It must have reminded them of home.
Long road walking on this stretch

Lots of oak trees
The landscape is covered with cork oaks. In a Mediterranean type climate, these evergreens have to survive the harsh summer drought. The Cork Oak is well adapted to the water scarcity of the Mediterranean summer. During summer, the Cork Oaks reduce water loss through their leaves (transpiration). The loss of water is regulated through the stomata - “pores” - located in the lower epidermis of the leaves that control the gas exchanges: the incoming of CO2, for photosynthesis, and the loss of water vapor during transpiration. But the stomata are not completely watertight and the tree may dehydrate throughout time. For a tree to survive, however, it must not dry up. The Cork Oak maintains sufficient hydration due to a system of roots that, besides their horizontal extension, can reach several meters in depth. This allows for the extraction of water from the subsoil and even from water tables.

The Cork Oak’s most interesting particularity is the outer bark production, formed by an elastic, impermeable and good thermal insulating tissue – the cork. Cork is composed of dead cells with walls that are impermeable due to a chemical compound named suberine. All the trees produce layers of suberized cells as a means of protection, but only the Cork Oak is able of “constructing” its outer bark by adding annual rings of cork resulting from an activity
carried out by a combination of mother cells - the phelogen (Illustration 2). The homogeneity of cork is the result of the Cork Oak’s phelogen maintaining its activity throughout the tree’s lifespan. This contrasts with the other trees, where each phelogen has a short life span.

Harvest of the cork oak hasn't changed much in centuries except for becoming more sustainable. Here are some photos I found interesting:
Old cork harvest photo

Modern cork harvest photo
Old Cork Harvest
Modern cork harvest
For some really great, interesting information on cork trees 
and the biodiversity of cork forests in Spain, 
see this link:  From Cork Tree to Cork

We passed this harvested cork tree on the way
A bit more road walking and we came to this restaurant.
It was a good place to find some shade and rest
but do not mistake it for your turn-off. 
Do NOT go left into this restaurant but continue straight
You can rest in the little guard shack or find shade under trees
By the time we reached this gate to the RIGHT of the road, 
we were seriously low on water. 
The heat was unbelievable, 
but although the landscape was dry, it was beautiful 
and I was happy to be off the main road.

The walking here was on dirt track and was very nice, but hot.

Catching some shade
We reached Casa Forestal 
where the guidebook said there would be a fountain,
and guess what?  
The fountain was DRY!!!  

The place is very interesting, 
and was originally (according to firemen) a hunting lodge. 
Now you can look through windows at beds covered in pigeon poop!  Sad...
Too bad someone doesn't open it up again.

Gotta rest.. gotta rest...
The water situation was serious. 
We were getting worried.  
There was a horse trough, which was fine for washing, 
but we needed drinking water!  
I found a shady bench under a palm tree, took off my shoes, 
and took a short siesta, trying to cool down. 
You can see the broken vessels on my legs. 
This is a common occurrence for pilgrims in the first few days 
and is caused by the long walking in the heat,
as well as the swelling. 
I usually get it each time I start a long trek.
It generally clears up in a few days. 

Once I rested, I went looking for help. 
There were trucks parked outside a few buildings,
and that meant maybe I would find humans.
I DID find humans.. FIREMEN!  
Sorry girls, it wasn't these guys, but it sure looked like them to my thankful old eyes!
A whole group of them were holed up in a very nice cool barn-type building. 
They even had a small fridge and gave me half a bottle of icy cold water. 
Bless their hearts!  

I told them we had completely run out of water 
and they said there was no water for miles.
I was really concerned, but nothing really we could do 
about it except plan on sleeping here,
staying cool, 
and getting up before dawn to beat the heat to the next village.

We spread out our sleeping bags on the terrace 
and waited for nightfall and cooler temperatures.
The very nice terrace for sleeping
I gave myself a good talking to about my ego and my lack of preparation. 
This could have been a fatal mistake
if it weren't for the firemen and their water!  

We tried not to move much, 
preserving our half-bottle of water, sharing sips. 
We ate what food we had, some bread, cheese, and olives. 
Dinner couldn't have tasted better in a fine restaurant!
I figured the salt would help preserve the water in our bodies. We were just settling in for the night's sleep when a car drove into the dusty lot and out popped two guys with 4 big bottles of water!!!  HOORAY!  These Camino Angels had been called by the firemen and had brought us water from the next village.  We were so thankful! I will never forget this kindness!

Sleeping was easier knowing we would not die of dehydration! 

As I sat on the wall and  looked out over tomorrow's beautiful walk, 
I was thanking God, the  Camino Angels, and my lucky stars!  

I felt like part of a Maxwell Parish painting... 
even though I was just a dusty, dirty, dried up old peregina!

The night's sleep on the terrace was spectacular. 
With no city lights in sight, 
the sky was like a piece of black velvet covered with sparkling diamonds. 

You should have seen it!


* * * 

See my AnnieWalkersCamino website at 
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Camino Santiago 
and on other Pilgrimage Trails of Europe

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