Via de la Plata Seville to Guillena Day 1
We started out on Saturday 17th September 2011 on our 1000km pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. After having our pilgrims’ passports stamped in the Giralda cathedral we set off. I had printed Google maps of the location of our hostals along our route and memorised them. To get out of Seville we needed to cross the Guadalquivir river twice then turn right and follow the river.
It was a short walk to cross the Puente de Isabel III bridge and in Calle San Jorge we were happy to find our first viera. After that we simply looked out for yellow arrows, there were plenty of them, in fact the signing on the first day was excellent. We followed Calle Castilla north as far as the Calle Odiel bridge over our second river crossing and just over the river, dropped down to walk north again along river path next to the Guadalquivir.
It was a Saturday morning and there were lots of cyclists and walkers out along the river path, we were feeling very bright, shiny and new. You can imagine how happy we were to be wished – ¡Buen Camino! by a passing cyclist less than an hour into our walk. Across the river to our right we could see the 1992 Expo buildings. To our left, the litter, junk and debris of abandoned buildings that mark the outskirts of so many towns and cities in Spain.
We swung away from the Guadalquivir and debated having our first coffee stop at a rural paintball and shooting range. It it wasn’t a restful place to stop and definitely not in keeping with our pilgrims’ mission. We were pleased to leave the rattle of small arms fire behind us. We were now out in dry rolling farm lands with dried sunflower heads on wizened stalks and cotton plants on either side of our gravel road. A baby rabbit hopped in a dried out ditch, easy prey to any predators.
Reaching Santiponce 11kms along the road we stopped off at the first filling station at the town entrance to stock up on cold Aquarius and top up water bottles. I had seen the Ruinas Romanas de Italica marked on our Euroski guide but hadn’t planned to stop off. I’m very glad we did. The custodian kindly locked our backpacks in his office. With nothing more than a waterbottle in our hands we virtually floated around the immaculately preserved ruins. From the highest point we were able to peer into the heat haze towards where we thought Guillena was. This is a great place to take an hour’s break. Immediately opposite Italica’s entrance is a lovely shady little venta. Shayne and I had a cooling gazpacho soup, ideal for the hot walking conditions before setting off again. She pointed out two other pilgrims, Germans. The man had a large beer glass in front of him. We wondered how he could drink and walk in that heat.
A few hundred metres past Santiponce’s industrial site with only a narrow verge to walk on and a white line between us and passing traffic, we crossed under the A65, Autovia de la Plata. Then we turned left to begin the four hour walk along a dirt road through the rolling, shadeless brown fields that lay between us and Guillena. Two days ago on Easter Saturday returning from a trip to Las Minas de Rio Tinto with my grandson, I stopped to take this photo of a seemingly peaceful scene marking the beginning of the long trek to Guillena. On that first hot day five months earlier, under those same eucalyptus trees we had witnessed a group of low life, unshaven, beer bottle holding young men obviously up to no good with five skeletal looking greyhounds. In other circumstances we might have intervened. I was grateful that Shayne could contain her anger long enough to move on along our track without bloodshed. To win our campaign, we had to lose this battle.
An hour into this stretch we saw the German woman sitting in the shade of a water tower. We could see two packs, there was no sign of the man. Had he collapsed? She waved us cheerily past. Perhaps he was having a nap behind the tower. We peered back but couldn’t see him. Should we go back? She had not called for help. We went on.
Our rural track could well have been a Roman road, almost 4kms without a bend before we got to the first shade under canes in the Arroyo de los Molinos. After the summer it was virtually dry. On the rare occasions that the water level reaches the still visible high water marks it would be impossible to cross, needing a return to the A65. With Guillena visible in the distance, we had another 3.5km to walk still in a straight line and under the burning sun. Somewhere along that unbending road on the first day we became pilgrims. There was one more river crossing to make. The Arroyo del Rivera de Huelva. By 5pm we were in the outskirts of a baking hot, absolutely deserted village.
We had booked the night in the Hostal Frances. The bar downstairs was open and we sank two cold beers each almost without talking. The TV showed temperatures of 35º for our area, we could well believe it. Patricia took us up to our room. The only window opened onto an interior passage. It smelled as if a smoker had just left. My daughter simply shook her head. “I can’t breathe here,” she said. Patricia gave us a room at the front. It had a window overlooking the still empty street outside. In comparison to the other room, this was a view of the Caribbean. We washed our smalls and hung them over the window sill to dry. A siesta was calling.
Shayne and I were up and out again by 7pm. The heat was abating and passersby were starting to fill the street. We walked back down to a pharmacy we had seen on the way in to buy ointment and plasters for a blister. Speaking through an intercom from the pavement we could see the pharmacist at the end of a small square tunnel behind thick protective glass. Was Guillena full of drug addicts or serial pharmacy robbers I wondered? Back to the Hostal Frances for more rehydrating beers and dinner and then a large Patcherán with ice out on the terrace. Five cyclists arrived. We watched with interest as they unpacked their gear on the street in front of us and then wheeled their bikes into a back room. Our dinner cost around €7.00 each. We were in bed by 10.30, it had been a long day.
The street in front of the Hostal was now alive with pedestrians, cars and scooters. Diners were arriving at the restaurant below us. The good villagers of Guillena had emerged from behind their shutters to enjoy the cool of the long evening. It was going to be a noisy night. We were grateful for the fresh air and pleased that our washing hung out over the window sill over the entrance to the hostal was already dry for the next day’s walk to Castilblanco.
Four years and lots of adventures later we would finish our journey in Santiago de Compostela. If you are planning this same journey, don’t hesitate to ask for ideas.