Sunday, 25 February 2018

Tunnels, vultures and sleeping in the station

Tunnels, vultures and sleeping in the station

In the TV series Victoria the Queen's steward, Penge, invests his life savings in shares in a new railway line. It went bust. This was at the time when there was a massive expansion of railways in many countries. Spain was no exception and just as in other countries many infant railway companies became bankrupt. So throughout Spain there are tracks abandoned and railway buildings in ruins. In recent times some of these have been reclaimed for modern purposes.  On arrival in Olvera we checked into rooms in the Olvera Station Hotel. A modest and comfortable hostel it has been built around the shell of what would have been the station. It also has apartments attached formed in former railway carriages.

The welcome could not have been warmer. They showed us to our rooms and explained that being still in the winter season the restaurant didn't open in the evening. We were starving. "Can we eat now?" and although the cook was soon to close up we were invited to dine in what would have been the station waiting room. This was a station which had never seen a train stop because the tracks had never been laid.

The menu? Oddly we were served a delicious beef stew with potatoes to start. It was a huge portion. They understand the hunger of walkers at the end of the day. Then came fish and a freshly made salad, then a dessert of deep fried sweet French toast dusted with icing sugar and topped with pistachio ice-cream. With a drink, bread and water the total calories in the meal was 275 calories and the bill was 9.50 euros per person. Only one of these statements is true! It was fine cooking at the cheapest price ever. A room with three hot radiators (clothes washed) and a full size bath (Ahhhh) was 30 euros.

Next morning after breakfast we set out to walk the 20 kms to the next little station hotel situated 2 kms before the village of Coripe. I was delighted we were staying there because of the reported sharp elevation in the last few kilometers. Looking forward to a day without hills we then discovered it would be a day of railway tunnels. 20 of them to be exact. The stations had been built and the tunnels driven through the mountains but alas they had never seen a train. The longer tunnels had been fitted with lighting and instead of railway tracks a gravel path stretched out before us. Had the line survived this would have been a scenic journey because as we walked out of each tunnel we were treated to surprise after surprise as different aspects of the vast landscape were revealed.

Soon we reached the Peñon de Zeframagón Nature Reserve where over 200 pairs of vultures live in a colony on the craggy rocks of the gorge. And there they were! 40, 50, 60 soaring high and circling overhead. A wonderful sight.

We tramped on this almost level path greeting the occasional cyclist but never meeting any other walkers. At the end of the day we arrived at the Station Hostel. More modest but just as welcoming. Here the rooms were 20 euros each. Eugenio and his wife Maria could not have been more helpful. They also don't open in the evening but they were happy to serve an early dinner which was perfect. We were the only ones there whereas in summer they serve 80 lunches a day.

10 hours of sleep later we reassembled for breakfast and then set off up the hill to Coripe. It is uphill but what would have been a real pain at the end of a 20 kms day was a breeze with fresh legs. 30 mins later we passed two families having breakfast on the pavement in the sunshine outside a village bar. Errrr, breakfast outside at 10am on 23 February!

Then followed 20 kms of sublime walking under clear blue cloudless skies. By 3.30pm we were walking into Montellano our next stop. A horse and rider were clip clopping up the main street and when we got slightly lost we asked directions at a bar where there was a special outside section for the horses and riders who were being served their drinks whilst still mounted.

Soon we were in the Bar/Hostel Boby. It was as if half the local community was having lunch. Every table in the huge dining room was full. The air was filled with laughter and shouting. Children played games in around and under the tables. The owner and his son are about the most friendly people we've encountered in a Camino full of friendly receptions. From the name and the raucousness of the huge bar we didn't know what to expect of the rooms in the Bar Boby. We needn't have worried, around the corner there is the hostel with pristine rooms, comfortable beds and each room with a shower and a full bath! After a quick change we were back downstairs to eat. Thankfully things were quietening down. "What's on the Menu?" The owner started reciting a long list. "Please just feed us" we pleaded. Off he went. The usual bread, water and drinks appeared. Then two salads topped with fresh trout appeared. "Compliments of the house". He disappeared again while we munched only to reappear with two steaming bowls of potage, a delicious thick soup of garbanzos and meat.    Then roast chicken and chips appeared with a tray of various home made sauces. By this time I was filling up quickly. Unabashed he was back again.. "Postre, postre, you must have postre, we have ..." and off he went again with an indecipherable list. The Big Man elected for ice cream cake and I asked for a coffee. "Coffee? No postre? Have fruit.. Orange, apple, pineapple, banana?" "OK, thanks give me a banana please." Of course two fat bananas soon appeared with a mountainous portion of cake and ice cream for the Big Man. "Coffee, coffee! Get the señores coffee" he shouted, "and bring these liqueurs over here". Soon the bottles were lined up at the end of the table. Vodka with Carmelo, Hierbas from Galicia, a chupito of whisky? Why does this happen in Lent? I swear he was crestfallen when we refused. We asked for the bill and he rubbed his chin deep in thought. "60 euros please". It must have been my raised eyebrows because he immediately explained, "that's 20 euros each for the rooms and 10 euros each for food and drinks... And breakfast tomorrow is included, of course." Of Course! Get me a horse. I'm moving here.

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