9 th Sept. Camporrobeles to Mira

Karen dropped us at the centre of town and went on to Mira. We set off in search of the yellow arrows. We walked up and down and all around and finally after asking the police who happened to drive by (they had no idea) we eventually stumbled into the Calle Santiago and found our route. It wasn’t long before we lost the way again! This time we surmised a cross paddock trek would take us to the road we should have followed and it did. We were so happy to see the new markers! This walk took us through vineyards and Almond trees which had Almonds bursting from their skins. We tried a few and they were so moist compared to ones you buy.

I love the tiles they use for street names. Some are little paintings while many are just decorative.

It was cool this morning but heated up quickly once the sun came up. It was a lovely walk but the end was really tough down a rocky hill, slipping and rolling. We were all glad that we hadn’t been attempting this after 30 kms and fully packed.

We arrived in Mira about 12.00 pm and I was feeling quite tired so when Karen greeted us with lunch I was so grateful. A beer and an empanada went down a treat. We have discovered that many of the little towns are semi -closed for summer holidays or after a local fiesta. It is making it quite hard to get meals. This was something we hadn’t anticipated.

After I had a sleep I felt ready to check out this little place. It is very old and had a castle once but there is nothing left except the great view over the town and valley below.

The castle space, street art around the winding lanes, looking back to the bull ring (round white building) a 15 th century house of a famous Anton Martin, whose name is on many things and squares in town.

As we were wandering and looking for a bar a fellow saw us and directed us up the hill further along where we found a bar in which a few guys were talking. They really looked us over but not in an unfriendly way.

The hostal Carlos we are staying at has seen better days. We can’t work out if it is being renovated or just run- down. It is quite large but we don’t seem to have hot water though the bathroom is very nice. The room is large and beds comfy.

Reception

We decided to drive back to Camporrobeles for dinner because nothing is open here and the supermarket options are limited.

Karen and the Hyundai

Dinner was at a little restaurant/bar where the young couple had only just re-opened after their summer break. We discovered lots of towns are closed for either a fiesta or summer holidays. He was very happy for Karen to buy something from the supermarket and bring back to eat. Andy and I could order meat or fish dishes but Karen and Peter are vegetarians and he had no chef to make something for them. In the end we had a great dinner And bar was playing lots of music from the 60s so it was very convivial. The business was booming as tables kept expanding into the plaza.

A great vibe with 60s classics as background while we ate. The owners super helpful and hospitable

Tomorrow will also be a shorter walk than the original 31 km. due to expected temps of over 30 again. A satisfying day after all our angst.

8 th Sept Changed holiday plans

After Andy’s heat exhaustion we have come to the conclusion that with another 5 days of high temperatures predicted we cannot keep walking as planned. Karen went off early to Valencia to organise a hire car. She has struggled with the heat and walking so we just have to change our plans. We are all disappointed but health first. No one could have predicted this extended summer and such consistent and persistent high temperatures.

We drove to our next stop at Caudete de los Fuentes passing more vineyards and no shade. We shadowed the Camino path and saw yellow arrows and signs. Once at our very humble Airbnb we have started to replan our trip. We are going to try to continue walking as much as possible with Karen as luggage transfer. That will help with walking in the heat.

I have a strange sense of desolation that our plans have been so impacted by weather. Being in the car feels so alienating from the land we walk through and even though it was tough I felt alive and aware of my surroundings. Apart from the second day when we were just beginning and it was 38C I haven’t been as impacted as my companions. Tired and thirsty at the end of the day but otherwise in good shape and ready to go again the next day.

Being out in the open country observing the fruit and flowers or crops, the many rabbits scurrying under cover, the silence or the breeze in the trees is a wonderful experience. It is so meditative wandering along with an eye out for arrows. Every Camino has a lesson and being flexible is part of this one I guess.

We cooked our own dinner for a change and sat in the courtyard playing cards and doing the Age Newspaper Quiz.

We will walk out tomorrow from Camporrobeles to Mira. Only 13 kms instead of 30km and lighter packs. It is a plan.

7 th Sept. A day of drama and good samaritains.

We left early from Siete Aguas heading for Requena about 24kms. The morning was fresh and we felt strong. It was uphill out of town and into the forest but not extreme. We walked through lots of grape vines, dark blue and white which were sweet and juicy. No birds here or the scare guns. By the time we reached El Robellar ( half way) Karen was faltering in the heat so decided to take the train to the next town. As it turned out there were only a couple of trains and the next was 6,00 pm!

Ever resourceful Karen had noticed a Dept. of Transport near the station and thought they might know of a bus. The guys checked if there was a bus but then shrugged their shoulders and told her to hop in the car because they would take her. It might be a days walk but it was 15 mins by car! How kind they were.

In the mean time we had pushed on through more vineyards laden with grapes of many varieties and started walking down by the river. There were signs indicating it was a flood prone area and soon we saw evidence of rubbish washed up against trees. I was focused on the quiet-hardly a bird sound at all. So different from the Australian countryside which always has birds galore even if it is just a crow.

As we stopped to rest Andy said he wasn’t feeling well( he had come down with a cold- not Covid, he tested) and would take it slowly. Very unusual for him who is always way ahead checking the route. I asked if he had any hydralite drinks that I had been encouraging Karen and Peter to drink but he hadn’t. He set off with us a bit behind him. It wasn’t much further along before we found him slumped by the river in the shade in a state of exhaustion unable to go on. We decided our best thing was to go into town ( now only 3kms) leave our packs and get a taxi to come back.

As we powered into town a fellow who had passed us going the opposite way on a fitness walk and wished us Buen Camino came up and proceeded to help us find the Albergue and organise a taxi. It was all done very quickly and we soon found Andy slumped again but a little closer than where we had left him. With relief we got him into the taxi and decided no hospital required at this stage.

In the midst of all this we discovered the Albergue wasn’t open and wouldn’t be until 5 pm so we found a hotel nearby which had a room. While Peter minded the bags outside the Albergue, Karen and I organised the hotel where our Good Samaritan and his taxi friend had dropped us while Andy lay slumped on the bench in the square. Once we got a room( thank goodness it had a lift!) we got Andy settled with some hydralite drink and went to collect Peter. Karen and I decided if he hadn’t started to recover after the hydralite we would take him to the hospital.

When I went to take off my boots I discovered that the sole was falling off! The prolonged storage of these boots and the heat had destroyed the glue I suppose. Now I needed a shoe repairer. Peter and I set off in search of one supposedly nearby only to find he was gone. I passed a shoe shop and went in to ask for help in finding one. The lady was very helpful but the nearest was in the next town! I looked around her shop and decided to buy a new pair. I had to do this when I walked the Via de la Plata and my boots turned out to be too small in the hot weather. This pair I brought were a generous size but hadn’t been used much. The new shoes don’t have ankle support but otherwise seem sturdy. They were a reasonable price.

After we all had a good rest and Andy had consumed a couple of litres of hydralite drinks he started to recover and felt up to a stroll around to find a place for dinner. I was starving! We ended up in a Chinese/Vietnamese run tapas bar where we enjoyed vegetarian samosas, spring rolls, potato bravas and I had fried baby squids and a beer! The whole energy in these towns is great after 6.00 when everyone comes out to sit in the squares having snacks and drinks and convivial conversations with their friends or shop. The kids are buzzing on their scooters and tricycles or just playing. I love this and think it is a great lifestyle. Things usually quieten down by about 9 when they have dinner.

Covid seems to be a thing of the past here, almost. Masks must be worn on public transport and the driver will insist, sometimes you see people wearing them shopping or serving in restaurants but it is not everyone, everywhere.

6 th Sept Up, up and over!

Today started well with a funny back to front breakfast at The Posada. Pilgrims are the almost the only people who eat at 6.00 am in Spain! We had a table outside the kitchen and started with cafe con leche and croissants. Then the chef asked if we wanted any fruit and yogurt and presented us with juicy melons and a choice of apples and oranges, then offered juice. It was all delicious and generous. The best thing for Karen was succeeding in getting hot black tea and cold milk in another cup on the side. Tea is a mystery for many Spanish. We paid for our previous evening meal and off we went. They had been very accommodating the night before by going out of their way to make vegetarian meals for two and I had salad with tuna and dessert. When I said I would have wine for a change I ended up with a whole bottle to myself! Our meal cost €40 for 3 including wine and water.

Today’s walk was all uphill for over 10km. Then a 6 km descent. It was pretty steep and warm even though we were early. We did have a cool breeze to offset the sunshine and gradually as we gained the forest a bit of shade on the path. As we saw the sun rise over Bunol I liked the shapes of the buildings but realised I had taken a photo of the cement works! Still, in the pink morning light it looked attractive!

The gentle whoosh of the wind through the trees was soothing and we soon gained some expansive views. There were lots of ripe blackberries to savour along the path.

At one point I looked back and we could see the sun glinting on the Mediterranean and Valencia.

Looking back towards Valencia

Unfortunately the slope and growing warmth was beginning to take its toll on Karen again and she began to slow down. Peter also was finding the terrain hard. By the time we had crested the hill and started the descent they were both quite exhausted. Karen has concluded that she just can’t walk in the heat at all and despite the hydralites I have been giving them, they are struggling. Both are disappointed. Karen is fine in the cold and Peter is good on the flat. We are discussing car hire but it will have to come from the Airport I think. Even though we feel like we are miles from anywhere we are still only 35 kms from Valencia Airport!

Just one part of today’s climb
Taking a break
Siete Aguas

Siete Aguas is larger than expected and it was all uphill into town. Groan. We stopped at the first bar and had lemon fantas and salted peanuts in their shells. Our Casa Roses is a room only accommodation. We have a tiny ensuite for each room. Basic, but clean and comfortable with good beds and a welcome refuge for the end of today.. After a rest we went exploring. Not much is left that reflects the history as a border town when the Moors were expelled by the king or convert.

We joined the locals for a game of cards while we waited for dinner. It was very pleasant and we have come up with another alternative to our dilemma as the hire cars are so busy. Karen will walk while it is cool and then catch a bus, taking some of Peter’s c’things to lighten his load. We have 21 kms tomorrow.

4th and 5 th Sept Bunol

We set off for Cheste as early as possible knowing we had 24 kms and a hot day ahead. Leaving Valencia had us walking through some ugly industrial areas but eventually we hit the orange groves. The trees were laden with green oranges but the path was very exposed and soon we were all feeling the heat. At one stage as we negotiated an orange grove we were grateful for the heat because if it was wet as some of the reading had indicated, we would have been ankle deep in clay.

As time wore on the day got hotter Karen started to feel faint and we were all wet through with perspiration. At one stage the only shade was outside a pig farm. We all sank gratefully to the ground with the smell a small sacrifice for the respite. One of the workers came out with a barrow of pig parts-a bit gruesome. He was cheerful and told us he was a vet from Bulgaria who had been in Spain for 20 years. Bulgaria was too corrupt and Spain was better. We eventually rose to continue up the hill but it was apparent Karen was in a bad way and eventually we all decided she needed to get a lift. Where was Uber when you need it?! Anyway a very kind young man saw her and graciously took her into town. The rest of us powered on. Peter is raising money for his charity and feels compelled to walk all the way. We proceeded into the river bed and had to cross two fast but shallow fords. I got tangled in a spiky acacia called ‘wait awhile’ in Africa because it sticks into your clothes and skin. It had strong 3 inch long needles that poked my arm and leg and drew blood. Needless to say the bleeding stopped very quickly in the heat. The water looked so inviting and on the second crossing I nearly fell in. Thanks to all my Bailar dancing I was able to keep my footing and avoid the crash but I was almost disappointed.

On we trudged and it became harder and harder. Peter was getting slower and both Andy and I hotter. Those last two kms were a killer. After a long shower we decided an early dinner was in order. Little open for dinner because it is so early (6.30 pm) and the Spanish don’t eat till 9. We stumbled on a kebab place. The owner was not too impressed with us until Andy started to talk cricket. The owner was a fellow from Pakistan. We were happy to wait for food but needed drinks. We downed two litres of lemon Fanta and water very quickly and followed up with more. The food was generous in size and soon all I wanted was bed! We all slept like the dead.

Next morning was an even earlier start to try to beat the heat. A 16 km day so we hoped to get to Bunol by 12.00 pm at the latest. Breakfast was after 5 kms at Chives. It was pleasant walking through orange groves, vineyards, fields of pumpkin ( squash) olive trees. The roadside was abundant with wild grapes. They looked like blueberries but had quite a big seed. The cultivated grapes were much juicier and delicious. There were even fig trees that I raised for a ripe fig. Yum.

We saw the sun rise and eventually arrived in Bunol just as the temperature reached 30C and Karen started to fade again. We are staying at a lovely Inn- Posada Vente Pilar. We have discovered that we have missed the famous Tomato throwing festival! Damn! It would have been fun. Our inn is a traditional and friendly place. They offered a delicious three course lunch which was not so great for the vegetarians. We all had the Hervido (boiled vegetables) pretty bland but nourishing. I followed with stewed rabbit which was delicious and then the choice of dessert ( crème caramel or cheesecake) followed by coffee or tea. Karen ended up with tea and warm milk. The Spanish don’t always understand tea with milk!

After a shower, washing duties and attending to emails we set off to see the town. Bunol was on the frontier of the province of Valencia and Castlle so it has one of the last remaining castles. It has been built on the edge of a ravine and the old town is below. We were charmed by the quaint fountains that are still used. In one of the square there were photos of locals in traditional outfits from the festival. Having walked some of our Camino route today we took a very hilly shortcut back to the Posada. At least it will be down hill in the morning. Bunol is a place of rivers and waterfalls and great natural beauty. Hopefully we will walk through forests tomorrow. And get some shade!

3rd Sept Super Hot day 38 degrees celsius

Now we are four we decided to collect our credential ( pilgrim passport) which allows us to stay at the allbergues along the way and is our proof of walking the Camino Ruta de Lana.

Backwards and forwards we went from the old to the new cathedral until a sweet old Nun explained where we should go to get them. The Bishop’s Palace aka admin for the Cathedral. They had a sign INSIDE the building! Not very helpful but ultimately very pleasant once we found them. Then a trek to the post office to send back extra gear that in this heat I am not going to need. The postal service always seems so friendly in Spain. I had to use my translator app to clarify a few things.

Once more we set off, this time for lunch and drinks, the temperature rising steadily. No orange juice! There seems to be a shortage of oranges this year or they are all being juiced in the heat! We decided to walk through the Turia gardens for the shade and explore. A delightful range of trees from Boabs to an Umbre tree, Oaks and Jacarandas as well as Oleander bushes and others I didn’t know. Valencia is full of cyclists riding around in normal clothes at a leisurely pace. Such a contrast to the manic Melbournians in Lycra. We came across a construction that intrigued us until we realised it is Gulliver laid low by the Lilliputians. Eventually we arrived at the centre for Arts and Sciences. What a fantastic building. The surrounding pools of water were so inviting in the now extreme heat but the only things in the pools were marvellous bronze sculptures, though around the corner there were kids in rowboats and paddle boards. We rested and had icy poles. Karen was beginning to feel the effects of the heat. Despite this we pushed on towards the beach. Where we were greeted by pulsing music and a very glamorous restaurant/ poolside bar and lounging area.

I changed into my swimsuit and headed for the water! Divine and surprisingly large fish in small schools swimming around us. when we were feeling refreshed we returned via the bus. Getting tickets was a fraught process as we had intended to go by the metro but after struggling to buy tickets with our credit card we resorted to cash. Thus worked we thought but then when we tapped on Karen didn’t think it was registering so exasperated we went to the bus with a human in attendance! We used our translator app to explain our issues and so we took the bus but it seemed we had used three of the four tickets after all and had to buy more for the bus! The challenge of transport in other countries! It was now apparently 38.5 degrees. No wonder we were hot and bothered. A rest and then dinner at 8.30 at a classy vegetarian restaurant. Slept well.

2nd Sept Hot day’s walking

Yesterday I explored the old city and visited the Cathedral museum which is the repository for two major religions icon. The first was the Holy Grail, an alabaster cup reputed to be used by Christ at the last supper and a monstrance That is used at the feast of Corpus Christi. It is the largest in the world. I was glad I went early because when I left there was a queue! It was very interesting they also had a relic of the local Saint Vincent Martin which was his forearm and hand – quite well preserved. Mostly relics are just bones of some saint but this was pretty creepy with flesh.

The transept of the church was quite unique in shape and had alabaster windows. Another feature was the virgin in the chair. Pregnant women come to pray for a safe delivery by walking around the church 9 times.

After that I continued down the Plaza del Rei towards the post office to buy a box in which I will post my excess baggage! The street had lovely trees and fancy shops but one really caught my eye was A Lolly shop.

Named after my son Jonny?

It was very hot. I tooa stroll to the Turia gardens. This was the river but it has been diverted and the river bed made into playing fields and gardens. They are a delightful green space for the citizens of Valencia. Hot and weary I returned home to wait for my friends. As it happened they too suffered a delay departing and did not arrive until 9.30 pm. In the end we didn’t eat but went for a drink at a nearby restaurant bar. We just talked till midnight like the locals!

Looking across the Turia river gardens

31st August Valencia

After delays due to slow luggage loading in Melbourne (1 hour) we had to rush to make our connection in AbuDhabi. Through security again then a run to gate 45, about 30 gates away! We caught the last bus to the airplane only to wait almost an hour here too on the tarmac for luggage transfer. I was very relieved I hadn’t book a close connection from Madrid to Valencia because we didn’t get in till after 7 am and Madrid is such a huge airport it must be well over a kilometre’s walk to get to customs then the health check point. After that it was a train ride to the baggage collection!While efficient it took over two hours. So many people shuffling along. My backpack arrived intact and I immediately stripped off my winter fleece. It is deliciously hot.

How far to customs and baggage?

The flight was uneventful but the food was pretty average with mainly stodgy pasta or noodles so when I finally got to Madrid Chamartin train station I was craving fresh food and promptly ordered a salad with goats cheese and a beer! It is 9,00 am but feels like lunch time. The train from airport to here was only €3.10 and only a bit more into the heart of Madrid. A taxi is € 30. Brilliant service.

I had a long and tedious wait for my 3pm train. The seats were hard, there wasn’t a lot to do apart from read and stroll the shops but eventually our train with COMFY seats arrived. I was so tired that it wasn’t long before I fell asleep safe in the knowledge that when the train stopped I would be in Valencia!

The country side looks so parched and the crops had been harvested though there were lots of olive trees and several vineyards amongst the wheat. When i arrived it was so hot that the 15 min trek to the hotel resulted in me looking like a Valencia tomato. I showered and set off to explore. Everyone is just getting out and about now after siesta. The hostal Antigua Morellana is a small pensione style right in the heart of old Valencia. Surrounded by charming narrow streets and plenty of bars and restaurants as well as shops. By now I am fading fast. After a dinner of delicious squid a la planchs – ( plain) I crashed. Satisfied that I at least made the local 9.00 pm dinner time.

Another new year and still more CoVid but adventure is just around the corner. Hola Espagne!

I haven’t felt the urge to write because life has been quite routine for months. The year started with an air of optimism and I decided to go on a yoga retreat as something new. It was a great experience and very grounding and relaxing. Lots of nature, not too much talking and a lot of chanting. I have never been one for chanting but I finally saw the benefit. It is verbal meditation I suppose or prayer. The chanting did seem to lift our vibration and was very calming. Never knew what we were saying mind you but the sounds were good. While there we experienced a dramatic hail storm that was extremely loud and wet!

After that there was a wedding and then life resumed its usual pattern of child minding and social interactions. I had a significant birthday which I decided would be a Festival of Kath rather than a grand party. I had lots of lunches and dinners and quality time with family and friends.

I have completed a couple of virtual Caminos these last two years and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting my original Camino Frances experience as well as completing the extension to Finisterre and Muxia and back to Santiago.

I have found walking virtual places very motivating and reminiscing over familiar experiences through the photographs was uplifting in these trying times. Camino for Good was my preferred virtual hike because it was founded to raise money to support owners of the Albergues who were struggling through CoVid. The app and website felt very like a real Camino.https://caminoforgood.com/

Anne, my friend from the Portuguese Camino, and I finally got organised to take our trip to Queensland. We both had an ambition to travel to the very tip of Cape York Peninsula and through central Queensland to visit dinosaur country and various gorges. What a great time we had. I didn’t track our trip on this blog because I didn’t know what to expect as we were in a camper trailer which was shared with my brother and my nephew. I did track it on a travel app Polarsteps. http://polarsteps I liked the way it mapped our travel but it didn’t lend itself so much to writing. You can find the trip under my full name Kathryn Leong.

However during the year my English friends invited me to join them on another walking adventure. We had planned to walk the Ruta de La Lana from Alicante to Burgos back in 2019 but when the world was overtaken by CoVid all travel was halted. We all went into hibernation. This year they visited Italy and decided that it would be fine to reinstate our plans and go to Spain. Ever one to say yes and think about the details later, I agreed. So here I am one week out from a hike through the Spanish countryside which is quite literally aflame. The world seems to have devolved into constant chaos but we are hopeful that as autumn arrives so too will milder weather and a cease to forest fires across Europe.

Ever the optimists and with Andy’s dogged planning skills we will make it happen. I am booked to fly on the 30 th August to Madrid and then train to Valencia. The others will arrive on the 1st September. A few days exploring Valencia and then we start walking. We are prepared to be flexible, in fact already we are finding alternatives on our route. This is not a well travelled road like the traditional Camions and consequently accommodation is a bit limited. Being a group of four has made it difficult to just wander into towns as we have done previously.

Anyway let the next adventure begin.

1st June Wimmera wandering

Could we have planned any better? My friends and I took off for a magical mystery tour around Western Victoria on the 17th May in a Maui Camper van. We returned on the 27th, the beginning of Melbourne’s fourth lockdown. Ugh!! What can you say? It is frustrating after Melbourne had been really coming out of hibernation and starting to blossom again, only to be cut off by an unexpected frost, lockdown 4. It made me think of the ice maiden days in France that I experienced in May 2018. We had been enjoying glorious warm spring days until we arrived in Le Puy, May 12 and it began to snow! My French friends told me they never plant anything until after the ice maiden days 11,12,13, May.

Anyway back to the trip. I had taken the risk of having my first vaccination on the Sunday before departure. I was sick of waiting for the local GP who was only getting 50 doses a week; so after Yum Cha in the city on the Sunday I rolled up to the Royal Exhibition Building mass vaccination centre and received my jab. No queues, smiling service and out in the minimum time. I figured if I felt sick I would just sit quietly in the van and take some Panadol. I did not anticipate a bad reaction and fortunately I was fine. Barely a tender arm.

First jab completed, yeah!

The next morning we collected the van and drove tentatively home to Kew to pack. Getting the hang of the longer wheel base was the first lesson, parking was the second. We had a daunting amount of stuff but it all fitted and we were on our way soon after. Our first destination was Lorne. We stopped at Torquay for lunch and managed to turn the front chairs around and set up the little table. It was tricky and the last time we ever bothered!

We immediately became part of the camper van crowd. Another van parked close by revealed a smaller weekend style of travel and the young couple with their dogs, were eager to share their experiences. Like us they were from Melbourne and just enjoying a break after last year’s lockdown. Finally arriving at Lorne Foreshore Caravan Park after hours, Bill backed the van into place while Irene and I guided him.

The van has a shower and toilet but we are all too nervous to use it and terrified of emptying the toilet cassette. We got set up so quickly that we were all very impressed- so much easier than the tents we normally use. Bill was delighted with the convenience of the rubbish bin at his elbow while he peeled vegetables. We quickly slipped into a little routine with each having a task but not underfoot.

Next stop Apollo Bay and lunch of Scallop Pie and Chai Latte, not in the van. Now it was my turn to drive. With trepidation I took the wheel but soon felt comfortable. It was easy to drive, just needed to remember the long wheel base when going round corners. I got a lot of practice as I drove through the Otways winding roads! Our destination was Port Fairy. I missed the turn-off to our selected Caravan Park and then found the only other access was a road under repair which was closed! We set off for another campsite but it was closed too. We were getting a bit desperate but I had seen a Big 4 as we came into town and though rather characterless, we were glad to stop there. I backed the van successfully into place. When we left this Caravan Park the manager gave us a bottle of wine! Friendly anyway.

The next day Irene and I finally broached the toilet cassette. After reading and re-reading the instructions, we managed to remove, empty and replace without incident. I think our greatest fear was being splashed of course. Task completed, we walked into town and had lunch ( Scallop pie again and a small Vanilla Slice) followed by a look around. That is, Irene and I browsed the shops while Bill connected with a former colleague with whom he had worked on the renovation of the local hospital. On this trip we did many diversions past country hospitals that Bill had worked on. ( He is a retired Architect). When Irene and I returned, Bill and Mick were still sharing coffees. Mick was able to fill us in on Port Fairy, the economy and its development. It was a most enjoyable day.

That evening there was a lot of laughter as I tried to dismantle the table for Bill and Irene’s bed. I just couldn’t dislodge the pole and then I was laughing so much I was completely useless. Bill came to the rescue and showed me how.

Next stop was Budji Bim Cultural Landscape, the only UNESCO World Heritage property listed for its Aboriginal cultural values. It features the earliest living example of aquaculture in the world, with a history of eel farming and agriculture, dating back over 6000 years. This was such an interesting place and we undertook a guided tour. It made me ashamed of how inadequate and biased our Australian history teaching has been.

What we are finding is that we are taking our time to get going in the mornings, so our idea of arriving early at our destination has not eventuated. Plus it is a bit too cold to sit out and have our nibbles and drinks after 4.30 pm. The van is more comfortable. We are also beginning to realise we might have underestimated our distances and time to complete our journey. There is so much to see and we aren’t stopping at every curiosity as we might, if we had unlimited time. We stopped nonetheless to see the Crags as recommended by Mick. We were heading to Dunkeld for lunch the next day at the Royal Mail. It is so lovely being out in the country, feeling free and secure in our little mobile home. It is so very convenient and easy. We are getting in the habit of being tidy, everything in its place and everything close at hand. We often book ahead while travelling but mostly there are plenty of spots to camp.

The Crags

Dunkeld however was full when we arrived. Consternation! Where to stay? Just as we were driving out the manager rushed out to stop us. There had been a last minute cancellation. How fortunate, because this camp ground was a total delight. There were bath mats in the showers!! Flowers and toiletries and a hairdryer in the facilities made us feel like friends. The other aspects, camp kitchen and bbq’s were all excellent and charming. The manager told us they had been so busy that they were desperate for a break. Victorian’s had been making the most of their freedom and the Royal Mail was doing a roaring trade. Once again Irene and I browsed some delightful shops. I bought a lovely possum/merino poncho that looked so elegant. Not in the budget, but too enticing to resist and I justify the purchase by the fact that I am helping the economy!

Our next stop was Halls Gap in the Grampians. We had intended to do a hike but in the end we decided to explore the local wineries instead! We have hiked in the Grampians before so this was a new aspect not previously explored. Halls Gap was full of people because there was the Gap run on Sunday. It was freezing overnight but delightfully sunny during the day.

We were surprised that there was no cooked rotisserie chicken to be had in Halls Gap. It seems such a basic take away food ( for us city slickers anyway) which would be so saleable to the huge camping population of Halls Gap. (At least three camping grounds.) A business opportunity for some enterprising person surely. But not our concern because we were departing for our true destination, the Art Silo trail and the Little Desert-The Wimmera-Mallee country.

Our first stop was Murtoa for the ‘Stick Shed’. Is it an Australian thing to name such an imposing building with an underwhelming name? I was quite frankly in awe of this former grain store. The ‘sticks’ were unmilled mountain ash from East Gippsland. The building was constructed in 1941 to store the glut of grain caused by the collapse of markets during WW2.https://www.thestickshed.com.au/

The inside is so impressive and evoked a sense of grandeur I have experienced in some Cathedrals. Whether it was the rough supports or the flexible purlines that tighten to support the building when it is windy, or just the sheer size (270metres long x 60 metres wide and about 19 metres high at the ridge) the building seems to have a soul. I could imagine a concert in there, though acoustics are probably terrible.

From here we visited Rapunyip, then Sheep Hills before heading west to Geroke, Karniva and Dimboola for the night. Dimboola has always had a sort of exotic attraction for me. There was a play and a film set in Dimboola but also its name personified life deep in the Wimmera. I don’t know what I expected but it did not disappoint. I was surprised that there was a Wimmera River, which flows through Dimboola. It was blessed with lots of bird life as a result and a rustic charm. Sydney Nolan was stationed here during the Second World War as guard to rations for the Army and painted in the front office of the store.

Dimboola has a grand hotel which was being renovated and an old National Bank now converted to The Imaginarium, an eclectic gift shop. We found everyone to be wonderfully friendly and welcoming. The little Desert was another mystery to me and we enjoyed a nature walk through a small part of it before stopping at the pink lake, Lake Lochiel. The Caravan Park Manager had showed us photos of the lake looking fluorescent pink last year. He smiled ruefully as he told us, ‘No one got to see it because of CoVid!’ Since restrictions have lifted though the town has been doing well. At this Caravan Park we had an ensuite!

Our next silo was at Brim, then Rosebery, Patchewollock, Lascelles and finally Sea Lake.

Seeing all these amazing painted Silos and the stories about their making was so very interesting and inspiring. They tell the stories of the people of the Wimmera-Mallee and the artists. We wondered if their was any preservation process for the art or will they eventually fade or be worn away by the elements. Bill suggested perhaps they got a coat of Teflon! Another surprise was the other salt lake, Lake Tyrell, just out of Sealake. The reflections here were impressive despite the bitter cold and grey sky. I thought it would be worth returning in summer to see the sunrise or set and to use the Sky Lounge. The sky lounge were seats for observing the stars at night and had illustrations of the constellations seen by and used by the local indigenous people for understanding the seasons etc.

We opted to stay at Green Lake out of town because the Sealake Caravan Park looked too bleak. Green Lake is a freshwater lake filled by rainwater but surrounded by trees and sandy shores and delightful. That is, until we collected the branch of a tree with the airconditioner on the roof of the van! It was just a crack but that is what you have an excess for in the insurance. Still it dampened our spirits somewhat as we were just two nights from returning the van unscathed.

Our last day saw us visit Nullawil Silo, the MaryQuant exhibition in Bendigo-a stressful but successful parking exercise for me and the van- overnight at Heathcote and home to Melbourne and the beginning of lockdown! What a wonderful trip. We had so much fun together. I finally saw the western part of Victoria and learned how to manage a mobile home. Parking issues aside it was a real impetus to plan a trip around Australia next year. I will do a towing course first though!

One of my favourites. The dog is superb with its wet nose.