Let me never forget the morning I managed to get lost in Valdredo trying to find the rail link out of it. Valdredo is a tiny rural town with a spaghetti-like layout of tarred, paved and dirt roads. Rail links to the outside world are serviced by one of the scattered concreate meatballs; a single rail platform with no road access best located by following a unsigned footpath. Dump a grand helping of salad over our dish and serve. For the sauce? The heavy downpour of rain will do. And now on-to how I made a meal of leaving the place.
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My original starting point at half-seven that morning was Soto de Luiña. Since the pain caused by the tendonitis in my right leg had eased, I decided a light 3km walk to the nearby rail-linked town of Valdredo would be a good way of testing the healing progress and gently easing myself back into walking again. By the end of the day’s journey I had walked closer to 10km.
Getting to Valdredo was easy enough – following a mix of roads and Camino pathways and you’ll be there within an hour. Heavy rain meant it was time for the big guns to come out — a waterproof windbreaker and giant US-army style poncho kept me and my loadout dry.
Upon arriving in Valdredo I sheltered under the veranda of the local social club during one of the heaviest parts of the Saturday morning downpour. A small poster on the community noticeboard tells that Valdredo is hosting a backgammon tournament next week. I shaln’t be returning for it. Now sat comfortably on a white plastic garden chair, I pulled out the smartphone, fired-up Google Maps and began my quest to be an economy class passenger on the first available westward train.
Google Maps reliably informed me that my rail link was close-by — within a couple of hundred meters — all I need do was find what looked to be a 80m footpath running parallel to the track. “Too easy”, I thought. It then dawned that when in a town small enough not to have a single street sign, it’s probably worth asking one of the locals for confirmation. As if by magic a man suddenly appeared in the window of the whitewashed house opposite. It became apparent that the direct path I suggested to him was no good — from the interpretation of his gestures I was to go back the way I came and loop round on one of the spaghetti roads. Waving thanks I set off.
Twenty minutes later and having walked down several dead-end pathways another local man volunteered identical directions. Back up and loop round — no hay problema señor. It was only later in the day that it occurred to me that these well-meaning people had actually meant for me to walk back to the main road and head over to the next town. Perhaps some measure of misinterpretation is needed as the catalyst to many of life’s grand adventures.
Another ten minutes and Google Maps indicated that I was heading towards the twin town of Albuerne – away from the station. Roads be damned, it was time for a more direct approach. Judging from the sat-map a small farmer’s field around the next corner would take me on a crows-flight to the station: brilliant. Arriving at the field I discovered my yellow-brick road; a fenced-off walkway separating allotments: fantastic. Relying my years of carefully honed CSI skills, I quickly determined that the walkway contained recent evidence of hoof-and-footprint traffic: no need for the crime lab on this one Sanders. To the right at the end of the pathway a flight of narrow cinderblock steps led upwards: if one man has conquered this hillside, then can’t we all?
The path to Modor was probably easier than what faced me next. A stream of mud-and-water gushed over the cinderblocks towards me, think brambles flanked me and the heavens poured down on me. When the brambles weren’t obscuring my path they hooked into my clothes, poncho, backpack, skin. When the brambles weren’t hooking into things they were swiping dangerously at my eyes. This was Nature’s revenge — I probably shouldn’t have killed so many spriggans in my last play-through of Skyrim. Never again will I question the usefulness of a machete — unfortunately I only had grit and determination at my disposal. Bloodied, with rips and barbs decorating my beloved poncho, I finally stumbled out on to an unvisited spaghetti road. Some people kiss the clear dry tarmac just after their plane lands — my iconic moment involved a mouthful of sand and wet pebbles.
A short walk later and I found myself in someone’s backyard with the train track in sight. Neither the low wire fence, the vegetable patch on the other side, nor the undergrowth leading to the track was going to stop me. With true grit blinding me to the ethics of trespassing and only briefly questioning why anyone would cultivate public land, I hopped the fence, carefully sidestepped the cabbages and plunged through the undergrowth. One embankment later and I was greeted by glorious rails of mangalloy and wood.
A short walk down the track and I reached the station platform. My playground jungle gym training came in handy negotiating the platform railings. Andy Dufresne might have crawlled through a sewer — I had just survived finding the sole rail link out of Valdredo.
Catching my breath I stripped off my poncho, rucksack, camera holder and windbreaker. With no one was around I was safely able to throw an air punch without looking weird. I had made finally made it. I had won everything. All that was left was to consult the train timetable. The last hour of my life would fade into memory as I sped my way towards new adventures in new towns — hopefully signposted ones designed around a grid system.
Train timetables are easy in pretty much any language. The train timetable at Valdrero will indicate a twice daily service. The train timetable at Valdrero will indicate an early morning service. The train timetable at Valdrero will indicate a late afternoon service. At the time, my watch indicated it was ten-o-clock in the morning. The train timetable in Valdero will indicate that the next train was at four-o-clock in the afternoon. In my life, there will be few moments in which my world will come to such an abrupt stop. Six hours — some wait.
Disheartened I moped my way along the pathway exit feeling some resolve in the belief that my bad-luck morning couldn’t get much worse. I was wrong. Tauntingly the social club I had sheltered under earlier emerged just ahead of me.
Not once on the 4km walk to Novellana did I look back.