Aljucén to Alcuescar, Via de la Plata, Spain

Aljucén to Alcuescar, 23.3.18: 19 kms.

First, a few photos from last night:

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A typical house of this region, Aljucén, Spain.

Most of the previous afternoon was spent in the albergue courtyard in the hot sun. It was idyllic with three large black and white cranes floating on the thermals above, and, when alighting, clacking their beaks with a wooden clapper sort of sound. The sky they sailed through hosted the slither of New Moon. A short walk around the village revealed that the church was shut but the shop open for an individual lemon yoghurt, a bread roll, a tin of mussels, and fruit for breakfast. The evening, communal meal was at the café Kiosk opposite the albergue and much wine was drunk. I sat beside a woman who was walking ‘a contrario’ ie towards Seville rather than in the direction of Santiago de Compostella. The thermal baths in the village got a very good report. The hospitalera (woman who runs the albergue) went to great trouble to book her guests in.

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Parroquia Zsan Andrés, Parish Church of Saint Andres XVI century, Aljucén, Spain.

The next morning’s departure was at 7.35am after a great deal of hustle and bustling, the others leaving quite a mess without wiping the surfaces or cleaning the dishes. I was a bit surprised and took time to complete the duties before leaving.

The sun was behind the trees to my right as the walk began, and there was no pavement. It was not until the end of the road that it had truly risen.

My meditation buddies would have been meeting as I walked, so I was thinking of them. There was a dearth of yellow arrows so I hoped there was no mistake. After a while other pilgrims came into sight so I was glad to know it was the right road. As the morning wore on, it was more and more crowded, like the Camino Francés.

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Crossing the Rio / River Aljucén, Spain.

My clothes were damp from the dew but it was lovely and warm, not long until I hid behind a rock to take off my early morning warmer layers and walk in a t-shirt. Finally the arrows signed off the road to the right at the services (petrol etc) and onto the serpentine track.

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The long, winding Camino, Via de la Plata.
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This barking sheep dog loudly protected his flock for a kilometer!
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Massive granite boulders and brush on one side of the Way, and bog on the other.

The landscape was all very attractive and a big white bird took off from the wetlands, its massive wings flapping slowly.

Advice: There are no arrows here for a long time but just keep going!

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The first hills, hazy in the distance.

The rocks are covered with blue and red miniature plants. A hare auspiciously ran across my path. I was reflecting on learning to choose, to identify what is necessary to me and not to automatically fall in step with the other as I was bought up to do.

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The path is briefly made of orange earth, but then returns to yellow, then white sand and, at the end becomes all stony.
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An enormous, anonymous dog joined Jo as she set out from Aljucén at 8am, and at 10.30 he was still at her heels despite his paws falling down between the cattle grid irons as he followed her, loyally.

We walkers were overtaking, then falling behind, each other; one in particular determined to make conversation. A woman stopped to pee and the dog stopped too; another to stretch out already sore muscles (day two can be a challenge); a third walked by in silence; a couple chattered excitedly; a further man complained and told people what to do all the time. We were all sorts walking this ancient way, for many different reasons.

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‘Yin and Yang’ says my Argentian companion.

As the sky darkened and the air got increasingly damp, the chamomile petals were flattened down. Along the straight farm track I walked with Jo sharing snacks and stories of babies, relationships and the future – whether to plan or not to plan. I realised there were eucalyptus trees starting to appear, as in the North.

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Remains of the foundations of the Puente (bridge) de Trajano. From the Imperial Roman period, for crossing the River Aljucén.

And then there were three rain showers in quick succession and I could not see easily through my specs.

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Be careful to turn right when you get to the fork with all the signs for Alcuescar! That is, unless you want to go to Los Olivos, an albergue turística. There was a warning at last night’s inn that the owner was using the same yellow paint to lure unsuspecting hikers to his hostel. At this point I am sorry to say that you are not nearly there yet.

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Oleander in bud, lining the Camino for many miles. It will be stunning in season.

First there were underplantings of wheat and rape in the olive groves – so fertile.

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And then there was the familiar, mucky industrial outlying townscape, and then I knew I was near Alcuescar. Today it seemed like a long road despite it only being two kilometers longer than yesterday.

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Los Esclavos de Maria y los Pobres, a working monastery where I spent the night.
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The beautiful monastery garden.

Mérida to Aljucén – Via de la Plata, Spain

21/22 March 2018

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Roman theatre, Mérida, Spain.

I went to Mérida by bus from Seville because I completed that 10 days last year. The Leda bus took 3 hours and cost 9 euros.

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The beautiful gardens at the Roman Theatre, Mérida, Spain.

I enjoyed a beer and pinxos in the Plaza España (tortilla with bread and goats cheese on toast, neither of which were good but cheap) and visited the crypt (3 euros) and amphitheatre (12 euros) in the afternoon. The people at the tourist information were most helpful.

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Roman Amphitheatre, Mérida, Spain.

The out-of-town shopping centre where I bought my new baton was across the Roman Bridge (which is totally pedestrian and a great sight). I was foot-sore but it was a successful trip and after bread, cheese and lettuce I went to bed at 7.30pm.

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An evening shot of the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge) over the Guidiana River, Mérida, Spain.

I woke at 6am after a passable night. A cacophony of snorers accompanied me in the 18-bed dormitory which was almost full. I did my meditation and as I went outside to do tai chi I disturbed a heron on the river.

View from the hostel window.
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View of Mérida, looking back on departure.

I had a breakfast of milky coffee and packet cakes (2 euros), and was ready to go at 7.30am, only having to return once for my water bottle and map!

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The buildings are industrial and utilitarian on the outskirts of Mérida, Spain.

The road took me uphill and although there was ice on the parked-car windows, the sun shone all day; the birds sang to me and, in general, the yellow arrows were clear. I asked a woman for directions at one of the many roundabouts, and the first hour was along the side of busy cars going to work, as well as a green cycle track bedside the motorway.

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The statues on the gateposts are impressive.

The flowers were stunning: purple mallow; yellow rape; pink campion and ragged robin; white wild rocket and chamomile with their sunshine middles. Wood pigeons cooed at me when I shed a few tears, sure I had missed the way, although it transpired I had not.

Later, rabbits played with their white tails bobbing, and cow bells sounding like an orchestra of kalimbas were so beautiful.

I climbed up again to the top and there was the first view of the Prosperpina Reservoir. All morning my feet and other joints were taking it in turns to hurt, my back pack felt very heavy, but these things were familiar and if I have learnt anything from sitting it is that everything will pass eventually.

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The Prosperpina Reservoir is glorious.

I sat and enjoyed it. I watched the heron on a rock, mirrored, stretching out its long black neck, and the swallows darting around for flies over the water. Individually the birds sang regular songs but together they created a mélange of sound.

I spent almost an hour near the reservoir reading the tourist information and changing out of my cold-weather layers into shorts and T-shirt.

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After skirting the lake, I walked by the babbling brook and this second part of the days walk was much closer to what I was hoping for: peace, with the call of the cuckoo and the water swirling amongst the bright green weed and sparkling in the sunshine

This path was across country although initially along a little road with lots of arrows, plastic bags and signs, all yellow to help us find our way. My feet were very grateful for the soft sand, although there were quite a few wet and boggy places.wp-1521724756453..jpg

I saw dog walkers by the reservoir, 2 local cyclists and 2 camino ones. No-one else.

Note for those walking this way: Remember to look on the pavement for arrows and indications, as well as on trees, the backs of street signs and the obvious marble blocks.

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A gentleman opened the gate for me as I trekked up into the village of El Carrascalejo where the church was shut.

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Parish Church, El Carrascalejo.
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Renaissance entrance of the Parish Church, El Carrascalejo.

I snacked at 11am with no sign of any café despite the information in my book (remember, it is March). On the way out of this tiny place there is a playpark and attractive picnic area.

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There are lots of lovely benches but the El Carrascalejo albergue is shut at this time of year.
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White winding road with fields of vines on either side.

After all my winter reading about the history of the pilgrimage and monasteries, I really felt like a happy pilgrim with my staff and shell, sign of Saint Jacques interred at Santiago de Compostellla, the end of this 1000 km route

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Saint Jacques.

As I approached the motorway I took a left turn along a small road and then a right at a Mondrian-like cube with its yellow square and walked through the underpass.

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There are many Holm oaks in this area of Extremadura.

Up another little hill I went, along a farm path and past a group of men taking a break who called buen camimo and then I had a view of Aljucén.

I crossed the main road for the last time,  straight on between green fields lush after the rain (the farmers must be happy anyway!) and although there are no signs I kept on going right into the village where they were planting lots of new trees and arrived at the Albergue Turístico Río Aljucén at midday.

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Costing 10 euros, this hostel was recommended by the previous hospitalero, has excellent, free Wi-Fi, is spotlessly clean and although it has a washer (3 euros) there is no dryer. I was the first to arrive so I got to have the hot shower and choose my bed in the small dormitory. All my things dried quickly in the sun as other pilgrims arrived. We sat together, mostly German people, one Argentinian, a couple of French and myself from Scotland  We spoke French, German, and a little English and Spanish.

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