Aldea de Cano to Cáceres, Spain.

Aldea de Cano to Cáceres – March 25 2018. (Day 4 of this part of my Via de la Plata camino).

The hostel at Aldea de Cano had a very good kitchen and nice table for sharing food, but there was a great deal of noise from the bar on the other side of the albergue wall. I arrived very early in the rain, and spent most of the rest of the day in the cafe which had everything I needed – wifi, good food and drink – some of the time alone but mostly with others with whom I was by now quite friendly, having met them at various stops along the way over the past few days.

The hour changed so we had some extra sleep after our shared meal in the cafe (something for starter, hake with chips and a little salad, flan (sort of crème caramel) with what my kids called squidgy cream (from a spray can) and red wine for approx. 11 euros).

I had nightmares all night, a traditional anxiety one with a dog I had left at home when I went away without arranging who would feed it rather than a baby; in the other there was a flood and I was drowning. So, I was awake early and had room and found a mat for some yoga: it was good to stretch my BL meridian in the backs of my legs after the walking.

Marie Noelle and I began together. The others took a taxi: two half way and one right to the end.

It was a traipse on stony paths for the whole day with either red, orange and white quartz or dark blue /grey slate. To begin with there was some rain so we started later, visiting the bar next door for toast and coffee while the worst passed. The previous night’s torrential rain had caused the terrain to be even wetter and it was necessary to dodge huge puddles, bogs and small lake; or just wade through them.

There were cranes everywhere in the fields and on their nests, their long orange beaks and beady eyes clearly visible from the ground.

MN was a postnatal nurse for 37 years before she retired so we talked mother’s and babies: she told me how important it was to reassure the new mums and I agreed that this was a large part of my baby Shiatsu work too.

At 12 midday we arrived at Valdesalor where we found a nice bar in Cristóbal Colon.

The second half of the day was terrible. Every step was increasingly painful – a small joint in my right foot and a blister on my left. I tried to keep going, MN striding off ahead of me, but in the end I had to give in and stop constantly, stumbling on in the worst walk I have had, walking so slowly by the end that I might as well have stood still. It took me ages, and I was extremely downhearted when I realised how much of the town I must traverse before reaching the hostel. Luckily I was met with such sweetness from Benito and Andrea that it bought tears to my eyes, and I was happily put in a double room with MN.

After a hot shower and clothes washing, a beer (which exploded all over the floor of the entrance hall and which I therefore had to mop up), and a rest, I had recovered sufficiently to make a small tour of the town. What a very beautiful place! In the soft golden evening light, the ancient walls and arches, looked just gorgeous. I would highly recommend that you visit here if you enjoy old monuments and impressive architecture.

In Cáceres the Semana Santa was well underway, with processions through the narrow streets and in the main Plaza Mayor. The second one we observed at very close quarters. There were lines of men and women carrying the platforms which weigh up to half a tonne. They shoulder the wooden shafts with expressions of distress and frowns – it is unclear if they are in pain or suffering with Christ. We were told that they pay 300 euro for the privilege of carrying it for half hour. It is gold with red carnations and there are statues of Jesus, the Pope and other biblical characters. This platform is preceded by children and adults in purple robes with hoods over their faces which have small holes for the eyes. Many have tall pointed witches hats on too – black Klu Klu Clan-type head wear.

Afterwards come the well-schooled brass bands in their black, red and gold uniforms – both sexes play.

For some it was clearly a social occasion, for others religious and very serious. Throughout there is a basic 2/2 rhythm emphasised in a macabre way by the rhythmic clanking of the metal staffs, and it was this which held the greatest power for me. The people who carry the crosses (also unidentifiable because of hoods) are barefooted and have chains around their ankles. Every now and then there is a loud drum announcement and they all stop, those carrying the heavy dias take a break and it is suspended on poles. It is all very well organised with key people giving orders and bells signifying a re-start.

The private hostel has 40 beds but the city is the second most important in the region and this is the busiest time of the year so tomorrow, for example, when at least one of our group would like to stay longer due to an ankle injury, it is full.

It has a very nice garden and terrace at the back for drying clothes and sitting with a beer, despite being right in the centre.

We ate at a very nice place which was empty apparently because a large family booked it out and then cancelled. He was very patient with us, especially when dishes were sent back because having said they were vegetarian, they came with garnishes of bacon etc. I ate moussaka, salmon and flan (again!) for 11 euros.

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 9, Spain

24th May 2017 Torremejía to Mérida.

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‘Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering. Winnie the Pooh,  A A Milne.

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Today’s short walk took me past industrial areas.
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For a great deal of time this mountain and I were beside each other.
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Also fields of wheat, gleaming in the sun.
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And plane trees.

I was trekking through Badajoz in the Extremadura region of Spain. The mountains were in the distance, but on the ground it was tarmac and vehicular junctions. There was a blue sky and although I left in the dark to stay cool, it was getting very hot by 10am.

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Causing a heat haze.
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The paths were stony underfoot, with fertile greenery,  despite the lack of rain.

Soft grasses, Scottish purple thistles and long ochre paths stretched ahead of me, with an occasional fellow Camino traveller making his quiet way. Otherwise it was a peaceful walk as I approached Mérida and the end of my journey for this time.

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Lusitania Bridge, Mérida. It was 42 degrees by the time I walked across here to meet my driver!

I have a duty to many people and somehow I will discharge it. I have a duty also to some continuing part of myself. … I see now what I am….. it’s a question of being faithful to an essence. p. 239 From ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ by Sebastian Faulks.

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Puente Romano (Roman bridge, 792 metres long) across the Rio Guadiana, Mérida.

 Mérida is the capital of Extremadura and was founded in the 1st century by the Romans. There are plenty of attractions but I was taking a Bla Bla Car to Madrid for my return to Scotland and so had to reserve those pleasures til my next visit in March 2018.

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Lusitania Bridge, Mérida.

I found a cool cafe which allowed me to sit for a while. I walked around the town and found everything I needed – it is well stocked with shops and so on.

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Mérida: I enjoyed the ancient walls in the medieval Plaza de España.
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I located the pilgrim’s albergue / hostel because I knew I would be back to continue the Via de la Plata from Mérida. It is by the River Guadiana.
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Classic pilgrim statue!
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Molino de Pancaliente, Av. José Fernández López, 32-40, 06800 Mérida, Badajoz, Spain.

Phone for the peregrino albergue called Molino de Pancaliente, Mérida +34 682 51 43 66. Cost: 8 euros. open all year round.

This was the last but one day of my Spring 2017 trip. I began teaching in Paris and walking in Normandy and Brittany. Here is the main page for my French blogs. Then I went to Zaragoza, Seville (via Madrid), and started to walk the Via de la Plata. Here is the Spanish page with links to each of those blogs.

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After all that walking and fresh air, I felt strong, healthy and very, very grateful.

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 8, Spain

23rd May 2017. Via de la Plata camino walk, Spain. Day 8: Villafranca de los Barros to Torremejía, in the autonomous community of Extremadura, Badajoz province. 26 kms which should take a minimum of 6 hours with breaks.

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One star shone beside the moon (or was it a satellite?)

I left Villfranca at 5.50am and it was darker than ever before. Once I had found my way out of town I was in open scrub land. There was the dawn at the edge of the world; the sky was blue, red and orange. I heard the sound of a lone cockerel, saw a white horse just visible, and smelled the faint odour of farm fertiliser.

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There were orange lights already in the distance, and tractors passed me under the tiny, thin crescent moon. Oh, the sweet, sweet feathered melodies!

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As I found my stride, my state of mind calmed. My pack was extra heavy with provisions, and my feet already hot, but the air was cool and I gave thanks for that. The dusty path was occasionally lit up by one or two red tail lights. Then it went quiet. The flower buds were tightly shut.

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The sky was a bright orange purple and the fiery dome took three minutes or so to appear.

The moment when the the sun finally rose was very exciting, and afterwards the opposite sky was a blank white.

‘(Pilgrimage is) … walking in search of something intangible..’ p. 45 Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit.

Some travellers write their blogs after getting home and I can see why; although the trekking itself does not take all day the mindset needed for that, together with the attendant tasks of looking after the BodyMind and dealing with practicalities, can do.

Indeed, I recently advised a prospective peregrino to leave books at home. That was partly due to the weight, but also because I do not read much when I am on a pilgrimage, and I do not see others reading around me. Fiction can transport you to another place, and many pilgrims believe that focussing on their spiritual goal is vital and do not want to be distracted.

‘…- and for pilgrims, walking is work.’ p. 45 Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit.

On reflection, I ‘saw’ that I do tend to set myself extra and unnecessary tasks, and yesterday it transpired, I also did some needless work for the business back home thinking I was indispensible perhaps. As I put one foot in front of another I could take note of such patterns and habits of mine.

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To the east were hills like different sized piles of manure you will clear up later. In the sky was an orange haze which seemed to be creating a white misty look between it and the land, whereas the other half of the globe was flat to the horizon, and the vineyards of the Ribeiro region a uniform blue. The arrows were easy to see, the backpack was no bother, but my feet were still calling my attention at times.

I enjoyed the immaculately ploughed red soil between rows of vines.

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The world was in technicolour.

Olives, with their stumpy wiggly trunks, stretched into infinity. One patch had solar panels and an extra crop of what might have been green manure between the trees. The cordoned vines had thin little stems, perhaps because the wires were supporting them so they did not need to be stronger. I would like to know why some rows were planted north-south, and some east-west.

 

The sweet fennel and cow parsley smelled delicious. My skin remained cool, and it was brightening quickly. Other wild flowers competed with the blue of the sky, and there were pink His Master’s Voice horns of common bindweed by the path.

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Before I left the hostel, breakfast looked better than usual so I had paid for it, and consequently I was full of sugary energy. My shadow was really tall; my alter ego which could reach things down from high shelves in the supermarket.

In the fields, today’s job was trimming the long tendrils, and other than those men, it was me myself I as far as I could see in both directions. Even the farmers were alone, although an occasional conversation reached me.

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Vast expanses of sky and road.

I liked the swirls in the earth at the ends of rows where the tractor had turned; hated the repetitive machinery noise to my left which source I could not see; and blocked my nose from the acrid, chemical smell I had been warned about.

I had also read that there was neither village nor water for the entire 26 kilometers and I could believe it. I only had one litre and so knew that I would have to be careful not to drink too much too soon. Sadly, as I took the signposted turning, the noise got louder.

The tireder I got, the less time had passed since I last looked at my watch. Chemicals smelling like paint were being sprayed so I tried to pick up pace, but my body had set its own rhythm. Tonight, I thought, I am drinking some wine!

By 8.40am I was no longer alone; there were four Italians in a group and another solitary man on the road. We moved at regular intervals from each other.

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The same person I had shared a dormitory with the previous night, with his hat, carrier bag and wooden walking stick.

After almost 3 hours without a break, I was casting ahead for a tree throwing shade, but there was not one until 9.20! After a 15 minute break, and having eaten my orange because it was the heaviest and also full much needed fluids (delicious it was), I deduced that we were barmy, the lot of us, walking so far in this heat.

I then passed the hat-wearing man sitting on a wee waymarker, and he said he was muy cansado (very tired). He added that we were half way. On I went.

A town with unusual looking farm buildings appeared. Ah! maybe wine vats. It looked like the outside edges of a huge swimming pool and I imagined it was full of grapes with barefooted people trampling around it. Do they actually do that these days? It could of course be sewage, which would be less ‘romantic’.

Luckily, the actual smell was of newly cut branches and very fresh sap.

For some reason I suffered a lot of pains on and off, and I also started to feel the skin on my right arm and leg, the side where the sun was, getting that soon-to-be-burned feeling. To remedy it, I draped my magenta wrap over that side of me. That wrap sure does come in handy. (See my blog on what to pack in your rucksack).

Swifts zapped flies, zig-zagging across my sight. Were those cordoned olives? If they were, then that would make for many more plants per acre than the row system, so it would certainly make financial sense if the earth could sustain it.

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You cannot see from the photo, but the mountain rock strata were clear to the human eye.

I broke again at 10.45 for lunch under a tree, feet throbbing – it was so very hot. A pylon was crackling like a fire, indeed there was a smell of burning. As I ate I let my crumbs drop for the ants and watched one carry a huge piece away, picturing it arriving back home and saying ‘look what I got!’ It was a messy business for the bottom, sitting on the earth like that. I restarted at 11am and, yes, there were a lot of little inexplicable smouldering fires between the olive trees.

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A sea of white wheat.

Towards the end of the day’s walk I spent a short period, only the second time in the past 8 days, talking to someone as we went along. He was from Barcelona and was doing the camino to get away from his demanding family, he said. He assured me that despite his exhaustion, of course he wanted to keep on walking until he reached Salamanca (a further 11 days). Such determination!

At 1pm in a 31 degree heat, after seven rather than six hours of walking, I arrived in Torremejía. (Put the accent on the final ee: toh-ray-mah-heee-ah).

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Privacy, despite the available beds.

The hostel host owns a bar as well, on Avenida Extremadura, but there was a family issue and it was closed that evening, so I sat in the one opposite and had a beer and wrote my notes. Useful info: the supermarket on the same street is shut for a long time between lunch and evening.

I did buy that bottle of wine I had promised myself, and I also invited the man in the above photo, plus a Dutch cyclist new on the scene, to join me. We had some surprisingly entertaining conversation, in divers languages, and it was very enjoyable to sit around the table with fellow travellers again as I had done so often on the Camino Frances.

For some reason the host kindly offered us a free breakfast when his bar reopened the next morning; it provided simple fare with generous portions and friendly service.

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Toast for breakfast with a great deal of butter!

Tomorrow would be my last day on this leg of the 1000 kilometer Via de la Plata, so I would have to wait to see Salamanca another time.

For a list of stages of this camino and other information, check out the link: http://santiago-compostela.net/via-de-la-plata/

Albergue Rojo-Plata, recommended. Very friendly host. http://albergue-rojo-plata.com/Inicio.htm

Rojo-Plata bar. I had a free breakfast there but did not eat an evening meal  https://www.tripadvisor.ie/Restaurant_Review-g7614464-d7986966-Reviews-Restaurante_Albergue_Rojo_Plata-Torremejia_Province_of_Badajoz_Extremadura.html

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 6, Spain

21 May 2017. Fuente de Cantos to Zafra, 25kms.

Note: before Monasterio (see previous blog) I had walked from the province of Seville into Extremadura which this blog also covers).

Thankfully my ankle was fine the next morning. It was cloudy at 7am and there had been a strong wind all night. The weather vane on the church swung round to the east – was there something in the air? What with my ankle the previous evening and the breeze, I seemed to be in an inordinately bad temper. I searched for the arrow.

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I passed the donkey, patron saint of my blog, then three dogs followed me for a while, and another pilgrim was shuffling resignedly close by.

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Such a meek expression somehow, behind barbed wire.

Four birds were having a spat. Yes, the energy was definitely stirred up.

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I settled into a walking meditation. The landscape was as yesterday – arable land, grain silos, the odd goat, a pig squealing, the air was heavy with manure, there were fields of olive trees and, oh no, one hour into the day and I realised I have no stick. I had left it behind. Now I was properly fed up, but it will pass, I told myself, just keep going. Bu…., though.

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The spring wheat had been harvested and all was white, green and yellow except for excerpts of swimming pool sky between the clouds, and the odd scarlet poppy amongst the gold. I tried listening to music for a minute, but the birds were singing better songs, so I gave that up again. There was a field of new vines. It will not, I reflected, do me any harm to have less sun – as long it does not rain.

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DSC_0022_6Traipsing through the tiny village of Caldazilla de los Barros, it was impossible not to snap a photo of my brother’s name doubling as a house title, and a beautiful paving detailing the Via de la Plata, the camino I was walking.

 

 

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Julian, mi hijo, my brother.

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I was interested how much difference little stones on the path make to my rhythm, balance, and pace. There was the smell and taste of the fennel plant and seeds to remind me of the Camino Francés last Autumn. They were delicious, and rejuvenating when I was tired.

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Walking for hour after hour makes me very sensitive to the little stones underfoot.
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Fennel plants with their sunny yellow seed heads.
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Bright blue cornflower type flowers provide contrast in the hedgrows.

The hard-baked path was criss-crossed with ants, tufts of grass insinuated their way between apricot, peach-coloured, grey and white stones. The yellow arrows were regular now. I shushed along in the dust, dotted with droppings and patterns of miniature tyres, disturbing the prints of human, horse and dog who had been there before me. The crops spread out towards the horizon on each side.

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Sometimes it is helpful to know that what is ahead is 19 kilometers of flat land (despite having no book, I was reading my friend’s blog each night to prepare me for the next day), sometimes not. It was actually comforting to know he had walked it ahead of me.

When walking with a backpack day after day, one day is like the others, but today the path is busier – the Spanish do love their Sunday cycling! The men chatter, chatter as they ride. Then, was that a level crossing ahead?

Yes! There was a town or village, and as I was weary at 11.20am, it was nice to walk into Puebla (village) Sancho Perez and take a coffee/wifi break. (That was accommodation in Madrid sorted! Another kindness from a Shiatsu practitioner I had met in November 2016, who said she was happy to put me up for a night, even though I would arrive late and leave very early the next day for the flight home – lovely Belén, thank you). Interestingly, there is a chapel here called Nuestra Señora de Belén, which has a bullring attached to it. Bit of a coincidence.

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Sunday bicycling, a crowd in the distance.

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The parish church dedicated to Santa Lucía, Puebla de Sancho Perez.

At 12.40 I was off again, back over the railway and it was brighter, but still with high winds. There were orange cactus flowers and, oh dear, surely not a blister.

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But it was not long (approx. 40 minutes) until I entered Zafra – a much bigger place. Men and women were parading in their Sunday finery and I saw a man with a blue suit and bow tie. It was noticeable that in the streets of the bigger places people behaved differently. They were either too friendly (see Fuente de los Cantos), or not at all (Zafra) which was markedly different from the attitude of the countyside folk I had met.

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Yellow and blue painted buildings with balconies in Zafra.

I arrived at 1pm after a long trek through the city streets to the municipal albergue. The hospitalier was initially rather curious at my solo status, a bit questioning, but the basics were all great, particularly for 8 euros. There was a clean shower off the dorm (just me in a place for 5), although the street was right outside the windows. It also turned out that if I did not purchase breakfast, the kitchen was out of bounds.

Breakfast in the hostels usually consists of white packet-bread, sugary jam, sugary juice, and caffeinated coffee etc. None of these things work very well for my digestion or prepares me adequately for the day’s camino. I asked if I could please use it. ‘Well, bali, between 6 and 8 tonight but not in the morning,’ and ‘Well, ok, you can keep a small bag in the fridge’, he said, ‘if she (the wife) agrees’.

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Nice vaulted ceiling in keeping with its former use as a convent, and well kept entrance to the hostel in Zafra.
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Clean dorm all to myself with ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Botticelli on the wall above my bed.

The group of Italians and individual gentlemen also wanted to use the kitchen in the evening, most peregrinos do, and there was a delightful courtyard (with flowers and attractive old walls) which would have lent itself well to a large group meal. But the bonhomie was private and reserved for those speaking the same language as each other.

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Later, when I got into conversation with the couple (they had no English), it became clear that they lived here (it was their personal kitchen, absolutely spic and span), and this was their livelihood. They obviously cared well for the place, albeit they doubted we would reciprocate. Perhaps they had had bad experiences in the past with other pilgrims, although I was unaware of that sort of behaviour. It turned out that the woman’s pride and joy was the garden, and I can talk gardens, so we bonded over that and she enthusiastically gave me some seeds to take home for my mum.

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Tourist info page Puebla de Sancho Perez: http://turismoextremadura.com/viajar/turismo/en/explora/Puebla-de-Sancho-Perez-00001/

Hostel Zafra: Albergue Convento de San Francisco.