Travel diary: Via de la Plata, week two

We’re still on the road to Santiago, but have picked up the pace a little, with an average of 25km per day.

Monday 19/3: After the ferocious wind of the day before, we were glad that things had died down a bit! We left at about 8:05 and got off-track almost immediately — a trend that was to continue throughout the day. In our first stop, a small town called Calzadilla de Los Barros, we wandered around a fair bit before finding a cafe, and in our final destination, Zafra, our handy yellow arrows disappeared and we went the long way around to find the albergue.

The walk itself was lovely though, a wide path gently winding through fields planted with cereals. I can imagine it would be tough on a hot summer’s day as there was no shade, but today was freezing cold — we both left our jackets on all day, and I had my gloves on until noon.

We took a long break at Puebla de Sancho Pérez, only 4km from Zafra, where we enjoyed a beer and the free snack that came with it — in this case, chips and pieces of pork. The gastronomy continued when we had a ración of patatas con morcilla for a late lunch, and Dave the Englishman cooked paella for dinner.

Almost in Zafra

Almost in Zafra

My shoes have bitten the dust, despite my attempts to repair them — a hole in the right sole is getting bigger and is causing blisters. So we went shopping and I bought a new pair of shoes, which I now have the fun of breaking in! Yay!

Tuesday 20/3: Tuesday was a difficult day for both of us, despite being a short day of walking at only 19km. The first four kilometres or so to Los Santos de Maimona were fine, and the town was lovely to walk through. The church was beautifully decorated, with an incredibly ornate door that we stopped to look at.

I changed back into my old shoes at our first break after 7km of walking, and my feet started to ache and didn’t stop. Craig’s blisters were giving him grief as well, so by the time we made it to Villafranca de los Barros, we were both about ready to fall over. Since there is no pilgrim albergue in the town, we made our way to the address of a pension we had the details of… But it was closed. We hobbled back to where we’d turned off and struggled up the hill to the other option, which at €18 each for the night wasn’t our first choice. As it turned out though, no other pilgrims arrived to share our room, so we had a private room with ensuite. And no bunks for a change!

After a rest, we caught up on some work using the wifi then headed out to do some shopping for dinner. We ended up having lentils on rice, it was surprisingly good.

Wednesday 21/3: Although a longer walk (27km), we both finished the day in a much better mood than the day before. Perhaps we’re finally finding our stride?

We set off at 7:50 and made good time, taking our first break after about 8km. We didn’t walk through any towns (though we did pass within a few kilometres of one) and the way was straight and flat — it really felt like we were walking the Roman road. Sometimes we could see flattish stones under the dirt of the road, which I’m pretty sure the Romans put there 2000 years ago. Crazy!

Towards Torremejía

Towards Torremejía

We arrived in town footsore but coping, and checked into the first albergue we saw. Unfortunately it turns out that the other one would have probably been the better option since it is located in an old castle, but you win some, you lose some. At least we ended up with a private room again — only one other pilgrim was staying in the albergue.

After a shower and a rest, we headed out to explore Torremejía, but as it’s quite tiny there wasn’t a lot to see. We had coffee in a really cool cafe/bar, where we also tried teculamecula — a cake made from an old recipe, with the principal ingredients being almonds, eggs and sugar. It was delicious.

We had a cold dinner, since the albergue didn’t have a kitchen, and went to bed early — wearing all our thermals and swathed in blankets to protect against the 0 degree temperatures.

Thursday 22/3: Since we had 33km of walking ahead of us, we decided to make an early start, stepping out the door into the freezing-cold wind at 7:30. The first stage wasn’t much fun, with the wind chilling me to the bone and making my nose run, but I felt a lot better after the break.

We arrived in Merida at about 11 o’clock, and sat by the river admiring the Roman bridge for a while. As we were walking through town, we ran into “our group” (Marina, Mima, Cipri and Ernesto), who gave us directions to the albergue and seemed very disappointed in us that we weren’t planning to stay there and see more of Merida. We said our goodbyes, since we probably wouldn’t see them for a while, and continued on.

Roman bridge in Mérida

Roman bridge in Mérida

After passing the impressive aqueduct Los Milagros, we stopped for a coffee and tapas in a small bar, then headed on to Proserpina dam, which was also built by the Romans. Water from this dam flowed along the aqueduct we’d seen earlier to supply the city of Merida in Roman times.

After a short rest by the water, we pushed on again, walking along a road for a while then finally turning onto a dirt track through sparse forest. We had a late lunch of salami, brie and pickled-pepper sandwiches, then continued on to our final destination of Aljucén, where we checked into the albergue with relief before visiting the church and having a two-course dinner: couscous at the albergue and hamburgers at the bar.

Our lodgings in Alcuéscar

Our lodgings in Alcuéscar

Friday 23/3: As always, we were the last to leave the albergue (at 7:55) but we soon passed a group of French walkers who’d been staying in the albergue too. We made extremely good time along the wide, flat paths through farms and sparse forest, and arrived in Alcuéscar before 1pm.

After a trip into town to get some groceries, I spent a lot of time washing all my clothes, and then we had lunch and a long rest. In the evening, the hospitaleros Pilar and Alfredo took us on a tour of the building and explained its history, and then we all went to a special mass where the priest read aloud a blessing in Spanish and kept losing his place as he added thoughts of his own. After that, we had dinner together in a dining room hidden in the depths of the monastery, and the conversation was a little stilted as the only other pilgrim, a Dutch woman, didn’t speak Spanish and Alfredo didn’t speak English (or Dutch, but then neither did the rest of us).

Saturday 24/3: After re-examining the map, we decided to change our plans for the next couple of days, in order to avoid staying in Valdesalor, where the refugio on offer is on the floor of the sports club’s changing rooms. Oddly, they’ve built a new albergue, and it’s ready to go — except it hasn’t been inaugurated.

Instead of walking 28km there the first day followed by 23km the next, we decided to have a short day today and a longer one tomorrow: 17 and 34, breaking our journey at Aldea del Cano.

We left late and walked for about 5km, neither of us in the best of moods. After a short break, though, things improved, and they improved even more after we detoured off the Camino at a small town and found an open bar to have a coffee in.

To Aldea del Cano

Along the way, which was pleasantly flat, we saw two cool Roman bridges and four milestones marking the Roman mile of about 1.5km. The albergue was open when we arrived in Aldea del Cano, and we freshened up before heading out to the shop before it shut at 2pm. I sat outside for awhile, chatting with the customers of the bar next door (exclusively men, it seemed). As we were just starting lunch, we were pleasantly surprised when first Cipri, then Mima and Marina walked in. They’d come all the way from Aljucén, where we’d stayed two nights before.

We had a lazy, even a little boring, afternoon and ate microwave lasagne for dinner before having a drink in the bar and heading to bed.

Sunday 25/3: Since daylight savings was starting, we made an intentionally late start so as not to be walking in the dark. Even leaving at 8:20, though, we managed to see the sunrise — a first for this walk!

We saw a sunrise!

We saw a sunrise!

Our first long stop was in Valdesalor, which we learned is a planned town that was built in the sixties. We found the bar and had a coffee, then continued on up and over the hill behind the town. We were both tired when we reached Cáceres 12km later, so we stopped in the first cafe we saw for another coffee, before abandoning our route in order to see a bit of the city. Marina had once again been disapproving that we weren’t going to stay in Cáceres and explore during the afternoon, but I don’t think an afternoon would do it justice, so perhaps it’s better not to try. A quick glimpse through the old town was at least enough to see how awesome and historical it is.

However, this wander through the old town was quite exhausting (it’s on a steep hill), and by the time we were out of the city centre we were tired and footsore. We found a cafe/bar for lunch, where we ate paella and bull meat and rested for some time.

In Cáceres


The route from Cáceres to our final stop, Casar de Cáceres, included 3km of walking on the shoulder of a highway, followed by an interminable if shallow hill. We made it though, and almost immediately ran into Cipri, who had left Marina and Mima behind in Cáceres and come on alone.

After buying some of the famous cheese that’s made here, we found the albergue and chatted with a German couple who was already there, then showered and relaxed for a bit. Dinner was a menu del día at the bar across the road with Cipri and Marc (a pilgrim who’s travelling by bike), and I finished the evening by chatting to a French/Spanish couple who were also staying in the albergue (with their dog), and who we’d seen and chatted with several times throughout the day.

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