A sea change

This Camino has been an interesting one. We unexpectedly seem to have walked a sort of hybrid Camino where we chose the freedom to choose what stages we walked, and how far we would walk on those stages. Surprisingly everything worked out just fine. We had set our sights on walking into Salamanca from Seville, but as we moved along recurring knee and hip pains for me and mostly hip pains for Robin started to nibble away at our schedule. We had some beautiful stages and others that were less inspiring. When we walked into Baños we thought we would hang out for a couple of days, walk locally and then bus to Salamanca. As it turned out the weather was wet and foggy and we opted to skip the walking and hop an ALSA bus to Salamanca instead.

I guess we were never in the true Camino groove this trip where body and spirit carry the day and the kms just slip by. We had good days and then some that were more challenging. It just seemed we never found the familiar footing of past caminos. This isn’t to say we were in despair, but it was curious to note how things have slowly changed over the many years we have been walking these routes.

I suppose it is the same at home. Each day, like it or not, our capabilities are degraded. Aging demands its payment and it will get it no matter how strong willed we might be. Nobody gets out of this alive, and (news flash) as you grow older you don’t grow healthier you can only hope to manage your decline. But, all is not lost. Keeping focused on going forward with a joyful exuberance even as our daily walking distances slip or other physical metrics erode is essential. These caminos are not, in my mind, meant to be a painful penance, they are meant to be fun. I feel that is a key point. We all will have to make some accommodations to aging if we want to continue to enjoy this kind of activity, so why resist it. Your body will let you know when something has to change. Just don’t fight it. Be smart and you will extend your days outside doing what what you enjoy. This is where Robin and I are at this point. We test, evaluate and adjust and with a dash of God’s grace we will continue to go forward. Ultreia.

We are having breakfast in Zamora as I finish these thoughts. In an hour or so we will catch a train to Santiago where will have some further time to reflect on what our future Camino journeys might look like. For now we are looking forward to reconnecting with the city that has been such a transformative part of our lives and our friends there who call Santiago home. Time to get moving. All is well.

Baños de Montemayor
Drying boots in Baños

Plaza Mayor Salamanca

Iglesia de San Esteban next door to our hotel in Salamanca
Cloister of convent attached to Iglesia de San Esteban

Main alter from below choir
St. James seems to turn up a lot

Detail from church entrance
Found a warm spot in the Plaza Mayor
Walking around in Zamora
They are here too.
Castillo Zamora

Aldeanueva del Camino

Our taxi driver this morning was showing off his brand new Honda with a very nice navigation display. Only one month old he said with a proud smile. We were off to the Roman archeological excavations at Cáparra where we would rejoin the Via de la Plata. He didn’t need his new nav system to find our destination as it is quite popular. Nonetheless, I sat marveling at his crystal clear map screen. I think it was about 24 kms from Plasencia to the dig site. We piled out, gathered up our Camino gear, paid the fare and set off up a dirt road that would take us to the magnificent Roman arch that straddles the Camino.

It is a very moving site to behold. One cannot help but reflect back on the movement of cargo, soldiers, and support legions that moved along this very road bringing gold and other critical metals from the mines of northern Spain to Seville. Now a continuum of pilgrims move along this same road (the very same in many sections) in hopes of reaching the tomb of the apostle St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It is a wild wonderful journey that drew over 350,000 pilgrims from all over the world in 2019. But, I digress.

Robin and I planned today’s walk to take us 20 kms through some very beautiful grazing lands to the village of Aldeanueva del Camino. We set out enjoying the view of lush fields that rose up against the distant mountains. As the day wore on and the kilometers slipped by those mountains drew ever closer. There is a definite terrain change afoot as move northward. Once we set out from Cáparra we just carried on until 4.5 hours later we entered Aldeanueva. This is a quiet town with one bar/restaurant that serves lunch. We clocked in at 2:00 pm and found a table right away. We had a reservation at a nice Casa Rural just up the street, so we lingered over lunch. The penalty one pays for doing this after a hard day’s walk is that all your muscles sort of tighten up resulting in an odd sort of gait once you try to get underway again. Some refer to this as the pilgrim shuffle and it is quite a common sight on the road to Santiago. Robin and I gave our version a go as we shuffled up the road to the Casa Rural El Caminente where we are now comfortably ensconced. Tomorrow we are walking a short day ( 10 kms) to Baños de Montemayor. Another day on the pilgrim road has come to an end. All is well.

The Roman Arch at Cáparra

Roman mileage marker
The road ahead

A water hazard
Ubiquitous storks

Trail marker

Almost there

Aldeanueva at last

Now in Plasencia

Robin and I are moving along and closing in on our final stop, for this camino, Salamanca. We had a nice break in Cáceres. We tidied up some miscellaneous items such as renewing our Vodafone SIM card contracts, replenishing some toiletries, and working out the logistics for the rest of our trip. Nothing taxing, just a bit of running around to get it all sorted out. Yesterday we left our hotel by taxi to the bus station and hopped on an 11:00 am bus to Cañaveral that arrived at 11:30. All that for 4.25 euros per person. Upon arrival in Cañaveral we set out on foot for The tiny hamlet of Grimaldo where we were booked in for the night at the Casa Rural Grimaldo. This, logistically, was planned to be a short 8.6 km day for us. We met our host César at the house, got checked in and headed across the street to the only open bar/restaurant in town. We squeezed through the door around 2:30 and the place was in full lunchtime bloom. Waiters bringing steaming plates of food one way and used table settings the other way competed for floor space with hungry customers hovering near the dining room door. It was all well practiced and choreographed and somehow the crowd of folks waiting to eat (including us) steadily thinned out. The bartender, playing her role, was cranking out coffees and beers at light speed in an attempt to keep something in peoples hands even if it wasn’t lunch. Everyone seemed to understand the process and just went with the flow. Fascinating.

We, in turn, were eventually shown to a table and proceeded to have a wonderful home cooked meal. We lingered over our meal as the crowd was now all but gone. When it was time to go we asked for a plate of lomo (dry cured pork loin) and a bottle of wine to go (just across the street). No problem. We were even given a plate from the restaurant to take it home on. Thanks be for small town kindnesses, and yes we did wash and return the plate. That was all of yesterday’s excitement.

This morning we left our lodging bound for Plasencia by way of Riolobos. Let me explain. Today’s stage would normally end in Galisteo, a 20 km day. However, there is currently a flooded arroyo that prevents anyone from crossing thus requiring a diversion to the town of Riolobos. From Riolobos you have the option to carry on by road to Galisteo making it a 24 km day or you can return to the Camino path from Riolobos which adds up to a 23 km day to Galisteo. The second option might be attractive to some as it is off road.

All of this was a moot point as we had set out with the intention of stopping in Riolobos to catch a taxi to Plasencia where we had booked a room. So, for us, it was about a 12 km day and a 25 minute cab ride to Plasencia. We are now tucked into a beautiful Parador (ex convent) and enjoying it shamelessly. Plasencia is a small city, very clean, and rich with history.

Tomorrow we will do just what we did in 2015. We will go by taxi from here to Cáparra and then walk 20kms to Aldeanueva del Camino where we will spend the night. The weather has been perfect, spirits are high and tomorrow is another day.

On the way from Cañaveral to Grimaldo

On the way to Riolobos

Arriving in Plasencia

Street scenes Plasencia
Very clean streets
A visit to the Cathedral
Quiet time in the cloister

Back home for the night

Arrival Cáceres

We have seen improving weather as we moved along from Mérida. The heavier rains of the past became more like heavy mists that eventually cleared off completely as we approached Aldea del Cano. The pilgrim road still remains very quiet. The only other pilgrim we encountered was a Korean cyclist heading for Santiago. Robin had a chat with him this morning over coffee and tostadas. He was quite happy to be alone after much busier times on the Frances and Norte.

The trail conditions have also been quite good after Mérida. The Camino, in this section has followed multi use paved trails, quiet rural secondary roads and senda type (compacted sand and gravel) surfaces. All of this provided for much drier walking conditions as the drainage is much improved. There were still some puddles to navigate around, but workarounds were always available. A nice touch was the addition of stacked granite blocks in several locations that would provide dry crossings for some potentially swollen streams. Some more of these would also be welcomed further back at earlier arroyo crossings.

We continue to find lodging at hotels and Casa Rurals (B&B’s), although albergues seem to be open for business in the towns we have visited. I am pleased to report that my knee issue seems to have abated. I only get the occasional twinge but that is normal for me even when walking at home. One thing that is clearly apparent is that all our body parts wear out and some of mine are reminding me of that truism. A day of reckoning is certainly approaching when we, like everyone else, will not be able to walk the mile and carry the load. Something will have to give. But, for now Robin and I stay afoot mostly by managing our daily distances, pack weight, and taking more frequent rest days. So far these accommodations have not crimped our style and seem to help out. We are still happy pilgrims enjoying the many gifts of the road to Santiago. This is where we want to be. All is well.

A late note today. We have just learned of the return of a dear friend’s cancer. We are sitting in a bar on the Plaza Mayor, watching the shadows slowly displace the afternoon light. We are adrift in a sepulchral moment of stillness. We are not only tossing about our personal thoughts of mortality, and loss, but more importantly trying to tease out how our humanity likes us all together. A single loss does, I believe, diminish us all. We pray for all the afflicted, both friends and strangers alike, especially those who are facing the unimaginable challenges of serious illness alone. Yet, even with heavy hearts we carry on, as it should, and must be, not out of a misguided sentimentality, but rather with certainty that our paths are conjoined and our destinies shared. The pilgrim road reaches beyond Santiago, and the footfalls you hear are your own. Safe travels to all.

Multi use path out of Mérida
Roman dam that was part of the water supply system for Mérida
Camino path to left of reservoir

Stork taking a breather

Village of Casas de Don Antonio on the way to Aldea del Cano

El jefe organizing the lunchtime chaos at the Bar Las Vegas, Aldea del Cano
Setting out for Valdesalor

The previously abandoned airfield the trail crossed

Approaching Valdesalor

Lunch break Cáceres, Plaza de San Juan
Pilgrim laundry looking up from Parador bar
Casco Viejo Cáceres

In Mérida

We continue to move along the Via de la Plata at our own pace and in our own way. We spent a restful night in Villafranco de los Barros. Our hotel was run by a young Romanian expat who did a wonderful job taking care of whatever we needed. He also arranged a taxi for us to go to Torremejía. This made yesterday’s walk a very manageable 15.3 kms. The only wrinkle was the muddy trail conditions. Recent wet weather had left the trail, that winds by many long stretches of cultivated fields, pretty soggy.

Nonetheless, off we went slip sliding away towards Mérida. Truth be told, we eventually found dryer trail conditions and the last 5-6 kms into Mérida were much better. It was nice to cross Mérida’s iconic Roman bridge once again and enter the city. Our first port of call was a quiet bar on the Plaza de España where Robin and I enjoyed a refreshing glass of beer before walking the last few blocks to our hotel. We have laid over a day just to enjoy the city. Most of our lay day was spent roaming amongst all things Roman. This city has a treasure trove of Roman ruins that both amaze and delight all who come here to visit. Tomorrow we are off to Aljucén to spend the night and then on to Aldea de Cano before arriving in Cáceres on Sunday for two nights. It has been a fun restful break but we are also ready to move on. Rain is back in the forecast for tomorrow. It’s all good.

On the way from Torremejía to Mérida

The muddy bit

Roman bridge Mérida
Relaxing in the Plaza de España
Home for two nights
Temple of Diana
Gladiator contests, including women at one point
The Roman Theater as it once was
And now today

Aqueduct
The storks love it

Puente de Lusitania Bridge in Mérida

Fuente de Cantos to Villafranca de los Barros

We have been rolling along making headway along the Via de la Plata from Fuentes to Zafra to Villafranca de los Barros. The walk from Fuente de Cantos has been quiet, scenic and calm. We have not sighted any further pilgrims other than those we encountered early on.

Our days have been filled with pleasant walks and our nights filled with discussions about our pleasant walks. I know it sounds kind of weird but the Camino allows for that. We have moved easily from town to town following a well marked trail. We focus on keeping our daily stages under 20 kms. That seems best for us at this stage of our lives. We have once again found great beauty in the Spanish countryside. We are always in awe of what a diverse and stunning country Spain is. We have had a lot of fun in this part of the trip learning more about Jamon Iberico and the Dehesa, the land and farming system that is used to produce this amazing ham we can’t stop eating. Tonight we are in Villafranca de los Barros, at the Hotel Acosta Ciudad de la Musica. We had a surprisingly good lunch at this highway hotel and the staff have been very accommodating as we tried to get some laundry done before our morning departure. It all seems to be working out. Tomorrow we are off, afoot, to Torremejia and then by taxi to Mérida for two days. We are modifying our Camino as necessary to keep the happiness quotient high and our aging joints in agreement. So far all is working out just fine. A few photos follow to give you a view of what we saw these last couple of days. All is well.

On the way to Zafra

Looking back on the way to Zafra
The church in Puebla de Sancho Pérez just before Zafra

Just a few minutes from our hotel in Zafra

Manuel, our local Jamon expert

Manuel’s restaurant just behind the Parador in Zafra
The moon and Venus stacked up
A really nice Extremadura Crianza
Local cracked olives with a delicious herbal crunch
A mixed jamon Iberico plate

Parador Hotel Zafra
Arrival Zafra

Leaving Los Santos de Maimona

The road to Santiago
That’s my girl

Villafranca de los Barros in the distance

Old olive trees with interesting trunks

Arrival Villafranca

Fuente de Cantos

Upon arriving at El Real de la Jara Robin and I discussed over lunch the best way to proceed. We decided to taxi to Monesterio and claim a rest day. Off we went and shortly thereafter we were checking into a truck stop hotel, the Complejo Leo, about 10 kms from Monesterio. It was a busy place but the hotel section was new and quiet. We settled in for the night and slept soundly. The following morning we left our backpacks at the hotel and walked the 10 kms into Monesterio for a visit to the Museo de Jamon followed by lunch. Robin and I love Jamon Iberico and the museum filled in a lot of information about this unique type of pig. We skipped the detailed film of the actual slaughter, too much information. But, after sampling a lot of the local ham I have to say that the producers in this region have a developed a wonderfully delicious product. Caution, it can be addictive.

Giving my knee a rest day seemed to work. I felt fine this morning as we headed out to Fuente de Cantos. It was also a dry day and that lifted our spirits especially after sloshing through wet weather all the way from Seville. Onward we went guided by plentiful trail markers, rising and descending as the gentle folds in the landscape dictated. We pushed into and out of thin veils of fog and mist throughout the morning. We had one arroyo crossing that required a bit of submerged rock hopping, but we managed without incident. We made good speed and arrived at the Hotel Fabríca just as the church bell tower tolled one o’clock. It was a perfect winter Camino day that Robin and I both thoroughly enjoyed. Tomorrow we are off to Zafra. So far so good. The weather seems to be drying out which always helps. For now we are tucked in and ready for lights out. More tomorrow from Zafra.

The ham is king in Monesterio
Dry weather at last

Fuente de Cantos appears ahead

Me rock hopping
Home for the night

On our way to El Real de la Jara

Upon cracking an eye open this morning Robin quickly checked the weather. As luck would have it the forecast pushed the start of rain back til noon. That was all the encouragement we needed to get our act together and get out the door. Our host Jose was a no show for breakfast so we left our key and boogied out the door. We hoofed our way out of Almadén de la Plata with no food, and, most importantly, no coffee. There was a cost to this recklessness to be paid later on.

For now we accelerated under cloudy but dry conditions enjoying every kilometer sans umbrellas. We continued on through the beautiful Parque Natural Sierra Norte with its well prepared walking paths. We enjoyed our first of many of today’s encounters with grazing “black pigs.” The grazing areas are almost park like. They look almost landscaped. All you see are oak trees (the pigs eat the acorns) and grass in between the widely spaced trees. There is no scrub brush growth at all. Just acres of stand alone trees with pigs grazing underneath. Very bucolic. Our walk today was only 9 miles. This is very short by most camino standards. We thought this would be just another “walk in the park.” Well let’s see.

Onward we went enjoying the scenery and our new curious animal friends. We had up close encounters with sheep, goats (he wanted to eat my glove), and pigs (including a youthful wild boar) throughout most of the day. The attached photos will fill in the blanks. It was great fun. Towards the end of this stage there is one final hill to top. It was steep but reasonably short. Cresting this hill we faced a downslope path to a flat road that would carry us the last 4.6 kms into El Real. Upon reaching this road it became apparent our gas tanks were just about empty. Now we came to realize that starting out without breakfast was not a good strategy. We were definitely slowing down and craving food. It had been a vigorous walk with enough ups and downs to keep things interesting.

Oh, BTW we did experience a first on this stage. We had to cross a small creek that offered no easy way across. I opted for a rock hopping path that only allowed the water to reach my ankles. Robin opted for the barefoot approach and safe to say all ended well. Neither of us had ever before peeled off our boots to cross a stream. A new Camino first. We arrived in El Real and made a beeline to a restaurant we had enjoyed before. After a satisfying meal we hopped a taxi to our hotel, 8 kms before Monesterio. We now have redecorated our room with a web of clotheslines so that our in room laundry service can dry. Today was a great but tiring day for a couple of aging pilgrims. Let’s see what we can get up to tomorrow. All is well.

Leaving town

Early on leaving Almadén

Some of the neighbors dropped by

First piggies

He was ready for his close up

Notice my poise with a reluctant subject

This mini boar seemed to be adopted

The sun blinked and then it was gone

Almost home for the day

First view El Real de la Jara

A walk in the park

Today we arranged to be dropped off at the entrance to the Parque Natural. This cut today’s walk in half, and considering the weather (very wet) it was a good call. So at around 10:30 we waved goodbye to our host and headed into the park following the well marked Camino trail. At this point we were maneuvering under continuous light to moderate rain. The path was a typical senda, compacted sand and gravel, that was well drained. Nonetheless there were still low points where the path was flooded that luckily had stones or other ways of avoiding the flooding. So onward we went each tucked into the quiet security of our umbrellas. The park was quite beautiful and a world apart from the highway shoulder walking (17kms worth from Castilblanco) that leads pilgrims to the park entrance. We saw two pilgrims on the way to the park. One was the Spaniard we met last night and the other was a Scottish fellow who had fancied a warm weather holiday (good luck with that). The entire day, to Almadén, was virtually spent in the park. It was quite pleasant despite the rain. Only at the very end when we climbed the last quite steep, but short hill did my cranky knee object. A couple of Advil and I was able to hobble to the summit. Going down was also a wincing experience, but it was full speed ahead on the flats. We rolled into Almadén around 2:00 pm and managed to get through the gate of our hotel before the sky truly opened up. While we were checking in with our host, Jose, I could hear a tremendous racket above us. It was the rain pelting down on our roof. We just got in ahead of the deluge. Thank God. Oh, BTW, for future pilgrims, just before the town of Almadén you will find yourself approaching a descending rocky watercourse. It seems as though this is meant to be the Camino path, but take heart there is a nicely paved (tiled) path just to the left that will take you safely down to the village. Please take it. Alas we, and the Scot come to find out, didn’t. We picked our way safely down but it was not fun in the pouring rain. Avoid it even if it is dry. At check in Jose told us his restaurant and bar would not open until 7pm. We noticed some activity at a bar across the street, the Casa Concha, and decided to head that way after dropping off our backpacks. We were not disappointed. The food was particularly well prepared and seasoned. Robin and I each had a bowl of seafood noodle soup, Robin had a pan prepared bacalao, and I had the lamb chops. It was all first class. We also shared a plate of local embutidos and cheese to start. A great meal. Heading back across the street to our hotel we just dodged another downpour but are now snug in our room with the heater blasting and our stomachs full. All is well. Alas, the wet weather will continue tomorrow.

The park entrance

Starting out in the park

This is not the Camino path, thank God

However, this is the Camino path, we hopped the rocks at the side

Almadén appears in the mist

A Wet Day to Castilblanco

We set off from Sevilla by taxi to Guillena where we started our Camino. Skipping the first stage of out of Sevilla for us makes perfect sense. The area you transit through is mostly urban sprawl with a few shakey neighborhoods to boot. Nothing to miss unless you wanted to divert to the Roman ruins in Italica. Anyhow, we we arrived in Guillena around 8:45 and were soon underway for Castilblanco. The weather forecast proved accurate with a continuous light rain falling throughout the day. Yes, it was muddy and slippery but all went well as we gently climbed through olive and tangerine orchards towards our destination. We saw no people all day but we did have a staring contest with a few cows. We blinked first. Upon arriving in Castilblanco and checking into the Hotel Castillo Blanco we did see a young Spanish pilg checking in. He was our only pilgrim sighting for the day. Our plan tomorrow is to get a lift to the entrance of the Parque Natural (about 17 kms from our hotel) and walk from there to Almendén where we will spend the night. This move keeps us off a very narrow shouldered road and will give my aching knee a chance to get with the program. Currently sitting in a rural Spanish bar filled with kids and folks all getting on with their lives as we are getting on with ours. All is well, thank God.

Setting out
Life is good on the Camino

The trail ahead
Follow the yellow arrow