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