Sunday, April 30, 2017

Via de la Plata - Day 13: Valdesalor to Casar de Caceres (24.9km on 5/01/17)

We had coffee and biscuits in the albergue and were walking by 6am.  It was probably ~37 degrees, crisp and clear.  We walked mostly on a gravel or dirt track and away from farmlands the 12km to Caceres where we had a nice “second breakfast near the medieval section of the city.  It’s a UNESCO heritage site dating back ~500 years.  We passed through the old city then onwards on the camino route.  After we left the city we walked on the shoulder of the highway for 3 or 4 kilometers, probably missed the correct route as no one else seemed to be walking this way.  We then walked parallel to the highway on a nice track the rest of the way to Casar de Caceres where we checked into the municipal albergue - only 5 euros per night and not too bad.  We had a late and big lunch so decided to skip dinner.  

Crisp and clear morning pre-sunrise

View to the east - sunrise in 20 minutes

View west pre-sunrise

Looking towards Caceres

In Caceres - at least 15 stork nests and that many storks on an old church

Casar de Caceres in the distance.  Not very hot but  last 10km with no shade or places to rest.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Via de la Plata - Day 12: Alcuescar to Valdesalor (25.8km on 4/30/17)

We had yoghurt, oranges, digestive biscuits and coffee for breakfast at 6am - we left at ~6:40.  The monastery keeps the front door locked until 6:30 so we couldn’t leave before that anyway. The route followed a paved road a bit then a gravel/dirt track for the rest of the day.  We passed a village (Casas de Don Antonio) via a Roman bridge and a stork nest, complete with stork, plus a small local park with exhibit of an old olive oil mill.  The route was through oak prairies (savannas?) and along the route of the Roman road.  We crossed over two more Roman roads as well as past 3 or 4 Roman mileposts (Milarios) marking the distances from Merida.  Much of the day was on and off mist or rain and the last hour before our destination (Valdesalor) was pretty heavy rain (not a downpour fortunately) - the heaviest we’ve seen so far.  The municipal albergue in the village is nice and we got the last two beds.  Tonight we are back on top bunks.  The manager of the albergue is the proprietor of the “Bar Rincon Julia” (i.e. Julia herself) and a very busy and nice woman.  After a large beer we returned to the Albergue to get organized, shower and do laundry.  They had a free washing machine and although threatening to rain, it was windy and everything dried quickly.  We returned to the bar for a nice dinner with 6 other pilgrims.  After sunset, the sky was clear and calm and hopefully that will continue through tomorrow. 

Looking back towards Alcuescar before sunrise 

Bucolic scene - twin calves
We saw lots of "oak praries" today

Typical vegetation for most of the day - savanah of grassland and oaks

Roman bridge in next town - Casas de Don Antonio

Stork nest and stork!

Antique olive oil mill in Casa de Don Antonio

Today we saw several Roman Miliario (milestones) - the Roman mile is a bit shorter than our mile

Each milestone is numbered - this is the 28th Roman mile from Merida

Another Roman bridge
Puente de Santiago de Bencaliz

View of same bridge showing the roadway

Colors of the field are intense

Road goest through scrublands for awhile

The Roman bridge just before Valdesalor

The Roman bridge just before Valdesalor.  It's interesting because of the double height of the sides.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Via de la Plata - Day 11: Aljucen to Alcuescar (19.8km on 4/29/17)

Up before 6am and you could hear the raindrops on the roof over the porch.  We had a nice breakfast at the Albergue and were on the road before 7am.  One couple left before us but it looked like everyone else wanted to wait out the rain.  It is a short day of ~20km but it wasn’t raining too hard.  Pretty dark as the rain diminished the early morning light. After a bit on the highway we walked on a gravel/dirt track the rest of the day.  Since it had rained yesterday and in the night the road was often soft and muddy in places but overall not too bad.  We walked mostly through areas of grass and oak trees and it was quite pretty but would have been better without rain.  The rain dimished after an our or two and was mostly mist after that.  For awhile it stopped and the rain resumed for the last hour or so.  As we neared Alcuescar we walked through small vineyards and olive groves.  Just outside town there was confusing markings as a local innkeeper probably wanted to divert traffic to his place.  We followed the markings to Alcuescar and entered the town.  The Albergue de Peregrinos “Casa de la Misericordia” Alcuescar is in a monastery.  It was closed when we arrived so we had lunch at a nearby bar and returned to check in shortly after noon.  There were plenty of bunks and Glenn and I got bottom bunks - hurray.  The whole complex is locked down from 2:30 - 4:30 for siesta so we quickly got some shopping done in the town and then returned before we got locked out.  There will be a tour of the monastery at 6:30 then mass and then dinner at 8:00pm.  Tomorrow morning we cannot leave before 6:30am and everyone must be gone by 7:30.  Sort of interesting. 

Rain in the morning. 

Nice walking but a bit "squishy" in places on the road

Different country side than before.  Scattered oak trees, lots of exposed stone and meadows.

Our albergue - in a monastery

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Via de la Plata - Day 9: Torremejia to Merida (15.1km on 4/27/17)

We had a breakfast at 6am at the bar across the street from our hostal with a group of ~8 other pilgrims and were on the road by 6:45.  At first we walked along the shoulder of the highway and then a track/trail alongside.  The view was similar to yesterday but the vineyards and olive groves were smaller.  We had a short day of only 15km before reaching Merida and crossing the Guadiana river on a Roman-built bridge and entered the old part of the city.  A young man on the bridge invited us to his “Albergue Insvka Carisia VIII” and guided the way.  It’s small, with only two bunkbeds, a kitchen, dining area and bath.  We were the only two pilgrims there tonight so had the room to ourselves and got the bottom bunkbeds!  All previous bunks we  had to sleep in the top bunks.  The albergue is convenient to the historic areas and we had a light lunch in a street cafe.

Merida is the the most historically significant city since we left Sevilla.  It dates back more than 2000 years to the time of Ceasar Augustus.  It’s latin name is derived from Erimata Augustus and was established by discharged soldiers from his armies. It guards the very long Roman bridge across the River Guadiana.  We toured the ancient theater and adjacent amphitheater where they held gladiator battles.  Tomorrow our route out of the city takes us past a Roman aqueduct.  

Glenn on the road before sunrise
Lovely lighting!

Stony road as we near Merida

Roman Bridge across River Guadiana

Roman Ampitheater - site of gladiator battles

Roman Theater

Roman Theater

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Via de la Plata - Day 8: Villafranca de los Barros to Torremejia (27.8km on 4/26/17)

Breakfast in Albergue at 6:30am and was on the trail before 7am.  Another grand sunrise from the road after 2km or so.  Today was “boring” and without much variation.  Gravel track in a fairly straight line.  The main difference was the predominance of viticulture over the olive groves and that the fields of grapevines were immense!  Spots to sit and relax were few and far between.  We had some chocolate mid morning and stopped for lunch (baguette with chorizo and cheese).  We arrive at Torremejia, a fairly sleepy small town and checked into our Hostal Milenium (booked yesterday online), cleaned up and had a nice cold beer.  Our Hostal has a bar and restaurant but does not serve dinner until 9PM!! Beers are 1.5 euros for half-liter and a large glass of red wine was only a euro so we enjoyed the bar.  Fortunately the place across the street starts dinner at 7PM.  It’s hard to dine on Spanish time when walking all day.  Life is tough.

Communal breakfast in the Albergue

Sunrise over the vineyards

Sunrise continues a few moments later

Fellow pilgrim along the road.

Vineyards as far as one can see - on both sides of the road for miles.

Road continues through vineyards

As we near our destination of Torremejia

Sleeply little town - main street reminds me of eastern Washington or Oregon

Group having dinner

Monday, April 24, 2017

Via de la Plata - Day 7: Zafra to Villafranca de los Barros (20.4km on 4/25/17)

We had breakfast in the Albergue and were out walking before 7am.  Once outside the town we walked on dirt and gravel tracks as yesterday and through fields, olive groves and vineyards.  The ground under the vines and olive trees is bare and cultivated.  Several days ago grass grew under the trees and near the vines.  Now, we see tractors disking the ground and it seems it’s drier and there’s no grass or weeds.  We entered the next village after ~4km and were almost out the other side before finding a small bar open and had a coffee.  The next 15km to our destination of Villafranca de los Barros was more of the same terrain and fields.  We got the last two beds at Albergue El Carmen, a nice private albergue.  After unpacking and relaxing we had lunch at a nearby square.  Glenn and I had half-liters of beer and “hamberguesa”.  I’ve resisted ordering hamburgers in Spain for obvious reasons.  However, they are so different than anything we see in USA I guess it’s okay.  I wrote on a facebook post of the sandwich that “Spain puts the ham in hamburger”.  There’s no beef at all.  This one had a large bun, two patties of pork, bacon, jamon, cheese, and york (like our sliced ham).  We each had one but should have split one.  For dinner we will simply have an apple and a bottle of wine.  Tomorrow is a longish day of ~28km and we are both footsore - i have two blisters and Glenn’s feet are tender.  So, we’ll take it slow and I’ve used to reserve a room at our destination.  We’ll still start as early as possible to beat the heat but can take it slowly as needed.  

Leaving Zafra before sunrise

After 4km and a climb of 100m we see Los Santos de Maimona  the only town mid-route today 

The rest of the route was mostly through vinyards and olive groves

More free standing vines

Section through open area between two fences

Glenn and I sitting on base of very old olive tree

Approaching Villafranca de los Barros - typical appearance of towns with whitewashed houses

Lunch was a "hamburguesa" and a beer - half sandwich shown.  The Spaniards really put the "ham" in hamburger!  No beef at all.  Two pork patties (might be ground ham?), slice of york (more like our ham), cheese, and slices of jamon.  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Via de la Plata - Day 6: Fuente de Cantos to Zafra (25.5km on 4/24/17)

We had an a very nice breakfast at 6am in our antique-filled kitchen area.  Left before 7am and after leaving the village walked along gravel/dirt tracks.  At first, the fields were pastures and wheat fields.  After 6km we reached the next village where we could not locate a bar for “second breakfast”, at least along our route, so continued walking.  Terrain gradually changed and we walked between lots of olive groves and vineyards.  In this region (Ribera del Guadiana) most of the grape vines are “freestanding” and without wires or trellises.  I believe that the primary varietal is tempranillo.  We’ve had very nice bottles of Ribera del Guadiana the past two nights and expect more of the same tonight.  We stopped for a snack and continued on to Puebla de Sancho Perez where we had lunch (Cerveza con Limon and tortilla francesa con queso bocadillo).  I found a blister on my left foot but continued on without too much problem.  Our destination of Zafra was only another 5km.  We are staying at the Albergue de Peregrinos Vincent Van Gogh.  Apparently the owner is a fan of Van Gogh.  It’s a nice place and they serve breakfast beginning at 6am.  Tonight we're back in bunk beds.  There’s only one bathroom so it might be crowded in the morning - and a school group of 20 students arrived at 7pm so it will hopefully not be too noisy.  We bought chocolate and replenished our supply of peanuts, raisins, etc. to make trail mix.  Tomorrow might have a long stretch where we need to picnic but we’ll grab more supplies at the next village.

We encountered a flock of sheep and shepherd

Sunrise!  ~7:40AM

Long stretch of gravel road through the fields

Mid afternoon track

Olive Groves

Freestanding vines - probably tempranillo

Wish I could take this bottle of "Ribera del Guadiana" home!

Albergue for tonight.