The hostel as I have mentioned was somewhat underwhelmed with visitors which ended up with me sharing a dormitory of twenty beds with one other person. On getting ready for breakfast in the morning, (12euro BandB) what a snip, I noticed a lady fully dressed sitting on her bed with one of those 'I wish my mother was here' looks. She was hugging herself and looked for all the world is if she would rather be somewhere else. I smiled and gave her a thumbs up, she descended even deeper into her Slough of despond. As that is the limit of my counselling skills I gave up.
She sat beside my at breakfast which was the sort of food that is a disaster zone for me. Little bits of hard toast with butter marmalade and jam. Sure enough, as soon as I crunched into it split into numerous pieces most of which landed on my walking shirt. Well there was only one thing to do, I licked it all off. She laughed, I had done my good deed for the day.
I left Zafra at early light, the shutters were going up and the street cleaners were hard at work. Three were needed. One to blow, one to sweep and one to push two containers. I suppose you could call that full employment. Once out into the countryside I was on my own. As I was to remain for the rest of the day. The first 20.5kms took me to Villafranca de Los Barros where I went into the local market to purchase some oranges, and a tomato for lunch. I though this would be a simple affair, but no. As I rummaged through the produce madam took what I had decided to buy out of my hands. She then proceeded to hand me a much bigger and juicier selection than I had chosen. I think she had a soft spot for pilgrims.
Lunch and ice cold slushy drink were taken on the cool steps of the market before I set of for the afternoon trek to Torremejia The afternoon was hot and getting hotter. There was no shade, just acres and acres of sprouting vines. The track was dusty and empty save for me and the occasional farmer who while passing kicked up a dust storm that I had to wade through. The sun got hotter and I could feel,it burning the back of me legs and left elbow. While flat the track seemed interminable, even longer and harder than yesterday. I thought back to an earlier day on the trek when I sat in a bar and and supped lager from a large frosted glass. What I wouldn't have given to be there now.
I had no intention to walk so far in such heat but once I had started out there was no turning back. I have great stamina and did the camino France's in 22 days for no other reason than that is my pace of walking. The only thing I can think is that I didn't pay sufficient attention to the distance chart I had brought with me and got the distance wrong and didn't realise I would be walking 50kms. One thing is for sure, I won't do that again.
At 6pm I stumbled into the hostel. Booked in showered, and I am looking forward to a three course meal of stir fry and deep fried squid. The fire in my legs is abating and no doubt tomorrow will be a less strenuous day. In fact I shall take a day off to recover.
It wasn't meant to be Torremejia which you can see in the distance. I even have my carelessness etched on my pilgrim passport for all time. The red stamp bottom left is Zafra on the 19th above and right is Torremejia on 20th and bottom right Is Merida on 21st.
I had decided to make this day a short hop as I have to admit the !ast two days had been quite a strain. The short leg to Merida took me around three hours and on crossing the Roman bridge and entering the town I started to scan for hotels starting in the main square. I was going to treat myself to a room of my own and a bath, and a day, well, almost a day, off.
The first hotel I came to was off the main square. As this unkempt specimen came through the revolving doors dripping dust on the thick lush carpets and not having shaved for four days I am certain I could hear the prices rise. Far too high for me. I enquired if there was another nearby that did not require me selling a kindney. I was pointed up the road. I thanked them and left, still dripping dust onto the carpets.
I am now ensconced in my own room with bath, albeit my boots are as ripe as rotten herring. It is time to explore.
Merida was created as a retirement town for Roman Soldiers in around 23 BC. And has more Roman remains than any other town in Spain. My first port of call was to the amphitheater and theatre. Magnificent and well preserved, unlike me. Then the Temple of Diana followed by the thermal baths. There was more, but if I had endeavoured to see them all I would probably have walked another 40kms today.
With the temperature now approaching 30 degrees I am going to sit in the main square with a beer and munch on a large Queso Oveja. I think that's posh for cheese sandwich. Tomorrow? we'll. that can take care of itself.
Merida to Alcuescar 37kms
I went out in the evening in Merida to buy some lunch for the following day. I don't know what your preconception is of Spanish drivers but In this town go anywhere within ten feet of a crossing and they stop for you. Except once. I was waiting at a crossing when a pair of police motorcyclists came along. One nodded for me to cross but unfortunately the information never got to his colleague as he carried on, only stopping at the last moment, while being thrown forward by the force of his braking, making himself look a bit of an idiot. He glared at me and I shrugged my shoulders and pointed to his mate who confirmed my story. He waved me across but I had the feeling he might have wanted to get his own back at some stage so I kept away from crossings after that.
You can also eat quite cheaply over here if you don't have the right money. I bought a tub of mixed pasta tuna salad which I'm partial to, a small jar of pork pate and some rolls, which I was assured would go well with the pate, for next days lunch. I wanted soft rolls as the bread tends to harden from the heat on my backpack. I had some coin but was twenty cents short so proffered a five euro note only to be waved to the door of the shop. Now that might not seem much but add it up over the course of a few weeks and you could buy a set of corn plasters with what you save.
For the rest of the evening I sat in the square surrounded by eleven tall palm tree that shaded a number of perfectly formed orange trees, whose fruit is not to be eaten if you want to keep the plaque on your teeth. I sat under a canopy sipping beer and munching on black olives. It was still very warm at 9pm. Pidgeons danced between the chairs trying to court and eat at the same time. The sun shone on the fifty plumes of water that shot upward from the bottom of the yellow three tier fountain. All around was a cacophony of voices that swirled around the wonderful mix of old Spanish architecture. A boy chased A blue and white ballon and could not understand why the slight breeze kept taking it way from him. This were the families of Mereva at their social rest. The town is compact with narrow bustling streets and shops that sell everything you could want to wear, eat or drink. And it is very Spanish.
I liked this place. A lot. If you are doing the via de la Plata then I would suggest you make this your first day off. If the weather is good you will not regret it.
My next stop was to be Allcescar and on the way out Merida presented me with one last glory. It's magnificent aqueduct where everyone of the tall columns had a stork nesting on it. It was a wonderful sight.
A slight hiccup on the way out saw me having to retrace my steps to find a yellow arrow but soon was all well and I was alone on a cycle track which meant my progress was sift to the village of Embalse de Proserpina 10 Kms away where a huge lake one flowed on
We those 10 Kms to provide water for the Romans in Merida cross that fine viaduct you see above.
It was then once more into the countryside, with my only company black and white herons that I disturbed at their morning fish and flocks of egrets that shimmied away at my approach. Low granite slabs littered the fields and a more peaceful and rural scene would be hard to imagine.
At lunchtime I settled down to enjoy my repast. I dipped a roll into the jar, scooped out some pate and crunched into it. There was chocolate in the middle of the roll. I looked at the packet and it said 'new formula' well, they weren't wrong there. I immediately wondered if I had been served by the wife of the police motorcyclists I had crossed last night. Whatever, it actually tasted very nice. Try it sometime.
The afternoon was another hard hot slog. The morning cloud cover that had been so welcoming had gone and the sun shone hard and long. The compensation was a flower steen way that guided me to my destination. The lavender in particular was pungent and smelled great when rubes into my salty beard. I am now at my destination for the night. An aubergue that also doubles as a hospital for handicapped men. I have covered nearly 138kms in three days I, think it's time to slow down.