Tag Archives: Camino

Alcuescar to Aldea de Cano

I felt very sick after our lovely communal meal last night, and I could not even help clean up. I went straight to bed feeling feverish. Despite my silk sleep sack, all of my clothes, my down sleeping bag and a blanket I could not get warm. I was shaking and shivering, yet when I touched my skin I was burning hot. I was up and down all night with vomiting and intestinal issues. This morning my stomach was still very rocky and I could not eat. Worse yet, I could not keep coffee down! Every time I took a sip of water I wanted to vomit again. It appears that the hospitalero  was right yesterday when he thought I was sick and gave us a private room. I was the only person who was ill, so I know it was not the wonderful dinner that we were served.

Walking was very difficult and slow today for me. Fortunately it was very flat, perhaps even down hill slightly. My blisters hurt with each step, and I felt more blisters forming. I stopped to bandage my feet and apply a compeed pad to the entire ball of my foot. However, on the bright side,  we were walking directly on top of a Roman road which historians say is 50 CM below the current pathway. We crossed a Medieval and a Roman Bridge, just standing in the sunshine after 2000 years,  still used by walkers. The sky was very blue and it was a sunny 88*F by this afternoon. There is always something good to balance out the negative and make you glad you ventured out to see and experience it.

Not every day on the Camino is easy. However, I feel that this is the test of our fortitude. I could have stayed in bed for a day, but walking in the fresh air seemed to help. I think by going slowly I helped work some of the fever out of my body. I remember when I was about 16,  I stayed in bed one day when I was only marginally uncomfortable. My Mom asked me what I thought I was doing. She told me that there were lots of days that were less than perfect, and that I would waste a great portion of my life if I babied myself like that. She promptly informed me that I should get out of bed and go to school because she was not going to write an excuse for me. As small a thing as this seems like, it was great advice. You can be a whiner and a hypochondriac, and you find excuses by blaming your situation or those around you for your failings. Or you can do your best, and get on with making the most of your life. Either choice leads to a pattern of behavior. I prefer to think of life as an interesting challenge and just get out of bed and start walking each day, metaphorically speaking.

Thankfully our walk was only 10 1/2 miles today so I was able to have a restful day in this tiny town. The streets were very quiet during afternoon siesta. Even the cats lounged and lay draped from the warm, colorful rooftops. Storks circled overhead and a herd of goats grazed at the edge of the village. The soft goat kids frolicked and played king of the mountain on nearby rocks. They playfully butted each other off the rocks to gain a superior position before returning to the bright yellow green grass.

Distance from  Alcuescar to Aldea de Cano=10.3  Miles / 17 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 12.6 Miles / 20  Kilometers

Accommodations=  Municipal Albergue, pick up the key and your stamp at the bar / restaurante Las Vegas. Small  Albergue on the main road with a kitchen, 1 bathroom, and 2 sleeping rooms. 12 beds with mats for extra places on the floor, 3 Euro. Food at the Bar Las Vegas across the street. There is also a very nice Casa Rural Via de la Plata on the main square in town. If you choose to walk slightly further, there is a basic municipal Albergue 7 miles past Aldea del Cano at Valdesalor, 10 places, free.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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Merida to Aljucen

We left  Merida before the sun rose in order to arrive at our destination before it became too hot. Once we were past the Roman Reservoir, we traversed rolling hills of deep multi-colored grasses sprinkled with rich dark violet Spanish lavender and yellow broom.    The oak trees grew among huge sculpted groups of rocks.

Deep blue streams snaked through the rocky outcroppings, reflecting the changing colors of the sky. The air was cool and many Pilgrims were walking early. It was an enchanting, colorful walk with cool temperatures and good company. We are trekking along with Alan and Judy, so full of life and good cheer.

We walked into the tiny town of Aljucen at 11:30 to find the Albergue in chaos. It was under construction, and every bit of furniture was stacked outside. There were men with ladders building walls and painting. Everything was covered in dust and draped with plastico. Undaunted, we threw our packs and sleeping bags on some bunks, showered, and hung out our laundry to be permeated with plaster dust. The young woman who runs the Albergue, Ana, is very friendly. She has great dramatic body language because she speaks no English. With a smile on her face, she cleaned and put all of the furniture back in place . She was tireless, and did not stop working until 8:00 PM, when she was satisfied that her Albergue was once again a home.

This will be such a cute Albergue when it is finished. The walls outside are bright orange-yellow with nicely detailed trim painted in dark blue. The walls inside of the main room are a bright green and there is a purple couch. The kitchen will be cobalt blue. There is a little terrace out front with a view of the valley, and a patio in back. But most of all it is the welcoming spirit of Ana that makes this a special place.

We spent several hours at the spa, then lounged on the patio of the local bar.  We laughed as we ate and visited in the sunshine. I so enjoyed the easy camaraderie as people from Holland, Germany, Paraguay, England, Australia, Norway, America, Canada, and other far-flung places around the globe, came and went from our table. Today was just about as perfect a day as one could ask for on the Camino.

Distance from   Merida to Aljucen=10.5  Miles / 17 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 12.3 Miles / 20 Kilometers

Accommodations= Municipal Albergue, 10 Euro per person per night. 18 places. Kitchen, common area. Small friendly town.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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Early Morinings and Aqueducts

We slept until 7:30 on this lay-over day in Merida, then were off like a shot in the cool morning sunshine. We happened into the local market where we bought dates, bananas, nuts, bread, and other scrupulous treats. The local markets are an adventure in color, texture, the scent of fresh food, and the fun of trying to make yourself understood. The prices are very reasonable and the shopkeepers are always helpful.

Right next to the market we found the Casa Benito, a bar founded 150 years ago. It was filled with bullfighting memorabilia and photographs. There was a bronze bull on the bar and a real bull head on the wall. A little girl about 5 years old was pulled up to the bar drinking her cola-cao (hot chocolate), business men in suits, and us! Typical of bars across Spain, this served as the social center of the hour with people of all ages congregating over a meal and drinks. They served a great breakfast and rich cafe-con-leche, completing  a wonderful slice of an early Spanish morning.

We trekked up to the Casa de Amphiteatro ruins and found it “Cerrado”, or closed. Fueled by caffeine, we decided it could be centuries before they opened. We formed a plan to sneak in the back gate where people were working. The “estudentes archiological” yelled at us and ran us off, foiling our brilliant plan. Those ruins will have to go unexplored. Undeterred, we crossed under a railroad track and a freeway and came face to face with an amazing sight.

Standing in a field, now surrounded by modern roads and apartments, stood one of several aqueducts that were part of a water system that supplied Merida’s commercial and residential needs in Roman times. Five kilometers (3 miles) out-of-town they built a granite block dam 425 meters long and 21 meters thick to trap rain water and the flow from several streams. The Embalse de Prosperpina was the largest reservoir in the Rome’s Mediterranean Empire. The water from the reservoir was channeled through a series of underground , barrel-vaulted tunnels, complete with valve systems to direct and control the flow. When the water reached the point that it needed to span the valley, a series of elaborate, multi-arched aqueducts were constructed to deliver water to the various parts of the city. The aqueducts had to be built at a perfect, gentle angle to control the water flow until it reached the city. If the slope of the water channel was too steep the water would spill out, and if it was too gradual gravity would not pull the water in a steady flow toward its destination. When the water reached the city it went through a settling and purification process before being placed in holding tanks until  needed by the citizens of Merida. Construction on these aqueducts was begun in the First Century BC, and some were not completed until the Third Century AD. They spanned over 1 kilometer (.6 mile) in length and the vaults rose to a height of 75 feet.

We walked out of Merida the following morning before daybreak because the day was predicted to be nearly 100* F. We were wearing our headlights and stumbling along in the dark. Just as the sun rose, I found myself standing on top of the Dam at the Embalse de Popsperpina! It was quite astonishing to stand atop a wall built by the Romans and watch the sun turn the sky from a deep violet to orange, to a warm yellow at the horizon. What an amazing way to say goodbye to the Roman city of Merida and walk into a new day dawning bright and warm.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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Museo Romano

Merida has a fabulous museum right in the heart of town. It incorporates a basement area that preserves the in-situ city ruins intact and a road under the building. The main part of the building is comprised of huge brick arches soaring to 75 feet, reminiscent of the original Roman building techniques and materials. The arches are the same height as the ones that they mirror on the Milagros Aqueduct that brought water to the city.

The original sculptures and huge colorful mosaics adorn the walls. There is an extensive collection of glass, coins, household utensils and pottery, and numerous other artifacts portraying a wonderful glimpse of the times. What a rich life they lived, filled with art, theater, running water, a varied diet, painted houses, beautiful jewelry, fine clothing and shoes, and a stable political system.

 

If you are enjoying this journey along the Via de la Plata and would like to see my artwork, please visit my website at http://www.theartistsjourney.com


Merida’s Moorish Influence

After the fall of the  Roman Empire in the west, Merida maintained much of its splendor. During the Visigothic  period,  especially under the 6th century domination of the bishops,  it was the elegant, thriving capital of  Hispania.  In 713 it was conquered by the Muslim army , and remained the capital under a different culture and a new set of rulers.  The  Arabs used and expanded  the old Roman buildings. A prime example of this is the Alcabaza, the first structure of this type in Moorish Spain, begun in the year 835. It remains one  of Spain’s oldest Moorish buildings. Sitting above the Rio Guadiana, it incorporates part of the city’s defensive walls and offers a fine view of the surrounding country and the Roman Bridge. The walls are 30 feet high and 8 feet thick. Inside there is a perfectly preserved cistern, or well,  that is a type rarely seen outside of north Africa. We stepped carefully down a long passageway, descending from the hot sunshine into the cool dark depths. At the bottom was a lapis blue to turquoise pool, alive with gold-fish, pierced by shafts of natural light spilling down from the  vaulted window far above.

The city returned to the  Christians  in 1230, when it was conquered by Alfonso of Leon.  It became the seat of the priory of San Marcos de León of the Order of Santiago. A period of recovery started for Mérida in the 1400’s. In the 19th century,  many monuments of Mérida and of Extremadura were destroyed or damaged during the invasion of Napoleon’s forces.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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Zafra to Villafranca de los Barros

It was up and down hills covered in vineyards and  olive groves, but mostly gradually down, all day. We passed through the pretty little town of Maimona, featuring a church with a beautiful plaster work facade in tones of cinnamon and warm apricot. Scallop shells and other symbols of the way  were intricately carved, and it  featured a puerta del Perdon, or door of pardon. Pilgrims of old who were too sick or injured to continue to Santiago could pass through the door of pardon and receive the same absolution as if they had made it all the way. It seems that it was the intention of trying, and making the journey with everything that you  possessed, that counted for forgiveness. That is a good philosophy to remember.

We arrived in the small town of Villafranca de los Barros at mid day and set out to explore. We found hauntingly beautiful and soothing music in the warm yellow church at the heart of the village. In the small, shady plaza beneath the church, a friendly Spanish man and his wife greeted us. They were Friends of the Pilgrims, and they welcomed us to their town. They bought us a cool drink and asked if there was anything they could help us with. We told them we had been unable to find scallop shells, or conchas. They took us to the Pilgrims office and gave us extra credentials stamped by the archbishop of Merida, conchas, maps, and brochures on the area. They would not accept even a donation. They represent the sweet, gentle goodness and spirit of giving found along the Camino. It was quite simple yet heartfelt, one Pilgrim to another. Additionally, they informed us that our destination for the next day was having the annual wine festival and that every room in town was already booked. They recommended that we take the bus to Merida, as we felt it was impossible for us to walk 28 miles in one day. We were somewhat disappointed in having to take the bus, but it was the only sensible thing to do with our bodies beginning to talk back to us.  Judy has blisters that she is treating. We all have swollen feet that have begun to burn and tingle.

Today was tough walking for me. I may have had too much food or water in my pack, increasing the weight. Perhaps I was not careful how I packed things into it, or it was positioned wrong. I developed a muscle pain that shot from my lower back through my hip, and all the way down my leg to my calf.  My right foot began to tingle and I was just slapping my foot along the path by the end of the day. I came dragging into town like  Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame. I was drooling pathetically. I felt like I had experienced a stroke. I asked my friends to monitor me , and by the end of the evening Judy confirmed that I was drooling but dismissed the possibility of a stroke and diagnosed mas vino.

We spent the warm, sun filled evening in the square visiting over a glass of the beautiful local wine. Julio, a Spanish Peregrino, Alan, Judy, and I played a pictionary version of trying to communicate. It was so much fun and truly exemplified the spirit and great joy of the Camino for me. We talked soccer (futbol), families, books, and a variety of other subjects. It is difficult because you have to listen and watch so intently, but it is very rewarding. I am understanding more Spanish each day. Who would have ever thought that I would have the job of  interpreter? It is not that I know how to speak Spanish, but rather that I am unafraid to try. When I look foolish, people are very gracious and helpful. The words that I knew are now easy to recall, and I am learning new words each day. As the evening came to a close Julio went off to watch his futbol game and we returned to the hotel for dinner. I learned that Alan and I were on the Camino Frances 3 years ago at the same time and had met many of the same people. We met a 77-year-old German Pilgrim named Hubert. He has walked 8 Caminos and looks fantastic. He told us sadly that he can only walk as far as Salamanca this year. His wife won’t let him go for more than 3 weeks now, ” at their age.” He rings her each night at 10:00 and they plan the next day together. He laughed as he told us this sweet story of how they reassure each other so that he may continue.

What a day of contradictions: from struggling so hard physically on the trail to the wonderful emotional embrace of the other Pilgrims on this warm Spanish night.

Distance from   Zafra to Villafrance de los Barros=13  Miles / 21 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 15.8 Miles / 25.5 Kilometers

Accommodations= We discovered the pensione was closed due to a death in the family. We checked into the very luxurious Hotel Diana in the Center of town: a very nice hotel with a restaurant and bar on the lower floor. 70 Euro for a room for 3 persons, or 23 Euro each, with a luxurious ensuite bathroom. There is currently no Albergue in Villafrance de los Barros.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


Zafra

Zafra is a beautiful little town located at the base of the Sierra de Castellar mountains. It was once home to 3 very large convents built in the 16th Century. I think it would not have been a bad choice for a woman to live as a nun in former times. It was safe, serene, and relatively secure. You were spared a life of poverty and endless childbearing, with a chance to get an education above what most women could hope for. You even got the chance to live your faith by helping the community in some orders.

The Castle dominates the skyline, and beneath it spill the streets of the old town in a jumble. They are narrow and cobbled, bordered by white washed houses. Many of the iron balconies are already overflowing with flowers, some so thick that they create a screen. Palms sway above the rooftops and trees with brilliant pink blossoms are tucked into corners.  You wind down these pleasant streets and suddenly you are in the multi-arcaded Plaza Grande. In the 1400’s this was a marketplace, built to provide shade from the relentless sunshine. Zafra has been an important market town since those days because of the quality of it’s local goods and handicrafts. But tonight it was a great place to have dinner and a glass of wine, watching the crowds of people stroll, shop, laugh, eat and socialize. It was a bit like being back in Sevilla on this warm evening.

At our Albergue we Judy began talking to a man in the courtyard. She stopped and said, “Do you speak English?” He immediately replied, “And Australian too!” She asked, “Alan?”, to which he replied “Judy?” Amazingly, they had been conversing on a Camino forum  at home in Australia but had never met each other, and tonight he was our room mate.  Fancy that! It’s another Camino miracle. We so enjoyed our evening together at the Plaza Grande. He is a kind and intelligent man with mischief in his eyes and a contagious smile. He has walked many Caminos, and it seems to be his passion. It is wonderful to be around someone so filled with good cheer, the spirit of the Camino shining through.

Rest Day to explore Zafra. Distance walked 5.27 miles / 8.5 Kilometers

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


Fuente de Cantos to Zafra

Last night I thought, “If I get to the first village and can not walk on because I am so ill, I will get a ride to Zafra and find a Doctor.” However, this morning I felt much better and was cheered up by Judy. She said, “We are super women! Not only that, the blokes are all staring at us because we are so good looking!” Yeah, that is the spirit! We proved it too, because we walked out of Fuente de Cantos at 8:35 and did not arrive at our Albergue in Zafra until nearly 5:00 and over 16 miles, making a very full day of walking.

It was sunny once again, although the temperatures were cooler. We walked on country lanes across vast expanses of rolling hills covered in vibrantly yellow-green wheat. Men were out hunting with their greyhounds and the wind whispered across the hills.

There were miles of silvery gray olive trees with a  riot of colorful flowers beneath their twisted trunks. Vineyards, not yet leafed out, followed the contours of the hills. They are like lines drawn across the landscape, becoming smaller and smaller until they disappear into infinity.

There was standing water everywhere from the rains yesterday. We had to ford several streams and walk around boggy spots in the trail. Small shapes of water in the fields reflected the blue sky and added a cool crispness to the land.

We are staying 2 nights in a beautifully restored Convent that is now an Albergue Turistico. We are sharing a room with Karl Martin. (I wonder what the sisters of old would have thought of that!) We had been unable to find Conchas, or the traditional scallop shells, to tie on our packs marking us as Pilgrims. Karl found a restaurant selling Conchas and bought one for me. He knew that I was disappointed not to have one for this journey, so he gave it to me with a shy, sweet smile. I was very touched by his simple gesture of kindness. It made me feel that the spirit of giving just for the pleasure of it that exists on the Camino is alive and well.

Distance from   Fuente de Cantos to Zafra=16.2  Miles / 26 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked 17.81 Miles / 28.5 Kilometers

Accommodations= Albergue Turistico in a restored convent of St. Francis. 22 places in rooms for 4 persons with private bath in each room. Beautiful, quiet, directly across and down 1 block from the castle. The Albergue Turisticos allow you to stay multiple nights (and make reservations) since they are privately owned. 10 Euro per person, 12 Euro including breakfast of coffee or tea or hot chocolate, toast, juice and fruit.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


Monesterio to Fuente de Cantos

This morning we walked down lanes bordered by stone walls on both sides, clear brooks, and prosperous looking little homes. The gray rock fences snake across the rise and fall of the land very poetically. As the morning progressed, we walked into more open landscape, with wide sweeping vistas of the farmland.  The oak trees have given way to vineyards, olive groves scattered with wild flowers, fields of wheat, and newly turned earth. They form a patchwork of undulating green and reddish brown. Deep violet lavender, yellow broom, bright pink lily like flowers and blue lupins painted the landscape under soft gray skies.

We came to a point where we lost the yellow Camino arrows and were following the stone markers for the Via Pecuria that is heavily promoted in this area. We decided to turn back, as the pathway felt like it was going in the wrong direction. Eventually we found the yellow arrows and got back on the right track. It became obvious just how far the pathways had diverged. Karl Martin, our German friend, continued on the via Pecuria. When we met him later he verified how many extra kilometers out-of-the-way he walked, although thankfully the 2 trails did come together near town.

The  day turned gray and violently stormy. We felt very exposed in the open landscape with lightning striking the ground and the wind driving the rain into us. Just as we were nearly to town, drenched to the bone, along came Antonio offering us a ride into the nearest town. He took us to an apartment that he owns, and for only 15 Euro each we had private bedrooms, a full kitchen, a living and dining room. He said they had a washing machine and drying. He did not say they worked. I put all of my clothes in the washer. It washed and washed and washed. Then finally gave up in a puddle of muddy water. I had to rinse and wring by hand. And since it was pouring rain, and “the dryer” turned out to be a clothes-line, I thought I might have to run the Camino naked the next day. Un daunted, Antonio brought us a clothes rack and turned the heat up in the dining room to about 90 degrees. We sat in our home-made sauna, drank hot water, and I honestly think this cured my cold! I feel much better and my clothes actually did get dry. Itś another Camino miracle!

Distance from  Monesterio to Fuente de Cantos=13.2  Miles / 21 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked 13.34 Miles / 21+Kilometers

Accommodations= We stayed in a private home, Antonio’s next to the travel agency, for 15 Euro per person. It is a beautiful apartment with several bedrooms sleeping 2 people, a full kitchen, dining room, living room, and a beautiful large bathroom.

There is an lovely Albergue Turistico in town for 10 Euro, 12 Euro with breakfast.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


Sun Dappled Meadows

The colors of the night are still an inky black, indigo blue scattered with stars. The sky gradually lightens into deep violet, then periwinkle as my boots continue along the pathway. As dawn breaks the colors of the heavens are illuminated, glowing golden, pink, and apricot through the oak groves. The treetops are kissed by the sun and the meadows alight with color at the start of a new day.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


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