I’ve made it to Mérida, which seems significant, I guess because it’s the first big-ish city on the route since Sevilla. Tomorrow I’ll take a rest day, wandering around the ruins.
So, let’s see….
Weather: I suppose this is a case of be careful what you wish for. The weather is definitely cooler. There’s also been a fair amount of drizzling, which wouldn’t be so bad except for the mud that’s found on some country roads. I know people talk about why it’s good to have light shoes, but I never really noticed the weight of my feet before the mud added several tons to each step. There’s also the occasional downpour, which is exciting.
Terrain: Fairly hilly, but generally much flatter than Andalusía.
Way Marking: This has gone downhill, so to speak, over the last few days. It’s generally intermittent in cities (look down—for example on the bases of park benches, or up for tiles with scallop shells on the sides of buildings), and can be quite sparse in the countryside as well, which is rather more of a problem (see below).
Pilgrims: At the moment, mainly German and French couples, over 50. I get a lot of comments on how far I’ve come to walk—it’s generally Europeans here.
Olive Trees and Grape Vines Seen: Really a lot.
Number of Signs With Pig Legs Seen: Quite a lot, especially around Monesterio.
Number of People Who Have Kindly Given Me Directions, Honked Horns in Encouragement, Etc.: Lots more. You’re all wonderful—thank you.
Blisters: Two more. I couldn’t get any band-aid type thing to stay on the first one (on my heel), so tried the if-I-ignore-it-maybe-it’ll-go-away strategy. This is not generally recommended for blisters, but seems to be working. The second developed yesterday, during my way-too-long walk (see below).
Number of Times Stopped to Root Madly Through Pack to Make Sure Haven’t Left Something Behind: I’m getting much better about this. My paranoia has shifted to missing arrows.
Number of Items Actually Lost: None, amazingly.
Number of Times Lost: Well. That would depend on your exact definition of “lost.” See below.
Day 9: La Almazara to Torremegía (34 km)
Really, I’d prefer not to think about that day, but I suppose I should tell you about it anyway.
I had a lovely walk part of the way to Villafranca de los Barros with Enrique, a Spanish man who has done three weeks of Camino walking (the first two years cycling) for the last ten years. Since his family doesn’t share his love of walking, he’s currently doing the Vía de la Plata backwards with them, by car.
I managed to navigate through Villafranca de los Barros without having to ask for directions (if you don’t see an arrow, going straight ahead is your best bet).
The next albergue was in Torremegía, but the town of Almendralejo was supposed to be 17.5 km from Villafranca, just off the route. I told myself that if I was feeling awful by that point, I’d find a cheap pensión there.
I walked past countless olive trees and grapevines, their greenness nicely offset by the red of the soil (growing up in Canada and reading Anne of Green Gables, I thought only Prince Edward Island had red soil, but apparently not).
It started to drizzle. The mud clung to my boots, slowing my pace. I put on my raincoat, which also covers my backpack, and continued, stopping for a brief lunch during a pause in the rain.
I walked and walked and walked. At the beginning there were a lot of bicigrinos (cyclist pilgrims). Then there was just me, without even a passing car for company. Well, okay, and a car full of young guys. But when they call you guapa (beautiful) while you are sweaty and muddy and wet, and completely covered by a fire engine-red raincoat, you probably don’t want to stick around and chat.
A lot of this was a road that went up and down, but went straight, straight, straight for approximately forever.
It started pouring. I was convinced that even if I was walking at my slowest speed, I should’ve passed Almendralejo, but there was no town to be seen—nothing but hills and grapevines and olive trees and the same road going on forever. There were a few crossroads, but it was raining so hard I couldn’t get out my map to see where they were.
And there were no yellow arrows. I could live without them between intersections, but where I have options, I feel a lot better knowing I’m definitely on the right route.
There were stone blocks with coloured squares that mark the tourist office’s historic routes. It’s better not to rely on these because they sometimes deviate a lot from the Camino route, but I had no choice.
Eventually it stopped pouring. I looked at my map and realized the route doesn’t actually pass right by Almendralejo, and I was now committed to getting to Torremegía, which was actually rather a relief.
My boots, which aren’t the most waterproof boots in existence, were soaked. My legs hurt, my hips ached, and the bottoms of my feet were in serious pain. But, finally, there was Torremegía. I limped through town in the rain to the albergue turístico (I’ve heard the private one is a little odd).
In the future, I plan to avoid 30 km-plus days.
Practical information: If you look closely, you can see the Roman arch embedded in the sidewalk. If you follow it, you’ll eventually reach signs that point to various albergues.
Day 10: Torremegía to Mérida (16-plus km)
The “plus” is because of a little scenic detour (i.e. I got really lost) first thing in the morning.
Pilgrims waiting for a bus to Mérida said I could take the highway or the other route. I attempted to take the other route. There were no arrows, but a man told me the Vía de la Plata was straight ahead, and there was one of the tourist office rocks right there.
So I walked on happily for about half an hour until I got to an intersection with no way marking at all, and which, on consulting my map, really didn’t seem to be on the Camino route at all.
I asked the only person in the area, a guy cycling with his dog. He told me I had to go back to Torremegía and get on the highway.
I vacillated. I consulted my map. I got as high as I could and looked at the route the road ahead of me took. I almost decided that discretion was the better part of valour and backtracked. But I hate going back, and according to my map, as long as I stayed between the highway and the train track I would at least be going in the right direction.
I wandered among grapevines and piles of garbage, and eventually saw people with backpacks on the highway in front of me.
The rest of the route was well enough way marked, and relatively uneventful, though it did involve very sticky mud (for those following, if it’s been rainy you might want to consider staying on the highway), and a downpour just as I reached Mérida.
The albergue is very basic, with no kitchen and only two washrooms (each with a toilet and shower). Oddly for the Camino, these are separated by sex. Equally oddly, after more than a week of unisex washrooms (one at least with a not-very-discreet shower), we tend to wait for ages to use the “correct” washroom. There’s got to be an anthropology paper in that.
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If you’ve enjoyed this, you may want to read more of my Live from the Vía de la Plata posts.