(Today’s distance should have been 31km but my phone says I walked 34km after various errors and detours).
What a day! My “creative” plans didn’t work out as intended and the walk was less interesting and harder work than I had hoped, but I made it to Merida. checked into a fancy hotel, and took a long bath. All is well.
Sleeping under the stars was beautiful but I was not adequately equipped for a night out in late October. While daytime temperatures can still reach 31 or 32C, things get quite fresh overnight. Perhaps 12C? I was hoping to get by with an “emergency” bivvi bag and my silk liner. The bivvi bag might have made a reasonable groundsheet for someone with a sleeping bag. But it doesn’t breath, so I quickly found that my liner was drenched in sweat and I was shivering. It was a relief at 6:00am to get out of the bag, towel down, and put on warm layers for the walk. Nonetheless, it was exciting to make my bed under the trees and hear the birds settle down after the shock of my arrival. There was very little light pollution and no cloud cover, bringing thousands of stars into view. During the night, there were occasional “Jurassic Park” moments – the dinosaur-like cries of a heron, disturbed by some creature. Earlier, during the day, I had been startled several times when white and black herons burst suddenly into flight from positions in the grass right next to me, as I walked between the rice paddies. But somehow, their shrieks in the night didn’t scare me. Neither did the occasional barks, rustles, and quacks from other dark spaces around me.
After drying off, getting dressed, and putting my rucksack back together, I walked the short distance to the N-430 national highway. What I found there was disappointing and troubling. The hard shoulder that I was supposed to walk along was no wider than the height of my walking pole, with steel crash barriers that would prevent me from stepping off the paved road. This was the “channel” that I would be stuck in for the next 4.5km to Torrefresnada, with one lane of speeding traffic in each direction – trucks and cars bunched up in intermittent groups, travelling well over the 70km/h limit.
With a white shirt to reflect the headlights and a lamp strapped to my forehead, I guessed that the first vehicle in a group would see me. But the risk of not being seen until too late by those following was high. I decided to wait an hour for the light to improve. I set off at 8:15 with my headlamp on and waving my iPhone flashlight. Moments later, I almost jumped out of my skin as a tour bus, overtaking a truck, came up from behind me and passed within a couple of meters of my right arm. This was the first of several such incidents that made for a nerve wracking hour.
To my relief, most vehicles moved into the middle of the road as they neared me, and those that had to stay in lane to avoid oncoming traffic slowed down or flashed their lights to let me know that they had seen me.
It came as a huge relief to emerge from that gauntlet in the village of Torrefresnada, with its modernist church of our lady of Fatima. A large group of hunters were gathered outside a bar in the square, drinking coffees and herb liqueurs; not so much chatting, but shouting boisterously to each other (“seeking bubble reputations”?)
I sat at the bar and ordered coffee. To my surprise, my one Euro coffee came with a complementary bowl of “migas,” leftover breadcrumbs fried with garlic and olive oil. It’s what the Italians might call “cucina povera,” food of the poor, which has nonetheless earned a place on menus in more upscale restaurants. So much for breakfast, then. I continued my journey.
To my disappointment, most of the walking after Torrefresnada was on agricultural roads that ran immediately next to the six lane highway to Merida. The scenery was nothing special and the towns that I passed through, San Pedro de Merida and Trujillanos were also rather bland, with rows of identical, modern houses.
In Trujillanos I stopped to look at an interesting C16th church; La Santisma Trinidad. But the other buildings were mostly boxy and dull. From my perspective, as I trudged on hard surfaces by the busy highway, this walk was just hard work. The information sheets for this stage of the Camino mention that the route skirts the national park of Cornalvo – I don’t want to skirt it. Take me into the park itself!
From a human perspective, things also seemed tough today. Somehow, I didn’t find opportunities to interact with people. Although I nodded at people I passed and stopped in bars in all the towns , the locals seemed uninterested in chatting with me. I may be partly to blame for that, since I could tell that I was carrying the sour-stale odour of two days of physical exertion and a night of rough sleeping without a shower.
Way finding on this journey was hit and miss. I found the yellow arrows to be infrequent, small, and strangely positioned – often located after a junction rather than at the point of decision. At the start of the final leg from Trujillanos to Merida, I’m convinced that I saw arrows that directed me onto the road alongside the highway, when I should have cut across country to Merida. After that, I found a couple of yellow smudges that encouraged me to keep going. The app on my phone showed me a route to Merida. But my failure to realise that I was not on the marked path meant that I missed a vital tunnel under the highway. This added a few kilometres to my journey at the end of the day. I entered through what I guess is rhe “tradesman’s entrance” to town. I didn’t see any grand buildings until I came across the old Roman aqueduct. Weirdly, I still came across an arrow on a farm wall despite that.
Eventually, I reached La Rambla de Santa Eulalia, which is mentioned in the guide. I stopped at a tapas bar there, near the Roman theatre. That is where I’ll pick up the route on foot tomorrow to put myself back on the right track. At the tapas bar, I treated myself to a drink and used the last bit of power in my phone to reserve a hotel room and call a taxi. The albergue in Merida has a poor reputation. Many accounts that I have read point to bad experiences and some people told me that it was dirty and mouse-infested when they stayed a couple of years ago. After a day like today, I made the right choice for me. Tomorrow, I hope to deal with my dirty clothes, and find time to explore the treasures of this city.