Day 34 (31/Oct/2017): Merida to Aljucen (17km)

A short and pleasant walk through greener countryside than I’ve become used to on this Camino.
I left my hotel at around 8am and made my way to the old Roman bridge that crosses the Arroyo Albarregas. I’m now using a Spanish online guide, which describes the bridge as the little brother of the big Roman bridge over the Rio Guadiana. I may have to find a less poetic source of information on the route.
Just before the bridge, I took the time to admire the Los Milagros aqueduct – another marvel of Roman engineering. This is perhaps the best preserved of the six aqueducts that the romans built to keep Augustus Emerita (now Merida) supplied. On top of one of the pillars, I saw a bird in a huge nest. A heron perhaps. I don’t think it was a stork.
After crossing the river, I stopped for my usual tomato on toast at the Cafe Acueducto on Avenida Via de la Plata, with the added treat of a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. I get the strong feeling that I’m on a more mainstream Camino now. There’s a noticeable uptick in the recognition of the Camino in street names, the appearance of Santiago crosses by the road, the number of people wishing me Buen Camino, and the frequency / density of albergues and facilities for pilgrims. Recognising me as a pilgrim, the owner of the cafe made sure that I knew about the free wifi connection, and inquired whether I was planning to walk to Aljucen or further.
The route out of Merida was well marked with arrows, taking me on a shared cycle / pedestrian path. It did not take long to leave the city behind, and after a gentle climb, I was rewarded with the sight of a lake. This turned out to be large reservoir that the romans created by building a 400m long dam. The dam has been very analysed by archaeologists, who have exposed parts of its construction in a very accessible way. The design, it seems, is an improvement on the dam that the romans built at Toledo, because buttresses on the upstream and downstream faces of the dam wall ensure that it doesn’t collapse when the water is low and there is no pressure on the upstream face. The lake created by the dam is quite pretty, with cafes and beaches that operate along the shore during the season, and pedal boats with slides to allow kids to launch themselves into the water. Looks like a lot of fun!
It took me back to days I spent on the shores of lakes Motosu and Shoji, near Mt. Fuji.
From this point, the path became a pleasant track that took me to the village of El Carrascalejo, with its impressive church and municipal albergue, and then just a couple of kilometres later to Aljucen, which has two albergues and a Roman themed hotel that offers discounts to pilgrims. I popped my head in at the town hall to get my credential stamped and then made my way to the first of the albergues, Albergue Rio Aljucen, which is managed by Carlos. His kind manner and resemblance to my old English teacher, Jim Hodges, put me immediately at ease. (If you aren’t fortunate enough to have been taught by Mr. Hodges, you can imagine the actor, Michael Horden). Carlos was disappointed that I already had a stamp in my credencial because his albergue’s stamp is so much finer than the one from the town hall. It has a shell in the design. His albergue is also very fine, with good facilities, drinks in the fridge with an honesty basket on top, and plenty of space to stretch out and relax. Everything is spotlessly clean. Walkers are required to leave their boots and walking poles outside. A stay with breakfast is 13 Euros. A very good place to stay. I’ve been joined here by a mother and daughter from the Netherlands. Daughter is very sensibly walking the Via de la Plata in reverse, taking advantage of the progress of the season to ensure that she is always walking in comfortable conditions. I must get her tips about the road behind her – the road ahead of me. Already she has confirmed that Caceres, Salamanca, and Ourense are three places that I must stop and enjoy.

Categories: 2017 Camino Mozarabe (Almeria to Finisterre)

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