Cows and sheep and sharks and polar bears, oh my!
Caceres and I didn’t hit it off. Of course, I can see that it’s an exceptional city with an intact, medieval centre, and historical sites from Moorish, Visigoth, Roman, and prehistoric eras. It’s built on a human scale and it’s pedestrian-centric, which would normally please me. Perhaps it was the perfunctory welcome that I received at the albergue, or perhaps the dreary weather that put me in the wrong mood to appreciate the quaint, narrow streets, and grand, stone, buildings. Sadly, things didn’t improve this morning, when I woke with a hangover, a heavy feeling in my stomach from yesterday’s dinner, and insect bites on my elbows. My roommate, a cyclist from the basque region, reassured me that they did not appear to be bedbug bites. We discussed the forecast (more rain) and he wondered whether he would cycle 100km or further today. For cyclists the spacing of albergues – generally 10km or 20km, and rarely more than 35km apart – means that there are lots of options. For me, the choice was between walking 11km to Casar de Caceres or 34km to the newly opened lakeside albergue at Embalse de Alcantara. I’d heard from both Dutch couples who were walking this route in reverse that the albergue was great, and I felt that the distance was doable.
But in my befuddled state, I was slow to get myself moving. I didn’t leave the albergue until 8:30. Michel Cerdan had provided me with directions to take a diversion from the normal Camino route out of Caceres, which has a stretch of road walking. But I decided not to take the longer way round, sticking to the Camino route because it would be marked, and I wanted to keep open the option of going to Embalse de Alcantara. The walk out of town was surprisingly short. In no time, I had passed the bullring, and was on the road out of town. I stopped at the last grocery store to buy a bottle of water and some chocolate-filled croissants for breakfast. The stuffiness of the shop and the tedious wait for two croissants to be weighed, priced, bagged, then taken to the till made me feel worse. I took a paracetamol as I consumed this breakfast on a nearby bench.
I passed a statue dedicated to the washerwomen of Caceres and realised that it was one of several female statues in the city. On the one hand, it’s admirable to find a city that wants to celebrate and honour its women. On the other hand, these statues are hideous. Sorry. Maybe you and I will never be on friendly terms, Caceres. But I’ll give you another chance – I have to because my box of winter clothing hadn’t reached your post office when I passed through.
The walk out of Caceres was nothing special – some hard shoulder walking but the traffic was lighter and the road seemed a little wider than the stretch before Merida.
On reaching Casar de Caceres, things improved. I had a toast and tomato at the El Albergue cafe, then walked through the small commercial centre. The town produces a ewes milk cheese, Torta del Casar, that I would like to try soon. I decided against buying a whole one.
On my way out of Casar, the Camino cubes carried green and yellow tiles, meaning that the route was both the old Roman road and the Camino route. I didn’t need to be told – I could tell from the Roman milestone on a grassy island in the middle of the road out of town.
The countryside after Casar was dramatic. I began to understand the nature of the “dehesa” – a big, open, grassland with quite extraordinary rock formations. I guess the milestones that I’ve been admiring along this route must have come from rocky areas like this. At one point, I came across four or five milestones in the same spot, and I wondered if this had been a milestone production site, and these the abandoned products – like the half-finished Greek statues that one can find lying in fields near the old quarries on the island of Naxos.
In this area, I started to see animal shapes in the stones. Shark-infested fields where the sheep were unperturbed, and a polar bear overseeing a group of goats. This phenomenon of humans seeing faces in the fronts of cars, or animals in rocks is known as pareidolia. If you’ve taken boat trips around coastal headlands or islands, you will know that there is always a moment when your guide will point out a rock that looks like an old man’s face, and a rock that looks like a lion. It happens littorally every time.
I should have pressed on with all haste instead of taking so many photographs. When I reached the lake, I found a diversion due to a construction project to build a huge Madrid to Portugal railway and (I think) a highway with two bridges over the lake itself. I found myself going in the opposite direction, under a bridge and back again. It’s at this point that I noticed the dark clouds and further realised that I was running out of daylight. I picked up my pace for a short stretch on the side of the road and across two bridges just after the second bridge, the rain became a downpour. I was relieved to get off the road and into a somewhat sheltered spot where I put on a raincoat. I kept on walking and the rain subsided quite quickly. I passed a picnic spot with a roof that I figured I could shelter under if more rain came. And then I found signs to the albergue. At first o made a mistake and walked into the Hostal just off the road, where a startled French angler told me I had the wrong place. I called the albergue and received instructions to continue down the road for 500m. I made it here just before 7:00pm, as the light faded. I wondered how I would feed myself since there appear to be no shops here – just nature. I needn’t have worried, the phlegmatic hospitalero, Andres, prepared an excellent dinner, took my clothes and put them in the washing machine and set things up for my breakfast tomorrow. He just opened this albergue the Monday before last. Great for me, since it is perfectly located on my Camino and it is an excellent albergue. There’s room for 18 guests in four bedrooms, with a huge dining room and a lovely patio that overlooks the lake. I am alone here tonight.
Day 37 (3/Nov/2017): Caceres to Embalse de Alcantara (34km?)
Cows and sheep and sharks and polar bears, oh my!