A long but beautiful walk into a new landscape and a new climate.
I started my day with some rationalisation of my luggage, since I couldn’t keep walking with all the things that I’d been carrying before and all of the colder weather gear that I picked up in Caceres. Some decisions were easy: I could throw out my “mac in a pac” raincoat; otiose since I now have an old-but-good, waterproof, windcheater. My light cotton shirt and striped trousers from Naxos could go too, since they’re so last season. My cushion for stretching would have to go since it was the biggest single item that I was carrying and I wouldn’t get my pack back to its former weight merely by chucking the lightweight items that have been superseded by heavier ones. The bottle of antiseptic liquid, a harder decision. But it was three times the size of my tube of sun cream (which, admittedly, is a very small tube). It went. Chapstick? I can live for a day with chapped lips. Gone. That left James Joyce. (Dubliners, paperback, a thin book). I’d brought Joyce with me this far and he hadn’t been much use. I do not take reading breaks under trees or in cafes in the way that I had imagined. I’ve read four of the stories in the last month, and I know all of them already. I could probably download a weightless edition of the book to my phone. And my experience of paying for books to be shipped from one side of the world to the other and back has made me rather unsentimental about books. So why didn’t I want to lose this one? Perhaps I wanted something beautiful and, as Theophile Gautier would have it, necessarily useless in my bag.
After a breakfast of coffee, juice, and toast with butter and jam, which was included in the 15 Euro price for the albergue, I headed out of Baños on the old Roman road. I wore my trousers with the lower part of the leg attached, but only a t-shirt for my upper body. I guessed (wrongly) that the day would warm up and I’d regret wearing anything heavier. Yesterday was the first day that I had needed long trousers for the whole day, so I couldn’t imagine that today would be such a cold day.
Very soon after leaving Baños, I came across the sign that announced my departure from Extremadura. I am now in the posher sounding “Leon y Castillo,” or Castile and Leon. It may sound fancy, but this region seems at least as poor and remote as any part of Extremadura that I saw.
As I entered Puerto de Bejar, the first village in Castile and Leon two old ladies passed me. One of them mimicked the way I was swinging my arms with my walking poles and she said some sort of joke in my direction. The only word I could catch was “Extremadura,” so i guessed she was joking about another crazy pilgrim coming across the border.
I noticed a lot more information panels on the walk today. In particular, under a motorway bridge, I found a fantastic display associated with a length of Roman road that has been preserved there. It is the most attractive and interesting space. I wonder if the motorists above have even the faintest idea what they’re driving over.
The landscape today was transformed – I soon found myself walking through fallen conkers, as there were many chestnut trees. Also birch/alder and more oaks. The foliage was starting to turn, creating some beautiful orange and yellow colours. At this early point in the journey, I met a couple from Lyon, who are cycling with two kids in tow (literally) to Marrakesh via Oxford. Not a direct route – but I think they got a lift for part of the way. They were struggling on the section of the path near Puerto de Bejar, because it was a fairly bumpy, sandy, uphill, track. That’s perfect for my delicate feet, but not for bicycles with trailers. They’ll have an easier time on the tarmac that I abhor.
Scenery through the day was spectacular. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Temperatures through the day did not rise above 12 degrees Celsius, and winds were quite strong. Perhaps it’s not so surprising when you consider that I climbed to 1,000 metres today. I found myself craving direct sunlight and avoiding shade, in complete contrast to the way I had been walking just a few days ago. A group of very slow cyclists passed me at one point. I thought they might be staying at this albergue but they aren’t.
Towns I passed through seemed quite depressed (economically and in mood), and not inviting. In particular, Valverde de Valdelacasa felt sad to me. I only encountered four people in this place. One was pushing a wheelbarrow, two seemed to be taking a nap in the church porch (I think they are doing some construction work at the church), and one old lady was sitting outside, facing the wall of her house, just inches away – suffering from dementia perhaps, though she gave me a bright greeting when I said Hola.
Since I made quite good progress and I didn’t feel like stopping in a place that made me feel sad, I pressed on to Fuenteroble, which had been my “stretch goal” for the day. The road was tarmac, which was an unwelcome surprise after such beautiful paths, but I kept going. As I was coming into town, a boy who had cycled out to feed his horse seemed concerned about me. He gave me directions to the albergue, which is great.
Tonight I’m staying at a very different kind of albergue to those that I’ve visited so far on this Camino. It’s run by a priest who is rather famous on the Camino – Father Blas. When I arrived, feeling cold, it was wonderful to find a large fireplace with a roaring fire in the corner. The albergue has beds in large communal dorms with wood burning stoves. The Spanish couple that I met in Castuera are here, but they must be in another dorm. We chatted a little over dinner. They’re going all the way to Finisterra so we may be bumping into each other again.
We all ate around a communal table and discussed anything and everything. Unfortunately I can’t keep up with the Spanish conversations, but people were kind enough to make conversation with me at a pace that I could handle. They also made sure that I tried all the dishes on the table – huge pork scratchings were the best. There were two Germans at the table with whom I also had some conversation. We looked at photos of other pilgrimages that the priest has done with his flock. He’s fond of Saint Albans in England and he’s taking a group to Bavaria next year.
That’s all I have time to write today. The evening has been very familial / social compared with most of my Camino. I enjoyed it but I’m glad that I have had a lot of time alone too.
Day 42 (8/Nov/2017): Baños de Montemayor to Fuenterroble de Salvatierra (34km)
A long but beautiful walk into a new landscape and a new climate.