Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Friday, 31 March 2017

Day 21. March 30, 2017. Fuenterroble de Salvatierra to San Pedro fed Rosada. 29 kms

Ship in peril: "We are sinking. We are sinking"

German coastguard: "What are you sinking about?"


 


I was sitting by the side of the road eating lunch, my back up against a rock, enjoying the peace and thinking about the state of the world, when I was interrupted, 


"Is everysing OK?"


It was. I had walked more than halfway. I was enjoying some local cheese and a local sausage. I was enjoying the warmth of the sun and the solitude of  nature. I was thinking once again of the Wordsworthian lines, 


Little we see in Nature that is ours

We have given our heart away


Nature is restorative, and to use a dreadful analogy, we need to connect with it to be restored, just as our gadgets need to connect to the Internet to be updated.


This part of the Camino is thick with Germans. Last night I was caught in the crossfire of German and Spanish conversations and felt quite inadequate understanding neither. The Spanish speak only Spanish, but the Germans all speak English fluently, and some of them speak Spanish as well. And, of course, they are open-minded internationalists. 


What a political tool is second language instruction in schools! If you want the next generation of your country to be liberal and outward looking you insist that they learn a second language. As well as building support for a bilingual Canada, was the Trudeau Government's support for French Immersion in the seventies to ensure a liberal and perhaps a Liberal Canada for the future? Is Trump's education secretary likely to encourage Americans to learn Spanish?


Peter from Holland whom I meet from time to time confirms the argument I heard from a Portugese woman last year. In the European countries where English films are subtitled rather than dubbed, the children learn English as they watch the films. In Portugal and Holland and the Scandinavian countries the films are subtitled; in Spain and France they are not.


A long, but easy walk today along a flat table land, with a return to the vegetation of the south with scrubby oaks and the prickly bush that lines the way. Then it was up a ridge leading to a battery of wind turbines, making their characteristic rushing sound, not unlike the gushing of a stream or the distant sound of a waterfall, although one seemed to be having stomach problems as it made a deeper rumble than the rest.


At the edge of the ridge there a stone wall awas a clear line of demarcation between the oaks of the south and the oaks of the north.


 


But it was not so simple. Half an our later I was back in the landscape of the south.


When I first started these long-distance walks there was no Internet to provide information, and no smart phone to gain access to that information on the road. How different it is today! Here are a couple of tools you might find useful. I use the website www.gronze.com for maps of each step, elevation profiles, and accommodation lists, and the app. viadelaplata for tracking my position relative to the Camino. The latter is basically Google Maps with the Camino already marked in, so you can never get lost.


I am staying at an albergue attached to the El Clavelés bar at San Pedro de Rosados. The Germans have gone three kilometres farther on.


 


Thursday, 30 March 2017

Day 20. March 29, 2017. Calzada de Béjart to Fuenterroble de Salvatierra. 19 kms

Nothing beside remains


 


It was an easy day, too easy really, for tomorrow is long, and it would have been nice to have evened out the days, but there is no convenient stop a little further on. 


The day began with a brisk five-mile walk along a straight road to Valverde de Valdelacasa. The sun was rising over the mountain and catching the frost in the fields as I left. The countryside is changing. Smaller holdings bordered by stone walls are replacing the larger estates, and Northern European oaks, branches still bare, are appearing in place of the evergreen oaks from the south. Every so often, I would pass a Roman column celebrating Caesar Augustus, the words of praise eroded by wind and rain.


 


I climbed steadily up to Valdelacasa, and then up and around an ugly quarry, and over a hilltop to see a large plateau stretching out to the horizon. A few kilometres further on I reached Fuenterroble de Salvatierra.


I am staying at a parochial albergue, donativo, where the hospitalier really takes his job seriously. When we arrived he put a plate of the most delicious fried rice I have ever tasted in front of us, then a salad, then a bean soup. 


There are seventy beds here scattered in about six dorms. Mine has character, if not heat.


 




Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Day 19. March 28, 2017. Aldeanueva to Calzada de Béjart. 21 kms

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"Only a pound!" and was this the end -
Only a pound for the drover's friend?
The drover's friend that has seen his day,
And now was worthless and cast away
With a broken knee and a broken heart 

To be flogged and starved in a hawker's cart.
Well, I made a bid for a sense of shame
And the memories dear of the good old game.  


"Thank you? Guinea! and cheap at that!
Against you there in the curly hat!
Only a guinea, and one more chance,
Down he goes if there's no advance,
Third, and last time, one! two! three!"
And the old grey horse was knocked down to me.
And now he's wandering, fat and sleek,
On the lucerne flats by the Homestead Creek
I dare not ride him for fear he'd fall,
But he does a journey to beat them all,
For though he scarcely a trot can raise,
He can take me back to the droving days.


 

 


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A Dutch fellow was telling me at breakfast this morning that only a week ago in these parts he was walking with his girlfriend. The day before, the temperature was 28 degrees, but on this particular day it dropped to minus six. They were caught in a blizzard. In six inches of snow, she said, "I'm not going any further," (Now where have I heard that before?), and they telephoned for someone to rescue them. He was back today walking the part he had missed. 


But there was no snow today. A few clouds and lots of sun. Delightful day!


For much of the morning I was on the highway steadily climbing, and I gained about a thousand fee all told. Then I was back on the Via de la Plata cum Cañada Real, the droving track, by royal decree 90 Castilian yards or 72.22 metres wide, although in practice its width varies considerably, sometimes wider to allow for a sheep fold for the night, and sometimes narrower as farmers have stealthily extended their boundaries. Like Australia, Spain had its droving tradition.


I passed an enterprising stork who had built her nest on top of a transmission tower, the nest supported by the high tension wires. An electrifying experience! Around the huge nest, four or five feet across, little birds were fluttering, for they too are enterprising, making their own homes in the side of the nest, and taking advantage, I'm sure, of any tidbits that come their way. 


 


The storks are likely to take advantage of any high spot, where they can be monarch of all they survey, but this has its hazards too, for while secure from earthly predators, their young must be favourite targets for any high flying eagles and hawks. Obviously, therefore, the storks nest in pairs, one guarding its young, the other searching for food. I often see them in the fields, or flapping lazily above.


 


And I passed some sheep, who listened appreciatively as I sang their favourite song. 


 


Then it was up through a mountain pass, and down on the Roman road, deep into the valley, the highway clinging to the slope 500 feet above, and finally up again into the village of Calzada de Béjart. 


Life seems to go on in this old village as it has for centuries. Some of the old houses are literally sagging with age. An old woman shuffles down the street oblivious to all about her. Then a rattling of cow bells, and half a dozen cattle pass by. The clock on the church tower chimes, or should I say, croaks out, half past five. The village, like many others, has sprung up on the Roman road, which comes out of the fields, becomes the main street, and then moves on.


 


I am sitting by a wood stove, logs ablaze, in the albergue. I ran into the Spaniards again, passed them by, and arrived here before them. I confess that I took a malicious delight in feeling the water turn cold at the end of my shower, for on two other nights they got there before me, leaving me with the cold water.

The extract above is from "In the Droving Days" by A. B. (Banjo) Patterson, a narrative poet, Australia's equivalent to Robert Service. He was attacked during his lifetime for romanticizing the bush, but what great narrative poet didn't romanticize his subject? Think of Homer. My English teacher considered him a rhymester rather than a poet, but anyone who can capture an emotion and move the reader is a poet to me. If you liked the extract, you will find the entire poem on line, and if you like the poet, then "The Man from Snowy River" is a famous Australian poem, and "Clancy of the Overflow" is a truly great one.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Day 18. March 27, 2017. Oliva de Placensia to Aldeanueva del Camino. 27 kms.

There is a willow grows aslant a brook


 

 


I set off into a light drizzle, the kind of drizzle the Scots have a special word for, across the flattest field I have seen on this walk, towards Caparra. The Spaniards had accepted a lift offered by our hospitalier. They were going farther than I today, so I may have seen the last of them for a while. I can't say I'm sorry. It was becoming frustrating for all of us, not understanding one another.


I am walking beside farmers' all day, and opening and closing gates. Typically, the fields are fenced with dry stone walls or barbed wire, or both, in various states of repair, and the gates may be sturdy and fastened with massive bolts or lean to's attached with bailing twine. Like farmers' fences everywhere.


 


But as I walked across the field this morning towards Caparra, I passed through the Finca Los Baldios, unlike anything else I've seen. The entrance to the estate was grandiose, and even some of the gates to the fields were marked by stone columns. Fence posts were heavy steel set in concrete, and the railings were five sturdy steel bars. Feeding troughs had elaborate headstones like tombs in a graveyard. Such an estate must cost hundreds of thousands of euros a year to maintain, I mused. How many cattle would they have to run to break even?


I

 


I felt a sense of awe as I walked through the famous arch at Caparra. How many important historical figures had passed through before me? And how many had walked or ridden this path before the arch was built? The site was closed so I couldn't visit it, but the foundations revealed the extent of the old Roman town.


 


My guide had advised that there were lots of river crossings on this step, and that these could be dangerous after heavy rain. I wasn't too worried as it had been raining for only a few days. 


Typically, where the way fords a stream, concrete has been poured on the bed, and blocks have been set in the concrete as stepping stones. For the first couple of crossings, the water was not high and I was able to cross easily. Then I came to the one pictured below. Do you see the problem?


 


I walked across on the stepping stones but when I got to the middle I found that one of the blocks was missing and had been swept downstream. I couldn't risk the five-foot leap. So I got down, and clinging to the block, put one foot on the pile of debris in the stream and stepped to the other side, hanging on to the next block for support. I made my way to the bank, and just when I was congratulating myself on a successful crossing, my left foot slipped down into the icy water.


At my next ford, again there was a block missing in the middle, not even visible downstream this time, so I backed up and crossed by a nearby bridge.


The clouds lifted as I found myself walking along a wide droving track, one of the Cañadas Reales, set up in AD 1273 to allow shepherds to move their sheep across the country. This one followed the route of the Roman road.


I am staying at a private albergue, La Casa de Mi Abuela. Very nice place, and oh so warm!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Day 17. March 26, 2017. Galisteo to Oliva de Placensia. 30 kms

Oh I am sick and tired of bloody rain.

I want the sun to bloody come again,

To feel its warmth upon my bloody back,

So I can put away this bloody mack.


  

 


Sorry about the doggerel, but when I'm cold and wet and numb and miserable, head down and marching into the rain with six kilometres to go, searching for a rhyme helps to pass the time.


I stayed last night at the Hostal Los Émigrantes, but I would have been better at the Albergue. The worst feature of my room, apart from the wall-mounted heater which rumbled like a diesel locomotive all night, was a nineteen-eighties television set mounted on the wall next to the door, at such an angle that without exception I banged my head on it as I left the room.


Even I couldn't use the shower, and I'm not fussy. It was a clammy afterthought in the room that housed the toilet, a small rectangular rusty cubicle mounted with thick crumbling grouting on a tiny bath where the shower mat was permanently fused to the plughole. So today was a pong day.


We were seven at dinner: a British couple and I from the hostel; and from the albergue, two Spaniards with whom I have been keeping in step, and a couple of German birders, one of whom was able to identify a bird I had seen on a fence post.


It was a lark. I had heard them singing, but previously had only seen them as tiny black dots in the sky. It was much bigger than I thought.


 

 


I walked around the old walls and made my poorly signposted way out of town, along the road towards Carboroso.


Halfway to Carboroso, I met a walker going the other way, a very rare occurrence. A retired British physicist, he was heading south to Seville. I warned him against the Hostal Los Emigrantes.


From Carboroso, I walked along a dirt road beside an irrigation ditch for some kilometres, but then I was back on the Roman road and into the oak woodland.


It rained on and off all day, but through the woodland my mood lifted. Birds were singing, and cows watched me curiously as I passed them by. Even the sky lightened a little.


But later in the afternoon, I endured seven of the worst kilometres of my life, walking on a road into a gale force wind, the rain stinging my face, streaking my glasses, soaking through my hat, running down my neck, drenching the sleeves of my jacket, chilling my knees, and dripping down the back of my calves into my boots. I could hear myself groaning aloud. And the drivers in their warm cars passing me by were saying to themselves,


"You silly bugger! Why the hell are you walking in the rain?"


I should explain that I was making a detour to Oliva de Placensia, a village seven kilometres off the Via de la Plata, for there was no albergue on the Camino itself. Tomorrow, it will be six kilometres back to the Way, but six kilometres further on from where I left off.


And later, a madness impossible to describe, lost in a village, caught in the rain, chilled to the bone, locked out of my albergue, trying to find another key, for there was only one for the three of us, and the Spaniards had it.


But all's well that ends well. I had a reasonable meal at the bar, when I found it. And now I'm sitting in front of a wood stove at the albergue. But I've still got my down jacket on.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Day 16. March 25, 2017. Canaveral to Galisteo. 28 kms

A cold coming we had of it


 


I have been eating from time to time with Matija, a Slovenian who began his walk in Gibraltar. He's a wiry chap, with bony face, rheumy eye, and a bit of a tremor. But he goes like the clappers.


He's a very pleasant fellow, and I have enjoyed our conversations about the former Yugoslavia. I am wary of shaking hands with him: he takes my hand, grips it hard, raises it to shoulder level, and then brings it down sharply to his waist, as if operating a hand pump. I feel the effect for some time.


I asked him at breakfast how far he was going today. Depends on the weather, he said. If in doubt, he consults an ancient Chinese philosopher, I Ching. The technique involves tossing a coin six times, but he has an app on his phone to do the coin-tossing for him, a long bridge between past and present, since I Ching was ancient in the time of Confucius.


There was some confusion about how to get out of town, but with the help of some locals, I managed. First some friendly fellows in a bar indicated the right direction, and then a pedestrian rescued me just as I was about to follow the GR off into the wilderness.


For anyone behind me, continue up the hghwayl a good kilometre to the roundabout, turn left, and then, about 300 yards on, take a little path to the left which passes in front of an ugly white chapel, and joins the Via de la Plata.


I walked all day without a break. It was too cold to stop, and I would never have got my poncho back on in the wind. At times i was almost jogging just to keep warm. On and off the Roman road all day, I passed through pine forest, sheep pasture, and oak woods.


Cork oak stripped bare, exposing knobbly trunk

Unclad, how sad, just so finest vintage can be drunk


It's colder here's, so the white rose is barely blooming, but it grows in enormous shrubs along the way. A few jonquils, lots of lavender, and a spectacular orchid.



 



Day 15. March 24, 2017. Cascar de Cacares to Canaveral. 32 kms

Oh for a time machine

To travel back across the ages,

To see the Romans march in stages

Across this lonely scene.


 

 


I left town well before eight, for today was a very long day. A few patches of blue between light, puffy grey clouds. It was one degree. I passed a bank of solar panels, and walked on out into the country, lost in my thoughts, when Ignacio, who had been one of four of us at the hostel last night, came cycling by.


He stopped to wish me well. How do I say "Buen Camino" in English, he asked. I was stumped. The French would say "Bon Chemin", but we would hardly say "Good Road", or even "Have a good road." I suppose we would say, "Have a good trip." We used to borrow the French and say "Bon voyage".


It's interesting how none of our "Have a good..." expressions has evolved into simply "Good trip" or "Good sleep" or "Good time". Even "Good morning" doesn't mean "Have a good morning". Nor does it mean "It's a good morning". It's just a greeting. And the same with "Good afternoon". "Good bye" is quite different, a contraction of "God be with ye".


It was a long walk and these musings helped to pass the time.


All morning, I walked along a Roman road, the original Via de la Plata. Sometimes I was walking on the actual pavement; sometimes I was merely following its course. Even then, I would often see a line of stones marking its border, and once I saw a couple of large stones that may have been milestones.


 


I wondered whether farmers had taken some of the stones to make their walls. What a work of art is a dry stone wall! Stones of all shapes and sizes, carefully fitted in place. This morning, they were in good repair.


 


A dog suddenly appeared out of a ditch and came bounding towards me. This is always an anxious moment, but no, he wanted to be friendly. He was still a puppy really, his skin hanging loosely about him, as he practically turned himself inside out in his efforts to please. He would ferret about in the ditch, and then come bounding back and contort himself into further yoga-like poses as his good nature bubbled over.


He kept me company for a while, and I wondered if he would continue with me to Santiago, like the China marathon dog (Google it if you don't know the story), but he knew his territory for he suddenly sidled off into a field, probably to rejoin his sheep.


I remembered the dog, years ago on the Camino Frances, who would walk with the pilgrims all day to their next albergue and then return home .


I think I understand why the sheep in this area can be led rather than herded. A farmer came out of a gate in front of me, crossed over, opened a gate on the other side and yelled. Sheep came running, squeezing through the gates, bumping into each other, tumbling over one another in a panic, not wanting to be left behind, as they followed the farmer back to his barn. They were going to be milked.


It was a joy to walk along this Roman road. But it suddenly ended when I came upon a new motorway. Modern construction has no respect for the old ways, and the Roman road was buried forever. 


The provisional way detoured to the left, passed underneath the motorway, and then to my horror, kept company with a GR, a grande randonnée, a ramblers' route. Up and down it went, up hill and down gully, hard going after the easy walking along the Roman road. But it eventually descended to the old, and when I had the choice of walking the final ten kilometres into Canaveral by the highway or by the up-and-down, round-about footpath I chose the highway.


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Day 14. March 23, 2017. Valdesalor to Casca de Cacares. 22 kms.

All we like sheep have gone astray


 


It was relatively quiet in the bar this morning as I ate breakfast. Last night I had to sit in a corner to avoid the flying darts. Against the wall was an electronic darts board, one that registered your score on a screen and totalled it up for you. There was much excitement, whole families involved, kids running around, yelling and screaming. This was the first darts board I'd seen in Spain. Hardly a Spanish game!


Not that it's ever really quiet in a Spanish bar. The men don't converse; they shout at each other. And even if the bar were empty, the large screen would be blaring out daytime television game shows where contestants engage in inane activities overseen by youngish women with carefully contrived cleavages, not too high, not too low.


Gone are the vines and olives. Today, I walked over undulating, rocky pasture land. Twice I encountered shepherds with their flocks, managing as they have done for thousands of years. On one occasion, the sheep were spread out across the right of way of the Via de la Plata, a hundred or more, feeding on the new grass, and I had to walk very slowly to avoid stampeding them.


As I think of the Biblical image of the sheep, both for the people, the flock, and for Jesus, Agnus Dei, it wasn't really the most appropriate  choice of animal. I mean, sheep are creatures of very little brain.


Towards noon, the way led me up into the old town of Caceres with its ecclesiastical and government buildings. I visited the cathedral with its impressive retablo,


 


and climbed the bell tower for a magnificent view of the city.


 


I walked down from the cathedral, along the road for a while, on the shoulder between the barrier and the oncoming traffic. This was a place where a Camino footpath on the other side of the barrier would have been a good project. Then the Via de la Plata took off across the fields and Into Cascar de Calcares.


Every albergue is different. In this one, instead of being in a separate room, the toilets and showers are actually in the bedroom. The shower was hot, at first, anyway, but the fan caused the shower curtain to blow towards me and cling. Hot on one side, cold and clammy on the other.


I paid a visit to the cheese museum. Everything was in Spanish, so I was at a disadvantage, but I did learn from talking to the person in charge who spoke a little English, that the cheese in this district is made from the milk of the very sheep I had passed this morning, and that they were in fact Merino sheep. I tried to explain the Australian connection (built on the sheep's back, as we learned at school) and I wondered whether cheese is produced from the Merino in Australia. I had hoped that there might have been a cheese tasting involved, but I was out of luck.

Day 13. March 22, 2017. Alcuescar to Valdesalor. 26 kms

I was walking with an Aussie,

And we talked of many things:

Of wowsers, wankers, whingers,

Galahs and googs and gings,

Hard yakka at the Wacca,

And why the magpie sings.


Of pongers in their dongas

And bludgers on the jobs,

Of drongos from out woop woop,

Of larrikins and yobs,

Of people who are up themselves,

Like pollies and the nobs.


Of Sonny on the dunny

And Mabel up the spout,

Of bogans on the amber stuff

With chunder all about,

And finally whose turn it was

To buy another shout.


(Composed on the Via de la Plata after walking with a fellow Australian from Alcuescar to Aldea del Cano)


 


We were locked in this morning, and couldn't leave until eight o'clock. Monastery rules. After a quick breakfast at the bar across the highway, it was off on a 15 kilometre stretch to the next town.


I walked with Peter from Melbourne and the time passed quickly. We talked about everything from footy and cricket to white-anting in Australian politics and the resurgence of Pauline Hanson. I was sorry to leave him at Aldea del Cano. He was good company.


On the second stretch it started to rain, a short, sharp shower, and I managed to get my poncho on just in time to trap the rain beneath it. And then, head down, the wind threatening to tear the poncho from my shoulders, I walked along a Roman road for a while, over two or three Roman bridges, one with the flags worn right down and polished smooth by centurions and centuries, and across the marshy fields, right through the middle of a herd of cows, and up to the edge of town where I found the albergue.


It is bitterly cold here, especially in the wind, and as Winnipeggers will never say, it's a damp cold. It's a very nice albergue, clean and bright, with a combination washer-dryer at no cost. And two electric heaters just manage to take the edge off the cold, although I'm sitting here in my down jacket with a blanket wrapped around me. What a difference from the sweltering heat of the first days!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Day 12. March 21, 2017. Aljucen to Alcuescar. 21 kms.

The heather's in bloom along with the broom,
And with them as well is the white asphodel,
But along the stone wall is the tallest of all,
Supreme is the rock sage white rose in the dell.

 

After the best sleep so far, and an excellent breakfast at the albergue, I walked out past the solid, squat, unpretentious church at the centre of town. The interior too, I thought, would be plain and simple, without gold embellishment. The church at El Carrascalego, three kilometres back, now commandeered by the stork, was similar in style. Were they fortifications as well? Did they reflect the character of the people who had built them?


 


After a couple of kilometres along the highway, the path led into the Parque Natural de Cornalvo. This continued for a good 15 kilometres.


On one side, the river; on the other, oaks and olives. Cattle grazing on a gentle slope with rocky outcrops and some huge boulders. Along the path the rock sage white rose, already attracting the bees.


An odd music: the trilling of the birds, the snarling of a chainsaw, the clanging of the cowbells, and the faraway drone of the traffic on the highway. Perhaps the inspiration for a modern composition: a piece for piccolo, trombone, tympany and bagpipe.


The Camino is marked by yellow arrows, but sometimes another municipality or organization decides to put in a more permanent indication. This might simply be the shell, the coquille Saint-Jacques, or it might be something more elaborate.


The way through the park was marked by large cubes, sometimes of marble, sometimes of granite, and sometimes of wood. These were provided by the municipality, and indicated the way with a strange etching on the top of a yellow line passing under an arch. A representation of Santiago perhaps? The arrows on the trees were easier to follow.


 


The municipality's markings were extravagant enough, but as well as these, every few hundred yards were polished granite blocks mounted on concrete embedded in the ground. The letters VP presumably stood for Via de la Plata. These were placed on either side every few hundred yards, not always by the path, but sometimes at the edge of the right of way, ten yards from the road and totally obscured by shrubs. I would guess that  each one cost around 1,000€ to make and mount and embed in the ground. There must have been at least a hundred in the park. This project was funded by the European Community.


 

 


When money is spent in this way on the Camino, most helpful to pilgrims is the provision of a path just off the road where it is necessary to walk along the highway. Some municipalities have done this for the safety of those of us on foot walking against the traffic. And to mark the way? Just send out a fellow with a can of yellow paint and a brush.


What began as a pleasant stroll turned into a long trudge, as the park extended forever. Finally, I reached a road and was deceived by large yellow arrows and an albergue sign into taking a detour, and I added a couple of of extra kilometres to my day before arriving at the monastery where I wanted to stay, run by the order, Esclavos de Maria y de Los Pobres.


We were taken on a tour of the monastery by Brother Daniel, a noviciate, originally from Massachusetts. This is not a contemplative order. These brothers run an old people's home for men with physical or mental handicaps, and they must get their hands dirty quite literally.


The meal was very simple fare, befitting an order that devoted its resources to the poor. No wine, but soup and a very English dish, egg and chips, probably from their own chooks and their own spuds.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Day 11. March 20, 2017. Merida to Aljucen. 17 kms

This was the noblest Roman of them all

 


Last night, I ate a farewell meal with John and Steffan. Wine flowed, and the conversation with it, and all around us on the square, the same was happening: people were engaged in animated conversation. Except at one table where four young girls sat in total silence, looking downward, speaking not a word, concentrating, engaged, socializing , but not with each other. Most un-Spanish!


This morning, I left my roommates asleep, and followed a mechanical street cleaner through the old town, a Zamboni with flippers.


At the edge of town, I stood in awe beside the aquaduct that once carried water into Emerita Augusta, (Merida). It stood alone, carrying now, not water, but a few stork nests. Secular birds, perhaps. This, more than any of the other monuments in Merida, reminded me of my place in the world.


And then, in contrast with this noble monument, a really ugly piece of graffiti, which I won't quote, with one word crossed out and replaced, so that together, the two statements, the original and the emendation,  represented the opposing forces in the western world today.


I walked along a green bicycle path to the Dam of Proserpina, which supplied the water that flowed across the aqueduct and into Merida. And then, after a stretch along a dirt road, the way cut across rocky country ablaze with broom, growing unmolested in its native land.


The solid church tower at El Carrascalejo had been commandeered by a stork who paraded around the ledge returning to feed her young in the nest at the corner. Look at the size of it! Ample room to store babies up there, far out or reach of curious eyes that might want to challenge the myth.


 

Just before Aljucen I stepped aside to let a flock of sheep go by. On another occasion when this happened, I remember that the sheep were pushing and shoving, running off into alleys before being brought back by the sheepdog.


Today, Pedro their shepherd was a veritable pied piper: he was leading, not herding. Only Martha, at the left at the back, was struggling to keep up. And the dog had no work to do at all.


 


Funny how we have these conflicting images. On one hand, we have sheep as an image of mindless followers; on the other, we have the image of the lost sheep. Or those who have gone astray-ay-ay-ay.


I was feeling a bit lonely, after leaving behind my camarades du chemin, but at the albergue is an Australian from Melbourne, and a French couple from the Loire. We are staying at the Albergue Rio Aljucen, converted farmhouse, on the right just before the church. A very comfortable, hospitable place!


I ate a nice meal at the bar across the road. Scrambled eggs with green beans, and calamari. But only one glass of red.