This risks being quite short as I’m very tired… I really want to avoid cycling 100 km + days but I’ve just my first. There will, inevitably, be others, but with the average distance that I need to cycle down from 110 km that I achieved on both of the previous trips to ‘just’ 75 km, the necessity to do is much reduced. For the record, today was 102 km and although there were many ups and downs, the overall effect was to climb from more or less sea level to over 700 metres. I will sleep well…
So, how did I get on following the Ruta/Via de is Plata? Well I found the office of the Seville ‘Friends of the Camino de Santiago’ but it was closed. Why didn’t they respond to my tweet yesterday when I specifically said (in Spanish) ‘I will be passing by your office tomorrow’? Seconds before they had retweeted one of my tweets so there was definitely someone on the other end! I sound like a grumpy old man don’t I? Anyway, all was not lost. Just as I was about to set off from the closed office, someone said ‘buen camino’. This is the traditional greeting to someone you pass on the Camino but this was an opportunity not to miss. He was clearly about to set off on the route himself as he was dressed for the experience. His name was Antonio and he answered my questions, in Spanish, patiently. Nice man. So now I knew where to go. A little further along the route but still very much in Seville, after another exchange of ‘buen Camino’ another guy told me to follow the yellow arrows. If this comradeship continued all the way to the French border the whole direction finding thing would be a breeze. That’s when I encountered the mud.
Walking routes predate the bicycle by quite some time. Although the route has been adapted slightly to cater for the likes of me and Reggie it is still, essentially, a walking route. I looked at the path of mud ahead of me and groaned. It would be impossible to make any kind of serious progress towards northern Spain if this was a sign of things to come, and I suspected that it was. I ploughed on through the mud – it got everywhere! – until I was able to access the N-630, the road that I not only followed for all of today but the road, subtitled the Ruta de la Plata that I will be following for the next week or so.
The walking route, the N-630 and the motorway all share the same narrow corridor of space so all three can claim to be the ‘Ruta de la Plata’ but thinking about it, the N-630 is probably the most authentic of the three having been there, no doubt for many hundreds of years built upon what was the original cobbled road of the Romans. Today it was all but deserted. If, in the 100 km I cycled, more than one hundred cars past me – in both directions – I would be very much surprised. Goodness knows why they don’t just paint it blue and call it a (admittedly very wide) cycle lane (with space for the very occasional passing car…).
I was excited about leaving Andalucia. Nothing wrong with the place but, after over six weeks in the southern Spanish region I needed a change. I would have to wait until late in the afternoon however until I was able to pause briefly at the sign welcoming me to Extremadura. This, I’ve been told, is the land of the pigs although I have yet to see any of the real things. I noticed that Monesterio – my final destination – has a museum of ham. What it doesn’t have, despite indications otherwise on my maps, is a campsite. There is a dodgy place out of town that calls itself the ‘camping’ but after a not insignificant detour to inspect it, my mind was soon made up. I doubled back and continued as far as Monesterio when I have found myself a room in a hotel for €25. The guy running the place has taken over from the chap at the Youth Hostel in Jerez as Spain’s most miserable receptionist. Where do they find these people?!
I’m seriously looking forward to the omnipresence of campsites in France and beyond as well as what I would call ‘proper’ Youth Hostels (like the ones in the UK rather than glorified halls of residence). I suspect I might have to wait until Denmark for that to happen. I’ve emailed a few WarmShowers people further north along the Ruta de la Plata. After the blanks I pulled for Seville and elsewhere a week or so ago I’m not hopeful. Wild camping? I keep looking, honest. And before anyone suggests one of the pilgrim places: no. Not yet, anyway. I don’t sleep well at the best of times never mind with someone snoring next to me…
Tomorrow it’s a much shorter ride – under 50 km – to Zafra, or somewhere close by.