A shortish cycle today – just 66 km – but the average has only slightly been dented, down to 74.5 km. I’ll try to keep it with 5 km of the magic 75 km over the coming weeks and months.
I didn’t leave Salamanca until just after midday. Having spoken to the bike shop on Sunday about giving Reggie a quick check up, when I arrived another touring cyclist – one that looks a bit like Jesus and who I briefly spoke to when I was waiting for the hostel in Plasencia to open (he didn’t wait but cycled on) – had got in before me. In fairness, he did have a problem with the bike and I didn’t and I used the time to check up on the Vias Verdes situation as well as pay a visit to the post office to despatch an envelope of leaflets and maps back to the UK. Upon my return to the bike shop I was merrily told off by the mechanic for putting too much oil on my chain. He made a fair point that I noted with a smile. The main thing that he corrected were the brakes; they are now keener than a student on the 1st September.
The cycle in the direction of Zamora was straight and, with a few ups and downs to keep me awake, predominantly flat. Gone were the sweat inducing climbs of the ride to Salamanca and so too were the animals in the fields. The landscape was now, as far as I could see, arable; not a sheep, cow, bull or indeed pig to be seen (although in fairness I didn’t see that many of the latter south of Salamanca despite evidence of them being somewhere was all around in the shops and sheds devoted to curing and then selling their meat). Despite the lack of four-legged friends, small flies were out in abundance – the first time they’ve been a problem since leaving Tarifa – which I found strange as I normally associate an increase in the annoying little buggers with, especially, cattle. At one point my left eye was left streaming for several kilometres after having taken a direct hit. Not very comfortable at all!
One thing, however, was persisting; the feeling of it still being only very early spring. The temperature – mid teens – was a little at odds with the bare trees that had kicked in as soon as I had started climbing over the mountains a couple of days ago. At some point the balance will be redressed but I sense that it might not be until I arrive in the south west of France.
Evidence of the abandoned train line – the continuation of the abandoned Plasencia to Salamanca line? – were to be spotted by the side of the N-630 but again, no effort had been made to turn the line of the track into a usable Via Verde. Perhaps one day.
After three and a bit hours I was approaching Zamora. It was only around 3:30pm. Could I extend my day further than my intended destination. I could see the town in the distance and it looked fairly ordinary. The N-630 guided me all the way into the centre and I was still in two minds. Sitting in the Plaza Mayor I decided to subcontract my decision to the Rough Guide; if it said something positive, I would stay and explore. If not, I would probably still stay and just write off the evening listening to Radio 4 back at the hotel (cheapest in town – the campsite, I discovered earlier in the day, was now shut!). Much to my surprise the guide was very complimentary – famed for its Romanesque churches – and a map showed me that I hadn’t cycled far enough into the town to find them. Radio 4’s loss would be Zamora’s gain; I deposited Reggie back at the hotel (for the first time we are sharing a room but, fear not, there are – no kidding – two beds), showered in Spain’s smallest cubicle and headed off to see what the Rough Guide had been enthusing about. More of that later. As for the moment I have a rendez-vous for a beer with the German guy who is cycling the Rute de la Plata with me. Well, kind of. We’ve now bumped into each other about four times the most recent of which was a couple of hours ago. I’m intrigued to delve into the mind of a pilgrim and what’s his motivation. Goodness, this is sounding like a evening with Radio 4 after all…
Late night update: I met the German cyclist – his name is Dirk – bang on 8pm. Only a meeting between a Englishman and a German would be timed to such precision. As we shook hands the neaby clock tower started striking its eight chimes. He is staying at the pilgrims’ hostel which does sound like an ‘interesting’ experience; the doors are locked between 10pm and 7am (requiring us not to hang about finding something to eat), and the previous evening our fellow cyclist – the Jesus lookalike – had been getting quite intimate with his girlfriend in the dormitory(!!). Anyway, we chatted over a few beers before going on the search for food which was a little trickier than you might imagine. We eventually found a restaurant where we ate a selection of fine-dining tapas dishes. They were very nice but I’m not sure if they would sustain a long-distance cyclist over the longer term. We discussed Dirk’s reasons for completing the pilgrim trail; I had expected him to tell me he was a priest in training or had at least some connection with the Christian world. I was somewhat taken aback to discover than until recently he had been a journalist with the German tabloid newspaper Bild (and not their religious correspondant at that!). After having spent a period of time working for the reelection of David McAllister, the German-Scottish politician in the run up to his failed attempt to remain as the Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, Dirk was using the cycle along the Ruta de la Plata as an opportunity to do some thinking. You can do plenty of that on a bike… There is a possibility that we may bump into each other again on Tuesday en route to or in Benavente. At that point he will head west to Santiago and I will turn to the east in the direction of the French border. However, he’s based in Hanover, not a great distance from my route in northern Germany, so there is a chance we may meet up again later in the summer. Interesting chap!