Day 2 of my via de la Plata was incredible and featured some highs and lows.
The scenery was stunning, the weather was perfect. I had some bike trouble, enjoyed some brilliant trails, got badly sunburned, got lost (way too many times!), and slept in a kitchen.
- Total Distance today: 163km
- Total Camino Distance today: 159.8km
- Total elevation gained today: 4,600 feet
- Total Camino Distance elapsed: 267km
Almaden de la Plata to Monesterio (34.5km).
I awoke at 5.55am after a brilliant night’s sleep and was on the road by 7.20am.
While I was wheeling my bike out of the hotel, I noticed the cassette was no longer freewheeling, and the crank arms would turn when the bike would move. A little concerned, I set off and whether I was paranoid (or tired) or not, I felt that each pedal stroke required more effort than normal. After 5-6km things seemed to get better and the freewheel loosened. I think a build-up of sand and dust during day 1 caused this issue.
The morning was surprisingly cold, and rather than take the trail through what I understood was to be a very rocky section, I took a slightly longer route via the road to the charming little village of El Real de la Jara. As I passed this village, there were lots of pilgrims (walkers) setting off for their day.
The off-road cycling here was incredible. Hard-packed, wide dirt roads and crushed gravel made for superb riding. I was in such good spirits and stopped occasionally to chat with pilgrims en route. I passed the ruins of an old castle (Castillo de las Torres) as I entered Extremadura. The scenery was spectacular.
After 20km the trails rejoined the road, and I stopped for a coffee and some chocolate doughnuts. Up until this point, I had only eaten two energy bars.
The camino climbing in to Monesterio mainly ran alongside the road, so I was happy to ride the road for the remaining kilometres. It was still early and cars passed only once every five minutes. I was grateful of this climb as it really helped me warm up after the cold start, and the views looking back from where I had just rode from were breathtaking.
Monesterio to Fuente de Cantos (21.6km)
Feeling strong, I didn’t want to break my rhythm and passed through Monesterio without stopping and after a short road section out of town, the camino pointed left on to a pleasant dirt track.
During this time, the sun was out, and the day was beginning to get hot. I felt very remote, and decided to be stupidly British and use this opportunity to maximise my chances of getting a tan. I whipped my jersey off, applied sun cream and enjoyed the hot sun on my back.
The trails to Fuente de Cantos were neither hard nor easy. The terrain wasn’t particularly difficult, but despite the path being of gradual descent, it meandered and was often cambered. There was also a section where the path was flooded by the stream, involving a tricky negotiation of the neighbouring marsh with the bike on my back!
Fuente de Cantos to Zafra (24.6km)
Arriving in Fuente de Cantos, I stopped at a fruit shop for bananas, apples and nectarines and a short while after, I pulled in to a roadside cafe at Calzadilla de los Barros for a coffee and topped up my water. An old man came and sat with me while I filled my bottles. It is/was such a shame my Spanish is so limited, as I couldn’t really understand anything he was telling me. He was very inquisitive over the electrolyte tablets I was popping in to the water though!
There was more Flooding again in two places en route to Puente de Sancho Perez. The sun was really getting hot, and I could tell by how hungry I was that I was putting a good deal of effort in. I stopped again at Puente and bought another doughnut and a pan (baguette). I sat in the square and admired the architecture. I thought this little village was stunning.
Zafra, on the other hand, was extremely dull. I struggled to find the camino way markers in the city and had to keep stopping to read the VdlP app to help me navigate out of this place!
Zafra to Almendralejo (36.7km)
I failed to find the camino signs out of Zafra and instead had to rely on my Garmin and road signs to find my way to Villafranca de los Barros. It felt a shame to leave the trails, but I really enjoyed finding a little speed again on the road. The views were magnificent. As the road was higher than the countryside, the landscape as far as the horizon was just olive grove after olive grove, all perfectly aligned. I felt so fortunate to be able to experience everything.
When I had set off that morning, I had planned to stop over at Almendralejo, but progress was so good that it would have been a crime to have not continued, so I pushed on a little further.
Almendralejo to Merida (29.6km)
Almendralejo is one of those places that you will probably never hear of, but it is a gem! Sandwiched between Zafra and and Merida, this little place contains wonderful architecture (including a Gothic church and a bull ring), a lovely park (where I sat and relaxed for some time), and is very well-kept.
I struggled once again to find the camino out of town, but picked it up again 13km later as I passed through Torremejia.
During my ride, I never liked to stay in cities. I always felt that in bigger places, there would be a greater risk of having my bike stolen during the night. So as I approached Merida, time was ticking on. Although Merida is regarded as a must-see place (a Wrold Heritage city, in fact!), renowned for its Roman architecture, I was more interested in passing it and riding another 20km beyond to find a small village to sleep in. As such, I decided to stick to the road coming in to Merida instead of the (off-road) camino. This was a big mistake, and I ended up missing out on so much to see.
I stopped for a coffee in Merida and ordered a panini, only to be told it was no longer available. I pointed at another panini on the menu instead. When my food arrived, what I thought looked like thin-cut slices of chicken turned out to be stinking cheese. I’m a real wuss with cheese, and only like my mild-to-medium English cheeses. This stuff was warm and gooey, and tasted like bile. I was absolutely starving, but couldn’t face this at all. Rather embarrassed, I rushed inside to pay and left as quickly as possible, with a bitter shitty taste in my mouth.
Getting out of Merida, as was so often the case in any large town or city during my ride, was difficult. I couldn’t find any camino signs. I was getting tired, fed up, and was still hungry. I passed through some rough suburban streets trying to find a way out, before eventually joining the main road. I stopped in an Aldi and bought some junk food (salty snacks and chocolate) and pressed on.
After rejoining the camino a short while after, I passed a really stunning lake (Embalse de Prosperpina). The place was so quiet, despite there being a fair few bars and cafes lining the shores. Perhaps this place only comes to life late at night, or during the summer months – I have no idea – but I was disappointed there were no hotels, hostels, or albuerges here.
The camino went winding through sandy tracks surrounded by very long grass and I arrived in El Carrascalejo feeling tired, proud, and very hungry. I had planned to stop here – but had misread my map. what I thought was going to be an albuerge was actually a church. Pissed off, I rode to Aljucen.
When I arrived at the albuerge, I was told the place was ‘complet’, full! The lady who ran the place was giving a guided tour of the local church, and I had already made up my mind that I’d be staying here, whether I had a bed or not, so I locked my bike up and jumped in the bathroom for a shower.
I cursed myself when I undressed and saw the state of my back. I was red-raw with sunburn. Stupid bastard, I couldn’t believe how stupid I had been. While I was careful enough to put sun cream regularly, I hadn’t realised that my skinny pencil arms weren’t able to reach the central and higher parts of my back, thus leaving a huge area of sun burn.
I endured the shower, got dressed, then headed in to the village bar to enquire about the last who ran the albuerge. The bar owner was very helpful, and an Italian lady who was walking the Via de la Plata helped translate what he had said before accompanying me to a house down the road to find the albuerge lady. Very luckily, she said I could use an old pull-down bed and set it up in the kitchen. What a morale booster!
I thanked her profusely, and went back to the bar for food. Again, delicious Menu del Dia. I am not normally a gazpacho fan, but I was so hungry, the gazpacho tasted incredible.
The rest of the night is a blur. I returned to the albuerge, sprayed the bike with the hose, set up my bed, and had one of the best night’s sleep of my life.