This was the view over the river as I returned to the albergue in Merida after attending the Saturday Evening Vigil mass. The red sky augured fine weather for the next day’s walk.
I set out from Merida about 8.00am. Today’s was an easy stage of 16-17 kilometres. After two and a half days in the one place, it felt a bit strange to be pulling on the boots and putting on the backpack! But I soon settled into the stride!
I salute the city of Merida. The arrows marking the camino way into and out of the town were excellent. They were prolific, well-placed, very regular and showed the way clearly. Sometimes they were discreet – a 6cm small arrow on the kerb on the other side of an intersection, or at the base of a street sign. Sometimes they were multiple, in several places at the one intersection to make sure that they could not be missed (on one intersection I counted no less than six arrows, some on the kerb, some on signs, some on the footpath). The prolific signs provided great confidence and certainty in getting out of the city without delay. So my profound thanks and congratulations to the city of Merida.
Once out of the city, the arrows sometimes became few and far between, but often enough it was a singular path and there was no alternative. The other major clue is that the direction now and for weeks to come as we cross the plain in Spain (a la My Fair Lady) is North, always North, so if one is heading North, one can’t be too far wrong. Still, it pays to be alert. Better to be on the path than off it!!!
The first point of interest in today’s walk was the Roman Dam of Proserpina (7 kms).
The astonishing thing is that this dam is still functioning after nearly 2,000 years. The Romans engineered it to supply water to the city of Merida via one of the aqueducts shown in yesterday’s blog. It has since been used for a mill, for washing fleeces, and for irrigation of agriculture. It is currently used as a holiday resort for swimming, fishing and boating.
There are many more pilgrims on the Via de la Plata than there were on the Camino Mozarabe. There were some pilgrims ahead of me today. We had set out about the same time and they went on ahead. I follow a steady pace. I had, for me, the unusual experience of overtaking a pilgrim. OK, he was nearly 20 years older than I am (we later had lunch together), but I did overtake him!! A rare experience! I was not overtaken by anyone else, which just goes to show that the rest are late starters!
The day was sunny, no wind, quite hot, but pleasant enough. I was glad I had the relatively early morning start. The one difference from previous days is that the direction was North. In the past weeks, it has been Nor-West and often even directly West. So for a change, rather than being in front of me as I had become accustomed, my (in-)constant companion (my shadow) was off to my left!
The terrain was mostly level, though at times it seemed to be more uphill (maybe because the direction was North and North on a map is always at the top of the page!?!?). The way passed mostly through cork and oak trees, and at one stage, a vineyard and some cereal.
After another 7.5 kms I passed through the small village of El Carrascalejo. Nothing of particular interest, other than a cyclist who had put up his tent in the backyard of the parish church and was just surfacing at that time, just after 11.00am.
On the far side of the village was a Jacobean Cross:
The Jacobean (or St James Cross) seems to be more common on the Via de la Plata. I have come across more of them in the past day than in the previous three weeks! It is always red. It struck me that the upright looks like a sword! Maybe it is part of the history of Santiago as “Matamoros” (Killer of Moors) and the Knights of Santiago as those who drove the Muslims out of Spain?!? Just speculation on my part. It merits more research to be confirmed.
The Way – as seen in the late morning.
After passing El Carrascalejo it was not far to the day’s destination of Aljucen, only a further 2.5kms. After the two and a half days in Merida, 16-17 kms was enough for the first day. The church bells were ringing for midday as I neared the town. So I had covered the 16-17kms in around 4 hours, 4km an hour being the average walking pace, so not too bad.
As I came into the town I noticed to my surprise that the church doors were open. They are usually closed! So I went in. I was offered a sello (stamp) for my credencial which I accepted. I asked about evening Mass, and was told that Mass was about to start, 12.30pm. I was delighted, as it meant I would not have to attend that evening. It was only when I opened my i-Phone for the Mass text in English/Spanish that I remembered it was Sunday!!
The congregation was about 20 people. The priest was very friendly. He sang hymns with the congregation and various parts of the Mass. He did not preach from the pulpit, but came down to the front and spoke to the people at the same level. He also had the young people doing the readings, prayers of the faithful. Afterwards I introduced myself and he said that if we had met earlier I could have concelebrated with him.
After the Mass I went to the Albergue to find that many of the people who had been in the Albergue in Merida had arrived and settled in. So they caught up with me after all!!! I guess Sunday Mass was not a priority for most of them!
I found a bed. It was a great day for washing, hot and sunny, and the albergue provided washing sinks, laundry soap, clothes line in the sun-drenched back courtyard and pegs!! But it did not provided a washer(wo)man!!!) Pity I had to do my own washing! The others had also availed of the opportunity and facilities, so the best front places on the clothes line were taken, but I am sure that during the long afternoon and evening the sunny weather will penetrate to the back clothes lines and dry my washing too.
Having completed the domestic tasks, I have enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the local bar. I was joined by the 79-year old pilgrim from Brittany, on his 6th pilgrimage. My schoolboy French was pushed to the limit, but we got by very well over a bottle of red! In vino veritas!!!
It has been a very relaxing afternoon. Having fulfilled my Sunday obligation, I have nothing else to do for the evening, and nothing more to see in this small village. So a relaxing time, in preparation for whatever tomorrow may hold.