We began the Vía de la Plata, found more Roman ruins, and climbed past snow-capped mountains into the flatness of the Meseta.
Day 30 Mérida to Aljucén (17.68 km)
Our first stage on the Vía de la Plata was a short, easy hike. On the way out of Mérida, we passed under a 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct.
Later we walked past the Roman dam and reservoir that had once provided water for Mérida via the aqueduct.
It was a nice sunny day but not too warm and we arrived into town in the afternoon. We stayed at the Albergue Río Aljucén, a very well-kept place.
Luckily, the neighborhood restaurant was still serving food so we had a big 7.50 euro lunch. When we arrived back at the albergue, we were surprised to see two other peregrinos. Now, we had officially met three other peregrinos in 30 days of hiking. We didn’t chat too much, but I did notice that they were cold. I offered them my seat in the living room close to the heater and they seemed very happy. I could tell that they also wanted a fire started, but couldn’t ask the owner. The other peregrinos didn’t know Spanish, so I was happy to ask for them.
After the owner started the fire, the living area was warm and comfy. The sleeping area was not heated, so it made for a cold night. This was also our first time on the Camino with snoring peregrinos and hearing people coming in and out for the bathroom throughout the night. These are normal “Camino experiences” we hadn’t seen yet. Our walk was solitary on the Camino Mozárabe.
The owner at a previous albergue recommended that we stay in private rooms and hostels during our Camino for a more restful night and we now saw why. Some say that real pilgrims should only stay in albergues for a more humbling, “real” Camino experience. Some stay for financial reasons, to build character or grit, or to be more social and meet people. Honestly, we prefer a regular hostel or budget hotel. But it was good to get an albergue experience every so often.
Day 31 Aljucén to Alcuéscar (17.70 km)
Another nice short day.
Since we didn’t sleep well the night before, we decided to treat ourselves to a private room. We turned off the main camino (actually skipping Alcuéscar itself) and arrived our favorite kind of accommodation, a “gas station-café-restaurant-hostel” (see day 27).
We had a set-price lunch right away. Everything was nice about this hostel, but the tap water was strange. When we poured it out, it was yellow. I did a quick google search on “calidad de agua en Cáceres” and found out it had some of the worst water in Spain. Then we remembered the people in the restaurant drank bottled water. Hmmm. So we did as the Romans did.
Since our next day would be a long 40 km, we had dinner, too. In the bar, we watched some TV while waiting for the dinner hour. In Spain almost every restaurant and bar has a TV blaring at all times. This night, the news was on. As usual, a bunch of locals chatted among themselves, ignoring the TV. All of a sudden a local news segment depicting the jamón making process came on.
Talking ceased. Everyone’s eyes were on the TV as the screen showed images of delicious looking pork legs being cured in salt and hung from wooden beams. When the segment ended, they began talking again.
One man started asked the bartender, “Do you think that was sea salt?”
The bartender responded, “Yes, sea salt.”
Then another man yelled, “NO! They use sal entera! ¡Sal entera!” Apparently he was the authority on the topic because everyone starting mumbling agreement. Literally, this means, “whole salt.” We took it to mean rock salt, but we still aren’t sure.
Anyway, they really like jamón in Spain.
Day 32 Alcuéscar to Cáceres (39.42 km)
We were lucky with a string of really nice days. This day we walked 40 km, but we just cruised. Walking from the gas station, we bypassed the Camino and Alcuéscar proper and instead went on the remains of the old Roman road paralleling it to the west.
We caught the sunrise over the frosty remnants of a 2,000-year-old thoroughfare.
We passed over rolling hills and livestock.
At around 2 pm, we had just finished walking about 26 km and were hungry. Amazingly, we were approaching a restaurant that was open! When we were hungry!
This was a rare event for us. Usually, it is too early or too late when we passed by a restaurant since the magic time for Spanish lunch is somewhere between 1 pm and 4 pm (but often 2 pm to 3 pm, or so it seems). It’s really more like this: if the restaurant feels like being open, it’s open; if it doesn’t, it’s not. Really. We saw a little tongue-in-cheek sign in a bar that said just that. Funny because it’s true, I guess.
So we were lucky this day and were able to rest our feet and eat at the same time. After lunch, the hike was on asphalt, but we arrived into town before sunset. We checked into our friendly hotel and rested for a little while before having an evening tapa in the illuminated Plaza Mayor of Cáceres.
Day 33 Rest Day in Cáceres
Since we had walked such a long distance the previous day we had a break in Cáceres. We slept in, washed our clothes, and toured the city.
The next day’s forecast called for rain. We bought additional rain “gear” in preparation (trash bags and dish gloves :).
Day 34 Cáceres to Cañaveral (~46 km)
We woke up to a downpour, put on our rain garb, and mentally prepared ourselves for the long day ahead. We planned to go 40 km since the next town was only 11 km away, which seemed too short of a walk to justify a stop. After this town, there is no other town for 31 km. Since the last 40 km day went so successfully, we were confident we could do it in the rain as well.
We were right; we did accomplish more than 40 km in the rain, but it wasn’t easy. I don’t think we would choose to do something like this again.
The morning started out coffee-less since we started walking before sunrise. At 11 km, we stopped in Casar de Cáceres and had three coffees plus a tostada each. The bartender warned us that the day would be hilly and difficult in the rain, but we were feeling so pumped and it was so early in the day we forged ahead anyway. We walked and walked and became progressively more wet and cold.
Then we hit some obstacles. The first was a detour for train construction that added 1 km to our walk. A small detour, but small things can add up. On the detour, we found a small shed to eat a quick snack under, so we ate standing up since all the chairs were wet.
Second obstacle: we crossed two bridges while the wind must have been gusting to 20-25 knots. It chilled us despite our rain jackets and under layers. It’s hard to tell from the picture but it was hard to walk in a straight line it was so windy at the elevation of the bridge.
While we were walking along the highway, a man stopped offered to drive us into town. I really wanted to take this ride since I was cold, wet, and super tired from walking up and down the rolling hills in the rain. We only had a little bit more left, about 10 km. But our goal was to walk the whole way from Almería to Fisterra. Accepting this ride would mean we really didn’t walk the whole way. So we refused and continued walking.
At this point, we could have elected to stay on the highway. But we hate getting passed by big trucks, so we stuck to the marked trail leading off the highway into the hills. The last ~10 km was uphill through endless puddles and continuous rain and wind. But we could see the town and we were almost there with every step. Until the third obstacle.
As the sun set, we noticed we were beginning to pass the lights of town and heading a different direction. Nick checked the map on his phone, which was difficult because it was so cold and wet. The map confirmed that we had missed a turn. We had overlooked a sign pointing to a small trail through the hills. Instead, we had continued along a deceptively smoother route along a future bullet train path, then under construction.
Turning back into the hills was a bad idea in the dark. The other option was to take the smoother route around the opposite end of town. So in the rain, cold, and dark, we had to walk six extra kilometers to get to the village. I had no energy at this point to even be upset. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Nick thought of how good dinner would be once we got into town. Our pace increased. We had summoned up energy out of nowhere to finish up this cold, wet, difficult day.
We were so happy once we saw the hostel and muscled up all the energy left to keep our composure while checking in. Once we were in the privacy of our room, I collapsed onto the chair and all the pain I had pushed aside while walking suddenly manifested in my legs, back, shoulders, and abdomen. I didn’t even have the energy to take off my boots or change into dry clothes. I just sat there for a good 15 or 20 minutes.
Once I had the energy, I had the best hot shower of my life. It was now apparent that we couldn’t walk very well, so we asked the reception guy if we could stay for two nights. Then we went out to eat. Our hostel was situated about 50 m from a restaurant, so we didn’t have to shuffle far.
While we gratefully ate our meal inside, a man waved to us. We immediately recognized him. We had seen him on the Camino twice. First, we saw him four days prior with some construction workers. He gave us directions to a hostel. Next, we saw him in a car pointing out the way near an old abandoned airport near Cáceres.
We chatted and he said he was from this town and was here for the weekend. It was nice to see a familiar face on the Camino. We were wondering how the two German ladies were doing and if they hiked this day in the rain, but we never saw them again.
This day was hard. But the reward was enjoying a hot meal in a warm place thankful that the hard day was behind you.
Day 35 – Recovery and clothes drying
We rested all day. I just laid in bed and only got up for meals and the bathroom. Fortunately, we knew we were about halfway done with the Camino.
We ate at the restaurant of a former bullfighter. He taught me that “sopa” in Spain is meat broth with noodles or bread, maybe a boiled egg, but that’s it. I had asked for “sopa de lentejas,” or lentil soup, but in Spain this is considered a vegetable dish even though it also has a broth. I thoroughly confused him when I said those words. They don’t go together in their culinary world.
I had also confused a waitress once when I asked for “té de manzanilla,” or chamomile tea. The waitress then asked, “do you want both tea bags together?” She had thought I wanted both English tea and chamomile brewed together. It made sense to me later that they would think this; foreigners always seem to want weird things. I did communicate that I wanted chamomile by itself in the end and learned that tea and infusions are not categorized the same way like in the US. There are many things lost in translation, but its fun once when you figure it out.
Day 36 Cañaveral to Riobolos (20.84 km)
We were fully rested and ready to hike. This day we met the fourth person on our Camino, a lady from Switzerland. We first saw her that morning having breakfast at the hostel and later on the trail.
This day was cloudy and damp with some hills, but nothing like the previous day.
We stayed at Camping Las
Really, you can reduce all our days to eating, walking, sleeping, repeating. Some days we do a bit of laundry or touring around, but overall it has been nice to live in a simpler way with all our belongings that we carry on our back.
There are definitely different peregrino styles. Some are more rugged, preferring to sleep in tents or donativo albergues while others prefer a more luxurious style: sleeping in fancy hotels and/or having their luggage carried for them (something we witnessed on the Camino Francés later). We must be something like “economy mid-range” peregrinos. We usually opt for a mix of municipal and private albergues, hostels, Airbnb, and the occasional hotel.
But, to each their own. I think there is wide agreement that everyone’s “Camino” is different. The only hard rule in our opinion is you should walk, bike, our ride a horse as specified on your pilgrim credential. No taxis or buses unless you absolutely must bypass an area for safety (like a stretch of a major highway or a snowed-in mountain pass) or have an injury and don’t have enough time to rest in one spot.
Day 37 Riobolos to Carcaboso (18.72 km)
We slept in since our bodies were still recovering, then had toast and two coffees each and before setting off.
It was a beautiful sunny, fresh day and we were walking at our normal pace. About two km into our walk Nacho, the albergue owner, caught up to us in his van. I checked my pockets and thought, “Did we forget something?” I thought he was going to give us a wallet or passport we had forgotten.
Instead, he rolled down his window and said, “You are going the old way. Get in the car, I will drive you to the new start.”
I looked at Nick’s face and knew he didn’t want to get in the car. We wanted to walk everywhere. But Nacho was such a nice guy. He insisted and we would have felt bad for refusing this ride, so we got in. During the winter and rain, there was another trail that was better. We drove about 2 km along a major road to our new start point near a construction site. Since we had covered about the same distance on foot the other way and hadn’t asked Nacho for the ride, we cut ourselves some slack.
We walked through a lot of farms this day and the ascents and descents through the hills were very gradual.
We got into town and checked into the albergue/hostel. We dropped off our heavy backpacks and headed to lunch right away. Our lunch was excellent. Nick had butter lettuce salad with anchovies and grilled Iberico pork. I had ratatouille and grilled trout. Of course, we had a bottle of wine and dessert as well. A bottle of wine comes standard with a Spanish 3-course meal, or menú, and ranges from 7-12 euros each. This is something we would only do on the Camino since it is pretty indulgent and expensive to do in the US. In America, the cheapest bottle of wine by itself would cost more than the whole Spanish menú. It’s American fast-food and soda that’s cheap, not home-style (casera) cooking with wine.
Later we saw the Swiss lady in the albergue and had dinner with her as well. This was her second camino. Her first was from Geneva to Santiago and took three months. We chatted and we found out we were both walking on the day of endless rain. She told us she was very tired that day and walked on the highway in hopes that someone would offer her a ride. Someone eventually did offer to drive her to town and she gladly accepted the ride.
We told her we refused our ride. She said that she remembered on her first camino, her goal was to walk the entire stretch on foot with no help and she succeeded. This time, on her second camino, she was feeling tired and had a cold so her goals were softened. Looking back, that ride was so very tempting. It would have been ten minutes in a car as opposed to three hours in the rain. But, I am proud we walked.
Day 38 Carcaboso to Aldeanueva (38.76 km)
This day was a long 24 miler, but we couldn’t have asked for better weather or scenery.
We hiked through more farms and passed by the Roman arch that is the symbol for this hike. The arch was apparently a memorial by a Roman official for his parents.
We stayed at the Albergue de mi Abuela, another nice place to rest.
Day 39 Aldeanueva del Camino to Calzada de Béjar (22.63 km)
We had a beautiful hike and saw snow-capped mountains for the first time. All the while, we passed Roman mile markers, which look like short pillars or columns. Roman numerals mark the “miles” about every 1,400 meters.
Day 39 ~14miles/total 536.8miles~ Mountain View ? . . . . . #ang_and_nik?? #viadelaplata #caminodesantiago #buencamino #peregrino #buencaminoperegrino #camino #caminosantiago #travel #traveling #instatravel #instago #instagood #trip #photooftheday #fun #travelling #tourism #tourist #instapassport #instatraveling #travelgram #travelingram #igtravel #iphoneography #travelphotography #hiking #trekking #backpacking #wanderlust
Our accommodation was very cute at the Albergue Alba y Soraya. The owner cooked us a wonderful meal of lentils and Spanish tortilla. She was also making herself some quince jam. Quince is not a common fruit in the US, but we passed by many trees on the Camino. A lot of the restaurants and albergues use the fruit as decoration. It looks like a very hard pear and is only edible when cooked. Quince jelly is really expensive in the US and we were happy to try some. The meat of the fruit is white when raw and red when cooked. We were able to have our clothes washed and we sat by the fireplace for most of the night before going to sleep.
Day 40 Calzada de Béjar to Fuenterroble (20.35 km)
The mountainous scenery ended. It is starting to look very flat as the dreaded plateau, or La Meseta, set in.
Day 40 ~12.4miles/total 549.4miles~ Happy Camino 🙂 . . . . . #ang_and_nik?? #viadelaplata #caminodesantiago #buencamino #peregrino #buencaminoperegrino #camino #caminosantiago #travel #traveling #spain #trek #instagood #trip #photooftheday #fun #traveling #traveler #adventure #journey #instatraveling #travelgram #castillayleon #hike #iphoneography #travelphotography #hiking #trekking #backpacking #wanderlust
La Meseta is the area on both the Camino Francés and Vía de la Plata that is a long stretch of high flat plains that is pretty featureless. In order to pass the time, Nick and I listened to a lot of podcasts on our phone’s speaker.
We had booked a casa rural to stay in. It was very comfortable and affordable with a full kitchen, two bathrooms, and a couple bedrooms. We spent most of the night reading and resting our legs near the fireplace. It was wonderful. There was an abundance of quince in baskets all over the house, maybe more than 15 pieces, so I used two to make some quince jelly to go with our cheese and charcuterie dinner.
We walked around town and looked at the old church and albergue. According to a friend, the albergue in Fuenterroble is one of the greatest albergues on the Camino. It wasn’t highlighted in our guide so we missed that opportunity. The irony of a slow-walking camino: you just can’t do everything.
Day 41 Fuenterroble to San Pedro de Rozados (27.79 km)
So, we only had one day of mountains in the distance. Afterward, we ascended and descended up some subtle hills with little to see in the distance except for giant wind turbines.
We’ve seen these kinds of wind turbines driving from San Diego to Las Vegas in the desert, but I had never seen them so up close. One blade is as long as a bus. I suppose if a modern Don Quixote were around he might charge at them on a motor scooter.
We made it into town as the sun set.
Day 41 ~17.2miles/total 566.6~ Plains of Castilla y Leon . . . . . #ang_and_nik?? #viadelaplata #caminodesantiago #buencamino #peregrino #buencaminoperegrino #camino #caminosantiago #travel #traveling #spain #trek #instagood #trip #photooftheday #fun #traveling #traveler #adventure #journey #instatraveling #travelgram #castillayleon #hike #iphoneography #travelphotography #hiking #trekking #backpacking #wanderlust
The pueblo rewarded us with a comfortable stay and dinner at Albergue Mari Carmen. The shower was hot and the food was warm, comforting, and served earlier than the Spanish norm. The owner was wonderful and we chatted a bit. She mentioned that this was the low tourist season and not many pilgrims had turned up, but the Vía de la Plata becomes more popular every year. Never imagining tourists from all over the world at her doorstep, the albergue was her “little window to the world.” It was nice to hear.
Day 42 San Pedro de Rozados to Salamanca (23.96 km)
We had a pancake flat walk through plowed fields, cow pasture, and pig sties. Since it was so plano, we saw Salamanca at our halfway point. It seemed like it was never getting closer. We listened to podcasts to distract us from the monotonous walk.
Upon arriving, Salamanca welcomed us with a Roman bridge and a bustling college town vibe. It’s home to the third oldest university in Europe, about 800 years older than our own UCLA. It was a nice change of pace to be in an energetic setting.
Day 42 ~14.9miles/total 581.5miles~ Salamanca Selfie 🙂 . . . . #ang_and_nik?? #viadelaplata #caminodesantiago #buencamino #peregrino #buencaminoperegrino #camino #caminosantiago #travel #traveling #spain #trek #instagood #trip #photooftheday #fun #traveling #traveler #adventure #journey #instatraveling #travelgram #castillayleon #hike #iphoneography #travelphotography #hiking #trekking #backpacking #wanderlust
Day 43 Salamanca Rest Day
Our one goal for this day was to buy a new credential, or pilgrim passport, since ours was full of stamps. Our prize for doing this was a nice meal.
After dinner, we saw our Swiss friend as we strolled around. She had just arrived into Salamanca and was going to dinner. Since we pushed ahead, we were one day ahead of her. On the Camino, people pass you. You pass them. A big slinky of people.
We’ve noticed we take a lot of pictures of cathedrals and bridges!
Day 43 ~Rest Day~ Salamanca at night . . . . . #ang_and_nik?? #viadelaplata #caminodesantiago #buencamino #peregrino #buencaminoperegrino #camino #caminosantiago #travel #traveling #spain #trek #instagood #trip #photooftheday #fun #traveling #traveler #adventure #journey #instatraveling #travelgram #castillayleon #hike #iphoneography #travelphotography #hiking #trekking #backpacking #wanderlust
In our next leg, we would come to a fork in the Vía de la Plata and decide between the famous Camino Francés or the less traveled Camino Sanabrés.