Tuesday, April 12, 2016

… and then it started to hail!

After the rainy day spent in Toledo we cycled out into brilliant sunshine the following day.  This we thought was great but we were met with a brutal crosswind – horrible both up- and downhill.  After lunch I thought perhaps Mum had sent out a search party as we seemed to be followed through one of the small towns by a police helicopter – all the locals had come out to watch as well… turned out it wasn’t for us (we don’t think so) – but we kept our eyes peeled for any fugitives or other suspicious activity anyway.  Tim found us a peaceful campsite in an olive field before we moved on quickly next morning before being run over by the early-to-rise farmer on his tractor.

Riding through farmland on small roads was very beautiful.  After another night camped by a reservoir we rode alongside the lake (hydro power) and then a nuclear power station heading towards our first Spanish national park after a fabulous ‘menu de dia’*.

The Monfrague N.P. follows the Tiétar/Tajo river system and was a very relaxing (traffic-wise) but hilly ride.  Coming from the landscape of Central Aust we probably didn’t appreciate the rather small quartz cliffs (x2) and numerous birds of prey which all the German twitchers were enthralled in.  We just hope that the favourite spots in Central Aust. (Serpentine Gorge etc.) don’t get covered in green lichen and lose the magnificent red colours.

The afternoon we spent walking up to and exploring the old castle in the Park before a long 50k ride into Casar de Caceres to start our ‘Pilgrim’ journey.  Our first night in an Albergue** was followed by one of the best dinners we have had here in Spain.  We sampled Torta del Casar, a soft aromatic fondue-like cheese contained in a firm shell and eaten from the inside with fresh bread… mm mmm.

We headed down through Caceres and then headed east in search of a campsite.  We were getting desperate when we approached two ladies in Almoharin to enquire about somewhere to set up camp.  When they discovered that we spoke English they immediately called their friends Jane and Steve – a lovely British couple who 3 years ago decided to move to Spain and live out their retirement on a farm.  They owned Finca La Reina (a farm just outside central Almoharin) and were only too happy to have us set up camp on their property.  We were so appreciative and spent a very relaxing night surrounded by olive trees and a spectacular view – knowing that both ourselves and our bikes were safe.  Thank you Jane and Steve!

We headed out into the rain the following day in hope of some good luck with sunshine.  This turned out to be a good choice as we were in time for our usual lunch of jamon, cheese and fresh bread in Embalse de Proserpina – an old Roman damn which supplied water (and still does today) to the town of Merida.  Very interesting to then ride into Merida later that afternoon and see the old Aquaduct which, for a Roman ruin, was in very good condition (obviously no longer used/required).

After getting used to the Albergue routine in Merida, we hedged our bets again to continue south.  At lunch – a very entertaining menu de dia in Almanderalejo (which somehow included sampling caramel, lemon and herb liquors) – we thought we may have beaten the storm.  However after just getting used to riding in rain (not very common in Alice Springs!), we got pelted by HAIL!  All I could think of was how happy I was that I was wearing a bike helmet – those little stones really hurt – especially on a bike in the wind/rain. 5 min later the storm had passed and we were almost dry and riding in pure sunlight and onto Zafra.

Roman cistern (water hold under a building)

We are staying tonight in another Albergue with lots of company.  We haven’t managed to explore just yet as we wanted to stay dry.  We will have to see what the weather is like tomorrow – if it’s bad we might stay here another night – if we are feeling lucky, we might continue on our journey south…

* Menu de Dia: ‘Menu of the Day’.  Usually consists of a primary and secondary meal – like entre and main except that they all seem to be large!  Followed by either a dessert (flan/tart/fruit) or coffee.  Also includes a drink (beer, wine, water etc.)
** Albergue: Hostel located along the ‘Camino de Santiago’ exclusively for the use of ‘Pilgrims’ (those completing the Camino – can be on foot or bike – and doesn’t have to be the entire distance).  Requires a ‘passport’ which we bought for 1.50Euro each.  Albergues range in price from $0 (donation) to about 12Euro/p/night.

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