7: Spain, Heading south towards the sun

Where I left off we were rushing on a bus out of Santiago de Compostela to get to better weather, a more relaxed environment and to get back into the more independent non Camino Frances cycle touring routine.  Oh what a bus ride it was.   It picked us up late and it was a six hour ride which would drop us off at midnight in a Salamanca.  We spent several hours on the phone in the bus terminal trying to find a hotel with a 24 hour reception just to not have to try and sneak camp in a public city park.  While on the bus I had a bout of some mild stomach bug so I sat uncomfortably while watching the rain lash against the windows of the bus as we winded through the night on tight mountain highways seeing the terrible riding conditions we were avoiding by taking a bus out of Galicia.  

Cycling while sick…. Yay….

When we arrived in Salamanca it was midnight but at least it wasn’t raining.  We groggily got to unwrapping and re assembling the bikes in the bus terminal under one of the few lights which were on.  Biking across the city was luckily uneventful and when we arrived at the hotel we learned we had to walk our bikes to a garage to lock them up since they wouldn’t allow them into the room with us.  at about 2:30am we finally passed out sick and tired but having successfully escaped the rain, mountains and snow.  

Upon waking up we tried to sleep in a bit before running back and forth to the garage to go move across the city to get another night in Salamanca in the municipal albergue.  We were now on the Via de la Plata, another Camino starting in Seville and heading north through western Spain towards Santiago.  We decided to follow it in reverse to stay on the quiet but  challenging camino tracks and to get to Seville in time to meet up with my parents who were coming to visit for three weeks!  We were still struggling against our cold but we thought after a good rest day in Salamanca we would be up for continuing on.  

We dropped off our things at the albergue and wandered around the city enjoying the historic buildings of the university, roman bridge, and Cathedral.  This day also happened to be my birthday so we went out that night trying different tapas, terrible burritos (we are not in latin america) and some drinks.  Upon arriving back at our Albergue the Canadian volunteer running the place had gotten the other guests to sign a credential pilgrim passport as an improvised birthday card for a surprise.  It was a touching gesture and I loved reading the happy birthday wishes in many languages from all over the world.  After the days of fighting the cold, rain and snow it was a wonderful way to celebrate having gotten through that hard patch and to continue on in the journey.  

When we left the next morning we headed south along the Via de la Plata with good weather and a decent dirt road.  The via de la plata follows an old Roman road almost the entire way and there were old Roman pillars we would pass along the way everywhere so we were excited to be traveling on a very well traveled route, historically.  We were suddenly feeling very tired again and were quickly realizing maybe this cold was not the kind of thing you just take it “easy” with.  We may just need to stop entirely.  We found a good sunny spot on a hilltop and took siesta naps while hoping we would feel more energized to cover more ground.  Continuing on I felt terrible and we went through a rusty gate relatively early to find a camping spot to just stop and rest after having only gone about 20 km from Salamanca.  The next day we got up early and snuck off from our sneaky camping spot and proceded to push our bikes up a very rocky 2 km stretch towards a ridgeline of windmills.  The weather was still good but it was definitely cooler.  At the top we made a quick proper breakfast but the wind kicked up and the temperature dropped more so we didn’t linger very long.  The dirt track down the other side was so rocky we had to walk down many sections.  We ran into a local man standing with a gun hunting rabbits and at the same time two men with horses passed us going along the camino northwards.  The countryside here was very quiet and it was a completely different experience after the busy Camino Frances.  I was loving the tranquility while struggling with my lack of energy. 

Descending more we ran into a fog bank, and we soon realized that we were dropping into the rainy side of the rain shadow that keeps the Salamanca area so dry and sunny.  We were planning on camping more again to save money after the Camino frances but the rain was returning and we realized we hadn’t escaped it at all.  We quickly went into another albergue and got a nice dinner.  There was only one more guest and we looked at the forecast over then next week seeing allot more rain in our future…  

Leaving the next day we had some more extreme up and down with a big rain storm hitting us in the evening.  We only covered 25 km and then went right into another albergue for shelter.  Our progress was being very hampered by our cold and the weather and even though we had been liberal with the number of days we were giving ourselves to get to Seville we began to realize we may not have enough days.  

Leaving the next day we continued on, the conditions were a little improved with clouds and intermitent rain.  The Via de la plata went through a very cool Roman arch and city being excavated and we wandered around there a bit before hurrying on with the threat of more rain.  The track went into a large farm area and we got lost going through many gates further and further into the countryside.  We began hitting stone walls and the gps tracks and the camino arrows both failed us.  With the rain beginning again we backtracked and took a road around the area and jumped into the next albergue we could feeling exhausted and cold. 

An old Roman crossroads thich the Via de la Plata went right through
A beautiful view, too bad this road led to only dead ends and mud

Yet again we had only covered 35 km with two hours of wandering around in muddy cow pastures.  We both decided to stay in this albergue for an extra day.  We needed the rest and we were getting desperate for a return to the energy we used to have before this cold began and the weather turned on us.  We were going steady on two weeks of cruddy weather and almost three weeks of fighting one cold after another.  The town we found ourselves in was one of the sleepiest little communities we had ever been in on this whole trip.  The woman running the albergue wasn’t too excited in still being in her hometown and for the two nights we were there no other travelers came through.  The only other resident was a cute but tenacious kitten.  We were so burnt out that even just walking around the tiny town on our rest day was a chore and we quickly went back into the albergue to watch a movie on my external hard drive and chill as much as we could.  

Crazy cat

We decided with the conditions and the cold pushing against us we would opt for the paved high way to keep heading south which ran parallel to the Via de la Plata.  There is also a freeway running parallel to both of these so the highway was extremely quiet with a huge shoulder and very nice grades.  The highway was a great way to cover ground especially with the conditions we were battling but I definitely wish I could have stuck to the dirt track being more interesting, scenic and fun.  We topped out on one small pass right when a big rainstorm hit and we ran into a couple from Switzerland who had been bike touring since Nordkapp in Norway.  We yelled to each other to hear about each others trips in the rain and wind but quickly just continued on awkwardly knowing it was not an ideal place to have a random meeting between bicycle travelers.  They were on road bikes and so were faster than us and we separated after a quick goodbye. 

We found a bar to get out of the rain and wanted to eat lunch but there were signs everywhere in the bar saying no eating outside food so we just drank our 1.50 euro coffees and continued on to hope for a sunny moment to eat in a public park somewhere.  We were lucky to have a warm moment and scarfed down some food before descending to cycle along a reservoir before climbing back up towards the town we were shooting for that day.  An extremely heavy rain storm smacked us at the top of a rise and we found shelter by a locked farmhouse.  There were no eaves or anything above us but the wind was so strong that it blew the rain into the building creating a rain shadow on the opposite side so we stood there waiting it out knowing we only had a muddy and slow 15 km to get to our destination for the day. 

Highway riding

I was getting tired and we passed through many gates on farms which was wearing on my patience having to get off the bike every time in the rain and mud to open and shut them.  The next town had a free washer and dryer in the 5 euro Albergue and I was ecstatic to wash my clothes for the first time in three weeks!  There were three other travelers in the Albergue which is rare on the Via de la plate this time of year.  We chatted with a eccentric German man and two other Spaniards while we listened to the rain falling in the courtyard outside of the window.   Despite the conditions the highway had helped us cover good ground again.  We had gone 80 km that day with some good up and down.  

The next day we finally had sun again and we went through the beautiful city of Caceres where we stocked up on chain lube and calories.  We continued on the highway and loved the sun for as long as it would last.  We were hoping to get to the city of Merida for that day.  We were looking at the forecast and saw that it was going to dump rain for the next several days and with our pace it would take us three days to get from Merida to Seville.  Three days of rain, hills and highway…  We decided then and there to stay an extra two days in Merida and bus once more to Seville.  We were STILL struggling with the cold and we didn’t want to be completely exhausted when my parents joined.  We spent those rest days wandering around Merida, looking in at all the cool roman ruins. Many cost money to go into so we just wandered around the outside.  One called the temple of Athena was interesting with newer buildings built right into it and while we were wandering around early in the morning we were the only ones there other than some locals walking there dogs around it to go the bathroom.  If only the Romans new their structure would be treated as a dog pooping location someday…  

We got some good food at a Bolivian run bar and then went through the routine of going to the bus station and wrapping our bikes in plastic before heading south towards Seville feeling slightly rested and excited to meet up with my parents to cycle and explore three wonderful cities which all the Spaniards we met had raved about.  Once more we were hoping to finally have gotten away from the Rain for more than just a single day at a time.  Only time would tell if we would be so lucky.  

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