ZAFRA TO CÁCERES: Seville to Santiago on the Via de la Plata.

Today you are leaving Zafra and going to two World Heritage sights. After a brief bus ride, you will arrive in Mérida, the former capital of the Roman Province of Lusitania. Here, you will tour the theater, the amphitheater and the National Museum of Roman Art.

You will end your day in Cáceres, listed as “the third most important historic and artistic urban centre in Europe”.

But for now, as you ride on the bus, let me tell you about Barbara’s and my visit to Zafra. It was a very different experience from yours.

We arrived there needing three things. Beds, an early night, and for Barbara, new footwear.

Barbara, who is famous for crossing the Alps in a pair of red crocs, has a history of uncomfortable boots.

By Zafra, her trail shoes were killing her feet and even cutting off the toes had not helped. First order of business -check in at the alberge ; Second, find the shoes; Third, with luck, be asleep by 8pm.

Timing, they say, is everything.

We arrived in town, having no idea of the significance of these omnipresent posters.We soon found out.

We had arrived just in time for the Feria Ganadera, an international cattle show, a huge festival which draws huge crowds and many celebrities, including the King and Queen of Spain.

The fair grounds were adjacent to the pilgrim hostel. The hostel was closed to pilgrims so the farmers could have a place to stay. Every hotel in town was booked.

Eventually, with help from the local tourist center, we were able to find beds in a nursing home for elderly women run by an order of nuns.

The sister who checked us in, seeing me pull a ratty tissue out of my pocket, ran and brought back a crocheted tissue holder with a new package of kleenex neatly tucked inside. The fresh Kleenex were used and much appreciated. Likewise the beds.

We did get Barbara’s new shoes. We did sleep in beds with a roof over our heads. We had a great time looking at the cattle and eating our way through tent after tent of the fair. We did not have an early night.

We left with gratitude for the kindness of the nuns, happy feet, full bellies and with our tissues safely tucked inside their pink crocheted holder which I still use.

From here to Mérida we walked through the province of Extremadura. This province is an important wildlife and agricultural area and a stop along the biannual bird migration route from Africa.

We walked through desolate areas seeing only one other pilgrim. We did see plenty of cattle, sheep and especially pigs.

We carefully closed a variety of gates and gingerly walked over the cattle grids and tried to avoid being fried by the electric fences.

Color crept back into the landscape. Black pigs, green trees and blue tile rectangles signifying that we are walking on the original Roman road added some variety to the fifty shades of beige.

We walked through groves of holm oak trees, the favored food of the black Iberian pigs.

When these pigs end up as Jamón Ibérico, the percentage of acorns in their diet will determine the value of their meat. The higher the percentage of acorns eaten, the better the flavor and hence, the more expensive the ham.

We walked for three days, passing the occasional Roman milestone, a foretaste of our arrival in Mérida.

The temperature was still between 80 and 90. Unlike the pigs, we did not cool off in the odd mud hole. We “cooled” in the shade, wherever we could find it and however small it may have been. We were more than grateful for the occasional well. In spite of how unsanitary it may have looked, it never affected us poorly!!!

Coming into Mérida the first thing we noticed were remains of the aqueduct and the longest Roman bridge still in existence.

Founded in 25 BCE as Augusta Ermerita, Mérida was a retirement community for the Emperor Augustus’ favorite military men. It also was an important stop on the Via de la Plata, sometimes called the silver route. Mérida was an important stop in the transport of gold and silver from the mines in the north to the cities in the south.

We saw, as you too will see, some of the treasures of this lovely and lively town.

The Teatro Romano is still used today for performances and while the Anfiteatro is a ruin, at one time, in additional to the usual gladiator spectacles, it could be flooded to stage naval battles for the entertainment of the 90,000 soldiers who were garrisoned there.

The stunning brick National Museum of Roman Art, designed by Raphael Moneo, displays room after architecturally brilliant room of sculpture, Christian funerary inscriptions, frescos, and mosaics. An excavated Roman villa, part of the museum, is located outside.

And finally, there are the remains of the aqueduct, visible on the way out of town.

To see it all would take days. I will leave you with one last view of the 2000 year old Roman Bridge with the 30 year old Santiago Calatrava bridge in the background.

On to Cáceres where we will celebrate Easter and explore this fascinating city. Hasta mañana.

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