Today it’s your turn to walk on the Via de La Plata. From Cáceres to Salamanca is 223 km or 138 miles. You will walk about five miles on one of the most interesting stretches of the route. You will arrive in Salamanca in time to shower, and have a quick tour of the city. You will end your day in the Plaza Mayor enjoying tapas and getting to know Bishop Don Carlos.
On the other hand, it took Barbara and me ten days to walk to Salamanca.
As you can see from this map, it was mostly an uphill trek because for eight days we climbed steadily up to Fuenterroble de Salvatierra, a small town perched on the edge of the Meseta. From there it was a two day walk down into Salamanca.
While you will get a taste of the landscape from the bus, I want to give you a closer look at this varied, hard, interesting section. To give you a feel of what it was like I’m going to walk you through, camera in hand.
Our first days were somewhat barren. We walked through broom and huge scattered rocks. Gradually the trees increased and we walked between lichen-covered stone walls and velvety green moss-covered rocks. From time to time the wall incorporated a miliario (a Roman mile post).
We were now walking on the Calzada Romana, the original Roman road from Mérida to Astorga dating back to the first century.
Over the next several days we would see more and more milestones, sometimes in amazing places. You will see some of these on your walk today and perhaps cross one of the many Roman bridges still in use.
Romans and pilgrims were not the only creatures walking this route. The transhumancia was the annual movement of sheep goats and cattle moving between their seasonal feeding grounds. Known as the Cañada Real it was a broad drove road heavily travelled. Although the drives no longer occur, there are still plenty of livestock, animal pens and horsemen visible on the the wide paths. We saw many including this bull. Unlike some we have known, this one did not chase us.
Just before the Arch of Cáparra we walked through groves of recently harvested cork trees, their raw red scars trunks painfully visible.
Cork is harvested entirely by hand. It is a process requiring five people to do the job. Before the first harvest a tree must grow 25 years. It then takes ten years for the bark to grow back at which time it can be harvested again. Since a cork tree can live up to 200 years, they are very valuable.
We walked through the Arco de Cáparra and you will walk here also. This arch marked the city center of Cáparra, a way-station on the Via de la Plata from the first to ninth centuries.
I can’t tell you why these photos of the arch are the only black and white photos out of 1000 that I took on this walk. I can tell you Barbara and I had a wonderful lunch here with Joseph from Belgium.
Joseph was one of a handful of other walkers we met on the Via. We walked with him for six days until he left the path in Salamanca. He taught me a useful German word which got me and my grandchildren into hot water years later. Their friends’ mother heard them using it and knew what it meant resulting in an indignant call from my daughter Emma to me.
After our lunch the three of us sat for a long time watching a colony of ants carrying away the remains of our lunch. We were mesmerized. They (the ants) were focused on carrying crumbs, some as large as they.
We agreed one of the joys and privileges of the camino was having and taking the time to watch ants and chase butterflies.
From here it was a steady climb. The mountains we had seen in the background got closer and closer. The landscape became greener.We passed above the Alcantara reservoir and walked beside The canal de jerte which supplies water to this area.
Up we climbed to the thermal baths in Banos de Montemayor. Lodging here is more geared to bus pilgrims than sweaty backpack pilgrims so we kept walking.
We did not need this snowflake on the road to tell us that the weather was changing. We were higher up and the temperature was dropping. Gone were the 90 degree day’s. Gone too were our warm clothes. We had sent them home thinking we would not need them. We layered on everything we could find and kept going up.
We crossed out of the province of Extremadura and into Castile and Leon. We arrived in the village of Fuenterroble de Salvatierra where the hospitality was as warm as the weather was cold. We went to mass in the beautifully restored 14th century church La Virgin de la Blanca with its arresting crucifix and life-size carved saints circling the altar.
Warm and spiritually refreshed, we went uphill one last time to the summit of the Pico de la Dueña. At 1140m this is the highest point on the via de la Plata route to Astorga although there will be higher places on the route we took via Ourense. Here amid the wind turbines a wooden cross marks the spot. As in the Camino Frances, pilgrims would traditionally leave a stone at the foot of the cross. Since the cross is surrounded by a barbed wire fence the only option was to fling it over the fence and hope it landed somewhere close. We aimed, prayed and enjoyed the view
Below us was the Meseta, a high tabletop plain. On this fertile plain farming is done on a large scale. Trees are few but we don’t need shade now.
The sky was blue, the temperature bracingly cold and the wind brisk. With the red earth under our feet, we set our sights on Salamanca, visible in the distance. Two days later we crossed the Roman bridge. We had arrived in Salamanca.
You too have arrived in Salamanca, have taken your showers at the Hospes Convento San Esteban and have met Bishop Don Carlos.
You have dined under the full moon in the plaza.
Barbara and I shared one final dinner with our friend Joseph and met Michael , a Frenchman whom we would see off and on for the next few weeks.
Today each of us in our own way had walked the Via de la Plata. We had walked where the Romans had walked, where cattle had walked and where pilgrims still walk. We had earned our rest.
Tomorrow is a busy day. After the best breakfast in Salamanca we will tour the city with the best guide in Salamanca. We will rejoin the camino for another afternoon of walking before crossing the border
into Portugal where we will end our day with a Michelin-starred dinner. It only gets better.
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The journey continues