I enjoyed Merida and in a way was sorry to leave. Lovely place. For the last 3 days I have been following, well, the tarmac bits, the south to north route of the Camino de Santiago. That well known route of pilgrimage for those desperate to see one of the world’s biggest incense burners, the Botafumeiro – big smoke blower. (Hear’s crack of thunder.)
The early stages of this morning took me through the nature reserve north of Merida on a road worn ragged by the fall of the steps of thousands of penitent feet. It really was UK standard or worse and I was keen not to repeat the puncture experience arriving into Sevilla a few days ago.
Back onto smooth tarmac I came across my first two pilgrims. They we sitting by the roadside taking a break, their bikes laden like mechanical donkeys. I suspect they were rather pushing them than riding them. Two chaps, weary travellers both, and both looked like apostles, at least all the pictures I’ve ever seen of them, long beard and needing a good wash.
As I approached they called to me, “Baa Santiago ?”
“No,” I replied, ” Caceres y ultima Santander”. This mini-synopsis of my coast to coast was met with a non-plussed grunt. Perhaps the people of Santander are going straight to Hell. If so, I think they should be told.
I was impressed. It’s further than Santiago.
Oh well, not all sinners can be saved, and I’m sure they’ll reach Santiago by August.
The shell symbol points the way along the route and perhaps in some recognition of the signifance, the villages and towns along the way are home to some dramatic churches. Sadly, they don’t tend to be open, but they do dominate the skyline.
Despite a headwind I reached Caceres and my apartment in the old town in good time, fortified as I was, by lunch and a Magnum. My apartment is located on a steep narrow street which typifies these old towns. There are small cars parked along the way but I’m glad I’m cycling. I would never try to get a car in here.
Caceres, is the second largest town in Extramadura and has apparently taken the brunt of the downturn in the Spanish economy after the financial crash since it’s main economic driver was/is the construction industry. However, once you have worked your way through the trappings of any modern city, high rise blocks, shopping and industrial estates, the centre of the old town is a world heritage site and a kernel of culture.
Whenever I visit Spain I am enthralled by the mix, almost the continuation of the rivalry, between Christian and Islamic influences in architecture and history. The bloody conflicts of the time have left us with a legacy of cross-cultural art that must surely be celebrated,though I know that in some circles the conflicts of the past remain a preoccupation of the present. The Alhambra in Granada and the Mosque/ Cathedral in Cordoba are excellent examples of what has been preserved.
There are few Moorish examples remaining in Caceres since rival factions between the 12th and 14th centuries did their worst, but they are here, and I am going to have fun exploring this old town tomorrow.