2-8 October, 2015
The path north from Guillena to Zafra covers 125 km and passes through five villages – Castilblanco, Almadén de la Plata, El Real de la Jara, Monestario and Fuente de Cantos. The villages are between 15 km and 27km apart, a distance that a hiker, carrying a backpack, can comfortably cover in a day. Originally it would have been the distance that a heavily armed Roman soldier would have been expected to march. Apart from some farmland adjacent to the villages, the countryside was empty of habitation.
For the first three days, the path wound through the rugged Parque Natural de la Sierra Norte to El Real de la Jara, shortly before passing from Andalusia into Extremadura. There was a long climb to Monestario, after which the landscape transcended onto the plains that surround Mérida.
Apart from Zafra, which is a large town with a rail and bus station and several hotels, the villages that we passed through were small, each with its church and a small central plaza, an hotel or rural hostel with a few rooms, an albergue with dormitory accommodation, a bar, and little else. And the houses and buildings were universally painted white, with red tiled roofs.
In the first three days, where the landscape was more rugged, the path led through many huge paddocks, where herds of cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and horses ranged free.
After Monestario, the land flattened, and the farming changed from mainly animals to crops, with occasional olive groves and grape vines. The path was dusty and the land parched; it seemed as if it had been since the last sustained fall of rain.
In the seven days that we walked from Sevilla to Zafra, the only other hikers that we saw were the strange couple pulling the cart; we had seen them arriving in the bar in Guillena and pulling their cart up the stairs to their room. We passed them a couple of times on the path, when they were sitting in the shade, resting or having something to eat and drink. They seemed to be quite shy, or perhaps they just wanted to be alone. I can well sympathize with the latter.
We always knew when they were ahead of us, when we spotted the tracks that the wagon tyres left in the dust. And each night we usually saw them arrive in a village, sometime after we did. On a couple of occasions we saw them enter the same hostel where we were staying, but they were quite reclusive and stayed in their room. I thought that they might have been on their honeymoon.
When we were on our way out of Zafra, we stopped at the bar of a comfortable hotel to have a coffee and a croissant, and who walked out of the restaurant and up the stairs but the strange couple with the cart.
Little did we know that we were to see them every day until Cáceres.
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