We decided to continue as far as Cáceres, some 74 km to the north of Mérida, spending the nights in Aljucén, Alcuésar and Aldea de Cano.
About 5 km north of Merida, we passed around the Proserpina dam – El Embalse de Proserpina. It was built in the early days of Mérida, to supply water to the city across aqueducts. The aqueducts have long been in ruins, but the reservoir, with its 12m retaining wall, still exists.
At one point on the route, we saw in the distance the couple with the cart. She was strapped in and hauling, while he was ahead, walking with a perceptible limp. A little later we passed them: they were sitting some distance from the path.
Aljucén is a very small village with one bar and a rather strange Casa Rural – Termas Aqua Libera, at which we turned out to be the only guests. From the street, there was nothing unusual about the place, but once across the threshold, one was transported to Roman times. It seemed to be quite an authentic copy of a Roman villa, and we were shown where we could select from a choice of Roman togas to wear, if we were interested in dressing the part. We respectfully declined the opportunity.
When we went out some time later, there seemed to be a party going on, with several couples dressed in Roman gear, with lots of flashing legs and thighs. But when we returned a couple of hours later, all was quiet, much to Lotta’s relief and my disappointment; I had never before been to a Roman orgy and I still haven’t. One can but live in hope… 🙂
The highlight of the next day was our encounter with the pigs, black pigs, hundreds of them, in a huge open range paddock: the black pigs that produce the famous pata negra ham. The black Iberian pig, or cerdo negro, are apparently the only pigs that naturally seek out and eat mainly acorns.
But like most pigs, they are very curious, and want to smell you and perhaps taste the salt on your legs. Now I was brought up with pigs, so nothing new there, but I suspect that Lotta would have preferred to have seen them from the other side of a fence. She was quite happy to eventually cross a cattle grid and leave that massive paddock.
The place where we stayed in Alcuésar was also quite strange. I had only vague instructions that led us nowhere, so we stopped in a bar to ask directions. After another caña, the very helpful barman drew us a simple map on a serviette: it turned out that we had been quite close, but not close enough.
But when we found the street and the right block, we could not see a door. I asked an old toothless man if he knew where the entrance was and he immediately scuttled up a side-street and rang a door bell, signalling that we had arrived. An elderly aristocratic-looking lady answered the door, hustled us in and in a whirlwind of introductions and instructions, swept us in and out of rooms, up stairs, down steps and along corridors until we were in a small apartment that was ours for the night. I was quite disorientated.
Thankfully our exit was close by, via a side door of the house, which it turned out occupied an entire block of the town. It must have been a rich family that built the house and perhaps the aristocratic lady was a descendant. We never did see her again.
We managed to navigate our way from the apartment into the town and back again, without once getting lost. And when we returned, who did we see watching television as we passed a large room that served as a lounge? The couple with the cart!
Between Alcuésar and Aldea de Cano, we came across several Roman milestones. A Roman mile was the distance that a legion would march 1000 paces, a pace being each time the left foot struck the ground. It was the origin of the English mile, and each Roman milestone had its distance from Rome engraved on it.
Prior to Aldea de Cano, we passed through an extensive area with bridges and stepping stones, even though the ground was bone dry. Apparently, it was a swamp when it rained.
When we arrived in Aldea de Cano, there was a sign on the door of our Casa Rural to say that our hostess would not be there until two hours later. So, we settled ourselves down in the sun, outside a nearby bar, and quenched our thirst and ate some tapas. We were soon joined by an old farmer, who obviously already had had a few drinks. He was delightful company. At one stage, he disappeared and emerged with some more beers for us, and later I reciprocated.
In the meantime, we had been joined by a little kitten. It watched us, but never got close. When I tried to stroke it, it quickly retreated. The farmer said that it was a street cat and he wanted one for his farm, to keep the vermin under control. He tried to tempt it to come close, but to no avail.
That night we finally met the ‘strange couple with the cart’. I had arranged for the owner to serve us dinner, and when we sat down, the couple emerged from a nearby room. It turned out they were indeed German, quite shy, but passionate about hiking. He was a web developer, quite a ‘geek’ and I don’t recall what she did. They did not live together, but were ‘married’ in their passion for hiking. I rather liked them.
The next morning, we left early and stopped at a bar on the edge of the village. And who came in, just as we were about to leave? Nope, wrong this time. The old farmer, he of the kitten, arrived to have his early morning drinks with his mates, before setting off to his land. I’ll never forget how his face lit up when he saw us and I am sure that mine was a mirror image. We chatted for a few minutes before we had to set out. The memory of the old farmer is ingrained in my memory.
The path to Cáceres was long, but uneventful, and eventually we wended our way through the industrial suburbs and the centre of the city, and finally up the steep hill to the Plaza Mayor and the old city. Our hotel was just off the Plaza Mayor.
The weather was starting to get quite cold overnight and we were not equipped for late autumn in Northern Spain. To come, there would have been the historic cities of Salamanca and Zamora, but they would have to wait for another day. So, we headed to Madrid, and eventually back to Uruguay.