Day 17: Oliva de la Plasencia to Baños de Montemayor

The Camino this morning passed right under this arch, the only squared Roman arch in the Iberian peninsula, and truly monumental it was, more than the other possibly more ‘grand’ monuments along the way. It belongs to the ancient Roman city of Cáparra and is pictured on the way-markers to be found throughout Extremadura. I don’t know how to put it other than it is spectacular and human-scale at the same time. It is not overwhelming or overly ornate, but simple and beautiful and proportioned. Perhaps it is also that for us it was not an old building to visit or gape over or even admire … so much as one of the living and lived-in places of the Camino. I mean, not ‘lived-in’ obviously, but I think you understand what I mean. Context is everything, and in this case, the context was us walking on a Roman road that has linked the south to the north of Spain for over 2000 years, and where pilgrims to Santiago have walked for a millennium. We are not outside of this landscape but enfolded in it and contributing to its story.

Today began in Monica’s kitchen drinking an outstanding cafe con leche and lamenting the appearance of a dozen or so more bites. Many are on my face and neck and kept me out of deep sleep by being madly itchy. They are raised and red and I have to get over myself that I look like a horrible swamp monster. The human dimension of the Camino is always a great counterbalance to that which might get a bit overly spiritual if you know what I mean. Coffee in the morning tends to make me chatty, emotional and starry-eyed so Letizia got a different goose this morning as we walked the first half a dozen kilometres between paddocks of calving cows and under our now moonless blanket of stars. She diplomatically suggests that maybe we could be leaving a bit later now, but I love this time of day so much I would be sad to spend it asleep or in the flurry of breakfast and packing.

The weather is still sunny, but cooler now, so long sleeves for the first few hours of walking as the landscape changes around us also. The olives and vines have gone and we’re back to evergreen oaks and cork, broom and thistles, but greener now, a thinly veiled promise of the rain we’ll soon encounter.

Is evening we’re in a lovely and warm albergue above the visitors Centre in another spa town: Baños of Montemayor. It is a pueblo that has tourism, and has therefore a different vibe from most of those we pass through. This afternoon, for instance, has been graced by churros con chocolate, not just any old hot chocolate, but the proper Spanish stand-your-spoon-upright hot chocolate and fresh, oily, crunchy churros. At times like this Letizia and I just look at each other and nod. Beyond words.

Dinner is shared at table with Sylvie and Hérvé from Paris, companions already for a few evenings, and another French couple. They were talking wine (other couple are from Bordeaux) and to be friendly and sociable I chip in something like ‘not to mention Australian wines’ … like, ha, yeah! We make good wine too! upon which Mr Bordeaux says deadpan and dismissively that all the wines of ‘nouveau pays’ are ‘des vins industriels.’ And don’t I just get very hot under the collar! I mean, how dare he call Australia a ‘new country’ and industrial wines! Hmmph! It was actually quite funny to watch myself get all defensive and patriotic. Grumble, grumble. Sigh.

On a similar note, and as a total compliment, another French pilgrim said that Australian Shiraz is so good that if the French stopped making wine now, and Australia kept at it for another fifty years, it would be at a comparable level.

Now I just smile and nod. Better to stick to what I know which is putting one foot in front of the other 🙂




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