Sunday September Twenty-Seven, 2020
I struggled to get my head in the game as I departed Aldeanueva del Camino and began my journey towards Calzada de Béjar. It may have been courtesy of the very minimal microwave dinner I’d endured the evening before. Or perhaps it was simply fatigue that had caught up with me after so much anticipation for the forty kilometre trek I’d achieved the previous day. Whatever it was, the funk stayed with me all morning and I couldn’t shake it. But rather than fight it I just let it sit there and do its thing while I continued along the Via.
The journey to Calzada de Béjar was a very short one at only twenty kilometres. Considering my mood I should have just taken it at face value and called it a walk in the park. But instead I was intrigued by the mention of Hervás in Gerald’s guidebook, and the promise of its famous Jewish Quarter that dated back to the 15th century. And so I decided to tack on the extra six kilometres that was required to climb up into the town and check out its delights.
The climb itself certainly didn’t help my mood. Nor did the asphalt beneath my still weary feet. But the sight of cyclists sharing the road with me did lift my spirits a little. Solo riders would pedal their way past me into the hills ahead, followed by groups of men in lycra huffing and puffing their own way towards Hervás. Their presence reminded me of my parents, who are both avid cyclists themselves, and I thought of how much they’d enjoy the challenge of that morning’s ascent.
Hervás itself did cheer me up considerably, and offered up any number of surprises that I hadn’t been expecting of it. It was a bustling little township for so early on a Saturday morning, in a way that I hadn’t yet seen during this latest visit to Spain. It was clearly a destination spot for local tourists and the aforementioned cyclists. But it was also made busy by its own inhabitants who all seemed to own tiny dogs and who all appeared to be on a synchronised walking regime with them. The footpaths were full of canines and their human companions, and I couldn’t help but think that perhaps I’d fit in well there.
Despite the Covid pandemic the cafes were full of coffee drinkers and breakfast eaters and the outdoor seating on the terraces were equally occupied. People chatted amiably amongst one another while delicious morning smells such as coffee and pastries filled the air. I wandered deeper into the township, and lost myself within the maze-like laneways that made up the Jewish Quarter. It really was worth the detour, and the town felt quite unlike anywhere I’d yet visited in Spain. The setting was heightened by the heavy cloud sitting in the hills just above Hervás, while the morning sun tried ever so hard to push through and show its face. My only disappointment was that I couldn’t seem to take any photos that summed up the town, or the eerie morning light, nor the dramatic presence of the misty hills about the place.
I wandered about for an hour or so and soaked up the very distinct atmosphere on offer. A small part of me wished that I had more time to explore the town, and perhaps even a night there with good company. It seemed to want me to stay, and so maybe that was what contributed to my funky mood reappearing as I prepared myself to leave. But not before I purchased a paper bag full of churros from a food truck parked on the edge of town. I sat in a local park and gorged myself on the sugary goodness. What an absolute delight.
I left Hervás down a long and winding road that brought me back to the main highway, and all of the morning traffic that came with it. The route kept me on the shoulder of the road for the next few kilometres, which only added to my heavy mood. Oh, and then there was the climbing. An awful lot of it in fact. The road began to rise ahead of me, and it didn’t stop climbing for an age. I huffed and I puffed and made my way to Baños de Montemayor before resting my poor feet.
It didn’t take long before I was resting again however as the climb out of the small village took it out of me before I’d barely begun. The path followed an old Roman road that had been restored, which should have been delightful, but in actual fact it felt quite arduous. It really did wreck my lungs in next to no time and I had to sit at a small monument to catch my breath and convince myself that I had the strength to continue. In the meantime local tourists in family sized groups were merrily sashaying along the stone road in an almost effortless fashion. Even smiling at them in acknowledgement as they wandered past felt like it required effort from me, as ashamed as I am to admit that.
I continued onwards and upwards to a point where the Roman path re-joined the main road and the traffic. Despite that, the setting was really quite lovely, with dense bush growing on both sides of the road as it wound its way higher and higher into the hills. Eventually I was greeted by a large sign welcoming me to Castilla y León. I stopped and stared, and then turned to try and find its counterpart on the other side of the road welcoming oncoming traffic to Extremadura. It was hard to make out, as overgrown by tree branches as it was, but I found it nonetheless and took a moment to say goodbye to the region. It really had rewarded me in so many ways, and I was sad to see it disappear behind me as such.
But with Extremadura now in the background it meant that I had a new corner of Spain to look forward to, and my first afternoon in Castilla y León did not disappoint. For a start the forests surrounding me were lush and green, and the landscape presented more hills than plains. And when the path finally left the road once more and headed west towards Calzada de Béjar it was almost as if I’d stepped away from Spain in a magical instant and into the Swiss Alps. The path meandered through a dense wooded area that carried me down into a deep valley full of healthy looking farmland where long green grass grew. I had to smile at the suddenly unfamiliar landscape and thought to myself that I had either arrived on the set of The Sound of Music or perhaps even Heidi. It was such a wonderful contrast from the previous two weeks and I really felt like I was North, in the sense that the landscape was suddenly fertile, and green and mountainous. I enjoyed the descent down into the valley below and savoured the sight of abandoned barns sitting in the middle of fields, and cows lazing about the place chewing their cuds.
The delight of venturing down into the valley was only tempered by the fact that it then required one final climb back up the other side to reach the day’s destination, Calzada de Béjar. The village hid itself until the winding dirt path finally turned one last time to reveal it to me. A chilly wind had picked up by that point, despite the cloudless sky and the sun that still shone high within it.
Calzada de Béjar has a population of 87. That is according to my father, who had text me earlier that morning to relay the information. He had been taking great joy in researching my journey from the comfort of home back in New Zealand, and in many cases he knew more than I did about my destinations, such is the beauty of Wikipedia. Eighty-seven souls seemed about right upon arrival in the small village. There was one bar in the very heart of the congregated buildings, and absolutely nothing else.
It was still early in the afternoon when I checked into the Guest House and shared news of pilgrim numbers with my hostess. She had hosted a German woman two days before me, but no one for a week before that. I told her of the pilgrims I knew behind me and we commiserated together at the sad state of affairs about us in the world. I took a long hot shower to help me reset, put my clothes into an actual washing machine to be cleaned (rather than the typical shower rinse they were accustomed to) and made a video call to friends back in London.
Those small domestic actions put the mental funk of the day well and truly behind me and so I wandered down to the local bar where I sat myself outside in the sun and enjoyed a nice cold beer. I mention sun and cold beer, but don’t be fooled into thinking I was basking in a typically summery Spanish setting. No, not at all. The reality was that I was wrapped up from top to toe in trousers, thermal socks, a merino wool jumper, a jacket and a beanie also. And even then I experienced the occasional shudder of cold as I sat and wrote in my journal.
I persevered through the discomfort, primarily because the only alternative to the bar was the small Guest House, which I wasn’t quite ready to go back to at that point. I requested another beer and ordered what was quite possibly one of best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. The woman behind the counter seemed very nonchalant about imparting any detailed information about what food was actually available, but she assured me it was available nonetheless. Lacking any real detail to go by I let her take the lead as she began pointing at various ingredients scattered about the bar. The resulting bocadillo was nothing short of a revelation. It was especially miraculous for its absolute simplicity. Chorizo, cheese and scrambled eggs, on a toasted white roll. I mean, how wonderfully basic is that! But gosh, it was so damned delicious.
The bocadillo satisfied both of my lunch and dinner needs, and I finisahed it up just as the last of the light was disappearing behind a hill in the distance. The cold of the evening air was quite uncomfortable at that point, and so I headed back to the Guest House, brought my freshly laundered clothes in from the balcony and shut the house up for the night. In effect I called it a day – at the outrageously late hour of 7:15pm.
I wandered downstairs and made myself a mug of hot chocolate – Cola Cao no less, because you’ve not mastered the life of a peregrino unless you’ve pilfered every last sachet of the stuff from guest houses along the way. The hot, sweet chocolate perfectly satiated my needs on this now much cooler league of the journey. I considered pulling out my Kindle to read, but I was honest with myself and acknowledged that my brain was really only capable of Netflix once more. And so for the second evening in a row I pulled out my phone and indulged in light entertainment.
I felt strangely lonely again, after just two nights on my own after only three nights prior to that with company. And here I was thinking that I was well practiced in isolation. After all, I had endured a summer in Lockdown in London, not to mention the first ten days of my Camino all alone with no conversations but the ones happening inside of my head. I had always comfortably considered myself an introvert, whose ability to recharge came from being alone. And while I still don’t discount that, I really feel like the enormous joy I experienced in the company of Joy, Gerald and Daan was the recharging that I was so desperate for that night in Calzada de Béjar. I was confident that I would be graced by their company again in the near future, especially as we all intended to press pause on our journeys in Salamanca in a few days’ time. But in the meantime I was solo once more, and all the poorer for it.
I parked the funk that came with my loneliness and lost myself in Netflix instead. Not that I was lost there for very long at all – my eyes were closed and my body fast asleep in no time at all.