………28km to walk today to Almaden de la Plata. So we set off pre-dawn at 6.30am to the tune of the local howling guard dogs patrolling their farmyards. We are now wising up about possible de-hydration so we are well supplied with snack food and 6 litres of water (just-in-case).
Spotting the haphazard and sometimes feint yellow direction arrows in the darkness is quite tricky, even with my head light on. I know that there is a stretch of 16 kms of tarmac ahead so we move on swiftly in order to beat that inevitable awful heat of the afternoon Sun.
The sun is up now and the cool dawn has smoothly melted away for today. We have left that nice Italian man called Francesco well behind. He walks at a slow deliberate pace and he carries a very large back-pack ( always with his towel draped over it ). After a quick roadside snack and rest we continue our journey. A few kms further on we meet a sad sight in the centre of the road and witness the lifeless body of a once happy and healthy fox, killed by a passing car. Sobering sight !
Off tarmac, we finally get to the entrance of a “Parque Natural” (Nature Reserve ) called El Berrocal.
Now we are on a lovely trail winding through 12km of magnificent wavy woods of cork, oak, olive and many more trees I wish I could identify.
About half way along the trail, we find a nice shaded area for some rest, lunch and mucho agua. Off with the socks and boots and we hang them on the shaded tree branch to dry out a bit in the warm air. We are beside what appears to be a park-rangers home/base and he is pottering about in his garden. He knows that we are nearby but makes no attempt to acknowledge our presence. A young Chinese woman comes along and wonders if she can get drinking water anywhere. This is nowhere or no time to be without drinking water, so, I suggest that she asks the guy in the garden. She is invited into the house where she is obviously welcomed with Spanish hospitality, water and some light food. Its getting hot now even in the shade! We wait a while longer before donning our dry-again socks and boots. The Chinese lady is still happily chatting at the house as we pass by…we are delighted for her and her Spanish hosts!
Some Peregrinos have already told us of a really tough and very steep 500 metre climb about 2kms from the finish. At home, a 500 metres climb on a path would be a doddle. However, we are a little concerned about this in these circumstances…..it really is hot by now. About 6km further on we find Mary from New York (and formerly from Frenchpark, Roscommon, Ireland). She is relaxing under a big black umbrella beneath a shady tree. After a quick chat about that so called “challenging” climb up ahead, she decides to wait for the cool of the evening (wise woman) …but of course we aren’t that wise, are we! Soon, we can see that previously mentioned “hill” up front and what appears to be an almost “straight up” path on it. I hope this is not “it”…but it is !! We are now extremely tired after a fairly exhausting day so far. I do a water check…not good….very very low!
We slowly inch our way up that lousy unforgiving rock-strewn hill, with little water, hardly any energy but with the physical determination we know we all possess when needed. It’s no exaggeration to say that we are both now in a state of virtual collapse. We are really concerned and have to stop every two minutes or so to regulate our breathing. Eventually, we snail our way to the top with it’s so called “Rewards”…two great wooden built View Points. At this stage we couldn’t give a fiddlers about view points or views of any kind. All we can manage now is an orderly collapse under a big shady tree where we recover after about 30 minutes. ( Give me the cone of Croagh Patrick in the rain any day ! ) The photos take about 3 secs! ..then we are off down the hill to Almaden de la Plata about 1.5kms below.
I swear, I think I am hallucinating at the top of this bloody hill. I am now imagining stuff like Ould DeValera with a bunch of comely maidens dancing below me at the entrance to the village and throwing rose petals and buckets of cold cerveza (Beer ) at us as we pass. Thirst is a terrible thing !
The Nature Reserve earlier was Heaven but that bloody hill is “Hell” I will always remember it as “Hell Hill” !!!
While looking for accommodation we meet a nice couple of Bikigrinos (father and daughter) from Holland who are cycling from Seville to Santiago. He sees that we are pretty bunched so he hops on his bike and finds us a nice hostal above a nearby bar ! Good man, yourself and a big Gracias to you. Things are looking up at last. After we check in we re-hydrate, shower and then have a jar in the bar…in among more curious locals !.
This place is called Bar Casa Concha…a nice well run family business with good standard accommodation and food. After a short “warm down” ramble around town… in my boots…since I lost one sandal on “Hell Hill”…( it’s worse than losing two ! ), it is time to say goodbye to a day of contradictions…lovely but dog-tough at times. Day 3 done.