“Phase One” is over ! !….Maura is on her way back to Ireland and reality ( for her ) ! She has thoroughly enjoyed the week’s walking despite all the tough bits.
So, today is my first day alone on the trail and my Real “Personal” Camino is now underway ! Morning has not yet broken as I set off in search of my way out of Zafra. My first encounter is with a trio of ducks waddling quietly and confidently along the footpath outside the Parador. They are completely unconcerned with the traffic and early morning movers and seem to know exactly where they are heading for…..no doubt, where they go every morning ! I also know where I want to go to, …Villafranca de los Barros, 23 kms from here.
As I reach the outskirts of the town I pass by a tall tower called Torre de Sanfrancisco. It’s past history is written on a large Info’ board but it’s all in Spanish, so, I am flummoxed ! However, I think it might be one of a series of towers /gates along the old city walls back in the 15th century. The sky is beginning to lighten up now and more and more “two-leggeds” and “four-leggeds” are stirring. The odd Cock-a-doodle-doo challenges the “big barkers” that can always manage to hear me coming from a long way off. I almost flatten a small snail complete with it’s house on it’s back and struggling to make it across the gravel path in front of me. Poor Devil !..he will soon be sun-dried and dead if I don’t lift him and put him in some dewy grass on the opposite side. A quick pic’ and then he is safely across with a little help from an Irish Mountain Ranger/Peregrino. Buen Camino, Snail !
The first village I meet today is only 5 km from Zafra and it is called Los Santos de Maimona and I am there early. As I prepare to descend from the hills, a brightly clad biker hops off for a photo of the sunrise.
I down my sticks and do likewise…and I think, what a marvelous time of day a Spanish Dawn is….heralding lots of energy and the promise of great possibilities ahead ! As I reach town I find it is quite a bit bigger than it looked from the hills. It also has some very interesting old buildings. It really is still very quiet though, with very little action. A resting Dutch Peregrino, complete with his ultra-detailed guide-book, insists on telling me about this “Great Historical Town”. It seems the town is named after a Moorish king called Maimona and the Town Hall was once the Headquarters of The Order of the Knights of Santiago. He tells me about a local church which has a “Puerta de Perdon”….this is where a Pilgrim would be excused from continuing their journey due to illness and be granted a Pardon and the full benefits and forgiveness of their sins as if they HAD reached Santiago. He is staying here today and wants to give me a tour of all the town’s historical places… but I feel I have to move on.
I leave town and head off for my destination, Villafranca de los Barros…18 kms away. I soon find myself moving through flat “Olive Tree Country”. I have walked on about 5 km now and there is no sign of any other Peregrino or even a biker. I am nicely relaxed. Soon I realise that I am not paying enough attention and that my mind has been “wandering” along with me. Did I miss an arrow somewhere back there ? Doubts, bloody doubts ! Rangers don’t get lost, do they ?….and if they do, is there panic ?…no way, Jose ! I check my bearings and decide to hack on, since I am clearly going in a North Easterly direction. Even if I have missed a turn further back, I am confident I can still reach my goal anyway. Then, suddenly, 15 kms on, THERE IT IS… a re-assuring direction arrow, smack in the middle of a lovely olive grove, and it tells me I am only 3 kms from Villafranca de los Barros.
I now have to cross a busy main road but soon find myself on a nice quiet path with lots of vinyards and little olive groves on both sides. As I reach the outskirts I see a large “Welcome” sign advertising the fact that I am on the “Ruta del Vino Ribero del Guadiana”. ( I might test the quality of this vino they are bragging about, later on !)
It’s afternoon now and I feel a little peckish so I head straight to the town centre for a “pick-me-up”. I find a nice little cafe/bar and I scoff a Cafe con Leche and a Boccadillo. Powered up again now, I start my search for accommodation. I stop a nice local couple who clearly understand that “Universal Language” ( the Big smile, an effort to speak in the local Lingo and a Big “Thank You” ) They point me in the direction of a modern looking privately run Albergue close by. Here, I meet a very friendly and interesting bunch of Peregrinos who later join me back at the same cafe/bar for an evening meal ; Joanna, Ricardo, and Enrico, from Spain, Antonio from Italy, Julian from Canada, Peter from Denmark, and Klaus from Germany. Peter and Ricardo tell me that they intend to walk all the way to Santiago, so I expect to meet them from time to time as we progress along the way Northward.
So, that’s my first “Solo” day done and I am one happy Peregrino who needs to sleep now.