Exceptionally beautiful! Hard work, but very enjoyable.
The new national road runs alongside the new motorway. The old national road follows the very old Roman road. People have travelled this route for Thousands of years. The trek from Merida to Caceres left me overwhelmed with a sense of history. The evidence of time seems to be soaking the ground you walk on. From the Roman remains of Merida to the fortified splendour of Plaza Mayor at the heart of Caceres and all the things to see en-route.
And, wildlife - loads of it. Saw my first snake since setting off (biter, a smooth snake). Lost count of the number of different species of migrating birds I saw. Only recognised a hanful of them. From vultures to pipits and everything in between including some parasite peckers on the backs of woolly sheep. A bird spotters paradise.
A beautiful, soft, undulating landscape that went from heathland with wind worn lumps of granite to oak filled woodland. Cloud carpeted mountains, lakes and streams with Roman bridges and aquaducts. Parkland with picnic benches. It was all just about perfect even if very exhausting. Beautiful sunshine with a fresh breeze for the first day. Second day was misteriously misty until lunch time when it cleared.
My only moan: free beds for pilgrims appear to have vanished. At Aljucen I asked around to find out who had the key to the albergue. Eventually made my way to a bar. Woman at bar told me she didn't have the key and led me to a guest house offering special pilgrim rates of €10/night. A fair price, but I'm looking to do this as cheaply as possible in true, hardcore pilgrim style. Registered for the albergue and was about to be handed the key when some guy turned up and stated that it would be €10 for the night. I was told it wasn't a public albergue. Whatever, I was neither prepared to pay, or argue. The nights are still very mild, so I took a few brandies at a bar and slept by the church. The religious aspect of this pilgrim route seems to have taken a commercial turn since I reached Zafra and joined the main Via de la Plata path.
On arrival in Caceres I found the city full of stages and ready to party. A ha! I've done it again. Prime weekend of a month long rock/pop/traditional/world music festival. Loud as they come and absolutely packed. Seems to be a very popular free event. http://www.playcaceres.com
Really wasn't expecting to find what I found here. I'll give more detail later. It is a stunning little city!
The local paper (turns out to be a paper covering the whole of Extremadura) did good. I haven't had to pay for a meal, or a drink yet. Big thank you to the nice people at Telepizza in Plaza Mayor for free food and beers. And, an equal thank you to Cafeteria Caceres for more free beer and coffees. Tons of cigarettes from the very genrous people of Caceres and an offer of a meal from a couple of US students studying here. It's all good so far.
Anyone looking for a hiking/cycling/bird spotting holiday combined with city break would do well to consider Merida to Caceres over a week. You'll need some Spanish mind. It's impressed me greatly and hostal rooms are from just €15/night (very, very basic, but clean). The pilgrim paths are clearly marked and easily passable on mountain bikes with few steep climbs.
I have still not seen another pilgrim outside of a city. And, still only my footprints mark the trail, but the albergues are still full. What gives???