Salamanca to Extremadura; saddled up and heading into Semana Santa

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April 16th 2019
Published: April 18th 2019
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The week of touring ahead was looking far better in the weather stakes, that perhaps we need not obsess like before over weather apps.

Saturday morning breakfast at the Ibis would definitely sustain us. Stretching our departure out to midday, we used the late breakfast times to squeeze in a visit to that P2 has belatedly discovered; the famous El Cielo de Salamanca

We’d been at that site a day earlier and never ventured into the darkened side room, with a ceiling impeccably painted from the 1400s in a mix of all colours and including much astrological symbolism. Respecting the ‘no photos’ rule, we just stood, heads craned to the sky, and drunk it in.

Last minute bike checks and balanced repacking took the usual extra time. Finally, off we went.

Negotiation of the multi roundabout exits to the city took some thought. Although Salamanca boasts a lot of walking lanes and cycle ‘roads’, the ring road network with three abreast vehicle lanes demand full concentration. Signage was frequent alerting motorists to the 1.5m rule and presence of cyclists, making us feel safe.

Some steady up and down was the theme on this starting day. Destined for Valdemolinos, the green plains and castle of Alba de Tormes then Anaya De Alba came first, a broad mountain range in view. We passed birds of prey and so many stork nests, especially around a local quarry works. Stork rent is cheapest up power poles and church steeples.

At Horcajo Medianero, we pulled up at the town centre for our bike picnic. An older man was toiling in a small brick works, a crazy motorcyclist with a voice impairment welcomed us, and the town children found a fascination in the two cycle aliens that’d arrived. Asked what we liked most of Spain, I said it’s a difficult question. The child then spilled out a perfect English commentary on how wonderful Seville was. Straight from a class, I had to agree.

Making good time and only 40km in, I suggested we go on to Piedrahíta for a look, restock, re-caffeine, and still end up at Valdemolinos by 6.30 as planned. We’d known the Domingo shut down well and being rural for three more days, it paid off

Coasting down into Piedrahíta,
we agreed we’d chosen the extra ten kilometres of today’s route well. Beautiful late afternoon light, more predatory birds, and a lovely Plaza Major to see whilst we waited out the supermarket opening (at 5:30) was worthwhile.

Stuck outside the Unide market, whilst I fought the crowds of folks stocking up just after it opened, P2 met a Swede who’d moved here with his Spanish wife. They chucked cycle route info around, and learned that the hills apparently are part of Vuelta de España. More hills. P2 sighed!

Our hosts in Valdemolinos were incredibly welcoming. Ex Madrilena and Ex Salamanca, they’d set up the Casa as a city escape, and it delivered in spades. This hamlet has no services, had no signage until the town road began, and across from an old church, it has some amazing scenery to the distant mountains. We slept like the dead and woke to a sunrise streaming in the window.

Village life might be quiet, but it’s certainly social. Our older neighbour, visiting from Barcelona, made conversation with P2 many times that morning, whilst he nodded along, understanding more than he speaks. On-tour learning. It

Meanwhile, I ticked off a short ride to visit hilltop El Miron just after sunrise and Medanilla. I rolled into Medanilla, curious to check my next turn. A Sunday, an older couple were in the middle of the road, lingering with their walking sticks. ‘A dónde vas?’. We spoke Spanish but large fragments of the subsequent conversation made for no understanding whatsoever. Finally once consulting place names and señor advising ‘izquierda’, I was off to the next sleepy hollow.

Come midday, I’d washed our clothes in the local lavadero (public fountain) and we were off on the next leg, legs a little weary. They would get wearier, as P2 in particular discovered new muscle groups.

Candelario as our next spot was all about hills. We descended easily into El Barco de Avila, swapping once again more provinces, where a majestic castle and Roman bridge are situated. It was fairly tranquil for a Sunday, and with time on on our side we slowly carried on to a point half way to Candelario. The summit before La Hoja (1250m altitude) was always good in theory for a snack break, given my dislike of hill climbing on a full stomach.

And the reward for a ten kilometre uphill, and lunch, was a drop of 350m into Béjar for afternoon tea. Could I find the marked location of a certain café, no, but the next best thing was a popular spot in the town centre.

Yet we’d 4km of climbing left to Candelario.

Dropping into Béjar seemed good in theory but the trade off was a nasty hill. A one kilometre distance with nearly 100m ascent would not be done even if suggested it. Crazy. We’d be pushing not riding.

We added an extra kilometre, took in a beautiful city view, and in under half an hour (with sizeable panniers) we’d done the 5km version.

Joaquin (whom we’ve got to know as a local mover-shaker, with constantly running into him in his guest accommodation van), met us at our guestimated time. Welcomed generously as is so usual for us, we’d all we’d need in this hilltop apartment. Set in a very quaint village, Candelario has hiking trails, cycle routes, and mountain sports during winter, all rolled into a site of mainly traditional architecture

We’d a two nighter here and so the bikes got parked up at the bottom of the stairwell. Well, I couldn’t help take mine for a spin the next day, across the valley to Navalmoral de Béjar and La Calzada de Béjar, both villages very cute and scenic. This second village was the point of a grand descent on a rickety CL road, to then, like any valley, need to climb on up again. Passing a small hydro electric station, and after a steady one hour climb, I was home.

As luck had it, Candelario had a supermarket. The fridge was empty.

Supermarket Neila, in the least sense, is more a Ma n Pa shop, with all ‘lo que mas’ we’d need. It’s Facebook page is a bevvy of specials of the week, electrical appliance giveaways, and faces we then recognised. Great to see a community supporting its many residents in many ways.

Fridge full, and dried gnocchi planned for dinner (we’d cleaned out the only bag of spinach available from Neilas), we headed off early afternoon for a ramble. Sun blessed
us, contrary to the forecast, as we climbed up steadily and steeply. And I found my hiking legs slower than P2, the seasoned tramper he is.

Summits are beautiful from below, we surmised. We had our sky picnic behind a large rock to shelter from the increasing wind and overlooking the entire valley, the peak of Las Barreras. Calling it a stunner, taking ample photos from this spot, we got down to Candelario just before the wet weather due hit. Well timed.

The two night stay in Candelario let us see the pre Easter movements. Some visitors had shipped out after Sunday, but come midday Monday, the hum returned of locals spending time in the plaza, on their old town steps and balconies, and in the case of Joaquin, always driving around town giving us a wave. Village life!

We left the cool, clear mountain air of Candelario on the 16th. 1200 metres of altitude must surely be exceptionally good training for us and starting the day with a 200m ascent along a large embalse was surprisingly easy. Promises of stellar views always helps.

Down we headed via
La Garganta, a little hill village, continuing a very scenic descent to Baños de Montemayor. The view was amazing over another embalse. So, P2 parked up against a cycle trail sign, off the road, into the grass, and took his photos.

Leaving, the dreaded feeling of no air in the tyre hit. “I’ve a flat tyre” he yelled. Those words I hate to hear. Bike mechanic barbie had failed in Girona, but was best placed to give this a crack at fixing. P2 stood by, recorded the moment, and in case of needing a better pump, searched for cycle shops. The nearest was 3km away. We jointly got the tyre off then I went to work on putting the new tube in.

Culprit, a thorn, laterally. Road debris wasn’t responsible, thank goodness, as I’d no experience nor trust with the Michelin’s the company gave us.

The contingency of extra time is so valuable, that with our usual estimate rendezvous, we could still make it by 6ish to Casa Corral in Malpartida de Plasencia. We had wind and some steady hills ahead, but bit by bit, we inched towards Plasencia. Lunch
‘beside some lavender, off the road and with shade’ was ordered, but we compromised on lavender, eating beside an old railway line in view of the lush vegetation of the hills. Extremadura is GREEN!

Passing through Plasencia was needed, if not for a frustrating wait outside Mercadona by P2 (while I got a few supplies), but the subsequent traffic behaviour towards cyclists. Prone to the odd wobble, laden with panniers, and also retaining some communication between us as we navigated several turns, the drivers seemed to take no prisoners. A few angry toots, speeding cars, or unhappy gestures, added to that cycling experience every rider knows.

We knew something was up when our host at Malpartida de Plasencia asked, just upon arrival, how did we like Plasencia?’

The loft villa of Casa Corral was very comfortable, and an opportune time to wash-up after our adventure, and tend to a loose front wheel following the puncture. We were also here to see some of the quiet town on that is on the edge of Monfrague National Park. We did Día for supplies, the farmacia, and then the church. It harboured a lot
of yellow moss, and we could hear (and see) some intensive pre-Semana Santa practice sessions.

The aim of this location was Monfrague. Being only 20km away, we’d time on our side to reach the village of Villareal de San Carlos. This backwater, up the EX208, seems to get plenty day trippers but midweek it was fairly quiet. Pedalling in, with instructions to find number 40 (as our number 19 would be unattended), it was a process of front door number elimination. It’s so small, there’s only a number to locate. Still, we circled several times around the village

With tourist centre help to determine where 40 was, we finally met the owner at the one and only tienda nearby, and were taken on to our modest Main Street unit. Quirky, straight out of the 80s or a visit to grandmas house, and very functional.

P2 had plans, and promptly we set off to the park with rain forecast later in the afternoon. By 4.30 we’d reached the summit of Monfrague castle, the Ermita, and spent time admiring the incredible flight of vultures and eagles. The terrain of Extremadura’s green and brown savannah, amongst wild lavender, with this massive rocky outcrop we were on, was spectacular. There was life and biodiversity everywhere. I could not think of a better picnic spot, nor could midweek Spanish tourists.

If only I knew how the washer worked. We were due a wash and preen after all that action. That era of washer couldn’t be googled, but with luck, a lot of noise, and after several hours, we had clean clothes. I hadn’t broken it. Heating however, who needs it, and electric gas cooktops, they’re elusive. But we figured it out. P2 had determined I’d exhausted my questions to the owner, yet we did go to bed fed.

Our tour through 70s- 80s furnishings came to an end the day before Easter. Sleeping on a plastic underlay, and waking to the sounds of busy swallows under the eves, was quite refreshing. We needed that for a decent ride to Cáceres, via Torrejón el rubio. P2 had an ancient rock art site in mind.

The grey weather, however, lent itself to the Burgos mindset. Go, and probably get wet.

The temperatures weren’t quite the same, but after the rock art site proved a ‘bookings only arrangement’ contrary to online information, we carried on an undulating path down hill and up valley. The looming Monfrague range, and deep grey skies in the background, meant we could skirt the forecast thunderstorms.

We cycled and cycled, until 40km was clocked up, P2 keen to advance the weather. The break stop there was set; 30km to go, and conveniently, a collection of stork nests sat atop a bunch of trees. The clack-clack of beaks meant we were definitely in a lot of stork company.

Cáceres required a 15km slow climb, after crossing down a nearly 19% gradient to pass over the Rio Almonte. The slightly wet uphill grind came to an end in Calle Dámas, at an Airbnb arranged many months ago. Promises of food /markets before easter festivities hit was assured, and assuming, like NZ, still open.

How wrong we were. Día, Spar, Unide, and every other major food outlet had shut shop. Mini tiendas selling junk food were few n far between, and as for Mercadona 2km away, P2 just couldn’t be bothered with me going. Fortunately, a
ma n pa frutería of meagre produce near home was hope; run by an Ecuadorian, we bought up large in dusty cans and greens, then I was told I’d be able to come on Easter Friday too if I liked! Now that’s convenient.

So we hopefully won’t starve in this shutdown. If I’ve an appetite for cigarettes, alcohol, sweets, or pork in many forms, there’s a shop or bar for you. Meanwhile, the religious processions are gathering, purple cloth is beautifully adorning the townsfolk, red carpets are hanging from the old town balconies, and the clock keeps on chiming. It’s Easter.

Onwards to Merida, and south tomorrow.

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