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May 20th 2012
Published: May 20th 2012
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Tuesday 8 May – Halleluiah, we have sun!! We left you last time earlier today, in overcast skies, at a McDonalds in Caceres trying to Skype Tom (with no luck). Whilst one of us dealt with computer matters the other did a big shop at Carrfour (bless him!)

We then drove for just under an hour, along a mostly motorway road with reasonable but very flat landscape to Trujillo. Once again you could see it in the distance – a magnificent walled castle town atop a big hill. This time it REALLY lived up to expectations – the best place we’ve been to so far.....AND by the time we got there the sun was well and Trujillo out – his vest and both coats were abandoned and having parked up near the town, we set off.

Approaching the Plaza Mayor between a terrific church and an imposing palace, we were delighted with the large square, fountain in the middle and wonderful buildings all around. Dominating the square is a huge statue of Francisco Pizzarro, born here, who conquered Peru in 1532, destroying the Inca civilisation!

Since Spain closes down between 2 and 4.30pm (time was just before 4pm) we sat in the square in hot sunshine sipping shandies ‘til things opened up then explored the upper half of town, other than the castle. What a superb place – every street and building was a wow! It was so lovely to stroll around in glorious sunshine. We came across the church of Santa Maria la Mayor where we paid 1.50 euros each entrance. The church was so-so but we climbed the interminable steep narrow stone steps up and up to the top of the bell tower and boy, what a view! We also viewed the Palacio des Chaves but not having our Burberry gear with us, we didn’t go in!

At about 6pm ish we returned to the Plaza Mayor for more shandies, then made our way back to the van. Driving a little way down the hill, we’re freecamping by the bull ring and are looking forward to a further foray into Trujillo tomorrow – fingers crossed for the same weather. We have read that the local delicacy is testicles or fried kid...not sure about that.

Wednesday 9 May – our first morning waking up to the proverbial cloudless blue sky. Back into Trujillo to see the last of the sights – the castle and the inner courtyard of a Palace (now a school) because as we were standing in the entrance the door opened, a nun appeared and invited us in. She then proceeded to try and sell us a tourist book for 8 Euros to help ‘the cause’ in Angola. We pleaded No Comprende and sidled out. It was sunny, hot and lovely; easy to ‘spot the tourist’ with bare legs/arms & wearing sandals......the local Spanish are very reluctant to shed their layers and retain their thick tights, boots and if not a winter coat/hat/scarf/gloves, then at least a substantial cardi!!

A very pleasant drinkies stop before returning to the van and heading towards Merida. We had possibly intended to go further east to the amazing monastery at Guadalupe but we’ve seen amazing monasteries before and this was a bit out of our way.

A couple of irritating back-tracks and closed roads trying to avoid the motorway, we finally found a lovely almost single track back road most of the way – stopping for lunch ....the bread, salami and tomatoes are divine.

Merida was easy to see from the distance – it’s very flat around here. NOT impressive in the least – a sprawling modern city with none of the usual church towers/monasteries or castles to give a hint of any historic centre or the magnificent Roman remains for which Merida is famous. TomTom’s campsite directions differed from the few signs – however we finally found Camping Merida.................the temperature is 92 degrees (we have vowed not to moan about the heat!)

Having settled in, poured the vino, read and relaxed – we then confronted the ‘how to get the washing machine to work’ problem! I think the EU ought to make a law that all washing machines operate in the same way. Anyway, as we sit here outside the van in the sunshine our load is whirring round and should be ready shortly. Since the campsite is miles from the centre (we had hoped to cycle in), we’ll be driving in tomorrow for a look-see.

Thursday 10 May – We found the perfect way to cycle into the city, over the pedestrianised long Roman Bridge. This means we’re parked on the other side of town across the river, next to a park with good views across the river to the city. As it turned out, Merida surprised us – no wonder we saw no spires and castles – there are none – or at least few. The whole city is a mixture of ancient and modern with every square inch well used every day by the inhabitants. Therefore you may be walking through a narrow street which suddenly opens up to reveal the Temple of Diana – an enormous Acropolis type building about 50’ high with huge fluted columns – it’s just there and has been since before Christ as sacrifices to the gods were performed here.

We actually started by looking around the Alcazaba, one of Spain’s oldest Moorish forts, also including Roman remains. We cycled around looking at this ‘n’that (great to have the bikes as it was all quite spread out) and we finally stopped for lunch at about 3pm – a much needed long rest as it was VERY hot. As we cycled off after lunch we noticed the temperature flashing by the chemist was 39.9 degrees!

We then visited the amazing and huge Roman amphitheatre and next door........the Roman Theatre – the city’s centrepiece. It is one of the best preserved Roman theatres anywhere and is still used for drama festivals today. The tiered seats in a semi-circle all face the stage with a fantastic two story backdrop building dotted with statues – AND THIS WAS BUILT 16-15BC!!!

Finally at about 6.30 we cycled back over the bridge to Hymie. Despite having put up all the thermal blinds and left roof vents open, the temperature inside was 99.8 degrees with the outside temp being 97.8 degrees. We wanted a bit of sun and warmth....but this is ridiculous! Even as I sit here at 9.40pm it’s still 90.9 in and 88.7 out. It gonna be a HOT night.

We plan to cycle back into town to finish seeing the sights tomorrow. ‘Til then...............

Friday 11 May – An extremely warm night – we slept in separate beds. One of us went to sleep very quickly, the other was awake for hours listening to the sounds of the night...............a resident watering his garden, a group of youths down by the river, various dogs barking and 2.15am – time known from the church bells which struck every 15 minutes – the dustbin-men did their rounds!

We did cycle back in to town but were unimpressed by the Roman ruins we saw and decided to give the aqueduct and stadium a miss – too far to cycle and it was hot,hot hot – anyway we’ve seen plenty of aqueducts! Instead we did quite a big drive south, out of Extremadura and into Andalucía to a town called Aracena, which is in the rugged Sierra Morena mountain range. The road, once we’d finished driving through the flatlands was very scenic. We thought that by climbing to higher altitudes, it might be cooler.........Not! Still well over 90 degrees at 9pm.

Having gotten into a bit of trouble in extremely narrow streets in Aracena (with a large Spanish woman refusing to back up....she did in the end after using one’s best Spanish) we followed the sign out of town to a camp site. Found it OK but it’s closed, defunct, is-no-more! So we have parked up in a lovely shady area beside a small river.

We had only been sitting at the nearby marble picnic table for 10 minutes or so when a young couple pulled up a few feet away in their car. Within a few moments they approached us asking if we’d like to share their large bottle of beer with them....of course! (slightly embarrassing as one of us was only wearing a vest top and pants!) What a charming couple they turned out to be and we have just spent a very pleasurable hour ‘chatting’ .....they spoke as much English and we did Spanish. They were both 21, girlfriend/boyfriend and said that their lives in Aracena were pretty boring and insular and how good it was to have interesting tourists to talk to!

They’ve now left. I’m sitting here typing this. Baz muttered something about cooking and disappeared. He keeps reappearing with brushwood, so it would seem we’re gonna be using one of the stone built BBQ’s here. Bon Apetit!

Saturday 12 May – Yep – BBQ’d sausages and fabby veggies in a tomato sauce. A much cooler night and after an al fresco breakfast and outdoor cold showers au natural....we set forth.

One could spend a month alone in this area – many villages to visit & great scenery. We chose only two. Alajar a tiny place with a great plaza where we refreshed with coffee or lovely white wine depending on your point of view – it WAS midday after all. In the other village (Almonaster la Real) one of us climbed up to the castle whilst the other kept a couple of shandies cool outside a bar in the square.

As said, one could spend weeks exploring around here but we’d set our minds on the coast. So we took an excellent meandering road south with almost no other traffic. The countryside altered from mountainous and scenic to much flatter and densely populated. Then we drove several miles through an area flanked by endless plastic covered greenhouses growing strawberries, virtually as far as the eye could see – not attractive– also signs about kiwi fruit. We finally hit Mazagon , having been told it was far less touristy than other places on the coast. Well it was certainly a contrast from where we’ve been...............a definite seaside resort heaving with people and cars but 100% Spanish.

We checked into the 2 star Mazagon Playa Campsite. God knows what they were awarded their 2 stars for – it’s a bit of a dump and the Playa is a 10 minute walk down torturously steep steps; the pool doesn’t look as if it’s been open for years and half the site is unusable as it’s knee deep in sand! The women screech at each other and the masses of children and the men walk around in vests........happy camping.

Having settled in, at about 6pm we descended to la Playa – a long sandy beach with small beach bar. It was still very hot and we needed the shade of our beach-brolly. The sea (Atlantic) was surprisingly warm – well not freezing – and we enjoyed a refreshing swim. At 8.30ish we undid the cooling effect of the sea by climbing back up the hill........further liquid refreshment was needed at a large terrace bar overlooking the sea, before returning to the van for Skyping and supper. Having finally got a working number for Tom, he was on voicemail! But we had a good chat with Claire. The Spanish families were still going strong at well after midnight.

Sunday 13 May – Having left the sierras for the coast and knowing that moving on will be inland to visit Seville and avoid the ghastly costa of Marbella, Torrelmolinos etc, we felt we deserved another day on the beach. So more happy times at Camping Mazagon! Being way too hot for the beach ‘til late afternoon, we spent R & R time in the relative cool of the van doing our own thing. We seriously think the Spanish are hard-of-hearing – despite only standing a few feet from each other they seem to have to shout and whilst conversations are accompanied by a lot of gesticulating, they don’t appear to be arguing.

At 4pm ish we headed down to the beach and spent a pleasant 3 hours or so reading, bathing, snoozing and people watching – very amusing. Then a much quieter night in............the Spanish families were here for the weekend; they’ve mostly packed up, battened down their caravan/tents and headed back to wherever. It’s still hot.

Monday 14 May – Strolling around the campsite was like a ghost town – and no gaggle of Senoras and Ninos in the showers! Had a chat with an Austrian guy who put us on to a good campsite just outside of Seville, so off we set.

A long straight road to Matalascanasi with military land either side where we eventually found a large supermarket and stocked up. We saw several signs warning that lynx may cross the road! Cross country to Pilas, a shiity town where the only bar we could find with tables outside was on a very busy crossroads.............quite amusing to watch the near misses and driving techniques of the un-seatbelted locals.

We spent a bit of time in Coria del Rio, negotiating small streets and getting lost trying to find a way over the rio – there was none. So we had to drive nearly into Seville and out again to reach the campsite at Dos Hermanos – also a 2 star campsite but it probably earns it – very pleasan,t except the pool once again was empty. This is our fifth day of temperatures well over 100 degrees, dropping to 95 degrees at night – we NEEDED that pool. Apparently the law says pools can only be filled after a certain (variable) date in mid June.

The site was very European, hardly any Spanish but a lot of French, German and a few Brits. We cooked up late, eating at about 10pm then joined the Pommy couple opposite for a bevy. They (particularly he) were THE most boring couple one could ever have the misfortune to meet. They’d been in Morocco in their 4x4 convertible. We now know every boring detail of their clashes with border police, how much each component of his 4x4 cost and the colour and texture of every grain of bloody sand in Morocco. We finally made our excuses and tried to drift off to sleep (separately).

It’s actually now Wednesday but this blog is getting too long so will end here – tell you about Seville next time.

Since Caceres: Trujillo; Torre de Santa Maria; Merida; Amendraljo; Zafra; Fregenal de la Sierra; Aracena; Alajar; Almonaster la Real; Zalamea; Moguer; Mazagon; Matalascanasi; Pilas; Coria del Rio; Dos Hermanas

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