The equipment I brought on my Via de la Plata was the same I had on my first Camino: a bag that travelled with me to rainforests, a coat with years of dutiful service, shoes that had carried me to Compostela before. And yet I only realised how severely unsuited they were for rain after I walked in showers for hours and hours.
The road to Zafra was long and unsheltered, with bare vines stretching out on both sides. The ground was muddy and slippery, the thick earth clang to my boots and made them heavy, my pants were not waterproof.
I had my share of rain on the Camino Francès, but never this much. My trousers would get wet sometimes, but as soon as the sun broke through they’d dry in no time. Here, on the plains of Extremadura, the sun didn’t break through at all.
Hiking in rain is exhausting. As someone who likes to take breaks a lot – sit down for a bit and take the shoes off – walking non stop is no fun. And having to constantly stare at the ground in order not to slip is no fun either. I even needed music to help me through the day. Funny enough the shuffle opened with Crying in the rain…
Canadian C, German R and I walked close to each other for most of the journey. “Look at my trousers!” I complained to R, “They’re completely soaked! This is horrible!”
“But you’re smiling!” he replied. And I indeed realised I get a weird sense of adventure out of harmless misery. I was tired, the blister on my toe was bleeding and the bandage wouldn’t stick to my wet skin… But I was also getting myself through a little challenge, and I was kind of enjoying it.
In Puebla de Sancho Perez we entered a bar to warm up. A small puddle of water formed quickly around my feet, so I took off my shoes and raincoat, grabbed a legging and headed to the bathroom to put on dry clothes. Everything I wore was wet. Not just my shoes and pants, but the entire outfit from my underwear to my fleece. No wonder I was cold!
In the meantime, however, R had ordered a local red wine, which tasted delicious. Then the bar keeper pulled a little heater next to our table. Finally we ordered green asparagus omelette, the tapa of the day, made from fresh wild asparagus that were carried to the kitchen in large bustles. I honestly had never seen asparagus that long and huge, yet they tasted delicious.
“I’m thinking about taking a taxi to Zafra,” R said as our plates started to empty and honestly, I had been thinking the same. It was some 5 more kilometres to the municipal and none of us felt like getting out into the mud again. I wasn’t enjoying my little challenge thát much.
Zafra’s albergue is set in an old convent and has small, spacious rooms. We got one for the three of us. The shower had piping hot water, the hosts were the most lovely people and the beds were comfortable. However when I unrolled my sleeping bag I noticed all of my stuff had gotten wet. Not just the clothes I had been wearing: all of it! Luckily the hospitaliera instantly took care of my sleeping bag. She also brought a heater and a huge stack of newspapers so we could dry our shoes. And she recommended a good place to eat, right around the corner. So while my precious belongings were violently waving on the patios clothesline, the three of us went to have some more wine in anticipation of dinner.
If you ever travel to Zafra, make sure to eat in the Meson del Jamón El Tamboril: a lovely restaurant with super friendly people, amazing food and local atmosphere. It is found on the Calle López Asme 16. Our whole group agreed that the menu there was among the best we had on our trip, and very reasonable priced, too.
The next morning, I woke up by a knock on the door. It was the hospitaliero, kindly reminding us that it was already 9am and he needed to start cleaning. All of us had slept in!
As the sky was again packed with clouds and the radio predicted downpours, I decided against walking. Having learned the hard way that my luggage couldn’t handle rain, I asked to stay a second night (something that is normally not allowed in pilgrims albergues) and was granted permission. Now I had ample time to wash the mud of my clothes, dry my shoes (one night in front of the stove hadn’t been sufficient) and take some well deserved rest. The blister on my toe was happy to heal.
Zafra is a small town, but it has atmospheric little squares, a few beautiful churches and a fancy parador. All in all I had a lovely stay. During siesta I spend quite a few hours with the host of the albergue, warming by the stove. Extremaduran heating is basically a gas heater under the table, covered with a thick blanket. It reminded me of Japan, where they have a similar set-up covering the low tables on the tatami. I put my legs under the blanket, got my best Spanish out and had lengthy conversations with the hospitaliero, who agreed to find me a man in Spain so I could stay there forever. He also passed me the phone whenever French people called, so I could translate for him. Then he laughed: “This way I find you a job and a husband. Welcome to Extremadura!” He liked to kiss me on the forehead whenever we parted and called me niña mia. I’m pretty sure I could have made my way into the family rather swiftly.
I considered… but then pilgrims never stay long.
The next day I took a bus to Merida, where I would wait for good weather.