Drunk pilgrims near Merida

Visiting Merida didn’t take as much time as I expected. My initial plan was to stay for two nights, one in an AirBnb and the second in the pilgrims albergue, where I’d meet up with Canadian C and German R and we’d walk on together. However the city didn’t appeal to me that much at all. After strolling around a bit and eating a mediocre meal, I spent the afternoon drawing in the Roman theatre – which is absolutely lovely. The next morning I continued my pilgrimage.

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Although I left fairly late, the city was still clad in mist. It gave the town an creepy look and made the aqueduct, which lies on the Camino trail just outside the centre, a tad bit more mysterious. It was especially nice to watch the hazy silhouettes of the storks fly between the high pillars while listening to their morning clack-clack-clack.

After that, the walk continued on a bicycle path next to the road. It was a nice stroll none the less, as the mist absorbed all the sound and there was hardly a car to be seen. In fact, hardly anything was to be seen. The fog was so thick I could only guess what lay behind the fences that flanked the road. A field? A farm? A village? Who knew?

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By the time I reached the Embalse del Proserpina it was already 11am, and still I could only tell that I had reached the waterfront by the sound of the ducks and a different smell in the air. Because my Camino app had described this walk as one of the most beautiful of the Via de la Plata, I sat down and waited for the sky to clear. It was a great opportunity to get out the water colours and finish some sketches I made the day before.

Finally, after an hour, I began to see the shore. It was a pretty view, but yet not one I’d describe as exceptionally impressive.

I called it a day in Aljucén, where I walked passed a private albergue (which wasn’t mentioned in any of my resources) and headed for the municipal albergue. I expected some other people to walk in at some point, but funny enough no one came. After siesta I did find a group of people I had met before: a man from Poland, a Spanish guy and Irish S. Turned out they were all staying at the private place, which was nearly full! I instantly hated myself for having walked passed it, because I wasn’t looking forward to spend the night all by myself in the old, empty municipal. To be fair I found it rather creepy.

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However there’s nothing a beer and some food can’t solve. The beer was followed by wine, the wine was followed by hilarious chats with S, who introduced me to the orange he had received for dessert and which he was now protecting with his life. He had the weirdest, dullest sense of humour but his Irish accent made it entertaining enough for me to laugh out loud. In retrospect that might have also been due to the wine though.

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This picture of S’ precious orange on top of an empty hiervas glass describes the night better than I like to admit.

Soon S proceeded to order hiervas after hiervas until his Polish and Spanish friends wisely retreated and we were left in the almost empty bar, having a couple shots more. I don’t think I’ve ever been so drunk on a Camino! First night out with an Irish guy and there you have it… Hangover assured. Stereotypes confirmed.

I ended up stumbling back to my “private” albergue in a pitiful state, skilfully barricaded my bedroom door with a spare bed (for some reason drunk me takes safety-measures super seriously) and slept like a baby.

The next morning I didn’t feel so fit though.

I was the first to order breakfast and set out walking before sunrise. The bartender asked if I wanted some liquor to cure the headache but I wisely declined. Who drinks spirits at 7am? I wonder if S took on the offer…

By the time the sun rose from behind the hills, I had made my way out of the village and into yet another nature reserve. There were so many birds, many singing songs I had never heard before. The light of the sun was like golden honey got poured over the grass, the cows in the fields stared at me with questioning faces, plenty of locals were to be seen picking wild mushrooms. Apart from my hangover, it was a glorious morning.

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Then the road entered a more flat plain, surrounded by plantations on both sides. It was a boring stretch with a head wind and it’s repetitive stretches like these that are always the hardest, even though they pose little in terms of physical challenge. After a while, Irish S and his Polish friend overtook me and we walked into Alcuéscar together.

The albergue municipal was set in a beautiful convent and the rooms were small, with only two beds each. I got one just for myself. The hospitalieros served up an evening dinner with plenty of vegetables yet no dessert (but fruits…), then I sat inside my little monks cell and painted until the sky had gone dark outside and the chatter in the corridor had turned to whispers. Pilgrims sleep early, and I am no exception.

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