Camino Day 8: Almadén de la Plata to Monesterio

As Mikey’s bed was located right next to the open kitchen, when a grumpy Italian man started rutting about making his breakfast at 6 am, there was little use in many protestations. However, the final straw was when he turned on the kitchen lights at 6:10 – clearly breaking the 10 pm to 7 am lights off rule in all albergues. So, when the man sat down in an open-backed chair to enjoy his breakfast, Mikey got up, threw open the kitchen windows, and began gathering his laundry that was hanging just outside.

You see, in return for our vowing not to steal her sheets, the hospitalera had kindly washed our clothes and we had hung them out on lines just outside the kitchen to dry overnight. One wonders how cool that breeze must have been to an Italian man sitting in just his boxer shorts.

Mikey really isn’t a fighter, but he did enjoy seeing the sunrise behind the bullring at the end of town. Yes, it is a cruel mistreatment of animals and we do not support the fights, but the cultural aspect and history is quite interesting to Mikey.

Speaking of animal cruelty, here’s hoping that this little guy survived the morning as he was found chilling in the middle of the path. (Mikey also hopes that this snail will not be his spirit animal today as he has much ground to cover before evening.)

It was an ideal morning for hiking. The ground was dry, but it was still soft from the not too distant rain. The air was brisk and there was a slight, cool breeze.

Unlike yesterday’s route, 80% of today’s walk would be on dirt paths with trees and partial shade. We would also be getting up close and personal with quite a few animals. (Do you want to see?)

This is a video collage that Mikey put together. Yes, there were other animals on today’s trek, but these were the most photogenic and least harassed by our protagonist.

There were also other pilgrims, but the 25 or so of us who began in Almadén this morning were rather evenly spaced so as not to travel in a pack but to still see each other at times. What’s more, many of the group we had been with since the first night out of Seville would be staying overnight at our halfway point in El Real de la Jarra.

El Real was a quaint little town. All of the houses were whitewashed and many had beautiful potted plants and other colorful accents that stood out nicely.

The church was not open this morning (it was 11 am), so we only got this passing view of it. Mikey really likes the mirroring of the tree and steeple against the blue sky in this shot.

The sky was definitely blue. Oh, we forgot to mention that the town has its own castle. It’s funny, though, that this well-preserved 14th-century castle is now used as an outdoor cinema. What is that – a ride in theatre? (Mikey really has horses on the brain.)

A final look back on El Real, but we cannot hike a mere 14km today. Instead, we’ll be clocking in around 36km. The guidebook estimates that it will take 9 hours, but Mikey thinks we can do it in 7.

About a kilometer outside of the town, we saw this other castle. But here’s the fun part – this little stream separates the autonomous communities (i.e. regions) of Andalusia and Extremadura.

So, is this an enemy castle?! Regardless, it was pretty stunning – albeit a bit worse for wear.

Talk about stunning – our initial views of Extremadura were simply breathtaking.

As the final leg of today’s route followed a highway, we decided to stop at a truck-stop for some refreshments. Once again, a tortilla that was properly gooey inside. As an aside, if ever a server offers to reheat your tortilla (or quiché, frittata, etc.) you should listen to Nancy Reagan and “Just say no!” Seriously, though, a moist (albeit, room temperature) egg dish is much better than a hot, overcooked, and rubbery one. Just saying.

Just before entering Monesterio, we came upon this pasture. Perhaps delirious from the hike and heat, Mikey called out his best “you/ewe” joke but got nothing. Well – Fleece Navidad to Ewe!

OK – this should have been a clue in for us. Yes, that is a jamón leg. It’s like the official symbol for the town. We even passed the Jamón Museum on our way to the albergue.

But, it was at our lodgings that we were most shocked. In a “cultural events” brochure listed among fun activities like “Ham Day” and mushroom hunting, was “Slaughter Weekend: visit and participation in traditional killings.” Oh, my – wherever does one sign up?!

On that note, we went to church. Well, kind of. St Peter’s Church was built in the 15th-century using recycled Roman building materials. Anybody know how to say “use it or lose it” in Latin?

The interior was much more homely but in a warmly austere kind of way. Yes, that seems oxymoronic, but the style just fit the town.

Coming out of the church, we noticed the socialist PSOE workers’ bar and Mikey just had to go inside.

If you’re not up on Spanish politics, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party has controlled the government for 20 of the last 36 years and as recently as 2011. Yes, that is Che Guevara on the wall next to Picasso’s anti-fascist magnum opus, “La Guernica.”

Oh, and that’s a young, cigar-smoking Fidel Castro (peace be upon him) on this wall. Well, what can we say, “¡Hasta la victoria siempre!”

Another interesting find was a plethora of direct-sales ham shops. Remember all those cute pigs we saw today? Well, if you’ve ever wondered what happens when “this little piggy went to market,” let’s just say that it gets a bit macabre.

The pride and joy of the Iberian pork industry is the cured jamónibérico. These ham hocks are really pricey and are sliced paper thin much like fine prosciutto. And if you ask Mikey, they are absolutely delicious if you don’t think too hard about those cute little things out in the field.

Oh, and it’s not just the jamón part that they promote. As you can see on the chart, the Spanish pig farmers really do use most of the pig. Even the intestines are used for chorizo casings.

Mikey still wants a full ham hock, but we settled for a tapa that was simply amazing and a beef steak with a fried egg and salad – since we’re starting to hate french fries. OK – we get it – potatoes are inexpensive, but please, stop serving them with everything.

The funny thing about this restaurant was that everyone we met in town was there! The hospitalera from the albergue, the grocery store clerk, and the pharmacist who sold Mikey lotion.

The only problem was that they didn’t have to walk the Camino tomorrow like yours truly. Oh, well. Goodnight, then.