Sunday, 19 November 2017

The road to Salamanca

Hola Espana
In March 2015 we planned to drive home from Isla Christina using the A66 through Extramadura, which we almost did. Beyond Zafra we ran into torrential rain. In Merida we got chatting to a couple in a car park who were heading south. We learned that our monsoon was an arctic blizzard north of Burgos. They recounted tales of mohos being towed out of snowdrifts by all-terrain trucks provided by the Spanish army. We decided to take an unplanned trip to central Portugal until things improved in Cantabria. So we headed from Merida to Nazaré, visited Figueres da Foz and Coimbra, then a week later headed back to Spain via Cuidad Rodrigo and Salamanca. This is a long-winded and possibly fatuous explanation of why I am feeling perky this morning. The prospect of driving the missing bit of from Badajoz to Salamanca pleases me inordinately. Perhaps this means I am easily pleased, however if you can't get your kicks on route A66, then something in your soul has died, because it is a magnificent, epic drive.

Northeast of Badajoz for 50kms or thereabouts the road meanders across an arid plateau  - white soil dotted with spindly pale green bushes. The horizon is ringed by blue shadowed Sierras, it looks uncannily like the road southeast from Las Vegas towards the Arizona border.

Beyond Caçeres tall viaducts cross the gorges of the rivers Almonte and Tejo in quick succession. As we approached a low range of hills, a Repsol station spread down the slope, the big black square of asphalt a startling contrast to the beige plain beyond. It had a hundred foot sign and an empty forecourt, the road ahead was empty, the rear view mirror too. In celebration of this road movie moment my brain filled with a cliched earworm - Rickie Lee Jones' haunting 'Last Chance Texaco'. Spain is the only European country that we know that provides such epic road trip moments, the kind that you get driving in America or Australia. Perhaps Scandanavia or Eastern Europe - Ukraine or Russia has epic, empty landscapes like this too, but we have yet to visit them. 

Now we were nearing our destination, a campsite on the edge of the Parque Nacional de Monfragüe, a few kilometres from Plasencia in the north of Extramadura. The park is famous for being home to 900 European Black Vultures, the continent's largest bird of prey. We did not see any. I guess they mainly inhabit the higher peaks. However right here, and over the motorway too we spotted lots of other interesting birds, eagles, buzzards and a flock of storks migrating northwards, a small squadron flying low across the plain in an imperfect V formation.

Next day we headed for Salamanca. The hills grew steeper and more wooded. We sensed that we were moving northwards as the trees were more deciduous and stunningly coloured - chrome yellow poplars and russet leafed oaks.

We both are looking forward to revisiting the city, The place was one of the highlights of our first extended trip in 2014/15. Would the little bar beside the University which did the three tapas for €10 deal still be there? We have unfinished business, over the course of two visits we only worked through half the menu.

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