Paseo along the River Cuerpo del Hombre
From Montemayor we continued on to Puerto de Béjar along part of the Vía de la Plata, the centuries old route connecting Sevilla with Santiago de Compostela.
We walked a short piece of the route known as the Ruta de los Miliarios. When the Vía de la Plata was the main thoroughfare through Roman Iberia, these stone milestones told the traveller how many Roman miles (each measured as 1000 human steps) stood between his feet and Rome, or another important destination.
The hike took us along the river Body of Man (El Cuerpo del Hombre). As if that mythical name, Roman milestones and the lovely Roman Puente de la Malena weren't enough to awe my practical American mind, we passed close to the Tranco del Diablo. Legend has it that the devil himself leapt across this deep ravine one fateful day, only to lose one of his boots in the process. The devil's boot, now turned to stone, sits high on a hill alongside the Body of Man.
In Montemayor we visited the Castle of Saint Vincent, then waited in the plaza with a crowd of townspeople who assured us the señora in charge would be along any moment to unlock the town's pretty Romanesque church for Sunday mass. A fifteen minute wait paid off: la encargada came scurrying up the hill keys in hand, bearing freshly cut flowers for the altar. The lovely, simple church was well worth the wait. After a quick stop for a beer and a pincho of callos in the bar in a nearby plaza, we were on our way to Puerto de Béjar.
We hiked past fresnos, chestnuts, oaks and crumbling stone cottages. As we skipped stone to stone along a narrow, flooded track close to the Puente de la Malena, another group of Salmantinos waited at the mouth of the track to make their way in the opposition direction. A woman from the other group pulled me aside to ask if the entire trail to Montemayor was wet. I assured her it was not. Comforted by my dry boots and my utterly uneducated guess at the distance (in meters, God help me) she'd be expected to hop stone to stone, she followed her fellow hikers into the shallow ravine.
Before heading into Puerto de Béjar we took a quick tour of El Jardín del Conde, a 19th century private botanic garden now housing a casa rural.
We finished the day at the Bar de Chinato in Puerto de Béjar, a dark, stone, inviting place owned by Manolillo Chinato, a local poet best known for the lyrics he's written for Spanish heavy metal bands.
Each of the two Ecologista excursions I've joined have started the day with a widely celebrated coffee stop. Sunday's itinerary included a lunch break of at least an hour in a shaded grove along the river. Time for lunch, time for talk and plenty of time for a quick nap. I looked up from my day-dreaming to find each and every one of my hiking companions blissfully tumbado, eyes closed, under a tree.
My kind of hike.