We are now back on schedule, having arrived here in Torremejia before lunch. We used our day in hand to make a slight detour to the city of Almendralejo, so as to give ourselves two shorter days instead of one longer one. It would have been too long: this has been the most unchanging and relentless stage of our journey so far.
The tracks, mainly sand-surfaced, are straight and level, all footprints pointing in one direction, between huge vineyards and olive groves. There is no sign of habitation between the places where we stay, and the only other humans we have seen have been burly, raisin-faced Spaniards on their little tractors, either kicking up the dust on our track, or beavering away, harrowing the soil between their rows of vines. Even from early yesterday (Sunday) they went to work.
On neither day did we have a sight of any other pilgrims, which made it seem more than ever a cultivated but elemental desert. The contrast when we arrived suddenly in Almendralejo yesterday was remarkable. As Caroline put it, this is a very grown up place: population, more than 23,000, with some fine public buildings, and literally dozens of shops exhibiting a variety of exotic fashion items - Spanish and beyond. We had seen nothing like it since Seville.
Shaking the dust of Almendralejo off our feet at sunrise this morning, we wondered how a Transition Almendralejo might start to get off the ground: it seems everything arrives there (or leaves it, in the case of wine) in a huge trailer truck: all the lorry and car drivers chuck their rubbish out into the roadside: buildings no longer needed for some industrial purpose are merely abandoned. The motorway rushes past the outskirts.
"Paths are made by those who walk on them" was the title of an early essay by Fr. Thomas Cullinan, and these are the luxurious thoughts of a couple pounding the Via de la Plata and so keeping open an historic route to a long-treasured spiritual centre: its values seem more than ever needed in a world like that of Almendralejo.