A Weekend in La Extremadura
On Valentine’s weekend, my API program took a romantic getaway to La Extremadura.
La Extremadura is an autonomous community (or province) of western Spain whose capital city is Mérida. It is borders Portugal to the west.
Bright and early Friday, February 13th, we boarded an attractive tourist bus and we were off to see the land of La Extremadura.
First stop: Mérida
Mérida is a tiny pueblo in the province of La Extremadura with just a few unique architectural features, more specifically, ancient Roman ruins. As we pulled into the city, I looked out my window to see an ancient Roman bridge stretching over Guadiana river stretching 790 meters, making it the longest of all existing Roman bridges. This bridge, the Puente Romano, dates back to about 835 C.E. Meanwhile, the Lusitania Bridge just a few meters away, completed in 1991, is already experiencing structural problems.
After an “extensive” bus tour of the “numerous” attractions in Mérida, we went to the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida. We first saw the Roman amphitheater, pre-dating the Colosseum in Rome. It was the main arena for gladiatorial contests and staged beast-hunts with room for 15,000 spectators.
Fun Fact: Maximus Decimus Meridius (the name potentially alluding to the Roman city of Mérida) is said to be from near Trujillo (another Roman town near Mérida) in today's La Extremadura, Spain.
In the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida, we also saw Roman theater. This structure dates back to approximately 16 B.C.. Besides being the most visited monument in the city, it has been home to the development of the Festival de Mérida since 1933. This beautiful theater could hold audiences up to 6,000 in its time.
After the tour, we got an hour to go find lunch and get back—this was definitely a time crunch in the leisurely lifestyle of Spaniards, especially in a pueblo as small as Mérida. A group of 8 of us found a small little café hidden in the windy cobblestone streets where we got a drunk, bread, a main course and dessert for 6 euros! Talk about a deal! After some pasta and flan, it was a short skip and a hop to the pueblo of Trujillo.
Next stop: Trujillo
When the bus pulled up to the foot of the city, it stopped and parked. “Wait, the city is up a giant hill. Why are we stopping?”, I thought silently. Because we were going to walk up. With our luggage. That is why. The tiny city was setting up for carnival festivities and all the streets were closed. You can imagine the look on the locals’ faces when 50 American students came hiking into the square with their luggage.
Trujillo has a total population of 9,086 people. We didn’t have much time to explore after checking into our hotel but we enjoyed a lovely meal on the Plaza Mayor and views of the Castle (Alcazaba) and the church of Santa María la Mayor.
Next stop: The Hike (Cañamero to Guadalupe)
Not so bright, but definitely early, we departed from Trujillo and drove a short distance to the pueblo Cañamero where our 13.7 km hike to Guadalupe would begin. If you know me (at all), my hobbies include eating and anything but working out, so I couldn’t have thought of a better way to spend my day. Oh and Happy Valentine’s Day! We started off and immediately were trekking up a giant hill. “Don’t worry,” said the tour guide. “This is the hardest part,” said the tour guide. The tour guide lied. Probably about half of the 13.7 km hike was uphill. Actually uphill is an understatement. It was up-mountain. Nevertheless, the views were amazing and it was the perfect temperature for a hike.
About halfway through, just as I thought I was about to kill over and ask them to leave me for dead, we stopped for lunch. While eating in the mountains, the tour guide started to talk about the significance of the hike. In the 15th century when Spain was under the rule of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand, Isabel took the exact same route to Guadalupe (starting from Seville). There in Guadalupe she stayed in the monastery (where we would stay later that night) and there she asked for the money to fund Christopher Columbus’ voyage west. I sure had wished someone would have told me that before we set out on what I saw as a pointless 13.7 km hike, while the bus road empty with only luggage to Guadalupe. The fact that Queen Isabel did it somehow made it a little bit easier on the second half. Although, somehow I suspect she was carried…which I enthusiastically suggested to my program directors. The idea was shot down quick, but at least now with Queen Isabel with me, I could make the rest of the downhill (or down-mountain) trek.
We stayed that night in the monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe and enjoyed the local bar as Guadalupe natives, age 12 to 82, danced the night away in their carnival costumes. They got a kick out of the 50 random Americans, too. The population of Guadalupe is 2,096 and so we accounted for almost 3% of the population that night.
The next morning, we toured the monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe. But a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a few to look at.
After the tour, it was back to our luxurious bus for a 3.5 hour ride back to Madrid. The best part about this trip is that I wouldn’t have planned it myself in a million years; however, the experience was one-in-a-million.
Hiking through History (and La Extremadura): Success. To hear more about my study abroad experience, check out my next blog, Take me down to the [fairytale] city.