Our route from Camping Mirador de Cabaneros to Mérida is, as usual, a little counter-intuitive. To travel west towards the Portuguese border, we start off going east, doing a dog-leg onto the Guadiana River. But the reason for our strange route lies in the jack-knifing mountain roads on the map. I’ve managed to find the only relatively straight ones, with the CM4106 to Porzuna, finally washing up on the actual Guadiana on the N430.
“I was beginning to think the river was a figment of your imagination,” Seán says.
And what a treat the river is. We stop off at a parking space between Retama and Puebla de Don Rodrigo – a romantic name for a village, though a little unsettling too. The local Don Rodrigo obviously owned the whole place, and indeed the Fincas (ranches) stretch for miles. At our picnic spot all we can hear is the cuckoo calling from the fields.
Our first step on the path that runs beside the Guadiana is marked by the iridescent flash of blue – a kingfisher darts into the river.
Pond turtles dive into the water from the branch where they’ve been sunbathing.
A little further on and we get a vista down the river and the water is carpeted in white ranunculus flowers, blue dragonflies darting above them. Giant daisies wave in the breeze in the meadow beside the river. Upstream yellow water-lilies raise their cheerful heads.
Our next stop couldn’t be further from this pastoral idyll. We stop at the Embalse (Reservoir) de Garcia Sola. The mountain crags are sheer on this flooded gorge, the dam wall forbidding, though Seán waxes lyrical about this engineering feat. Even he admits though that the buzzing through the transformers below is an ominous sound.
We think of the flooded valley and what was once there, now metres below the dark waters. It is a world of rock and flood; concrete and electricity and it’s haunting at that.
Even though this is not a pastoral idyll, the isolation of the reservoir is strangely affecting. It’s not often that I’m quiet, but the two of us, for some unaccountable reason, are whispering as if we were in a church. I have prickles on the back of the neck as if we’re being watched. And, indeed, we are.
As we stand on the bridge over the dam a vulture swoops so low above me that I feel the slipstream from its wing feathers as it zooms by.
More vultures circle above the gorge to add to the eerie buzzing of the transformers. This is a strange and lonely place, with not another person in sight and not a car passing on the empty road.
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