We bade goodbye to Luis at the bus station in Cacares, near to Trujillo, and I was sad as he had become a friend. The way out of Extramadura in August cuts across a dun coloured Savannah like terrain, beetle cattle scattered across it, strange int heir brown wobbly flesh, shiny skinny ribs and cardboard rectangular shapes. Low buffon trees stood in silence, exotic drinking vessels standing on black shadowed beer mats. Time skulked and idled, it was hot.
Land runs freely here, among the trees and up and down the hills without interruption by field marking or fence. On stranded hillocks, boulders the size of the houses, piling up on top of each other, leaning in like indolent teenagers.
Nearing Salmanca, the yellow ground sprung green and brown, blue-green fruit tress flashing their silica leaves in the sun. A large reservoir, faced off around its edge by bright white sand was surrounded by the massive heights of the Sierra de Gredos, part of the Sistema Central mountain range. According to the map, the highest peak seen from my view was the 2400 metre whopper, Calvitevo. These peaks have ground down summits of fine rubble, with stunted trees and bushes making it up to near the top, the heights simple and inviting to exploration, serene below the space helmet moon. A miscellany of small valleys lay down below the coach, wrung around with walled fields along their contours, making a patchwork pattern. At a pass between high points, the stone wall etched fields are like riveted bands making the burned hills appear as leathery helmets.
On the way to Zamora, the land becomes less chaotic in design and altogether more boring and affluent. Square constructions and an agriculture with a golfcourse-aesthetic, even the scrub land seems orderly and twee, all the groves and crops geometrically plugged into well-watered spaces in the landscape. Rustic no longer. But at least dramatic in its expansiveness, one vista throwing open a vast blanket of wheat fields drifting for kilometre after kilometre in both directions, wind turbines lining the vanishing hills like idling blades on a combine harvester. A field of solar panel blades almost presuming to deceive the viewer that the earth is a thing that can fly. Now at Zamora, we traverse the lush Rio Duero and the bus stops for a break.
On again northwards, sun flower fields among the wheat, silos standing around like disused rocket packs. Another change, and we see trees! A veritable forest, the first in all of the 1000s of kilometres we had seen in Spain. Whole groves rushing upto the roadside, thick as polar bear fur, vivid and lush, random roadside bunches in exciting sprays like a florists mixture, one sandstone Church on a promontory looking down proudly over these Spanish rarities as if to say "look at our trees!".
Next the land dropped away below the road and became wet, the mango orange sun slipping low towards the shattered jawline of peaks, cornfields looking like stubble upon a now grass inhabited landscape. The sun plunged lower and the hills sulked a misty blue, a final splash and it was gone and Waseem broke his fast with a twenty pence muffin soaked in orange juice (our discovery!) and a sandwich he bought in Cacares when we departed. Up ahead in the falling light, the dark lilac arms of the Cordillera Cantabrica pulled the coach up and over into Oviedo, the dark tugging at our eyelids and at my pen, its handsome heights soon shrouded from attention, my last sight the altitude throwing yellow vegetation and scrub back into view, something normal at sea level in Extramadura.
Sso here ends my geographical description of an eight hour bus ride up most of the length of Spain's western half. Make of it what you will, but what was clear was that as the bus advanced the landscape's wealth increased in terms of greeness and growth and modern construction, familarity (in an englishman's eyes) and order increased and by inference fun decreased too. Extramadura seemed to be more rustic than I had ever imagined a european countryside to be, idealistically rural, unassuming and with a restrained ambition. I was sad to have left there. Extramadura was the most beautiful landscape I had seen in all of Spain, but how would Asturia (like Austria!) and its famous Picos de Europa mountain country compare? Stay tuned...