After a fiesta somewhere in Spain’s northern Rioja region, where the locals welcomed us with shotglass shouts of twenty-five-cent vino rosso, while Mecano’s “Hijo de la Luna” played sweetly in the background, followed by the raucous Gypsy Kings, we only made it on the very next day about five miles and enjoyed an emergency maneuver into a parador (a historic motel), where I sat under a warm shower for a couple of hours.
With my excited paramour at the wheel of our leased “Europe By Car,” I plotted a course on our Rand-McNally European road atlas for the remote region of Extremadura, the so-called Cradle of the Conquistadors. Halfway there, we pulled over at an ancient abandoned village which looked as if it had been rocked and rolled by an earthquake–or savaged by aggro Visigoths. At least the damned demesne might have been sacked and rubbled during the Spanish Civil War, in which the meddlesome newspaperman Ernest Hemingway carefully drove an ambulance as inspiration for For Whom the Bell Tolls. An unearthly feeling stole over us, as if we were being watched by fractured schizoid ghosts from suppressed and lockboxed surrealistic paintings by Picasso or Braque.
Guernica? Not applicable here: I’m afraid that I’m afraid.
Back in the “Europe By Car,” we jumped and sped off down the lonely desert highway into a chance collision if not with destiny then at least with deliverance—yes, from evil, what do you expect in this rambling prologue of an obvious morality tale writ large by the maestro, with of course a golden Montblanc byro.
Good luck getting my journals published!
Extremadura, located in Spain right on the Portugal border, is one of the harshest desert regions in all of the Iberian peninsula–and an unlikely spot to find anything else but prickly cactus and icky scorpions. Oh, and also lost cities. At great expense, with loads of Spanish doubloons changing hands back and forth, miraculous cities were impossibly imported here stone by stone to build two of the most amazing conurbations upon the planet: Trujillo and Caceres.
Many of Espana’s most famous explorers hail from here. Hernan Cortes de Monroy y Pizzarro conquered Mexican Aztecs; Francisco Pizzaro y Gonzalez conquered the Incan Empire; Hernando de Soto searched the Mighty Mississip for the Fountain of Youth, and Vasco Nunez de Balboa happened upon the Mare del Sur (Pacific Ocean).
The native-born heros of this austere desert region honed the necessary mercenary skills for nothing else short of complete and total domination of subjugated races in The New World. So what if the Indians (a.k.a., “Natives”) evidenced an advanced sun-worshipping civilization which included ziggurats and sundials, fields of maize and tobacco, and troglodytic cave dwellings and altar-bound human sacrifices. According to the Scots, the savvy Indians even invented the game of golf, albeit with a shrunken human head. Maybe also Polo.
But more important, they had GOLD! More pre-Columbian gold even than could be safely stowed away in our wildest dreams of the lost city of El Dorado, an Oz-like oasis mirage that had evaded the grasp of every Age of Exploration Conquistador until I at last discovered it in an undisclosed real-secret-like location.
Standing among the strewn storks of Trujillo in the Plaza Mayor with a bold equestrian statue of Francisco Pizzarro and in the impressive shadow of the Palacio de la Conquistadors, I flashed a thumb’s up at my paramour’s paparazzo-like digital camera snapping, feeling a little like Zorro.
A burly bearded gent, resembling “The Most Interesting Man in the World” from the Dos Equis adverts, offered to take a picture of us both. He then pretended to run off with the camera. We gave him a few euros and laughed off the affront, but secretly we burned with revenge, Montezuma-style.
Here also we bumped into a pretty senorita, who resembled my upstairs neighbor from my expat Paris days, and wait a segundo? Could it be?! Mecano?! She led us into a coffin-like bar in the cobblestoned barrio, where we were surrounded by grinning students from the local universidad.
What else can be said about Trujillo? Moorish castles, bold palaces, and swell cobbles like the overbites of T Royls or dinosaurs straight out of Ray Harryhausen’s The Valley of the Gwangi.
But of course, as “The Pathfinder,” I took full responsibility for rediscovering the simply marveloso architectural pileup of Caceres, founded in 1477, and still relatively unvisited compared to some places in Iberico. In actuality, this city is much older than that, dating back to over 30,000 B.C. during the Bronze Age, before Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Saracens (Arabs) and Romans (Anglo-Celts) moved in.
But the pleasures of this desert depot derive more from the friendliness of the inhabitants than architecture and art and food and drink: very Catholic with Catholic tastes. If I hadn’t been saddled down with the baggage of my persistent buzzbuzz fly of a paramour, I would have had a field day.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to check out this fair city under a sky of alabaster, as my antsy fly seemed downright desperate with diahrreatic urgency to flee these smiling desperados, squinting like gunslingers from an on-location shoot of a Spaghetti Western:
“Kitcheekitcheekoo, wah, wah, wah!”
And so, after a quick Henry James look-see, we hopped back into the dust-covered “Europe By Car” and sped south toward a much-need beach vacation, which included, believe it or not, even though I am only an ex-soccer hooligan, getting involved in the historic event now known as “STOMP”!