After a good train ride through the Spanish countryside, I jumped on a bus and an hour later, found myself, properly, in Valencia de Alcantara. It’s a small town of a few thousand people, 7 miles from the Portuguese border, It’s a rough, hardscrable land, rocky strewn with huge boulders, Besides the miles of olive trees, it is obviously a very difficult land from which to reap a life. It’s a poor part of Spain and has seen an exodus of people as they look for a better life. The population of Extremadura, the name of this region, has gone from 3 million to 1 million. That means that the area is awash in old houses and barns fall down. Picturesque for sure, but evidence of a struggle.

But the town and the people persist.

This area is known, but not very well known, as being a wealth of Roman and Visigoth ruins. It’s also known as being one of the best producers of the Jamon Iberica, arguably some of the best ham in the world.

As for me: I am finding it hard to learn a new language. In France, I stayed with a Dutch family. In Laos, it was all French. And now in Spain, I am staying with a British couple. I suppose it is all very international.

I am on a farm a couple of kilometers from town with Gill and Chris, 4 dogs and 4 cats. They are very well traveled and are good hosts. We got off to a quick start as firewood is the main concern right now. The big stone house in which they live is chilly and needs a constant stream of wood. So Chris and I headed out to a piece of land where wood is cut. I climbed a dying old chestnut tree and chainsawed down a few big branches. Today will be spent quartering them with an ax. This particular batch is going to a family in Portugal (country number 23!) and then back to do some more cutting.

They used to run a restaurant and now host cooking events. Monday we are expecting 26 people for tapas lessons.

So it looks to be a good spot, out here in the middle of nowhere. But now the sun is coming up and it’s time to brave the chill and see if there are good sunrise photos on the way…

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