After leaving the fair city of Leon behind me – the cathedral, the churches, all the stunning architecture – I continued my journey westward. It was a lovely stop. I had only walked a few kilometers into town and several more wandering about on my quest to get lost in a big city.
After reuniting with folks from along the trail and sharing the necessary adult beverages and commiserations of our madness, I bid farewell to the city of lions. God willing, I’ll be back soon enough.
This morn found me leaving the hallowed and untraveled plains of Camino Madrid for the far more well-known and traveled Camino Frances. After 12 grueling days of obscene heat, little human interaction on the trails, and exhausting just about every Spanish word I’ve ever learned, my route bled into Camino Frances in the picturesque peregrino town of Sahagun.
Camino Madrid was an interesting route; the differences between it and Frances are evident in the 21 or so kilometers I’ve walked today between the two. In the 12 days I spent marching the dusty trails of Madrid, I ran into a total of 9 pilgrims (and most of them were upon bikes). In the first kilometer of Frances, I probably passed twice that number on their way to Santiago. Madrid is certainly one of the less popular (or unknown) routes – especially outside Spain for the majority of pilgrims I encountered were Spaniards walking out their front doors from Madrid itself.
Yet the solitude of the Way is nothing to scoff off; no, far from it. I found the time spent walking from one village to the next – with very few amenities in between – to be both humbling and reassuring. If you read my nonsense, you’re well aware there’s a constant war in my head. Solitude helps bring those voices to rest. That constant crunch of feet upon gravel, that incessant squeal of a bag moving with your body, the chirp chirp chirp of a thousand birds you can’t see, all served to soothe the forces at battle within my psyche. In short, Camino Madrid is just the sort of experience this lonesome Seeker needed in his Life to rejuvenate body, mind, and Soul.
Whereas one can easily find a bed on Frances without too much trouble, it became something of a game to hunt down the token albergue hidden within the confines of these confusing medieval towns. Not only that, but then you oft went on a separate hunt for the person who held the key to open said albergue. The villages on Madrid were proud to have a Camino pass through their area, but unless you spoke Spanish fluently, it did become somewhat of an ordeal to secure lodgings for the night. The guidebook I had handy wasn’t terribly out of date, but it could certainly use a touch-up on whom I need to track down (and where) to secure the key for a night’s lodgings. But it was well worth it at the end of the day for I oft had the albergue to myself (indeed, for the past week I haven’t shared a room with anyone) and was at liberty to explore the town, take all the long showers I wished, and awake at the hour of my choosing. Nothing to scoff at, certainly.
Yet, comrades, for all my gruff demeanor and insistence that I needn’t anyone in my Life, it does become somewhat damningly lonely when you walk an entire day without encountering a single Soul from beginning to end. Madrid has many long stretches – the longest being 18 kilometers between villages – where you encounter little more than wildlife, cereals, and endless fucking pine forests with sand.
How in the ever loving fuck do forests grow in sand? Why is there fucking sand in the Middle of Nowhere, Spain and why does it go on for 4 fucking days?
Solitude aside, the villages more than made up for the machinations of Mother Nature trying to be a tyrannical despot as the townsfolk were oft very helpful in tracking down food, supplies, and lodgings. Sure, I smelled like the interior of a pig’s ass after marching in the hot Spanish sun for hours on end, but the Spanish are always eager to help a pilgrim get on the right track. In Medina, the brothers of a Brazilian religious order helped me purchase new chonies after I shredded mine walking. The hospitalero of Villalon de Campos treated me to dinner and escorted me around town on a sight-seeing trip of the numerous churches and monuments (even though I don’t speak Spanish and he doesn’t speak English). The doting abuela of Santa Maria took me to Mass and arranged for me to have a tour of the local castle. Because there’s fucking castle tours after Mass in Spain. Ne’er did I go hungry or want for provisions or camaraderie in the villages – the people of Camino Madrid ensured I was treated like a proper pilgrim.
And now, comrades, it seems my solitary adventure upon the Camino has ended not with a whimper, but with a resounding boom. Whereas I have become accustomed to silence and solitude, I now must contend with Camino families and their ceaseless mirth. I shan’t sleep in a bottom bunk any time soon nor shall I have all the hot water I wish when I wash the filth from my strained body.
But that is ok for it is Camino. Smile regardless. And that is why I am here. To experience that which cannot be replicated elsewhere. I welcome all encounters – good and bad – for that is the Way.
A pair of hospitaleros greeted me as I entered my old stomping grounds: Bruno, from Italy, and Michael, from Germany. How about that, eh? Three years later and a Bruno is still watching over this place. Ain’t that something? I’ll call that a good omen any day. It sure was good to speak something other than Spanish (even if it was my equally bad German)!
For now, you beautiful people, I’m out. Onwards, then; to glory!