Saturday, April 30, 2022

Welcome to Our Blog - Along the Camino Madrid

This blog describes our walk along the Camino Madrid in April 2022 over the course of 12 days.  We hiked 322 km from Madrid Spain to Sahagun, Spain.  It was a wonderful experience that was unlike any of our previous pilgrimages over the years.  

After completing the Camino Madrid we continued our venture for 2 days along the Camino Frances before trekking the Camino San Salvador, and then proceeding westward along the Camino Primitivo to Santiago. 

Thank you for reading, and we hope you enjoy!

To follow our 2022 hike on the Camino Madrid from day 1 onward follow this Link.

Thank you to everyone who has followed in our hike along the Camino Madrid and our adventure! We hope you will join in following our other treks including:

To follow our 2022 hike on the Camino San Salvador from day 1 onward follow this Link.

To follow our 2016 hike on the Camino Frances follow this Link.

For a sneak preview of some of the highlights of our trip, follow the link below to watch a 20 min slideshow of our walk from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela click here.

To follow our 2017 hike on the Via Podiensis / GR65 follow this Link.

To follow our 2019 hike on the Camino Portuguese follow this Link.

To follow our 2019 hike on the Camino Finisterre from Santiago to Muxia / Finisterre follow this Link.

To follow our 2018 hike on Newfoundland's East Coast Trail (ECT) follow this Link. 

To follow 2019-2022 our 28,000km Expedition across Canada on the Trans Canada Trail follow this Link.

We hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Camino Frances (Re)joined and Reflected : Sahagun to Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon

Two days ago we finished our walk on the 322 km long Camino Madrid, walking from Spain's capital city to Sahagun, a town on the Camino Francés.  We have spent the past two days walking 55.3 km from Sahagun to Léon on the Camino Francés, making an overnight stop in Mansanilla de las Mullas along the way. Essentially we are simply connecting two routes - the Camino Madrid and the Camino San Salvador, but we have been curious about what our second time on the Camino Frances would be like.  It was an interesting experience.  

We first walked the Camino Frances in 2016, and we've come to the realization that both the Camino and we have changed since we first ventured out here.  We see now that we were incredibly fortunate to have walked this way at the right time in our lives.  It felt like a great big adventure, full of meaning and magic, and it changed the course of our lives.  It feels different to us now, and perhaps like it isn't the place for us at the present time. 

We had been hearing rumors that after two years of closures due to the pandemic and a Holy year that was delayed twice, that the number of pilgrims on this route was currently filling the available albergues to capacity.  Admittedly, both mornings we set off around 7:30 am, which could have been several hours after the typical morning rush, but we never saw any evidence of the crowds we had been imagining.  

Heading out of Sahagun we stopped at a lovely café for a breakfast of café con leches and croissants, which we enjoyed on an outdoor patio in the cool, sunny morning air. There were two other pilgrims in the café, and a couple of Civil Guardia officers, whose insignia had the symbol of a shell.   We hadn't seen any evidence of this on the Camino Madrid at all, but we encountered the same level of pilgrim presence and support over both of our days on the Camino Francés. 

When we headed out of Sahagun, across an old stone bridge, we picked up a dirt Senda that ran along beside the paved road.  Essentially we followed this tree lined dirt track for the remainder of the first day and part of the second, which made for easy if not especially interesting walking. 

When we reached our first town, Bercianos de Real Camino, we immediately saw the extent of the development that has occurred along the Camino over the past six years.  When we originally visited this sleepy town there was a single donativo albergue and one bar which was frequented by locals.  As we approached the town today we encountered a brand new looking, warehouse-sized albergue, which we stopped at for coffee.  Bercianos now includes at least three albergues, two hostals, and numerous bars and restaurants.  This development seems to have brought the village from rags to riches, hopefully bringing some benefits to the local residents.  The towns we passed through over the rest of that day and the next seemed to have undergone similar changes. 

As we walked we also reflected on how much we had forgotten. The trail we covered over the past two days may never have been the most memorable of stages, but we found ourselves walking beside a huge mountain range off to the north.  The steep rock and snow covered peaks provided a striking and dramatic background for the green, yellow, and brown fields. We have no memory of seeing this mountain range at all during our first walk along the Camino.  It made us question how well we actually know the things we think we know because we've been there, done that, and or had that experience.  

As we walked we also realized how different we've become.  For one thing, our focus has shifted.  Just after Bercianos del Real Camino we came across a bird watching area, and Sean didn't hesitate to wade out into the marsh to take photos of a Black-backed Stilt.  On this Camino we are much more aware of the birds and other wildlife we're seeing along the way than we were six years ago.  We're also much more willing to make detours, take our time, and add extra distance. 


We also have a different perspective on walking.  The first time we walked this trail we stuck to the daily stages suggested by our Brierly guidebook, obediently walking around 20-25 km each day.  It didn't really occur to us to walk farther, and we often felt that those distances were enough.  This time around we walked almost two of those stages at once, and we now know we are capable of going farther than that.  However, after about noon on both days we saw only a handful of other pilgrims on the trail, and it almost felt like we were doing something wrong.  The culture of the Camino is so strong it felt like we were violating some unwritten Camino rule and we should be off the trail and not still out walking.  




Even looking at the landscape, we see it differently now.  Rather than experiencing each town as a brand new and mysterious community, we realize we are steadily walking towards the outskirts of Léon.  We were aware of the freeway beside us and the high speed train corridor linking the towns.  We are becoming better at reading things in context, but at the same time we've lost some of our wonder and capacity for feeling lost in the moment. 

Having said that, we thoroughly enjoyed our time on the trail over the past two days.  On the morning of our first day, just as we were leaving Sahagun, we were hailed by the Polish pilgrim we met on Day 3 of the Camino Madrid.  We were so thrilled to know he made it, and also curious about his stages because we never saw him after Manzanares del Real.  


We ended our first day in Mansanilla de las Mullas, where we shared dinner in the albergue with Theo (from the Netherlands) and Muffin, Morris, and Tripp (from Texas), all of whom have walked the Camino Francés from Saint Jean Pied de Port.  It was wonderful to share a good meal and stories of the Camino with other English speaking pilgrims.  This is something we've missed so far, and will perhaps miss again when we head back onto the lesser known routes.  

On our second day, which was only about 20 km, we continued to enjoy being part of a larger community of pilgrims, and to enjoy the amenities that were provided along the route to support us.  These have been two wonderful days on The Way, and they have  given us much to think about.  

 
Today we reached Léon, where we re-lived many wonderful memories from the time we spent here in 2016.  Indeed, it felt like we were walking through our past, and perhaps this led us to one of those highly unnerving moments of déjà vu.  We were walking towards the cathedral in Léon when a man walked towards us on the street.  He was the exact twin of someone we had hiked the Camino Frances with in 2016, and he smiled and waved at us as though we were long lost friends.  We passed each other without speaking, but it was like walking past a ghost.  It made us wonder what the message in this strange encounter was as we prepare to set out on a new adventure along the Camino San Salvador

 

Cerrado, Cerrado, Cerrado right to the end : Villalon de Campos to Sahagun

Well, today we finished the Camino Madrid portion of our pilgrimage, and I feel the ending was entirely perfect - the albergues and bars were 'cerrado' right up until the very end.  Nonetheless, it was a beautiful walk, the weather was gorgeous, and it was a phenomenal wildlife day.  


We left the albergue just as the sun was rising, being careful not to wake the hospitaleros, who were out late last night.  We made our way to the centre of town, hoping to find breakfast, but nothing was open yet, and there were no signs that anything was about to open in the near future.  Once again, we set off down the trail with empty bellies, hoping to find breakfast somewhere along the way. 

We followed the winding red dirt trail out into rolling fields of brown, green, and yellow.  The slanting golden rays of the rising sun were illuminating the young green crops and creating curving shadows across the rolling hills.  The sky was a clear blue, the air was cool and still, and the only sounds were those of birds singing.  Looking back we could see Villalon de Campos behind us.  It was a beautiful morning. 

We cruised through the peaceful morning, stopping frequently to watch and photograph the birds.  Around 8 km into our hike we came to the tiny village of Fontihoyuelo.  Our arrival was ungracious - through a farm whose large and odoriferous manure pile had escaped onto the trail, creating a short section of boot swallowing muck.  At first I worried that the scruffy dog lying in the mess was dead, but it turned out to be merely lethargic.  An equally depressed looking cat watched us as we passed the barn, where someone inside was angrily yelling and banging around.



As we crested the hill and descended into the rest of town conditions improved slightly, and a beautiful view opened up in front of us, revealing a snow covered mountain range beyond rolling green fields.  As our guidebook suggested, this town offered no amenities for hungry hikers.  We stopped at a bench outside the church and for the second day in a row contented ourselves with a few slices of baguette and some jam we had purchased in Villalon de Campos.  

We continued our hike across the meseta, struck by the incredible beauty of the landscape around us.  Conicle trees and umbrella conifers dotted the landscape of green fields through which our red track snaked.  In the distance tall snow covered mountains loomed. 

We were constantly entertained by the enormous wild turkeys dotting the fields around us. The males posed on hills and ridges,  trying their best to attract the girls, while others faced off against each other, never flinching. 

 
Around 11 am we arrived in Santervez de Campos, where we had been hoping to stay last night, but had never gotten an answer from the albergue.  The trail once again seemed to weave around the edges of town, but we chose to climb the steep hill to the Ponce de Leon Museum, which is also the location of the Albergue.  

The museum was closed, as was the albergue, but we stopped to admire the bronze statue of Ponze de Leon and read about his achievements.  Juan Ponce de Leon was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who was born in 1474 in Santervás de Campos and went on to become leader of the first official European expedition to Florida.  He later served as the first governor of Puerto Rico.  Interestingly, he first came to America as a 'gentleman volunteer' with  Christopher Columbus' second expedition in 1493.  

After walking past the museum we searched for an open bar or café and came up empty, so we walked to the edge of town and took a break at a group of picnic tables along the Camino.  We were in a tiny park shaded by trees, just at the edge of the road. As we took a break we watched a group of over a dozen swallows collecting mud from a puddle in the dirt road. 

One group dragged their beaks back and forth in the mud, flying off with huge clumps of sticky, heavy mud entirely covering their bills.  The other group arrived with small bundles of sticks in their beaks which they coated with mud before flying off.  It must be nest building day! 

Before setting off we refilled our water bottles at the nearby fountain and came across a small ditch in which Sean spotted a beautiful frog with a bright green stripe down his back. 

At this point we had reached the suggested end of this stage of Camino Madrid, but since it was still relatively early and we'd had no success in reaching the albergue, we continued on.  It was another 8 km across relatively flat, open fields to the next tiny town of Arnillas de Valderaduey.  This town seemed to be decomposing.  Piles of bricks, broken roof tiles, and assorted debris formed heaps among the weeds at the edge of town.  The bricks of the adobe walls were melting and falling down, and those of the church tower and walls were sloping and bowing.  It seemed like the place was slowly sinking into the earth.  

After quickly making our way through town we crossed a small footbridge and then found ourselves following a dirt track down the side of a small canal.  It was so full of life that our pace dramatically slowed down.  Birds flitted in and out among the trees, and frogs could be heard calling down by the water.  Perhaps best of all, a small deer scampered ahead of us through the trees before crossing the canal with a huge crash and splash.  It was magical, and Sean ended up photographing several new bird species. 

Around 2:30 pm we came to the final town on the Camino Madrid, where we had hoped to stay for the night.  Grajal de Campos boasts not one but two castles, the Church of San Miguel, with its Mudejár architecture, and a colonnaded central Plaza Major.  The albergue is in one of the castilles, and we had hoped to stay there.  Unbeknownst to us, on Tuesdays the albergue is only open until 3:00pm.   Although we arrived at 2:30 pm, there was no one there, the door was locked, and no one answered either of the phone numbers on the door.  We went to the local bar and had a cold cerveza, waiting to see if we could get a response.  We called the numbers listed three times more in the next half hour, with no answer. The town hall was listed as opening again at 4:00 pm, so we waited to see if anyone would arrive who could let us in.  Those at the local bar laughed at our attempts to get in as if we were making some kind of joke.  By 4:45 pm, sitting at the door to the albergue and town hall with no one there or showing up, we simply gave up and decided to walk the final long kilometers to Sahagun. 


Our journey along the Camino Madrid has been incredibly beautiful, but since the beginning it has been plagued by holidays, regional days off, temperamental hospitalerios, and closures.  To me it felt entirely fitting that each albergue in the final kilometres remained cerrado until the very end.  When we finally entered Sahagun we learned that the place to get credentials for the Camino Madrid is now permanently closed as well - how else could this end?  Even the volunteers at the central albergue in Sahagun were stunned to discover that there was a route that came from Madrid.

When we walked into Sahagun it didn't look even remotely how we remembered it when we passed through on our walk along the  Camino Frances in 2016.  We saw it with new eyes and from a new perspective.  On one hand we very much enjoyed finding food for the first time in several days, finding accommodations that were open, and hearing English spoken around us by other pilgrims. On the other hand, the prevalence of shells, bars and streets named for peregrinos, as well as the many references to the Camino made us feel a little like we'd left Spain and Spanish culture behind and entered into a pilgrim corridor built more for tourism than reflection.  I guess the next few days will give us a better understanding of what the Camino Frances is and has become. 

Distance: 46 km

Welcome to Our Blog - Along the Camino Madrid

This blog describes our walk along the Camino Madrid in April 2022 over the course of 12 days.   We hiked 322 km from Madrid Spain to Sahagu...