I wake up in Madrid feeling excited about this new route. I pack up my backpack, have breakfast at the hostel, then head out to find the church that is the official start of the Camino de Madrid. I didn’t care about actually starting at the beginning of the Norte route, but I feel like making this one official. I wait until 10 for the church to open and find the office inside to get my pilgrim credential stamped. The pilgrim credential is a passport of sorts that verifies you are a pilgrim so you can stay in the albergues and you’re supposed to get it stamped along your journey to verify you actually walked the route. My credential is now a crazy mix of all my routes, but I kind of like it that way.
I follow the Camino de Madrid from the church as it winds through the narrow busy streets of the center of the city. Pretty soon I’m out on one of the main streets and it’s packed with people. I’m anxious to get out of town, so I’m trying to walk fast, but it’s impossible with so many people cramming the sidewalks. I take a deep breath, slow down, and put some music on to drown out the city noise. This street seems to go on forever, but soon there are less and less people and before I know it I’m in a suburb of Madrid. I cross a highway overpass and look back at the city. There’s only three tall skyscrapers and they seem so far away. I can’t believe I just walked past them only a few hours ago.
It’s really hot out and I need to use the bathroom. I pass a McDonald’s and decide to stop in to use their bathroom and refill my water. I also give in and get a 1€ vanilla ice cream cone. I sit on a bench outside, take my shoes and socks off and enjoy my ice cream—it feels good to be hiker trash again. I get a few weird looks from some school kids, but I could care less. I’m happy to be out walking, just me and my pack once again.
After my quick pit stop I continue on the route, following the painted yellow arrows that show me the way. Soon I’m on a dirt path and it’s dry desert all around. I can still see the three Madrid sky scrapers fading farther away in the shimmering distance.
I’m passed by tons of cyclists. They are serious about their cycling here in Spain! The guys are all in their professional spandex getups and dang their legs are so muscular! I get my first “Buen Camino” from one of the bikers. I’m the only pilgrim on the trail right now as far as I can tell.
After walking for 15 miles I reach the town of Tres Cantos. It’s only 4:30 pm, too early to stop, so I decide to keep walking and try to find a stealth campsite for the night. After an hour I find a good spot nestled in some pine trees, but it’s still too early. I don’t want to set up camp until closer to dark and the sun doesn’t set until around 8:00. Wild camping is tricky here in Spain. I hear it’s technically forbidden, but also that as long you set up after dark and pack up before sunrise you’re ok—basically don’t let anyone see you.
I look at my map and the satellite image shows a lot more open land ahead so I figure I’ll be able to find another good spot in an hour or so. Unfortunately I didn’t expect all the open land to be private. The dirt road I’m walking on is lined on both sides by barbed wire fences making it impossible to camp anywhere. I’m starting to feel tired, there’s nowhere cheap to stay in the next town, and the sun is dipping towards the horizon. I have no choice but to keep walking. A fellow pilgrim on the Norte route told me that it’s ok to sleep in church doorways if you’re a pilgrim, they won’t turn you away. I reach the town of Colemnar Viejo as the sun is beginning to set. I see a large church steeple ahead, so I make my way towards it hoping to sleep there. Unfortunately the church is bustling and there’s a service going on, so it’d be kind of awkward to lay down and sleep there.
The sun is down but I figure I still have about a half hour of light left. I see another stretch of open land just outside of town. I decide to press on and leave town and keep my fingers crossed that it’s not all private land again. Well, I’m not that lucky and once again there’s fences lining the path. By now it’s officially dark out and I need to use my headlamp. It’s almost 9:00 and I’m getting tired, stumbling on the rocky terrain, and my eyes are playing tricks on me with the shadows cast by my headlamp. I have to keep walking until I find a place to camp. Finally I spot a narrow dirt path that looks like bikes have used leading off the main trail. I follow it up and over a crumbling wall and find a dirt road that looks not very used and a nice wide ditch lined with trees beside it. At this point it’s nearly 10 pm and I’ve walked almost 30 miles so this ditch is a perfect spot to sleep.
I quickly set up my tent and eat a meager dinner of bread and cheese in the dark, I don’t want my headlamp to attract any attention. Luckily there’s a glow from the nearby cities that provides enough light to work with. It’s getting chilly fast, so I crawl into my sleeping bag and fall asleep with the whir of traffic in the distance. Some people may think this all sounds terrible but I’m honestly so content and happy in my tent, sleeping in a ditch, perfectly exhausted after a 30 mile day and proud of myself for surviving this little adventure. I’ll take this over a bed in a hostel any day.