I leave the albergue around 8:00 after a great night’s sleep. It’s another chilly morning and I’m looking forward to the sun coming up. My routine lately is to start walking just before sunrise and once the sun is up and feels warm, find a nice place to stop and eat breakfast. Since this route is more remote than the others I always make sure to have some food with me. Usually muesli, bread, cheese, nuts, chocolate, and a couple pieces of fruit.
I find an empty field and enjoy my breakfast in the sun. The next town I will reach is Coca. It’s about 13 miles of walking through a pleasant mix of farms and pine forest. It looks like a bigger town on the map but when I arrive there doesn’t seem to be much here. It’s also close to siesta time, so things are shutting down for the afternoon. As I pass a small shop a tiny woman runs out and grabs my arm excitedly and starts speaking very quickly in Spanish. I finally realize she’s asking me if I’m a pilgrim, where I’m from, and if I’m staying in the albergue tonight. I learn later that she runs the local albergue and basically is on the lookout all day so she can ambush pilgrims.
I find a market that’s still open to buy some fruit and as I’m leaving town I catch a glimpse of a huge old castle. These tiny towns are filled with so many incredible hidden gems that are easy to miss. I walk around the castle for a bit then make my way back to the trail. It’s a pleasant afternoon and the birch and aspen are just beginning to show their fall colors.
A few kilometers before I reach the next small village, Villeguillo, I pass a potato field that’s recently been harvested and find a few stray potatoes that I stash in my pack to cook up later. I’m planning to stay at the albergue in Villeguillo for the night, so when I enter the village I stop in the bar (the only establishment) to check in and get the key. Two women from Sitka Alaska (Connie and Sue) are there having a late lunch. They’re staying at the albergue as well. Pilgrims number two and three!
I shower, cook up my potatoes, and chat with Connie and Sue. They’ve been hiking buddies for a while and have been on several other Caminos, so it’s fun to hear about their adventures. Unfortunately Sue is nursing some pretty bad blisters, so they’ll be taking it slow the next few days. We all go to sleep in our bunks pretty early, everyone exhausted from their walks today.
I plan to have breakfast in the morning at the bar with Connie and Sue, but when I show up at 7:30 it’s closed. It was supposed to be open at 7:00. I decide not to wait and head out of town in the dark. The next town I’ll reach is Alcazaren and it’s about 12 miles away. I’m looking forward to getting a hot coffee and catching up on WiFi when I get there. I get to Alcazaren around 11:00 and find a cafe at the edge of town. I use the WiFi to do some research on the upcoming trail. I’ve been debating switching from my current route and connecting with the Via de la Plata. The VDLP goes directly to Santiago and I wouldn’t have to walk on the overcrowded Frances, but to connect with it would require miles of unpleasant road walking. After studying the maps, I see I’ll need to make my decision by the time I reach the next town this afternoon, Valdestillas, because that’s where I’d split off the Madrid route.
When I reach Valdestillas I’ve already decided to get a room for the night (I’ve hiked about 22 miles today) and then switch over to the VDLP in the morning. However, when I arrive at the boarding house they have no rooms available and it’s the only place in town to stay. At first I’m super upset and almost cry. When you’ve been walking all day and have it in your mind that you’re done, it’s so defeating to hear you have to keep going. My options are to either stay on my current route and walk 5-1/2 miles to the next town, Puente Duero, or walk the highway to connect to the VDLP and 14 miles to the next town. I’m clearly not about to walk for 14 more miles, so my decision has been made—stay on the Camino de Madrid and head towards Puente Duero.
There’s a beautiful pine forest lining the trail towards Puente Duero and it looks perfect for stealth camping. I walk for just a couple more miles and set up a cozy little camp among the pines. It’s wonderfully quiet and as I lay in my tent I’m reminded of how much I love falling asleep to the sound of crickets and the pine needles rustling in the breeze. I was so upset just a few hours ago that I couldn’t get a room in town, but now I feel grateful I’m able to camp and that I got a clear message to just stay on the Camino de Madrid.