Camino de Madrid, Days 7 – 8

It starts raining as I walk the last few miles into Puente Duero. I’m cold and keep envisioning a cozy coffee shop or bakery when I get there. Unfortunately these small towns never have a cozy spot to hang out. They just have these bar/cafes whose only patrons seem to be men. I always feel slightly uncomfortable being the only female and get tired of everyone staring at me like I’m an alien. I really want to stop for a coffee or breakfast, but the two cafes I pass both have groups of men outside smoking so I decide to just keep walking.

The rain eventually lets up but it’s still cloudy and windy and cool. I get to the next town, Simancas, and decide I’m just not in the mood to walk today. All I want to do is lay in a bed and watch TV. After several tries I finally find a cafe with WiFi and I book myself a room for the night. I’ve only walked about 7 miles, but I’m not in a hurry and I’m trying to be better about listening to my body and taking breaks when I need them.

I explore Simancas a bit as I wait to check into my room. It’s a neat town with a castle and cathedral, all perched on top of a big hill overlooking a river and an ancient Roman bridge. Once I get to my room I shower and do nothing the rest of the day but lay in bed and watch stupid American sitcoms (the only shows in English). It’s amazing.

Approaching Simancas

Roman bridge

Castle in Simancas

The next morning is sunny and warm and I feel completely energized by my lazy day. I sleep in and eat breakfast and don’t start walking until nearly 11:00. It’s a Spanish national holiday today, the anniversary of Columbus landing in the Americas, so there’s more cyclists than usual on the trail. I pass two other pilgrims, an older French couple. I get excited when I see pilgrims on this route, they’re such a rarity!

In the afternoon I reach Wamba, a very small village whose claim to fame is an ancient Romanesque monastery from the 10th century. I stop outside the church to have lunch. I want to look inside but there’s a mass going on. I heard there’s a room inside with stacks of human bones and skulls and I’m super curious to see it. A cyclist named Juan stops and takes a break with me. He’s from Barcelona and he’s cycling to Santiago. As we’re chatting (he speaks just a tiny bit of English) the mass lets out and he motions for me to follow him inside to get our credentials stamped. We talk with the priest for a bit and then join in on a guided tour of the monastery. The whole thing’s in Spanish, but I’m enjoying noticing all the intricate details that the guide is pointing out. After a half hour of the tour I’m beginning to get antsy and bored and not wanting to be standing during my break, but I’m holding out for the room with the bones. I’m convinced it’ll be the big reveal at the end of the tour. The tour guide does not disappoint. Just as I’m ready to bail he walks us out to a courtyard and opens a large wooden door. It’s grotesquely spectacular. A cavern whose walls are meticulously stacked from floor to ceiling with bones and skulls. There are over 3000 skulls, all from monks that died there between the 13th and 18th centuries. It’s pretty incredible and I’m glad I stuck around to see it.

Wamba church

Inside the ossuary

3000+ skulls!

Me and Juan

I have just 10 more miles until I reach Castromonte. I hear the albergue there is nice, so I plan to spend the night there. I walk through mostly flat, open fields all afternoon, listening to my Spanish lesson podcast, “Coffee Break Español”. I love that no one is around to hear me practicing ordering a “cafe con leche” or asking for “la carta por favor” in my terrible Spanish accent. I reach Castromonte and am pleasantly surprised to see Stephany, the French-Canadian I met a few nights ago, already there. The albergue is great, I believe it’s an old schoolhouse that’s been recently updated. There’s at least 10 bunks and the space feels cavernous since it’s just the two of us staying there. We do laundry and walk to the tiny bar down the street, the only place open because of the holiday. There’s just a couple old men there playing some sort of dice game. The bartender is super friendly and makes us chorizo bocadillos that we wash down with nice cold beers before heading back to the albergue and going to bed.

Albergue in Castromonte

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