I leave Castromonte in the dark, the wind turbines in the distance are blinking in unison as the sun slowly creeps up. Another spectacular sunrise nearly brings tears to my eyes.
I reach the larger town of Medina del Campo in the late morning and for the next 8 km I’m following an old canal that’s lined with poplar trees. It’s warm and sunny and the leaves are golden, it’s beautiful. But as so often happens with this trail, my pleasant tree-lined stroll is soon replaced by a scorching walk along a highway. I plod along the asphalt, sweating and swatting flies, trying unsuccessfully to keep the boredom away with podcasts. I’m convinced all the flies in the world happen to have converged in Spain right now. They’re everywhere and are making me crazy! I steal a handful of grapes from some vines along the road to quench my thirst and finally arrive in Villalon de Campos.
I find the albergue on the other side of town and am greeted warmly by Paco, the volunteer hospitalero. Stephany shows up about an hour later and once again it’s just the two of us in the albergue. We make a pasta dinner and share a bottle of wine and chat late into the evening. I’m loving the Madrid route so much and sad that we’ll have to join the Frances route tomorrow. I’m not ready for the change yet.
The next morning is cool and cloudy, a drastic change from the previous day. There’s rain in the forecast, but I’m hoping it doesn’t happen. I walk with Stephany all morning and enjoy having company for a change. We’re walking through flat, open fields with nothing to see on the horizon but some ominous clouds. The wind starts to pick up and then the rain soon after and it’s freezing! The wind is so cold and I’m wearing shorts because I only have one pair of leggings for pants and don’t want them to get wet. We can’t talk anymore, the wind is too loud and our heads are ducked down and hoods pulled tight around our faces. We finally reach the town of Santervas and stop at the albergue to warm up and see if the storm passes.
We’re greeted warmly by the hospitaleros, a couple from Madrid. They’re more than happy to let us hang out and take a hot shower. They show us the bunk room in case we do want to stay and it’s so nice and cozy and there’s big heavy blankets, and even though we only walked maybe 7 miles, we decide to call it a day and stay, and I’m so happy we did! After we shower we’re served hot soup and bread and beer and tea and a platter of cured meats. There was a big festival in town yesterday and they donated all the leftover food and drinks to the albergue.
After lunch we get to join in on a tour of the Ponce de Leon museum, which happens to be in the basement. The albergue is an old monastery and they’ve created a really cool museum dedicated to Ponce de Leon. It turns out he was born here and often came back to visit his mother after his journeys.
A few more people arrive at the albergue in the afternoon, a Spanish couple on horseback, a Spanish woman walking to Sahagun, and a French man heading to Villalon de Campos to take over for Paco at the albergue. We all gather for a group dinner in the evening and it’s a feast! Sautéed leeks, salad, bread, cured meats, braised lamb, and multiple bottles of wine. No one speaks English except for Stephany, so I can’t really talk to anyone. It’s a crazy mix of French and Spanish and I’m trying so hard to pay attention and figure out what people are saying. Thank goodness for Stephany, she translates the French as much as she can. The French guy speaks Spanish and one of the hospitaleros speaks French, so it’s often multiple translations from Spanish to French to English. It’s so fun but so exhausting! We finally finish up and go to sleep around 11:00, so late for me!
I join everyone for breakfast in the morning—super strong coffee, toast, and jam. I’m the first to leave. It’s still cloudy but the sun peeks out for just a minute as it rises then quickly becomes swallowed back up by the clouds. I’m trying to enjoy the peace and solitude this morning. In a few hours I’ll reach Sahagun, where the Camino de Madrid intersects with the Frances. It’s lightly sprinkling off and on but doesn’t seem too threatening. But eventually the light sprinkle becomes heavier and heavier until a cold steady rain is falling. There’s not a strong wind like yesterday, but it’s still really cold. The last few miles into Sahagun are a frustrating slog through the mud. The trail markers disappear for some reason and I can’t get my phone to work so I can look at the map because my phone is useless when the screen gets wet. The trail has become impossible to walk on. The dirt here is like clay and when it gets wet it’s so incredibly slippery. I can’t get any traction, it’s like walking through slippery slushy snow and the clay keeps clumping up on my shoes and I’m flicking tons of mud up onto the back of my legs. It’s a mess and I’m cold and frustrated and over it. I finally reach Sahagun close to noon and as soon as I step into town I see it, the masses from the Camino de Frances limping their way down the street, ponchos billowing in the wind. It’s like a bad zombie movie. I’m immediately repulsed and ready to just quit. I walked the entire Madrid route, do I really need to go to Santiago?
I find a cafe and join the hordes of cold wet pilgrims inside. I’m immediately annoyed by a woman ordering at the counter who keeps asking the bartender what chorizo is. She just can’t seem to grasp that it’s sausage. How do you walk for over 300 km in Spain and still not know about chorizo? I’m sure these towns are so sick of the thousands of pilgrims clomping through the streets with their ridiculous backpacks and stupid questions.
I clearly need a change of attitude so I order a green tea and a giant fattening pastry and book myself a room in town for the night. I need the rest of the afternoon to regroup and decide if I really want to keep walking to Santiago. It’s gonna be 2 more weeks of this and I’m not sure if I’m up for it, but I decide to abide by a thru-hiking adage—never quit on your worst day.
I check into my room and after a hot shower and a glass of wine I’m already feeling better. I’ve decided to at least give the Frances a full day’s walk tomorrow and see how I feel. The sun will be shining and I’m sure I’ll have a new perspective on things…I hope.