Madrid is located in the center of the country in what is known as the “meseta” or high plain. I always knew that there were mountains on the outskirts of the city, but never planned out a time to see them. However, when a friend from school invited me to go camping in the area, I said “Why not?” Despite the fact they were leaving only hours later, and I had not planned on doing much of anything at all this weekend. Spontaneous, eh?
Now those who know me well know that I am not completely “outdoorsy,” no matter how hard I try. Granted, I do not shy away from excursions, but I also cannot go days without showering, swim in cold lakes, and survive being really cold. However sometimes I forget this little fact and eagerly jump on opportunities that involve such activities, only to regret it later on. For instance, this past summer I went camping for the first time since my YMCA sleep-away camp days in middle school. Immediately after, I said “I’m glad I went, but just was reminded about how much I am not a camper.” Even so, I found myself aboard a bus heading to El Escorial only hours after leaving class Friday afternoon.
I was enjoying my stint of impulsiveness only to reinforce it by failing to ask my travel partner very many questions, including how many days we were staying. I headed to the metro station only knowing that I did not need food, should bring warmer clothes, and the bus would cost around 4 euro. Well, here we go…
We first met up with two other students that my friend knows from another university and we all took a bus 45 minutes to El Escorial, an area just outside of the city (but still in Madrid) where the famous El Escorial palace is located. Somehow we got by not paying for the bus on the way there, so that was a plus! Once we got there, we met up with a Spanish friend of theirs, Fernando, who lives in this area and who served as our expert and guide of the mountain. He has been climbing this mountain, called Alabantos, since he was younger and was anxious to show it to us.
While waiting to meet up with him at the bus station I was confused why I was asked if I “had enough water for 3 hours.” 3 hours? For the ride up the mountain? I figured I had half a bottle full. “Yeah, I’m good!”
Then I ask how we were getting there (bus or did Fernando have a car?) and thought my friend was joking when he said we were walking. Wait. That’s what was going to take 3 hours?! Yup… That’s when we embarked on our uphill, 3 hour, rocky, slippery, steep hike…
I thought I was going to die about half way, it was a very steep, surprising and difficult hike (especially when I thought this was going to be my break from physical activity for the week!) but it was so worth it when we got to the top.
You could see everything from the peak of the mountain once we finally got up there. We caught the sunset and later the lights of the city were beautiful when it got darker. It was hard to believe we were still in Madrid.
We set up camp and turns out camping up there is actually illegal so we had to be careful not to be spotted. That also means fires are illegal, something that I always associate with camping but once we were filling up our water bottles with natural spring water whilst hiking, I realized this was not my “normal” camping trip.
Our hidden camping site!
Once we got all set up, we started to make dinner and by that time it was pitch black. Fernando brought ravioli and meatball to eat which we warmed up with a small thing of propane, and we also enjoyed salchichon, queso, pan, and chocolate. It was a very welcome meal to say the least.
We spent the rest of the evening looking at the stars and lights of the city.
Ok, but the worst part and probably the only reason I do not enjoy camping? IT WAS FREEZING. I really cannot fathom how you can go from sweating while walking up the mountains to shaking in your shoes only a few hours later, but folks, it happens. Needless to say, around 1am I headed to the tent to curl up in my comforter and go to bed, free from the wind. I surprisingly slept very well (probably because I was so exhausted from the hike!) and woke up just in time for the sunrise.
It was absolutely beautiful, but alas, still freezing! We then ate a wonderful breakfast of juice, oranges, nutella, and croissants. Then we quickly packed up camp when more people started to appear at the peak of the mountain to avoid getting caught in our illegality! After taking a few more pictures, we began to head down.
While walking both ways there was lots of “caca” on the ground from wild cows. Although I did not see any cows, we did see some wild horses that we even ended up sharing a waterspout with along the way down.
The walk down the mountain took a lot less time, although it was very hard keeping balance on the really steep parts because there was little for your shoes to grip onto. At one point, we headed down the wrong path and I was a little more than ready to head home by that time so got a bit frustrated. However, eventually, we arrived back at the station and headed back into the city.
So. What did I get out of this experience?
a) I am not as outdoorsy as I would like to think I am. Not now. Not ever. Maybe now that I have written it down for all to see, someone will remind me next time I say something like “Oh! I’m going to go camping/hiking/mountain biking/anything that does not involve a cabin, bed, electricity, etc. that’s outdoors” that I do not actually enjoy it once I am there. And that’s ok. It’s not for everybody. For those of you who do like these activities, know that the only reason I always attempt them is because I admire you guys so much and I think that I want to make myself like them so that alas, I can be as cool as you.
b) “Somos una piña” is a colloquial, fun new way to refer to a group of close friends that I am going to continue to use! (Hence, some of you probably saw it as the name of my album on Facebook).
c) I am still thankful that I am in some sort of shape and able to take on a mountain without prior notice, although next time, I will be sure to ask for more details so I am in the mindset.
d) Salchichon is a good type of sausage that I would like to buy at the supermarket, while canned ravioli in Spain is no better than Chef Boyardee and thus, not something I would like to buy. But turns out, anything tastes good when you are exhausted and on a mountaintop. Especially, when your guide is talking about how he knows how to find roots and worms to eat around the area in the case that we ran out of food. Thankfully, we did not have to worry about that problem.
e) It is crazy that you can have the two extremes (mountains and big city) just 45 minutes away from one another. Especially when you cannot even see a glimmer of mountainy terrain from the city.
f) There is nothing like the view from on top of a mountain anywhere, and the cold cannot take that away.
g) Spanish people like practicing their English just as much as we like practicing our Spanish and thus, most of the time, the conversations are bilingual but reversed using our non-native languages. Likewise, they like learning colloquial English phrases like “cut the cheese” (that was Fernando’s favorite) just as much as we like learning colloquial phrases like “Eres la leche” which means “You’re the milk,” but is similar to our “You’re the man.”
Anyways, good news it that this list could go on and on proving that this was definitely worthwhile, as is usually the case when I get done with such activities. Plus, I got out of the city for a night and only spent 3.30 Euro, compared to the 150 many of my friends spent on plane tickets all around! This weekend has also been a good break from going out and exhausting myself with the various nightlife activities. Tomorrow, I am planning on locking myself in the library until later when I am hoping to go to a concert in Plaza de Cibeles where local artists are performing to publicize Madrid’s bid for the 2016 Olympics. We were talking about it the other night, and my money is on Brazil. What are you guys thinking? Either way, I do not think Madrid has a chance but they sure are trying and it is endearing!
Also, in case you are not following college sports, Miami is rockin’ it and I am hoping they pull out a big W against Virigina Tech this afternnon. Of course, by the time I post this we will already know but either way, I gotta say I am proud of my boys!