155 – 4M & Confinement Hikes

Let’s see if I can produce a nice, clean, to-the-point post for once. Probably not, but I’ll give it my best shot. I should have published this article way earlier, when it could have been useful to people looking for outdoor options, while we could not leave the Autonomous Community of Madrid. The state of emergency was lifted last weekend and with it the closure of borders between regions, so we can now move all over the country. But worry none. The overwhelming victory of Isabel Ayuso in the regional elections last week basically means that the Madrileños voted that there is no such thing as pandemics in Madrid, and the first thing they did at the stroke of midnight on Saturday (that marked the end of the state of emergency) was staging a massive mask-free rave in Plaza del Sol. So give it two weeks and the shit show will kick off again. Hence the tips of what to do inside ACM may come in handy after all.  

So, there goes my plan to write a rant-free post. Blame the elections. The victory of Partido Popular, the disappearance of the centrist Ciudadanos (no shit, genius, if your campaign basically said “vote for me, I’m gonna align with PP”, what exactly did you think was going to happen?) and a massive shift of traditional left-voting electorate to the right means that Isabel Ayuso can govern on her own. The last statement is what preoccupies me the most. The biggest ideological victory of the conservative parties is that they succeeded in convincing the working class to vote against their own interest. I just finished reading this article in El País, which tries to investigate why the working-class districts changed their vote. It is only available in Spanish, but the most frequent reasons given are these: 

  • “She helped us.” Did she? When the second wave hit in autumn, Ayuso’s wicked masterplan was to confine the working class people in their districts, only allowing them to come to the noble neighbourhoods to work. (Translated: Come work in the posh bars, come clean our homes, come take care of our grandparents, but that’s it. And come on the crowded public transport, because I am not going to make the metro more frequent.) Did you forget about it? Did you forget how she asked the central government to send in the Army to help keep you in your place? Clearly you must have. 
  • “She let us live” Really? 18% of the residents of care homes for senior citizens died in Madrid between March and May 2020 (link). Moreover Madrid accounts for 20% of all casualties in care homes in the entire country from the beginning of the pandemics (link). She even issued a written order that prevented the residents of care homes from being taken to hospitals, if they were showing Covid-compatible symptoms (link and link). I may be confused about what “letting live” means, but denying healthcare to the most vulnerable part of the population sounds like a death sentence to me. 
  • “She built a new public hospital” True. A completely unnecessary one, as Madrid’s problem has never been low number of public hospitals, or insufficient number of hospital beds. On the contrary, the existing hospitals in the region had and maintain to this day almost 3000 unutilized spaces – 3 times as many as the newly built hospital Isabel Zendal counts with (link). The immediate relief to the overwhelmed healthcare system could have been provided by the purposely-built emergency field hospital in IFEMA (Madrid’s exhibition centre), but this too has been terribly mismanaged and was the structure was dismantled after mere 41 days of functioning. Read a fantastic reportage about what happened in IFEMA here. Since 2008, when former president of the CAM Esperanza Aguirre (Partido Popular, of course, currently under investigation for misplacement of public funds, why this does not come as a surprise), opened 6 new hospitals in Madrid under the scheme of public-private partnership (basically, the public sector provides the staff, everything else is outsourced to private sector at an inflated price, link here), the major problem in the region has been the shortage of medical staff. This has been IFEMA’s problem during the hardest stage of the pandemic too: the medical personnel has been taken from primary medical centres (GPs) and ordered to report for duty in the field hospital amid general chaos. Moreover, each day when IFEMA was opened cost the taxpayer 1.8 million euros: triple of a daily running cost of an average level 3 (complex) hospital. Simply providing the existing hospitals with the same staff would have been more efficient and less costly (link here). And such is the case of Isabel Zendal. Built by 14 shadily chosen private companies (through a bid by invitation, link here) for double the budget that had been originally announced (over 100 million euro as yet against the 50 required), and no one to work there. Fun fact: said companies include businesses ran by members of Partido Popular. Now, before someone clever points out that I only link left-wing press, that is because the right-wing press acts like none of the above ever happened. My question to people who changed their vote: does it really not bother you that your tax money is being used to provide saucy contracts for the businesses of friends and families of PP? Or, were the open bars the only thing you considered before casting your vote? 
  • “She helped the hospitality industry” No, she did not. And she hasn’t to this day. She merely did not close the bars and restaurants. As of January 21, Madrid was the only autonomous region that did not have a plan of direct help to hospitality industry in place (link here). The regional government was merely supposed to re-distribute the 1.500 millions of funds made available by the central government. This is how it went: link and link. In her electoral campaign, Ayuso promised 220 million of cash for small businesses, but it’s all yet to be seen. And I would not put my money on it. What is certain and what no one seems to be concerned about, is that this woman called a completely unnecessary elections, at the cost of about 20 million euro, out of sheer caprice (link here). She already was the President of the Autonomous community, she just wanted to govern on her own. And in any case, the anticipated elections only provide the newly elected cabinet with mandate until the end of the previous period, meaning the Madrileños will vote again in May 2023 (link here). Again: does the price seem fair? 
  • “She defended Madrid” There really is no argument against the nationalism common to many inhabitants of the capital, the belief that the rest of Spain only exists make the life of Madrileños difficult. I’m a little confused: why do I even have to write this article? Where were the left-wing parties before the elections? If El País went through the trouble of asking the labour electorate what their reasons for changing the vote were after the election, was no one interested in their concerns before? Or are people really appeased by freedom to have a beer in a bar?

Let’s proceed to the hikes, you’ll be needing the info in no time. 

Canyon of Manzanares

Colmenar Viejo along river Manzanares (south): Head from the train station uphill towards the roundabout with a helicopter. About that. In most places, roundabouts will be decorated with statues, flower ornaments or something innocuous and vaguely eye-pleasing. It is not uncommon in Spain for military artefacts to adorn public spaces (and there are several military bases in Colmenar Viejo, among others the headquarters of FAMET – the aviation branch of Spanish army). After all, the power of the armed forces in this country is nowhere near fading. Which is why Franco has never been stripped off his military ranks. But then half of the country still considers him a blessing rather than a dictator. The half that thinks that an outdated helicopter is a perfectly reasonable thing to put on a roundabout. (Explanation: this particular roundabout is officially known as Rotonda Sargento Joga, dedicated to a local-born sergeant who died in a helicopter accident in Afghanistan in 2005. It is not my intention to speak of the fallen with disrespect, but isn’t  it a bit awkward to commemorate a fallen soldier with the very same thing that killed him?) 

Anyway, head left from the helicopter and follow the M-618 road (note to road cyclists: it’s a stunning road to cycle on, further on it cuts through the Cuenca Alta de Manzanares Natural park and there is hardly any traffic) until you get to a wooden bridge, where you’ll turn right on a wide dirt road heading north. After about a kilometre, you’ll take a left turn that will lead you towards the river Manzanares. You’ll get to a small hydro power plant and from there you will take a comfortable gravel service road that follows the river for the most part of the hike. It is marked as camino de servicio Canal Isabel II (the utility that manages water distribution in CA Madrid). The walk will take you to Puente de Grajal (where you’ll cross the M-618 again) and on around ruins of an old mill (worth exploring). You’ll come to a point where the main path is fenced off, because someone felt it was his property. Just follow a smaller path on your right hand side. It will eventually lead you all the way to Puente de la Marmota, at the northern end of reservoir of El Pardo. I do not think it possible to proceed any further, as that is where a huge military area starts, but I am not sure, because I turned back to Colmenar a few kilometres before reaching that point and cut through the fields, because I had underestimated the spring sun and got slightly sunburnt

Starting point: Colmenar Viejo train station

How to get there: Cercanias line C4b goes through major commuter’s train station (Atocha, Sol, Nuevos Ministerios, Chamartín) every 20 minutes. The ride takes about 40 minutes from the city centre. 

Length and climb: cca 13 km, about, about 300 m accumulated climb. Approximative map of the hike here

Difficulty:  very low, suitable for children and pets

Manzanares el Real to Colmenar Viejo: I have already talked about the hike here. Wikiloc on this link (but note we hiked it reversed, as there are more public transport options from Colmenar Viejo back to Madrid). Manzanares el Real is a starting point for a lot of much nicer hikes in La Pedriza, but if you are headed that way, it is much better to drive up to Canto Cochino (be early, the access to the parking closes when at capacity, normally around 8.30 am on weekends), otherwise count an additional hour to hike up there. We didn’t have a car, the public transport only works during weekends and we started quite late, hence we opted for an easier walk. Whichever is your plan, I strongly recommend having either breakfast or post-hike recovery tapas in Restaurante Cañada 49 (you will surprisingly find it at number 49 in Calle Cañada). They have fresh torreznos from early morning.

I have already stated elsewhere on this blog that I am not a huge fan of spanish cuisine. Or rather, I cannot quite grasp the worldwide success of “tapas”, which is either a bowl of olives with your drink – big fucking deal – or we’re basically talking potatoes with random things that are either fried or come with so much oil that you could use it for a massage after you’ve eaten. If you like a garlic massage, that is. I love the ignorant cuisine that hasn’t made it to the international stage: soups, stews, widespread use of offal, seasonal vegetables (they still put too much oil everywhere, but ok), some excellent cured meat and fish. And torreznos. Fried pieces of pork belly, crispy and soft at the same time. About 40.000 kcal per bite, but who cares. Torreznos are a proof that there is a God and He is good. However, I still believe that italian prosciutto (San Daniele, namely) is far better than jamon serrano, and if I have to maintain this view before the Spanish Inquisition, given this country’s historic predisposition for persuasion techniques, I will be dying for a good cause. I am not saying that spanish ham is bad, merely that I prefer the italian one, so spanish nationalists (basically all Spaniards when it comes to food) are kindly advised to hold their horses. 

Starting point: Manzanares el Real

How to get there: bus no 724 from Intercambiador Moncloa. 

Length and climb: 15 km / 250 climb

Difficulty: very low, suitable for children, pets, and off-road cycling

Pico Abantos (1753 m): There are several ways to ascend to Mt. Abantos. We left San Lorenzo El Escorial from the small reservoir El Romeral. I purposely wanted to hike up on the tarmac road that leads to Alto de Abantos, because I wanted to witness fist hand how bad the tarmac is and if it’s climbable on a road bike. (For the record: it probably is, but descending that way may be too big a risk of punctures. I also need to ponder whether climbing Abantos – 10km at over 10% gradient – is something I really desire doing). We walked along the paved road until roughly a kilometre before it crosses to Castilla-León, where we turned right on a large gravel road, that comfortably follows the crest to Cruz de Rubens and Pico de Abantos. We then descended on a steeper and shorter hiking trail directly back to the reservoir where we started from. Wikiloc for your convenience here – this route goes parallel to the tarmac road, which makes it a much more pleasant walk. I have unsuccessfully attempted the same hike previously just after the snowstorm, photos can be found in this post. As for the complimentary food recommendation, try Ku4tro in San Lorenzo city centre: while their mains are nothing special, they offer a creative twist on traditional tapas, try galletas de rabo te toro (braised oxtail biscuits). 

Starting point: San Lorenzo el Escorial monastery

How to get there: Cercanias C3 line runs an hourly train from all major central train stations (Atocha, Sol, NM, Chamartín) to El Escorial. Alternatively, there are several bus lines from Intercambiador Moncloa to San Lorenzo el Escorial leaving every few minutes.  I’d recommend the bus option, as it’s more frequent and takes you all the way up to the monastery.

Length and climb: approximately 15 km / 800 m climb

Difficulty: medium

Cancho de la Cabeza: I seem to be coming to Patones de Arriba on important Christian holidays. I have extensively covered the same hike in my pre-Christmas post here, so this time (Easter Monday) I will only add the photos from the empty village at sunrise and the fantastic views from the top of Cancho de la Cabeza that I didn’t see last time due to the thick fog. Important: when visiting, make sure you eat at Rey de Patones, the food is fantastic. Try their carrilleras (braised veal’s cheeks) and if in the right season, the artichokes. As most Spaniards only ever come (drive) to the Sierra to eat and don’t bother with the hiking, make sure to book ahead, on a nice day you won’t find a table in the entire village. 

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