Cercedilla, July 19.
All of yesterday we had the Sierra de Guadarrama in front of us, the mountain range that divides the central highland of Castilia into two, and walking was easy. Today was different. This is what the Dutch and Flemish Tour de France adepts would call De Koninginnerit. The Royal Marching Day.
We have crossed the mountains. We took the pass of Fuenfría at an altitude of over 1.800 meters. It was a wonderful experience, even though, at dawn, it looked like it was going to be infernal. Heavy rains were hammering down on the tents and the sports center and an icy wind blew dark grey clouds over the valleys. We all wrapped up and we prepared for the worst.
Fortunately, it wasn’t going to be the worst. The rain duly stopped when we went out and the howling wind gave way to silence as we started our ascend through the meadows. The atmosphere is mythical. Long strokes of fog are floating along the slopes. The peaks are hidden by the clouds.
And yet again, I have this sense of gratefulness to be here. With these people, in this panorama, at this particular moment in history.
As we climb we enter the pine forests. The group spreads out. The difference between the first to arrive and the last is over half an hour. At the higher altitudes, where cows are walking loose in the forest, the local ranger guides us up. He is visibly happy to do so. He insists on being photographed with the Northern Column. “Go this way,” he says, “it’s probably another three hours to the top.”
From the group in the back I try to catch up with the people in front, walking along stupendous valleys of virgin forests, disappearing and reappearing from the fog. Suddenly it occured to me that I have been walking in circles all of my life, like most of us. Now, for the first time, I’m walking to get from one place to another. I’m walking to travel. And it feels good. It makes you appreciate the real human value of distance.
It’s cold and windy on the top, even though it’s July in the heart of Spain. We plant the flags of Castilia and the Rioja and the Basque country, and we eat a quick sandwich. A helicopter comes flying over low. We are used to being followed at a discreet distance by police cars. Later in the valley we find out it was a fire department helicopter who was filming the passing of the Northern Column from the air.
We take the flags and we start our descend over the ancient Roman road that crossed the peninsula. Now that we are on the southern side of the Guadarrama the weather definitely turns in our favour. The sun comes out and the hours of descend are pure fun. Just before we arrive at Cercedilla, the end of today’s leg, we are welcomed in a large meadow by local representatives of the Popular Assemblies in the Sierra.
We have left the region Castilia y León and we have entered the Comunidad de Madrid. The capital is still four days marching away but we are already in the orbit of Puerta del Sol. The villages here have started to organise themselves in the weeks after the 15th of May as part of the extension to the neighbourhoods and villages of the region. And they have prepared a stupendous lunch for us. After that, siësta and internal assembly in the shade of the trees.
At the end of the afternoon we triumphantly march the last few kilometres down to Cercedilla. We enter the village singing that we will hold an assembly at eight, and that everyone is invited. The popular participation in this town is significant. It’s like people have been waiting for us. They applaude us and they don’t hesitate to speak about their local problems, which appear to be much the same as on the other side of the Sierra. Corruption, the sale of natural resources to private companies, speculation, etc.
It’s the way of the world. And until now we accepted it, because we are told that our system is the best of all the ones that have ever been tried. But a lot of good people don’t believe that anymore. They are sick of it. Until not so long ago those people were dispersed and divided. Now they are starting to organise themselves. A married couple of school teachers join us with their baby and a backpack. They are the future, and they will march with us to Sol.