San Lorenzo de El Escorial sits at the bottom of a sizeable, bare-top mountain called Monte Abantos. If you stand facing the Monastery and have Abantos on your right, you also can see two other mountains called Las Machotas, which are to the southwest of the city. At their base resides the famous Silla de Felipe II (see my other blog post). After living in the shadow of the former mountain for months, however, I assure you that it’s beauty and majesty outmatches that of Las Machotas even today.
On Saturday, my friends and I finally took the plunge and went on the hike. Now, I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t plan the trip well. I didn’t think of a route nor double-check that the maps were halfway readable. I thought that we could wing it once my friends decided on a trail. After much debate (that is, choosing something by pointing at one of the maps and saying “let’s go”), we finally elected the trail to La Cascada del Hornillo.
Once we began our walk, I slowly realized how I had messed up. The map that we were following had a bad sense of scale and an even worse set of directions. I insisted that we continue to try with the useless map. My friends later switched to one of their map apps. I think that throughout the trip my friends became painfully aware of how much I didn’t know. And I call myself a seasoned hiker! HA!
Well, we finally got on the right path. We marched uphill, steadily gaining ground while marveling at the view. Abantos was enchanting that day. She clearly had put on her best pine-forest perfume and dolled herself up with some pretty white, yellow and purple flowers for us. Every foot brought us closer to the top while blessing us with a new sight: green thorny tunnels; small patches of wild, white flowers with indentations where grazing livestock came to rest; and towering pines where the underbrush was gone.
Of course, I guided us in the wrong direction once we reached the middle of our trip. I had thought the map took us back downhill on a different trail which we had passed. I was wrong, so we climbed the mountain again. When we arrived at the top, we saw the opening in a barbed-wire fence where we had to turn left toward La Cascada del Hornillo.
Beyond the fence the entire makeup of the mountain changed. What had been an enchanting pine forest on one face had transformed into rolling, windswept meadows with lots of yellow flowers on the other. The type of trail had changed too. It no longer was a zigzagging rocky path but rather a lazy, meandering dirt road, which we happily treaded on. Finally, the temperature changed; it was darn cold! Consequently, as any brave mountaineer who faced the raw elements would do, we hide inside our winter coats and hats.
Along the way, we talked about many things: old tv-shows, our preferred childhood candy, sports, and the students that we teach, just to name a few. When we passed by a boar’s skeleton that had been strewn about the road, I jokingly mentioned how this is the beginning of every horror movie. A group of young Americans in a foreign country decide to go hiking and continue their trek despite seeing something creepy along the way. We all laughed and quickly began a conversation about movies.
In the end, did we make it to the waterfall? The short is no. We had been shivering and getting lost so many times that we took it as a sign to go back when finally a string of horses blocked our path. After eating our lunch, we decided to go back for good. It had been a nice day for everyone, and by that time, it was 2:00 in the afternoon and my friends were tired. We headed back eagerly chatting away.
Why am I writing you this? First, so that you might hike up Abantos. It’s beautiful, and I can guarantee that there’s something for everyone up there: colorful flowers, rolling meadows, green clearings, and great pines. Second, so that you know that it’s okay to turn back. Sometimes you need to be content with the progress you have already made and try again another day.