Friday, November 15, 2013

Camino 2013 - Day 5: Jaca To Santa Cilia Via The San Juan De La Peña Monastery

Leaving Jaca the Camino Aragones turns to the west-north-west and starts heading in the direction of the Camino Frances.  We would not walk out of Jaca today.  Instead we would take a bus a little farther south.  This was the one bus on the Aragones/Frances Caminos that I consider justified.  Between Jaca and Santa Cilia there is a side trip that is recommended by nearly everyone: San Juan de la Peña monastery.  While you can hike to the monastery, the trail is not maintained and is not considered safe to do and is not recommended.  We followed advice we'd read on the Camino Forum and took a bus there instead.

The bus takes both museum workers and visitors to the "new" monastery.  It took us up a windy road up the side of a mountain and dumped us off in front of a church.  Our bus tickets included admission into the "new" monastery museum and the "old" monastery ( i put them in quotes as they are both old monasteries). At first I really wasn't interested in the museum.  I was mostly interested in the "old" monastery.  I have said many times, and am repeating once again, I am not a museum person.  Having said this, since I was already there, I figured I might as well see what was there.
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The beautiful "new" monastery museum.
What a surprise.  The museum is gorgeous.  The museum building is built over the excavation of the "new" monastery.  The floors are clear glass and you can look down into the excavation.  In various rooms of the excavation white statues illustrate the room's use.  What wasn't made of glass was made of a dark stained wood.  There were displays of artifacts excavated as well as 3-D film loops showing different aspects of the monastery history and daily life.  Very impressive.
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Looking through the floor at the excavations and the illustrative statues.
After the museum we got back on the bus and road the short distance to the "old " monastery.  The "old" monastery is built under a cliff.  The history (or legend) of the monastery goes back to at least the tenth century.  Legend has it a hunter was chasing some prey on horse back.  The horse jumped a hedge and rider and horse found themselves falling off a cliff (peña in spanish).  The rider prayed to save his life and was astonished when he and his horse landed gently on the ground.  A hermitage was soon established on the site.
2013-09-11 San Juan De La Pena Panorama
The "old" monastery built under a cliff.
We were give a self-guided tour sheet (in English) and we toured the "old" monastery.  It reminded me a little of the castles the Wife and I toured in Jordan.  Another legend says that the holy grail was once kept here before it was moved when war threatened its safety.

We walked through the "old" monastery trying to stay ahead of the tour group so that we could take pictures.  While being small, the "Old" monastery is very interesting and you can almost feel the history there. Both the "old" and "new" monasteries were pretty cool and the side trip was definitely worth it.
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View on the way down from the Monastery.
Since we wanted to walk today, we headed down a path, across from the "old" monastery, that would ultimately take us back to the Camino and to the town of Santa Cilia.  The distance from the monastery to Santa Cilia is roughly the same as the distance from Jaca to Santa Cilia.  The trail is steep and rocky in places but it provides some wonderful views on the way down.
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The round rock covered trail could be hazardous at times.
First stop on the way down in the town of Santa Cruz de la Serós.  We stopped at a church here and got a stamp for our credential.  Not far from the church was a ceramics shop.  I walked through it and found some awesome handcrafted clay magnets - a monk and Saint James.  They seemed delicate but I hoped to get some type of packing from the shop owner/craftsman.  Unfortunately the owner was not in his wide open shop.  I waited for a few minutes saying "Hello!" every now and then.  I debated just leaving money on the counter but, without proper packing, I didn't think they would survive the next forty-some days.  I left the store without the magnets.  Some twenty to thirty days later, while I was walking, it dawned on me that the two magnets could have fit in my glasses case and, with a little paper packing, they probably would have survived.  Sadly I thought of this a little too late.  First the train station tour, now this.  Kind of sucks.
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A marker along the trail showing the way.
We arrived in Santa Cilia, found the sole albergue, and did our chores. There wasn't much in the town except a small bar (We would later find a public library with computers where we sent emails for the day).  We spent most of the afternoon relaxing in the albergue, visiting the church, and watching the sheep that were grazing across the street.

J-M arrived a bit later.  Having heard about the monastery, he'd decided to walk up to it.  He said that the climb up to the monastery was not fit for mountain goats.  The fact that J-M was walking the entire way in sandals didn't make it any easier.  After a very difficult sixteen kilometer climb, he arrived at the monastery at 2:15PM ... fifteen minutes after the start of siesta.  The monasteries and museum were closed for the next two hours.  He didn't have time to wait so he turned around and walked the sixteen kilometers to Santa Cilia.  Poor J-M.  He walked thirty-two kilometers for nothing.

The albergue served a pilgrim's meal that turned out to be excellent.  The food on the Camino this time around was almost always good if not great.  The meals on the Aragones had a very home cooking feel to them.  Last time I could count the good meals on one hand.  This time I can count the bad meals on one hand.  Not sure if the food was better or we just ate at better places but whatever it was, it was a definite improvement.

Pictures can be found in my Camino de Santiago 2013 Flickr set.

Total Distance on Day 5 : 16 km ( 9.94 Miles)
Total Distance Walked: 95 km (59.03 Miles)

2013-09-11 Track Image
Approximate Track of the day's hike.
[Click on map for a larger version]

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