Homer's Travels: November 2013

Friday, November 29, 2013

Camino 2013 - Day 11: Ciraqui To Villamayor De Monjardín

We got up pretty early this morning when everyone started making noise outside our room.  I got my stuff together and went into the foyer of the albergue.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone who looked familiar.  It turned out to be Kt, a pilgrim I'd met in Omaha during some of my training hikes.  She had attended some of the Backwoods Camino Conversations.  I'd wondered if I would run into her somewhere on the Camino.  I said hi and asked how her Camino was going.  She was doing fine.  I wouldn't see her again until I neared the end of my Camino.

We stopped for breakfast in the next town of Lorca.  The weather was turning a bit drizzly this morning and it was nice to get out of the wet.

The next big town was Estella.  We ran into Ju here.  She had a harrowing story.  She'd walked a long day and had tried to stop at the town before Cirauqui (Mañeru).  That albergue turned out to be full.  She walked the five kilometers to Cirauqui just to find that albergue full as well.  Five more kilometers got her to Lorca where she'd gotten a bed (The Cirauqui hospitalera had called ahead and reserved a bed for her).  Her already long day had become a 35 - 40 kilometer day.  I can't imagine how demoralizing it must have been when you walk the extra five kilometers just to find that place full as well.

The Irache monastery.
After a sandwich in Ayegui, just outside of Estella, we walked past the wine fountain at Irache.  Last time I stopped to marvel at the spigot of free wine for the pilgrims.  Today I walked by with just a glance.  There were a few things like that this Camino.  Been there, seen it, done that.  

On the way to Villamayor de Monjardín.
We arrived at our destination for the day, Villamayor de Monjardín, and decided to stop at the newer of the two albergues in town.  It turned out that the older crowd stopped at the newer one and the younger crowd went to the older one.  Gv and I were almost the youngest people in our albergue.  There was a definite skew to the older crowd on this part of the Camino.  Later on there would be a better mix of age groups I think.

The albergue started to fill up fast.  In our room on the third floor we ran into a French man.  I have meet many french people on the Camino.  All of them have been very nice people.  I liked every one ... until I met this man.  He spoke mostly to Gv since she spoke French but it turned out he was mostly complaining about how crowded it was and I believe he mentioned something about how all the Americans, or at least the English speakers, were ruining the Camino.  He did this while lying on his bed in his underwear.  I wrote him off pretty quickly but I have to admit he was on to something.  There were a lot more English speakers on the Camino than I remembered.  Most of them were from America, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.

We spent some of the afternoon resting and eating at the bar.  Gv cooked dinner (Pasta Carbonara if I remember right).  We went back up to the bar which had a nice patio area next to a large handball court.  I noticed packs and sleeping bags along the back of the court.  Turns out both albergues filled up here as well and people were preparing to sleep outside for the night.  People who had gotten in the albergues were loaning their sleeping bags to people who hadn't gotten in. The albergues were letting them use the showers.  (It was a cold night but I later heard that it hadn't been that bad - party central apparently.)

The sun setting on the Villamayor de Monjardín church tower.
When the sun went down it started getting cold.  I ordered my first cola cao.  Cola cao is a hot chocolate mix similar to nesquick served with hot milk.  I usually don't like hot liquids (not a coffee or tea drinker) but it tasted good on this cold evening.  We sat talking to Nr, Mt, and other pilgrims we met there.  We shared Camino tips and stories with the first timers.

That evening I was pulling something out of my locker when I saw something slip out and fall to the floor.  It was my shell necklace.  The shell shattered on impact.  I felt so bad.  I picked up the largest pieces and put them in my bag.  I knew where they had to go (I'll tell you where on day 30).  My mood was a bit down after that.  This was the second shell I'd broken in relation to this Camino (I talked about the first here).

In Villamayor de Monjardín we met a couple of Korean pilgrims who now lived in San Francisco.  He turned out to be a priest though I wouldn't know this for awhile.  His wife was walking the Camino for him.  She let us know in no uncertain terms that walking the Camino was his idea and not hers.  She was doing it for him ... reluctantly.  While he was prepared for the Camino she had packed makeup (in glass jars even!) and put her hair up in curlers every night.  Her husband carried all this extra weight - her price for him making her come along I think.  We would run into them all along the Camino and the change we would see was remarkable.  More on the change in later posts.

One thing I noticed early on was the number of screens you saw in the albergues each night.  The Korean couple carried two iPads and iPods (they listened to inspirational music as they walked).  I have to admit that the number of screens was a bit disconcerting. When I travel I like to unplug.  To me a pilgrimage should be different and separate from your everyday life.  These electronic devices stop us from leaving our everyday lives.   It's also hard to meet people when you don't want to interrupt the movie or television show they are watching on their iPad.  This would decrease farther down the Camino but it never went away altogether.

This had been the second stage where all the albergues had been "completo" (i.e. full).  I was becoming concerned that the Camino Frances would become a race for beds.  The crowd, and their effect on the Camino, was starting to wear on me a little bit ... and it'd been only two days on the Camino Frances.  Fortunately this would change soon.

Pictures can be found in my 2013 Camino de Santiago Google Photos album.

Total Distance on Day 11: 23 km ( 14.29 Miles)
Total Distance Walked: 243 km (150.99 Miles)

Approximate Track of the day's hike.
[Click on map for a larger version]

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Camino 2013 - Day 10: Tiebas To CirauKing and Queen - the giants of the Fiesta.qui

Despite having eaten crap for dinner the night before I felt pretty good as we left Tiebas.  This would be our last day on the Aragones before we rejoined the Camino Frances (the Camino I walked in 2011).

A view past a marker on the way out of town.
We passed through a town or two before arriving in Eunate.  Saint Mary of Eunate is a 12th century church that is often a side trip for those walking the Camino Frances.  The  octagonal church is impressive from the outside.  Unfortunately we were there on Monday, the one day that it is closed.  There is no town associated with the church but there is an albergue next to the church that was a favorite of many pilgrims.  Unfortunately it was closed earlier this year.  Hopefully someone will take the initiative and reopen the albergue.   We stopped and rested here.  I changed the rubber tips of my walking poles while I rested - I wore through almost three pairs of tips this Camino.

12th century Church of Santa Maria de Eunate.
After Eunate the Aragones ends and joins the Camino Frances at the town of Obanos.  Joining the Frances was like merging onto a super highway from a country farm road.  The last nine days on the Aragones you could walk all day and not see another pilgrim until you reached an albergue.  On the Frances you were always within sight of other pilgrims.  It was a little disconcerting.

In 2011 there were a lot of pilgrims walking the Frances.  You were always within sight of other pilgrims.  This year, though, it was different.  The distance between pilgrims was shorter.  In 2011 183,504 pilgrims received a compostela (a completion certificate) in Santiago de Compostela.  2013 isn't over yet but, sometime in October, a Canadian became the 200,000th pilgrim this year to receive a compostela.  It felt much more crowded as we walked to the next big town of Puente La Reina.

In Puente la Reina we stopped at a grocery store to stock up on food and supplies and we had some lunch in a cafe.  This is one of the things that changed for me this Camino.  In 2011 I rarely stopped to eat while I was walking.  I would start walking and I wouldn't think about food, or stopping, until I arrived at my destination for the day.  This Camino I stopped a lot more, for breakfast and, sometimes, lunch before getting to our destination.  I blame this on Gv - She was often the reason we stopped -  but I have to admit that I soon looked forward to stopping and farther on I was often the reason we stopped.  I liked eating breakfast.

After Puente la Reina there is a hill that I'd been dreading all day.  It had been tough the 2011.  It was tough in 2013 too but, with all the hill climbing I'd done on the Aragones, it wasn't nearly as bad as I remembered.  On the way up some young guy tried to give Gv and I pointers on how to properly climb the steep path.  We both ignored the young pup.  It felt good when I reached the top of the hill and saw the young guy resting, and panting, in the shade.  I stopped briefly, took a deep breath, and walked on leaving the young whipper snapper panting in my dust.  The fact we got to the albergue before he did, and in better shape, was also satisfying.

We stopped in the town of Cirauqui.  I remember this town as being a tiny little town with steep streets but it turned out to be much bigger than I remembered.  That happened a lot this time along the Camino.  Places were mostly larger than I remember.  Some stretches were easier that I remembered ... others were harder.  Things were not in the same order that I remembered.  Others were right where I remembered.  Memory plays odd tricks.

Despite having stopped for a relatively long time in Puente La Reina, we ended up being the second and third to arrive at the one albergue in town.  The first person, a young man from Denmark, (Ek), had stopped early because of knee issues he was having.  Gv and I turned out to be fast walkers and the rest of the pilgrims we would encounter ... well, they were slower than I remembered.  Having said this the albergue was full by 3:30PM (about two hours after we'd arrived).

The albergue was a nice place.  The hospitalera was an artist and the albergue was decorated with her paintings and sculptures.  We ended up in a six person room with Ek, Nr, Mt, and another guy I don't remember.  Ek turned out to be quite the character.  He was young and thought himself wise and invincible.  He knew everything he needed to know about walking the Camino.  He expressed his wisdom loudly.  He was a nice kid ... but he was a bit obnoxious and over eager at times.

Cirauqui was in the middle of fiesta as well.  The small central square had a stage setup where either a DJ or a live band were playing music.  The square was full of old women singing and dancing.  The old men were all in a bar that overlooked the square.  We watched, and laughed with, the women line dancing to a Spanish version of Achy Breaky Heart.  They all appeared to be having an awesome time.

Dancing in red and white - Fiesta time in Cirauqui.
We ate a meal prepared by our hospitalera.  She turned out to be a very nice lady.  When the albergue filled up she got on the phone with other albergues in the next time to see if there were beds to be had.  She must of liked us as well as she let us all know what was going on and how other people were rude (An Aussie and a Kiwi had reserved for dinner but had not shown up.  The hospitalera was mad because she had turned people away.)  She was very nice to us even preparing vegetarian options for Nr and Mt.  Delicious food as well.

After dinner we went back out to the fiesta and enjoyed the party.  I had my first churros (I know - should have tried them years ago.  They were okay.).  Two giant figures - King and Queen I would guess - were brought it and they joined the dance.  This would be the last fiesta we would see along the Camino.  Sadly, we would miss a few by a day or three.

King and Queen - the giants of the Fiesta.
The party in Cirauqui continued until at least 4:00AM but I went to bed earlier than that with the help of earplugs.  This day felt pretty easy even if it felt a bit crowded.  I hoped the crowded feeling wouldn't last the remainder of my Camino.  Time would tell.

Pictures can be found in my 2013 Camino de Santiago Google Photos album.

Total Distance on Day 10: 25 km ( 15.53 Miles)
Total Distance Walked: 220 km (136.70 Miles)

Approximate Track of the day's hike.
[Click on map for a larger version]

Monday, November 25, 2013

Camino 2013 : Day 9: Izco To Tiebas

The winds were blowing, the temperature dropped, and the skies looked ominous when we left Izco.  We'd had little or no rain since day three and I really thought our luck had run out.  There was some drizzle this day but fortunately the clouds blew by without much rain falling.

Walking into the storm that never was.  (That's GV ahead of me.)
Our breakfast stop for today was in Monreal.  Our original itinerary, before we shortened the stage before Sangüesa, would have had us spending the night in Monreal.  It was a nice enough town and breakfast was good.  We got a little lost on our way out thinking the Camino passed by the church.  It did detour by the church but we had to backtrack a little to find the way the out of town.

The church in Monreal.
For the first time we started passing fields of sunflowers.  A few weeks earlier and it would have been gorgeous.  Unfortunately they were all past their prime and the field of downturned flowers seem a bit sad as they awaited harvesting.

Sad sunflowers.
We passed through a few little towns along the way but we only stopped for brief rest stops to eat snacks we'd packed and to drink some water.

Between the towns the trail went up and down.  It was like hiking a rollercoaster.  I noticed a pain in my left knee.  I think sometime the day before I'd over extended the knee.  I was a bit worried about this and took it easy.  Having trekking poles helped a lot to reduce the stress on my knees.  My concern was unfounded as the pain in my knee would last three or four days before going away completely.

From the trail you could see a big city in the distance.  It was Pamplona.  One alternative route of the Aragones has you turning and going to Pamplona.  We'd already been to Pamplona so we continued on to our destination of Tiebas.

Tiebas was another small town.  There was an albergue, a church, and a bar/restaurant.  After doing our chores we walked up to the bar to get some lunch.  That's when we discovered that it was festival time in Tiebas too.  That night there was a concert and the eating, drinking, and dancing would last until at least 4:00AM.

The highlight of Tiebas were the ruins of a 13th century castle at one end of the town.  We toured it and took some pictures of the ruins.  The ruins were pretty cool and, reading the descriptions on the plaques, you could imagine what it looked like in its day.

13th Century castle-palace in Tiebas.
That night Gv made soup for herself.  I was in a weird food mood.  Nothing sounded good and the idea of fighting  the crowds at the bar - party central - was not appealing to me either.  I ended up eating a vending machine meal of a croissant and granola bars (this would turn out to be my only 'bad' meal along the way - I would eat much better along the way).  During our dinner we talked with Nr and Mt.  We kind of hit it off.  They are a nice couple.  J-M and Ju were also there and would end up going to the festivities and, perhaps, overindulging a bit too much.

This would be our last night on the Camino Aragones.  Tomorrow we would be joining the Camino Frances.  Thinking back, I don't think I was looking forward to the Frances.  I liked the newness of the Aragones.  There was always that doubt: Would I like the Frances as much as I did the last time or would it all feel 'been there, done that'?  Tomorrow I would find out.

Pictures can be found in my 2013 Camino de Santiago Google Photos album.

Total Distance on Day 9: 23 km ( 14.29 Miles)
Total Distance Walked: 195 km (121.17 Miles)

Approximate Track of the day's hike.
[Click on map for a larger version]

Friday, November 22, 2013

Camino 2013 : Day 8: Undués de Lerda To Izco

We left Undués de Lerda early and watched our long shadows appear on the road ahead of us as the sun rose behind us.  The rising sun turned the mowed hay fields gold.  The spring has greens but the fall's primary color is a rich golden brown.

Bales of golden hay were seen along the entire length of the Camino.
(I sneezed after taking this picture ... hay fever perhaps?)
We reached Sangüesa at 10:00AM.  Everyone was wearing the white and red of festival.  The Camino passes by the local bull ring.  A poster on the ring wall told us we'd missed the running of the bulls by just an hour (darn it!).  (A couple pilgrims we would meet in Izco told us they had left their albergue at 9:00AM and had been told by a police officer to go back in - two minutes later the bulls stampeded past the albergue door.  They almost had participated unwittingly themselves!)  Parts of the streets we walked through were lined with temporary fencing to keep the bulls out of homes and businesses.  There were also empty bottles in the street ... the remains of the celebration the night before.

Sangüesa looked like a really nice city.  It would have been nice to have stopped and visited the churches and celebrated fiesta with the city but not this time.

Church of Santa Maria la Real.
We stopped in a cafe and had some breakfast before we headed out of the city.  The maps we saw implied there were four towns along the stretch of Camino between Sangüesa and Izco, our destination.  Towns are nice because they offer a place to rest, eat, and drink.  More importantly they break up long walking days, mark progress. and provide a change of scenery.  It turns out the maps were wrong.  There are four towns but the Camino does not go through any of them.  This made for a long uninterrupted stretch of walking ... and it was also fairly hot.

Snails munched on the grass along the side of the road.
The heat and dust felt unending.  The sun was hot enough to melt the chocolate bar in my pack ... I licked the chocolate off the wrapper and got most of it in my mouth.  The rest was, according to Gv, all over my chin (sadly she has proof - the picture is on Facebook in my Camino 2013 album).

This stretch of Camino crosses two altos (heights or ridges) - Alto de Tibar and Alto de Loiti.  Neither of them are terribly high but on a hot day they seemed high enough.  There was little shade along the Camino and the only relief we had was a tunnel below a highway.  The shade and the breeze that blew through the tunnel felt like heaven.  Sadly we had to keep going if we wanted to get to Izco.

There were insects along the way including praying mantis and grasshoppers
with electric blue wings who wouldn't stand still for a picture
My walking this day was in spurts.  I would walk fifty meters or so and then I would stop to pick raspberries.  Another fifty meters or so and another stop and more raspberries.   The raspberry bushes lined the road most of the way to Izco.  They slowed me down and helped pace myself on this particularly long walking day.  I'm not sure I would have made it without them.

Izco turned out to be another tiny town with a single albergue/bar/store.  The owner was a nice lady.  She showed us to the single room full of bunk beds, the washing facilities (a washing machine! - Clean clothes! I discovered my t-shirt missing here), and a kitchen for the pilgrims.  We went through the store and bought ingredients for dinner and walking food for the next day.  I downed another liter and a half bottle of water and ate an ice cream to revive me before I did my chores.

That night Gv made dinner (pasta ... a Camino staple ... and very good).  We ate dinner with J-M, Ju and a young couple from the netherlands (Nr and Mt).  Rh and Nc were not there because they'd done a short day to Sangüesa to see the bullfighting (They were horrified by the violence and ended up leaving the bull ring before it was over).  We would see them farther down the Camino.

The pilgrim from Barcelona and his Russian Ukrainian girlfriend showed up at 10:00PM - the latest I've ever seen a pilgrim arrive.  Thank you ear plugs - I slept through them doing their chores before they finally went to bed.

Pictures can be found in my 2013 Camino de Santiago Google Photos album.

Total Distance on Day 8: 29 km ( 18.02 Miles)
Total Distance Walked: 172 km (106.88 Miles)

Approximate Track of the day's hike.
[Click on map for a larger version]

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Camino 2013 : Day 7: Artieda To Undués de Lerda

We left Artieda going the wrong way.  We left the town the same way as we'd arrived not knowing that there was another road.  After walking along the road for a short while (fifteen minutes maybe) we stopped, turned around and started heading back, and then stopped again.  We looked around and Gv saw a pilgrim.  It turned out to be J-M and we discovered that both ways out of town met a little ways ahead.

Reflections on the reservoir. 
The Camino approaches a reservoir formed by a dam on the Aragon river.  There were signs all over the place protesting the expansion of the reservoir.  As I walked along the reservoir, all natural sounds drowned out by the noise of heavy machinery clearing trees and, I presume, preparing for the expansion of the reservoir, I could see that the Camino would be affected.  The trail along the reservoir would be totally submerged.  Along with the trail, several old hermitages, churches, and other historically significant sites would also be flooded and lost.  I walked through, and took pictures of, one of these hermitages, La Ermita de San Juan Bautista.

San Juan Bautista Hermitage.
The next albergue you pass is located in the hamlet of Ruesta.  The town, believed to be in harm's way by the flooding, is nearly abandoned.  There is some question if this town truly will be submerged.  It seemed quite high above the current reservoir level and is on a road that I believe will not be closed.  We stopped at the albergue to see if we could get some breakfast but we left empty handed when we found it closed for cleaning.  There was a small store open but it had a limited selection.  The highlight of Ruesta, besides the ruins there, were the cute kittens playing.

The ruins of Ruesta.
After Ruesta we approached one of the toughest parts of the Camino so far.  The trail turned up and followed a wide dirt and gravel road up to a ridge.  The road went up and up without any leveling off.  The approximate length of this hill is five kilometers (3.1 miles) but it feels like it goes on forever.  I think this trail climbs higher than the mountain.  You would think you were reaching the top and it would turn out to be a turn in the road and the road just kept going up.  My reaction when I turned a corner and saw that it kept going gave the mountain it's informal name: Mount Oh Man!!!  I'm not sure I would have made it without the wild raspberries along the road that kept me going.

At the top of Mount Oh Man!!! looking down on Undués de Lerda.
At the top of Mount Oh Man!!! we had a great view of the mountains with the town of Undués de Lerda in the distance perched up on a hill.  Now, there were two ways they could have routed the Camino to get from here to there.  They could have gone along the ridge and followed a road down to the town or they could take the Roman road.  The Camino, naturally, follows the Roman road.  Roman roads are kind of amazing.  They are usually paved in stone - the fact that any of the paving still remains after such a long time is impressive.  While the Romans knew how to make great roads, they were terrible at choosing routes.  This particular Roman road took you down into a ravine below the level of the town before climbing back up into the town.  As I was huffing and puffing up the hill into the town all I could think was "F-ing Romans!"

We stopped at the town's one bar and bought some sandwiches for lunch.  This was also where you checked into the albergue.  The albergue in Undués de Lerda is new and it was pretty nice.  There were a few things not quite finished yet but it had all of the comforts.  I ended up with my first top bunk here.  We did our chores and washed clothes.  We hung our clothes on a drying rack and, chasing the sun, moved the rack to a nearby square.

Downtown Undués de Lerda.
This square was the place to be the rest of the afternoon.  There wasn't much in the town besides the albergue and a bar/restaurant/store (similar to Santa Cilia and Artieda).  Our little Camino family gathered here and lounged around in the sun: J-M, Rh and Nc, Ju, along with a few Spaniards and a German who we'd met along the way.

Food this day was a communal meal in the one bar/restaurant.  I had my first pork cheek for dinner.  It was pretty good ... like pot roast and pulled easily off the bone.  Another exceptional meal.

Sunset from the Albergue window.
Somewhere in this town one of my Icebreaker merino t-shirts decided it'd had enough and didn't make it into my pack. I discovered this at the next town.  This was the first and only thing I have ever lost on the Camino.  I'd had three t-shirts to walk in and one to sleep in.  From this point on I would have to sleep in and wear all three shirts - not a major deal really.  Three shirts turned out to be just fine.  It's just the idea of losing a $50 shirt ... rubbed me the wrong way.

After the hard day before, we'd shortened this day by 11 km (6.84 miles).  I'm glad we did that since Mount Oh Man!!! had sucked a lot out of me.  Not sure I would have made another 11 km.  It's unfortunate, though, since we ended up missing something interesting in the next town.

Pictures can be found in my 2013 Camino de Santiago Google Photos album.

Total Distance on Day 7: 21 km (13.05 Miles)
Total Distance Walked: 143 km (88.86 Miles)

Approximate Track of the day's hike.
[Click on map for a larger version]

Monday, November 18, 2013

Camino 2013 - Day 6: Santa Cilia To Artieda

There are fewer stage choices on the Aragones.  Availability of, and distance between, albergues dictate where you are going to stay each night.  There is one section though that gives you a choice.  There are two ways to go once you leave Jaca.  You can go Jaca - Arres - Ruesta- Sangüesa or you can go Jaca - Santa Cilia - Artieda - Sangüesa.  Since we went to the monastery we ended up in Santa Cilia so our next stop would be Artieda.

A bend in the Aragon river.
The day was a long day but there was a highlight early on.  Just before Puente la Reina de Jaca the Camino passes through a cairn field.  I have seem cairns before, they are a common way to mark trails, but I have never seen this quantity of cairns in one place.  The fact that most of the rock in the area was rounded river rock made the cairns look even cooler.  There was a fairytale quality to the place.  Pictures do the place little justice so here is a short nine second video of the field.

Cairn field along the Camino.
At Puente la Reina de Jaca we stopped at a store to buy food (there was no store in Santa Cilia) and we stocked up on walking food and something to eat for lunch.  I waited at the store briefly for the baguette to come out of the oven.  The hot bread was then lashed to the top of my pack.

Can you see the arrow pointing the way?
After leaving the town the Camino follows a farm road.  This part of the Aragones reminded me a lot of the meseta of 2011.  It was sunny and the  trail was straight and flat.  It turned out to be tough too.  It wasn't hot but I'm pretty sure I wasn't drinking enough water.   Most of the path was lined with harvested fields - mostly hay - but there were places with weathered grey formations that made it look like the surface of the moon.

A late season poppy brightens up a harvested field.
The one thing that saved me were the wild raspberries growing along the road.  The raspberry bushes reminded me of the ones I picked berries off of when I was a little boy.  This time of year the bushes were full of ripe purple berries.  The added water and sugar from the berries are probably what kept me going on the Aragones.

Harvested farm fields with the Pyrenees mountains as a backdrop.
Despite the raspberries, by the time I got to Artieda I was pooped!  Like many towns along the Aragones and the Camino in general, Artieda was built on the top of a hill.  That last little bit that took us up the steep road to the village sapped me.  The town, like Santa Cilia, has only one albergue.  The albergue also acts as the village's one bar, cafe, restaurant, and store.  We did our chores and then sat outside the albergue with the food we'd bought in Puente la Reina de Jaca.  I augmented that with an ice cream and a liter and a half (1.6 quarts) of water.  The water bottle was emptied in about fifteen minutes.  I obviously didn't drink enough water that day and that bottle helped bring me back to life.

The reservoir in the distance as seen from Artieda.  The Camino would pass it the next day.
The afternoon was spent the same way we did every afternoon so far.  We walked around the town which, being perched on a hill, offered some really nice views including views of the reservoir made from the dammed Aragon river.  We laughed at the exercise machines - we didn't need any more exercise thank you very much.  J-M who showed up after us found a guy to unlock the neighboring church so we toured it as well.

The evening meal was a communal meal served by the albergue owners.  The owners were very nice people (we'd asked the owner if they had a washer and he said "Yes but", with a mischievous smile he added "it is manually operated").  The meal was, again, delicious.

At this point a sort of Camino family was forming.  J-M, Rh and Nc, and a German woman name Ju.  There were also a group of Spanish ladies and a young man from Barcelona and his girlfriend, a Russian Ukrainian now living in Barcelona who we would see over the next few day.

This had been the longest stage so far and, frankly, I hadn't handled it very well at all.  I was exhausted when I got to Artieda.  The next day we were planning to walk to Sangüesa which would have been 30 km (18.64 miles).  Gv and I talked about this and decided to shorten the stage and stop in Undués de Lerda  instead to give me time to recuperate.  I wasn't happy about this, it took us a half day off our itinerary, but it was a sound decision at the time.  We would look for a way to catch up to our itinerary later on.

Pictures can be found in my 2013 Camino de Santiago Google Photos album.

Total Distance on Day 6: 27 km (16.78 Miles)
Total Distance Walked: 122 km (75.81 Miles)

Approximate Track of the day's hike.
[Click on map for a larger version]

Saturday, November 16, 2013

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.

he 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.

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 horseback.  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.

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.

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.

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.

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 2013 Camino de Santiago Google Photos album.

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

Approximate Track of the day's hike.
[Click on map for a larger version]

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Camino 2013 - Day 4: Canfranc Estación To Jaca

We left Canfranc Estación near dawn and continued south along the Camino Aragones.  The path follows the Aragon river most of the way and the sound of running water is often heard along the trail. I like the sound of water and trails that follow flowing water are some of my favorite.

Morning fog on the Aragon river.
The trail this day was rocky which made it hard on the feet and ankles.  You had to be careful not to turn your ankle as you walked amongst the rounded river rock.  It would turn out that most of the mountain trails along the Aragones were rocky and a bit challenging.  My first pain started today.  My left big toe became sensitive to pressure.  I assumed I would lose the nail (I was right - lost it last Sunday).  The tough trails would give me aching legs but I was pleasantly surprised how quickly they recuperated at the end of the day.  My pilgrim's walk, a stiff legged hobble, never lasted long and wasn't nearly as severe as last time.  I guess my training walks and my morning exercises/stretches did help.

This part, and most of the Aragones Way, passes through villages with a real alpine feel to them and the hilly (some would say mountainous) Camino trail has the same alpine trail feel.  The results are stunning vistas of mountain peaks and valleys.  Most of the villages you pass through are rather small and are built on the top of hills or along the river.

Even walking along the road has its beauty.
We stopped in the town of Villanúa to have some breakfast.  I had my first tortilla española of this Camino.  It was just as good as I remembered it.

We reached Jaca and made our way to the albergue. It wasn't open yet so we plopped down in the small entry courtyard and waited for it to open.  As we waited J-M showed up as well as a new German couple Rh and Nc who would become good friends later on the Camino.  The albergue opened and we did our chores.  It was a nice municipal albergue with no bunk beds so nobody had to have a top bunk.

Waiting in the albergue courtyard.
It was in Jaca that J-M gave me a shell.  He had collected several in Fisterra the last time he was there and he was giving them to people he liked and considered friends.  I felt honored to get one and I hung the shell on my pack under the shell I bought at Col du Somport.  J-M said that having two shells hanging from my pack represented the fact that this was my second Camino.  I liked that.

The Cathedral in Jaca.
After our chores we went out to explore the city.  Jaca was the first real city on the Aragones.  Near the albergue was a church and a pentagonal Citadel (Ciudadela de Jaca).  We went through the church but the Citadel had been closed to the public for a while.  I still got some interesting pictures though.  There were deer grazing in the "moat" of the citadel.

The Ciudadela de Jaca.
We also did some shopping in Jaca.  We shopped in just about every town we stayed in.  It was a necessity since you really didn't want to carry a lot of food each day - food can be heavy - therefore you have to carry just what you need for the next day.  So, in Jaca as in many other towns along the Camino, I bought food for the next day.  This time I also bought a magnet ... and candy including a dark chocolate bar for me (I still have some Werther's Originals from Jaca).  I ate more chocolate this Camino than last but a typical chocolate bar would last me three to five days - I kept it from getting too out of control.

I learned a lesson last Camino and I applied that lesson this time around.  There were a couple of Spanish ladies who we'd run into in Canfranc Estación.  They were incredible snorers.  Last Camino I didn't use earplugs until near the end.  This time I started wearing them early on.  They helped me sleep in Canfranc Estación despite the roaring of the Spanish ladies.  They worked again in Jaca.  J-M was not so lucky.  He didn't have earplugs.  His bed was next to the Spanish ladies.  He ended up taking his mattress down to the first floor of the albergue to get away from them and finally get a good night's sleep.  I would wear earplugs most nights this Camino and I would get some of the best sleep I've ever had.

One last note about Jaca.  Last Camino I met an Italian, Dario (I called him Do in my posts).  Dario walked the Camino this year as well.  He walked the Aragones just like we did.  Sadly Dario's Camino ended when he passed away in his sleep in Jaca.  He touched the lives of many pilgrims and he will be missed.

Pictures can be found in my 2013 Camino de Santiago Google Photos album.

Total Distance on Day 4: 21 km (13.05 Miles)
Total Distance Walked:  79 km (49.09 Miles)

Approximate Track of the day's hike.
[Click on map for a larger version]