Friday, January 30, 2015

Jan 30, 2015: Zaragoza to Fuentes de Ebro 26.0 K

Early in the day

We awoke from a truly sound sleep (no aching feet and legs to keep us stirring) and set about getting ready to resume our Camino. Our rest day in Zaragoza was a wonderful break, but now it was time to get back to work. The streets below our hotel window were dry, but rain was definitely on its way. We arranged a taxi to get us out of the city and settled on a ride to the small village of Cartuja Baja. This shortened our walk today by about 5 kms which was just fine with us. We left Cartuja in a steady light rain that did not let up all day. It wasn't much of a walk. We spent a good portion of the day walking alongside a freeway to Burgo de Ebro, but then separated onto a gravel path that led us through some cultivated fields for awhile. Despite our well needed rest in Zaragoza we never quite hit a brisk pace today. Perhaps it was the rain, and the rain softened gravel that kept us moving ahead a stately 4 kph. We arrived at the Hostal Elena at 2:00, after a five hour walk from Cartuja. Robin and I were both happy to call it a day. Our host, Elena, spoke quite good English, and that helped to get all the usual post walk stuff sorted out. We were able to slip next door to the restaurant before it closed at 3:00 and had an early dinner. So now we are in a small room with a clothesline full of wet gear strung across the width of it. Robin has become quite adept finding places to string our clothesline. The rain should continue through the night but we are hopeful it will start drying out in the morning.

Loving our umbrellas

For the past several days we have been walking through the Ebro River valley, that has allowed a significant agricultural enterprise to thrive by virtue of irrigation. We have seen an extensive system of small canals that bring water, presumably from the Rio Ebro, to the fields. The canals are dry now but appear to be ready with small gates to channel crop saving water when needed. Tomorrow we will be moving off this green cultivated area and out onto the (desert like) Monegros Plateau. It is curious to see just how abruptly the green area turns to brown on the gps satellite map. I am not sure what this means to us other than a truly solitary walk across an apparently empty landscape (no services). In fact our stage break for tomorrow (Venta de Santa Lucia) is a restaurant (only open Mon-Fri) out in the middle of nowhere, but along a road. No other buildings (for many kilometers) just the restaurant from what I can see when I zoom in on the map. So we have made arrangements with a taxi driver in Bujaraloz, a town 20 K up the road where we have a room booked in a hostal, to be ready for our call to come get us tomorrow afternoon in Venta. For now I am Dozing off listening to our wall heater huff and puff trying to take the chill off our room and dry our clothes. Better call it a day. Good night from Fuentes.

At one point every poke we saw had a stork's nest
The clouds thickened
It was funny how they all stared at us
Today's oath
Looking back as we arrived in Fuentes de Ebro
Fuentes ahead




Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jan 28, 2015: Alagón to Zaragoza 28.8 K

Leaving Utebo under sunny skies

Another nice day awaited us as we stepped out of our hotel in Utebo. Today's walk should have been 28.8 K from Alagón, but as we spent the night in Utebo we simply walked 13.3 K into Zaragoza from there. With gps in hand we swung through the early morning chill and eventually picked up the Camino path by the church (with a stunning Muslim style tower) and we were on our way. We wound our way along a gravel path up to the village of Monzalbarba, and enjoyed the short walk down the nice tree lined street that led us out off town.

Rio Ebro and path

Soon the outskirts of Zaragoza could be seen in the dIstance. We moved along a paved secondary road until we rejoined the Rio Ebro and a beautiful multi use path that bordered it. We turned right at the river and followed the path all the way until it brought us up onto the street that took us to the Catedral Basilica de Nuestra Señora Del Pilar. A beautiful and short day's walk. We stopped briefly at the Tourist Office which located in an old tower on Avenida Cesare Agusto just as you approach the Basilica, and then went right to the magnificent Plaza Del Pilar, and then into the Basilica.

Priest stamping our credentials

We took a brief walk around and were amazed at the size and beauty of this church. We also noticed an attendant in the foyer of the sacristy and (Robin's idea) went in to see if we could get a stamp for our credential. The attendant gestured to a corner office where a priest was speaking to someone. We kept busy enjoying the art work that seemed to adorn every bit of the church, including the sacristy. In short order the priest was available and in we went to get our stamp. He was very happy to oblige. We explained we were on pilgrimage to Manresa and he offered some kind words (in Spanish) as he fussed over an elaborate stamp and endorsement. Just wonderful. After that it was a bit more star gazing in the Basilica, and then it was off to find our hotel, the Catalonia El Pilar. As it turned out it was only a few minutes walk from the Basilica, and was nicely situated in a quiet plaza shared with yet another church. We have managed to get to a lavandería to wash our clothes, find a Chinese restaurant for dinner, and still make the 6:00 pm mass back at the Basilica, where mass is said every hour. Wow. So now it is bed time and a sleep in is all that is scheduled for tomorrow. We did discover that tomorrow is the festival of San Valero, the patron saint of the city. More on that later. But I did read that it involves a very large "king cake" and lots of hot chocolate. Trying to get this posted so I can start my sleep in. Signing off from Zaragoza, and good night to all.

Outside of Utebo
In Monzalbarba
Left over from an Expo in 2008
Bridge over our path to the Basilica
The Basilica looms ahead
Who was here first?
Plaza Del Pilar and Basilica
A quick break to hydrate.
Another Chinese restaurant, makes Robin happy.
Our hotel
Passing through the market


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jan 27, 2015: Gallur to Alagón 21.2 K

Good morning

This morning our host in Taustes, Manolo, arrived as promised and prepared breakfast. He then drove us back the 5K into Gallur where we picked up the Camino bound for Alagón. On our way into Gallur Manolo pointed out various things including a "pig house." As it turns out our hotelier is also a hog rancher. He said he had 2000 pigs to look after. I'll look for pork on today's lunch menu to pay Manolo back for the trip from Gallur to Tauste and back. He was a very pleasant guy, full of energy, and joy. We were pleased to make his acquaintance. But, the Camino called, so we made our goodbyes, and headed east, once again. Today we were not squinting as the sun had climbed behind a curtain of cloud that made walking into it a lot more pleasant. It was cool (45 F) not cold, and the wind was fairly docile and at our backs. So Robin and I settled in to our usual 4.5 to 5.0 kph pace. I was thinking this morning that this settling in was just like setting out on a long road trip by car. You know there are hours of driving ahead so you don't rush things you just get acclimated to a reasonable pace and enjoy the day. So we enjoyed the day. We passed through a few small towns, enjoyed being close to the Rio Ebro, and before we knew it were were approaching Alagón. One thing about today's walk that is never good on any Camino is walking on busy highways. Today, some of that was unavoidable, about 2.5 hours worth. We just did our best to squeeze to the shoulder, of which there was precious little, as the cars and trucks raced by. We also found that most of today's walk was on some sort of paved road rural or otherwise. Also, not so good.

Goodbye Gallur

One interesting occurrence prompted some discussion about the dignity of work. Many of us have been brought up understanding there is dignity in all work, but we still feel that certain jobs, and career paths, have greater value to society than others thereby creating a hierarchy of value, and a corresponding scale of dignity. In short, perceived low value jobs are seen as offering less dignity to the laborer. Right? Wrong!

The shepherd

Case in point, today we were following a trail of animal droppings (slow news day), nothing large, but plentiful. At one point I spotted the culprits, a flock of sheep being ushered along by a man and a dog, and then I lost them in a bend in the road. As Robin and I walked the bend we came upon the sheep quietly grazing in a field alongside the road. The shepherd was standing as still as a statue, and his dog just as still at his side. Both man and dog were intently watching the sheep. He made no move to acknowledge our passing by, he just stood his ground and silently took in all that was going on around his flock. Some how this struck me as a memorable moment. This shepherd seemed to know when to be quiet, and presumably when to act should action would be required. I thought what dignity he projected. How many of us are that comfortable in our skins that we could so silent, so still.

It is probably worth mentioning that we booked our lodging through many weeks before leaving on this Camino. We knew from our research that some stage breaks offered no beds, or would only open to service a large number of guests (10 or above). It was very hard to discover every little hostel option in many of these towns where we needed a bed, so hence the solution. However, we have found out that in some cases where offered no beds there were in fact beds available. The Camino Ignaciano people need to prepare a more comprehensive list of lodging so that an accurate picture is drawn as to what types are available and what services are offered.

So long story short, we could not find a room in Alagón, so we booked further ahead in Utebo. When we arrived today we stopped into the Bar Baraka, where the owner pushed a couple of cold beers across the bar and kindly agreed to call us a taxi to Utebo. We chatted a bit as to why we were moving onto to Utebo. Having heard our story, he offered that he had rooms available right here and now. Unfortunately, our other booking could not be canceled at this late hour without penalty. So off to Utebo we went.

Robin rigged and ready
Rio Ebro
Cabañas de Ebro
Bar Baraka in Alagón