Camino Aragonés and Primitivo

Camino Aragonés   20/4 – 26/4 2912  
   On Thursday night, April 19, I come to Oloron-Sainte-Marie, at the foot of the Pyrenees on the French side. The next morning, I’m at the bus station and get on the bus for Col du Somport. The ticket is paid on the bus. I try with my poor French to explain for the driver where I want to go. He is interrupted by something and asks twice again, shakes his head and gives me the ticket. Col du Somport is a border town in the mountains between France and Spain.
   After an hour, the bus drives through a long tunnel a bit into Spain, directly to Canfranc Estación and stops there. Perhaps the driver wanted to explain that, I don’t know. The bus will then continue another way to the ski resort of Somport, 400 meters up in the mountains. However, it is a mixture of rain and snow in Canfranc, so I leave the bus and starts my walking down towards Jaca. It is slush and snow where I walk so I choose the asphalt road instead of the marked route. Jaca is a winter sport resort with about 13.000 inhabitants in the province of Huesca. At the youth hostel in Jaca, I met Danielle and Louis-Felix, mother and son from Quebec.

Parts from my diary.
   21 April, Saturday. To Arrés. Danielle, Louis-Felix and I walk throughout the whole day to the small mountain village Arrés. The last stretch before the youth hostel we are running to avoid an approaching thunderstorm. We have just arrived under the roof before the gates of heaven opens up. Danielle already knows the host Eduardo there. The evening gets really nice with good food and good wines from the local area. Later in the evening Eduardo takes us to the small village-pub. There are some villagers there, watching football Barcelona against Madrid. The mood is high and everyone sings several times to toast “arriba, abajo, al centro, y pa ‘dentro”. Eduardo also shows the charming little chapel from the 1700s. In the chapel there is an image of St. Anthony of Padua from the 1200s. He is one of the most famous and beloved saints throughout the Roman Catholic world. He is also known as the saint with the three lies; his name was not Anthony but Francisco, he did not belong to the Agustin-order but the Franciscan-order and he was not from Padova but from Lisbon.
   22-23 April, Sunday-Monday. Today on Sunday and in the following days I walk alone, but towards the end of the days, I often meet Danielle and Louis-Felix. I walk along the river Aragon. The soil is wet and muddy. The wind is ice-cold but the views over the snow-capped Pyrenees in the background are incredibly beautiful. High up in the sky, large birds of pray circles around. On Monday, the water reservoir Yesa or Embalse de Yesa, will soon appear. The water level shall be increased by 25 m. The people in the neighbourhood are protesting, land and farms will be destroyed. The dam was already built in 1936 and drowned remains of Roman thermal baths in Tiermas. The residents were forced away from the cities Esco and Ruesta, which today are ghost towns. In the afternoon in Undués Lerda I come to a nice, clean and fresh youth hostel. The young hostess Adriadne runs the business at Albergue Camino de Santiago Aragon. She says, now the number of visitors is poor, perhaps because of economic problems in Europe, and especially here in Spain.
   24-26 April, Tuesday-Thursday. To Puente la Reina. On Tuesday it is sunny but still really cold and windy. A huge bird is circling above me, perhaps a “Spanish Imperial Eagle”, preparing himself to catch something. I feel pretty sure that I am not the object. Soon, I see the stone that marks the border for Navarra. On Wednesday evening I come to the community of Monreal. The youth hostel is chock full of walkers. For me, it becomes instead guesthouse ”Etxartenea”, which is more expensive but very affordable. I arrive to Puente la Reina de Navarra on Thursday.
   27 April, Friday. Today it is raining persistent. The sky looks completely dark out, so it suits me perfectly to travel to Oviedo and continue my walking on Camino Primitivo. By bus first to Pamplona, and then to Bilbao and Oviedo. I find Hotel El Ovetense in Oviedo.

Camino Primitivo 28/4 -14/5 2012  
   28 April, Saturday. Oviedo to Grado. It’s overcast in the morning. After half the way to Grado I meet Betty from Switzerland. This is the first time Betty walks in this way. Soon, it begins to rain, actually it continues now and then in nearly two weeks. We stop almost soaking wet in Grado for the guesthouse Autobar. There, we meet two other walkers, Peggy and Ruben from the United States.
   29-30 April, Sunday-Monday. To Tineo. The rain continues both days. The last bit on Monday before Tineo, I prefer the road instead of the muddy route. It gets colder and I almost lose the feeling in my fingers. Betty takes the bus to Tineo. The Americans will arrive late to the youth hostel there, and they are really muddy. To wash and dry clothes outdoors in a youth hostel is usually ok. But now it’s raining, so want to dry them in the nearby Hotel Don Miguel.
   1-2 May, Tuesday-Wednesday. To Pola de Allande. It’s overcast and dark grey on Tuesday morning in Tineo. The rain begins at noon. The route forks In Borres, one part leads up over the desolate mountain to the ruin at Pico del Hospital. The first possibility to stay overnight will then be in Berducedo. Whole 42 km during the day will then be a too much. Nor does it feel good to walk alone in fog and rain, not at all. Instead, I choose to walk the much easier route to Pola de Allande. It will be 30 km for the day. My clothes have not yet dried out on Wednesday morning so I will stay here for another night.
   3 May, Thursday. From Pola de Allande to Berducedo. The weather has really changed from yesterday. The weather is nice and the hilly landscape is beautiful. In Puerto del Paulo, the mountain route from Pico del Hospital connects to my route. But the weather is capricious and can rapidly change. Soon I have dark lead-heavy clouds over me. It blows up and I get my rainwear properly on me. The route begins now to go steeply five hundred metres downhill. Large rain-wet stones rolls and slides under my boots. In the village Montefurado I need a break, but the village seems to be completely dead. Not a life, not even a barking dog. The next village then is Lago and there is a bar here, but its closed. Today’s stage is not too long, but it feels really good to come to the youth hostel in Berducedo. I just feel a bit lonely here. No other is staying here for the night. There is room for thoughts, about what? The future perhaps, or rain-wet slippering stones?
   4 May, Friday. To Castro. I see Betty again on the way up to Buspol. From there, the route goes eight hundred meters down to the water reservoir “Embalse de Salime.” Oops, before we start to walk down, it suddenly starts to rain again. Unusually! Betty has pain in her knees. She also has the phone number to the taxi station in Berducedo. Why not take a taxi a bit? After some 10 kilometres on narrow serpentine roads, we stop at “Embalse Presa”. The rain has almost stopped, so from there we walk on rain-wet roads to Castro.

   6 May, Sunday. From A Fonsagrada to O Cádavo. In the morning, the sky is still grey. It brightens up the middle of the day. The sun is trying to come through the clouds when I come to the “ruin Hospital de Montouto” from the 1300s. The pilgrims at that time died here in cold and snow in this the lonely and abandoned area. The route is described in history as the most mountainous and exposed part, completely without settlements and protecting trees. King “Pedro El Cruel” of Castile built the hospital here in the pass in 1357, “Real Hospital de Santiago de Montouto”. 
The route continues down to Paradavella and it is beautiful and now pleasant to walk. In an intersection in Paradavella there is a bar. The nice and talkative bar owner offers cold mineral water and a little drink “Orujo”. He says that 5 km of the route to Lastra is closed. I don´t understand why? Anyhow, I follow his advice, and take the asphalt road and then I follow the route to O Cádavo. The rooms at the youth hostel in O Cádavo does not look so inviting out, so I continue to Hotel Moneda.
   7-10 May Monday-Thursday. To San Roman de Retorta. On Monday, I intend to walk to Lugo. The day starts well, overcast but without rain. After a short rain shower in the middle of the day I prefer to walk the last stretch on asphalt roads to Lugo. Pension Alba is located right in the centre and fits me well. I feel myself dejected of the ever lasting raining and I will therefore stay here on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Why not look closer at Lugo with its fantastic city-wall. Thursday morning is quite different with warm winds and a brilliant sunshine. Is maybe the summer finally here? It seems so. Now it is wonderful to walk. I arrive early in the afternoon to the youth hostel O Candido in San Roman de Retorta.

   11 May, Friday. To Mélide. It becomes really hot during the day. Shortly after “Sierra de Careón”, the White Mountain, I´m arriving to a small house. A young man, Pablo, sits outside the house with his dog. Pablo asks if I want something to drink. Oh, yes, thank you … a Coca Cola and a glass of cold water, please. It’s hot today. We talk for a while and I try to pay for the Cola drink but he doesn’t want anything. I’m leaving and pretty soon I arrive to Mélide.

   12-14 May, Saturday-Monday. To Santiago de Compostela. Here in Mélide the route connects to the French Route. One can immediately see a lot of walkers from near and far. I talk to three Germans, Uwe, Dagobert and Daniel. Uwe is resting on a bench and looks dejected. He cannot use his boot on the foot and shows me an ugly blister, a wound on the heel. I suggest that he looks for a doctor. Later in Ribadiso I eat lunch with Kim from Denmark and her two friends. I want to eat “Pimiento de Padrón”, which is a pretty small portion, but enough for the moment. On Saturday evening, I stop in Arzúa and on Sunday, I meet many Swedes from Nyköping. During the day, I continue to the small village Labacolla and the Guesthouse La Concha, close to Santiago’s airport. There, we are many pilgrims who eat dinner together in the dining room, Silvio and Michaela both from Germany and Kim and her two girlfriends and some more. Monday is the last day. It is just a short walk, 11 kilometres to Santiago de Compostela. Betty has already arrived there and preparing to go home to Switzerland.
   My impression from the historically oldest route Camino Primitivo is positive despite the rainy weather. The desolate parts of the route were fascinating and beautiful. Moreover, I often had pleasant company in the evenings with other pilgrims from different parts of the world. I would like to redo this route again. Perhaps next year.