Chris Crossing into Spain over the Pyrenées
Our standards for the Camino were set high after our first albergue, where we were provided dinner, clean showers, beds and very pleasant hosts. All at the cost of donations from the pilgrims as they passed through. Needless to say, our standards may have been a tad inflated but we started out the next morning around 7:00AM with boisterous spirits and a determination to plough through the days distance (roughly 29km).
Walking along the Valley Floor away from Arrés
Our newbie status made itself apparent however, as the hours of the morning waned on. It was the day we discovered why pilgrims in August depart from Albergues in the wee hours of the morning, often before the sun has even had a chance to rise. The sun peeked over the hills about 8:30 and with it the heat, by 10:00 we found the temperature in the 70s and rising quickly. We trekked on until about 13:00 in the afternoon, where we took shelter under a cover by an old barn. In the Spanish tradition, I whipped out my stove and we made lunch and siesta for a pleasant hour and a half.
Danalynn crossing into Spain
By the time we departed from our siesta the temperature was well above 100 degrees and our path, much to our chagrin, changed course and we found ourselves upon asphalt for the next few kilometers. In addition, we soon discovered why there were no signs of any other pilgrims. While before noon the heat had been rising it had thankfully remained at our backs, but as physics would have it, now after 15:30, we found the full force of the heat in our faces as we continued westward.
We managed to roll into the town of Ruesta around 17:30 that evening. I use “town” only because that is how it is marked on the map, in actuality it is the ruins of an old town where some bright entrepreneur decided to start up an albergue 20km from any other albergue and then charge exorbitant prices. Well, Danalynn and I, as tired as we were—also cramping, dehydrated, and needless to say less cheerful than we had been starting out that morning—said “no thank you,” filled up our water bottles and headed off towards the sunset in what sounds like a really cool end to a western flick. But seriously, we picked our bags right back up and continued to march for another 2km till we found a cozy spot in the woods and made camp (camp=sleeping bag on ground), I again fired up my stove and we enjoyed rehydrated pasta Bolognese for dinner.
The next several days progressed in a similar fashion, although I am happy to report that we got wise and began leaving each albergue earlier and earlier to make our destination before 13:00 every day. We were also charmed by the lively scenery that we passed along the way, which before 110 degrees-o’clock was nice with rolling fields of wheat, pine trees and many, many rocks. Our path took us along the very river that the valley gained its namesake, the Aragón and, on occasion, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to jump in. This served the dual purpose of cooling us off and also doing much of our laundry at the same time. If we were lucky we would get to do it right before we arrived at an albergue in the evening to look (and smell) presentable to our pilgrim friends.
On the March through the Aragón
As luck would have it, August 1 was our anniversary and we were lucky enough to end up in an albergue with a fully functional kitchen. We found the local Mercado, invested in a few ingredients and made pasta for ourselves as well as several of the other pilgrims on the route. Kind Pietre provided substantial quantities of the finest wine 2€ a bottle can buy and we had a pleasant evening with great conversations, probably in about 4 or 5 different languages (although we each really only spoke 2 of them).
Our Anniversary with Pietre (Czech) and Pierro (Italian)
Our last day on the Camino was to be a grueling 32km from the town of Monreal to Puenta La Reina at which point the Camino Aragonés meets up with the main Camino Francés and all the people that come along with it. We departed our albergue at 5:30 to get an early start and to cover our ground before inferno time (usually just after 13:00). We even made great time—quite a feat considering the first hour was at night and we were notorious for losing the trail even in the day. Rolling into Puenta La Reina at about 13:10 we already noticed a large increase in the numbers of pilgrims and were very disappointed to find that the albergue in the middle of town that charged only 4€ per person was already full (they sleep just over 75 people) so we continued another kilometer out of town to the next albergue which was twice the price and unlike the other one did not include dinner. To say the least we were a little disappointed. By 16:00 all three albergues were full with over 300 pilgrims.
Arriving at Puenta la Reina
The next morning we decided that we had had a great time on the Camino up till then and rather than tarnish the memory of it by continuing with all these people and racing each day to the next albergue, hoping to find an open bed (the heat was also a strong determining factor), we would call it quits and head north to strike our fortunes elsewhere. We had after all completed the Aragonés leg of the journey and fulfilled all masochistic notions of hiking long hours in the blazing heat. Needles to say we did have a great experience on the Camino and it was a great first trip to Spain, but next time we come back to continue it will be in months with less people and cooler temperatures. San Sebastian here we come!
Arriving in France from San Sebastian
PS: If anyone is interested in more details on our leg of the Camino, this is a great day-to-day guide of the Camino de Santiago. We pretty much followed each of the recommended etapas as shown there.