Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Day 33. Jaca to Arres (24 kms)

3 May, 2011

Now I am heading west. After leaving Jaca, I walked along the left side of a broad river valley. The last of the snow-capped Pyrenees were behind me.

For a while, the camino followed a dirt track alongside the highway. Then it took a turn up a hill and around the contours. Old stone mileposts marked the distances. This was probably the old pilgrim track.

The medieval pilgrims would have followed the highways of the time. These would have developed into modern roads when they led directly from town to town, and the path today would avoid them. But when they twisted and turned and climbed steeply, the modern road would take a faster route, and the old camino would survive for us.

The river valley opened out into a broad plain. I walked beside fields of barley. The trees and bushes were stunted as the countryside became more arid.

I stopped for lunch in a park in the little town of Santa-Cilia-de-Jaca. Five old men sat on a single bench. A sixth arrived, but there was nowhere for him to sit.

The path continued to follow the river for a while, and then, for the last three kilometres, climbed over a hill and dropped down to the gite at the little village of Arres.

A message from the Norwegians warned us of a bar to avoid tonight. They ate there and got food poisoning. I drank the beer but avoided the tapas.

After my chores, I stroll around the hamlet. The gite is one of a score of stone buildings on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the valley. The others include a church and a bar. Cats and dogs laze in the sun. Once, farmers would have lived up here in the village for protection and gone down to the valley to work their fields during the day. Now, I suspect, rather like O Cebrero on the Camino Frances, the village survives on the pilgrim trade.

A few kilometres to the north are the foothills and then the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees. To the south is another range of hills yellow with gorse. Down in the valley the barley waves in the wind. Trees run along the banks of the Aragon River.

We end the day with a visit to the little church, much celebrated, I believe. The others seem impressed, but it's not to my taste. There is a simple beauty in carved wood, but here it is all painted in garish colours. Nothing is left unadorned. The patron saint of the village is holding her severed breasts on a platter. How could the Church stray so far from the simple teachings of a Jewish prophet?

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