Jan 28, 2015: Alagón to Zaragoza 28.8 K

Leaving Utebo under sunny skiesAnother 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 credentialsWe 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 UteboIn MonzalbarbaLeft over from an Expo in 2008Bridge over our path to the BasilicaThe Basilica looms aheadWho was here first?Plaza Del Pilar and BasilicaA quick break to hydrate.Another Chinese restaurant, makes Robin happy.Our hotelPassing through the marketDessert Posted with Blogsy

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Jan 27, 2015: Gallur to Alagón 21.2 K

Good morningThis 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 GallurOne 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 shepherdCase 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 booking.com 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 booking.com solution. However, we have found out that in some cases where booking.com 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 readyRio EbroCabañas de EbroBar Baraka in Alagón  Posted with Blogsy

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Jan 26, 2015: Tudela to Gallur 36 K

Rio Ebro at dawn in TudelaToday’s forecast was pretty much the same as yesterday’s so we opted for a taxi to the town of Ribaforada 11.2 K from Tudela. This jump gave us a much more pilgrim friendly day’s walk at 24.8 K. Our taxi dropped us off at the rail line (big surprise), and we pushed off at 9:30 with the sun in our eyes and a gusty wind at our backs. We could see far down the track to a windmill farm that was our goal for the moment. Crunch…crunch…crunch…countless steps along a gravel path that conjured infinity. As I have mentioned before Robin and I don’t get too weird with these long straight stages. It really does provide time for busy minds to wind down. The only excitement was an occasional passing train heading east to Zaragoza or westbound to Logroño. The terrain was flat (very flat) offering views of orderly fields, and distant mesas. The trail itself was a service road, paralleling the rail line, for much of the morning until it wasn’t. At this point we hugged the rail line, pounded through some scrub brush, scrambled along some rock ballast, and eventually saw another service road that allowed us to resume our crunch…crunch…crunch eastwards towards Gallur. About halfway we passed through the agricultural towns of Cortes and Mallén. In these towns the streets are busy with John Deere tractors rather than BMW’s. We learned to listen for the tractors, and hug the walls as tall as a man tires rolled closely by. Cortes did offer a nice 12th century castle (small but interesting). We went inside as the gate was open but it was just a courtyard with no access to the castle tower. We pushed on. As we cleared Mallén, only 3 K from Cortes, the scenery slowly improved. We eventually found ourselves walking along a beautiful gravel path/road that bordered a well constructed irrigation canal. We walked the bank of this canal, buffeted by strong tail winds, all the way to Gallur where we arrived at 2:45. Orderly fieldsAs we had not been able to find lodging in Gallur we booked a small hotel in Taustes 5 K to the north of Gallur. As we shuffled into Gallur trying to find a landmark which we could give to our hotelier, who was going to pick us up, we spotted a hotel/restaurant, El Colono, in a street just below us. This hotel had been shown as booked full when we did a booking.com search. We coaxed our now stiff legs down a flight of concrete stairs and entered the warm dining room of El Colono. We were uncertain about dining in Taustes so we decided to eat here and then call our ride. We had a nice meal and as we were finishing the owner started inquiring if we needed a room ad she had vacancies. We explained that booking.com had shown her hotel as full for today so we booked elsewhere. She seemed to understand and was quite cordial. In fact she offered to call our host in Taustes and arrange our pick up, which see did. As it turns out El Colono would have been much more convenient stop (and I would recommend it), but other arrangements had been made. Our host for the night, Manolo, and his son picked us up at El Colono, and whisked us away to Taustes. They were both very kind and solicitous. Manolo gave us a swing through the town before pulling up to his hotel. It is a nice place, simple but nice. However, it feels a bit empty as we are the only guests. But, the heat is on and Monolo says he will be back to serve breakfast at 7:30, after which he will drive us back to Gallur so we can pick up the Camino once again. Robin and I have settled in for the night, and look forward to good night’s sleep. It is strange, but we seem to feel more tired at the end of a day of walking on the flat compared to the same distance in the mountains. Not sure why, but there it is. Time for some sleep. Buenas noches.Crunch…crunch…crunch…Our familiar rail lineApproaching CortesThe castle in CortesHello!Canal path  Posted with Blogsy

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Jan 25, 2015: Alfaro to Tudela 24.6 K

This interrupted the flat terrainToday was going to be an early start. Robin and I were determined to be on the road before 9:00. Breakfast at our hotel started at 7:00 so that helped us along. As we were enjoying our first cup of coffee in the breakfast room a man walked in carrying a long case. My first thought was that we would soon be enjoying a string sonata with our coffee, but then no that was not to be. Upon closer inspection it was not an instrument case but a gun case. I thought what an odd thing to bring to breakfast, but perhaps gun owners suffer from separation anxiety as well. Anyhow it just goes to show you what can run through your mind as you are trying to roll the shell off a hard boiled egg. We finished, paid our bill, and headed out into the cold morning half light watching the trees swaying in the strong NW’ly wind that was making the day feel a lot colder than the 35 F our weather app quoted. We wound our way through the quiet streets and finally got lined up on a street that would take us to the next town 4 K away. Away we went. Almost immediately the bark of rifle fire could be heard. Whatever the locals were after the hunt was definitely on. For most of the morning gunshots broke the silence of our walk. I started thinking I had better keep my hiking poles down. I wouldn’t want to go for a big stretch, raise my poles, and be mistaken for a black horned “pilgabeast” inviting a volley of “Hail Mary” fire from afar. So poles down, crouching forward we moved cautiously along. Eventually the rifle shots faded and the crunch of our boots on the gravel path was the only sound we heard (apart from the howl of the wind). From whence we came We hauled into the hard scrabble town of Castejón around 9:15. This is a town built close aboard the rail line that seems to offer nothing more than that. We quickly moved through the Sunday morning silent streets until we picked up our path out of town (and alongside the rail line once again) and resumed our heading eastbound. The wind was really the weather story for today. Yes, it was cold, but the wind just kept pushing and shoving us around like passengers on a crowded subway. Over the course of the day it gradually grew in strength and by early afternoon it was blowing a steady 25 mph with gusts considerably higher. Our track today being mostly eastward put the wind on our right hand quarter. Most of the time it just shoved us along with a bit of side to side stuff thrown in for good measure. At one point just outside of Tudela we had to alter course towards the southwest, and the wind had some fun with us. We were head down and leaning into it as our progress ground to dead slow ahead. We held this course for about a 100 meters, but it seemed like a lifetime as we fought to find one step and then another. When we finally were able to swing back to the southeast it dawned on us how challenging a day’s walk would be heading westbound to Santiago in these winds.To thence we go One other thing of note was the change of terrain. This morning’s walk played out in the same flat agricultural fields we have been walking through for the last few days. By the afternoon we were seeing river valley (Ebro River) terrain with raised mesas. In any event it was a pleasant change as we followed the swollen (and hard running Ebro River) towards Tudela. We made our final approach to the city on a gravel road where the gusting winds spun cyclones of dust around our feet and the river rushes waved frantically in the wind as if applauding our arrival. It was in this celebratory mood we arrived cold and dusty at 1:30. Our hotel, the Hotel Santamaría, is very close to the Camino, and has great heat (very important for converting the room into a laundry, which we did). Robin and I are now planning tomorrow’s walk over a glass of wine. I know I am not up for 36 K in conditions similar to today’s. We shall probably catch a taxi out off town to give us a jump start on our walk to Gallur, our next stop. We shall see what the weather is like in the morning, and make our decision then, but that is where the smart money is tending at the moment. Beautiful day. The terrain begins to changeMy girlRio Ebro bank fullCamino Ignaciano orange arrowApproaching Tudela  Posted with Blogsy

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Comment on Reflective Wishing by Wildflower Women

Good post Kurt. Yes ,loss is something we all must endure . . . however, we have the choice as to how we go forward. With that, I am off to mentor to a group of widows and widowers who are sitting in the raw depths of the pain. I will take some of your words with me as I try to help them envision a new life without their loved one, a life that can be joyful once again.

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Comment on Reflective Wishing by Kurt Koontz

Heather, Love what you are doing with your time! I am sure the people are lucky to have you as their mentor during these tough times. Looking back, I wish I had taken my own advice and shortened the mourning period.

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Comment on Reflective Wishing by Sometimes She Travels

Stunning photograph. Was it taken near your home? I was forced (or invited by the Universe?) to come to terms with loss within the first several days of my 2014 Camino. Even at the time, I sensed that what I was experiencing was somehow a metaphor for a core emotional loss I’d experienced as a child, that the intense and immense pain I was experiencing wasn’t truly about the current “loss” but rather that I’d tapped into a deep reservoir of grief that had been residing somewhere in the depths of my being. Somehow, as soon as I set foot on the Camino, it was as though my heart was open and vulnerable and I could no longer “pretend it does not burn or claim that everything was ok”. It was another step toward healing….

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Comment on Reflective Wishing by Kurt Koontz

That photo was taken about a 1.5 miles from my front door. Beauty is everywhere but takes an effort to discover. It amazes me that the Camino becomes a lance and cuts deep into our wounds. It purges the accumulated pain and transforms into joy. I wish that everyone could experience the magic soil in Spain.

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Comment on Why Fly? by Wildflower Women

Love this Kurt, and thanks for sharing. I had to chuckle about the uncle’s comment . . . sounds familiar! It is motivating me to fly somewhere and do something new. Meanwhile, I will travel out for a run, maybe to a different spot today thanks to your words, where change also occurs when I make room for it.

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