Monday, June 15, 2009

Day 8: Jaca to Santa Cilia

Another beautiful day, clear sky, no sign of rain at all. We started off by taking a taxi to the Monastary of San Juan de La Pena, it was such a worthwhile stop. Its amazing to see how the Monastery was built into the rock mountain. The workmanship was incredibile, and it all was so interesting. After spending approximately one hour walking through the monastary we then started walking the 7.5k´s back down to the road. At first did not understand as we started climbingfor 1k, and then the descent began, a very steep path of earth, stones and rocks. One had to be very carefull and go down quite slowly. I so enjoyed it but must admit I would not like to do it in very wet wether. At times we came across wild lavendar growing alongside of us, lots of pretty wild flowers and very colourful butterflies. At the bottom we found a cafe bar and had something to drink at Santa Cruz which was very welcome and then continued on our way up and down a another path of rocks and boulders. It was very hot and no shade. I am sure we were walking in the path that the water would come tumbling down. One could actually see where the little waterfalls would be in the wet weather or when the snow melted. I love walking off the road as in the silence I am able to listen to the sounds of nature and lose myself within myself. Have to say at the end of walking today I was quite tired but contented.

Val Minister of Nutrition
We are chucked out at 0900am so we decide to get up early and finish off on the blog. We are now up to date with our blog...still a shame that we post almost a week in one go as we know friends and family like to get an update every few days....we are getting a taxi to the Monastery this morning so Syl goes off to scout for the taxi rank and atm whilst Marion and I get our fix of ´cafe´in a bar....I also have a roll with ham and proscuitto which is served warm...delicious. The taxi rank is full of cars which are not taxis...and we along with another woman accost every one who parks and gets out of the car..."taxi" NO comes the reply...the Spanish woman actually opens their doors and is almost in when the owner of the car has to manhandle her and say No not taxi!!
We got to a hotel and the kind lady calls us a taxi and we then wait at the taxi rank....we bundle in with all of our stuff and are soon speeding up a very narrow winding road to the Monastery. It is well worth the visit and the late start we have today. It doesn´t open until 1000am and we spend at least an hour. We immediately set off on the path to our next stop. I resist singing "I´m off to Sunny Spain¨and pretend that I have never been to Benidorm! But I feel like singing because it is so beautiful. For the past 5 days we have seen a lone bird of prey - it is as if he is following us...perhaps guiding us. Our next stop should have been Arres but we will not make it as we are so late and cannot book and as such ensure our accommodation. We walk into Santa Cilia and there are two young boys playing football. .. Syl says Albergue? and they immediately walk for us to follow. We go down a side road where the entire road is running between the buildings is dug up...another village undergoing reconstruction. Other than that, there is absolutely nothing! We have walked through villages where there is a row of say 4 houses, of which only one is habitable, the ones surrounding it are ruins. They have no shops, absolutely nothing but almost always a water fountain and incredibly - recyling bins..probably more for us pilgrims than the residents. Our accommodation tonight is superb in many ways, it is bright and cheerful, the 3 storey ¨townhouse¨has colour washed walls and paintings (murals) a map and modern Male and Female Pilgrims to denote the abultions, although most often these are communal. The place is spotless and quite a few of our fellow pilgrims have all gathered here tonight and a great atmosphere exists. There is a washing machine! Marions says, "and what is this?" " a dishwasher?" I say, but it is a tumble dryer....we have not been able to wash our fleece´s as they are difficult to dry and if the weather turns we only have one, and need them in the mornings and sometimes to sleep in. They are competing with the smelly cheese now! Downstairs is a fully fitted kitchen, huge communal table and lovely open plan lounge. The next floor is a male and female dorm and lovely showers and toilets...there is liquid soap AND paper towels AND TOILET PAPER! Some places do not supply toilet paper because we pinch it. The first time I discovered this, was a bit of a shock...where the toilet rolls should have been, was a piece of cardboard with a message...I did´nt need my phrase book to know that it said something like "we no longer provide toilet paper because you nasty little Pilgrims pinch it".....In the next door cubicle is a groan and expletive - it doesn´t matter what the language, it is obvious he also forgot to check before sitting down.
On the 3rd floor is a huge room - almost like a classroom with free Internet and we manage to post a few photographs onto our blog. The use of the internet, washing machine, including powder and the tumble dryer in addition to all the other facilities is just 10 euro. The only problem now is where can we get food. Marion and I go looking around the village, and it is full of allotments with such wonderful produce including fruit trees and fruit bushes. As we pass down a narrow path we can just see over a wall with vegetables at our height - oh it is so tempting to pinch and onion and lettuce but we resist. We report back that the place is deserted. Eventually we learn that we have to walk around the corner and press the door bell and wait about 15 minutes and they will open - there is apparently a bar and food shop. A few of us go to the door and sure enough about 10 minutes later a lady appears and we set into the bar..a tiny dingy room and we are told to wait here until she is ready for us to come into the shop. The tiny bar has a shelf on the wall with grimey bottles, most without labels and I don´t ask for wine fearful that I might be given the contents of one of these bottles and so we wait for over 15 minutes for Senora to invite us into her shop behind the bar. "only two at a time!" But she allows us three in together. It is a lovely Alladins Cave- we snatch up fresh lettuce, toms, onions, peppers and garlic. A carton of milk for tomorrow with sachets of hot chocolate, apples, oranges and bananas. She doesn´t have any bread but we still have some in my backpack also some cheese. Then she says "Jamon, Chorizo?.. Chorizo I say...a huge one is taken from the fridge and she gives us a generous piece. I will lightly fry this to release the juices and add to our salad. There is a row of wine bottles, covered in dust and cobwebs...¨vino¨I tinto? Senora..she opens another little fridge and hands me a perfectly chilled red wine. We all go back to our kitchen and start cooking...Marion and I produce our corkscrew and wine goblets and the German man, says in English ¨you do not need a man¨...then he calls everyone into the kitchen to see our goblets...they are drinking out of plastic bathroom cups. Our bread was so hard now I couldn´t cut it too well, the yellow hard cheese was desperately trying to evolve into a Stilton but tasted fine and we finished off with a piece of Lindt chocolate which had travelled for 2 days in my backpack.

We have three options today.

(1) This was the plan from home. Get a taxi to San Juan and ask him to wait for one hour then take us down to St Cilia - which means an 8km walk to Arres, our next intended stopover.

(2) Get the taxi to San Juan and walk the 7.5km back to St Cilia and 8km to Arres. That'll make it 15km walking day.

(3) Get a bus at 8h10 to St Cilia and walk up to San Juan de la Pena and back again. This will make it a very long walk so we discard this idea.

Plan 1 means we walk 8kms today - or plan 2 and we walk about 15kms?
"I don´t mind to walk" says Val. "I don´t mind walking" says Marion. So, I ask the driver to take us to San Juan and we will walk back. It costs us 25€ - 35€ if he had waited. We pay 3€ (pilgrim price) to see the monastery and leave our packs behind the ticket booth. After visiting this stunning place we collect our sticks and packs. "It is not a dificult path" says the young lady in the ticket booth. "Only 7.5km". It IS a difficult path! It is rocky, narrow, VERY, Very steep and although we spent the first km going up, the rest is all down, down, down - impossible ledge paths with no hope of recovery if you wobble or stumble. At one stage it looked as though the path had disappeared into an abyss but there it was when we peered over the edge, snaking its way sideways down only to disappear again into another gully.
I was exhausted by the time we got to the bottom and even after stopping at Santa Cruz for a cold drink, I started to feel light headed and wobbly as we walked to Santa Cilia.
"I think I need to lie down" I told M and Val at one stage. We found a tiny patch of shade and I lay down with my legs up on a tree and my head on my backpack. I had goosebumps even though it was 35oC in the shade. I think I had a touch of sunstroke. When we got to Santa Cilia I headed straight for the albergue. After a shower, something to eat and a drink I felt as though I could have gone on another 5km or 8km but by then our washing was in the machine and we were very comfortable in the albergue.
A pilgrim gets very excited when she sees my shorts. She is an ex-pat South African living in Belgium. We talk about Cape Town, Johannesburg, the 1908o's and the new South Africa. She and her husband are cycling from their home to Santiago. It's a really Groot Trek!
Val´s heels are sore and her achilles are tight so I give her another foot massage. This turned out to be one of the best albergues we´ve stayed in with a very kind hospitalera, small rooms, free internet, free washing machine and tumble drier and a wonderful atmosphere. I have a bed near the window and can hear sheep baaing in the fields. I also hear thunder during the night and worry about what the paths will be like if it rains. But, I´m too tired to care tonight and drift off to sleep. It´s been a long, hard day.

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