Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Aragones Route - Jaca to Santa Celia

Photo by David Foster
Loretta and I had decided to at least begin our walk together. 
When you are walking the Camino on any route, 
there is an unspoken rule that each person must walk their own Camino. 

What this means is you might walk with a group, 
or you might walk alone. 
You might start with a walking partner, 
but one of you may want to go faster or slower, 
and it's okay to do this at your own speed. 
One of the most fun things of all is getting to an albergue 
and running into "old friends" that you left on the trail 2 weeks ago.
Or meeting people in Santiago that you walked with 40 days earlier.

So, with this understanding in mind, 
we began our walk together. 
We knew we would eventually part company, 
because I planned on walking to the famous 
Monastery of San Juan de la Peña in this first stage.
I had asked at the Jaca albergue 
what the trail was like up to the Monastery, 
and was told, "It's just a short walk." 
I should have known better.
The kilometers in Spain have a tendency 
to grow longer as you walk.
However, I decided I would go and see the Monastery, 
and then walk from there down into Santa Celia.

Loretta and I set out walking about 7 a.m. 
After about 30 minutes, we found an open bar 
and had coffee and sweet bread.  
There were only two other pilgrims there, 
so we figured the walking would be mostly solitary. 
We strolled through town, past the beautiful park blocks, 
and then came to a place where the signage was not clear.

In Spain, this route is waymarked by yellow arrows 
but also with red and white bars as GR 65.3,
part of the Spanish network of Senderos de Gran Recorrido.

Here are some of the marks you might find:

In France, this route is called the Arles Route,
and is mostly a single route.  
However, once you reach Aragón and Navarra there are variants, 
mainly to famous monasteries. 
So here we stood, an hour into the day's walk, 
already stumped.

We stood pondering and discussing for a moment 
and a truck of workers stopped near us.
I asked them, "which way to the Camino?"  
They pointed one direction, but Lorette insisted they were wrong.  
I decided to follow my gut and the advice of the locals,
and Loretta and I parted company. 
She went one direction, and I went the other.

After a while, I saw the sign indicating the cut-off trail to the Monastery. 
I turned off to the left and walked through an empty field, 
following the signs to the base of a rough-looking trail. 
I walked through an area that looked like a dump,
past an abandoned car,
and finally saw another trail sign.
It looked like the trail had been washed out. 
But I had heard this trek had been done by others,
so I worked my way up the rocky gully.

It was very difficult climbing, 
sometimes on my hands and knees. 
In some places, the steep trail was completely washed out.
I am not in bad shape, but I'm not an athlete, 
and there were times I just had to stop and catch my breath.  
I thought, "I sure hope this Monastery is worth the effort!."

The following photo is NOT of the trail I walked, 
but is an excellent example of how it looked:
Near what I thought was the top of the trail, 
the stark red mud began to sprout vegetation 
and I worked myself into a small forested area. 
All of a sudden, around the corner came a man carrying a basket,
just like Little Red Riding Hood. 
Was this the wolf?
 Turned out to be a gentleman mushrooming. 
He had a basket full of mushrooms 
and when I asked him how far to the Monastery, 
he pointed up the trail and said,
"not so far... just keep going." I "kept going" and after a bit, 
the trail widened out and I was at the top of a mountain
looking into a beautifully lush farmland valley. 
I thought, "Thank God, I made it!"

I walked and walked and finally reached the village
which wasn't really a town at all, 
but a group of private houses.  
I soon realized that this was not my destination. 
There were no shops, no bars... just houses and a church.
I passed through this village, 
then finally saw a sign pointing up another road saying simply,

I kept walking.  
I walked, and walked. 
Eventually I was in an area with hills on each side of the road. 
Suddenly the silence was broken by gunshots. 
BIG gunshots!

I thought, "Holy crap! Is somebody shooting at me?" 
Then ahead I saw a parked car. 
When I got closer, I saw the car was being guarded by two pit bulls. 
Oh great. 
Here are the dogs I keep hearing about,
but not on the Camino Frances!  

On the car was a sign saying:

No Pasar!
Batida de Caza!

which basically means

What the heck?  
They are shooting shotguns along the Camino?

I sat down and took a break, 
wondering what in the heck to do.
I was just too tired to go back to the main road.
I'd been walking over 3 hours up this trail. 
I could only pray,
"Please let them finish hunting or send a car or a taxi. 
I need help!"

I decided to keep walking. 
The Monastery couldn't be too much further.

Taking wide berth around the pit bulls,
and ducking every time I heard a shotgun,
I continued on my way.  

Soon, two people appeared on the trail.
They told me not to worry. 
They said it was safe to walk, 
that the men were hunting up in the hills, 
not near the trail. 
They said the Monastery was only 2 kilometers further.

So I continued to walk. 
I walked, and I walked. 
Two more hours. 
What I KNOW was much further than 2 kilometers.

Now I was in a moonscape of what appeared to be
an old riverbed full of giant boulders. 
The traveling was difficult. 
The trail was washed out in many places 
and I had to scramble on my hands over rocks 
and down steep embankments.

I heard the church bell in the valley striking 12 
and I knew I had now been walking for 5 hours. 
And it wasn't easy walking - it was hard climbing and rock scrambling
all the time carrying a backpack. 
I was tired.
I was hungry.
I was out of water.

I climbed over a motorbike
that had gotten stuck in the rocks 
and had been abandoned.  
Apparently, young people like to rock scramble on their motorcycles
in this area, so be aware. 

I started up another embankment 
and two people came toward me out of the brush.
I said hello. 
They responded in French. 
My French isn't great, so I asked in Spanish,
"How far is it to the Monastery?"

They replied, "1.5 to 2 hours."


My heart sunk. 
There is no way I could walk two more hours in these conditions 
and then still walk the kilometers to Santa Celia from the Monastery!
(Well, I COULD, I just didn't WANT to!)
There is no place to sleep at the Monastery. 
I do not have my tent - 
I left it in Santiago at the Travel Center. 
What in the world would I do now?

This was a difficult moment for me.

Emotionally and physically, I was drained. 
If I had KNOWN before I set out how hard this walk was going to be, 
I could have either mentally and prepared myself with food and water
or taken another route. 
Maybe I would have hired a taxi to take me to the Monastery. 
Maybe I would have kept my tent and planned on sleeping there. 
But now, I only felt exhausted and overwhelmed.

These lovely people sensed my distress 
and offered me a ride down to the main road.
I gladly accepted.

I climb into their van and we head out across the valley
to a road pointing the way to the highway. 
I was shocked to see the main road was EIGHT MILES away!! 
I would have had to get up to the Monastery 
then down 8 miles to the main road, 
and then on to Santa Celia. 
I didn't have that kind of stamina, 
especially after the climb up the rocky trail. 

I would have had to sleep outside with no tent.
I am sure I could have done it if I had to, 
but at that moment, 
I was so happy that this French couple had rescued me!  
I couldn't help myself... I began crying in relief.

We drove and drove, 
around hills and through gorgeous forest. 
We finally reached the main road,
just a short distance from where I had left it that morning.

I was sniffling as I got out of their van. 
They hugged me and offered me food and water. 
"Would you like a little bread to eat?"
Photo by Frenchforfoodies
I was so hungry, not having planned for this adventure!  
I accepted, crying, thanking them profusely.  
They asked if I'd like a ride to Santa Celia. 
I declined.
I needed the time to pull myself together.   
More hugs, and they left, beep-beeping their horn down the road. 
It made me laugh, and I needed that more than anything!

I walked about an hour. 
I could smell food.. .literally. 
And then to the left was a wonderful bar 
where they grill your food on order over an open fire.  

I was so happy!  
I ordered a big old beer with lemon and studied the menu. 
Then I had them bring me a giant mixed salad 
and beef with roasted peppers. 
Time for celebration! 
I was alive!
The beer and the food revived my spirits 
and I continued on to Santa Celia. 
I took a right turn through a residential area, 
past fenced empty lots, 
and finally into the village itself.

I passed a bar which also was a tiny tienda,
but I had eaten, so I continued on to the albergue.   
There was a lot of road construction going on and I had to detour several times. 
When I reached the albergue,
there was nobody there, 
but a sign on the door said the Pilgrim should go in 
and make themselves at home.
So I did.

The albergue was a sweet little place 
with dorms for men and dorms for women. 
It had a nice kitchen with pots, pans, dishes, cutlery. 
It had a washing machine!
And upstairs was a bank of computers.
I wish I had photos to show you.
If anyone has photos of this albergue they can share, 
I'd love to add them to this posting.

I took a bed near the french doors, 
knowing I could crack them open in the night if it got too stuffy. 
Then I took a shower and waited for others to show up.

Soon 5 other Pilgrims showed up. 
One was a German boy who had just come from the Monastery
I had tried all day to reach!  
He told me he had walked from HERE and back today 
and that the hospitalera had allowed him to stay an extra night 
so he could make this journey. 

This is what I would suggest to any pilgrim wanting to see the Monastery. 
Either pay a taxi to take you up there from Santa Celia 
or walk from HERE up the main road. 

That washed out trail is a difficult one, 
and unless you are in really great shape or have a tent,
I can not in good conscience suggest it. 
Taking the main road from Santa Celia and back makes a lot more sense.

Another single Peregrina showed up, 
and then a French couple in their 60's. 
They were very nice, but also very tired. 
They had decided to take a taxi tomorrow to the next stop - 
her feet wouldn't carry her another kilometer. 
I absolutely understood!

Loretta never showed up
and I worried 
that she may have tried the trail to the Monastery also.
I wondered where she ended up?

We all pooled our resources that night and shared dinner. 
The French couple brought a bottle of wine 
and that healed my aches and pains from the climb.

I slept like a rock, 
listening to the lambs bleating in the field below my window.

My! What an adventure this was!  
I was absolutely exhausted,
but woke up thankful to have made it to Santa Celia.

See my AnnieWalkersCamino website at 
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Camino Santiago 
and on other Pilgrimage Trails of Europe


  1. Update!! The next time we walked this route, we found out there was a bus you can catch from Jaca that will take you to the Monastery and then back to Jaca. This is a most excellent plan. Stay TWO nights in Jaca. The first day, take the bus to see the Monastery. Then the second day you can walk from Jaca and not have to take the side trip. Much easier. You also could just walk down from the Monastery to Sta. Celia, which was a lovely walk.

    1. Do a search on Annie's Simple Life Jaca to find the link to the NEXT time we walked this route and took the bus. All info is there.


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