The second portion of my dabbler of Caminos, the Camino Aragones extends from the Col du Somport in the Pyrenees to Puente la Reina, an important stop along the Camino Frances. The approximately 170-kilometer Camino Aragones traverses the river valley of the Rio Aragones on the hot, dry side of the Pyrenees. The Camino Aragones is often chosen by pilgrims wishing to avoid the “traffic” of the Camino Frances; while that may have figured into my choice, the opportunity to cross the mountains at Somport Pass was what pulled my heartstrings.
Some of my favorite portions (and, to be honest, the favorites of most hikers) of the Appalachian Trail are those miles in the southern balds and the northern alpine zones: times when we’re above treeline, wind-whipped, sunburned, and undeniably tiny in an enormous landscape. Similarly, when I left behind the beautiful woods of the Pyrenees National Park (Le Parc national des Pyrénées) and found myself in high meadows just under the pass, I was awestruck. Simply gorgeous.
Walking along the road to enter Spain felt climatic, and mountain panoramas made it tough to make forward progress. But, the air was chilly and the path beckoned, so, eventually, I began the decent. (Conversational blue blaze: Some American websites bemoan the descent from Somport Pass. If your knees tend to get achy, you’ll hurt, but it is nothing like the descent from San Jacinto!) As I descended, the air kept getting hotter and dryer, and the plant life around me changed. This aridity would be my reality for the length of the Aragones.
The Aragones was dry and hot and barren – but still dramatic and beautiful. For the first time ever on trail, I carried body lotion because, before it adjusted to the climate, my skin was so dry that it hurt. For the length of the Aragones, I found myself eager to hit the trail early in the morning to make some miles before the sun was high in the sky. Often, I still walked until late in the day, but I did make sure that I rested in occasional shady patches.
It seems that articles about the Camino Aragones rarely draw attention to its variety. The “lunar landscapes” of the Camino Aragones – the badlands left behind by the river – are bizarre and unusual. The path passes through much farmland and some low-precipitation forests. It passes a couple of large water bodies – the Rio Aragones and a giant blue reservoir. It descends from the Pyrenees, keeping them in view for a while. It climbs up to high moorland. It passes through tiny villages and bustling Jaca.
While I’d approached Jaca with the standard amount of apprehension I give developed areas, I found myself unable to find anything disagreeable with the the beautiful, historic city. Like Toulouse, Jaca felt special (and distinctly European). I was glad to call it my home base for two nights, as I took a zero day to visit San Juan de la Pena.
It took a day or two for the Aragones to win my heart. For a brief time, I’d considered skipping ahead, discouraged from walking by some miles of trail near traffic. Then, the route began winding along gravel farm tracks and up and over small hills near stone ruins, the skeletons of farms from former centuries. I found myself fascinated by the juxtapositions of new technologies (from tractors to wind turbines) and these relics.
As I walked the Camino Aragones, I found my stride on this medieval route. I came to not just accept but appreciate the social time of the albergues at night and the community of pilgrims on the trail. There weren’t many of us yet – perhaps just half a dozen or so – and I knew more awaited in Puente la Reina. As we sought refuge from a thunderstorm together in Izco, rehashing our journeys thus far, I thought about our diverse community, united by a common destination. I began wearing my shell more proudly.