We left Monreal chirpy and well rested. It's our final day on the Camino Aragones before we join the pilgrim river at Puente La Reina. Up to now the road has been wonderfully quiet, serene and remote in large parts. It'll be a new, rather more social experience from tomorrow, and we'll just go with the flow.
We'd not had a particularly early start and soon the sun was burning down on us from a cloudless sky. In one village we walked through a digital sign laconically announced that we're walking in 31 degree heat. Our hydration packs worked overtime. Long stretches of the farm roads we we're on were shadeless. It was taxing.
At one point we were glad to see the pillared hulk of the must-see Eunate church appear ahead of us, with the promise of its dark, cool inside to rest in and escape the sun.
Except that it was Monday, and we found the church locked and deserted. (Note to Spanish authorities, Pilgrims want to see churches on Mondays too, you know). So we were left to huddle for a few minutes under a sparse olive tree before continuing our hot trek to Puenta La Reina.
Along a particularly long and scorching stretch close to Puenta La Reina we were surrounded by bare, ploughed fields both sides of the dusty track we were on. 'What we need right now,' I said to Adeline between wiping beads of sweat from my face, 'Is someone to turn a watering hose on us to cool down.' Suddenly, out of the blue, the irrigating system start shooting long arms of water into the air on the field next to us. We didn't need an invitation - we both ran onto the field like kids and within two minutes we were soaked to the skin. I'm not making this up. This is the stuff that happens on the Camino.
I'd be lying if I said entering Puenta La Reina after a long trek of 35 kilometers wasn't somewhat of a shock. Every second building seems to be an albergue, with socks, towels and garments dangling from window sills. Petite pilgrim girls in sarongs, their pristine feet removed from their leather sandals daintily sat on the lawns, nibbling on goat's cheese and bread while reading well-thumbed copies of Brierleys. Almost everone we saw was a pilgrim. Moreover, they all looked fresh-faced and pink-cheeked. Our sun-burnt, sweat-stained and dusty demeanours stood out. We'd been on the road more than twice as long as most, and judging by the stares it must've showed.
I'm glad we'd opted to start in Lourdes and complete the Aragones route before tackling the long, well-trodden path to Santiago de Compostela. It had given us the chance to get a head start and savour the culture and history of the old pilgrim routes while being gently introduced into the mores, ethics and quirks of daily life as modern pilgrims.
Later we settled at a bar on one of Puenta La Reina's lively streets and drank a toast to the Camino Aragones. It had been tough going, but very, very rewarding. We felt ready for the next chapter. It's on we go.
POSTSCRIPT We carried on yes, right through to Santiago. And even by bus to Kilometer Zero, Finisterre. But I stopped blogging once we got to Puente la Reina. I wanted to just take in the rest of the road without having to think about writing. I made some notes from which a story or two may still flow, but this is it for now. Now, get online and book an air ticket, go walk the Camino. Now.