Monday, March 19, 2012

Camino Entry 16

Day 16, December 10, 2012
327.5km completed

The world just seems to be built differently out here, like I’m on a different planet. It is so quiet . . . you can hear, as well as see, for kilometers. A low, heavy mist settles everywhere, but I could see the moon setting this morning huge and orange like an electric light. A little town glitters in the distance, and the sun is rising like a dimmer switch being turned up.

Expenses, Day 16
Castillo Loarre Entry: 2.80
Chocolate con Churros: 2.90
Bread: 1.00
Pastries and Cheese: 5.25
Baguette: 0.85
Coffee: 1.00
Albuergue donation: 5.00

I was resting, letting my feet dry out near the Castillo Loarre visitor center – sitting on a bench with my bare feet out. A little four year old girl came by, staring entranced at my toes. I wiggled them and she laughed before her parents fetched her back. It’s the little things.

There are two things I need to write about before I forget them.

Outside of Huesca I came across a strange beehive-like structure made of stone. They were used to guard the vineyards back in the day, but during the civil war they were used as shelter by the rebels fighting Franco. Inside was carved:

(Communist Hammer and Sickle)

Which is the same side that George Orwell fought for in the war against the Fascists.

In Huesca I visited the cathedral on my way out of town. It was comforting, strengthening, and reminded me why I’m doing this (even though I don’t know why I’m doing this . . . it reminded me of the part that does know). I don’t know why cathedrals do this to me -- it certainly has nothing to do with the Catholic faith. I suppose that they have been a big part of my life this past year . . . but it is more than mere association. Something about the smell of old stone, and the stories of people searching for whatever “it” is.

Today I sidetracked for a few hours to the Castillo Loarre, and boy am I glad that I did. You know that part in video games or fantasy movies where they stay in some castle in the clouds? That place exists, and I’ve been there.

The oldest parts of the castle date from the 10th century, constructed during the beginning of the Moorish expulsion. It is Romanic in style, and huge – visible for kilometers. The keep sits high in the Sierra de Loarre, perched atop a stone outcropping that juts from the South side of the mountains. Besides the keep (accessible only by drawbridge from the Queen’s tower) there are a cluster of other buildings, a huge basilica built a few hundred years later, and a massive curtain wall stretching for hundreds of meters along the exposed side of the hillside (the bit that isn’t sheer cliff, that is). Nearly everything is intact.

I didn’t realize how much of the older castles must have been made of wood. The curtain wall has no rampart – instead, there are holes for timbers to be inserted into the wall in order to support a walkway. The same is true of the towers and many of the lesser buildings inside the castle – all wooden floors. All that’s left of them is the stone ledgework that anchored them, of course.

I didn’t realize until I was most of the way up the mountain (elevation 1080m.) that the view was going to be so breathtaking. Looking out from the castle, I could see that all of Aragón was covered in white clouds. They were below the level of the castle – the only land visible was the ridgeline of the Sierra de Loarra and a few little islands of land sticking up here and there in the distance. The castle sat on the edge of an endless sea of brilliant white . . . I could see nothing but rolling mist for 100, 200, maybe more kilometers. It went straight out to the horizon until you couldn’t tell where clouds met sky. There was one place in particular – the queen’s lookout, a portal facing South into Aragón – where I could see a sheer drop down the cliff into the frothy white mist below.


I stopped by the bar here in Sarsamarcuello to pick up the keys to the Albergue, get a cup of coffee, and send my weekly “I’m not dead” email to mom (the bars do everything in these little towns). At first I was the only one there besides the perennially drowsy barmaid, but as I sipped some coffee people began to come in start moving chairs and tables around. “El teatro, aquí,” (the theater, here) explained the barmaid, as if she was talking to a retarded child.

I dropped off my stuff at the albergue, got a quick freezing shower (Jesus, Hornblower, how do you do it?) and headed back over. The place was arranged with rough rows of seats and was packed with more than half of the town’s 150 inhabitants. It was standing room only for the pilgrim, but I didn’t mind too much.

Soon after I arrived, they started. The lights went off except for a small “campfire.” It was a two man show, and they were both dressed as hobos of indeterminate era. One sat by the fire playing a small mandolin, backing the other in his monologues. I understood very little, but I figured out that it was a collection of stories about shipwrecks and (I think) how they followed the character’s family. The story about his mother and the sinking of the Titanic was told in surprising detail, along with the torpedoing of the USS Indianapolis.

It felt like the scene in Return of the Jedi where C-3PO is describing the rebellion to the ewoks.

The texture was very powerful. The main illumination was a gas camping lantern, set on the table in front of the main actor. He would turn it down for a few moments between stories or when he changed characters (my favorite was the old sea captain who told the story about cannibalism). It was also a play of great prop usage – particularly the stick that the sea captain kept mindlessly sharpening through the story (you can imagine how the knife figured into things).

And it was a powerful vibe. All the adults, sitting and rolling cigarette after cigarette as the man told stories of disaster, humor, and general woe. His face was lit only by the lantern, and the harsh dark shadows that it threw across his features helped set the somber tone of the narrative. The windows fogged as the play went on, humid with the breath of collected people.

It was almost a two hour performance. My ears are getting better – I can start to pick out more words, I just don’t know what they mean.


A bit of graffiti I keep finding on signs pointing to Riglos:

“Inductos y viajeros haces con el Jacobeo y danzar con yoga k – Dr. K.”

Dunno what it means – The Jacobean path is another name for the camino, and there’s something about traveling and dancing in there, but the rest was too smudged.

The End of Notebook 1

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