Day 20, December 14th, 2012
Expenses, Day 20:
Albergue in Ruesta (Dinner, Bed, Breakfast tomorrow): 24.00
Trip Total: 445.59
Today was my first full day on the Camino Aragonés.
The albergue last night was beautiful. Arrés is a tiny fortress town built on the strategic point of a pass through the mountains to the south. The albergue is a reclaimed building that used to be in ruins – I saw before/after pictures on the wall. The walls were standing but the rest was a ruin. That seems to be typical of Rómanesque architecture; floors and roofs are of fragile wood, while the walls are of thick, thick stone.
It is three stories inside. The back entrance is on the ground floor, along with the bathrooms. This floor is smaller than the others, as the raw stone of the mountainside protrudes into the space (creating an odd situation where the toilet and shower cubicles has windows looking onto raw stone). The second floor has two bedrooms, while the third has a kitchen and a living room (the main entrance is on the balcony between the second and third floors). There's also an attic above the stairwell with four more mattresses – 20 beds in all, maybe.
The other pilgrim is a Spaniard, 51 years old, and not actually grumpy. There's a third pilgrim, as well, a French doctor who is 56 and stayed last night in the hotel attached to the bar. We made an odd trio, drinking calimoxto and tossing bits of Spanish, French, and English back and forth.
On the trail yesterday before Arrés I came upon a strange sight. I was following the trail through some woods when I came upon a stony meadow. The stones had been moved off the path, though, and there were a couple small cairns on either side of the path. I climbed a small rise to see that the entire field of stones had been stacked by pilgrims into small cairns. There were hundreds – thousands of them! Some had messages carved or painted on them; others had small gifts or charms wound around the rocks. I left a small pile of my own, made from a few loose rocks nearby.
Since then I've been seeing little cairns with some regularity. There was an old ruined hermitage that I passed in a field; seeing what I though was graffiti, I took a look inside. It wasn't graffiti – it was one of thousands of pilgrim names scratched into the remaining plaster. On the alter was a pile of stones in the shape of a heart. In other places were a small fire pit and a cross made of loose rock, as well as a tin labeled (ironically, I think) “donativo” (or donations, the typical sign in albergues above the box where one pays). I'd like to think that the monks who used to live here would appreciate that the pilgrims are using the ruins for shelter.
Speaking of rocks, I spent much of today walking among a very strange stone. It is gray, very soft, and erodes in small flakes. You can scrape pieces off of boulders just by running your hand along the face – a shower of chips about an inch long and an eighth of an inch thick will follow your fingers. It is very soft to walk on and eventually becomes sticky gray mud.
No plants grow on this rock, but I believe that it is because the roots of any sprouting seeds dislodge the very rock that they try to latch on to, rather than because of any toxicity of the rock itself (although I could be wrong). The strange erosion properties mean that the soft gray rock forms hillsides of sensuous curves, like Picasso painting a voluptuous woman.
Taking a break, I climbed one of the little hills. The way the stone breaks into such small chunks means that it tends to recreate larger landscapes in miniature. I felt like a giant steeping over valleys and rivers . . .
Sometimes a vein of more normal red rock runs through the gray stone. As it erodes, it leaves red “boulders” that fall down the small valleys. It's a whole geological cycle in miniature.
As I passed Artieda, I noticed a change in the landscape. The path followed a narrow green tunnel, sunk beneath the fallow fields and between stone walls that were being torn apart by the invading undergrowth. It was beautiful, but very empty. Not creepy, like before, as this land felt like it was supposed to be empty, but I didn't know why.
Coming in to Ruesta, I saw the remains of an old tower. Nothing special about that – there are lots of ruined towers in Spain, after all. There were other ruined buildings around it, too, and the road had been in an unusual state of disrepair for quite some time (when I could find it all, that is). There were quite a lot of ruined buildings, and as the cracked asphalt led me into town I realized that some of them were much more recent than the keep. Maybe even 20th century . . . what had happened here?
There were a few buildings that showed signs of very recent renovation. These belong to the albergue, a massive affair with 100 beds. It is the only inhabited building in town.
After asking around a little bit, I found out that this whole area was flooded with the construction of a dam. After years, they decommissioned it, and people returned to the area only to find that soil was no longer good for farming. This is why Ruesta is a ghost town, with only an albergue remaining. It is weird to think that this was all underwater at one point.
I love these Spanish soap operas. No one does them as well as the Spanish. They're all set in different time periods – the one on right now is set during the wars with Napolean. Fantastic.
There is a great picture here of people hiking in to the ruins of the city after the dam has been decommissioned. It's like they've found a ruined city on a forgotten planet, or the lost island of Atlantis.