This is one of the many paths that Fran has followed to Santiago on several occasions during the almost 16 years that he has been making the pilgrimage. It may not be the best known, but it is undoubtedly one of the oldest and one of those with the most history behind it. It starts at the Port of Somport, in the province of Huesca and is divided into 6 stages totaling 179km, unifying with the French Camino de Santiago in Puente la Reina, in the province of Navarra.
In addition, last November he published his first book, “In Itinerae Stellae: Caminando por el Camino de Santiago Aragonés” (In Itinerae Stellae: Walking the Aragonese Way of St. James). It is a series of autobiographical experiences, which combined in large part with the history and culture of St. James, are able to convey the charm of the Aragonese lands and the Camino de Santiago.
How did your interest in the pilgrimage and the long walks along the peninsula come about?
My interest in principle was born 16 years ago, a little out of curiosity, because when I went to Galicia for normal tourism, I saw people who went with their backpacks, walking and so on, and I became interested. Although I already knew what the Camino de Santiago was, one day I decided to do my first walk, from Sarria to Santiago, which is 115 km, it was quite short. Then, in the second one I did the 800 km, from Roncesvalles to Santiago, and I was hooked, totally addicted to the road.
What motivated you to share your experiences as a pilgrim for the first time? Tell us, what were your beginnings?
I wanted to try to let people know a little about what the Camino is really like, and that they lose the fear that many people have of it because they think they won’t be able to do it, that it’s something that will overcome them, or that they don’t know what they’re going to get into. It is simply that, to give them a little bit of an idea so that they can take the first step and know how beautiful the road is.
Tell us a little about the historical importance of the Camino de Santiago Aragonés …
The Aragonese Way of St. James has an immense historical importance, more than people imagine and more than many people may think. I am one of those who think that if it were not for the Aragonese Way of St. James, Aragon today would not be as we know it, because it was what gave strength to Jaca, to all the small places of the Kingdom, to the repopulation and to the coming of people from outside….
And thanks to those people who came from outside, the Kingdom of Aragon was strengthened and was able to expand and become known. And well, it is also very important all the beauty that was received along the way with all the Romanesque art and so on.
Along the way, would you say that the figure of the Virgin of Pilar is present in all the places? In what way have you perceived it?
No, it is not entirely present. It is present when you start the road in Somport, for example. At the top, when you take the first step, there is a small chapel and an image of the Virgin of the Pilar. After that, well, you can hardly find it. Maybe in some church where they have a chapel, but the Virgin of Pilar is not very present along the whole route.
What place or places of this Aragonese road have impacted you for their myths, legends or customs?
Well, there are many myths and legends, starting with the hospital of Santa Cristina, next to Candanchú, continuing with the Cueva de las Güixas, the Cathedral of Jaca, which was the origin of practically all the Romanesque art in Spain. And also, what I always say is my right eye, the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña, which is of incomparable beauty, there is no other monastery like it in all of Spain. Well, and Santa Cruz de la Serós, the abandoned village of Ruesta, the village submerged by the Yesa reservoir in Tiermas…
For example, the monastery of San Juan de la Peña is the creation of the hermit who lived there, and the two who gave rise to everything, who found the body in the hermitage. From there everything was created, the legend and the myth of Aragon, from there arose in theory what is the door of the Kingdom of Aragon, from there arose, what is the Holy Grail…, and, why not, I’m going to say it!
The legend of King Arthur and the Holy Grail is by Alfonso I The Battler, and then the Anglo-Saxons took the legend away from us and made it about Arthur, but it is inspired by Alfonso I. That is, in his book, Perceval, was inspired because he traveled to Spain, Hispania then, and was inspired by Alfonso I El Batallador to write that story. The only thing that later, as has happened with many things, they took it away from us and it became Anglo-Saxonized. The myth was taken away from us, but it is inspired by the Holy Grail and Alfonso I.
Throughout the journey, have you noticed any signs or traces of other pilgrims? Have you thought about leaving your own mark?
Yes, it is mostly small altars. Along the way there are numerous and quite striking, for example, there is one when you pass Santa Cilia, before reaching what is the bridge of Puente la Reina. There you have a small wooded area where they put small mounds of flat stones piled up, and there are usually about 100 or 200. Then people arrive who do not like it, they throw them away, others put them back… It is a very nice souvenir, although ecologically it is not recommended because it alters the ecosystem a little, but yes. Then people hang ribbons, holy cards, and various symbols in different places. There are also some on the way up to the monastery of San Juan de la Peña, along the variant.
However, I don’t like to leave traces. I carry my footprints in my soul, of all the steps I walk, I keep them inside. I try not to alter anything, I don’t even take a stone to leave it on the cairns, as many people do, no. The path has to be left intact. The path has to be left intact so that the people who come after me can enjoy it.
What is the most positive thing about walking the Camino alone?
Undoubtedly to be able to get to know yourself more inwardly. The strength it gives you, the firmness…, but above all it is what you get inside, that strength you get to overcome yourself, to enjoy being yourself… Because walking the path is to carry your house and your life with you, you don’t need anything else, you wear a pair of shoes, and what you carry in your backpack is everything you have. And it is you, with your thoughts, with your ideas, with your walk and your effort. You say… “I won’t be able to”, you can, “today I have blisters”, whatever, “I’m going to continue”, and the next day you get up. It happens to me, sometimes I do 40 km a day and if I have blisters or stiffness, I say tomorrow morning, at 6 or 7 in the morning I’m walking.
Now I would like you to tell us a little bit about your book. How did the idea come up…, why did you see the need to make a book about it…?
I have been writing for a long time, but well, this book came about because of my son. He told me that he had been proposed that I do a book, and for me there is no problem, I do a book about whatever it takes. He said… about the Aragonese Way in particular, and I said, “OK,” and that’s what I did.
The bad thing is that for me it was short, it would have taken 200 pages more to really explain what the Camino Aragonés is, but it is a book that is based more on the experiences of this last Camino Aragonés that I did last year, and also, I added a historical part about some pilgrims in the eleventh century. This way people can see a little bit of the difference between how we do pilgrimages nowadays and how people did pilgrimages back then. So if we are lucky, maybe a second book will follow.
How would you say your book differs from other pilgrimage books?
It’s in the first person, it’s not a guidebook. Although the book can be followed as a guide, it’s not a guidebook, I don’t say… sleep here, eat here, drink there. They are my wanderings, that’s my walk, my thoughts, I try to capture what I feel, and besides, they are not advice, they are contributions. Let’s say that I do it for those who come after me, to see what they can find and what they can enjoy. And that’s all it is, a biographical book, let’s say, it’s not a guide, that’s the difference.
What do you think this book can bring to its readers?
I think it can bring them a lot to see that a normal person like me, with various physical problems, is also capable of walking the path, and if I can do it, they can do it too. Because there are many people who, when they meet me and see that I do maybe 40 or 50 km a day, they think… this guy is an athlete! No, I’m not an athlete, I’m a normal person with various physical problems, and yet I keep walking. I get my strength from the Camino, from walking the Camino and… that’s it, that’s just it.
What resonance do you think the Way of Saint James has at an international level?
The Aragonese one, as I said, has little resonance. However, the Way of St. James in general has international resonance, it is known all over the world. It is known above all in Europe, Asia, and in America since Martin Sheen made the movie “The way”, then the Americans began to be very fond of it. Koreans also know it very well, because the road is full of Koreans in the spring and autumn season. Therefore, the road is known internationally.
Apart from being Aragonese, why would you recommend this variant among all the roads that lead to Santiago?
Because it is interesting to promote it, it is a road that for me is not sufficiently known, it is a beautiful road, beautiful, in short, it is one of the best roads I have walked, and I have walked practically all the Jacobean roads except the one to Santiago de Compostela. But the Aragonese is a beautiful road, has very beautiful landscapes, and has a beautiful Romanesque art. Besides, its people and places will remain in your memory forever.
And it is certainly so, not because it is Aragonese, but because it is true. I always consider that the first stage from Somport to Jaca, those 30 km that you do, is one of the best stages. You can not match any other stage, the beauty that you have going down the entire valley of the Aragon River to Jaca, the villages you meet, the monuments, the landscapes … It is a real beauty! I always recommend that you go on a Sunday morning, that you go on a Sunday morning, do this stage, eat, take the car and go back home.
I simply consider that it is not valued, that it has been left a little bit aside, abandoned, and that it is not promoted enough. However, it would be an opportunity to promote tourism, and to encourage people to do it. Because in some other places, the fact that the Camino de Santiago passes through there, has made ghost towns that were being abandoned come to life. Many people live there because of the businesses they have managed to set up with it, that’s what I’m trying to achieve, that the Aragonese road is known a little more outside.
What is your favorite corner of Aragon?
San Juan de la Peña.
Tell us a restaurant in the area that we can’t miss.
El Castillo de Bonavia, on the road to Logroño.