The Ebro river will be the pilgrim’s companion through part of Aragon, an extraordinary region with an extraordinary history. The Ebro makes its way to the Mediterranean Sea, and has transported not only goods and people, but also cultures. Pilgrims will sometimes see “Moorish style” ornaments and architecture, the imprint of North African Muslim cultures that once dominated parts of this region.
But Aragon is associated even more dramatically with the coming of the Christian tradition to Spain. It’s told that St. James the apostle came through this region to evangelize Spain and near Zaragoza, while he was in a moment of discouragement, the Virgin Mary appeared to encourage him. Even today, in Zaragoza’s cathedral, you will find the shrine of La Virgen del Pilar (Our Lady of the “Pillar”), which commemorates this appearance to St. James. Perhaps you too will find encouragement from Our Lady at this moment in your pilgrimage.
Fortify yourself before you leave Zaragoza, and consider taking a rest day here to relax in this wonderful city. Because soon after Zaragoza you will enter the most lonely and difficult part of the Camino Ignaciano, the desert of “Los Monegros,” named for the black-looking hills you will see in the distance as you journey along. Los Monegros are the closest thing to desert landscape to be found anywhere in Europe. The region is scorching hot during the summer and subject to brutal windstorms during the winter. There are few hostels or shops. A pilgrim must not to underestimate this inhospitable environment. This is absolutely not the moment for foolish heroism. If you decide to walk, be sure to carry enough water, avoid walking during the hottest parts of the day, and plan your rest stops ahead. For many pilgrims, a better choice will be not to walk Los Monegros but to take a bus from Zaragoza or from Pina de Ebro to Fraga (Intermodal Bus Station, Tel: 902 490 690).
But if you choose to continue on foot, God’s blessing be with you, and know that one pilgrim—Ignatius himself– has walked this very way before you, during an era when it was even more lonely and difficult.
We start out Parc of Pignatelli, next to the canal. From there we take the Calle del Camino Real, in homage to the old Camino Real which Saint Ignatius trod in his time; today it is road VP-24, broader and paved over.
Walking always straight ahead, we will reach Luceni, after passing a roundabout at the intersection of the road that goes to Boquinemi.
We enter town by Calle de Ramón y Cajal, which we follow straight through the town with no problem. At one point we will pass the town plaza to our left, with its banks and plane trees. We continue on straight. Upon leaving the town, we find a turnoff which would take us to Pedrola, but we keep going straight. It is highly likely that is the place at which Ignacio’s mule decided to follow the Camino Real rather than the path of the Muslim who had argued with Ignacio. We are in the street Daoiz y Velarde, in front of house number 37. We continue our path straight ahead, following the Autobiography, and the tracks of the famous mule. After a few kilometres we come close to a bend of the Ebro, which tells us that we are near the town of Alcalá de Ebro. Turn left to go directly to the City Hall and Cervantes Street, where the road begins which leads towards the town of Cabañas de Ebro.
In this town it is worth having a look at the church and the monument to Sancho Panza, a relevant figure here, since we are in the “Ínsula de Barataria,” described in El Quijote. It is really not an island but it does get cut off when the Ebro is in flood stage. The statue is situated behind the church. Walking along Calle Cervantes, we leave town after about 500 meters, and there we find a crossroads. We take the road to the left, toward Cabañas, which becomes a path after a little more than a kilometre and gradually takes us close again to the Ebro River.
We continue straight ahead, with the Ebro to our left, for about one kilometre, until we reach Cabañas de Ebro. With the church on our right, we enter the town and cross through it, leaving by Calle Mayor. From there we follow the CV-411 which, after 1.5 kilometres, takes us to the CV-911 which we take on our left. This road has a lot of traffic so care is needed. After 1.5 kilometres, we come upon a tunnel to our right which crosses under AP-68 highway. We go through the tunnel and then pass also under the train line by way of another tunnel. This road takes us directly to Alagón. If we cross the road and follow in a straight line, the Avenida de la Portalada will take us to the centre of the town.