Today I finally go to see Belchite, the reason for my visit to Zaragoza.

There is one bus which leaves Zaragoza Delicias at 10:00am and the same bus which returns at 03:35pm. Miss that one bus, and you’re buggered.

When I was organising my trip here, I found very few places to stay in Belchite. Hence staying in Zaragoza. The point being that, IF I miss that one and only bus, I could end up spending the night on the streets of this sleepy little town.

I have one fallback. Yesterday, Cruz left the apartment and came back home to Belchite. Maybe she would put me up for the night. But, do I really want to test said fallback?

The bus journey took just over an hour with only a couple of stops in Zaragoza and very few passengers boarding either at Delicias or at the few bus stops in Zaragoza. At one of the stops, a young (and rather attractive) girl got on and sat across the aisle from me. More about her later.

Leaving Zaragoza, I got the distinct impression that the area surrounding the town must, at some point, have been open marshland. I know that the river Ebro runs through the town and I know that this river has a network of tributaries joining it in and around the city. However, this is a region which is supposed to be very arid. Consequently, I didn’t expect to see countless herons nesting in the electricity pylons. It was actually quite a fascinating sight.

The flat, grassy marshlands soon gave way to the dry undulating landscape that I had been expecting. The terrain was made of a brownish grey, chalky soil with very little vegetation to be seen anywhere. Then, slowly but surely, I could see more and more tiny plots of land which had been sectioned off amongst the dips and valleys of the hilly landscape. These were agricultural plots used for growing all kinds of produce which I could not identify.

About half-way through the journey, we came to a tiny nondescript village. Not a soul in sight. The bus driver took us into what was probably the centre of the village, turned the bus around and drove straight out again. Clearly this is a routine part of the route. Equally clearly, there were no passengers to be picked up. I wonder if there ever are.

Whenever I see things like this, whenever I travel to obviously inhospitable places, the same two thoughts crowd my mind.

Regardless of how uninviting a particular region may be, humans will congregate and basically colonise that region. Why is that? Why do we have to stamp our footprint on every speck of land that our planet has to offer?

Hot on the heels of these questions, I find myself marvelling at our ingenuity, at our ability to live on, and cultivate, the most forbidding of landscapes.

A bit of a contradiction there methinks.

We finally got to Belchite and, as the bus went through the centre of town, we found that there were comprehensive roadworks taking up half of the very narrow main street. When the bus stopped at what was obviously its final destination, I tried to ask the driver where the stop was for the return trip and, where was the site of the Civil War ruins. As usual, his English was non-existent. In stepped the pretty girl who had boarded in Zaragoza and had sat across the aisle from me.

The bus stop was literally opposite where we were standing. On a road so narrow that, what with the roadworks, there was only enough room for one vehicle at a time to travel along it. As for the ruins, “just follow the road opposite”. We were at a “T” junction. The bus stop was in front of me on the corner of said “T” junction. The bus driver must have thought that I was a total ignoramus.

After giving me directions, the pretty girl touched me on the arm as if to say:

“there, there, it’s easy, you’ll be fine.”

The walk up to the Belchite Pueblo took about ten minutes. Everything around was closed and, the entire town looked almost deserted. Unlike Oradour-sur-Glane, there is an entrance fee and entry is via a guided tour only. But where to buy a ticket?

Luckily, there was a small film crew there. Somehow, I always seem to stumble on film crews and other media professionals. I suppose it’s because I’m going to locations and events which do have some kind of general interest. Anyway, they told me where to go.

Another ten minute walk back in the direction from whence I’d come (but on a parallel road) to the ticket office where, of course, nobody spoke English. Waiting ahead of me was an English couple in their late 60’s or early 70’s who were struggling even more than me to understand what was going on. I must be getting good at this Nomad stuff because, I was able to tell them where the Pueblo was and where they could park their campervan.

A group of about twentyfive to thirty people had congregated by the church-like entrance (all of us waiting for the tour to begin) when a very portly Spaniard turned up on his bicycle. He was decked out in what looked like a very authentic uniform from the Franco Civil War era. He busied himself laying out all of his paraphernalia in a little alcove by the entrance, amongst which was the book that Cruz had shown me (and was in permanent residence) back in my AirBnB bedroom. I tried to take a photo of the guy, but he wouldn’t let me. I thought that he was our tour guide, he wasn’t. Finally, I understood that he wanted me to wait until after the tour. All of this should have given me a clue, or two, about what the whole experience was going to be like.

At 12:00pm our real tour guide arrived and, quite frankly, the next ninety minutes or so where as disappointing as they were frustrating. She herded her little flock from one prescribed point of interest to another with a pseudo-jovial demeanour which was not at all in keeping with what the site is meant to represent. As sombre as Oradour had been, this was more akin to a rubbish theme park celebrating the Confederates in the good ol’ U.S of A. Horrible. Just horrible.

Don and Angie, the English couple from the ticket office, were also part of the group that I found myself in. There was another some minutes behind us. We gravitated towards each other, not just because we were the only English speakers (obviously the whole tour was in Spanish with no effort to accommodate non-Spaniards), but also because they were just as disgusted with the fiasco as I was.

I was glad when the whole thing was over. I took some photos of the portly Civil War relic, for which I had to pay a gratuity, and made my way back to the bus stop. Before leaving the Pueblo, I exchanged contact details with Don and Angie. They’re a nice couple. Recently retired and touring Europe in their campervan.

Took my time walking back to the bus stop because I had up to a two hour wait. Perhaps I could have explored Belchite a little bit but, there really didn’t seem to be anything to see. Also, the whole experience at the Pueblo had soured everything for me. It may not sound fair to look at the entire town negatively all because of a crappy tour. However, it’s the local municipality which organises the tours and generally maintains the whole thing so yeah, guilty by association.

On the opposite corner to the bus stop is a little bar/restaurant. I was tempted to go inside because it was getting cold. However, in the end, I just sat at one of the tables outside and pondered my thoughts.

There is nothing that I want to write about Belchite. Walking through Oradour-sur-Glane, every step that I took was punctuated by the terrible tragedy that happened there. In Belchite there was no sense of lives lost, no sense of reverence. Some of the walls had even been defaced by graffiti. Whatever story Belchite may have to tell, it’s not one that I feel compelled to relate.

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