Roncevalles

We walk till our legs drop off. Where is this place. I’m in the mountains coming through forest and there is no village. It’s the end of the day and I have arrived at a palatial suite but it seems too far to walk from the bathroom to my bed.

Dinner is amazing as is the shower and bed, I will not walk tomorrow, I cannot walk tomorrow. The early breakfast started at 7.30 and bizarrely we had to queue, and although the staff are lovely they seem to dash about in a panic.

”Do you have a breakfast ticket? Is it orange or white?”

I am shown to a separate room but the food laid out was so comprehensive, every kind of patisserie, lovely fresh fruits, toast, baguette ham, cheese, water coffee orange juice …everything.

But although I felt rested and the legs had regained consciousness …I suddenly realise that reception has my passport.Reception is closed  and there is no one about. I joined Paul and Fiona for breakfast and they had collected theirs the night before after having their credencial stamped. I am  beside myself…we are supposed to leave to make the ‘alledgedly’ 22Km walk to Zubiri. All my control just sped out the window.. I cant leave without it. It’s a sign I am meant to rest or give up. No such luck. The waitress rushes over whilst she is trying to serve at least a group of 50 and turns up with it in her hand.

”You 107?’ She asks…that was my room number..

”OH God , yes” ..and like everything so far, I go over the top and hug her as though she had saved my life. She had!…but Paul and Fiona are smiling and waiting for me to join them. They are so lovely, I must seem like some strange alien with a secret agenda.

Regardless we start walking. I cannot explain…we only climb to 900 metres through many shaded forest paths but day 2 after the shock of day 1 just feels as though you never slept or refreshed.

The road is long and I stagger behind my new friends whom I would be lost without. Paul is the orienteerer as the yellow scallop shell seems to point in every direction. The path is only one person wide and wends through a corn tunnel that scratches your face. Then we walk for several kilometres beside an open quarry…is coffee never happening. Then another single file trek along the river Arga  through a very very long bramble tunnel.

Yeah, a coffee shop emerges  with an iron man in the garden. I love the bar, as grandma is sweeping up in the back kitchen.  These lovely people must live for the ‘pilgrims’ and they deserve it. Although I can only feel pain in my toes….we get to the end. Zubiri. I am in the first Inn. A little alpine retreat. I don’t care…I have to hold the shower..I don’t care. I pick myself up. Literally. Crossing over the most beautiful little medieval hump back bridge, I can see a youngish woman pointing and laughing  at me.

“”Ha ha, you walk like I feel” she said in her Aussie accent. The inimitable Laura, elementary teacher from Sydney. We fall laughingly into rhythm.

” I need a drink and anything will do!” She laughs. “I don’t care,” Cafe des Caminos is simple and on the corner and its packed. Paul and Fiona walk by, or tried to, before they are haled to join us.

But my bed was delicious. I cant walk tomoorw. I have done amazingly well so far. Is it only day 2?🏃🏼‍♀️😅😴😴😴

Puente La Reina

  • The night brought the first storm in Pamplona and outside it was raining cats and dogs. Passport is stamped and out comes my white ..new!…but cheap cagoule.. Well its not enough. Fiona looks at me and asks if I have a ponch to cover my backpack? I think me expression said it all and Lo and behold she has a spare one, Black over my white. It’s amazing. This lady thinks of everything so just like a true -looking pilgrim, I set off..out through the park and on to Puente La Reina.   This is the place that Martin Sheen in the movie ‘The Way’ travels the Camino to retrace his son’s steps before he died. He stops and rests his backpack on the bridge only for it to fall. In a panic, and possessing all he travels with, he swims after it. He finds his backpack, and maybe a part of himself and his son too.  Is this what I am doing?

Leaving Pamplona there is a huge steep climb…not like the Pyrenees …but none the less I don’t want to appreciate the view behind me because at this point I can’t breathe..

The descents are the worst thing because its always rubble and shale and boulders. So head down is the only way forward.  Your neck aches with the backpack and the sun becomes that capricious  that you burn when you wear no hat or glasses becomes before it was cloudy and then the sun hides when you have stopped to take everything out that you need!! I wont talk about knees going down steep steep inclines. I will let you imagine.

Again, you stagger in like a god forsaken individual, grateful of just a smile. Your legs will not hold up while your passport is checked and all you can think about is water…water over all of you. It doesnt matter if you stand in a shower or lay in a minuscule bath…and you must remember to wash your undies and socks…and Oh God!! Everything!!!

Note to self, …’put alarm on early and put hairdryer on to dry clothes’..

Estella is next.

The receptionist was charming and took my case to the outside shed for storage. She seemed thrilled to be welcoming everyone in every language and being Competant at all of them. Needless to say I am on the fourth floor gin but there is an ascenseur. Every time I hear that word I visualise my daughter repeating me on arrival for a short skiing break to Chamonix. I had asked the French lady,”Avez vous un ascenseur? Of course they didn’t. This was rural France, they didn’t have matching door knobs on the wardrobe. But I can hear Natalie repeating it behind me as we dragged everything up 4 flights of stairs. I still laugh about it now, but this is Puente La Reina in Northern Spain. Of course they have an ascenseur!!!

The funny thing about dinner was that it was a buffet, not like a car very but stations serving first,second third and fourth courses. Of course with this choice I wanted to try everything, a bottle of wine included….too good to be true. Don’t Europeans love their sausages…any way for 13 euros I was satiated.

Breakfast brought the usual routine, make sure the case is down, have the backpack with everything you need and make your lunch from everything on offer.  Not much of a change really as it is always a ham and cheese baguette!

And then the marathon walk!!!….having said that, there is nothing that can distract from plodding into a hilltop medieval village where the only cafe has a tattooed and be-ringed Goth serve you happily. We finish the 15 mile walk only to find we have to walk another 45 minutes to some ‘hotel’ in the industrial area. It so far away from the Camino that we have to be bussed back the next morning at the earthly hour of 7am.!! I don’t complain but what struck me was a lovely Swiss guy and his wife who sat at dinner and said how the wine was awful….but he didn’t care?  It was not what he expected or liked but it was fine? Was it? Why didn’t he change it? The over-worked waitress tells him that it has won awards but he is not convinced. He was such a happy sort but my head flipped back to tall American Dawn who is doing this trip with nor forward reservations at all, she takes pot luck with any hostel if there is room…she is doing it because she lost her 44 year old son in an automobile accident last year. She said she wanted to die but couldn’t because she had an older son…so she was walking for him and was going to meet the older son in Compostela. I meet her along the way several times and she is so full of smiles.

I get to Estella