Surviving the Pyrenees.
I didn’t sleep much last night, so early morning I’m up, quickly folding my sleeping bag, filling my water bladder and packing the few things that I’ve used back in my rucksack. Then I head downstairs for breakfast. Coffee is evidently not included in the €3.50 and a machine to one side requires another €1 before it spits out a little bit of coffee. The rest of the breakfast consists of toast and jam (which I’m still to discover is the standard breakfast).
After breakfast we head out in the dark at 6:50 am and I feel a slight nervousness in the pit of my stomach as I’m not sure what to expect from this first day. Luckily there is a bit of moonlight and it is enough to light the first part of the road for us. The climbing starts right outside the door and promises to get heavier as the day continues. We are joined by our roommate from last night, Chris from the US. She didn’t do any training beforehand and is battling from the word go and is very anxious. I try to calm her down and stay with her for the first few kilometers, but as our pace is too fast for her, she eventually joins up with another group and we move on ahead.
The climbing gets steeper and steeper and I am literally just putting one foot in front of the other very slowly (remembering the advice from last night). It is also heating up and I’m draining my water pretty fast.
Eventually we reach Orisson for a well-deserved sugar injection in the form of a coke. I can feel my calf muscles burning already and it is a great relief to be rid of the backpack for a while. Today is definitely going to be as hard as was promised. We still have about 18km to go but at least we’ve ascended 800m already.
We are, however, blessed by a little bit of mist and it helps to keep the sun from beating down on us for a while.
From Orisson we still keep climbing, but luckily now it is not as steep as the first few kilometers. The views are spectacular and there are plenty of sheep, cows and horses in the valleys all around us. We are walking to the soundtrack of bells ringing in the distance.
We are very fortunate to be given a display by a sheepherder of his dogs herding his sheep. I am amazed at how quickly the dogs can round the sheep up and send them into a different direction just by following the herder’s whistles.
We reach a guy with a caravan at Frontera who has a few very expensive snacks and water (luckily I packed my own snacks). We take to the grass for a few minutes and breathe in the magnificent view that spreads before us. Before our muscles get too cold though, we take up our packs and move ahead again. At least we can now see the peak and it is within our reach.
At 1450m I feel like I have conquered the world. I am more exhausted than I have been in a very long time, I’m also sunburnt and somewhat dehydrated, but what a view!
My friend is taking strain and is moving slower and slower. She has started cramping and I am very concerned about her as she is much older than me and if I’m dehydrated and aching, I can only imagine what she must be experiencing.
We start the descent and I am very relieved. It cannot be that far anymore, can it? The road meanders down, it is very rocky and I really have to watch my step. We were also advised last night to not take the shortcut towards the end as it is a very steep downhill and extremely treacherous. (Something you would rather avoid on tired legs.) We therefore take the slightly longer route that slowly winds down to Roncesvalles, it drops down into the most beautiful forest and brings welcome relief from the relentless sun.
I feel like bursting into tears of joy when I see the back of the monastery, knowing that we have made it. By now we are really exhausted and more than just slightly dehydrated in need of a well-deserved rest.
I burst in the door of the monastery with a feeling of exhilaration just to have it smashed to the ground when I see the queue. My brain doesn’t quite want to comprehend that we have no choice but to fall into this queue if we want a place to sleep tonight. So, tired, dehydrated and with aching feet we fall in line at 16:30 in the afternoon.
Finally, at just before 19:00 we are finally booked into a room with 16 other people. I cannot even put into words how relieved and thankful I am. I grab my gear for the shower just to fall into another queue. At least now everyone is joking and singing while we wait, relieved to have survived the first day!
Supper consists of soup, pasta, bacalau (salted cod fish), bread and wine and a small yogurt for desert. I didn’t realize how hungry I was and can’t believe that I actually managed to eat that much. I’m hoping I’ll work it off again tomorrow. After supper it is off to bed for blissful well-deserved sleep.
If today was the worst the Camino can offer… bring it on!
St Jean de Pied to Roncesvalles 25.1km
Waiting for a bed….more than 2 hours!