Day 02 – Conquest of the Pyrenees

When someone says “up and at ’em” in the mountains….. you should understand the meaning is literal, and not at all amusing. Our breakfast consists of bread, butter, and a small assortment of jams. Coffee and orange juice are provided…..and that’s it. I didn’t say toast, or eggs, or even fruit. This is the fuel we are given to climb the rest of the Pyrenees. Really?
To give you an idea of what we (the pilgrims) will be “up” to……we will climb more altitude than yesterday and cross into Spain.
Largely I walked the day in solitude. For the most part I would see others but not be close enough to talk. Pauline who is walking with Maria (the 75 year old woman) talked to me for about 15 minutes while we scaled a major uphill section. We split up as easily as we had met and I continued to walk, barely saw another person.
Today was radically different from yesterday, brilliant sunshine and the mountains were in their glory. I was trying to walk but was drawn the majesty and stopped more than once just to look out at the vista. Spectacular.
At times I was reduced to steps where the heal of my right boot would be behind my left toes. I was making progress with less than my own foot length. The going was painfully slow, many, many times.
Finally I came to the Spain/France border. To say this isn’t manned is hilarious. Let me describe how the border is marked. Two inch steel pipes are driven into the ground on either side of the road. Another pipe is welded to these, and 2″ ribbons hang from the top bar. That’s the border crossing.
No immigration, no customs,…. nothing. If you haven’t had enough climbing yet, you are in luck. For another 45 minutes the path zigs and zags until you arrive at the summit.
My first thought was “thankfully there is no more climbing uphill”.
The wind was very cold and intent on ripping us off the mountain and so I obliged. Down I go.
The path down was wet and extremely steep and treacherous. This is not a path for the nervous or weak. Looking at the revine in front and below us….I felt under under qualified in both categories; I felt nervous and very weak at this point. This was terrifying.
Within 10 minutes of starting the perilous descent my thighs were pulsing, I was gasping for air again and now my shoulders were getting an exteme workout. Without the walking-poles this section of the Camino would have been absurdly treacherous.
I was gasping for air as I was on the uphill, but now my quads were now burning with a vengeance. On the occasional flatter sections my thighs were actually trembling…… this is going to hurt for sure. Note to self: Walking downhill is much more difficult than going up.

As i mentioned the ground is wet and there are many large 6″ slugs on the trail. (Later Susan from San Diego asked if anyone else had noticed the “turds” on the path down into Roncesvalles…..I have to say the description is apt….but they actually are slugs) There were hundreds. I wondered if you stepped on one would you would ride a slime generating slug carcass to the bottom. I am proud to say, even in my weakened state, I didn’t try this.

Down at the bottom of the trail, just before entering Roncesvalles, a plaque commemorates the death of a Brazlian pilgrim in August this year. I assume this pilgrim started in St. Jean Pied de Port and met his end a day into his Camino. Sad and sobering.
Finally coming out of the woods an enormous monastery appears. The whole reason for this small town is to welcome pilgrims after their passage through the mountains. (in fact this was one of the original starting points of the Camino. The original church was built over 1000 years ago, and is simply magnificent.

This is also the place where Roland was killed….by whom? This depends on who you speak to. It can either be the Basques or the Moors……I’m not taking side on this one.
Many of the same people from Orisson start to trickle in….
Eddie from Germany
Susan from San Diego
Bene from Adelaide (pronounced Benny)
Owen from Tipperary
Pauline and Maria from Alaska

Sabine from Germany

Mark and Zeb from Perth, Australia

We spend the afternoon talking and drinking in one of the two bars in town.
Later we have dinner and meet two women from Orlando an San Francisco.
Then sleep…..in a wonderful new facility…not only is it new,  there is plenty of hot water. Yesterday at Orisson we were issued a token for our shower. Put the token into the slot and you will have hot water for 3 or 4 minutes. This was a challenge to say the least…. and the water was barely warm by the time I got in there.

In this Pilgrim paradise there are even volunteers from the Netherlands to help you and provide laundry services for almost nothing.
By the way….hold onto your laughs….I went to the Pilgrim’s mass. Oddly, the place wasn’t struck by lightning…..

This will be ever known as the “Miracle of Roncesvalles”.

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2 thoughts on “Day 02 – Conquest of the Pyrenees

  1. Cam,here I am in Chicago Visiting Mary and Mel. we all enjoyed? Marveled? Experienced your latest, and your mother fell off her chair! Keep on trekking, Love Mom

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