That was the first night in Spain for me. At 5.00am there was movement in the huge dormitory as some were keen to get going. Head torches flashed around and the sound of packing sacks could be heard. I was not fully awake yet and had that ‘where am I?’ feeling. Suddenly the lights went on and some guy was wandering around singing psalms and prayers. It was 6am. It was actually quite surreal.
Roncesvalles consisted of only the two restaurant/bars, and the monastery buildings. There was nowhere to have breakfast. The monastery dormitory provided a piece of bread and jam; one piece per person. It was just under three kilometres to Burguete where I found a small cafe and had a more substantial start to the day consisting of coffee and a ham and cheese baguette. I spoke to a South African who was doing the Way (or the Camino as it is called in Spain) to get away from his business and the stress that that was causing him. We set off on our own way saying that we would meet again later. You usually did meet later on the Way.
The morning was fresh and green and the sun was starting to warm up the land. I had not been to the Spanish mainland before and it was different to my preconceptions. I try not to have an opinion of a place before arriving, but I expected it to be hotter and dryer and less green. It was a pleasant walk on a wonderful paved path. What a difference from the paths in France. Due to the number of people that start at Roncesvalles, a wide path had been laid to minimise erosion. It was like a walker’s highway.
Before the village of Biskarreta Gerendain I heard footsteps behind me. I was in a buoyant striding mood and kept going for a while before stopping to meeting Tunde who had been marching behind me. Tunde was a packaging engineer from Budapest and was travelling from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago. She wanted my story and why I was walking the Way. Usually people didn’t ask that question and we chatted and walked together for a time. At the village of Lintzoain we had an early lunch. The Camino continued up into a wooded hillside covered in sweet smelling pine trees as the heat of the day started to build.
There was a memorial marker at the top where a Japanese man had had a heart attack and died while walking the Camino. A reminder of the fact that each year some people never make it to Santiago.
We came across a young German girl and her eight month old child. Anna had been pushing her pram from Saint Jean Pied de Port and was intent on going to Santiago de Compostela with her daughter. Baby Penelope was delightful, smiling and playing with toys as Anna pushed the pram gently over the rough track. I had mixed feelings. Was this right? Was it not irresponsible? After talking for a while I realised that Anna did not do many kilometres per day and baby Penelope had many hours each day to crawl around during the frequent stops. Anna was always attentive to the Penelope’s needs. Tunde and myself kept her company for a few kilometres. Anna recounted the stories of how very few people had objected to her trip and accepted her ambition to reach Santiago.
As the Camino descended towards Zubiri, there was an enormous crack of thunder. An intense rain storm quickly moved in clattering down and washing the pathway. It was not far to the village where Tunde and Anna stopped for the day at the hostel. We were all very wet but I wanted to continued on to Larrasoana. The town was not so comfortable and seemed to have been built to service the nearby metal processing plant.
The storm did not last long. In Larrasoana I checked into the Albergue Municipal. The main albergue was full so I was taken to a large converted two storey garage which acted as the overflow, itself almost full of pilgrims. The contrast with France was already visible with the emphasis on the Camino being much greater. It was like the Camino was more part of the fabric of the village. There were more sign and information about the significance of the route. Takumi arrived as I was finishing dinner and commenced to write his notes for the day. Each day he wrote many pages recording his experiences. Deirdre arrived for a chat. We both seemed to meet up often since leaving Le Puy.
Later I found a Pelote court and took some photographs. Pelote Basque is peculiar to the region. In a cavernous hall the game is played against a wall. There are several styles using different bats. Bare hands are used in one style of the game. The rain started again as I returned to the overflow albergue for the night. Socks hung damp from the ends of beds.