Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles
Friday 31 October
Snoring. That’s the problem with hostels… Perhaps I’ll get a better sleep tonight. Perhaps.
I was up early, as we had to be out of the hostel by 8am. It was going to be a long day. Eight hours walking, I was told and mostly uphill. 27.4km. I had met a charming Dutch man the previous evening when I returned to the hotel, and we had had a very interesting conversation – he was waiting for me to finish packing, to walk together, but I was too long trying to stuff my too many things into my pack, so he said he would see me on the road. There were only two of us left in the hostel, a young Brazilian guy, who was in a similar situation to me, he too tying to stuff too many things into his pack. I asked if he minded if we walked together.
We soon set off along the cobbled streets of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, I was a little sad to leave, as it was such a delightful town, but excited to be starting the walking part of my Camino… even if my bag was way too heavy. We weren’t on the road long when we met a group of three Irishmen and an 83 year old Canadian who was beginning his tenth Camino. He could have passed for a man in his sixties. We soon joined up, and along the way met a few others. Soon our walking speeds spread us out a little, and the youngest Irish guy was far in front, while one lagged behind, so there were four of us walking together. An Irish farmer in his 50’s, the 83 year old retired school inspector from Canada, the 34 year old Brazilian graphic designer, and me. We talked, and walked, and talked some more. The landscape was beautiful, the morning was crisp – green pastures, cows, sheep, mountains. The company was interesting and the conversation was stimulating as we moved from subject to subject. We were all happily taking it rather slowly, as the path was a little steep, and the incline was constant, and we were enjoying both the walk and the company. Eventually we caught up with the younger Irish guy who had met an Italian and another man whom we all refereed to as ‘Jesus’, as he had a strange mystical arura about him. He had walked from Lourdes, and slept in churches – he handed a postcard of the Virgin to the Brazilian, and then they all sped on ahead.
As it was quite season and I had been told there was nothing open along the way, I had bought supplies for lunch, but the others hadn’t been informed, but not to worry, I had plenty for all. Our map indicated a Virgin Mary statue on the side of the hill – she had a magnificent view, a perfect place for a picnic. I had bread and three cheeses, a bottle of red which I had decanted into a plastic container, and a bunch of radishes. We enjoyed our leisurely lunch, then began walking again. We were a little concerned that the slower Irish man hadn’t passed us.
It took us several hours to reach the summit before we started descending, and was getting rather late, but we were not concerned, as we were all enjoying ourselves. We met a Swedish couple who passed us, and who had news of the slower Irish man. He had found the walk too difficult, and was having trouble breathing, and had asked them for help. They had called someone in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and arranged for him to return. If he was feeling better he said he may get a bus to Pamplona, and try again from there.
By this time we were all feeling very tired, we still hadn’t crossed the border into Spain. The light was turning to twilight. We trudged on, and eventually we saw the border… A strange wooden framed doorway, with ropes hanging down, not unlike the streamer fly protector in old fashioned fish and chip shops in Australia… all connected to an electric fence. Odd and not that impressive, as my idea of a border should be. There was no changing of the guards, no pomp and ceremony, no stamps in my passport. I did however take the obligatory photo of one foot in each country. We continued downhill, as the light descended into darkness and the path became steeper and steeper. I sped ahead, as I like to walk downhill fast, but soon felt my toes becoming hotter and hotter. Time to stop for some preventative blister measurements. I got out my moleskin, and my new friends soon joined me, and we all descended on Roncesvalles together. I was dressed in my all black merino ninja outfit, and had added a black brimmed hat for my walk. I commented that it was 31 October…. all hallowed’s eve. Our Canadian friend commented that I was dressed quite appropriately, and looked like a witch… So I entered the villages yelling “‘trick or treat?’. It was rather late… 7pm, but we had had an enjoyable day and walk. We went to the local restaurant with a pilgrims menu and asked what time it was served. 7pm was the reply… But we all needed a shower and to put our packs down, and decided to return at 8.30 for the slightly more expensive, regular menu.
We found our way to the municipal hostel in Roncesvalles, a beautiful old stone building. On the way I met the Dutch man, who said he had been worried about us, but I said we were fine and had an enjoyable day. Inside the old stone hostel had been renovated into a modern hostel with sleeping pods divided into four, two up, two down bunk beds. We were all allocated one pod, and I was given a top bunk. I returned to the check in counter and asked for a bottom bunk in the next pod… They begrudgingly complied, and I was sharing with three Spanish women, and hopefully I had a better chance of a snore free night.
We unpacked, showered, and myself and two others went to the laundry to do some washing. I had wanted to go to the Pilgrims mass at 8pm, but by the time we got there, they had already closed the doors… I was not going to be blessed yet again (although I knew I already was). We headed back to the Resturant, and they offered us the pilgrims menu, even though it was officially finished. I chose a salad, and trout. Both were excellent, accompanied by Spanish wine and bread. We were then given fruit salad for dessert. All for 9€. Excellent value. I like Spain. The hostel closed it’s doors at 10 pm, and the Resturant staff asked us were we staying there, as it was now ten minutes to… Two of us rushed back, and they were just closing the doors… We said to please keep them open, as our friends were following…and we had an old man with us! They obliged, but reluctantly. We then wished each other goodnight and retired to our bunks.