Ingrid and I left Orisson at 7:30 a.m and began our trek over the Pyrenees. It was a tough climb and an even tougher descent, 17km (10 miles) to Roncesvalles. Because I had reserved a bed two towns past Roncesvalles since the monastery was said to be full, I had to walk an additional 6.7km (4.2 miles).
The walk over the Pyrenees was grueling but we were rewarded with bucolic scenes of green meadows and infinite peaks, spotted pigs, cows, long-haired sheep, black-faced sheep (churros), and horses wearing gently clanging bells. Less than 4km from Orisson, we stopped to admire the Virgin Mary statue, Vierge d’Orisson, set against a stunning backdrop of mountains and valleys. We would find Marian shrines, a common sign of devotion, frequently along the Camino. The landscape reminded me a bit of England’s Lake District.
Rain threatened all day, but we only put on our ponchos twice for a short time; when the rain stopped shortly after, we took them off promptly as they were cumbersome to wear. Buzzards circled overhead and we heard that legend said not to lie down or they’d come after you.
Right before a wayside cross directing us off the road onto a rough grass track towards Mount Urkulu, a mobile vehicle for pilgrims offered drinks and snacks. I bought a hot chocolate, a welcome treat in the blustery cold.
As we continued our climb on the upland grass, giant black slugs dotted the path. We passed the primitive Santiago shelter, used in case of storms or bad weather. The Irish guy Cyril had told us yesterday at Orisson, where he hadn’t reserved a bed, that he planned to stay the night in the shelter, but we saw no sign of him at that hour of 10:30 a.m. Later, after filling our water bottles at the Fontaine de Roland, we crossed a cattle grid at the border between France and Spain without fanfare. At that point we were in Navarre. In a clearing, Ingrid and I sat on boulders in the midst of heather and ate sandwiches we’d brought from Orisson, mine a delicious patê on a baguette.
Later, we walked through a beautiful beech forest, the trees gnarled and moss-covered. They seemed in danger of toppling down the very steep hill to the river Arnéguy below. As we emerged from the forest, we reached the high point of Col de Lepoeder at a height of 1,450 meters. At that point the path forked and we could take a direct and very steep (and dangerous) route through the woods down into Roncesvalles, or we could take a less steep, but longer, alternate route. We chose the latter.
Purple, yellow and pink heather abounded as we made our descent on a paved road. The endless climb up had been physically challenging, but coming down was hell on my knees, legs and feet. Ingrid and I were pretty miserable at this stage, but we just let gravity pull us down, sometimes faster than we would have liked. I didn’t get any blisters, surprisingly, but my feet were aching dreadfully and I wasn’t sure whether the green Superfeet arches in my Keen boots were a hindrance or help.
When we got to Roncesvalles, the line of pilgrims checking in was snaking down a long corridor in the monastery, and Ingrid joined the back of the line. She was preoccupied with checking in, so we didn’t really say a proper goodbye. I had heard that the monastery allowed bookings on only half of its 183 rooms and reserved the rest for pilgrims who walked in. However, I could see by the line it would take quite some time to see if a bed was even available, and I had already reserved a room in Espinal anyway. I was anxious to get going the last 4 miles as it was 3:00 and I didn’t know what kind of terrain to expect.
After Roncesvalles, I walked mostly alone on a wooded path on the way to the next town of Burgette. I was wiped out after the Pyrenees, and wondered how I’d make it four more miles! On the way, I sneaked off the path into the bushes to pee. When I popped back out onto the path, I spooked an Irish lady named Mary and her English friend, who screeched at my sudden appearance out of the bush. The English girl had a huge backpack full of camping gear as she’d planned to camp the whole way with her friend. Her friend had abandoned her after the first day and took a plane back to England. She was upset and not sure what she’d do about the rest of the Camino.
In Burgette, the three of us stopped for a break at an outdoor cafe, where I had a delicious slice of orange cake and a Coke. There I met a couple from Austin, Texas who were living the easy life, staying in nice hotels and sending their luggage ahead. I would meet them many times in the coming weeks.
We three ladies trudged on to Espinal, where I checked in at Hostal Rural Haiza at 5:00 p.m. The English and Irish ladies stayed elsewhere. I had been walking for nearly 9 1/2 hours and wanted nothing more than to keel over. My backpack, which I’d sent ahead, had arrived safely, much to my relief. Our room had 13 beds, some single and some bunkbeds, for both men and women. Since the skies had opened up with thunder, lightning and a downpour almost immediately after I checked in, I relaxed for a while in my single bed. I chatted with two Italian girls, one studying to be a pediatric doctor and the other studying law; she wrote her thesis on copyright law for street artists. In our room were also five bicyclists from Amsterdam. One had gotten 5 stitches on his hand and wrist from an accident in a tunnel. His cycling trip was over.
I didn’t feel like eating the pilgrim meal (I didn’t care for the second course in the meal); instead I enjoyed red wine and an omelette with cheese and green pepper in the noisy bar full of locals.
I was nervous overnight as I had determined not to send my backpack ahead the next day, but to carry it myself. It was raining much of the night, so I fretted about the next day’s weather. I didn’t know if I’d run into Ingrid again, or if I’d see any of the people I’d already met.
Over the Pyrenees we had magnificent sweeping views.
Col de Lepoeder is the high point on the Pyrenees at 1450 meters.
Roncesvalles to Espinal
*Day 2: Wednesday, September 5, 2018*
*40,066 steps, or 16.98 miles: Orisson to Espinal (24 km)*
You can find everything I’ve written so far on the Camino de Santiago here:
“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write up to a post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose. In this case, one of my intentions for my Camino was to write using all my senses to describe place and to capture snippets of meaningful conversations with other pilgrims.
It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation. You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose. (This page is a work in process.) You can also include photos, of course.
Include the link in the comments below by Monday, January 21 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this invitation on Tuesday, January 22, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!