On my way … The Camino de Santiago

Leaving St. Jean

Day 1 – St. Jean to Roncesvalles, 30 kms … 18 miles

Sunday, May 13, 2018, 36℉

His mercies are new every morning

My alarm woke me from a light sleep. To say I slept well was an understatement. Between excitement and nervousness, I tossed and turned all night. One benefit to walking the Camino now, is having Wi-Fi at hostels and our smartphones so we can check the weather, which is exactly what I did.  

It was 7AM, at the present time and it was 36℉.  No rain, just very cloudy. They were calling for rain/snow, so we decided we better pack up, eat quickly and get as much walking done as we could before the weather changed.  As we ate breakfast and talked amongst the other pilgrims, our routes seemed to be a split decision. Some were taking the lower road and some like us decided to tackle the mountain path.  

On a side note, we had packed for this Camino in the summer.  Both of us were carrying backpacks that were on the smaller side…this due to us having knowledge of the Camino. Mine was 33L and Cales was 20L. My pack was 13 lbs, filled with 1 pair of pants, 1 pair of yoga pants, 2 shorts, 1 capri, 3 short sleeve, one long sleeve and sandals. I also had a lightweight rain jacket, a towel, a down jacket and a light sleeping bag liner. Along with all my toiletries and undergarments.

Now it was time to figure out how to layer up in order to stay warm and dry as I crossed the Pyrenees. Also, I am not a person who likes the cold weather, so being cold and wet was not very exciting to me. 

We finished breakfast and headed back to our room to finish getting everything together. I made sure to grab an extra hardboiled egg and a yogurt for the trail.   I thought that this snack would be perfect with my leftover pizza that I had already placed in my bag.  

This was important because today we would cross a mountain range and food and water would be scarce. You have two options.  Orrison which is about 8 kms from St. Jean and then further up the road is a gentleman in a van selling food and water. After that you reach the mountain top and then down to Roncesvalles with nothing in between.  

We had 30 kms (18 miles) ahead of us. The first half was all up hill and the second half was all downhill.  (Elevation gain: 1524m / Elevation loss: 743m) A very hard day even in good weather, and with rain/snow, we knew this day was not going to be an easy one.  

We said our goodbyes to the gentleman working at the hostel, we received our stamp.  As we were walking out the door I said, “we are heading over the mountain today, do you have any advice you would like to share with us?” 

He looked at us and said, “Good Luck” 

What? Really? Why would you say just that? I had to breathe, swallow and just tell myself he must be a man of few words.  

Jesus, I trust in you was said silently as the door to the hostel closed behind me. 

Our first steps 

We turned down the road and headed out of town.  Our first job was to fill up our water bottles at the local fountain. It was chilly, moisture was in the air which made it even colder. We were just glad it wasn’t raining.  

Cale filling up in St. Jean

Just as we reached the edge of town the rain started falling. Well, that didn’t take long! It was a light misty rain but enough to get our rain gear out. Once we covered ourselves, our incline started.  

The beginning of the climb was the toughest…hours of walking up hill.  It was rough.  I just remember taking lots of breaks. We were walking on a little country road. The land around us was beautiful, even in the rain. 

The country road out of St. jean

 I would make sure to take my little breaks under the branch of a tree for shelter.  The air was beautiful and every once in a while, you would hear cow bells off in the distance. As I climbed, it was easy to fall into a walking meditation. This always helps get your mind off of what your body is doing.

So far, all was well.  We were walking on a paved road which made it a little easier. And then things changed.  We turned to the right and started up a muddy hill, trying to walk along the edge in the grass as best we could. This mud was the kind that stuck to your shoes so after a while you would have to stop and clean them off because your feet were getting so heavy. 

Look back down after the climb
A look back down after the climb

We then were back on pavement and I would say some of the best views along the Camino! I did my Sound of Music imitation. I would definitely say singing out loud along the Camino was our theme. We sang many songs, … “What a Wonderful World” was a favorite.  Especially when we would get a break from the rain, you would hear one of us, “I see skies of blue” and of course always sounding like Louis Armstrong.  

We kept going, people were passing us and we found ourselves passing others. Talking with some while, others were just pilgrims along the way.  

“Buen Camino” I would say, out of breath 

All I kept thinking about was, where is Orisson? 8 kms isn’t far.  Why is it taking so long? Probably because it was all up hill.  

And then there it was!   

Something that made you smile, a little café! We had reached Orisson. Time to get in out of the cold, use the restroom and get another breakfast, which of course would include a café con leche

Orisson – Located in the heart of the Basque Country, on the GR65, between Saint Jean Pied de Port and the Bentarte Pass, Orisson is an ideal stopover before reaching the Lepoeder pass. It is the last accommodation before crossing the Pyrénées. Orisson’s position on route towards Roncesvalles provides a welcome stop, and allows walkers to undertake this mythical part of the trek in two stages. Source: https://refuge-orisson.com/en/ 

Some people opt to only walk to Orisson and then make the trek over the mountain the next day. We chose to keep going.

If you ever decide to do this and want to stay in Orisson, reservations are required in Orisson because this hostel fills up quickly.

We hurried inside to find a seat in the warmth of the café. Awe, to sit down in this warm dry place, it was so nice. That tortilla and café con leche was so good!! We enjoyed nice fellowship, made a few more friends and enjoyed our meal. Little did we know that two of them would become a bigger part of our story. Natalie and Luca! 

You might be wondering what is a tortilla?   

Spanish tortilla or tortilla española is basically a Spanish omelette with potatoes and eggs cooked gently in olive oil. This dish is traditionally served at room temperature or cold as a tapa, but it is great for any meal of the day. It is very popular along the Camino! 

We headed back into the cold. Just happy the rain had taken a break. Off we went and of course uphill! The scenery was amazing as we kept climbing.  

The rain returned and the winds picked up. We made our way up to Our Lady of Biakorri. Boy was it windy in this spot. We stopped for a short time and said a quick prayer but it was just too cold to stop and rest. It was snowing off and on. 

Our Lady of Biakorri or the Virgin of Orisson, sits on top of a pile of rocks. 

 Shepherds brought the ceramic statue of Mary from Lourdes, also in the Pyrenees. Two decades ago, the stand of stones was split by lightning, but the statue held firm and was unharmed. She is a patroness and protector of shepherds and their sheep as well as all who pass on this mountaintop. 

At this point we were almost at the top, 5 ½ hours of walking uphill. As we looked further up the road, we saw the van. The van where the gentleman sold refreshments. Even though I wasn’t feeling like I needed anything, it would be nice to sit down for a minute. But just as we approached the van, the gentleman shut his door and said he was closed. We arrived at the same time as two other people, Sue (his nickname, short for Ducksoo) and Minh.  They proceeded to ask the driver to let them purchase something. Again, two people, who will be a bigger part of the story.  

When he asked us if we wanted anything, we thought we better not let this offer pass.  Nothing left after this point until Roncesvalles. We grabbed a banana and I got an Aquarius (which is like a Gatorade). As the rain changed back to snow, we started our walk again. Snow was a little better than rain because you didn’t get so wet. 

When we reached the summit, it was really windy and cold.  I had to use the restroom and I needed a break from the wind. We saw on the map there was a hut at the top. We figured we could rest there and I felt it was time to eat my pizza.

I found a place in the woods to use the restroom and then sat in the hut and enjoyed my cold pizza. Just as we were finishing up, two young girls walked in. They looked like they were freezing.

Anni and Merce, two more people who will be a bigger part of the story. The mom in me came out and I asked if they needed anything.  They were cold and hungry. I offered them some of my pizza and leftover food…they readily accepted. We spoke for a while and then it was time for us to move on. Back out into the snow and wind but at least now it was all downhill.  

As we made our way through the woods and started to make the descent, we had to make our way through the muddiest section of the day.  It was a mixture of snow, mud and water. It was thick and when you would take a step your feet would go down about 8 inches into the guck. Then snow would fall on you off of the trees as the wind was blowing. At this point all we could do was laugh!  

The Decline 

Now all I kept saying to Cale was, “remember we have to take the road down, it will be too slippery in the woods.” The road did make it a little longer but we knew it was the right decision. The road was steep and wet.  Actually, going downhill is a lot harder than uphill. You really have to watch your steps and be careful. The snow was still falling but due to the woods the wind had died down. As we continued down the sun started to shine.  Out came our song again!  “I see skies of blue” 

Cale and I were finally able to take off our rain gear and enjoy some of this sunshine, but just as we did this the wind picked up and sleet started to fall. 

What? 

Rain, snow and sleet! We had seen it all. We put our rain gear back on and continued down the hill.  

 I will never forget when I finally saw the Monastery in Roncesvalles! We made it!  

Roncesvalles 

It was a long day. We arrived right around 4:30. We had left St. Jean at 8AM.  We had just walked 8.5 hours over the Pyrenees, if this didn’t make you feel amazing, I am not sure what would. Now we just needed a bed, hopefully they would still be available at the Monastery.

As we walked to the door, they gave us a color tag. They invited us inside, to sit and remove our shoes. We were told to wait for our color to be called, which meant you had a bed.  

 They had a big room full of shelves for shoes, we removed ours and placed them on a shelf. Now we just had to wait for our color to be called. As we sat on the bench, the tiredness of the day started to set in. I just wanted to lay vertical for a little bit, but that will have to wait. Then we started seeing all of our friends start walking through the door.  

Here came the two guys from Florida who we met last night, Tim and Rodney. Following them were Natalie and Luca, then Anni and Merce and finally Minh and Sue. We all sat in the same area and shared stories while we waited.  

Finally, our color was called and we were able to get a bed, Yay!! That was a relief. We proceeded to pay for the bed and dinner and went to find our bunk. Due to us being late, we missed out on a bed on the top floor which had all been remodeled. We were sent to the basement, but we called it the dungeon. It was all the old metal bunk beds crammed in little spaces. Our little nook had 10 beds, 5 bunks. It was a little chilly down there but that didn’t matter, I had a bed and we had made it! 

Shower and dinner 

Even though last night we were in a hostel, this one was different. This one was huge. Having been an old Monastery, it had 183 beds. It was very nice on the main level, microwaves and laundry facilities. I was too tired to care about all the little nooks where you could sit to relax, I just wanted to shower with warm water and lay down until dinner. Now, how to shower with so many people. What do I do with my personal belongings? How do I do this? This was a first for me. Last night we only had to share a bathroom amongst 4 people, tonight I am sharing with 183 people.  

So, I grabbed what I needed for my shower and headed upstairs. I took my personal purse with me to the shower and just wrapped it in my towel. In hopes of figuring this out when I got up to the shower. I made my way in and found an empty stall. That was a blessing. I was able to hang everything on the back of the door and I proceeded to enjoy this warm shower…it felt amazing.  

Just as I was relaxing, I heard these two men start to talk! Wait! What? Did I go into the wrong bathroom? Oh no! But then I heard a women’s voice on the other side. What is going on? 

 I then realized, I was at the very end of the shower stalls and on my left was the beginning of the men’s showers. That was a relief.  I finished up and headed back to my bunk. All I wanted to do was to lay in my bunk.  But then I realized that my pants were dirty from the knees down due to all the mud on the trail.   So, I knew I had better wash them as they were my only pair. At this point I was wearing my yoga pants under my capris, and a short sleeve top with my jacket. It was chilly in this place.  So, I made my way to the laundry room and opted to wash the pants only from the knees down. Sometimes, you have to be creative! 

I was able to nap for a little bit before dinner and Mass. Then the two of us went to Mass and received our pilgrim blessing. A tradition you don’t want to miss. At dinner, we sat at round tables and were served family style. We all talked and shared our stories; it was a nice way to meet your fellow pilgrims. After dinner, we ran back to the Monastery (because it was windy and cold) climbed into bed and tried to get warm.  

From my journal,  

Sunday May 13th2018. Mother’s Day 36degrees Brr 

Rained at the beginning, then turned to sleet and snow. Amazing views, have met some wonderful people from all over, Argentina, South Korea, Spain and USA. Sleeping in an Albergue in the old monastery/cloister in Roncesvalles. We are in the Dungeon.  

When we visited Our Ladys statue at the lookout, I said a few prayers and felt her presence! 

Amazing day seeing God’s glory all around us. Beauty, Mountains and the Snow. This day reminded me to be thankful for all the little gifts. The little gifts we sometimes forget to be thankful for. Like a warm spot in a hut, sunshine for a few minutes and the laughter/songs to keep you going. 

Thank you, Jesus! 

“Nothing glows brighter than the heart awakened to the light of love that lives within it.” ~ Guy Finley 

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