Trekcapri’s Camino de Santiago-Hiking the Pyrenees Part I – SJPDP to Orisson
After a good night’s sleep, I wake up in time for the included 7:00 am hotel breakfast. A couple of crossants, hard boiled eggs, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. I am feeling excited and nervous about today’s short but very steep climb up to Refugio Orisson.
I place my primary pack near the receptionist so the transport service can take it up to Orisson for me. By 8:30 a.m., I am out of the door and on my way. I follow the arrows through the arch and across the bridge, which was featured in the movie, “The Way” with Martin Sheen. I left later than most pilgrims who were walking all the way to Roncesvalles, but I did see a few other pilgrims on my way out of town which was a good sign that I was heading in the right direction.
The arrows and signage are clear and helpful. Soon I come across the first fork in the road. To the left is the lower path and to the right is heading to the Napoleon Route and Refugio Orisson. I am already fully aware of just how steep of a climb this will be and I’m only on the lower portion of this stage. Yikes! Next to the road I see this beautiful horse standing by the wired fence. It was cool! I only wish I had like an apple or something to feed her. I talked with her a bit before moving on.
The hills were relentless. After getting up one hill, there were more hills to climb, some of which were steeper than the one I just climbed. I was beginning to see more pilgrims on the path, some of whom I caught up with but mostly those who caught up with me.
I remember watching YouTube videos of pilgrims making this climb and here I was walking that very same scene. Hearing myself breathing harder and harder as I try to grasp for some air. It was the combination of the higher elevation, the steepness of the hills and my obvious poor fitness level that slowed me down.
It was here on these steeper sections that I first met Mary from Canada. Both Mary and I struggled on the steep climbs and we kept giving each other encouragements. Soon a group of about 50 teens passed us. These kids were so energetic and lively. One of the counselors told Mary and I that they were from Pamplona and were heading directly to Roncesvalles. It was a weekend trip that she questioned herself for agreeing to take. She was kidding of course. We can tell that she was a dedicated teacher as she waited for the back of the pack group to catch up and giving them needed encouragements.
Just then, I flash backed to my childhood growing up as a kid in Hawaii. I remembered two particular hiking school trips I went on, Moana Loa Valley and the Diamond Head Crater hikes. On both trips, some of my school mates dropped out due to exhaustion, but I was so determined to make it to the top of the Diamond Head crater and to the water falls at the end of the Moana Loa Valley hike. I kept pushing myself to keep going until I made it to the end of both hikes. I guess even as a child, I had the drive to finish what I started and not give up.
I can already see that the Camino was giving me the time to reflect back on my life. My childhood hiking memories made me realize that maybe I had a bit of Camino pilgrim in me very early on in my life.
With each hill conquered, Mary and I, kept hoping that we’d turn the corner to find Refugio Orisson but each corner we were greeted with another steep hill to climb. Finally, Mary turns back towards me with her trekking poles high up in the air to announce that we finally reached the refugio. We both celebrate and with sweat rolling down our foreheads, we wait our turn to check in. I was first and although I tried to be roomed with Mary, I was brought to another room to be shared with 3 other strangers. Mary was assigned to the dorms. I was a little bummed at first but when I discovered that I was luckily assigned a private room only to be shared by three other pilgrims with our own private shower and bath, I was happy. Although, the kitchen had a selection bocadillo (sandwhiches), but none of them appealed to me (I don’t eat meat or like cheese). I did notice a nice piece of cake in their glass display and ordered it along with a coke (with ice). This should be okay until dinner was served at 6:30 pm. While resting I watched as pilgrims arrived. This was when I first spotted Gigi and her son, Bobbi. There is a deck where pilgrims can sit to wait until dinner time and where pilgrims moving on to Roncesvalles can rest.
The views from the deck are stunning and I enjoyed meeting so many different pilgrims. I had to wait until my roommates were done showering before I could do my wash, while others like Mary were using the one washer and dryer.
I really enjoyed my stay at Refugio Orisson especially the Communal dinner where everyone introduced themselves and shared where they were from. I liked how there was no mentioning of what we did for a living, our educational backgrounds, and/or what our religious or political beliefs were in life, because quite simply on the Camino we are all the same, a pilgrim making our way to Santiago de Compostela.
It was a lively mixed group of pilgrims from the US, Ireland, Israel, Brazil, England, Spain, Sweden, Japan, Canada, Australia, Copenhagen and Italy. Bottles of wine to go with a nice hearty soup, chicken (salad for me), bread and a cake dessert were enjoyed by all as various enthusiastic conversations and loud laughter were heard around the dinner room. The more wine that was consumed, the more lively the conversations became. As I fondly recall, there were some singing going on as well!
I enjoyed the communal dinner and talking with other pilgrims, but not being able to sleep was hard. I don’t mind the lack of privacy, but I need my sleep. While my roommates seemed to have slept quite well (and fast I might add), I was wide awake. The snoring in the albergues are quite legendary and it is all very true. My roommates were nice, but the snoring and other bodily noises kept me up all night. I think I may have had only 10 minutes (if that) of solid sleep. On a good note, I really loved listening to the cow bells at night. One pilgrim friend told me she literally had to get up and sit outside in the dark for awhile because she could not sleep with all the snoring.
I feel like the stories of the pilgrims I bonded with on the first tough stages of the camino really stuck with me throughout my Camino. Mary, who was from Canada told me that she was walking the Camino for herself and her brother. The original plan was for them to do the Camino together, but he unfortunately and unexpectedly passed away just before they were to come to Spain. She decided to continue their journey and much like in the movie, The Way, Mary brought her brother’s ashes with her on the Camino. I felt a special bond with her because she and I both struggled on the Pyrenee hills. I also met Sara, Gigi and her son Bobbi, several pilgrims from Ireland, an Australian and a 70 year old female from Sweden who was walking her second Camino. Sara was on the Camino to figure out her next relationship move. Her boyfriend proposed to her but she is not yet sure if he is the one. This pilgrimage was to help her to find the answer. Gigi, a retired navel reservist, from Wisconsin was here with her son Bobbi to fulfill her dream of walking her Camino. The retired lawyer from Australia was here for the challenge of doing a long distance adventure as was the couple from Long Beach whom I shared my Orisson room with. Their goal was to do the entire Camino carrying their packs and not skipping one inch of it. I, of course, had no such lofty goals and had my bag transported all the way to Santiago.
Hearing everyone’s stories made me realize that people make this journey for a wide variety of reasons. Is the Camino about the number of miles we have to walk or the pain we must overcome? Is a “true” pilgrim someone who carry their pack, sleep in only albergues and doesn’t skip any sections of the Camino? Those who do have truly earned their bragging rights for sure. For me, my Camino was not about the number of miles or my ability to carry my own pack and only sleep in Albergues. I soon flashed back to what I wrote after training and running in my first Marathon. Here’s what I had to say after the experience.
So to ask the question again, “WHY RUN A MARATHON?” Did I do it for the challenge? Did I do it for the thrill? Did I do it for the accolades? The answer . . . . I did it for the “JOURNEY.”
You really don’t know what you are capable of accomplishing until you actually dive in and give it a try. At the lowest point of my journey, I had to search deep within myself to find out what I was truly made of. And what did I learn? I realized that the greatest achievements in life are found not necessarily in the final outcome itself, but in the experience and the journey.