Trekcapri’s Camino de Santiago-Hiking The Pyrenees Part II – Orisson to Roncesvalles
Breakfast was served at 7:00 am so most of us were up by 6:30 am to get ready for Day 2 on the Camino. I was already up but I waited for my roommates to wake up too, before I physically got out of bed. Having slept in our next day’s walking clothes, I, along with my roommates were up, teeth brushed, hair combed, sleeping bags/liners rolled up, backpacks packed, shoes on and we were out of our room within 25 minutes. The night preparations before and the early morning get up and go routine is something that will be repeated daily on the Camino.
Breakfast was simple, bread with butter and jam, coffee and orange juice. A quick trip to the girl’s room, a tightening of my walking shoes, strapping on of my trekking poles and I was on my way.
At about 780 meters high, Orisson was not the highest point on the Pyrenees, although it felt that way climbing up. The highest point will be 1429 meters high at a place called Col Lopoeder. One by one, we leave the refugio to climb the first of many hills to come. Behind our confident and happy smiles, we all knew what was coming. More hills and steeper climbs.
The weather is clear and we are treated to the most beautiful sunrise. The morning is quiet with just the sounds of bells ringing from nearby cows grazing. I love the sound of them. I finally reach the location of where the Vierge d’Orisson (Virgin Of Orisson) is located. Shepherds brought the statue from Lourdes. She is located on some rocks a little off the path. I took the extra time to walk over so I could see her up close and say a prayer. She is small but very beautiful. The views from her position is quite spectacular. This was a good resting spot for us to catch our breath and enjoy the views. We are after all, on the Pyrenees. And how often can any of us be in this exact position with very this beautiful and stunning 360 degree views of the Pyrenees right in front of us. It was magical.
There are no trees on this part of the trek, which is why it was chosen by Emperor Charlemagne as it provided no place for bandits to hide. And let’s be real. It also left no hiding places for any “when nature” calls moments. Let’s just say thank goodness for those big boulders. Ha Ha!.
In the mist of the pain and agony I couldn’t help but to marvel at the beautiful landscape and my accomplishment.
Kathy, you’re actually doing it. You’re hiking the Pyrenees.
I also loved being so close to those beautiful Haflinger horses with their long blond bangs and mild manner. I was very lucky to run into a group of them as they crossed the foot path right along side and in front of me. I also came across a group of those cool looking horned sheep. There was this funny moment. While walking on the path, one sheep stopped dead in its track, blocking my way and just stared me down. I stopped and told him, I know you’re a friendly sheep but with those horns, I’m going to wait until you pass through before I move. ” A pilgrim walking just behind, overheard me and we both laugh. It took a minute or two, but the sheep finally moved on and so did we.
I crash into Sara just before a big climb. She is beside herself as her pack was so heavy. To myself, I’m feeling thankful that I sent my primary pack ahead to Roncesvalles and decided to only carry my day pack otherwise my heavy pack would be sitting on the ground right next to hers. I checked to see how she was doing (there were two other pilgrims with her), before moving on past her. Sara later told me that when I saw her, she had thrown her pack on the ground and in exasperation said “I can’t do it anymore!”. A fellow pilgrim stopped to help her to readjust her pack for a more proper fit. He offered to carry her pack for her, but she told him it was her responsibility to carry her own pack and after a quick adjustment she continued on. That’s one of the things I liked about Sara. She was very determined.
I developed a connection with Sara, because when I got to Refugio Orisson, I discovered that I had two reservations. I paid for both beds and the staff told me that if she found someone to take the extra bed she would refund me. I told her that if someone needed the bed because they couldn’t continue on to Roncesvalles, that she can give them my extra bed. Mary was with me and she told me that she knew a girl named Sara who didn’t have a reservation and was afraid she would have to keep walking on to Roncesvalles. Mary said that she will talk to her. Sara later came to me to tell me that she got my extra bed and that the girl wanted to refund me. She was so happy because she didn’t think she could continue on. She shared with me that she was going to keep walking after the Refugio staff told her that they were all sold out because it was already getting late and it was still a long way to Roncesvalles. But before leaving, another pilgrim convinced her to stay for a while longer and have a drink with him out by the deck. That’s when Mary found her and told her about my extra bed. She told Sara to check with the staff again and to her relief the bed was still available and gave her the bed. She said it was fate. Had she not stopped to have a drink with this other pilgrim and Mary had not found her, she would have already been on her way to Roncesvalles. I was so relieved and very happy that things worked out for her.
Funny, how things happen for a reason. Months prior, I had already contacted and confirmed my bed reservation with Orisson, but when I thought my friend said that she wanted to join me I had reached out to Orisson again to secure another bed for her. I never received a confirmation from them on the email, so I just assumed the second reservation I requested was never received and I had forgotten all about it especially since my friend decided not to do the Camino.
As it turns out, it was a good thing for Sara that I still had that second reservation. I was to see Sara one more time on the Camino before losing track of her. I was later told by another pilgrim from that original Orisson group that Sara had left the Camino and moved on to Madrid before returning home to Israel. I think she walked for as long as she could with the time she had. I was told she was enjoying her time in Madrid.
Soon, we come across a white Van just before the next hill. There are lots of pilgrims sitting around taking a break and trying to replenish themselves. I bought a couple of bananas and a coke and then had my credencial stamped by the nice gentleman staffing the refreshment van. I saw Mary and talked with her for a bit before she took off. Sara was there and another couple I liked. It’s funny how we keep seeing each other along the way, but we are also respectful of each other’s personal space. When bumping into each other, we do a quick check in on how we are all doing and then there’s this kind of quiet period of contemplation that we all go through as we air out our feet and eat our snacks while enjoying the views while resting.
Soon, I head up the hill. The banana and coke helped but the lack of sleep and no real dinner (besides the soup and salad) wasn’t replenishment enough and I am struggling. Finally, we reach the border between France and Spain. There is a fountain (Roland’s Fountain) of drinkable water at Col Bentarte. I use it to wash my face and soak my head buff to refresh myself and try to revive my energy level (which was very low). Mary was also there and we both take turns taking our photos at the border. This was a milestone to reach this point and although I am so happy with myself, I know we still have some ways to go before we reach Roncesvalles. I confess to Mary that I am literally on “the edge.” She knew what I meant and said Kathy you can do it. We’re almost there. I nodded and said yes, we are. I lost her again but we meet up at another resting point where we can finally see Roncesvalles in the distance. It was another opportunity to take off our shoes and socks to rest and let our feet breathe before we start the descent. Everyone looked exhausted.
I put my shoes back on, say my good-byes and leave the group first. A girl was sitting on a rock near the entry to the paths and when I approached, she informed me that to the right is a more gradual but longer route and to the left is the steeper, rockier but shorter route to Roncesvalles. I did not hesitate in my decision and said with a smile, “to the left it is”. She laughed.
It was a forestry path that was steep and rocky. I didn’t see very many pilgrims. The path went on forever. I was slipping here and there from the loose rocks, my toes were getting squished, my hips were beginning to ache and if that wasn’t bad enough, that coke I had drank was taking effect and nature was beginning to call. Can this get any worse? It felt like this trail was never going to end. I kept thinking how in the heck do pilgrims walk from SJPDP to Roncesvalles in one day? At this point I’m embarrassed to admit that I kind of lose that “camino magic” feeling and enter into this “survival” mode mentality. My main thought was getting to Roncesvalles, showering, eating and sleeping.
Just when I couldn’t take it any longer, I heard some cars, I emerge from the forest and see signs and then I see the town just across this river. I belted out I did it! I see another pilgrim in front of me at the river splashing water on his face. I walk in the general direction of where Hotel Roncesvalles might be located. I booked the hotel over the Pilgrim Albergue, because I knew that I needed to have a good night’s sleep after the long walk.
Pilgrim albergues in medieval times were called “hospitals” even though they were not specifically for sick people.
There was a group of clean looking, happy go lucky tourists from a nearby tour bus heading in the same direction in which I had to walk through in order to get to the hotel. I felt disheveled, dirty, and a little embarrassed about the state I was in. After all that I went through, it’s funny how I was still worried about the most trivial thing. They were all very cool.
Roncesvalles is a small medieval hamlet which has a large abbey and several historic churches.
My feet were so sore and I was very exhausted. I literally had to sit down on the first bench I came across, just only a few feet away from the hotel’s entrance. That’s how tired I was. I could not take one more step, not even if it meant me getting a nice hot shower, some food and a comfortable bed to rest on. I sat in the hot sun for a good 10 minutes, not moving an inch, not even to sip a bit of water because I was too tired to reach for it in my backpack. I just sat on that bench, tired, hungry and thirsty, with my pack still strapped on.
I could tell it was getting very late (had to have been past 4:00 pm), so I forced myself to get up to check into the hotel. I did what I have affectionately named the “Pilgrim Hobble”. I did this hobble many, many more times while on the Camino and I spotted it being done by other pilgrims after a long days walk. Sitting at the receptionist desk, I apologized to the girl for my dilapidated state. She smiled and said no worries. She then helped to carry my pack to the elevator. Bless her! What a sweet heart. I made a dinner reservation for 6:30 pm. Once in my room I said Hallelujah! My own bed, my own bathroom! I took a nice long hot shower and washed my clothes before collapsing on my bed for a quick nap. I woke up just before my dinner reservation and hobbled my way to the dining room.
From a pilgrim’s set menu, I ordered a wonderful fish dinner with some potatoes, a coke with ice and a cheesecake for dessert. Honestly, I was so famished that I wasn’t all that full, but the food was delicious and it was just what I needed. I was very thankful. I bumped into my roommates from Orisson and sat next to the two pilgrims from Japan whom I had also met at Orisson. My former roomies reminded me that the pilgrims mass will be at 7:30 pm, which they were planning on attending. I quickly finish off dinner (saving my dessert for later tonight) and just barely make it to the church (Iglesia de Santa Maria) before the mass started.
It was a beautiful mass (done in Spanish) and at the end the priest called all the pilgrims to stand at the altar and then (in English) gave us a very special pilgrims blessing, asking God to keep us safe as we make our journey to Santiago de Compostela. At that moment, I felt the “Camino Magic” return. I was so overcome with the emotions of the past two days of hiking the Pyrenees that tears began to flow down my face. It felt so special to receive the blessings for our safe journey. I stayed a little bit after to light a candle and say a prayer for myself, my fellow pilgrims, my family and my friends back home. I walked back to my hotel, repacked and went to bed.
Reflecting back on the first two days of hiking the Pyrenees, this was the hardest and yet one of the more memorable parts of my journey. It was a roller coaster ride (physically and emotionally) of extreme highs and lows for me. There was a moment when I felt like I was on empty, but something inside of me kept me going. It was also very nice and special to have Mary along the way to keep me company and share mutual encouragements with each other. I really had to dig deep down for the strength to keep going and I did.
I think this was the beginning of that invisible journey that I was to experience on my Camino. Before embarking on this pilgrimage, I knew that I would face physical and mental challenges. But I had no idea that the physical effects of these early stages in the walk would release so many thoughts and emotions in me. It was my intent to have my Camino experience be one of gratitude and reflections, but somewhere along the way this journey became much more.
I know that I’m not blessed with great physical fitness or that I have a lot of hiking experience under my belt, but I was so proud of myself. I didn’t fall. I didn’t collapse. I didn’t quit. It was a very difficult day, but I did it! I actually hiked the Pyrenees from France and into Spain. Whoo Hoo!
Before nodding off, I thanked God for helping me to get here safe and sound. I thanked Mary for her encouragements. I thanked the priest for his special blessings. I thanked my family and friends back home for their support. I even thanked my trekking poles. I literally could not have climbed up and down these hills without them. I am so proud of myself. Getting here wasn’t pretty, but somehow and by the grace of God, I made it. And with that, I soon drifted off into one of the best sleeps I’ve had on the Camino.
Next up, Roncesvalles to Zubiri.
Here’s a video of several short clips that I took during this stage.