Day 2 - St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles

Trip Start Sep 03, 2012
Trip End Oct 07, 2012

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Flag of Spain  , Navarra,
Monday, September 3, 2012

25.1kms done
764.0 kms to go

What a night! The bedroom was a mix of a heavy rock concert featuring "Trail of Snores" and a very badly lubricated machine branded "Das Grosse Furz". Remember that it was a bunk room with only six angels...tonight its around 60 per room! Luckily it was only men last night - although I would rather share with ladies given the lung and bowel capacity of my room mates!

My flu did not help much as my nose was an open tap, while my body temperature raised and decreased randomly. I kept waking up soaked in sweat or freezing.

The final touch was a rather large French man who kept going to the toilet (which was fine as I wasn't next to the door), and each time grabbing a small plastic bag which he rattled around annoyingly...ah the joys of pilgrimage!

All the above made me wake up at 5.30am. Not too bad given I was lying in bed sniffing at 8pm the evening before.

I decided that the best I could do was wash, pack and start walking. I was convinced that being summer the sunlight would be out around 6.30am and allow me to walk. If not, the first couple of kilometres where out of the city and with lots of light, while I had my loyal headlamp (present of Veronika) to help out in the dark.

Now, though that sounds easy, I did not want to join the plastic bag rattling club and wake people up.
This leads me to a new section I will add to each day if it is pertinent: "Reflections of the Previous Day". Its not actually my original idea as I stole it from the guidebook I lumber around with me ("Camino de Santiago" by John Brierley).
The information on the book is good for distances, heights and accommodation, but he does rant on and on about his spiritual experience.

A great example is his "Reflections" part at the end of each day. For day 1 it says:

REFLECTIONS: "I am doing the camino once again, looking for something I left behind or perhaps never found. It's like coming home." Notes from a returning pilgrim from New Mexico recorded in the Pilgrim book in Roncesvalles. What are your reflections for this opening day?

Well John, as you asked...that chap was obviously looking to be away from New Mexico - any excuse seemed good for him! I hope he used something more creative on the travel visa - they wouldn't let him back in with U.S. Customs reading that...bound to be drugs!

Anyway - enough of Brierley bashing, its just too easy. However, as I mentioned above, some Reflections are needed. We could also call them "Things I Learnt Yesterday":

"Leave all your stuff together so you can get up and take it all to the corridor or toilet and do as much noise there. Its faster and less annoying."

"Ear plugs are a life saver for this trip. Hurray for the 10 pairs I brought!", and, "No matter what you do the big snorer with be above or below you".
(I found they sell ear plugs all over the place!)

"If you start the Camino from St Jean Pied de Port, walk a few kilometres the first day and book in Hunto or Orisson - you will avoid the masses of people at St Jean and be closer next day".

Anyway, now that everyone is highly inspired by the lesson learnt we can continue with today's hard work. I left the hostel at 6am and found myself to be the only one walking down St Jean in the dark. A fantastic experience - all the medieval town to myself.

This did mean leaving without a coffee or warm drink, and with only my emergency cereal bars. Nothing was open in St Jean and breakfast at the hostel only started at 6am.

About a kilometre out of St Jean and when I started the climb towards Col de Lepoeder, I detected a few head lamps and torches in the distance moving from side to side. This created an immediate flashback to the early morning climb to see the geysers in Bolivia some years back. The only difference was that it was now people instead of 4x4s.

I have to admit that as I saw a couple of girls with the Santiago shell, about 100 metres ahead, with their lamps on that I reduced my "cruise" speed to "follow them from behind and save battery in your headlamp" gear. Its going to be a long trip so saving battery is they navigated for me.

Once sufficient sunlight developed I overtook them quickly and continued at my own speed..."Get to the next pilgrim hostel one of the first" gear.

Funnily enough, there are two possible routes to Roncesvalles from St Jean. The Napoleonic route and the Valcarlos route. The first one, used by the Emperor as his favourite is one kilometre longer and has a much steeper inclination. In exchange the views from the top are supposed to be majestic. The alternative route is for days with bad weather or for pilgrims that don't want to push their knees too much on the first day, but has a few kilometres of busy road.

No question about which one I was going to take. Yesterday had been a sunny, hot day with blue skies...the views were worth the climb for sure.

The average time to get to Roncesvalles is stated as 8 hours for 25kms on the Napoleonic route. I had read that the "Auberge of Orisson", which is at 8kms distance uphill (1,200 metres up and 400m down) from St Jean, served coffee and sandwiches. But given the "closed shop" approach they seem to have in St Jean, I had my doubts about them serving anything.
The idea of surviving a 20km climb on cereal bars and water...although no physical challenge would not be as enjoyable.

Two hours into the walk I arrived at the Auberge d' Orisson...not bad at 4km per hour with 15 to 20 percent inclines! I must have had my little tree trunk legs on top rotation for that.

Not only was the coffee shop open, but they had dried ham or cheese baguettes...a dream come true in the middle of the fog. I knew I would survive without problems now.

Additionally, a couple of kilometres from the Spanish frontier there was a van with two old men serving coffee, cocoa, boiled eggs and other refreshments. They also put a stamp on the Pilgrim Passport as "the last stamp in France" which attracted quite a few punters. I indulged in a hot coffee given the ever decreasing temperatures.

Talking about temperatures, the promised sunshine never appeared, and the furthest one could see was about 25 metres...thanks Napoleon! So the walk was as intense going up, and knee warming coming down, but the views where lost until a next time - maybe after a New Mexico visit!

I had actually been rushing to get to the top of the mountain, as I knew that if the sun came out as strongly as yesterday the climb would be much tougher. All in vain, but it did mean that I got to Roncesvalles in six hours, door to door. Not bad!

The fog, humidity and cold winds continued all along the walk, forcing everyone to kit up with the rain jackets and woolly hats. I was glad I had mine.

In comparison to the climbs in the recent Coast to Coast, especially the Lake District, the walk today was much easier given the wide paths and lack of rambling on the rocks.

One of the elements of the day was the Babylonic mix of languages of walkers who I passed (OK...I admit about 5 people passed me!). The good thing is that everyone just pronounces "Buen Camino" in their own unique version. This avoids clashes in language, and I can usually detect the most common nationalities (French, Spanish, Australian / New Zealand, Scandinavian, Italian or German).

I did walk with a couple of people some minutes, but found sticking to other speeds tricky. The most interesting was an Italian old man who had been walking from Turin in Italy since mid June to get to Santiago. Funnily enough he was given the bunkbed above mine (he asked me whether I minded using the top one and I couldn't really refuse the change).

I crossed the Spanish frontier without knowing I had, and only realised when I bumped into a large wooden sign of "Navarra / Nafarroa". I checked my mobile and it had a spanish phone network...hence I must have arrived!

There is no sign for Spain or any Spanish flag, but no surprises there given the strong political tensions existing in these areas...I won't say anything else about this as its dead boring.

The last 4kms were a very welcome downhill, with only the first 200 metres being rocky (but easy), and the rest soil paths. It was a very comfortable level of descent so I gradually developed my walk into a sort of hop, and then light jog. I found it irresistible to have gravity push the rucksack so enjoyed quite a happy 2km trot down to Roncesvalles. Again, a reminder of a past walk - this time the last day of the Inca Trail in Peru when I could not resist to jog down their ancient path as I knew there was a beer waiting at the camping (well deserved after 4 days un-oxygenated trek).

The last 4kms are the largest Beech forrest in Europe, and was a delightful path...with a small snake and wild horses included. (I did see a large bird which could have been some sort of eagle type, but I'm no expert).

So, I arrived at Roncesvalles in a comfortable body and at 12.30pm. I did question whether I should push on a few more kilometres, but the Albergue de Peregrinos "Real Colegiata de Roncesvalles" looked too good to miss. And I'm glad I didn't keep going as it started raining soon after.

The Albergue is huge and next to a twelfth century church. Only that and a hostel here (no shops). About 60 people per room, with everyone in semi cubicles of four people. And the best part is...three showers for men and three for women. I had read about having to line up for a shower...and today was my first experience - about 20 mins, while an Italian body builder with long hair performed his washing procedures.

The albergue has a few vending machines and a kitchen, including a coffee one, so my plan tomorrow will be to have a coffee and a cereal bar for breakfast before I rush off at 6am.

No fruit available anywhere though...that's 2 days in a row!

Apart from full washing facilities (and volunteers who actually will wash clothes for a donation), the albergue has 2 cellar lounges with comfy seats and mellow lamps. It was there that I was reading and relaxing until 3 swedes (a lesbian couple and someone they met along the way) arrived and turned my chillax moment into a rodeo of headless chickens. I'm not sure what they were talking about (in Swedish) but it must of been incredibly amusing. (Before you judge me...they did acts of lesbian love all that's why I know!)

I had arrived so early that I could only check in the albergue but not enter until 2pm. At least I got my bed assigned and avoided the huge cues which I saw from 2pm to 5pm.
If anyone remembers a very annoyed New Zelander from the Bayonne to St Jean train yesterday, he was there waiting angrily in line (and complaining)...he also now had a limp. Some people just need to "chillax".

I popped over to "Casa Sabina" where they serve Pilgrim Menu lunches for 9 euros and other dishes. I decided for something as local as I could get for Navarra, which consisted in asparragus, piquillo peppers and lomo. Quite tasty, although I would have eaten almost anything at the time. (14 euros including food, lemonade and coffee).

I then had a walk around the village...which can be done in 15 minutes as all churches and the museum were closed. I also booked my "Pilgrim Dinner" for 7pm.

Now, this is part of the Pilgrim game: dinners are served in different albergues and hostels at exactly 7pm. Everyone eats at the same time and the same food, in order to be finished for Pilgrims Mass at 8pm. (9 euros at "La Posada").
Its a real mix of people and languages, so generally good fun. Dinner tonight was:
- pasta with tomato sauce
- white fish with chips
- flavoured yoghurt
- wine (2 for bottles for eight people), water and bread.
Not very inspiring or tasty, but a good experience if there is no alternative.

An interesting coincidence occurred during dinner...but I will leave that for tomorrow.

No one is allowed to say I converted with the following...but as all the churches, and especially the 12th Century Collegiata, were closed before, I followed everyone to Mass at 8pm in order to have a peak from the back.

Nice church...but I was out in no time!
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