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The Pyrenees

Join me at the start of the Camino HERE.


Day 2. Orbaitzeta - Roncesvalles

Riding the old van across the picturesque landscapes of luxurious woods and small villages made of a handful of ancient granite houses, Ricardo and Irene left me about 4 kilometers west of Roncesvalles, in the worn-out dark tar of the national road. They were pretty well dressed as they were going to church after this. Ricardo opened the tailgate, through where I jumped to the floor followed by the backpack and the walking staff. We said goodbye and I hugged them dearly, thanking them for all the help they’d given me. After their wishes of a “Buen Camino!”, I started dragging myself on the direction of Roncesvalles, to the East. They waited on the road as I slowly walked (limped?!) away, until I finally waved them goodbye, just before the curvature of the road and the natural wall of trees forever hid them from me.

I never saw them again.
It’s very possible that they saved my life.

I walked those four kilometers very slowly. My whole body ached from the overwhelming effort the previous day. After about one hour of walking alongside the national road, I was already feeling drained, so I sat on a wooden bench among the trees of the forest, laid down the heavy backpack on the seat beside me and stretched lazily to the joyful melody of singing birds and the sound of wind whispering through the leaves of the trees over me. Suddenly the metallic toll of a bell echoed through the air. I smiled. Roncesvalles... I was almost there!

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Camino de Santiago shell

Roncesvalles is a tiny village built around its monastery, the Church of Santiago and its meager infrastructures designed to serve and accommodate, throughout the centuries, the pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. Since we were in the beginning of March, there were hardly any pilgrims and the town was practically deserted. I walked to the rusty worn-out door of the refuge and knocked on the door using the old metal bell-shaped claw that hung there. No one answered. I knocked again and still no one answered. Inquiring at the small tourist office, I learned that the refuge was closed, since the number of pilgrims was very small, but that the Monastery itself would open at 4pm for the few pilgrims who happened to arrive in those days.

With this information, I sat patiently on a bench, blessed by the warm golden sunlight, facing the exit of the village where the sign "Santiago de Compostela - 790 Km" prophesied my future for the coming weeks. I took my book - "War and Peace" by Tolstoi - opened at the marked page and proceeded to read and rest my legs, diverting my eyes from the literature for the occasional "Buenos Dias" to the occasional passerby.

("What kind of idiot takes War and Peace to a pilgrimage?", yes I know, it has been pointed to me several times during the journey...)

Lunchtime. I decided to eat a decent meal from one of the restaurants to recover my strength. It was something that I was really hoping to avoid, to eat in restaurants or bars or whatever, but Roncesvalles didn’t have a supermarket or even a small tienda (store) to buy food, so I chose the one that seemed more modest, which meant going uphill through the main street to its upper side. Almost dragging my feet, I used the staff to help support my weight (Ah, the humbling feeling of tough pilgrimage!) and when I reached the door of the restaurant, a few people, who were chatting at the door, smiled at the sight of the wooden staff and the backpack.

"Pilgrim?" – one young lady asked me, rather curious.

"Si..." - I answered with a nod, as I limped towards the door.

“Oh! Hasta Santiago?" - she smiled when she saw that I was noticeably limping from my right leg.

"Si, se Dios lo quier...!" – I responded with a chuckle and another nod.

I walked in, laid the bag on floor near the door and walked to the counter.

“Buenos Dias! What do you recommend?” I asked the middle-aged, black-haired fellow behind the counter, as I had no idea what to ask. He suggested a bocadillo...

“Bocadillo”... It didn’t sounded like something that would satisfy my fiendish hunger but, since he suggested it, I was set for a bocadillo de lomo de cierdo with a vegetable soup on the side.

The soup, accompanied by pieces of bread (the good Iberic way!) was delicious and I became over-the-top happy to discover that the unknown bocadillo was indeed this big sandwich that hardly fit the plate. As I ate, I could feel my strength coming back to me. I finished that joyous feast, paid the bill and returned to under the sun in my wooden bench to rest and read a little more. The albergue would open in a few hours.

After resting there for a couple of hours, probably on account of the bocadillo, I finally felt the sore muscles of my legs coming back from the dead. In a gush of willpower, I got up, returned the backpack to my back, and with the wooden staff proudly on my hand, went on a limping visit to the town of Roncesvalles.

The town was quite small, there was only this one major street that crossed through the old stony buildings. To my right, the great Real Colegiata de Roncesvalles still held witness to the silent passage of time and whispered past memories engraved in stone to the traveler who came near. It was the most noticeable building around, huge and grey. To my left, the albergue for pilgrims looked quite sturdy and looked like it hadn't been built so long ago. The church was beautiful, with its lively detailed stained-glass windows shooting multicolored beams of light all across the darkened interior and the grace of intricate work made in the immaculate white marble altar, whose surrounding structure disappeared into the unlit heights of the church’s ceiling. I sat in the silence of its interior and the natural serenity that dwells in all sacred spaces.

When I left the church, I met two Austrian pilgrims, two middle-aged women, who also were looking for the albergue.The three of us went to the door of the Monastery and waited patiently on the large worn-out wooden benches that stretched staunchly on both sides of the hall. A a friendly-looking old man appeared behind a grizzly white beard, forty minutes before 4. Greeting us us, he inquired who was to be first. I told my Austriac companions to follow him, but they insisted that I should be first, since I arrived first and with this he ushered me into his office, where I proudly acquired my Pilgrim Credential and informed me that there was a price of 5 euros for the usage of the beds overnight.

He pressed the first stamp against my white newly-acquired credential and passed the credential over to me, which I packed carefully in my backpack. The two Austriac ladies took my place.

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Roncesvalles stamp

Informing us that the mass for pilgrims would be start precisely at 6 o'clock, he then proceeded to show us our rooms where, without further ado, I took my boots off allowing my feet to smile. Despite the humbleness of the beds, they were, when put into perspective with my last 24 hours, terribly, terribly comfortable and as I laid down writing in my notebook, a vicious drowsiness began to take hold of me with soft silky tentacles. I escaped that sweet sweet promise of a long sleep and took out the necessary things to take a shower. More and more pilgrims kept arriving on the albergue.

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Church Door

Precisely at 6 o'clock all pilgrims were at the church to attend mass and at the end they were called to the front to receive the proper blessings. I was never really a church-goer, but it felt fitting considering the circumstances. After mass, as we were leaving the Church, I was talking with a middle-aged, white-haired German fellow (named Neils), about my way out of Saint Jean through the Pyrenees, to try and understand where I got lost. I couldn't really understand, in part because I did not recalled what exact route I took throughout the day, but from what I understood I wandered too far East.

As the saying goes, one cannot find himself without getting lost.

There were about 14 pilgrims when the night fell upon Roncesvalles. How I loved to hear all those different languages being spoken all around me. They made me aware of the enormous diversity and companionship that exists in the world, all those people united in that moment by random chance, their clothes drying together by the radiator, just like brothers and sisters of a very big family.

An old lady on the bed beside mine was explaining me how it was uncommon to have so many pilgrims on this time of year, but being año Jacobeio , a Holy Year, the influx of pilgrims was quite more numerous.

I was already lost deep inside the coziness of my sleeping bag when someone came in and said that it was snowing outside. "This I must see!", I thought and walked outside. Thousands of tiny white stars, descending from the pitch black sky in soft twirls, reflected the silvery light of the moon and of the yellowish streetlights and landed slowly in the night. Silent trees covered in white were shrouded in darkness. Beside me, the cold grey rock whispered long lost tales. A tale of stars, snow and magic.


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Day 1. Part 3/3.

Index

Day 1. Saint Jean Pied-de-Port - Orbaitzeta
Day 2. Orbaitzeta - Roncesvalles (YOU ARE HERE)
Day 3. Roncesvalles - Zubiri
Day 4. Zubiri - Pamplona
Day 5. Pamplona – Puente de la Reina
Day 6. Puente de la Reina - Estella
Day 7. Estella – Torres del Rio
Day 8. Estella - Logroño
Day 9. Logroño - Najera
Day 10. Najera - Grañon
Day 11. Grañon - Belorado
Day 12. Belorado - Atapuerca
Day 13. Atapuerca - Burgos
Day 14. Burgos – Castrojeriz
Day 15. Castrojeriz - Fromista
Day 16. Fromista – Carrión de los Condes
Day 17. Carrion de los Condes - Sahágun
Day 18. Sahágun – Mansilla de las Mulas
Day 19. Mansilla de las Mulas - León
Day 20. Léon – Hospital de Órbigo
Day 21. Hospital de Órbigo – Rabanal del Camino
Day 22. Rabanal del Camino - Ponferrada
Day 23. Ponferrada – Vega de Valcarce
Day 24. Vega de Valcarce - Tricastela
Day 25. Tricastela - Ferreros
Day 26. Ferreros – Palas del Rei
Day 27. Palas del Rei - Àrzua
Day 28. Àrzua - Santiago

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Disclaimer. I did not carry a camera with me, but I will do my best to illustrate these texts with free for use images found around the web and later sent to me by my fellow pilgrims. All images that are not mine will be attributed to their rightful owner at the end of the post, even if no attribution is required. When no attribution is stated, the image is mine.

Thanks to the following authors for kindly providing the CCO License Free To Use photography that illustrates this post:

The Pyrenees - rperucho (Pixabay):
https://pixabay.com/en/users/rperucho-7689351/

Camino de Santiago shell - gvdb (Pixabay):
https://pixabay.com/en/users/gvdb-118876/

Church door - schnurzipurz (Pixabay)
https://pixabay.com/en/users/schnurzipurz-137881/