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Day 3 – Orisson to Roncesvalles – 17.4 kms


Early Mornings

It’s an early start on the Camino and we woke about 6am.  Early, but worth it to catch sight of the beautiful sunrise.  We were staying at the Roncesvalles Monastery next, and as we didn’t have it booked, we wanted to get there as early as we could.   We were advised it gets very busy from late afternoon and we wanted to avoid the long queues of pilgrims checking in.

I managed to get dressed for the day without leaving my bunk.  It pays to organise whatever you need for the following morning the night before.  It also means you are less noisy getting ready, especially as there may be other pilgrims still sleeping.  And in the case of our group, we’ve been told to be quiet more than enough so far on this trip – and it’s only three days in.

He who would travel happily must travel light.    Antoine de Saint-Exupery

My routine on the Camino was to wash what I wore after a day’s walk, and change into what I would wear the following day. The weather was hot, so there was no problem getting clothes dried on the line.  Sometimes  I wore my shorts to bed to speed up time the following morning.  It’s not a fashion show on the Camino and no one cares what you look like.  I also organised my tee-shirt and socks on the bottom of my bed for handiness to change into.  This meant I was more or less ready before I’d even put a foot on the floor.   Everything I had in my bed could be rolled up into my sleeping bag liner and easily transferred into my rucksack.

Comfy knickers makes it all better!

Breakfast in the Orisson was basic compared to the dinner we had the night before.   We had hoped for cereal when we saw bowls on the tables, but no such luck.  The bowls were for drinking our coffee/tea from.  Unusual, but as the saying goes, “when in Rome”.  Of course for the coffee lovers among us, it was a dream come true.

When in Rome, live as the Romans do; when elsewhere, live as they live elsewhere.  St Ambrose

So after a bowlful of coffee and bread and jam, we filled our water bottles/camel packs and started out on the 16 km walk to Roncesvalles.

Roncesvalles here we come!

Rucksack

To carry or not to carry?

Most of us, again, decided not to carry our big rucksacks, and sent them on to Roncesvalles. The girl on reception at Orisson gave us an envelope on which we wrote our next destination.  We placed the fee of 8 euro (the fee became cheaper when we crossed the border into Spain) for this service in the same envelope and attached it to our rucksacks. Our bags were left in the reception area to be picked up and transferred to Roncesvalles.  Hopefully to arrive before we would!  Obviously, the important stuff, like passports and money we kept with us in our daypacks.

And hats off to Sharon and Fiona –  here they are bringing up the rear and soldiering on with their big rucksacks.

There is great information on sending rucksacks ahead on www.theroadtosantiago.com/sending-your-backpack-ahead.html

Stunning Views along the way – channelling Stretch Armstrong

Sometime after leaving Orisson,  we could hear the sound of a folk song wafting through the air to greet us, as we reached Biakorre at a height of 1095 metres.  A group of pilgrims were playing guitars and singing, (even Max had got involved with his ukuele and we couldn’t help noticing Ga Ga was still with him.)   Maybe a romance was on the cards?  Or maybe, the cynic inside me thought, the poor girl  just couldn’t shake him!  He was stuck to her like a barnacle to the bottom of a boat.

A statue of the Vierge de Biakorri (Virgin Mary) stands here and many pilgrims adorn it with rosary beads, memory cards and other mementoes.  There is a touch of sadness when you read the memory cards and get a glimpse of the sadness behind another’s walk.

With the stunning views all around, and the sound of sheep bells tinkling, we felt like we were in a scene from The Sound of Music.  So much so, Oonagh,  broke out into her version of Edelwiss!  It became something of anthem for the rest of our trip.  Yes, we could’ve picked any song, but that’s middle-aged women for you.

Like all good Catholic women we said our prayers to Our Lady, (please no blisters), and then bade her adieu as we continued on.  We walked across open pasture, passing sheep grazing on each side.  In the middle of nowhere we were able to buy coffee, tea, hot chocolate and snacks from a food truck set up on the side of the path.   This was also the last point in France where we got our Camino passport stamped.  We continued up to Col Lepoeder at 1430 metres, which was the highest point of our entire trip.  From here Roncesvalles and the region of Navarra came into view.

Battle of Roncesvalles 1813

As we began our descent to Roncesvalles we had a choice of two routes; a steep incline through the forest or take the trail to the right which was easier, but 800 metres longer along a tarmac road.  We decided to take the forest trail as the weather was good, and we thought it would be more interesting.  If it had been raining, we would probably have chosen the safer option.

Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker  Garth Nix

The path we chose was very steep and stony at the start, and hard on the old knees.  We were extra careful, as we were heart afraid of a twisted ankle or a broken bone bringing our Camino adventure to an end.  A couple of us did end up on our bums on the way down, but we women are made of strong stuff and a bruised ass wasn’t going to stop us.

The Camino is like a metaphor for life; we get weary, we fall down, but we get back up and keep putting up foot in front of the other to get where we need to be.  And in the end perseverance wins out.

The walk through the forest was nothing short of magical….the photograph can show you in a way no words can.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.   Robert Frost

Roncesvalles Monastery just around the corner!

Fotografía del Albergue de peregrinos de Roncesvalles

We had a few worries about rolling off the edge of the bed, especially after a couple of glasses of vino!

The monastery was beautiful and it only cost 10 euro to stay here for the night.  Excellent value for money.  We managed to get beds in the new renovated part which once used to house the old youth hostel.  It was very clean and comfortable, and although we were sharing a dormitory with over 60 people, the bunks were organised into sections of four, which means it was more private than you would imagine.  But still noisy!

Each pilgrim has a locker with key and power outlet.  Our rucksacks were waiting for us and after getting showered and changed we took a wander around the area.  We were glad we had arrived early as on our way out we could see the queues of pilgrims beginning to form.

For information on staying here you can email them at : info@alberguederoncesvalles.com

Getting organised

A couple of us bumped into Daniel from the Orisson and we went with him to the pilgrim mass in the Colegiata de Santia Maria.   In the cool, serene surroundings of the church, as the boys’ choir sang like angels, (when puberty kicks in those angelic voices will be lost forever), we had a chance to sit back and be still.  At the end of the mass, the priest bestowed on us a pilgrim blessing which was very special.  After all, we need all the help we can get!   And it didn’t matter that the mass was in a language we didn’t understand.  It just added to the uniqueness of the experience.

I was so glad I didn’t miss this, which is more than can be said for the pilgrim meal!

Real Colegiata de Santa Maria de Roncesvalles per dins Rafel Miro via Compfight

We ate our pilgrim meal in the café/restaurant across the way from the monastery.  It cost 12 euro for a three course dinner.  Of course, it included wine and thank God for that, as it was the only good thing about this particular dining experience!

The place was chaotic and crowded with pilgrims.  We were there for the first sitting and the staff made no secret of the fact that they were in a rush to get us out in time for the second sitting of pilgrims.  The meal was average and the waiter told us there was no time to serve us dessert.  Well as strong, confident women, we weren’t prepared to accept that. We complained we weren’t leaving without the apple crumble which was on the menu.  Off the waiter went and we congratulated ourselves on being assertive and getting what we paid for.   Two minutes later, the waiter came back, and with a charming smile, sat a bowl of apples on our table.  He told us we  could take it or leave it…..we left it.

OK, we may not have had dessert, but at least we did have a good laugh!  And that beats taking ourselves too seriously.

The person who knows how to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused                                                Shirley McLaine

That’s another thing you need to pack for the Camino, a sense of humour, you are going to need it.

Girls….lights out!!!

Lights out in the monastery was at 10pm, but we were more than ready for bed at that stage.  This was a strict policy here and if you weren’t in,  you were locked out.  As we prepared for bed, an irate German man roared from across the dormitory at someone to shut up…..he couldn’t have meant us, could he??

On another note, I had thermal long johns with me (because I am the type of person who would be freezing in the Sahara), and I was glad of them in the monastery.  It became very cold in the middle of the night, even though it was summer.  So it is something you may want to throw into your rucksack.  Yes, I know, thermal long johns in the the middle of July, I’m a sad case!

Another piece of advice; forget about plastic bags for separating your luggage.  There was nothing worse than a bag rustler at 3am!  I swear to God the noise of it can pierce the eardrums as good as a fire alarm.  Earplugs are top of my shopping list for walking the Camino next year.

And for all you bag rustlers out there, (no names, but you know who you are) – you can buy cloth travel drawstring bag sets on Amazon and Ebay for less than £6.  And I have to say a gag would also have been useful for the whisperers in the middle of the night!

As for breakfast, I would advise you to forget about it here.  We had to queue and the service and food didn’t improve from the night before.  We would have been better off walking on to a café at the next village.

Not worth the wait!

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.                                                                   Virginia Woolf

Zubiri here we come!

 

 

 

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Preparations for walking the Camino de Santiago

 

I love walking and I love travelling, and what better way to combine the two than by walking the 1000 year old pilgrimage route, The Camino de Santiago, also known as, The Way of St James.

One patronizing man, (I could call him other things but I’m being kind), told me it is also known as the ‘middle aged woman’s walk’.  Ok, it might not be Kilimanjaro, but I don’t think it will be a walk in the park either.  Anyway, in my experience, middle-aged women can kick ass!

The simplicity of carrying everything I need in a rucksack and having nothing else to do, other than get from one point to another and to eat and sleep sounds very appealing.   And, also maybe, to drink a little wine along the way!

Some people walk the Camino alone, but I am walking it with six girlfriends; Fiona, Alice, Eileen, Oonagh, Pauline and Sharon.   I know them from as far back as school days and by some divine intervention, we are all able to get away at the same time.

I’ve heard it said that the older we get, the more we need the people who knew us when we were young; and that’s because it’s those people who help us remember our carefree younger selves, before life had a chance to knock the edges off.   None of us look at each other and see middle-age.  We just see each other, as we always have.

“The older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when were young.”  Mary Schmich

There are different starting points for the pilgrimage across Europe, but they all converge at the tomb of St James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain.  We’ve decided to walk the most popular route, Camino Frances, which stretches for almost 780 kms.  Of course, it is impossible for all of us to take the time off to walk the entire way, but we have a week, and we are hoping to reach 100kms in that time.

We plan to make this an annual trip and walk 100kms each year, over the next five years, until we reach Santiago de Compostela in 2020.  Time will tell!

There are loads of websites with great information on walking the Camino.  Check out http://www.caminoadventures.com or http://www.roamfarandwide.com/mycamino-de-santiago

Preparations for walking the Camino!

We are going at the height of summer, which isn’t ideal but it is the only time of year suits all of us.  Apparently April/May and September/October are more ideal times to walk.

We’ve been told you don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to walk the Camino Way, ( thank God, for that!), although going from sitting on the couch, seven days a week, to taking on a 100km walk, isn’t recommended either.  The advice is that a general level of fitness is adequate.

We are training as much as we can before we go in the shoes we will be walking in on the Camino, to make sure they are well broken in.  We are lucky where we live as we are surrounded by mountains.  We are all doing our own walking but once a week we meet at Slieve Gullion and walk for a couple of hours.  Blisters and how to avoid them are a big talking point; apparently taking off our boots/shoes off to allow our feet to breathe and dry our socks at points during the day will help.

Some of our group have bought new walking shoes, and although I have hiking boots, I think they will be very heavy in the heat, so I’ve decided to stick with my trusty trainers, which are well-worn in.  We aren’t going to be on very rough terrain, and it will probably be dry weather so I hope they won’t let me down.

We’ve also been told to travel, light, light, light!  Although, it’s funny how light means different things to different people!  Some of our group would rather forfeit their knickers, than do without their hair straighteners!

Packing List

  • Passport
  • European Health Insurance Card
  • Pilgrim passport
  • Pilgrim Shell
  • Camera/phone/charger
  • Sun block and sun hat/bandana
  • Camel pack (very handy for carrying my water, no fussing with bottles)
  • Head torch
  • Four pairs of 1000 mile socks (good socks are as important as the footwear)
  • One pair of shorts
  • One pair of trousers which cut off to make shorts
  • Three tee-shirts
  • Fleece
  • Thermal leggings (for sleeping even in summer, as it gets cold in some places when the temperature drops at night)
  • Poncho in case of rain
  • Sleeping bag liner (in winter you would need a warmer sleeping bag)
  • Pillow case
  • Sunglasses
  • Small travel first aid kit (include magnesium tablets for aching muscles and reducing cramps, plasters, painkillers, compeed in case of blisters,  Jungle Formula insect spray ( with 50%deet which is a must against mosquitos)
  • Antiseptic hand gel
  • Flip-flops and sandals for sight seeing
  • Sundress/ cardigan
  • Ear plugs
  • Bag for dirty washing
  • Travel wash for clothes
  • Towel
  • Trial size toiletries   (Lush do a fabulous solid soap which serves as shampoo/shower gel and also a solid deodorant: no worries about getting liquids/sprays through security at the airport.)
  • A stone

There are pros and cons of travelling in a group as you have to consider all the different personalities; from the laid back who want to go with the flow, to the control freaks who want to plan the trip to within an inch of their lives.  Also, there is conflicting advice from people; some people have told us we would be mad not to book all our accommodation in advance, while others say, the fun is in winging it.

We took all the advice on board, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference.  After much discussion, we’ve decided we are going to wing it (Yes!!) and book accommodation as we walk to each place.  This is making certain members of our group nervous, (it’ll be fine, Alice!) but fingers crossed we won’t end up sleeping on the side of the road.  The only place we have booked is the Orisson, as it has small capacity, and it is the only stop off point between St Jean Pied de Port and Ronscavalles.

The other big question is whether we are going to walk with our rucksacks or send them on and carry a lighter day pack.  This has caused some quandary among us, because if we don’t know where we are staying, how will we know where to send our bags on to.  A couple of our group have decided they will be carrying their rucksacks no matter what, but I’m not sure, so I’m taking a smaller day bag, just in case.

I will be carrying a stone in my rucksack from home on this trip, which has to do with the tradition of the The Cruz de Ferro cross.  Pilgrims have lain a stone at this cross for centuries and it symbolises the laying down of a burden.  The stone must be carried from your home, and although I won’t be passing, The Cruz de Ferro cross on this trip, I am keeping the stone in my bag until I do, however long it takes me to get there.

The prayer of the Cruz de Ferro

‘Lord, may this stone, a symbol of my efforts on the pilgrimage that I lay at the foot of the cross of the Saviour, one day weigh the balance in favour of my good deeds when the deeds of my life are judged.  Let it be so.’ 

(From the Rother Walking Guide on Camino de Santiago)

 

We’ve also agreed even if we don’t all walk at the same pace along the route, we will meet at night and have our pilgrim meal together.  Because it’s not just about the walking – it’s about the company and craic too.

Let’s be honest, it’s always about the craic!

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