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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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 : email@example.com
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!
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.
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.
One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. Virginia Woolf
Zubiri here we come!