September 2, 2013 Monday . . . the big push. At the time, I think it will be the biggest push, but as I view the walk after the first six days, I see that I am mistaken. But that is for later.
Last night’s dinner at Refuge Orisson – with a Brazilian group of four . . . an older couple, he speaks English, she is beautiful but does not. I give him my card and I can see she is a bit anxious that I’m hustling him. Give her the card, I say. After a lovely dinner with the four Brazilians Sunday night, and a wave at them after breakfast, I set out from Orisson over the Pyrenees with my mini-pack (how could I possibly have done this with the full pack?) up and up and up. The Pyrenees views are spectacular with a layer of cloud below the peaks. Like the first time I went to the Hurst Castle. Like Jack In The Beanstalk. Fortunately, the weather is cool, and breezy, with cloud cover. Frequent bathroom stops behind two foot high bushes. Sometimes just a bit of high grass will suffice. Not fun, but everyone has to do it. The men go to the edge of the precipice and just pee off into the air. We women can’t do that without the fear of falling backward into the abyss.
I am carrying my iPod, and listening to Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods about his adventures on the Appalachian Trail. I love his style, and learned two things very quickly: 1) My walk, no matter what it becomes, is a piece of cake compared to his; 2) I will never attempt to walk the A.T. Never. But that’s just an aside.
Occasionally but rarely, we go through the trees, and that is a blessed relief. There are no towns, and only the promise of a fountain somewhere down the line today. The Fontana, sitting alone in the middle of nothing else, is a gathering spot for all to fill their water bottles. At some point before the top, my intestines call again, and it’s “look to the left, look to the right, unload the pack, get out the TP and hope for the best.” All accomplished, and then I try to get up, up on a downslope, using my hiking poles for leverage. And here come a group of four. Three men and a young woman. She calls, “Help?” and I nod. She and the young man pull me up, and the older man puts out his hand to take my pack. I protest, but he insists, so we walk, five of us. Another Brazilian group. The younger of the older men (the only one with English) explains that the young man is his son, and the girl is the daughter of the man with my pack. We walk. I offer to retrieve and carry the pack, and the oldest man gestures that he’ll carry it until the top. Soon, I see that the #2 man is carrying the pack, and later, the young man. We get to the peak, and I hold out my hands to receive my parcel. And we go DOWN, down, down. The little map I have indicates several places with (!!) and I see what that indicates.
I always thought going down was much easier, though Neil and some other hiking friends insist that isn’t so. I see what they mean.
By the time I get into Roncesvalles, I feel like I’ve been punched and hung up to die. There are some young people soaking their feet in a bit of runoff just at the entrance to the town, but I cannot even think of stopping before I hit a shower and a bed. As we (groups gather and disperse, gather and disperse spontaneously on this walk) approach a large set of buildings, the new addition to the monastery hostel, I hope there is a bed here, since the old wing is just one huge room, but the new one has cubicles of six beds each. On the way, I hear my name, and see the two younger Brazilian women from the restaurant at Orisson, waving to me, indicating that they are staying in the building to which I’m heading. I say I hope there is room.
But alas, since it is later, about 5:30, those rooms are taken. Registration is here for both buildings, and after I show my passport, get my Camino passport stamped and pay Euro 6, I’m given a slip of a receipt with the #100 written on it. I then trudge through an archway and to the old stone building 100 yards away, where I’m greeted by a German woman in a red Albergue shirt, who looks at my receipt, shows me a tucked away place to put my boots (shoes are never allowed very far inside the hostels), and takes me to bed #100. I dump my belongings, dig out toothbrush and towel, and head for the bathroom.
Imagine . . . 110 mixed-sex inhabitants. Two bathroom complexes. TWO showers for the men, two for the women. Needless to say, the line for the women’s shower is stacked like the bathroom line at a rock concert. There is no way I can stand long enough to wait for nine women to take showers in the two already full cubicles, so I go to the sink, brush my teeth, dunk my head and towel dry it, and return to my bunk. Gratefully this bunk is on the bottom, since I see no evidence of ladders for the top bunks. The beds are too close together, and I don’t even want to imagine trying to descend to the floor to pee twice tonight.
I head out to La Posada, the first hostel featured in The Way, which has a restaurant with a Pilgrim’s Menu for 9Euro. I reserve a seat for the 8:30 meal, and order a sangria and a small sandwich. One thing I’m learning is that almost the only thing you can ever get at a bar/café is something encased in bread. Baguettes of every size, toasted with butter and jam, or untoasted with jambon (ham) and something. Always bread. Breakfast . . . bread and bread and rolls and coffee. Lunch . . . bocadillos (sandwiches). If one can get anything else, it is full of potatoes. Very strange. I suppose we peregrinos need carbs, but I’d kill for a green salad. But I haven’t seen one, not yet.
As I walk back to my hostel, I see the older Brazilian couple from the night at Orisson, attached to those two younger women. They are sitting on a bench in the shade and greet me enthusiastically. She kisses me on both cheeks, clearly at ease with the fact that I am NOT about to hustle her husband. He is so attentive to her, I can’t imagine she would ever be worried.
He asks if I am eating dinner at La Posada, and I nod. He invites me to join them. What we both forget, or don’t know at all, is that there are two seatings for dinner, and when I get to the later one, looking for them, I realize they must have gotten tickets for the 7:00 meal, and we miss one another. I haven’t seen them yet, and I’m in Pamploma now.
Dinner is quite good, with a pasta and tomato/parmesan sauce, trout with French fries, and a packaged crème caramel, which I pass to a young man from Mallorca sitting next to me, who with his friend is bicycling the Camino.
After dinner, the showers are available, but physically, I am not. I wash my face and neck, return to my little bunk, and crash. I will do this over and over again every day, I fear. And I will get stronger.
Monday’s walk – adjusted for the climb, about 25km.