Sept. 16- To Roncesvalles: 16 miles (adjusted to 20 miles for inclines), 9 hours
Dale! (let’s do it!). Day one will be the longest and the hardest, but the most spectacular. We join others leaving at the same time, wish them “Buen Camino” (have a good walk !) and chat on our way up the incline. As we begin the walk through the Pyrenees, the group becomes quiet, spellbound by the spectacular views and the silence. Only the sound of an occasional cowbell reminds us that we are not alone.
The day is sunny and the steep downhills and inclines seem doable. But, it soon starts to rain and the uneven terrain becomes treacherous. The rocks and mud on the trail make the trail so slippery that it takes our full concentration to decide the right spot for each step.
More experienced pilgrims share their knowledge with us. They show us how to hold our hiking poles when going up or down and how to slolom down a very steep descent (zig zag from side to side). By the end of the day we will have walked straight up 4000 feet!
Our hands are so cold, that it takes a minute before we can hold the pen to sign in at the Albergue de Pelegrinos. We are so tired and so grateful they have a restaurant and buy 2 dinner tickets for a 3 course meal and wine, a bargain at 10 euros. This massive building used to be a monstery. It’s very basic, clean and the bunk beds are set up dormitory style. The dryer is not working well, so we string a clothes line across my lower bunk. Everything dries overnight and I have privacy in my little club house.
Day one ends on a good note. The dinner was delicious and it was great fun to meet people from Brazil, Spain and Italy.
Sept. 17- To Zubrini: 14 miles, 6 hours
It’s raining again! Again, the downhills are steep and we realize we are in for another day like yesterday, only at a slightly lesser altitude.
We won’t be able to see much of Zubiri because of the weather, so we hunker down in the lounge of the El Patio de Avellano Alburgue and chat with others. This one is much nicer than the previous one; smaller and more modern with laundry service. A lovely Australian women shares her secret of asking Reception to book her next evening’s accommodations. She’s already done the research, so we decide to follow her to her next few stops.
We enjoy another great Alburgue dinner. Tonight our dinner partners are from Korea, France and New Zealand. I am fascinated by the women traveling alone and ask them so many questions. They all agree that the Camino is unlike any other trip. Yes, they are solo, but they seldom feel alone.
Sept. 18- To Pamplona: 13 miles, 6 hours
The rain has stopped, but has left behind so much mud. It’s slippery going, whether we’re walking up or down. We take a break to view an old church that’s being renovated. They will also stamp our pilgrim passport for a small donation. We meet a gentleman from South Africa who is in charge of the project and is so excited to share his many stories with us.
I really felt like eating an apple and had mentioned it a few times. Then, just around the bend, in the middle of nowhere, is a man selling fruit on the side of the road. It was one of the best apples I ever had. The Camino provides!
I find that rather than letting my mind wander, I am in deep concentration all day, watching my footing. A New Yorker, who walks with me a bit, agrees. She says it’s a gift to have all the cobwebs cleared out of our minds and it will make us sharper thinkers in the end.
We arrive in Pamplona early enough to sightsee. Famous for the running of the bulls each July, the high wall around the old town and the massive stone buildings give the city a certain charm. We enjoy a great Menu del Dia (menu of the day: 3 courses plus wine) and call it a day.