September 4th 2014 – Day 1
St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, 27km
I’m sleeping in a room of eight other people. I think they are part of the film crew working on the documentary but I’m not sure. It was pretty late when I arrived back the evening before so there was no time for introductions. The room is dark so I hastily put my things in my backpack ready for the next morning. I am out like a light.
I awake to the sounds of sticks hitting against the cobbled street below. I rush to my watch to check if I am too late but it is 4.50am so all is well. People like to leave early, I think to myself. Andrea and myself had agreed to meet outside Gite Ultreia at 7am so I had plenty of time to get ready. My stomach was like a roller-coaster with excitement and my head was throbbing from last night’s wine. I needed food…and coffee!! I drifted to sleep again and woke at a more convenient time of 6am. I got up, washed and ventured downstairs for some breakfast. Yumm. Bernard and Fafa, the owners, had prepared cereals, bread, toast, fruit and coffee, so I was going to take advantage of it all. There’s not a lot of places to buy food on the hills.
I left Ultreia at 7am and met Andrea who was waiting outside. She had been staying in another albergue further up the road. It was dark and cold but that would change shortly. I stopped off for some croissants at the bakery which had just opened. I had some fruit, and some yogurt also. There were other pilgrims making their way so we tagged along with them. When you reach the outskirts of St Jean which isn’t too far, there is a gradual climb and this continues for the next three hours. I knew it would be tough but when I needed to stop after ten minutes, I knew it would going to be a hard day. Over the next 5 km, we climbed 300 metres and I had discarded my fleece. At this point, the sun had crept up from the horizon and a new day was upon us.
It was great to be back on the Camino however. I had been looking forward to this day since May of last year, and I was eager to meet new faces, and see some new places. The next few days would have to wait until I got this day over however! After 7km, the Camino goes off the road for a while and it begins to get steep. Terra firma gave away to rock and gravel and I found this tough. We reach Refuge Orisson shortly after 9am..an oasis in the desert. I ordered a tea and inhaled my croissants in no time. It was buzzing here, and is a great spot to just stop and look over how far you have climbed. I felt a great sense of achievement but that was just 8km walked. People often stay here for the night but the refuge only holds a limited number of beds and you need to be quick to book.
After eating our snacks, taking in the stunning views, and gathering our breaths, we moved on. The climb continues but it is not as steep, which is good news for my calves which were crying at this stage. My wooden pole I bought in St Jean was doing tremendous work for me and I would be lost without it. After Orisson we arrived at Biakorre where there is a statue of the Virgin Mary. We took our time here. I also noticed a group of cyclists from Venezuala who were recording what seemed to be a documentary with a hand held device. I was asked for my name and where I was from so I assume I will be on some film. I wished them well and we moved on.
Slowly but surely the trail continues to rise, until we reach our highest point of 1450 metres at the Col de Lepoeder. I have never climbed this high and I take a few moments to savour it. It is all downhill from here to Roncesvalles. I read before starting out that there was a choice of two paths at this stage. One path goes straight down the hill side and is steep and can be dangerous, the other to the right is much easier but slightly longer. I had no hesitation in taking the second option and we were joined by others who wanted to avoid injury to their knees. The second option is longer and I was lost for a while but I got to Roncesvalles in the end….tired, hungry, with aching legs. I was blown away by the views though. It is an amazing part of the world. We finished just before 3pm.
I checked in to the huge albergue where I was given the last of the beds in the new building. For €10, you get a bed, shower, a cubicle for your stuff and I would compare it to a hotel in all honesty. Dinner started to be served at 7pm so myself and Andrea went to one of the restaurants across the road “La Posada” and had the “Menu del Dia”. Ah..it is great to be acquainted to the “Menu del Dia” again!! After dinner, there was mass in the church beside the albergue which I decided to attend. I would consider myself Catholic but don’t go to mass, but I promised myself I would go to this. All the readings and prayers were in various languages so I didn’t understand what was being said, but I knew where we were in the Mass (if that made sense)! Everything was perfect, the music, the blessing at the end of the mass and the atmosphere. It just felt right!
The next day, I decided to aim for Zubiri. I had Albergue Zaldiko booked before I set out so it was going to be a relaxing day. I got a message from a friend before hand that it was a lot easier than day one, but there are alot of descents. I looked forward to it!