2. Roncesvalles – Larrasoaña (27 k)


Videoclip from day 2

2 March 2011. Wednesday

This night, I learned one of the first rules of pilgrim shelters; never chose a bed next to the door of the dormitory or the bathroom door, because people will keep walking past your bed all night. This night I had those doors on either side of my bed. In addition, a larger group had arrived at the dormitory next door. They didn’t have an adjacent bathroom, but obviously strong, nocturnal nature needs. I also felt a slight stress all night. It was as if the reptile brain was on guard, aware that I was among strangers. My instinctive vigilance that would interfere with my sleep the next few nights.

Breakfast in Roncesvalles

Breakfast in Roncesvalles

We had breakfast in Roncesvalles’ by now very familiar bar. Café con leche, yogurt and white bread with butter. And more cafe con leche (like latte but in smaller cups). People spoke of the upcoming day’s hike with very experienced voices, although the vast majority had only one day of pilgrimage experience to fall back on. The talk went it was safest to avoid the normal Camino route today and stick to the main road because of the thick layers of snow.

We were among the last pilgrims to leave the albergue. Today’s weather was just as bad as the day before. The clouds touched the ground. The daylight barely came through. Just outside Roncesvalles was a sign announcing that 790 kilometers remained to Santiago. It felt surreal.

Encouraging sign outside Roncesvalles

Encouraging sign outside Roncesvalles

We passed more slumbering villages and wondered where the inhabitants were. Signs with scallop shells on the houses and yellow spray painted arrows guided us. Following the car road felt both dangerous and a bit boring, so when the yellow the yellow arrows directed us sharply to the right, onto a small gravel road across a field, we decided to follow it, despite the breakfast talk in the bar. No one could accuse us of learning from our mistakes. The path didn’t look so bad at first glance, and for several kilometers it was a relatively easy trek. Jürgen and Erik walked quickly and I was hanging on pretty well, even though I felt my pace was dangerously close to my maximum capacity. My equipment also left a lot to be desired. The jacket fabric couldn’t resist the wet weather. It rather absorbed as much water as it could and then made ​​sure to keep it. My boots took in water over the shaft and the GoreTex material should have needed a good impregnation before my departure. Something I ignored since I was traveling to Spain.

With our crazy high pace, we soon passed everyone who had left the shelter before us. We walked so fast that some made sarcastic remarks on our high tempo. I didn’t listen even though my body screamed that I should know better and take it easier.

I remembered a recurring expression in the book To the Field of Stars (by Kevin A. Kodd) which I had read before I left: “The Camino will humble you”. Despite that, I feel into the trap of competitiveness. And I would pay very dearly for it.

A desert of snow

A desert of snow

After a while we reached the edge of an over-snowed field. Snowdrift had created a white desert landscape. We could not see where the road continued, and were unsure if we could even get through the masses of snow. Jürgen pulled out his iPhone with a Camino GPS function. It did not do us any good. After a while a Spanish Camino veteran caught up with us. One of those who had commented on our high tempo as we had passed him earlier. Without any hesitation, he continued straight out,  through the deep snow. We followed suit. But as soon as we sat foot on the main road again, we decided to follow it down to the snow-free land on lower altitudes.

Camino veterans

Camino veterans

Later that morning we walked through forest paths again. It was mostly bare ground now and in places where the views were beautiful. I did not take time to enjoy it, because I started to lag behind Jürgen and Erik. It made me feel angry and frustrated. I increased my pace to the absolute maximum and caught up with them just before we reached the town Zubiri. There, I threw my trekking poles in a dumpster, because they were in my way. Several times I had been close to tripping over them on the downhill stretch.

Zubiri is a city that many chose for the second night’s rest, but we had our minds set on Larrasoaña,  approximately nine miles further along the road. We found an open bar and while we had a snack, I vainly tried to dry my soaking wet shoes, socks and jacket. But the break was all too short and my garments only turned cold and wet instead of hot and wet.

Larrasoaña

Larrasoaña

The albergue in Larrasoaña turned out to be really bad. There was no heat. It was crowded and in dire need of renovation. The only open dormitory quickly became crammed to capacity. Because all of us was soaking wet, the entire room turned into a cold and wet inferno where nothing could get dry over night. Since I already wore all my clothes not to freeze, there was not much left to wear for the evening. I managed to put together a strange mix of shorts, long socks and my fleece sweater that had dried to fairly quickly. There were at least one better hotel in Larrasoaña but it was closed in the winter.

I had to wear the few dry pieces of clothing I had left

I had to wear the few dry pieces of clothing I had left, regardless of how it looked

As we strolled along the main street we saw nothing that suggested open service facilities of any kind. A woman walking her dog told us that there were no open restaurants in this village at this time of year. However, the dog owner told us of a small shop that might be open after the siesta. This, it seemed, would become a really miserable evening.

After a rest in the damp hostel, we set out to look for the small shop. It was situated in the basement of a private house, and easy to miss. Behind the shop counter in the perhaps ten square meter room stood a stern Italian woman in her 50-ties. The shelves of her shop were pretty well stocked though. While I was thinking about what would pass for dinner, my gaze fell on some other pilgrims, sitting around a table in an adjacent room. They had been fed and there even stood a bottle of wine on the table. I asked the italian lady if we too could get something to eat, but she answered that  at the most she could make us a bocadillo (sandwich).

– That would be delicious, I said overly enthusiastically.

The lady asked us to sit down and wait while she made the sandwiches. We talked some more with her and slowly her icy expression thawed. Suddenly, to our surprise, she said she could microwave some cannelloni for us. In our starving mode it felt like being offered a dinner at a three star restaurant. Drooling, we accepted her offer. Then she brought a bottle of red wine to the table, while the store-bought pasta pieces slowly turned in her microwave oven. We ate as if we had been starving for days. When the last pieces of pasta left our plates our hostess announced that it was time for the main course. This really went in the right direction. She disappeared for a moment and then came back with plates filled with fried eggs, sausage and ham. More of the pilgrims we had met in Roncesvalles joined us and they were fed too. Someone found a guitar, more bottles of wine appeared on the table, and suddenly there was a party. The shift from believing that we wouldn’t get any food at all, to eating fried sausages, actually taught me what it means to be genuinely grateful for the little things. Then the fiesta continued.

Erik and Elisabetta

Erik and Elisabetta

Our landlady, who had now presented herself as Elisabetta, brought in desserts in the form of wobbly portions of crème caramel, straight out from their plastic cups. She put yet more wine on the table and sat down with us and talked. Without exaggerating the evening became one of the most memorable and fun dinners I’ve ever been to. Both because of the company and the absurd development. It was a communion of a more human kind than the High Church version I had witnessed in Roncesvalles Monastery Church, the evening before.

We wandered back to our damp, overcrowded hostel at 23 o’clock and actually managed to fall asleep. To share a room with a lot of other people of course  entails putting up with all sorts of sounds. I was happy that I was used to sleeping with earplugs and that I carried a big supply in my backpack.

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