October 13th, 2019

Santiago de Compostela IX Day 92 (St Jean Pied de Port-Roncesvalles) 25 km

Thursday October 10, 2019

An amazing day! We walk up to 1400 meters to go through the Pass of Roncesvalles and across the Pyrenees into Spain.
Some 100-150 pilgrims leave St Jean Pied de Port early in the morning. It’s at least an eight hour walk so everyone is advised to head out between 7 and 8 AM.
We’re a bit late but we’re not worried. We move along briskly and soon start passing the first stragglers.

The first 8 km are the hardest as we climb steeply up to 800 meters. After that we continue to climb but it’s a little less steep.
We notice the benefit of having done quite a bit of climbing and descending the last few days as we continue to move along at a good pace, all the while passing other pilgrims. For some reason we’re under the mistaken impression that the hard part is yet to come so we’re not at all in survival mode yet...
After those first 8 km, we come upon the last stop before we enter the mountains, a café with a large terrace perched on the mountainside. The other pilgrims, who realize that they’ve completed the hardest climb are all in festive mood. There’s a lot of hugging, and high-fiving; much camaraderie and international brotherhood. I try to accept it and enjoy it, but basically I find it deeply annoying.
At one point I look across the terrace and when some people move aside I am shocked to see someone I thought had passed out of our lives many days and many taxi rides ago! There she sits on her own, eating a little snack and smiling directly at me through the crowd - the Woman of the Woods!
How did she get ahead of us again? But more importantly, what is it that she apparently still has to tell me? Is it that its OK not to get into the spirit of camaraderie surrounding me? Or is she asking me whether I really needed that big piece of Gateau Basque with my coffee? I have trouble finishing it now.

We continue our walk. It’s difficult to find a place in the caravan struggling up the mountain where one isn’t bothered by the large groups of holidaymakers, loudly laughing and chattering away. Americans, Japanese, eastern-Europeans seem to be doing the camino in groups. Or maybe, they’re just a bit louder. Desmond isn’t at all bothered. He gets to give fellow pilgrims advice on how to walk, he explains to them what they can expect but I find myself speeding up or slowing down to keep my distance during much of the day.
Meanwhile, the walk is amazing. The weather is superb - sunny and cool. The views are fantastic -back towards France, to the side along the rows and rows of mountains that make up the Pyrenees, stretching off into the distance, or ahead, where one sees the forests of Navarra.

We climb most of the day, not reaching the highest point until about an hour before our destination, Roncesvalles. We descend down to the ancient abbey and go inside to obtain a stamp for our credencial. We are confronted by the bustling activity of the hostel - Spanish women washing their hair and their dainties, stiffly smiling older Dutch volunteers greeting us in English, admonishing us to take off our backpacks before we go inside. We have to fill out forms stating age, gender, religion, motivation - all to get a stamp. And everywhere the camaraderie and the talking!
We go out the courtyard to visit the church and discover to our delight that our hotel isn’t 4 km down the road but is actually in the oldest, original part of the abbey. The hotel is wonderful - silent, beautifully restored with design furniture and a good restaurant.
We have made it, we have crossed the Pyrenees, we’re starting on our trek across northern Spain!

Santiago de Compostela IX Day 93 (Roncesvalles-Akerreta) 28 km

Friday October 12, 2019

We leave in the morning after a full breakfast.
We (I) immediately have to deal with a large group of Americans walking at somewhat the same speed as we are. It takes a while before we’re far enough ahead that we can stop for water without hearing that one man who seems to be doing all the talking coming up behind us.
The day is difficult. After the dramatic views of yesterday, walking through the woods is fairly boring.
The day is long, 8 hrs, and more difficult than we have been led to expect. Especially the descents are pretty grueling.

I do a lot of thinking about all the people around us, not the solitary ones or the couples, but the groups. All through France we saw at most 2 or 3 pilgrims walking on the same day as we were. We shared the refugios with at most 8 people. The people we met were fairly quiet. Now, we walk with 150 other pilgrims. In the months of May and June, when the Spanish highlands are covered with wildflowers, in September, after the scorching summer, over 600 people day leave from St Jean Pied de Port every day! Their gregariousness, their desire to share life experiences and cultural insights with everyone around them are good qualities. It is up to me to figure out how to deal with all this.
By the afternoon, we’ve all spread out so far that Des and I are pretty much on our own again.
We walk to Akerreta where we stay at a wonderful 300 year old farm house that apparently was one of the settings in the movie “The Way”...
There’s only one other pilgrim staying there and we have a very pleasant dinner together. I call her the Woman from the States because she has a completely different approach to the camino. She’s on sabbatical and has visited London, Paris and Iona, in Scotland, in the last two weeks, visiting places of worship. Now she is doing something called “The Best of the Camino”, where she is picked up every few days and taken to another highlight along the way. She bought her equipment in St Jean Pied de Port, her baggage is transferred every day and when she got tired on the way from Roncesvalles to Akerreta, she got a taxi to pick her up...
Quite different from the red-faced Danish girl who was doing the camino for the sixth time, with a ten kilo backpack containing among other things, a tea kettle and a kilo and a half of breakfast food!
We each have our own camino...

Santiago de Compostela IX Day 94 (Akerreta-Pamplona) 17 km

Saturday October 13, 2019

We have a short day today. 17 km to Pamplona.
It’s fairly quiet on the route, the pilgrims who crossed the Pyrenees with us have spread out. People are settling into the routine. We walk for a while among some Japanese pilgrims who seem to be much quieter than during the previous two days. Sharing the camino with others may not be so bad after all.

The approach into the city is fairly interesting. We come across a parade of Gigantes and a fiesta in one of the outskirts of Pamplona. Pamplona itself is a magnificent city with impressive city walls, one of the most interesting cathedrals I have ever seen (where a wedding has just taken place!)
We get to the hotel and take off our dirty walking clothes for the last time. For this year, we have stopped being pilgrims. Now we are tourists.