A Travelogue

Friday, December 07, 2007

Day 1, August 25: St. Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles (25 km; 6:35)

I had been warned about roncadores (snorers) in the albergues and my first experience was true to form. Snoring commenced immediately upon going to bed; first solos, then duets and eventually the full orchestra....but not in harmony. I barely slept six hours. Thereafter I always had my earplugs installed or close by!

It’s only a brief walk from the albergue to the point of decision on the first day: Take the easier valley route or go over the much more difficult pass on the Route Napoleon?

Photo 182: The Basque language bears no resemblance to Spanish. For example, Orreaga is the Basque name for Roncevaux.

Although there had already been five days of rain and it remained foggy and drizzly as I started my Camino, I decided to take the pass. My rationale was the fog might lift higher up on the pass. Besides, I’ve always had an interest in Napoleon and I would forever regret not having taken the “high road”. In retrospect I was glad I took the pass but several times during the 20+ kilometres of continuous climbing, I seriously questioned my sanity. After all, it was my first day on the Camino and now I was committed to climbing over 1400 metres (~4600 feet) under severely adverse weather conditions.

Photo 194: The foothills of the Pyrenees.

The drizzle when I started, soon turned into a full-fledged deluge of, well, biblical proportions. In the pouring rain I pulled out my poncho and struggled against the howling wind to fit it properly over my backpack. The effort was futile. Every loose edge flapped wildly as the wind and rain tugged relentlessly at my poncho. With no option but to get help, I waited for a peregrino (pilgrim) whom I had passed earlier to catch up and assist me. Thus I met Janos, from Hungary, with whom I would walk for the next ten days. We would become good friends.

Photo 197: the bright yellow poncho that took two people to manoeuver in the gusting winds

Near the top of the pass, the rain, thunder and lightning stopped revealing a beautiful rainbow.....perhaps a harbinger of the days to come!

Photo 196: ...somewhere, over the rainbow

Photo 200: gorgeous view from the top of the pass

The steep three kilometre downhill to Roncesvalles was as tough as the climb. My knees ached with every step.

Photo 209: Roncesvalles - the nearest stone building on the left is the albergue

After registering at one of the two albergues, as is traditional I attended the mass at the abbey where the nationalities of all the peregrinos were read out. It made you feel as if you were starting out on an important journey. A communal meal followed in the two restaurants. There were so many pilgrims that we had to eat in two shifts.


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