Up at 6am, finish breakfast and on the road by 7.30. The sun has not risen, the town is shrouded in mist. We walk to the beginning of the Camino thinking no-one else is up this early. Wrong, we are joined by other pilgrims and we embark on the Camino … immediately it is uphill and we are in a jolly spirit, walking confidently through the mist shrouded hills of the Pyrenees (hopefully the pics will tell all). We pass the Auberge at Huonto without a stop, some time on we continue to climb in the mist and pass another auberge at Orbisson (I think) where our fellow travelers are taking their rest and sustenance.
We push on and the “hill” becomes relentless, pilgrims are finding their comfort zones, there are none. The sweat pours, the legs ache and often the 1 in 2 grade becomes too much and, leaning on sticks, gasping for breath, heart rate above safe, you pull yourself together and take another step in the hope that the Col Ronceveux will appear soon.
We breech the cloudbase and stop to take photos, eat jelly beans and chocolate (we didn’t bring other food…big mistake). A quick stretch, Dee massages and pokes my aching upper back. Up and on to the top but it is becoming more difficult by the step. You quickly realise that this is the greatest challenge you have undertaken and 783kms is a BIG walk.
Finally we reach the Col Roncevaux but we are in a white out with visibility 30 – 50 m and,, #*+^, we have to leave the main road to follow the ancient tracks of sheep, goats and horses. It’s cold and wet, our bodies seem to be at their limit of endurance, each step becomes torture, and we have entered that part of the Camino Frances or route Napoleon, where a day’s walk becomes a test of physical and emotional strength. The Camino is a walk shared by many yet ultimately it is a test of who you are, of body and mind, and yes, dare I say it, a test of faith. Perhaps it is as simple as faith in yourself and your companion. In this case, the woman I love with all my heart. I hope that Dee gets the writer’s bug because at the moment, I am telling the story. Dee of course has reserved the right to edit and veto.
We reach the top where people are huddled, sheltering from the cold and wet, taking on sustenance. We have none, and decide to continue, our fellow pilgrims suggest we rest. What for? The sooner we get to a shower the better. Shit, it is 3.6 km downhill. This is greater than a 45 degree grade (and often 30 degrees or less) and sticks are essential, muscles are burning, tethers have been reached, seemingly. We push on. Dee says she might forgive me, but not in this lifetime.
Through mud and forest of Hazel, Beech and Linden, down and down in the mist, the damp, the pain. I have never felt such pain. Every joint, every muscle, every neuron screams…”lie down you fool”. Everything passes and we limp into Ronscevalles, past the great monastery, falling into the front door of La Posada, a double bed, a long bath and a bottle of red. I had the obligatory beer just because I’m Aussie (bullshit I’m over it and Goddam thirsty). We finish the day reflecting on our labours and allowing alcohol to do the rest. Dinner soon and bed awaits. Holy shit, it is only day one. We have walked 28 km through terrain that reminds of the steepness we found in the Warrumbungles, however, the Pyrenees seemed long and relentless by comparison. I think it was the distance that ultimately took it;s toll.
The Camino de Santiago de Compostela is Heritage listed and reknowned as the greatest test of stamina and faith of any pilgrimmage. If day 1 is an example, the furnace of the annealed soul, then I can only wonder at what ancient pilgrims endured for their faith.
From Dee – after that bottle of red. Our dinner awaits, 7pm (a pilgrims dinner for 9 euro). The walk was, to say the least, arduous but I guess my trips to the gym paid off somewhat because I can still walk up the stairs to our room on the 2nd floor whilst Pete limps. My attempt at connecting to the internet here fails … there was a lot of arm waving and the hotelier turned the keyboards upside down. 45 minutes to dinner … can’t wait. Dee xxx
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