Our Long Walk BeginsSeptember 24 in Spain
Q. When you are spending the night in a centuries old Beneficiado, high in the Pyrenees, what is the sound that you most don't want to hear ?
A. If you answered that it would be the sound of the ghostly pilgrim, endlessly wandering the corridors on their eternal walk, you would be wrong (although I did hear the ghost several times outside my room in the wee small hours of the morning). The actual answer of course, is the sound of steady rain on the roof. Even worse when it is the ceaseless sound of heavy rain. We well knew that, in the morning, we would be facing our first real test of the trip when we begin our personal journeys with a walk of 20 km.
When my alarm went off at the very early hour of 5.30 am, it was still pitch black outside. Of much more sinister relevance was the fact that the rain was still pouring down. When I poked my head through the window I could also feel that the temperature had dropped significantly from the previous evening.
I started to sort my gear for the day. The first step was to place every vulnerable item in a plastic bag. In went my wallet, phone, camera and GPS. I began to think that I should be looking for a bag big enough for me to climb inside.
By 7.00 am I was dressed and ready for breakfast. Our experience of the previous evening showed that food servings on the Camino are of biblical proportions. In spite of all the walking involved, it is already unlikely that any of us will actually lose any weight. Breakfast was no exception. There was a vast offering of options to choose from and most of us availed ourselves of the opportunity to "fuel up" before facing the elements outside.
After securing our first stamps in our Camino passports we were finally ready to get underway. Fortunately the rain had slackened off to a much more gentle drizzle and I was glad that I had dispensed with the thermal fleece that I had originally worn under by rain jacket.
We posed for the obligatory group photo, had a final look around Roncesvalles, and walked out of the town in the direction of Santiago.The sign on the outskirts of the town said that we had 790 km to go. Of course we will only be walking about a quarter of that as we had already made the very appropriate decision to leapfrog some of the less interesting sections along the way.
When I had begun planning this trip I had no real idea of what the actual walking paths would be like. I had pictured in my imagination that we would be wandering through idyllic forests and beautiful villages along quiet paths with fellow pilgrims. In the back of my mind I could not help but fear that the actual walk might be far different. To my utter delight it turned out to be even better than I had hoped for. Much better in fact.
Although the first few kilometres were walked in a light drizzle, it actually seemed perfectly appropriate for the location we were in. We walked through a succession of lovely birch forests, interspersed with rolling farmland. Along the way we shared the paths with a succession of fellow walkers from a variety of diverse countries.
As we made our way steadily along the route we had plenty of time to examine our thoughts and to absorb some of the incredible history that was steeped into every footfall. How many hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims had walked these same paths over the past thousand years ?
The sky above began to lighten noticeably and the drizzle ceased. With the steady series of uphills and downhills, people started to remove layers of clothing. The temperature was actually perfect for this type of walking and the scenery in this part of Spain is simply breathtaking.
At one point on the walk I noticed a rather rotund guy struggling to make his way up a steady climb. Now some of my more unkind friends might refer to me as "stout", but this chap was positively a real roly poly type of fellow. We walked in behind him and started to chat. He told us that he was from Montreal and he had allowed himself 8 weeks for the walk. He was now three days in and was already struggling badly, especially on the hills. In spite of his struggle, he was still moving ahead and we met up with him several more times during the day. I had to admire his courage and I really hoped that he would succeed in reaching his goal.
When we finally reached the end of the first day's walk, my GPS told me that we had covered 20.25 km. I suppose that was why most of us were quite relieved to finally sit down for our final transfer to Pamplona - the city famous for the annual running of the bulls.
On the way to Pamplona we stopped at a small village to finally have lunch. The meal was excellent but somehow there was a mixup with the payment of the bills and it looked for a while that we would be subjected to a full scale inquisition in order to pay for the infamous glass of sangria and cheese sandwich. The mystery was finally solved and we were free to leave without having to wash the dishes and mop the floors.
We arrived at the lovely city of Pamplona around 5 pm, tired but thoroughly proud of our efforts. If the rest of the walk is even half as good as the first day, we will be in for an amazing time.
Unfortunately the evening meal at the Hotel Maisonnave was not up to the high standard of the previous two hotels. The cafetaria style offering of a chicken leg and some chips was almost completely devoid of character and effort. At least the room was comfortable and we can only hope that the breakfast will not also prove to be a big disappointment.Read more