We left the beautiful old monastery in Roncesvalles after breakfast. We were among the last to leave. We stop at the road sign ‘ Santiago de Compostela 790k. The guidebook says 751. So does this mean the ‘Way’ is a shortcut?
It is a thick Scottish mist intermingled with rain. It is a hilly section but, thankfully, small hills not mountains. At one point I decide if I am going to be wet, it might as well be a comfortable wet, not a hot muggy wet, so I walk without my Gortex jacket on. It’s not like I am going to get hypothermia here in Spain.
|A tired Brad, me, Santiago from Argentinian, and Linda|
As Linda and I cross a road and enter a gated section, Linda closes the gate, but Elizabeth from Sweden says ‘No, leave it open – a half marathon is about to start’.
And there we are, in a marathon, leading the way. We quickly step aside and watch them blur past. I recognize Walter from Holland running. Walter had volunteered for a two-week stint at the monastery and scheduled it so he could be there for the run. He was near the end of the pack but having fun, and we heartily cheered him on.
We find another refreshment van camouflaged as a rock. The truck just before the unmanned border between France and Spain had also been disguised as a rock. As we sat under a dripping canopy umbrella, Brad from Michigan joined us. He looked exhausted. He was. During the marathon, a first aid motorcycle wiped out, while crossing a shallow river, forcing a small detour off the Camino Way. Brad asked a policeman who was directing traffic around the detour, where the Camino was and was pointed in the wrong direction and did an extra 4k before realizing the error and turned and retraced another 4k. We invited him to walk with us but he wanted to continue on ahead and off he trod in the rain.
I had met Brad two nights before at Orisson. He is, I presume a priest, a chaplain at a University and has a congregation in a nearby community. They had just built a church, and as it neared completion, they let him go – I didn’t know a priest could be fired. So he took a sabbatical from the university and was doing the Camino to decide what to do next. Steffen was also taking a year off. He has worked for an IT company for 17 years and decided he needed to do something else, and the Camino gave him time to think. Many people on the ‘Way’ seem to be doing a lot of thinking.
|I thought this section of the trail was bad but it got worse.|
The uphills are getting easier. I don’t have to stop every 100 paces. But then the downhills begin. The track is wet with small streams of water running down them. Not only are they muddy but they are steep, and some downhills just don’t seem to end. The last downhill to Zuberi is 2k of steep wet, muddy, slippery, downhill. When people say that downhill is worse than uphill, I now know what they mean.
Brad has already booked into the municipal albergue. There are fourteen bunks pushed against the walls in our room. Two bunks are pushed together, Linda and I have been assigned the bottom bunks. I am glad she was my bunk partner and not a strange snoring man. The three of us head out to dinner. Steffen is already at the bar sipping a beer. He leaves soon after, upset at a waitress whom he felt was rude to him.
‘She did it on purpose.’ He was really upset.
I wondered what would upset him so much. Did he have a hot temper? ‘What did she do?’
‘She poured beers for the two locals sitting at the bar, and she did it properly, but she poured my beer straight into the glass without tipping the glass, making the beer foam.’ He pointed to his glass half full of foam. Steffen was from Germany, where they knew how to treat beer.
I leave Linda and Brad without staying for an after-dinner drink. I am just too tired. But as I pass the cafe next door I spot chocolate-filled pastries in the window and then Steffen sitting at a table. I do not hesitate, and I join Steffen who is sipping another beer, this one with hardly any foam. A few minutes later a bearded man asks to join us. I assume he knows Steffen. He looks at me and nods. He looks familiar, and then I realize he has the bunk across from me and above Brad. He is Mats from Sweden. The cafe is getting crowded, and soon Matt from New Jersey joins us. Everyone agrees today was really hard but the forecast is for a cool, but dry day and the elevation profile is for mostly level ground all the way to Pamplona. Elevation profiles have quickly become important to us.
Matt shows us a picture of his tall 4yr old grandson and tells us his story. Twelve years ago, Matt’s daughter married a tall man who died of cancer a few years after they married. But before he died, they had kept some of his sperm and six years after his father died, his son, Matt’s grandson, was born.
It is a heartwarming, skin-chilling story. I am starting to think there are many stories harboured in each of us.
Time on trail: 7hrs
Distance travelled: 21k
Distance to go: 729k
Food: baguette, jam, ham and cheese, cold coffee, excellent lukewarm café con leche, tortilla, salad and a chocolate-filled pastry.