Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 2 - slept in Roncevalles - June 29

Woke up at 6:30, left the alberge by 8:30am. Someone was snoring all night, turns out it was the mother Anigrette from Finland, who had apologized in advance the night before! "Yes, this is how it was going to be." The morning was tough, I washed my face, brushed my teeth and had the dry heaves for a minute. My body was still jet lagged and my mind was anxiously wondering what lie ahead. I fumbled around for a bit and, not being able to pack my new sleeping bag, I looked at the gorgeous sunrise over the mountains out of my window and went down for breakfast.

The breakfast, if that is what you can call it, was nothing more than coffee or tea, and bread with butter and jam. That's it, no fruit, no protein, basically just bread. Normally I'm a coffee drinker but they don't have my beloved half-n-half and the coffee is extra strong, so in every effort to be gentle on my system and take care of myself, I picked tea again with a splash of normal milk. And forced myself to eat a little bit of bread.

I sat next to Esther from Holland and she revealed what a delightful creature she is :) I was telling her about how I cannot seem to roll my new sleeping bag into it's tiny little bag and she said "don't bother rolling it just stuff it in there." So when I went back upstairs, lo and behold, I was able to fit that entire liner into that tiny bag just by "stuffing it in there." I felt a little better having drank something warm so I got dressed in my still damp jeans and packed my bag. Because the next leg is a serious climb up one side of a mountain and a serious climb down the other side of the mountain, a group of us decided to send our packs on to the next alberge (good call Erin). My bag was heavy and I already knew I was going to have to reassess it, so I tagged my bag and put 5 Euro in the envelope for the service.

I was the last one out of our dorm room and one of the last ones to leave the alberge. When I came down the place was empty except for Jean-Jacques who thought I had already left and he was so happy to see that I hadn't gone without saying goodbye. I said of course I would say goodbye and he said he was sad that he had to sleep alone last night, wink wink. Playing along, I just shrugged my shoulders. He smiled and then gave me the proper kiss on the right cheek then kiss on the left cheek like they do in France, but then looked into my eyes and slowly moved in to kiss me on the lips. It felt nice so I kissed him back. As soon as we looked at each other again he was as excited as a schoolboy and took my hand and led me into the kitchen. We must've made out for a full 20 seconds ;) He was so adoring but gratefully he kept himself in check. He asked if he could get me anything before I left and I said "how about a glass of Champagne?" "Mais bien sur, cheri!" It was music to my ears. I sat a few minutes longer and sipped it with him and then, like countless girls before me no doubt have, I turned and walked out of the door. He wished me "Buen Camino" my best Buen Camino yet.

  So there it was in front of me, a mountain to cross. While I knew this was one of the most demanding walks of the entire route, I was clearly full of adrenaline and the sense of adventure ahead. The bread and the Champagne gave me enough carbohydrates and sugar, what I forgot to do was stretch. So I stopped several times along The Way and oh my poor legs, they are already starting to hurt like nothing I've ever known before. My thighs, the muscles in my thighs from going uphill were killing me, and I could feel a blister on my left foot forming. I didn't have my First Aid Kit with me because it was in my pack and so gingerly forged ahead.

The surrounding nature was exquisite. The sound of cow bells echoing through the valley and the sight of the black-faced sheep made me supremely happy. Several times I saw shepherds with their herds, and one stopped to try and talk with me. When we realized we couldn't converse, we kissed on the cheeks and he reached out to touch my hair (something that seems to happen everywhere I go). I could tell I had crossed over into Spain (there isn't a sign like in the movie The Way) because he didn't speak French or anything other than Spanish. There were many birds, the big majestic kinds like Falcons, and there were groups of birds who were apparently migrating. There were also the most beautiful wildflowers like orange poppies and blue iris and the intoxicating smell of narcissus. The panaromic view on top of the mountain of the Pyrenees was truly spectacular.

Then it was downhill, straight downhill. Normally I like going uphill better, it's harder on the respiratory but easier on the legs. This particular time, I liked going downhill but it was definitely a huge challenge. The path was rocky and I was already thanking my Pilgrim Officer for recommending my walking sticks. It was also slippery, there was a fog and a misty residue covering everything. While I mostly walked the day alone, (except for this older man who kept mysteriously passing me at odd intervals, he must've been taking many breaks), I met up with a few pilgrims at the top and fortunately followed one couple down the other side. We were warned at the Pilgrim Office to take the path to the right, not the left, but several people went to the left anyway. I followed the newlyweds from Australia, I don't remember their names, down the right side but it was all I could do to keep up pace with them. By now it had turned very foggy and I could hardly see the path, in fact, I couldn't see the path. There was a road that you could take that serpentined around the path but it was twice as long, the challenge was that you had to stay on the path. I honestly think that if I wasn't following them, I would've gotten lost. They were my angels for the day! By the time I could no longer keep up with them, we had hit the main road into Roncesvalles and it was a straight shot from there.

I walked 18.5 kilometers today, all uphill then all downhill, it was intense. When I finally hobbled into Roncesvalles I was so happy I burst through the door of the only cafe in town and said "Aloha!" The entire room, mainly older local men, turned and looked at me like I was from Hawaii or something and I blushed and said, "I mean Hola." I made my way to La Posada, the alberge we sent our backpacks to and asked if he spoke English, he did not. The one sentence I did learn in Spanish before the trip was "Tienas uno cama por la notche par favor?" Which means "Is there a bed for the night please?" And he said "complete." Which in my mind meant, "yeah completely, we've got a bed with your name on it no problem." But no, complete in Spanish means "we're full."

Suddenly I thought I was going to have to sleep outside on my second night, something I was not prepared to do, especially since I was wet with sweat again and silently freezing. He told me to go back to the cafe and ask, so I did. Not speaking the language was already proving to be a hurdle, fortunately that man who had been passing me on The Way was sitting on the corner bar stool and even though he didn't speak anything other than Spanish, he helped me figure out that this pension was also full and I should ask at the fancy hotel. He walked me over there and I was greeted by a woman who spoke a little English; she said the hotel was full! I was nearing panic because it was already after 7pm and I knew if I didn't eat dinner soon, I'd miss it. She walked me over to the monastery, the last option in town, which fortunately had beds left. Apparently there was some bicycling convention in the small town of Roncesvalles and beds were sparse. I checked in with the warden who explained that curfew is at 9pm so I'd better be back by then or I'd be locked out. I nodded acceptance, got a bottom bunk, and headed to the shower before dinner.

The showers in the monastery were good - women-only, private no lock, plenty of hot water, no time limit. I then headed back out to the cafe where I had initially burst in, and reserved a space for the pilgrim menu. I was seated in the dining room with Laura from England and we ate mixed salad, some kind of garlic soup, then trout and fries. The fish came out with it's head and eyes and whole body and, not being one to get involved with my food, I didn't really know how to eat it so I followed her lead. Then yogurt or ice cream for dessert and all of the bread you can eat and wine you can drink :)

When dinner was over I took my last glass of wine to the same corner bar stool where that man had been sitting and just as I settled in to the realization that I had eaten and I had a bed for the night, three young girls burst in straight from the Camino looking all flustered. It was nearly 8:30pm, they had done the whole first day in one stage (not splitting it up in two like many of us did) and so they were exhausted. This is when I met Anna from Denmark, Lauren from Washington state, and Crystal from Colorado. I found it serendipitous that I was sitting on the same stool that the man was when he helped me, and I promptly finished my glass of wine and walked them over to the monastery.

Apparently the monastery was now full too, but there was a run-off room (the same big room that was shown in the first scene in the movie The Way.) The warden told me that the monasteries and churches and even the alberges are "required" to help a pilgrim find shelter for the night, even if it is on a mattress in the courtyard. I thanked him and was glad I wasn't sleeping on a mattress in the courtyard. Before heading to my bed, I noticed there was a lost and found table where one could take anything one needed and leave anything one didn't want. Since my jeans were still damp and getting rigid with the cold night air, I tried on a pair of hiking pants that fit me perfectly. I brushed my teeth and went to the bathroom and what do you know, I got my period. Ugh, normally I get it in the morning but my time clock was still off. So in went the Miami earplugs and off went the lights in the Spanish monastery promptly at 9:05pm. Hopefully no one would snore tonight.

"The thing has already taken form in my mind before I begin. The first attempts are absolutely unbearable. I say this because I want you to know that if you see something worthwhile in what I am doing, it is not by accident but because of real direction and purpose." 
- Vincent Van Gogh