- Distance today: 7.6mi
- Distance Camino 2017. 14.9mi
This morning we had “le petit déjeuner ” at Hotel Itzalpea, settled our bill, stuffed all our personal belongings into our packs and positioned ourselves near the hotel front door to wait for our taxi. Our driver arrived precisely at 7:30 as pre-arranged by the hotel. To our surprise, the driver was Marie, who drove us from Roncesvalles to SJPDP to begin our previous Camino in Sept 2012! The ride to the Vierge de Baikorri was like a reunion and enjoyed by all.
Marie got us to the Vierge at 8:00 a.m. and after we payed our fare and said our goodbyes “jusqu’à la prochaine fois” (until next time!), we took some more photos of the Vierge and began walking toward Roncesvalles.
We missed seeing the Vierge altogether in 2012 because of the weather. All we saw was the road/path and fog and later rain. So the photos we took yesterday were a real treat, but the surrounding views were still, typically, blocked by fog once again. This morning the valley and scenery overlooked by the Vierge were much clearer so we took a few more photos for our collection.
The initial walk this morning was not nearly as steep as yesterday and we were able to see much of the spectacular scenery we missed in 2012 as the fog and clouds periodically uncovered the deep valleys and surrounding mountains for us to see.
We also saw a large numbers of horses, cows and sheep grazing along the road and on nearby slopes. In 2012 we only heard bells but rarely saw any animals. Did you know horses wear bells in the Basque Pyrenees?
After enjoying the fresh, cool morning air and relatively flat walking, the Camino veered right off the paved road into the grass pasture marked initially by only a sign with a map (a welcome addition that was not there in 2012). The slightly worn grass path suddenly became very steep and deteriorated into a rocky wash. It eventually morphed into a narrow dirt path, growing wider until it became a narrow farm dirt road. The fog had in the meantime rolled in and the scenery around us was no longer visible. We continued along the road which varied from flat to slight inclinations upward until we reached the Fontaine de Roland at around 10:00 a.m. which marks the entry into 🇪🇸 Spain.
After crossing the border the dirt road seemed inclined to move upward for a while, and then the sun broke through the clouds and revealed the huge mountains around us.
We walked by a small cabin used for shelter in severe weather, which “saved us” as we walked through cold, driving rain and wind on our way to Roncesvalles in 2012. Today, with the sun shining, clear blue sky above us and puffy white clouds hesitantly approaching the mountain tops while we walked, was a very different scene and a brand new experience for us compared to 2012.
The difficulty of the walk today, however, seemed equal or maybe worse than we remember from 2012. As we passed the cabin, the dirt road got steeper and steeper, climbing the side of one slope, rounding a bend only to begin climbing another slope. Nearly exhausted by noon, we finally reached the the high point in Pyrenees, Col de Loepeder at 4751 feet.
We stopped for a brief break and for the first time saw the valley below and terrain approaching Roncesvalles, some 2 miles away. We remembered only the steep descent from 2012 in the rain and fog, the slippery and long, unending knee killing down-slopes taken on without trekking poles. Today, with clear, cool weather, dry walking surfaces and a set of poles for both of us, we opted to take the traditional Camino path through the forest instead of the longer, more gradual sloping alternative route, which veered off to the right.
We goofed! In spite of the apparent advantages over our 2012 experience, we struggled the final 2.0 miles into Roncesvalles, wondering at times if we would ever reach our destination. We used poles, feet, knees, arms… everything at our disposal and were utterly exhausted, sore, fatigued and humbled by the experience. Our legs were actually shaking from the stress of maintaining balance and control. We were further discouraged as an occasional much younger pilgrim would pass us, at a much faster pace, totally ignoring the treacherous walking surface. It took us 2.5 hours to cover 2 miles…walking at a snail-like pace and stopping frequently to avoid exhaustion and fatigue and potential injury that would delay or stop our Camino 2017! We were so focused on preventing a fall or injury, we completely forgot to take any photos during the last tortuous 2 miles. (Maybe just as well as the result wouldn’t have been pretty)
When we mercifully arrived at Roncesvalles at 2:30p.m., we painfully walked to our hotel reception, got a room, tenderly advanced down the hall, struggled into and out of the elevator, entered our room and collapsed on the bed until we recovered to the extent that we believed that we might live and possibly walk again tomorrow.
If “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger” is true, we are confidently looking forward to the walk tomorrow.
We stayed tonight in the historical “Casa de los Beneficiados” for the third time, first in 2012 and again in 2013. It still is a very nice, upscale, modern place to stay at a reasonable price (70€)