Day 2. Roncesvalles to Larrasoana. 28kms
So we have made it through the sometimes unexpectedly steep undulations of day 2 and are safely ensconced in a hostel in Larrasoana. The sky above the old church next to our hostel is so intensely blue that even as you lie under it, it’s hard to believe it’s real.
As yesterday we began by walking through the early morning rain and mist of mountain weather. It was a long day, 28 km but we are braver and already more experienced pilgrims today than yesterday.
We left at 7.30 and wandered through sleeping villages, and past fields where the honey velvet newborn calves gazed at us through long lashed dark eyes full of puzzlement at these strange 2-legged creatures. Along dappled forest paths, we buen-caminoed our way past rain- coated fellow travellers, determined not to stop or take off our ruck sacks in case the thought of standing up and putting them back on became impossibly painful. And 6 hours and 20 minutes later we collapsed on the ground outside our hostel.
But as we are slowly discovering, the Camino is not just about the journey and surviving the aching muscles, it is about the people you meet and the stories you gather along the way.
“The Camino provides,” says the once-was-stranger we are sharing our hostel with today. She joined us for a beer in the only bar and shared her story. She is recently divorced and has traded her life as a rat- race accountant in Luxembourg, for a 6 month Camino journey. From Puy-en-Velay in France, she has already walked 800 kms and is planning to walk to Santiago de Compostello and then along the coastal Camino back to France.
She is searching for many things on her journey.
And perhaps the Camino has not yet provided her with the answers she is looking for but it has provided her with a sunhat.
“I left mine at home,” she explains “and only realised 25 Km into the journey. And just as the sun got too hot to bear, I saw something black lying on the path in front of me. It was a hat, a perfect sunhat. I asked every pilgrim I passed along the way if it was theirs but the answer was always no. In the end, one of them said, “it is yours. It is a gift to you. That’s what happens on the Camino.” She smiles, a smile that fills her eyes with warmth.
Something you quickly realise on the Camino is that everyone has a different reason for following the ancient trail.
” Perhaps I will find a new job, a new , life, a new husband, ” she says. ” Every day I make a new decision because of the people I meet. ”
We tell her of the 6 month journey we made with our children in the camper van so many dreams ago.
” It was the biggest adventure you could possibly imagine,” we say, ordering another beer. “And it’s kinder to the feet,” we add, massaging our aching toes.
” So you have helped me make today’s decision, ” she says ” I have always wanted a campervan.. When I go home , I will buy one.”
And we raise a refreshing glass to campervans.
” I retired last year, ” says the German man we share our table with over a 10 euro pilgrim’s meal and bottle of pilgrim’s wine. ” so last year I walked the Camino and this year I am walking it again.” He tells us how he met his second wife in the bookshop she owns and how he fell in love with the warmth of her smile.
She is joining him for the last 325 km of his journey ” it was her wedding gift to me, the promise to walk part of the way with me,” he says. “I am turning 60 this year but I can’t wait to hold her hand as we watch the sun rise. Can you imagine anything more romantic?”
His gaze wanders to some faraway place as we finish our wine and are joined by a Spanish policeman from near Bilbao who is spending a peaceful week walking while his children party away their holiday.
And then there is the cool pirate-like supermarket owner with his wild, pony-tailed hair and deep dark eyes. He only has 2 passions: vinyl records ( a passion he shares with Ninesh) and being Basque ( which he shares with many in Navarro, the region we are travelling through). . His is the only shop in the village, it is small and has limited shelf space for the packets of seeds and jars full of hard-to-recognise pickled vegetables. The rest of the shelves are given over to part of his record collection which he plays on an old-fashioned record player.
” Basque is the hardest language in the world to learn,” he tells us proudly. ” It’s a language so ancient that nobody is sure where it comes from. ”
” Are the Basques still fighting so fiercely for independence?” I ask.
For a moment he gazes. Over my head to a different time. The sense of smouldering pride is palpable.
His gaze returns to me.
“No longer,” he says. And 2 words have never sounded so like something lost.
“I am sorry for my terrible English,” he adds word perfectly as we turn to leave.
And so we rest our aching limbs on our comfortable bed and know we will put ourselves through it all again tomorrow.
” Its like a drug, the Camino”, said the Spanish policeman.
And I know what he means.
Already 2 days in, the Camino feels almost like a way of life, a gatherer of dreams, a piecer-together-of-broken lives.
I read yesterday that Santiago de Compostello means St James of the Field of Stars.
And that seems right somehow.
We are, each of us temporary pilgrims, walking towards our very own field of stars.
It makes each footstep worthwhile
Quote of the day
Wear today’s sweat tomorrow…..it saves on washing
Pilgrim Tips for Today
Seek out the 10 euro pilgrims’ meal in bars and cafes. You sit together at a big table and share wine and conversation.
Start walking early – it means you have a whole afternoon to relax and rest your weary muscles and you beat some of the heat in July and August.
Take an ibuprofen/ paracetamol with your breakfast…. prevention is better than cure.