BLOG POST # 6 August 16-19th
We climbed to the mountain top where separation between earth and heaven dissipates.
Distractions of everyday life are gone. Our breathing is rhymthic with our walking sticks.
Pilgrims have sometimes been called ‘God Walkers’ but the truth is, we are many faiths (or no faith). We come from near and far to physically ‘walk out’ our inner journeys. We are many ages and from all walks of life.
Dan and I have hiked forty four miles in four days, two of which were over the Pyanease mountains. We walked in blistering heat with high humidity, and along thick, wet, misty, mountain paths blanketed in fog. We have traversed small, winding, paths lined with barb wire and overgrown with raspberries bushes. We have struggled in silence up roads made of cobblestone through quaint, quiet villages and over dusty, dry gravel trails.
We have followed in the footprints left by medieval and modern day pilgrims. Some parished on these ancient paths alone, never to return to loved ones at home. Ancient and recent memorial stones mark the place of their last breath.
Like medieval pilgrams, we chose to take the more difficult ‘Napoleon Route’ over the mountains. They chose this more difficult route because of a persistent problem with bandits on the ‘Vacarlos Route’ which was flatter and easier. We chose the ‘Napoleon Route’ because of the breathtaking scenery. Bandits are no longer a worry, but it is still not recommended to walk this way in winter or snow.
The mist rises and a herd of sheep appears beside us, followed by the alpha dog who keeps them all together, going in the direction he guides them. The dog seems to takes his job quite seriously and with pride. Every step is deliberate while never taking his eyes off the flock. They are his and he will protect them at all costs, even if it means his life.
Around another bend sturdy, beautiful, statuesque, horses appear (maybe they are the domesticated hill ponies I read about). They graze in the fields near the road, without barriers between us. Later we pass a small herd of black horses on the hill silhouetted against the darkened sky like a scene from a black and white movie. I have heard they have wild horses in theses mountains but they are not frequently seen.
Wild flowers are abundant, changing colors with the landscape. Horses, sheep and goats dot the hills.
Day 1 – Our shortest but hardest day at only 6 miles. It was also the day I wanted to have a little cry on my way up the hill to Orrison. It was the hottest and most humid day of the year. The road was steep with little shade and the heat radiated off the paved asphalt. You would be proud though, I was a soldier and did not cry or complain. Thank God (literally) for a shade tree where I could rest out of the sun.
At the albergue in Orisson we met other pilgrims who quickly became our friends for the next three days. After dinner, one of the older pilgrims who was hiking the Camino for the seventh time, serenaded us with a beautiful love song. It was an emotional moment meant only for us.
Day 2 – 11 miles to Roncesvalles was my favorite hiking day. The cloud cover, fog and forests made it magical, mystical and bearable. Streams of white clouds rose up out of the ground in swirls to mix and mingle with the fog floating by. One second, hikers appeared on the horizon, and the next second, they had disappeared into the fog.
We reached the bottom of the stairs leading up to the monastery where we would be staying the night. The old pilgrim who had sang the previous night in Orrison, arrived at the same time. A bench and water awaited us at the top of the stairs in front of the old wood monastery door. To us the stairs looked like another mountain to climb. Once at the top, we hurriedly filled our bottle with cool, clear, water and greedily let the water rush past our tounges and dribble out the sides of our parched mouths. I watched the old man in a poncho drenched in sweat and mist, ascend slowly up the steps. He was teetering a bit. He used his last bit of strength to reach the bench, I knew he was going to pass out so I quickly asked for a bottle or cup. With violently shaking hands, he reached into a sack and pulled out a very small plastic cup (2″) and handed it to me. We didn’need to speak the same language for me to understand he needed water. I filled his cup with the cold, life giving substance. He poured it down his throat and handed it back to me for a refill.
Day 3 – 14 miles to Zubiri, our longest but not our hardest day. We both felt like we could actually do this!
Day 4 – Just under 14 miles we ended in Pamplona feeling completely shot and somewhat defeated. We had played the ‘tortoise and the hare’ with many of our younger pilgrim friends (in their 20’s to 30’s) only to find them the second half of the day along ‘the way’ nursing aches and pains or hobbling with blisters. From about noon on, it was hot and long. It was not as steep as day 1, but just as hot and longer, along various terrains. When we all reached what we thought was Pamplona, we realized it was actually the town of ‘Trinidad de Arre’. We had another 3 miles to go…..and it was oh so disappointing. “Chin up young pilgrims, we will march on!”
Pamplona is my new favorite, foreign, old, walled city. We are taking a break from albergues and hot spots on our feet, and trading them in for an airbnb apartment (a bath), café, and Hemingway charm.
Our feelings of accomplishment at the end of each day is priceless.