Unless you’ve ever been a thru-hiker in the Pyrenees, you might imagine with very little advance training the struggles of the last several days. I’m sure many past pilgrims will relate, but this post will surely scare our family members. Please do not send the rescue party!
Our first day of walking from St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson felt difficult. In fact when we finally turned the corner and saw the refuge, we thought we were the luckiest girls on earth! In all we walked 7.4 kilometers that day, but we also went from 587 ft to 2,694 ft above sea level in that short distance. It took us about 3.5 hours.
The next day we knew would be difficult. We traveled 18.2 kilometers that day. Starting at 2,694 ft above sea level we ended at 3,093 ft, but in between we climbed to almost 4,700 ft above sea level. Sure the climb was exhausting, but the descent was downright life threatening. Loose rocks and dirt on this angle made it difficult to maintain balance. Eventually, I took my first tumble. Although scary as it happened, we ended laughing so hard I had trouble getting up. Imagine going down a steep mountain with 20 lbs on your back. Well when you finally stop falling, your backpack doesn’t allow you to get up. Now add laughter. Just imagine a turtle on its back. You get the picture. Oh yeah…it was hot and we were on our very last sip of water when we finally arrived.
Day three was a surprise. This was the day the blister showed up on my feet. This was the first day we thought heat stroke was imminent. We were making great time between Roncesvalles to Zubiri. The elevations were manageable all morning long and so we took a nice break in Vicarret-Guerendiain. We were confident at 11:18 a.m. we would arrive in Zubiri by 2 at the latest. We got in after 5 p.m. The irony was not lost on us when one of the peaks was names ‘Alto de Erro’. Whether or not it means something us to the Spanish, I don’t know, but it made me seriously question the wisdom of my quest. Our steep descent into Zubiri was accomplished mostly at full sun with temperatures above 90 F. When we stumbled into town in midst of heat induced hallucinations, the poor Spanish woman trying to sell me on her pensión only heard,’I can’t. Too much sun.’. Eventually we completed our longest distance to date of 13.3 kilometers. Elevations went from 3,127 ft to 1,739 above sea level in Zubiri.
Day four we already had blisters and had already experienced a fall and severe heat. We packed extra water and took good care of our feet before heading out. Right away we experienced severe elevation changes, but we managed them well. Around 11 a.m. we had already traversed half the distance to Pamplona. We celebrated our timing with fellow pilgrims at La Parada de Zuriain, halfway there. After this stop, the heat intensified and so did the inclines and declines. In fact, if not for this nice man selling cold sodas out of his cooler in the woods, I’m not sure I’d be typing this now. We were prepared with water, but it too was hot. We were overheating and the spot he picked was heaven sent. After this I had a great idea for shading us from the sun involving a couple sticks supported by the back pack straps and hanging one of our shirts over our heads, but my walking partner thought I had lost it. We walked into Pamplona around 4 p.m. with a new quest…finding our Pension. It turned out it wasn’t in the city center. We are no heroes. We took a cab from city center to the Pension and feel just fine about it. In all, we walked over 20.3 kilometers in varying elevations.
Finally day five was a much needed rest day. We bought hats!
As for sleeping and eating arrangements. It hasn’t resembled my fears. Orisson turned out to be a clean and modern six-person dormitory. The facility included dinner and breakfast. It was a fun evening making new friends which could only have been better by a shower with more than 5 minutes. Roncesvalles was nothing like the movie ‘The Way’. The new facility has modern bunk beds and untimed showers with hot water! The pilgrim menu here at ‘La Posada’ could have been tastier. Zubiri was the first Municipal Albuergue we stayed at. Our six-person dormitory was tight, but plenty of plugs and paper sheets and pillows. Their only downfall was that with several rooms on our floor, there was only one bathroom. We survived. We ate nearby off the ‘Pilgrim menu’.
As pilgrims, I’m not expecting luxuries. So far, I am pleased with the facilities and I’m enjoying the Spanish hospitality and good humor. The views have been magical. I can’t wait to see the rest of this beautiful country!