Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pilgrimage Day 1: St. Jean Pied de Port - Roncesvalles

I put 5 euros in a cup in the kitchen of the pilgrimage hostel in St. Jean Pied de Port when I left 7AM. At this hostel, there was no fixed accommodation price, and those staying there could pay what they wanted. I asked the other people in the room what to pay and they said that 5 euro is customary to pay on such places. The accommodation was excellent. We were four people in a dorm where there was space for 20. I had fogotten to by food for breakfast the day before and hoped to find a place I could buy some food on the way up the Pyrenees. Well, I learned that it is wise to purchase supplies for breakfast and lunch the night before the next leg. The only thing I had with me in the backpack was a bottle of water. 

I had read that walking up the Pyreenenes was like touching the sky. A breathtaking scenery and views were waiting for me. But then the unexpected happened. Rain and fog. I pulled on my poncho (this is a must to have with you on such a trip) so that it covered both me and my backpack. On the my hat and off into the rain.

Sure, I am smiling in a way. A little disappointed smile. I was expecting breathtaking scenery and spectacular views, and here I'm trudging in the rain. I pondered on the way out of St.Jean de Pied de Port and up the mountain side, that my expectations were also to seek the unexpected and spontaneous. Here, I got what I had searched for. A few miles up the mountain, I came to a small village called Untto. Here I found a small foodshop and bought a small bread, some cheese and tomatoes. The day was saved, at least with food. I love good tomatoes. The ones we have in Norway during the winter, I think tastes awful, and I was looked forward to eating big, juicy sun-ripe tomatoes. The tomatoes here are Huge. A tomato is a meal in itself.

The route I'm walking from St.Jean Pied de Port and into Spain is known as Napoleon's road, or as they say in France: Route de Napolean et du Marechal Harispe. The road has been given this name because General Sault chose this particular route when he, with his army, in 1807 invaded Spain. The Pyreenenes is one of the wildest mountain areas in Europe, but this particular route from France to Spain is most likely the easiest route. Yet, I notice that it is steep. The gradient is from 200
meters above sea level  in St. Jean de Pied de Port and up to 1500 meters above sea level at  the highest point after around 20 km of walking. Then the route goes downhill again on the Spanish side to 1000 meters above sea level. So today's leg is up and down. Easy as that.

It's not really a road but much more like a path for sheep. And the paths are many here. They criss-cross. How would I know which path is for people and what are for sheep?

All I have to do is look for yellow arrows. These arrows are there for me to follow the entire 800 km. They are hand painted and can be found on rocks, trees, house walls, yes everywhere. This makes the whole trip simple and a bit exciting. But even if there are arrows everywhere, I managed to stray a bit in the fog over the Pyrenees. Luckily I met two young Spaniards who were on leave from the army and were wandering over the mountains. I followed them until the trail started to go downhill again into Spain. Nice guys who sang Spanish folksongs while we walked. They did not understand English but we understood each other anyway.
The sheep trail gradually went over to become almost a road which led me into a forest. I followed this road the rest of the way to todays goal, the Spanish town of Roncesvalles. I was soaking wet, hungry and tired after walking almost 25 km in the Pyreenenes and my first thought was to find a place to stay. I went to see if I could get a room at the monastery. I thought this would be a great place for pilgrims to stay.

But it turned out that this magnificent monastery from 1600's had become a hotel of very high standards. Wet and cold as I was, I took the only room they had available, a suite on the top floor which cost 50 euros for one night. I showered in hot water for 1 / 2 hours and hung up my wet clothes to dry across the entire suite. I felt a little deceived because I had paid so much for one night in what I thought was a monastery. But I was dry and warm. In the evening I went out to eat. and then I saw right next to the "monastery" that there was a pilgrim hostel nextdoor, where I could have stayed for only 5 euros. I decided to investigate better the next time and not take the first and best place that I saw.  

I found a restaurant and asked the waiter if they had food at a reduced price for pilgrims. He clearly did not understand what I said because he started to say "Si" long before I had begun to ask the question. He brought me to an elegant table and I said I wanted fish, and made a fish swimming motion with my hand. "No problemo," I got the fish. A beautiful wild trout, freshly boiled potatoes, vegetables and a small glass of red wine. This cost me almost 30 euros. I felt a little tricked again. There was something about this pilgrimage that began to resemble more and more a 6-star tourist travel for wealthy foreigners. This was not what I wanted out of my trip, and I had to pull myself together. There is nothing wrong with someone making money on pilgrims, but I am looking for something else. I had to focus more on finding what I was searched for. I found some of what I was looking for on the sheep paths over the Pyreenene in the rain and foggy weather. I was surprised by the weather and the narrow paths. I had no great views over the wild mountains because of the fog, and I got lost several times. But I had met the unexpected, and shared much of today's journey with two great Spaniards that really made the day special. I had a feeling that if I was to find what I was looking for, I had to search through my own self-reflections when I walked alone and in the the friendship I met along the way with others. When I went to bed that evening, in a bed made for the Pope himself, I was looking forward to the next day of my pilgrimage.

1 comment:

  1. It's really great to spend holiday vacation with this such kind of accommodation.

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