Both Pam and my sleep is troubled. I seem to awake nearly every half hour and have to listen to the harmony of the wind section playing in each bed for ages to get back to sleep.
The irony is that each time I do Pam prods me to stop snoring.
The pilgrim breakfast at the Albergue Orisson is at 6:30 am sharp and is over by seven. We have no difficulty making it on time as I have been awake for at least the last hour and a half listening to three ladies snore away. When we arise the tiny single window of our room is dripping with the condensation of exhalation.
Breakfast is simple, bread, butter, jam, OJ and some broken up hot croissants fresh from the oven.
Down in the valley below us fog is heavy and rolling up the hillside.
Being raised rural I like to think that I can sense the weather of the upcoming day from the feel of the early mornings. I tell our new Swedish lady friends the day will be hot and blue skies.
Assumptions based on previous experience can be found wanting with changes in circumstance.
Heaving our backpacks onto our tired bodies Pam and I set off soon after we have eaten. The wind intensity increases with the sun’s rising however it is not unpleasant. We come across a Canadian couple Mark and Tammy who had dined at the Orisson the night before and we fall into step with them for a while. Mark and Tammy have been preparing for the Camino for months, increasing walking distances, walking with their packs, all the things a sensible couple should do before attempting such a hike.
Pam has also been preparing in such a manner so I am the odd moron out in our conversation. Mark and Tammy are lovely, intelligent and funny and my gasping replies highlight my poor preparation and idiocy.
We stop together for a pause at a religious icon and Mark and Tammy make their own way ahead of us.
Onwards ever upwards we go, the wind is now strong and has begun to drape heavy mist across our path by the time the Camino leaves the bitumen road. Pam puts on her Ninja mask to protect her nose and ears from the cold. The pathway ahead becomes diffuse in the mist swirling about us and Pam is fearful we will lose track of our direction and plunge to our deaths down the steep drops on the sides of the path.
We begin to see small stone walls built as wind shelters for unfortunate pilgrims trapped in these conditions at night. The movie ‘The Way’ is based on the fatal real life consequence of this section of the Camino.
The previous evening at about 4:30 a young couple had stopped at Orisson, purchased a meal and forged on towards Roncesvalles. Someone had asked the young guy ‘if he had a good torch’ to which he had replied ‘I am not afraid of the dark’.
Youth is wasted on the young.
The mist is ethereal, horses standing in the lee of a stone wall emerge to our left, to our right we hear the clanking brass bells of a herd of horned sheep and they loom from the mist as we pass.
Sound is muffled, faster walking pilgrims surprise us from behind and walk by to be swallowed again. The sound of their footsteps is gone once the curtain closes behind them.
We are enveloped and alone. I say to Pam that ‘we could be the last two people left on Earth and she nods shivering in agreement.
The wind is an ice knife stabbing through my sweaty clothes.
Luckily inside I am a freakin’ furnace. Walking up these hills in this mist I could be naked and not care. Pam on the other hand is shivering and pulls on extra layers.
Ours is a marriage of sweet opposites, Pam prepares, I do not, Pam gets us lost in new directions, I find our way home.
That old adage ‘Opposites attract’ explains our long magnetism to a tee.
I think of my poem ‘Flame on’ and my blood quickens.
Liquid time between us past
Glints history as your eyes refresh
Deep lidded here flows that which to you
Drew me from the first
Ever incendiary; you were ever that spark
Would that I were hard grained
Sworn I am but dust
Tinder to your touch
Tinder to your touch
Consummate me ardent
Upon your pyre of lust
Onwards ever upwards we go with joy in our hearts and breath steaming from our lips.
The path is narrow and we lose our way up a cattle pad that twists even higher up the mountain. The steep and slippery return to our way renews our attention on our surroundings. A cattle grid with a fountain beside it blocks our path and our attention is so closely focussed on not breaking our legs in crossing that we only realise after we are told later that we have crossed the border between France and Spain.
Try walking to another country from Australia. I hope you are good at holding your breath.
We come across a little stone hut and enter alone, there is a fireplace and wood at the ready for pilgrims unlucky enough to need such remedy.
We have been walking in the mist for several hours now however the hut marks the area close to the peak of our climb and as we descend the mist begins to thin.
At one juncture the mist opens from above, the wind swirling like a twister and the sun beams through on us from above for a brief moment.
Though I am sure we have missed out on awesome scenery, the walk in this mysterious mist has been magical and I would not swap this morning for any other.
Our descent from the heights begins slowly until suddenly we cross a bitumen road into a wooded area, by now the mist has become a cloud above us.
We go from walking on clouds to falling down a mountain, the pathway is steep downhill and dusty with loose treacherous rocks strewn like marbles underfoot.
My Pacerpole’s superiority to other poles becomes even more apparent for I am able to place large loads on each pole placement relieving the enormous strain on my aching knee as we struggle to remain upright against the tipping slope.
Even young fit people look to be having trouble now, except of course the young men in dreadlocks who race past us running down barefoot. Fools jump in where angels fear to tread, I enviously think watching their dreads flow out behind them.
We drop hundreds of meters in one long leg jellying knee grinding stretch saving the very steepest part for last and finally cross the shallow stream on the path leading into Roncesvalles.
A massive Albergue stands to our right. With three stone floors and 183 beds this Albergue is run with the efficiency of a swiss watch. We are rapidly admitted with our credential stamped and find our way to our numbered cubicle which has four beds.
There are queues for everything here, toilets, showers and washing equipment. We pony up with the 2.70 Euro to have our clothes washed for us.
Roncesvalles is small with a couple of bars and restaurants on the road that flows past the town, the large Aubergue and a church.
After we have a couple of drinks Pam wants to walk around the town which I am very loath to do. I set off back to the Aubergue and midway there look into the church where the sound of beautiful voices raised in harmony is emitting from the door. A choir is practicing and they sound beautiful, I take a pew to listen and before I know it I am participating in my first Mass for thirty years.
There are five priests participating with a pipe organ and full choir raising the roof. The Mass is conducted in Spanish and there are many locals as well as pilgrims in the church. The priest conducting the Mass names all of the countries of the pilgrims staying at the Albergue, the list is long and takes the priest a few minutes to recite.
The first reading is read in three languages, in Spanish by a local, in English by Anita who was one of the two lovely ladies (Anita and Julie) who were sitting opposite us at the pilgrim’s meal at Albergue Orisson the night before. Anita has retired from teaching English at a university level and is now self employed as an editor so the reading in her Mississippi drawl is beautiful.
I have not been to a Mass since learning of the Catholic belief in the infallibility of the Pope and even before then found only one portion of a Mass related to my personal inclinations.
‘Peace be with you’ the priest intones in Spanish.
‘And also with you’ the congregation reply.
‘Let us offer each other a sign of peace’ responds the priest.
I shake hands with everyone beside, in front and behind me. Everyone is smiling and I hear Buen Camino echoing through the church.
At the end of the Mass the priest invites all the pilgrims to stand in front of the altar and receive a blessing, we stand shoulder to shoulder more than one hundred strong.
The Mass ends and I exit the church to pipe organ and choir voices swirling. Pam is sitting on the stairs outside and we go straight to the Pilgrims meal.
We sit at a round table, two lovely Irish couples, two Spanish men and one statuesque French lady who speaks no English are our fellow knights for the meal. The conversation amongst the English speakers is entertaining as the Irish love to have a crack. I do my best to involve the French lady which earns a wry smile and waves for the next few days as we see her again.
Tonight we sleep in bunks with Pam on top.
I am asleep before my head………
Pam and Mick