Roncesvalles to Zubiri

We are woken at 4:00 am by the soothing strains of some German sounding rap music playing as an alarm on someone’s mobile phone. Either the owner of the phone is using the snooze feature or is in the shower block, for the music turns off after a while and then blares another four times each five minutes or so. If I had the energy I would have stalked the floor to find that device and turned it to powder beneath my heel. Luckily for it’s owner I am having trouble lifting my head let alone my entire body.

By the fifth blaring musical interlude the entire second floor is awake.

We let the the two Kiwi ladies (Vicki and Elaine) we have shared the cubicle with overnight pack their backpacks first. There is not enough room for all four us us to complete this task together.

Still rubbing the sleep from our eyes we stumble downstairs, find our boots (the Albergues sensibly don’t allow boots to be taken into sleeping quarters) and step out into the dark morning star shine.

Pam is not at all keen to walk in the dark and given the roughness of some of the terrain we have already covered I don’t blame her. None the less we set off, the 280 Lumen torch I bought in Brisbane to Pam’s ridicule somehow finds its way to her hand and lights our way along the path leading through the beech and fir forest.


This forest is an area once reputably involved in witchcraft where nine people were burned at the stake in acts of repression.

The morning is still, cool and cloudy. We are both excited to be walking despite the early hour. Many other pilgrims are also underway and by the time the sun has risen and we happen across the first open cafe there is no sitting room and a queue waiting to be served.

We take a swig of water and charge onwards.

The village containing the cafe its typical of many villages we will pass through in Spain, two story joined dwellings continuously lining a central street. The effect is one of walking through a canyon with doors lining each side and above us windows and railed terraces with flowers growing or washing flapping.

A small gap with a single yellow arrow on the opposite side to which we were walking marks the turn from this village to the Camino path. We were lucky to see it and turn right and as we stride down the gravel path we hear a large group of people walking on down the bitumen road having missed the sign.

While the Camino is on the whole very well signed it pays to keep your eyes open. The one thing Pam and I really don’t wont occurring is for us to get lost and have to walk kilometers back to regather the path.

There is one other older gentleman who has turned with us and he looks at us and shrugs his shoulders. Though he speaks no English his universal body language is clear “if they are stupid enough to miss the turn I ain’t going back to get them’. We return his shrug, smile and march on.


We walk on and on, usually villages seem to be separated by a few kilometers, between three and five seems to be the average.

So far on the Camino my right knee has been handling things OK, there has been pain but nothing I can’t handle despite the uneven terrain. Entering the next village we come to, while walking smooth bitumen, my knee suddenly emits a cracking sound and stabbing pain shoots up my leg.

‘F@#%’ I yell out loud and Pam turns back to me concerned.

‘Looks like my Camino is over by day three’ I say.

‘Oh you big baby’ she replies ‘drink some cement and harden up, there is no way you are getting out of this’

Or at least thats the way I remember it.

I am having real trouble walking now and despite the support from the Pacerpoles each step with my right leg sends needles of pain shooting.

Not far up the road there we encounter the second cafe of the day and this time there are seats. I limp over and strip off my backpack as quickly as I can so I can sit down.

Pam goes off to order some coffee and cake as I rub some Traumeel into my knee and do some Scott Sonnon knee exercises.

In the square the cafe is in, many other pilgrims are doing stretches so my little routine is hardly out of place. We rest for about half an hour and by the time we set off again my knee is back to its steady manageable pain, the needles for the moment have withdrawn.


We being to climb again. Onwards ever upwards we climb steadily passing through a couple of small villages. We stop at a ‘supermarket’ (there are no Coles and Woolies in Spain and supermarkets are little corner stores) for some fruit.

The surrounds of stores of each village we pass through are infested with small thin starving looking cats with fresh litters of kittens. Pam goes to feed one and a local tells her ‘No, don’t feed the cat’s’ in Spanish.

The sun is overhead by now and the clouds of the morning have dissipated. My entire body is a walking dripping fountain as we forge our way ahead.

So far the Camino has largely avoided walking along major bitumen roads.

Spanish villages sit within a cobweb of small gravel roads and rough narrow gravel/stone foot trails and the Camino winds itself between villages with pilgrims guided by yellow arrows painted on trees, buildings, street lamps, road signs and custom made small concrete pilgrimage markers. Blue signs with yellow scallop symbols also guide our way.

It is on a rough narrow rocky foot trail where the ascent turns to descent and we being to drop altitude quickly. This descent is steeper and rougher than the day before with slippery sections of dusty rock and bad erosion.


A bone breaking trip ending tumble is only one false footfall away and total focus is needed to ensure we stay upright as we make our way down the side of the mountain.

The descent ends at a beautiful medieval fifteenth century stone bridge spanning the Rio Arga. We cross with legs of jelly and walk into Zubiri.

It is about 3 pm as we enter the village and I am completely exhausted for we have walked 22 Kilometers up and down some very steep terrain. I collapse on some stone steps and Pam (being the super trooper she is) sets off to find some accommodation.

While she is gone I hear the chilling news that one of the pilgrims riding the Camino on a pushbike has taken a spill on the steep descent and broken his hip. For him the Camino is over.

Pam returns saying there are four Albuergues in Zubiri and a few hotels and by this time in the afternoon we discover that three out of four Albergues as well as all the hotels are completely full.

We are both stressed and nearly in tears when we see a couple of British ladies (Susan and Amy) we had met at the first Albergue Orisson and had a drink with at Roncesvalles who tell us they are staying at a private Albergue El Palo de Avellano and there are a couple of beds left.

We are fortunate to get beds and having showered go down stairs. The Canadian couple Mark and Tammy are downstairs in the lounge with Susan and Amy by the time we come down. Mark for some reason always seems surprised to see we have made it.

We have a couple of drinks and a lot of laughs with Susan, Amy and their British friend Tim at a local bar before making our way back to to the Albergue for the delicious pilgrims meal.

That night we share a room with a polite young Spanish couple, a young and older lady from Finland and an older married couple Carl and Lesley from the USA. The last few beds in the Avellano cost a little extra and we are in single beds rather than bunks tonight.



Mick and Pam

One thought on “Roncesvalles to Zubiri

  1. Mick, although you dont know me, I am a foodie like your dear Pam whom i miss no end at work! Please tell me more about these delicious pilgrim meals you are consuming, after such a long day you both must be starving!

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