May 15, 2019
At 9:00 a.m. of our second Camino day, our shuttle dropped us at the Statue de la Vierge de Biakorri, last seen yesterday afternoon. I gave the statue a little wave, whispering, “I’m so glad you watch over the shepherds in this beautiful alpine section of the earth.”
The sun kissed our hat brims as blue sky arched overhead. Cool breezes playfully slipped between jacket and neck. Amazing weather escorted us through the Pyrenees.
The track led past empty grass covered slopes with an occasional herd of sheep seen far away across the undulating green.
A couple hours of walking brought us to the edge of a stand of trees. Jay, consulting the guidebook, told me we would be hiking through the largest stand of beech trees in Europe. I took a picture of the beginning of this awesome forest.
Our path followed ancient tracks used by shepherds and armies. As we entered the beech forest, our feet were cushioned by several inches of leaves. What a treat!
At Lepoeder Pass, we were rewarded with another outstanding view. Our path then took a steep plunge, dropping 1,500 feet of elevation in two miles.
Ronceveaux has welcomed pilgrims since the 12th century. The church and dormitories see tens of thousands of seekers each year.
When we arrived, the entryway was jammed with tired, dirty hikers. Two hundred pilgrims had crossed the Pyrenees on this beautiful day, and they all had hopes of renting a bed for their tired bodies. We were given a colored tag by harried volunteers, and told that we had about an hour’s wait until our color group was called. A sign on the wall summed up the situation in five languages: “Be calm. You will be helped.”
Eventually, eight euros each gave us beds for the night. Eight bunks (16 beds) crowded into our room, with barely enough space to squeeze between, especially while toting a pack. A bathroom with two toilets, two sinks, and two tiny shower stalls served about 40 people at our end of the building. Everything was sparkling clean, and I enjoyed my very fast shower!
At 7:00 p.m. we went to another part of the complex for a pilgrim dinner (10 euros each). With dizzying efficiency, two hundred people were served a well cooked meal of zucchini soup, pasta with tomato sauce, fish, french fries, and cake for dessert. I took a picture of part of the room.
Following dinner, a special pilgrim mass was offered at the cathedral. Four priests presided, singing part of the ceremony with harmonious voices. I’m sad to say that I couldn’t understand any of the Spanish. Nevertheless, it was interesting to observe, and the cathedral was truly beautiful.
Though I was mentally prepared to sleep in a room full of strangers, the reality of so many bodies in such a small space made me wonder if I would ever fall asleep. Fortunately, exhaustion took over, and I knew nothing until morning. Not exactly a restful night, but certainly a good way to bring home the connection between our modern life and 12th century pilgrims.
Two nights, fifteen miles, and a mountain range made a good start to our Camino de Santiago adventure!