Tuesday, May 6, 2008

News from Cizur Menor

The photos below relate to the blog post that follows and covers the same period, 1-6 May 2008. They are, however, in reverse chronological order. The numbering is a guide to the proper sequence. (This ordering problem is corrected in the following posts.) The photos were added after I had completed the Camino.
47. The Roncal residence seen from the albergue's garden 46. The courtyard garden in Albergue Roncal, Cizur Menor
45. Albergue Roncal in Cizur Menor
44. The Pamplona Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) with some young citizens
43. The same square that contains the Hotel Perla. The awning protects patrons in the Ernest Hemingway Bar.
42. The Hotel Perla where Hemingway stayed when in Pamplona for the running of the bulls in 1923 and where he later spent time writing Fiesta, his first novel, based in Pamplona.
41. A plaza in Pamplona at 5 pm after the siesta. Many public squares and churches provide play equipment for children.
40. A statue of St Francis of Assisi on the plza outside a school in Pamplona
39. The Puenta de la Magdalena into Pamplona
38. The bridge into Trinidad de Arre, an outer suburb of Pamplona
37. En route Pamplona
36. Looking back on the route towards Pamplona
35. The bridge before Zalbadika, en route to Pamplona (5 May)

34. Dinner in Zubiri (4 May). Gabor (Hungary) is on the right then, anti-clockwise, Raymond (South Africa), Brian (Belfast) and a Koln man and his sister in law. 33. Alberto and his grandfather. Alberto reminded me of someone with thickening legs in Brisbane.
32. More of the same crossing as #31.
31. Mixed woodland on the climb over the Linzoan pass to Alto de Erro.
30. A French pilgrim and friend at Viskarret.
29. Leaving Burguete for Espinal.
28. Entering Burguete.
27. On the road to Santiago again. Next stop Burguete (4 May).
26 The C12 Romanesque chapel of the Holy Spirit. it is though to have been a medieval pilgrim burial site.
25. The C13 chapel of St James at Roncesvalles. Its bell has tolled lost pilgrims home for 800 years.
24. The Royal Collegiate Church of Saint Mary at Roncesvalles.
23. Pilgrims waiting for the albergue at Roncesvalles to open. It was originally a medieval pilgrim hospital.
22. The much loved yellow arrow guiding pilgrims.
21. Isabel and Fernando in the chestnut groves on the descent to Roncesvalles.
20. A glimpse of Roncesvalles with Burguete in the distance.
19. On top of the world!
18. Taking a break with Nicole, a French pilgrim who commenced the Camino at Le Puy.
17. Only 765 kms to go!
16. On the way to Roncesvalles with Fernando. Isabel's photo.
15. Fernando and Isabel take a break before the descent to Roncesvalles. Note the French and Basque renderings of "Roncesvalles" in the sign behind them.
14. The view back on the upward climb to the Cize Pass.
13. The statue of the Virgin seen more closely. It is just one of many sites of devotion on the Camino.
12. At Pic D'Orisson, the statue of the Virgin.
11. Refuge Orisson looking back from the track leading up and over the Pyrenees.
10. Dinner at Refuge Orison, the private refuge where I spent the night of 2 May, breaking the journey across the Pyrenees from SJPP to Roncesvalles.
9. Much the same view as #8 but not obscured by pilgrim.
8. At the end of the first day's walking, at Refuge Orisson, looking back towards SJPP.
7. The view back to SJPP from near Honto about 4 kms out.
6. The bell tower in SJPP tells the hour of exit.
5. Contented companions on the road out of SJPP.
4. Heading down towards the Porta de Espanga for the Pyrenees.
3. Setting off on 2 May.
2. The church is on the left. Note the two languages in the sign on the
right and the preference expressed in the top line for Basco (the Basque
language) over French

1. Late afternoon in SJPP. The municipal albergue where I stayed is
in the right foreground.

This is a rather slow in the gestation second post. It´s taken me a bit of time to get the hang of things generally and the time to write this.

Crossing the Pyrenees: St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, 1-3 May 2008

It´s been a heady trip so far. My first night on the Camino was in Saint Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees. This is the traditional confluence point for pilgrims entering Spain via France, from the north via Paris and Tours or from the mid and south of France via Vezelay or Le Puy (depends whether they were walking from Germany, England etc). Saint Jean is a basque village of great beauty. It has been receiving pilgrims for over 1000 years.

On the evening of 1 May, after a flight from London Stansted to Biarritz on Ryanair and a shared taxi to SJPP, I stayed in the old stone albergue (dormitory refuge for pilgrims). Others stayed in a variety of private albergues and some in the local sports pavilion. There were 490 pilgrims who registered in SJPP on 1 May, a very high figure reflecting the public holiday that day in much of Europe. The surge is on and I do not have a feeling yet whether it will be full all the way to Santiago de Compostela. The albergues have been full so far.

Anyway, back to SJPP. The climb up the Pyrenees is very steep especially in the first 8 or 9 kms to Orisson. I stayed the first night there in a private refuge. It was a pleasant, mixed bunch of pilgrims, a good number of French, some of whom I have gotten to know from the communal dinner and meetings since on the Camino. You do keep running into old friends on the road. It´s a sadness, however, to know that, because of different speeds of travelling you, will not see some again. A real warmth is sometimes generated between groups of people on the Camino despite language differences. I mean the lack of a shared tongue. Some people in Europe just dont realise that English is the world language!! A few of them are French.

On Saturday, May 3, I completed the climb over the Pyrenees and the descent into the pilgrim hostel and church community at Roncesvalles. It was another spectacular day with wonderful views, blessed weather (it can be treacherous if a sudden squall sets in) and with a brisk challenging wind. The 12th century writer of the Liber Sancti Jacobi, the first of the many guide books for the Camino, says that at the Cize Pass the mountains seem to touch the sky. While it was a climb for the medieval pilgrim, it avoided the dangers of the lower route where the road now runs, that of brigands etc. Napoleon took the high route in his two crossings, the second an excursion into Spain with uncivil intent. The crossing is now called the Route Napoleon, perhaps a French initiative.

The trip down was made even better for me by meeting Fernando and Isabel from Barcelona. We met in the usual pilgrim way, when they asked me to take their photo at Pic D'Orisson, a statue of the Virgin above Orisson. (We took many photos of each other that day.) I made some comment on their famous names, Ferninand of Castille and Isabel of Aragon, and that started a marvellous conversation on Spanish history, politics and life. They met when Isabel, a student activist in the last phase of Franco´s regime, was one of a group involved in protecting Fernando from arrest in 1975 via a barricade of students. (Fernando was organising a major national general strike.) Fernando said, that´s my girl. Isobel explained that students in that period did not give their names to peers but used nicknames lest they be subjected to torture by police. She was arrested twice. Sadly, I fear that I shall not meet such interesting, generous and warm hearted people again on the Camino. Perhaps I am being too pessimistic. We´ll see. However, Im confident that I´ll see them again since we have exchanged email adresses. Like many Europeans, they are doing the Camino is stages only and covered the section this time from SJPP to Burguete only, before returning to work on Monday, May 5.

Roncesvalles is a small cluster of pilgrim buildings. The pilgrim hostel-hospice is 800 years old, a large, high roofed stone building. Dutch (volunteer) hospitaleros run it now as a 120 bed (60 bunk) dormitory. The overflow is housed in the Albergue Juvenil. There was Mass at 1800 hours followed by a pilgrim blessing by pilgrim country in the medieval church. (The Pilgrim Mass has been offered daily for hte past 800 or so years, I understand.) Then, a pilgrim meal in the two inns that survive (together these buildings make up the whole of Roncesvalles). By chance I was seated at a table of 4 at the meal with two Australians from Freemantle, Greg and Annette, and their friend Gabe from Arizona and Glascow. Great people and great craic with the last bottle of wine taken outside after our meal setting ended. The pilgrim meal was trout--this is still high country (800 m above sea level, the peak of the Pyrenees is 1450m)--and the fishing here attracted Hemingway in 1923, in the little town of Burguete, 3 kms from Roncesvalles. He transferred much of that fishing trip (and his own life at the time) into his first novel Fiesta (aka The Sun Also Rises). There is something of a small Hemingway industry here. Thus, the Hotel Burguete has a piano signed by him, the Ernest Hemingway Bar is still the flashest in Pamplona and the Hotel Perla where he stayed there is the most expensive in Pamplona.

Roncesvalles to Pamplona, 4-5 May 2008

On Sunday, I set out from Roncesvalles for Zubiri or Larraoaña. You first pass through Burguette, where I stopped for breakfast in a bar and then headed on. Disaster (of a minor sort) hit me within a short time. I felt a soreness at the back of the left heel and, following Adrian and Catherine´s advice, put on a compeed but it was too late, the blister had formed. A generous self-styled Blister Doctor drained it for me that evening in the albergue in Zubiri and all is well with it now. I think that the blister was caused by the new, unwashed sox I was wearing. They´ve been given a second chance to prove themselves, and a thorough washing.

Back to the Camino. Day 3 (May 4) was generally a descent through villages below Roncesvalles, through beautiful woodland with a couple of climbs. A pleasant enough albergue in Zubiri and a good pilgrim dinner with people from 5 different countries. I met Gabor at this dinner and this friendship grew throughout the Camino to my great advantage.

Thence on Monday 5 May to Pamplona. There had been rain overnight and I was expecting to have to put on the Paddy Pallin rain jacket, a gift from my mother, and the borrowed rain pants from Mark. Happily, the rain held off and the walk to Pamplona was clear and dry. It was firstly through beautiful bushland wet and fresh from the evening´s rain and then through the suburbs of Pamplona. I received my first Buen Camino that morning from a non-pilgrim (pilgrims are always saying it to each other). Being the first, I decided to pull out a big response to the man. ¨Gracias¨ alone would not do. I said to him ¨Dios te bendiga¨ (May God bless you). He looked a little non-plussed but, passing the next bulding, I realised that he was probably the parish priest, more used to giving hte blessing than receiving it.

In Pamplona, I stayed last night in a highly recommended albergue, Casa Padeborn, run by a German evangelical group of hospitaleros. Ernst and Doris were my delightful hosts. Every other pilgrim there was German I realised--this albergue is really for German pilgers. But they were very happy to receive an Australian and the other pilgers, especially over the communal pilgrim dinner in the nearby sports complex, were very friendly. (A friendly Brit emerged at the end of the day, just before lights out at 10pm to take the bed in the top of the bunk above me.) Germans seem to make up the principal pilgrim group at the moment by some margin (the German comedian Happe Kerkeling´s recent book on his Camino experience sold 3 million copies and each reader seems to be on the Camino at the moment). French pilgrims perhaps make up the second biggest group presently but there is, of course, a big Spanish cohort.

Pamplona to Cizur Menor, 6 May 2008

Today, May 6, I spent in sending ahead to Santiago de Compostla in disgrace 5 kilos of stuff been carrying these last days. I weighed the pack leaving Roncesvalles and it was 15 kgs without my second water bottle!! 8 kgs is optimal or desirable for me. It´s hard to know what you will need until you get here--I've bought a lighter and cooler sleeping bag (it´s warm inside the albergues) and I jettisoned the sandals and big cultural guide book, thermals and some undies. I also purchased a Spanish mobile and that took a while. Thence I covered only the short distance to the village of CizurMenor and am staying at an albergue run by the Roncal family who have a reputation for great care. Senora Roncal has offered to check my feet this evening. Brave, dedicated woman. I´ll look out for a pilgrim meal in this tiny village tonight.

Since I didn´t cover much ground today, I´ve been left behind by those whom I started with. It´s a new start. Tomorrow I plan to walk to Puenta La Reina and then to Estella on the next day. Neither stage is too lengthy or demanding.

Some early thoughts on the Camino experience

Something on the culture and life of the Camino might be interesting. Some people walk in the groups in which they travel, including as couples. However, many walk alone, finding their own pace and rhythm and keeping to it. Finding it is a skill that the novice walker like me needs to find but it comes easily enough, I think. It must be difficult if you are in a group of unequal individual pacing. Í think that there are distinct virtues in travelling alone in that you meet new people. That does not compensate in my case for the absence of Anne by my side. I do miss her and carry the pilgrim´s conch shell for her and another for my mother.

Sleeping in a communal dormitory orchestra of sleepers each with his or her own distinctive contribution and timbre. There are inevitably strong soloists. And quite a few favour discharges from more than one orifice during the evening, again with distinctive signatures. There is a strong preference for some reason for keeping all windows closed.

There is a daily pilgrim cycle of getting up at or before 6 am and getting out onto the road early. They try to finish walking by 2 or 3 and then get down to washing etc. Early to bed is the invariable norm.

I´m writing this in the communal area of the albergue and a German group is cooking a meal. Some others are cooking eggs and others reading. A group fo young people behind me are having a cosmic discussion that seems to be of the Paolo Coehlo genre.

Must run. Or walk anyway. Another post beckons or threatens in due course.


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