Camino Postcard 2: Roncesvalles to Zubiri

Rommel was No. 1

The monastery albergue at Roncesvalles

12th April 2019. My second day on the Camino Francés got off to an inauspicious start when I couldn’t find the token that entitled me to a cheap pilgrim’s breakfast at the Roncesvalles monastery-albergue. I later found it in my note book. On the day, however, I just went to the bar and ordered what I now rather think is Spain’s staple drink – a café con leche (coffee with milk).

How was I feeling after yesterday’s exertions? Not so bad, actually. Perhaps a bit achey – I needed ibuprofen during the day – but ready to walk 790 kilometres.

Actually, it’s a funny thing: I was walking the French Way but as far as the Spanish are concerned, the route begins in Roncesvalles. No. My start was in St. Jean Pied de Port. I had walked 25 kilometres already and was ready to walk the next 790.

After my café, I got going in damp but dry conditions. I managed to navigate my way through the narrow aisles of a small convenience store without knocking anything over with my backpack and outside passed some stone picnic tables that reminded me of the stone altar in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Today’s path took me through woodland without ever being too far away from the road. I also had to cross a bridge that was made of separate stone blocks: a very interesting experience when you are still getting used to your backpack!

Following the rigours of the Valcarlos route, the way to Zubiri was a lot easier. Yes, there were elevation changes but nothing like yesterday’s. The only significant difficulty came towards the end when I had to descend a broad path made of stone embedded in the ground – not by human hands, alas, so it was uneven and awkward to navigate, even with the help of my trekking poles.

Oh yes

At the end of the descent was a van-café, which I was delighted to stop at and buy a couple of drinks from. There, I met a man named Frank who was walking with a big pair of headphones. He used them and his phone to hold business meetings as he walked, which still seems to me a very pro’ activity, albeit not one I would recommend: I think it’s better to enjoy one’s surroundings than remained separated from it. Each to their own, though.

Going back to Frank, though; he was the first of a number of Germans that I met on the Way, two of whom would prove to be very important to me. If you read the first post in this series, you have actually met them already, but I’ll say no more for now.

After leaving the van-café, it was a short 3 kilometre run (no, not literally!) to Zubiri. My original intention had been to walk on to Larrasoaña but having walked 25 kilometres I was ready for a rest. There was a problem, though: when I arrived in the town, I found that the municipal albergue had closed down. Fortunately, a private albergue nearby had plenty of beds available for only a few euros more and so I checked in there.

Free advertising: This albergue was called the 2 Etape. If you stop in Zubiri on your Camino, pay it a visit; the rooms are small and the lady in charge very friendly.

In Zubiri I finally got rid of some of the weight in my backpack. It wasn’t easy. I decided to leave a pair of trousers behind, some of my medical equipment, and – most painfully of all – my favourite copy of Arrian.

Why did I ever bring it? I had another translation on my iPad (although I shouldn’t have brought that with me, tbf). So, it had to go. On Day 1, I learnt about the preciousness of water. On Day 2, the importance and necessity of letting go of anything – no matter how good – that weighed me down.

That evening, I had dinner in a local café. The previous evening, I had sat at the same table as a woman who was more interested in her phone than with talking (or maybe she couldn’t speak English). In Zubiri I was put at a table with a German father and son. For a while I just kept to myself. Then, the father very kindly offered me a glass of their wine. We got chatting and things went on from there.

Kind of. Either out of a perverse desire to ruin things for myself or because I like lobbing verbal hand grenades into peoples’ laps and seeing what happens next I ‘happened’ to mention my friends E. and T. who once got into trouble at work for creating a list of their favourite Nazis.

Before you think that you’ve strayed onto the blog of a far right lunatic, I should say that E. and T. were being dry, banterous and ironic. My favourite types of humour. Although I explained this to the father and son I have to admit I’m not sure they really appreciated the whole anecdote. To their credit, they didn’t have a go at me, order me to leave or beat me up.

As it happens, this would not be the last time I mentioned the infamous list and E. The list would get an airing again – in conversation with Germans, because of course, and they actually laughed! But more on them in the next post…

Just before dinner, I met the lady who gave me a bottle of water yesterday. We had a good chat (not about Nazis) before going our separate ways. We would meet each other again a few more times between Zubiri and Santiago. I also met a fellow who I would not see again until Finisterre. By then, I had forgotten him; he remembered me, though, and the fact I had to get rid of my favourite book!