Day 4 – 20th September 2015, Orisson to Roncesvalles.
I think there were 8 of us in the bunk room overnight at Auberge Orisson. We all rose early before dawn. Once again, squeaky bunk beds and pilgrims with a complete lack of head torch etiquette made it hard to sleep later anyway and by then, I was eagerly anticipating the next leg of the walk. I had saved my token for the eco-shower until the morning and enjoyed my 5 mins of hot water! (No joke – a peregrina has to be super-organised to get everything showered in 5 mins!).
Breakfast was a very busy affair and the camaraderie from the evening before had spilled over to the breakfast table. Everyone seemed in good humour and chatted animatedly over bowls of steaming hot chocolate or coffee and plates of hot buttered toast with jam. I topped up my water bottle at the fountain outside and took a last look over the outside terrace towards the mountains as the last of the stars faded away, while the sun peeped up over the horizon.
Alan and I set off, yes indeed, up hill. Today we would cover just over 17km of terrain over the highest points along the Camino and cross the border into Spain to finish the day in Roncesvalles. The end point seemed very far away indeed. I was already wondering how on earth I would get my pair of knees over the Pyrenees. Thankfully, the morning was clear and crisp and we had good company along the way. I walked and talked with Irene, a retired teacher from South Africa and Laurie, Mary and Dan from the US, who I had sat with at dinner. Alan and I paced ourselves well and we snaked our way up the zig zag paths, high above the fields and flocks of sheep that looked like circles of white dots on the landscape.
Soon we came up to the Pic D´Orisson (at 1,100m) and stepped off the path to view the statue of the Virgin Mary – the Vierge d´Orisson, Vierge de Biakorri, which looked stunning against the backdrop of clear, cobalt blue sky, weather worn rocks and windswept trees. It was quite dramatic! Back on the path, the route opened out and became more exposed to cross winds, so we needed to make extra effort to go forwards. Thankfully we could see a welcome sight ahead of us, nestled against a windbreak of rocks. A man with a white van had parked up there and opened up shop to offer pilgrims hot chocolate, coffee or tea, goats cheese or fruit and other snacks. His notice board caught my eye, as it said “The last tampon in France”, amongst the fayre on offer. “Well I thought to myself, he has really thought of everything…and how gender sensitive”. What he actually meant to say in translation was that we could get our last stamp in France for our pilgrim´s passport! I did go forward and ask for my last ´tampon´for my pilgrim´s passport and received an impressive cross marked ´Thibault´. I also ordered a hot chocolate, which was probably the best hot chocolate I had ever tasted and felt like a hug in a mug. Somewhat refreshed and warmed up by the lovely hot chocolate, we had a burst of energy, which helped us battle more fierce cross winds as we skirted around the Pic de Leizar Atheka, past Roland´s Fountain and crossed over the border into Spain. (As an aside, I wondered whether it was really Roland´s fountain as I´m not sure he would have had time to stop and build one being busy with the battle of Roncevalles and all that!).
Onwards and upwards we continued, over the Col de Bentartea (1,340m), through woodland and I really felt the ache in my calf muscles and twinges in my ham strings. Eventually we reached the highest point at Col de Lepoeder (1,450m) up above the clouds. Now then, we had a decision to make -turn right at the monument and go down the asphalt track or go straight on down the sharp descent through the beech woodland. In a rash moment, we went straight on and soon realised that this was the “F**k**g sign” Eric must have been referring to, even though it looked nothing like the photo he showed us. Oops! Oh my word, it was a precipitous descent through the forest and I had to take this part slowly. I ´skied´ down, using my trekking poles and zig zagging my way over the rocky path and piles of leaves. the slope seemed to go on and on and on. I really hoped both of us would reach Roncevalles without injury! Finally the path levelled out and we found ourselves following a gravel path that went over a ford in a lovely stream. Straight ahead we saw the impressive Collegiata beckoning us forward and to a well earned and welcome rest.
Reflecting on this difficult leg of the journey, I recall I was grateful for five things this day:
- The good company of pilgrims – kept me going, especially up the arduous bits!
- My Peregrine 5s – kept my feet firmly on the ground and without injury.
- My trekking poles – kept me balanced and absorbed the shock of sharp descents.
- The man with the white van – his hot chocolate kept me warm and gave a burst of energy when I needed it.
- The woodland shade – nature´s cloisters kept me cool and calm on the way down to Roncesvalles.
It is true what they say, the Camino provides!
Cumulative total distance travelled on the number 11 bus so far from St Jean Pied de Port = 25.1km.
Peace, love and light.