The Pyranees. After a pretty late arrival in St Jean plus the admin required at the pilgrim office, it would have been prudent to spend the day in St Jean and only start the following day. However, I did not yet have confidence in my level of courage and was still afraid that if I had to much more time to think it through I may not begin at all!
It was a tough day, probably one of the toughest I have experienced but it was magnificent. Truly breathtaking with snow clouds, clear fast flowing rivers, birds singing, forests full of trees that seemed to reach the sky, moss covered pathways, mountains towering all around and simply the joy of being able to walk in such a place. As I started getting to the highest point the temperature plummeted and the pathway was covered in stretches of unmelted ice. It was definitely the coldest I had ever been (although this level of cold would trumped 3 days later when we actually walked in a snow storm).
I arrived in Roncavalles about 7 hours after leaving St Jean. I was tired, hungry and cold but truly happy. The routine began - shower, sort out and clean gear, head to pilgrim supper. There was a great vibe at the pilgrim meal that night. The room was full of people who had walked the same route and were heading in the same direction, two facts which made sitting at a table with no english speaking fellow pilgrims and non issue. We had lots to say anyway! Through the journey I grew to greatly cherish shared meals - camaraderie, laughter, some tears and stories being shared with fellow pilgrims who gradually became lifelong friends.
Having walked the first day on my own, the walk from Roncavalles to Zubiri was where I got to say my first “buen caminos” to passing pilgrims and the feeling of Camino community started becoming apparent to me. A simple “hola” and “buen camino” carried with them a mutual understanding and connection that made up for so many language gaps.
The two days following Roncavalles were tough.The enormity of the journey started becoming clear to me. The Pyranees had been such a focus and once it was behind me, I realised that each day that lay ahead would hold its own challenge, be it cold, rain, mud, uphills, downhills, mental tiredness, physical tiredness.
The third day into Pamplona was my hardest. I have a bad history with third days.....Berg River Marathon, Day 3, need I say more? The walk was quite beautiful but it got very cold and rainy and there were long muddy stretches to negotiate. I got lost going into Pamplona, in the rain, and arrived at the Jesus y Maria albergue somewhat rattled and extremely cold. When I managed to persuade myself to go back out into the cold, I found the most amazing coffee shop where I drank copious quantities of hot chocolate, wrote my journal and read my kindle until my sense of humour returned. An extract from the journal entry I wrote that night reads “Today was tough and lonely. I think it will make me stronger forever.”
I was privileged to spend a lot of time exploring wilderness areas in southern Africa from a very young age. I got my first camera when I was 6 years old and I have been passionate about wildlife and landscape photography ever since.