Pamplona Hotel: Packed up, ready to go to Roncesvalles to start the
first segment of the "walk." [Editor's note: Roncesvalles
is famous for Song of Roland, the 12 C French epic poem, which tells
the story of Roland, Charlemagne's nephew, who was killed when he was
leading the rear guard from Spain to France through the Pyrenees Mountains
after fighting the Saracens (Moors) in 778 A.D. Not to be outdone by
the French, the Spanish have their own version of the encounter which
features the Spanish hero Bernardo del Carpio, who led his armed men,
mostly Basque, in avenging the Frankish invasion of Spain.]
Roncesvalles is about 45 miles (70 K) east of Pamplona near the French
border. I've chosen to walk the entire Spanish component of the camino
which means starting at Roncesvalles and then walking the 45 miles back
to Pamplona, staying overnight in several small towns on the way. I
will travel there by bus, get registered as a pilgrim, and stay over-night
in an albergue (a shelter, which is sometimes called refugio).
Monday morning, after breakfast and still in Pamplona, I found a bank
with an ATM to get some euros. Then went to get some credit put on my
rented cell phone. The European system is different. Phone customer
must go to a tienda (store) to purchase a phone card which is
the way you rent a cell phone here. I found a tienda which sells appliances
and electronic goods. After I paid the clerk, I asked her to load my
phone for me. She unwrapped the phone card, scratched off the silver
coating, and disclosed a coded number. She then entered the number via
the phone keys and listened until she heard that the computer had accepted
the payment. A really handy and efficient system!
On the way back to the hotel I saw that it was going to rain and decided
to get my jacket out of my pack. But back at the hotel, I couldn't find
it — it wasn't there. Where could it be? I then remembered the
restaurant where I spent some time typing my notes. I ran down the street
four manzanas (blocks) to the Bar Arga, went in, and saw my coat
hanging on the wall. When I got back to the hotel, the concierge was
a little upset since I was supposed to vacate the room by noon. I threw
my stuff into the backpack and dragged it into the lobby where I finished
Took the city bus to the bus station where I had to kill 5 hours waiting
since the bus for Roncesvalles (pronounced Ron thay by yeas) did not
leave until 6:00 p.m. About 20 minutes before 6:00, other pilgrims started
to arrive and load their backpacks into the baggage compartment. There
were about 30 of us, a third of whom had bicycles.
While sitting on the bus I could see through the windows of a side room
of the bus station. In it was a bum (excuse me, homeless person) who
was dancing/staggering around. Suddenly I saw him hold up a piece of
cardboard, which he was lighting with a cigarette lighter. When it was
fully in flame he tossed it onto the roof of a storage shed. No one
else saw it! So, I made my way up to the bus driver saying, "fuego,
fuego" (fire, fire). When he finally realized what I was saying
he ran off to notify somebody.
Soon several cops arrived on motor scooters to be followed by a fire
truck. Feeling I had to do my civic duty I went up to one of the cops
and said, "¡Veo! (I saw) era un hombre sucio,
una vagabundo con barba largo y negro." I could just
hear him thinking, Great! A dirty bum with a long black beard. Well,
that narrows down the field!!
Soon the fire was out and at 6:00 p.m. on the dot we pulled out of the
station. In about 15 minutes we were in the country. The scenery was
wonderful. We passed many beautiful farms and meadows with grazing horses,
which were well groomed but had large hoofs; must have been working
At one village, we went by a building with many people sitting on the
front steps. They recognized the bus and all started waving. They were
probably pilgrims. Soon we were in an idyllic meadow area surrounded
by mountains. The mountains were a little intimidating. Is the pilgrims'
way through those mountains? [Editor's note: the village of Roncesvalles,
founded in the 10th C, is 9521 meters above sea level.) The bus stopped.
This was Roncesvalles? There was a big field with a large stone
building at the far end with a few smaller out buildings nearby.
Got out of the bus, grabbed my mochila (backpack), and followed
the group up the sidewalk to the big stone abbey. We went through an
arch and turned into a dark hallway. A door opened and we could see
into a room beyond where there was a long wooden table. Everyone sat
down and filled out applications for our credencial (pilgrim's
passport). They were signed, stamped, and given to us, after we paid
1 euro, along with a wish for a buen camino.
Then we were escorted to the albergue where, after paying seven
euros, we were shown to our rooms. I had the same emotions as I had
on my first day of summer camp when I was a kid — scared!!! lonesome!!!
forlorn!! What am I doing here?
There were two other men in my room. I hung around like the new kid
on the block — may I be your friend? Eventually introductions were
made. One man, a professor, was from the Asturias in the northern coast
of Spain. The other was from Alicante, a city on the Mediterranean coast
near Valencia in the area known as the Levant. When I told them about
my motivation for walking and told them of my operation, the man from
Alicante raised his shirt to show me his scar and indicating with his
fingers that he had three bypass grafts. I trumped him by holding up
four. When I asked him "¿Cuanto años tiene?"
How old are you? He answered 43.