The Road to Santiago.
September 30, 2002


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 securing everything.

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 animals.

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.


My new friend.

My new friend (first day inside the Roncesvalles shelter).

We all went to the small bar next to the abbey for supper prepared for the pilgrims. After showing our credencial and paying 7 euros, we were led into a small dining room that held about 12 tables each set for four. The first course was a consume with pearl pasta — delicioso. But the second course was trucha (trout) with its head still on and glassy eyes staring up. No me gusta pescado (I don't like fish) and desperately looked around for an alternative. I saw that at the table next to me a man had cerdo (roast shank of pork). When I asked him how he got it, he offered to trade. He seemed as pleased as I was with the deal.

After dinner we dallied at the bar over a café con leche. Suddenly the bartender called out a warning. It was almost 10:00 and the albergue was locked at 10!  We hurried back and made it in the nick of time.

For the next 45 minutes, we three caballeros sat in the lobby pouring over the maps and guides to albergues in anticipation of our camino.

¡Mañana me yoy a Zubiri! Tomorrow I go to Zubiri!
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