Day 2: Roncesvalles to Zubiri
An alarm went off nearby at 5:30. I think it belonged to two young guys from Florence in the pod next door who then began to try to get ready quietly in the dark.
I crawled out of my bunk and Anna asked me what time it was. I told her and then went to the bathroom. When I got back, I got a few things out of my pack to take up to my bunk with me and she said,
Did you find out what time it is?
I whisper laughed: I already told you it’s 5:30.
Then why are we getting up??I’m not.
I’m just awake because an alarm went off nearby.
Well that seems unreasonable, she moaned before going back to sleep.
I pulled out hair ties and braided my hair, drank some water and enjoyed being zipped in my warm jacket for a while longer while listening to the Florentine brothers finish getting ready for an unreasonably early start.
There was no more sleep to be had, but I have no intention of walking in the dark on this trip. The September days are still plenty long and I have all our beds booked ahead of time, so we won’t be turned away as long as we arrive before lights out.
Take your time and live the way.
At 6am the hostel lights came on automatically, and with them, the sound of dozens of pilgrims beginning to get up and get ready for the day.
Backpack buckles knocking the floor, zippers zipping, sleeping bags being stuffed away, and sleepy shuffles to the bathrooms and showers.
It’s not very often in my life that I see 100 strangers first thing in the morning, just out of bed. It’s a lot of humanity to behold. Strangely beautiful, here we all are waking up to a new day on the Camino and preparing to walk together.
I sit and listen for about fifteen minutes before I climb down and start my own packing.
Soon enough, we are out the door and headed into the dim morning light.
Roncesvalles is higher in elevation so it was a colder start. Since we had left Anna’s bag behind again, I only had my raincoat as extra so we marched quickly for a while to warm up.
The trail leaves Roncesvalles through a shady forest, a great relief to pilgrims in the heat of the day, but in the morning it was chilly and dark. I found myself welcoming the first real incline of the day for how it warmed me up.
After the forest we came the first village of Burguete-Auritz, which is known well to Hemingway fans, as he spent lots of time here. There was a large sign in front of the hotel where he always stayed. It’s not hard to understand why someone would want to pause for a while here. We hadn’t really walked long enough to earn our coffee stop but we would have happily stopped anyway had the darling courtyard with the red umbrellas been open for business.
We pushed on to the next village of Espinal, about 4 km further. We hadn’t eaten breakfast so we were both saying that by 9 we wanted to stop and have coffee and something to eat.
And sure enough, just before 9, we came upon a square with an open cafe.
The gentleman running the cafe was still putting out the choices for the day and many of them were for tapas for lunch. I had come inside to grab coffee and maybe a couple of croissants, but then the cafe owner described everything he had made in careful detail. He explained that he is trying to make healthier options for folks walking because of the pandemic.
Here is something I have learned from experience while walking the Camino, and indeed while traveling in general.
When you come across something that you want to try, even if it isn’t the normal time of day for eating whatever it is, go on and have it. Don’t think: I’d really like to have that for lunch but I’ll just get some eggs now and I’ll look for something like that later.
So I said yes to all the things, which is how we found ourselves eating sardines at 9 in the morning.
And also local asparagus. And roasted leeks. And caprese salad.
We also had Spanish tortilla (kind of an egg and potato frittata) with local sausage.
And an apple tart.
And two cappuccinos of course.
We really like to make our stops count.
We sat at the table for probably an hour, watching pilgrims arrive and enjoy the welcome of the cheerful cafe owner.
The sun flooded the courtyard more and more as we lingered, which made me never want to leave.
Finally we settled up and pushed on into the now warm day.
The Camino ascends from Espinal through farmland and over a hill.
Blackberries were growing all along the track, and we paused constantly to pick a few. There were so many that it was easy gathering all day long.
We were definitely moving slower after the long first day in the mountains. And also maybe because the day was hotter. But almost every time we would begin to feel like the sun had become scorching, we would come upon a section through a grove of shady trees or a forest.
Fueled from our cafe stop, we walked steadily on for hours before stopping again. Around 1 we ate some bars we were carrying under the shade of some trees. We finished off our water and got moving again.
4 miles left.
Onward though the afternoon sun.
People’s greetings are less cheerful when they pass you in the afternoon than in the morning. It’s a beleaguered Buen Camino in comparison to the peppy Buen Caminos at the start of the day.
But regardless of how it’s uttered, the spirit is the same. Buen Camino literally means ‘good way.’ It’s the official greeting and goodbye of the Camino and you both hear it and say it over and over again all day long.
It’s a constant reminder of where you are and what you are doing. Every time I hear it or say it, it brings me back to the present moment. It is an acknowledgement of someone else who is also present here.
We hadn’t planned on stopping again, as I knew the only village in front of us was Zubiri, our destination for the day.
But about 2 km before Zubiri, we crossed a road where a truck was selling drinks and snacks. There weren’t many chairs but a couple from Mexico kindly offered to share their table with us, so we ordered our celebration beers a little early and sat down for a visit.
We had a lovely chat with them about the Camino and where they are from. Then after they left another couple of pilgrims joined us, one from Cyprus and one from Denmark.
Weary from the sun and out of water, folks were ready to be done for the day.
Some people end this day where we were stopping in Zubiri and others push on 5 more kilometers to Larrasoaña. I remember when I was planning that I had thought I would be tired from the first day so I would want to stop at the earlier town. As I listened to folks talk about their own plans, I was grateful for how well I know myself.
We got up and headed down the hill to finish the day. We took a turn off the trail in purpose to find a little hidden spot to pee.
When we rejoined the trail, the gal from Denmark was calling after me that I had forgotten my walking poles at the truck. She had them in her hands to bring to me.
Such a sweet mercy as the last bit was all fairly steep downhill rock into Zubiri.
I would have had to walk back up the hill for them when I realized it.
You enter Zubiri on a bridge that crosses the River Alga. In the river below, people were wading and soaking tired feet. I couldn’t wait to get down there.
Anna suggested we find our hostel first and get our sandals so we wouldn’t have to put our boots back on, and then we looked up and realized our hostel was right there, literally attached to the bridge.
I practically squealed.
The sign on the door said they were full for the night, but we rang the bell because I had reserved a room.
The friendly owner answered and ushered us in to register. Then he carried Anna’s pack, which was waiting for us inside, up the three flights of stairs and into a room with a balcony overlooking the river.
He showed us the bathroom, which is just for you, he remarked, as your own bathroom is kind of a luxury in a pilgrim’s hostel.
From our balcony, we could look down and watch the folks in the river and the pilgrims arriving on the bridge.
I had no doubt that we had somehow managed to score the best room in all of Zubiri.
We quickly changed into our sandals and made our way down to the river. It was beyond glorious to soak our feet and as much of ourselves as we could stand in the cold water.
We stayed a long time watching others arrive and do the same.
Later we would enjoy showers and dinner, sit on our balcony and then crawl into bed for maybe the best sleep of my life to the sound of river outside.
But now this moment, in this river with water running by was all there was in the whole world, and I am not sure life can be any better.