Camino de Santiago Day Two: Valcarlos to Espinal

1 04 2018

Photo by Suzy Cameleon

I cannot believe this intense feeling of exhilaration I feel right now.  We have crossed the Pyrenees and a waterfall!

While yesterday was about variable weather today was more about incredibly variable terrain.  The weather today was just stunning, bright sun and although it started out cold, around 35, warmed up in places to the mid 50s F.  We left Valcarlos a little late, 8:50, they suggested we try to leave on he early side as there would be some Easter celebration traffic and we soon found they were right.  The first part of the route went through Valcarlos and then soon deposited us onto the highway.  The traffic got more frequent as we walked but I cannot imagine what tourist season would be like with lots of traffic because there are no sidewalks and you’re basically walking right on the highway.  At one point we saw what looked like black slugs or maybe leeches in the grass, there’s been so much rain that there are little rivers flowing down the side of the road and it’s very wet.  The road is a challenging part because you must be ever vigilant to try to be on the side of the road with the most clearance and sometimes have to cross to prevent being behind a blind curve.  For many stretches you’re literally on the white line at the edge of the lane.  Up up up!  Around lots of switchbacks.

We were relieved when this stretch ended and the guideposts pointed left and we went down to the river and past a pretty house.  Then it was up a somewhat steep grade on terrain that was basically wet fractured slate and rock with vegetation and wet leaves all over it.  Getting a foothold was challenging and I was so grateful to have my poles.  The area is also narrow and a bit scary for me at least.  I did enjoy the lush scenery, it was very serene with mossy trees and the sound of the swift rushing water was musical rather than the whizzing of cars in our ears.  Little bridges cross the river in places and it seems like gnomes and fairies are watching from the mossy tree stumps.  And it was mostly uphill!


After another short stint on the road we were again on a hill with a steep drop off, it was a drier type of vegetation with lots of spiky vines and plants that it you’re not careful can get through your pants and scratch you.  Meanwhile the path is super narrow and scary and in one place had washed away so we had to climb past some of those spiky plants to get around.  Then there were patches of slippery mud.  And still up, up, up…

After awhile we turned a corner to hit another forest with more shade and less scrub and a beautiful wide leaf strewn path, still tons of mud but less stressful to navigate.  As we kept going up up up we started to see snow on the ground and large moss-covered trees knocked over by storms.  When looking up it appeared we were getting very close to the peak which was good because our hearts were pounding and our legs were burning.  We tried to sing a few spirituals from Oh Brother Where Art Though to get us to the top of the mountain both mentally and physically (sometimes singing helps me remember to breathe).


As we got to the top of the forest I could hear cars again and as we rounded the back of a tile roofed farmhouse to our astonishment we saw that it wasn’t the top of the mountain, not even close.  Just a little bit of road walking and there was a fountain and a stone bench to sit on.

We took a little rest and caught our breath. I think both of us were wondering how much further it could be. The next leg of the path looked inviting though and so we plodded onward, and up, up, up! We were it in what seemed like a conifer forest with snow on either side of the path, then eventually slush all over the path, then full snow, about 4 inches covered the path making a distinct squish squish squish noise as we rose even further over the valley. We could now see the house by the road was way below us. We soon heard the loud rushing water and saw a waterfall in front of us with a steep ravine to our left… no bridge here just determination and secure footing could get us across, I was unsure of myself since there had been so much snow and rain and I have an intense fear of falling and the water was really rushing but I made it.

Finally we came to the top, oh wait nope another hill but the end was in sight, at the top of the stairs.

We were finally at Ibaneta, a little snowy peak where kids were sledding. After an informal prayer with our own bread and wine we began our descent. A tour group who had no idea what we’d just been through had just been dropped to make the descent into Roncevalles with us and were navigating the slick and snowy muck. I was struck by their varying levels of abilities and a tear came to my eye as I watched them struggle, thinking how my fear almost got the best of me many times today, and they were experiencing their own fear on this stretch as well. They had made a commitment to walk the Camino in whatever was they could.

It was a relief to get to Roncevalles where we got our credentials stamped and stopped for lunch and wine, the pilgrim menu was delicious at Casa Sabina 10 Euro for two courses, coffee and wine. We said hi to some ponies and took the requisite photo with the sign… 790 km to go.

It was onwards towards Espinal our stop for the night. The next leg was thankfully though very muddy and the forest was full of holly trees. We learned that the Sorginaritz forest translates into Oakwood of Witches, it was where many covens were said to congregate. It leads to the town of Burgete where nine of these witches were burned in the square to persecute them for their. Non-Christian beliefs and pagan practices.

Past Burgete is farmland with grazing horses, sheep and cattle and a view from where we came. We took it slow enjoying the flat wide farm path and the various animals.

just when we thought we were home free another hill loomed and we chanted “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” to muster our strength up the last steep incline.

And we reached Espinal and walked to our Albergues Irugoiena just in the outskirts of town. What a day. The albergue has both dorms 10, 5 we opted to get a double room for 22,5 Euros. Everything was closed as it was Easter Sunday but we had a great dinner made by Luis who does everything at the albergue 6am to 9pm for six full months every single day! Then he has six months off to enjoy hiking the snowy peaks here. We slept comfortably and happily and this morning had a nice breakfast and now it’s off on another journey!

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