Stage 1, Take 2: Roncesvalles to Akerreta (Curtis’ report)

Well, I met Cheryl and Linda, the first two of our group to join me for the Camino, at the train station in Pamplona yesterday afternoon. They got in later than expected; they’d missed the morning train from Madrid to Pamplona due to a last-minute change in platforms (that apparently was not announced correctly) and so got in at 6:30 p.m. instead of 1:40 p.m. Result? We were going to miss the evening Mass followed by the blessing of the pilgrims in the monastery of Roncesvalles, and probably not get much of a visit to the Ibañeta Height either, as I was afraid it was going to be getting dark before we got there.

But we made it. Not for the Mass, but for the visit to Ibañeta. It was too damned cold up there to do more than snap a quick photo and beat it back to the car and down to the warmth of our hotel in the monastery complex. In the end, while we didn’t get to Mass, we were able to get into the church and pray a bit, and once the priests of the Colegiata had finished their evening Office, I asked one of them for a private pilgrim blessing for the pair. Unfortunately, Linda had already scampered off in search of a cuppa and a ciggie, but Cheryl and I got the blessing for her.

Allons! The road is before us ... !

On the Camino, there are traditions and then there are TRADITIONS, and one of the latter for me is the evening meal in Casa Sabina. Paco (the owner) always treats me well, and the evening meal of a simple vegetable pureé and fresh oven-grilled trout served up with the earthy, red wine of Navarre is something I look forward to everytime I’m there. It’s simple, hearty and served up in an environment that feels like home to me after so many years in Navarre. Cheryl was the first off to bed; Linda and I had a coffee and a tea at the bar and then spent several long minutes outside, staring at the clouds rolling across the face of a luminous moon that hung low over the crest of the Pyrenees mountains behind the monastery.

I had been wondering all week what sort of weather we were going to have for our first day’s walk, and let me tell you: better weather you could not ask for. Laus Deo! We woke to a crisp autumn morning with bright sunshine and spectacular blue skies. After a quick breakfast and picking up our pilgrim’s passports in the pilgrim’s albergue across the road from the monastery, we set off. Linda was out of the gate like a greyhound, and that was the last we saw of her all day. Hmmm. I wasn’t too worried about her because, well, she’s Australian, a sports trainer, and looks like she can take care of herself. Not that Cheryl looked helpless, mind you, but she’s from Chicago, and I remember what it’s like to come from FLAT to the Pyrenees, think you know what you’re doing, and end up getting your ass kicked like a narc in a biker bar.

Needless to say, Linda made it to the hotel a good two hours before we did, but Cheryl is a plucky little trooper and did a fantastic job for a her first 28k in the mountains and foothills of northern Navarra. ¡Olé Cheryl!

I have a very good feeling about this trip. Linda’s a hoot and Cheryl is as sweet and entusiastic as can be, and I think that they’ve got the right idea about what the Camino’s all about and are eager to experience it on its own terms. I think we’re going to have fun on this one!