Home Stage 00, Roncesvalles

Stage 00, Roncesvalles

Startup Stage: Roncesvalles

The day has arrived. You haven’t done anything special or heroic; it has simply arrived. You got up not too early, had breakfast like any other day - except, perhaps, for that slight discomfort you feel in your stomach every time you break from your routine - and, after taking one last look at the luggage, already prepared since the day before, you got into the car.

During the journey, comfortably seated in the back seat, savoring the last sips of civilization that you hope to see for a long time - air conditioning, a plush seat, the smell of a new car, the sound of a machine that generates more power than any of your ancestors could have ever suspected they might need - as you watch kilometers and landscapes pass before your eyes. Despite the distance you have yet to cover, you are not in a hurry; what are three hours of comfortable driving compared to the long month that awaits you on dusty paths on foot?

Calmly, you take a look at the book you have with you. It tells a true story, narrated by its protagonist, so under that assumption, the author has free rein to weave a tale that straddles the line between reality and fiction, without you, the reader, being able to distinguish where the former ends and the latter begins. It’s not like you care too much as long as the final story is believable; after all, with people, you expect something similar.

The story does not disappoint you, and soon you find yourself caught up in a world of police work full of dirty wars, actions outside the law, heroic and cowardly attitudes, surprising facts, and biographies that you will only find in literature. Before the end of the trip, you have finished the more than 300 pages that lay ahead; it does not surprise you, for if anything defines you, it is being a voracious reader, but upon further consideration, you think you could have beaten your own record, at least when it comes to reading in a moving car.

You are grateful to have finished your book early, as the last part of the journey runs through mountain roads, as full of curves as of landscapes hitherto unknown, which you prefer to calmly observe. And not just landscapes, as the road passes through the interior of some small towns with buildings of marked Navarrese character, where you will soon pass through again.

Finally, Roncesvalles; a place that until then you only know from the mythified history that surrounds it. The first thing that catches your attention is that it is not really a village: it is rather a set of buildings next to the road. A large hostel, where the pilgrims’ reception is located; the Table of Roland, a strange garment with esoteric overtones; several chapels and churches, and some more scattered buildings.

It’s time to formalize the registration. After you is the compostela; you have been proactive and have spoken with the priest in your village, who has taken care of filling it out, stamping it, and giving it to you with a doubtful look on his face. The same expression of bewilderment that you have seen in other people, including your parents and friends, and you don’t blame them for it; it’s the same distrust that you harbor inside.

The Camino de Santiago has been mythologized by two types of people: those who mentally and physically prepare themselves year after year -the former with anguish, the latter more dubiously- without ever taking the step, or those who do it periodically; that is, driving or taking the train after finishing their work obligations, walking 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 days a year to hastily return to their places of origin and resume their work for several years. In addition, you have never been enthusiastic about physical exercise, the outdoors, or nature. Moreover, educated in healthy self-criticism, you have learned to doubt everyone and yourself.

But now that several years have passed, I can tell you something that I know and you are currently unaware of: it’s not that hard. In fact, it’s something very simple: to walk, step by step, a reasonable distance, day after day, until you reach your destination. Deep down, even if you’re not entirely sure, a part of you is aware of this truth: it’s the part that, without saying it clearly, encourages you to keep moving forward.

During the registration process, a cheerful, older man with little faith takes your information, collects payment for the stay, and assigns pilgrim accommodations. You are given a choice between a crowded bunkhouse in the old hostel or a less crowded plastic tent located in a nearby clearing. You choose the latter, as it seems like a quieter place to rest.

As it’s barely noon and you want to spend as much time together as possible, you decide to do some sightseeing in the area. You go to visit the town of Obanos, about 40 kilometers away. Perhaps others know it for its fortified church or the theatrical representation that is staged once a year in its square under the name of “The Mystery of Obanos”, but you know it from the extensive publicity your philosophy teacher from school, a local of the place, has given it.

You also take the opportunity to visit Eunate, a mythicized Templar chapel located a few kilometers from the town. To you, more than esoteric, its irregular architecture reminds you more of the rough and shoddy baldachins that you saw in the also Templar hermitage of San Juan in Soria, attributable to the scarce architectural knowledge of the Order in its beginnings, and not to esoteric reasons.

Back in Roncesvalles, you decide to pick up your backpack from the car and leave it in the plastic barrack where you will finally spend the night. The surprise is that it seems much nicer than you expected, with only three bunk beds it cannot be considered crowded by Camino standards and, what excites you the most, you are currently the only occupant and you pray to stay that way.

Before returning to your family, one last setback: your mobile phone, the first one you have ever owned, more due to the insistence of your family in view of your departure to do the Camino than due to your own desire, has had an accident and stops working. It’s not something that worries you excessively; after all, it’s 2003 and there are still plenty of phone booths everywhere. Your family is more agitated, they are more concerned about not being able to call you, but you are not too worried about that.

Before saying goodbye, you go to have a drink on the terrace of a bar located in a modern building near the road. You are aware that you are squeezing the last minutes with your family while sipping your soda. Perhaps that’s why the ice in the drink melts when you still have more than half a glass left.

When you cross the threshold of the chapel again, you are a different person; it could be said that at this moment you are already a pilgrim.

Dinner is served in a nearby restaurant, which offers a “pilgrim’s menu” for 7 €. Considering that nowadays, in 2014, a regular menu can cost around 8 € in a simple restaurant, it is not a charity price for a dish of pasta and tough meat in sauce, with no options to choose from and served at large communal tables. But you don’t know that; in fact, it’s the first time you leave home and it seems like a good price to you. You will soon discover that for many people, the Camino is a business and a way of life. And when you return from the experience, you will realize that it is not so bad either.

You have dinner with a diverse group of people, mostly older individuals who are trying out a few sections of the Camino. Their work obligations don’t allow for much more. As you leave, there is still some daylight left; enough to take a picture of Roncesvalles before going to sleep.

Fotografía de la hospedería de Roncesvalles Roncesvalles Hospital

Upon returning to your accommodation, you are displeased to discover that someone else has left their luggage on one of the bunks. It’s a pair of young foreign women who, although very friendly, don’t speak the local language. Later in the evening, a couple of Italian women in their thirties with the appearance of vagabonds show up. They started in San Juan Pie de Puerto and you’ll see them in the next stages.

Turning around in that strange environment, it takes you a while to fall asleep; in fact, when the alarm goes off, you won’t even know if you’ve really slept or not.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

Etapa 03, Cizur Menor - Puente la Reina

Stage 01, Roncesvalles - Larrasoaña