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Camino de Santiago no 2: A Sleepless Night In Roncesvalles

I arrived in Roncesvalles with about 50 other people, all starting off their Camino from this well known starting point.

On the bus, I felt a bit nervous…everyone seemed to speak multiple languages and have traveled alot..the average age for those doing the Camino seemed to be about 55.

We arrived in Roncevalles, and it was so pretty that I couldn´t imagine leaving the very next day. It was green pastures, old stone buildings and walls, mist rising up over hills of green, cows and sheep making beautiful sounds with the rusty bells strapped about all of their necks.

There was, however, no real time to even look around, as we were all ushered off to the monastery, where we had to stand in line and then fill out paperwork for our Pilgrim Passport. It was a bit of a mad rush, everyone trying to get ahead of everyone else.

After out Passports, we had to walk to the Refugio, which was somewhat confusing for me. When I finally found it, I was greeted by an old man with a twinkle in his eye at the door, who explained all of the rules(of which there were many!). I wasn´t listening too much as I was sort of overwhelmed by the sight of over 200 people who were changing their clothes, lying in bunk beds, talking, laughing, sleeping…

The building itself was fantastic, a kind of magical medieval start to my Camino. A old converted sone barn, it soared to an incredible height. It had beautiful archways in the doorways, and it was amazing to touch this old, cold gray stone that had been hewn so long ago.

Once again, though, no real time to appreciate it, as I was told to go get my bed, and there were only a few left. Also, because I was younger than many of the other Camino ´ers, I was told I had to be in a top bunk. So I wandered down the narrow walkway between the rows of bunk beds, dodging  people who were changing their clothes and so on, and finally, at the end of the wall, round the last remaining upper bunk.

My bunk was in the corner, right next to the stone wall. It seemed perfectly situated, and I was quite happy with it..except for the man beneath me, who seemed to be napping, and unfortunately, storing away. There was no ladder or anything to get up into it, so I sort of had to swing myself up into it(somewhat easier than it sounds).

Once in the bunk, I just looked around at the scene. It was a madhouse-people going thru their packs;people changing and standing around in their underwear, in spite of people being less than 3 feet away from them; people unbandaging their feet(obviously had come over from France); people sleeping; people, people, people. I wasn´t expecting this-I´m not sure what I expected, really-but this seemed to me to be quite alot of mayhem.

Not time to observe too long, as it was announced that we were to go to the Pilgrim Mass in about 15 minutes at the church. Also, if we wanted anything to eat, we had to reserve and pay for our food at the restaurant down the hill before Mass. So off I went to reserve my place for dinner and then I went to Mass.

The church itself was really a very pretty little church, consecrated in 1219. It is one of the earliest Gothic monuments in Spain, and it was one of the first churches in Spain to have such large windows. It was here that the magic of the journey hit me, that I would be walking a walk that countless others had before me. The spiritual part of the journey was beginning-and I was glad, as up to now, it hadn´t seemed that spiritual, more like a rush to get there.

The Mass was lovely, and at the end, the priest blessed all the pilgrims in many different languages. After the Mass, I felt more comraderie with my fellow pilgrims, and I happily walked down the rocky street to the restaurant for dinner. I stopped for a few moments and enjoyed a spectacular view of sheep on a green hillside, mist rising up, the evening sky a beautiful violety-grey. Breathtaking.

I guess I stopped too long, for when I got to the restaurant, it was already packed with pilgrims, seated in groups at round tables. The waitress looked surprised to see me, and hastily seated me at one of the remaining places.

My dinner mates consisted of: two Italian men, who were very funny but spoke little English; an Englishman, who was an expat living in Spain, and who was very funny and knowledgable about the Camino; a young Australian woman, traveling on her own for the first time; two brothers from Argentina, also expats living in Spain; and a woman from Slovenia, whose life had been full of challenges in the past year, and had decided to do the Camino as an act of faith. I was seated next to the Slovenian woman, and we had a wonderful conversation about life, faith, and why we were doing the Camino.

Dinner was somewhat depressing-it was a ¨Pilgrim Menu¨, something one comes across often on the Camino, where a local bar or restaurant has a preset menu at a low price for pilgrims. Still, I was expecting something a bit different, since it was Spain afterall!

After our meal of wine, bread, fried fish and french fries, we headed back to the refugio that was to be our home on the first night of our journey. There was great happiness and comraderie between all of us, and, I for one, felt more connected to at least a few of the people I was spending the night with!

The refugios operate with the help of volunteers, who basically run the entire place. UPon getting back, we were told to be quiet by the volunteers, and to get ready for bed, as it was lights out in a few minutes time. I got ready for bed and then attempted to get into my upper bunk as quietly as possible, as the man below me was already fast asleep.

Strangely, although I was tired from my journey getting there and just all the new things I was experiencing, I couldn´t sleep. Part of this was due to the number of snoring people in the stone barn-there must have been at least 40 people snoring away. The stone building only made the snoring seem louder.

In fact, every single noise in the enormous room could be heard-whether someone rustling in their sleeping bag, or someone yawning. Actually, every bodily function could be heard. I couldn´t sleep, in spite of earplugs and an eye mask.

I finally fell asleep, only to be awoken by water on my face. Was it water? Was I dreaming? I sat up carefully and quietly, trying not to wake anyone near me. I felt my sleeping bag, by backpack, my clothes sitting beside me on my narrow mattress..they were all wet. I turned my flashlight on towards the ceiling, and realized I had chosen the only bed in the place beneath what seemed to be a very leaky roof. Aha! So that´s why it was the last bed in the place!

Covering myself with my raincoat, I eventually fell back asleep. For a few minutes, anyway-until woken up by the champion snorer in the place(Who I believe was one of the Italians at my table at dinner. He had said he had won snoring contests, and his companion had agreed he was the loudest snorer he had ever heard.)

The night continued on like this until morning arrived, and I gratefully got dressed and packed my things.

Although I would have liked to spend more time in Roncevalles, there was no time to do so. (There are many things of interest to look at having to do with Charlemagne and Roland). But, the walk ahead was long, and the weather was grim-no time to even eat something, just had to get going to get to the next stop in time to both get a bed and hopefully beat the coming storm.

I set off walking with the Australian woman and the Englishman from the night before, our goal being Zubiri, about 15 miles away.



2 responses to “Camino de Santiago no 2: A Sleepless Night In Roncesvalles”

  1. Jim P says:

    the chaos you describe, dosed liberally with a bit of confusion reminded me vividly of the controles on the PBP. You now know exactly how I felt. Kind of a nervous rush, yes?

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