We Conquered the Pyrenees

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Europe » Spain
September 9th 2016
Published: October 22nd 2017
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Geo: 42.9786, -1.36647

Our room agreed to a 6:30 "lights-on". We think most of us were awake well before that and were thankful that there was no serious snoring! Our elaborate breakfast "not" consisted of average coffee, served in a bowl, toast with jelly packets. Served only from 7:00 to 7:30, all 50 of us packed in.

Outside, there was a slight mist and none of us were too eager to venture out. We were some of the first to set out at 7:45. The mist had stopped but we had our rain covers on our packs; however, we never donned our rain gear.

We gained another 1600+ feet over the pass into Spain. It was very hazy but still beautiful with cowbells ringing all around. There were many flocks of sheep with their shepherds, huge horses and many, many cows. At one point we visited a shrine of the Virgin of Orisson that shepherds brought back from Lourdes. About one mile from the pass we were greeted with a vendor who sold a variety of refreshments. We bought two hard-boiled eggs and a banana. Ahh, protein and fruit and no bread! When we went over the highest point at Col Lopoeder, we were greeted with a spectacular inversion (we were above the clouds) and entered into spectacular beech forests which reminded us of being in the Shire (or what we picture as the Shire). There were also huge "escargot" along the trail. The views were all "wow" even though somewhat limited by the visibility. On our descent from the pass we took the alternate route which was partially road, but much easier on the knees and with better vistas. There were huge horses everywhere with bells around their necks. One was a "crazy" horse that was neighing and running full speed past us. We are not sure where he ended up but did not want to get in his way! Near the bottom of the downhill, there was a monument to Roland. Roland was Charlemagne's nephew who bravely fought and was killed near the spot. We had seen all pilgrims along this route until this spot where there were many "regular" tourists.

After the Roland monument we followed the Valcarlos Route (less steep than the Napoleon Route that we followed over the pass) past a lot of blackberry bushes to the current Albergue which has space for 183 people. The very small town is dominated by a large abbey which used to serve as the Albergue. When we arrived, we asked a bartender at the La Posada where the main town was and he said, "what you see is what you get!" There was really nothing to it, but we sat at a sidewalk cafe and ate our sandwich we bought from Refuge Orisson and had a couple of beers. We headed out and passed through a pretty little town mentioned in Hemingway's book, "As the Sun Rises". It was siesta time and nothing was open and we only saw one woman up in a window! We followed the Camino through mostly flat grazing areas to Espinal. We checked into the Albergue Haizea, washed and dried our clothes, took a shower and went to the bar for some pre-pilgrim refreshments. This is when we found out that vino tinto (red wine) was 60 cents! And, if you wanted "special" red wine, it was 1.60 Euro. You have to love Spain.

At 7:30 we went to the dining room and had a wonderful pilgrim meal of spaghetti with tomato sauce, pork tenderloin, frites, and an ice cream bar for dessert. Although the meal was great, the Camino family there was even better. Ten of us from New Zealand, London, Ireland, Spain and US had a lot of fun sharing stories. One couple who are in their 70's from New Zealand had quite a tale to share about their first night on the Camino. They made it to the pass over the Pyrenees and could not make it another step. They put out their sleeping bags, in the rain, and spent the night among the many cows, sheep and horses -- all with bells. They had to clap and try to scare them away. They are no longer fond of cow bells! And, after dark, a young woman from Slovenia came along and asked to sleep out with them!

The dorm room we slept in held a dozen beds and had a great set-up for the showers and bathrooms. There was a snoring symphony all night, but not too loud.

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