May 22, 2008 Roncesvalles to Larrasoaña

Waking up on Day Two of the camino I laid in bed and slowly came to the realization that I would be walking just as far today as I had yesterday. True, I had no mountain passes to conquer, but I was now looking at not just another 25 km day, but another monthof 25 km days. My tired muscles hadn’t recovered from yesterday’s hike. How could they recover from 30 days’ hikes? I showered, dressed, and headed downstairs for breakfast.

When I arrived downstairs I realized I’d made my first mistake of this camino: I’d dutifully handed my American passport to the person at the hotel desk/cafe bar, who promised I could have it back in the morning. Well, here was morning — all 07:00 of it — and the desk/bar clerk was nowhere to be seen. In fact, there was a sign at the bar that said it would be closed until 09:00. This meant that I’d be on the trail late and would miss by a couple of hours the pilgrims I’d befriended the day before. The thought of a solitary day didn’t sound that enticing, and I watched the minutes tick away off the clock, anxious to get my passport and go on to Larrasoaña, my next stop. At just before 09:00 the clerk showed up, gave me my passport, and I was on my way.

As I walked out of the hotel and toward the daunting distance sign, “Santiago 790,” I found myself completely alone, surrounded by the forests and green pastures of the Basque countryside. At the first stop in Burguete I had a quick cafe con leche and met a wave of pilgrims enjoying their morning coffee. As I’d learn time and again on the camino, the people who start earliest don’t necessarily get there first. I continued to walk along farm roads and forest paths to Zubiri, where I enjoyed a relaxing lunch. Then it was across the river bridget to Larrasoaña.

As I came into town I heard two large men talking in accented English. The one looked at the other and said, “I get the blonde. I think her name is Cassie.” “Why do you get the blonde? I get the blonde,” said the other. “You should get the brunette, the one name Ginny. She’s funny and nice looking.” I quickly realized they were talking about the American girls. Judging by the size of these two athletic and strong looking men, and judging by the small size and relative youth of the American girls I immediately turned into Father Protector, vowing I would let the girls know they were targeted by these two rather unwholesome men.

The main street of Larrasoaña was completely torn apart, right down to its foundations, for repairs, so it took some time to make my way through construction debris to the municipal albergue. I finally found my way to a building that has the City Hall on one side and the municipal albergue on the other.

I took a top bunk (the curse of late arrivers) in a room of three double bunk beds and headed to the shower, which was in the solitary bathroom of this 20-30 person hostel. The shower was dripping wet, with a small shower curtain that couldn’t keep the water into the shower and clung to the body as I tried to wash myself. No mere shower curtain could inhibit my joy at finally having a shower after a long day of walking. I mopped up as best I could afterward and headed to the back yard to wash out my clothes.

By the time I was done with washing and laundry I headed out the front door and there was delighted to find the American girls waiting for me. They’d heard I had checked in here (thanks to the Pilgrim Grapevine) and wanted to invite me to dinner with Stefan and Trevor — the two South African men I’d overheard that afternoon. We visited for a time and then agreed to meet for dinner at the local restaurant.

The dinner that night was an introduction to pilgrim fare. I learned quickly that pilgrims were expected or encouraged to purchase the Menú del Peregrino, which in this and most cases consists of a starter course, an entree with french fries, and a simple dessert. Along with the meal comes the choice of water or wine — same price for either. This last feature was a startling and joyful discovery! I had a delightful trout dinner (a local specialty) and enjoyed watching Stefan and Trevor as they did their best first to seduce then to tease then to befriend the American girls. As it turned out, each of the girls was completely able to handle herself. They put the strapping young South Africans in their places after toying with them a bit. As the night wore on the guys’ hormonal levels began to moderate and we all had a pleasant and cheerful evening.

As it turned out, the South Africans and Americans had all been placed in the albergue annex, a small building with only one bathroom and a shower with no curtains at all. While they all slept together in an atmosphere of lust, friendship, exhaustion and annoyance I had a peaceful sleep in the second floor of the main albergue with my only concern the window which the French lady kept closing, while I knew it should be open to keep the air fresh.

I’d walked over 50 kilometers now, and as night fell in this quiet Basque village I began to think I could do this pilgrimage thing.

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