The taxi rank in Biarritz is plumb bang in what’s recognised as the hub of the town. It’s on the map. All the locals know where it is. The tourist information centre knows too. Even I know and I’ve only been here a couple of days. In fact the only people who don’t know where it is are the taxi drivers.
It’s 6.30 and I have 75 minutes to get to Bayonne for my train. Miss it and I can write off the day and my schedule for the next 5 weeks will be in jeopardy. There is no taxi at the rank. I should have known. I’ve passed that rank half a dozen times and never seen a taxi.
I know the 14 bus comes at 6.42 and sure enough it arrives on time. There are no other passengers. I ask for Bayonne and just before the driver issued the ticket for some reason I add ‘gare’ one of about ten words I know in French. Fortuitous because the bus doesn’t go to the station. The lady driver points me to another bustop and I just catch the A1. I’m at the station with 5 minutes to spare.
At St. Jean du Pied du Port I made my way to the Camino office to get my Credential stamped. This is the document you need to stay in the albergues along the way. If you have read my posts on last year’s Camino all this important stuff is in there.
Anyway now it’s started and I set off full of confidence but empty of breakfast and even coffee. It’s uphill. Relentlessly uphill. This is the Pyrenees and this particular Pyranee is a bastard. A black belt Pyranee. Its tough but eventually from around a corner I can hear voices. Good. Orisson my planned breakfast stop. Except it’s not. It’s a small vending machine stop called Hontos I didn’t even know was there. There are a few peregrinos taking a break. There is a group of about seven Australian women, one of them has a blister. Already. With 797km to go. A glance at her boots under the chair tells the tale. Brand new. Don’t undertake the Camino with anything new. Especially boots. She’s not gonna make it.
I eventually do make it. To Orisson. I am tired and my feet and legs ache. I wish I’d reserved a room here. There’s not many beds so reservations are essential. But 7 km doesn’t seem enough when you’re planning. But it’s enough. That’s seven vertical kilometres. Your only option now is another 18 km to Roncesvalles. The terrain is supposed to get easier. It doesn’t. I left after a quick bite and some coffee. Up and up I went. Through the atmosphere, through the ionosphere and all the other spheres until I was in space. If the moon came out now, I remember thinking, I will be looking down on it. There are trainee pilots who haven’t been this high.
Man it was tough. Sometimes I rested every thirty steps. I passed struggling peregrinos and many passed me. Unusually introvert concentrating on their own struggle. The water replenishment stops were few and far between. And it was hot. And there were headwinds. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done and I’ve been to Ikea on a bank holiday. I really thought about unrolling the sleeping bag and giving in. I was mega tired. Eventually though, five hours after Orisson I reached the highest point.
The descent was almost as bad as the climbing and the last three klicks took about two hours. But finally I rolled into Roncesvalles and made for the municipal albergue. The nicely appointed new part was already full so I got billeted in the older annexe. Believe me I was just glad to be off the mountain.
I got settled in, y’know, chucking stuff everywhere, and took a shower. The door didn’t close properly and I soaked all my clothes, so that was a good excuse to wash them six days early. In the shower I admired my new pumped up calves and thighs. I looked like the Incredible Hulk but less handsome.
Beer was next on the agenda. It usually is. I called The Little Nurse back in Biarritz. As I recounted my near death experience she told me that whilst that was all well and good, she had found a new bar giving out free champagne and cheese. Great news she said. Well not for me it wasn’t. She continually makes better choices than me and quite frankly I’m sick of it.
After dinner I returned to the albergue before the curfew at 10.00. There were 16 bunks in my room. Me and one other guy had not been invited to the snoring contest being enthusiastically played out by the other fourteen. I plugged into my iPod, Birdy, Enya, and Lana del Rey did their best to drown out the cacophony. Because of all the weight I’d lost today, some of it from my ears the earbuds kept falling out so I just lay and judged the contest. The little Korean guy got my vote. Musta been 80 decibels. Great work.
So posting this from a tablet. It’s more difficult hence the lack of good pix. I’ll get better. Don’t whinge.