Monday, January 31, 2011

Roncesvalles to Larrasoaña -- Over the River and Through the Woods

From left: Alison, Elissa, Lisa, and Bart
in Burguete before breakfast.
As we awoke and rolled out of bed on Day Two a couple of things were clear. First, standing upright on sore legs and feet took a lot of concentration. After yesterday's twenty-eight up and down kilometers most of us had few reserves of strength left. Second, we realized we are in a stunningly beautiful and historic valley.

The name "Roncesvalles" means "valley of thorns," which fits the history (tragic), but not the scenery (gorgeous). This little vale was a setting for the immortal "Song of Roland" that recounts the demise of Charlemagne's beloved friend and lieutenant in 778 who pays the ultimate price for Charlemagne's earlier mistake. 

According to one of the many legends accompanying this event, Charlemagne, the great French king, was marauding with his army in Northern Spain, fighting Moors in alliance with the local Basques of Pamplona. As he returned to France he decided to weaken his Basque allies by destroying the walls of the city of Pamplona. They were understandably miffed and after realizing they disliked the French almost as much as the Moors, the Basques attacked Charlemagne's rearguard, which was led by Charlemagne's pal. Roland sounded his mighty horn to alert Charlemagne of the danger, but in mistaking the meaning, Charlemagne kept on going over the pass (to St. Jean Pied-de-Port no less). Roland's men are brutally killed, lending a bloodthirsty pride to the Basques and a very French sense of tragedy to the epic poem "Chanson de Roland," one of the great works of literature from the Middle Ages.

A sign, rudely placed at the outskirts of Roncesvalles.
Perhaps its subtitle should read "Abandon Hope
All Ye Who Enter Here"
Although we stood in front of the memorial to Roland immediately adjacent to the Chapel of Santiago, few of our pilgrims were focused on Charlemagne or the Battle of Roncesvalles. Instead we were wondering how to walk on tired legs and four-star blisters without even so much as a cuppa Joe. Somehow the two restaurants of this 100-person hamlet are closed in the morning, meaning that the next cafe wouldn't be found until the village of Burguete, about three kilometers down the road. 

We lugged our packs on sore feet across bridges over the rivers, through the deep green woods, and then to Burguete for a cafe. As our travelers noted, I'm a sucker for chocolate croissants and was not disappointed by my reunion with the Basque version which is clearly influenced by the French, who bake their own just a few kms over the hill. We shared cafes con leche with folks we'd met as we climbed the pass yesterday, as well as people that we, well, slept with last night on the bunks at the monastery albergue.

The municipal albergue at Larrasona (left door),
conveniently situated in the same building as City Hall
(right door).
As the morning wore on our stiff muscles began to loosen up, and our blistered feet began to take less of our attention. We walked down through woods crossing the Rio Urrubi to Espinal, then up to Alto Mezquiriz, then crossed the Erro before Vizkarret. At the Alto de Erro we could look down the heights to Zubiri and Larrasoaña. Perhaps it was the effect of the nice lunch at Zubiri or our confidence in all the training we'd done in advance of the Camino that enticed us to trudge another 5 kms to Larrasoaña, nearly matching our 28 kms of yesterday. We unrolled our sleeping bags in the Municipal Albergue (and annex, given the size of our group) and had our first menu del peregrino together at a delightful pilgrim restaurant down the street.

To our astonishment, wine and water cost the same at dinner here. We good Methodists tested much of the stock of this little restaurant, and thanks to the tasty and cheap wine we headed for bed with a little less grumbling than the tough day deserved.

(Today's post is based on a portion of the 153.7 exercise miles logged by our cyber pilgrims as of Jan 31, 2011. Exercise total miles are: Alison, 9; Bart, 21; Dana, 1; Dawn, 5; Elissa, 35; Greta, 5.5; Jackie, 18; John, 3.2; Sandy, 21; Susan, 27. Watch for 4 new pilgrims to join us in Pamplona tomorrow.)


  1. Hola, Buen Camino. What a great journey you have begun. You won't meet me until Lagrono as it is here that I joined other pilgrims, following 5 days on the route del Norte. My biggest piece of advice is to look after your feet, every evening- wash thoroughly, dry, elevate, massage, check for blisters. With happy feet the journey is to be savoured but without it can sour many a day for a pilgrim...don't forget to look around you as there is so much to experience. Listen to your fellow pilgrims, to their life experiences and knowledge. Read the history of the pilgrimage, its fascinating and opens your eyes to the past. In fact, walking through some towns if you squint your eyes just right, just for an instant you will feel like you have gone back in travels, TB

  2. Anonymous, what a treat to read your words of greeting and wisdom. We walked many a mile together, along with Trevor and Dani. One of my favorite Camino photos is the three of you doing Abbey Road in Sahagun! Thanks for your greeting. We will look for you in a bar/cafe beginning in Logrono where undoubtedly you'll be polishing your Spanish skills while enjoying the best of La Rioja! Buen camino, mi amigo, y gracias.

  3. Hi I'm Barry in San Diego and I walked my Camino last year starting in St Jean on May 22 and arriving in Santiago on June 23. I have so many memories of my journey. I have vivid memories of this section because about 7-8 km before Zubiri I was running out of water, when I arrived I was spent, I went to the center of the village and sat down in a plaza, as we hear the camino provides, by that I mean I spotted the village fuente right in front of me! Soon after a Spaniard I met at the Roncevalles alburgue came into town with another Spaniard, they were both named Augustin, which made it eary for me to get their attention, we walked together until Logrono when the younger Augustin had to return to Madrid. I look forward to reading more in the future! I kept a blog at if you're interested. Buen Camino