Time walked – 7 hours, with breaks
Total distance walked for the day – 15.2 miles (36.7 total)
Weather – Cold morning, upper 40’s; sunny and nice, upper 60’s
Terrain – some grass and pebble path, paved path, gravel, muddy and rocky path
I do not like surprises, and today proved to be one of those surprises I do not like at all. After my first child was born, other mother’s liked to warn me about “the terrible twos.” Rather than having a bad experience, I prepared myself for a cranky, bossy two-year old, and I didn’t think that year was very bad. No one tells you about the “threes,” however. The 3s were the worst! Don’t get me wrong, there were great moments, but then I would get hit with a tantrum when I least expected it. I’ve never understood why I wasn’t warned about that third year, but after today, I think it’s because most people are so numb from the whole experience, they have no energy to help anyone else.
We did well leaving the albergue at Roncesvalle at 7:45 a.m. We ran into Trisha, Yung Mi’s walking buddy, right away. I let her know that we were hoping to stay at Hostel Suseia as well and would see she and Yung Mi later. With over 200 pilgrams planning to stop in Zubiri, I was slightly nervous about making sure we had a place to stay.
Leaving just after the sunrise made for beautiful scenery but not great photography. The first two days were now behind us, and I was looking forward to the first day of our Camino that would take us through small Spanish villages, or hamlets. Very quickly appeared a small cafe where several pilgrams had stopped for coffee, but I was anxious to get going. Ray wanted coffee here, but I convinced him there would be another place soon. As we walked, we found ourselves on a nicely paved, wide path through countryside with a few rolling hills. I stopped to take a couple of photos, but laughed to myself because of the farm and animal smells. I spent most of my childhood in the country, but it wasn’t my favorite place to be and the smells were a humorous reminder.
As promised, a small cluster of buildings appeared less than two miles from our start. Two miles doesn’t seem very far anymore. Pretty quickly we found ourselves in another hamlet, Espinal, and stumbled across a small cafe serving coffee. Scott and Jenny, from last night’s dinner were just finishing their drinks and invited us to sit with them. Several people were stopping to use the bathroom, and I realized that I had not had to do that in the 6 hours we had hiked the day before. Yung Mi and Trisha were close behind us. It was good to sit down, but I felt like we had stayed too long, so used the facilities and wished everyone a “Buen Camino” as we left.
We could hear cowbells in the distance and were surprised to see horses instead of cows. Each mare had a bell tied around her neck and her foal followed closely behind her. Our walk proved much easier than the first two days with not many hills, just one good climb out of Espinal, then downward toward Viscarreta, a peaceful wooded path.
It gets a little confusing as we approach the villages. I have a guide book to help with planning but the names of the towns are spelled differently on the signage. I managed to find Café Juan from the map in the book. We bought two ham sandwiches to-go for our lunch and used the baños, which is not called a baño. In less than fours hours, we’ve used the restroom twice; just a note for long stretches ahead without places to stop.
Viscarreta was today’s half-way point. Ray and I remarked how perfect the weather had been. We left Viscarretta, passed a path-side cemetery, and headed through the woods. The path went up, down and around, gently at first. Ray and I discussed our Business of the Day. That’s what we call our serial entrepreneur ideas that never materialize. We started by talking about how grateful we were to train for the hills in the mountains of Boquete, Panamá. Different parts of our Camino have reminded us of our different hikes in Boquete. I’m not sure which one of us said it first, but we transitioned into discussing a Camino Training School. It kept us entertained for quite awhile.
The path turned into bigger and bigger rocks as it started downhill. We kept going down and down. I don’t know what I would have down without my poles. It got harder and harder. My knees ached and my feet felt every rock. Ray remarked multiple times about how technical this hike was. We didn’t talk much, concentrating on every step. My steps got shorter and shorter making the time go slower. You can hear as someone approaches you from behind. More than once we were passed by a pilgram who looked like they were taking a stroll, no poles, no strain and no sweat. It takes a mental toll as well as the physical one. Our reservations at Hostel Suseia were good until 3 p.m. After that, they would take pilgrams as they arrived. I taped the time on my tracker/watch multiple times, making the situation much worse. Were we going to make it by 3 p.m.? Would Yung Mi and Trisha make it? Why hadn’t anyone talked about how hard this was? Why hadn’t I read about this? I just wanted this to end.
Ray got a bit ahead of me and I asked him to look for signs of Zubiri to give me hope. We walked and walked, my calves were tight, my feet hurt. Why hadn’t I been stretching each night like I had done religiously in Boquete. I would watch Ray look over the trees, but he said nothing. Then he saw it, roof tops in the distance. It was 2:15 p.m. Even though we weren’t there, we would make it.
Now that we made to the edge of Zubiri, we had to find Hostel Suseia and quick. A little further into town, we found a sign with a map. The hostel was across town, past the municipal building in the opposite direction of the Camino path. My pace picked up on the city streets. We saw Steve and Ann across the street and they waved at us. I asked if they had gotten checked in to their accommodation. They had, but said it had quickly sold out. We found the Hostel Suseia, arriving at 2:50 p.m., just in time. We were given a tour upon check-in and shown to our bunk. They had leather reclining chairs! Was this an oasis? Yung Mi had called from the trail, so they were saving bunks for she and Trisha. I was relieved to know they were doing ok and would have a place to sleep. We ate our sandwiches first, since I was too scared to stop and eat earlier when the trail turned rough. Then we showered and paid 6 euros to have our clothes laundered. I might be on a budget, but I know my limits.
At 7:00 p.m. a multi-course dinner was served family style to the full house of 20 pilgrams. We met Cliff and Felix and had some great conversation. We had seen Cliff on “The Way.” He was Canadian and had traveled all over, including Panamá. Felix was a 31-year old German who had started that morning in Saint Jean de Pied Port, 29.2 miles in 10 hours. We were amazed! And just like childbirth, all of the struggles of the day faded away.