I originally started this Camino anniversary blogging project with the intent of posting just a couple of photos per day. But as soon as we reached Spain, things began to change. I mean geographically/topographically – the French countryside, though lovely, was pretty consistent and seemed very “managed” (ahh, the price of having a robust economy). The Camino in Spain, by contrast, passed through swaths of mountains and forests, alternating with large cities, abandoned towns, and endless plains. It was all just a bit more “wild.”

The end result was that I had my camera out a lot more often in Spain, and my blog posts henceforth will reflect that. I hope you don’t mind.

First, a re-cap of the Pyrenees. They were challenging, yes, but probably not “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” We were very lucky with the weather; we later heard reports of 100 km/h winds the day before we crossed, and snow the day after. Had we crossed on either of those days, we would have had to take the route via Valcarlos, which is lower and more protected from the elements. I’d been hoping for some snow on the ground, but it was a pleasant 20°C the whole time.

When you imagine crossing the Pyrenees, you tend to picture surmounting some kind of tremendous obstacle (at least I did). Unfortunately, this illusion is ruined somewhat by the road that runs pretty much the whole way to Spain; you’d be trudging along when a car full of locals would pull up and they’d get out to walk the dog or have a picnic. That’s progress, I guess. It was, however, a good illustration of the way ancient pilgrim roads have become some of today’s major European thoroughfares, to the point that highways have replaced many original pilgrim paths in Spain and the Camino itself has been rerouted to avoid them.

As you might expect, the hardest part of the whole day was the descent into Roncesvalles, which turned my thigh muscles to jelly. We all dozed off over our beers before dinner last night, helped along by the soothing Spanish guitar music playing over the bar’s radio.

The albergue (a Spanish gîte) in Roncesvalles is enormous, able to sleep 400 pilgrims (plus more in temporary accommodations during the summer). We arrived just days after some major renovations were finished. Most of those 400 beds were occupied last night, filled with pilgrims from all over the world. Fortunately for us, English became the de facto language of communication between pilgrims, though conversational Spanish proved useful many times in our dealings with locals.

Below: The Collegiate Church of Roncesvalles.

Below: Only 790 kilometers to go! Yesterday at kilometer 20 of our Pyrenee-crossing, we reached the official half-way point of our Camino. Anywhere else in the world, it would be ridiculous to find a road sign giving the distance to a minor regional capital eight hours’ drive away. But when the only visitors to a community are there with the common goal of walking for four weeks to reach that capital, it makes sense to give them a little “encouragement” on their way out of town.

Below: What would Saint James think of his symbol, the scallop shell, being sold in vending machines next to tortillas de patatas at Roncesvalles abbey?

Below: The tight accommodations at Roncesvalles. Each “cell” slept four pilgrims. We were next to a friendly Slovenian couple who we kept seeing during the next four weeks. The lights turned off automatically at night and on again at 6am. We were all awakened by some idiot packing their bag and leaving at 3:30am.

Below: The pilgrim infrastructure in Spain was much more developed, e.g., this clever concrete bridge over a stream near Roncesvalles.

Below: A vulture circles overhead – looking for a tasty fallen pilgrim to snack on!

Below: Good advice.

It was a testing first day on the Spanish Camino. We arrived in Larrasoaña to find the municipal albergue full. It was only thanks to Manu and his very good Spanish that we secured a room in a pensión at the other end of town. We shared it with two women from South Korea, linguistically unprepared but very friendly.

Below: At dinner in Larrasoaña: Iman, Manu, and Dany.

Below: Alfonso (a new Canadian friend) and Iman.

Below: At dinner at the Casa Elita in Larrasoaña

Below: After dinner, the proprietrix of Casa Elita let me play her piano. I played a few jazz tunes and it seemed to make her very happy. She’d been pretty grumpy, but the next morning (when we returned for breakfast) her demeanor was markedly happier.

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