On nature drunk and high – part 2 of the El Camino de Santiago
We wake up early the next morning, as we would every morning on the El Camino, wash up and go downstairs to breakfast. Every one is in a state of bustling around, packing, washing, eating their breakfast, probably getting ready for the trip of their life. We eat breakfast with an elderly man who has walked from the Netherlands to St. Jean Port de Pied and had already done the El Camino by bike. He asks us how we feel, whether this is our first time here, whether we have previous experience hiking. We reply excited and a bit scared, it’s our first time, not much. “Take small steps”, he says. I later realise that this was the best advice I was given on the whole El Camino. And in a way, in my life…
We eat our breakfast, pack up what’s left of our belongings and set forth. We pass through the Porte d’Espagne where I ask God and the cosmos for strength to complete the seven days that I plan to walk on the El Camino, especially today. Words like “arduous”, “most difficult”, “gruelling” and others from forums and guide books come to mind. As we cross the bridge, a lady stops us. Funnily enough, she turns out to be Australian, and asks if her photographer can take our photo for a book she is writing about the El Camino. She says we look “interesting”. We say of course and cross the bridge twice so he can get a couple of shots and move on.
And then we come to the foot of the Pyrenees. I remember the Dutch fellow’s advice and take small steps. It is asphalt for the first couple of kilometres and then turns to mountain track. I ask Davor how long today’s walk will be. Approximately 23 km. How high, I ask. 1,400m and we’re now 200m above sea level. The thought “can I really do this?” keeps coming to mind. But I take small steps and in a few of hours we reach the first spot for our break - an allbergue on the way to Roncesvalles. We meet some of our fellow “L’esprit du chemin” bunk mates. “Buen camino” we call out as we call out to everyone we pass. A beer is needed so I order one for myself and one for Davor (some local Basque beer, can’t remember the name) as well as some gateau Basque. I don’t think a beer has ever been as refreshing as that one. We sit sipping our beers for about half an hour, take a couple of photos, fill up our water bottles and hit the road again.
And then, finally (so it seems, after 7 hours of walking with only short breaks in between) we find ourselves at the peak of our journey. Finally, and incredibly, we have made it. 1,400 metres high. And that’s just how we feel - drunk and high. I find myself smiling from ear to ear, beaming as I never have before. But I’ve been doing that all day anyway. I don’t know if it is because of the fresh mountain air, the beer or the sense of accomplishment. Whatever it is, it is impossible not to smile in a place like this. It is impossible not to smile at the breathtaking surroundings. It is impossible not to smile at the camadery and friendships that are slowly being formed with fellow “passengers”. It is impossible not to smile now having proven that there really is nothing that you cannot accomplish, that there are no limits to your life, only the ones you set for yourself. “Can I do it, can I do anything?”, I ask. “Yes you can”, the Pyrenees thunderingly answered, “you can do anything!”