Presently ensconced in a cross between a castle and a bordello in the middle of the Pyrenees. The Chambre d’Hotes where we are lodged is a bit on the strange side. The place is massive as are the beams, stone walls and firing slots to ward off attackers. We checked in with no problem except the usual language issues. Found out that the Demi-Pension was not going to happen but we have a complete kitchen. Next problems what to cook. Found a restaurant 100 meters away that is open on Sunday and solved the food problem.
We left St. Jean around 9:30 as we knew the 13 km walk would be short. Before we left we took the time to walk around and get pictures that were tough to get in yesterday’s downpour. Ran into some of our French fellow travelers who were heading home. Nice to see them one last time. We had made the decision to go the “low road” over the Pyrenees a few days ago. We encountered numerous Americans yesterday who were planning on taking the Route Napoleon, the “high road” over the mountain. I did encourage them to check at the Pilgrim Office on current conditions.
We followed the helpful map provided by the Pilgrim Office and headed out of town pretty late as most folks are on the road by eight. Within an hour we caught up with a group of American college students. They had the same plan as us for the day since it was their first day. They would stop in Valcarlos like us. We then came to this strange tax free shopping place called Venda just before leaving France. Kind of like the tax deal they have in Andorra. Don’t know the details but the place was jumping and weird to be walking on empty back roads and emerge into a shopping center and then go back into the woods. It was raining pretty good by this time. Parkas on and no big deal. But we could imagine the conditions on the high trail.
As we approached Valcarlos about noon we encountered an American woman who was obviously struggling. She had been walking since eight and was planning on going over the pass today. She asked me if there was much more climbing. I told her that we had done 300 meters but there were still 700 to go. She said that she had not studied the maps very much. I encouraged her to think about going to Valcarlos and spending the night.
Valcarlos gets its name from Charlemagne or Valley of Charles since this was his pathway to Pamplona back in the 800s. Napoleon and the Romans used the high road as neither liked the tactical problem of being in the bottom of a valley with Basques holding the high ground. The town itself is built on a steep hillside. We could see lots of fresh snow on the mountains above the town. Climbed a steep road into town and found an open store and bought picnic stuff. Sat down in the town square and watched people start to roll in.
Turns out that the authorities had closed the high pass because of the snow and were sending people back to St. Jean. Many people had missed the turns and ended up on a dead end road after climbing a few hours. It was well after one and many folks were determined to reach Roncevalles. I am sure they will make it as the road will be open despite the snow. It is likely that they will encounter snow and a lot more rain before they reach shelter some time tonight. The American lady arrived and told us that she was going to spend the night. Tomorrow is forecasted to be without rain and should make our climb very doable.
Back to Bakersfield. The Chambre owner was helping us get settled. As a proud Basque, he preferred to converse only in Basque. I mentioned that I was from California and lived near Bakersfield, the home of many Basques. You could see his eyes light up and all of a sudden broken English was not so tough. He has many cousins in the Bakersfield area. I told him about the famous Basque restaurants there and how great they were. He agreed and started naming them off. He also had relatives in Winnemuca, Nevada. He had a picture of himself taken in Virginia City in full cowboy regalia. He is a big fan of Bonanza. I should have told him that my son-in-law grew up in Bakersfield but then as distant relatives we might not be allowed to leave.
Our room is built like a fortress. Hand hewn beams and a door lock system that defies understanding. The steam radiators are turned off but we found some electric heaters that take the stone chill off. We will survive even though the satin decor is a bit un-nerving next to all the stone work. Not sure why. It might be a yin yang deal.
Yes we are in Spain. It is just that it is much more Basque than Spanish. Viva la difference. I will post this ASAP when I find the owner and get the password. It appears that he and his wife have left and we are the sole occupants of this massive place. Who knows who also might show up this evening.
Found out At dinner up the street about so e of our fellow hikers. The college kids are a group of six. Two are counselors, four are autistic. Try that for a challenge. Kids seem to be OK so far. Struggling lady is from Massachusetts. Has found a friend from Sweden along with an English couple who shared their wine with us. Who said things would be predicable?