San Adrian (tunnel)

The hike to the San Adrian tunnel was difficult at best. However I wouldn´t have missed it for ther world as it was quite the site to see. The San Adrian tunnel represents the most outstanding milestone in the historic inland Basque route of the Way of St. James. It consists of a natural cave carved by water erosion in the rock (called Lizarrate, arguably stemming from “leize arrate”, ‘the stone gate of the cave’) with an opening on either side north and south; it also holds an hermitage inside.

We left Zagama at 8:30 am, more or less ready for the climb. I had no idea how challenging this would be! It didn´t take long to start feeling the burn in the legs – the hike was tough, and I had to stop often not so much to catch my breath (although in my last days of my bronchitis, it was a bit of a factor in my challenge) but to let my gluts rest. I certainly hadn´t pratice any of my walks on such an upward incline.

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We climbed and climbed and we all were totally amazed at Nestor who, carrying more than 35kg managed to climb as well. We actually at times, were as high as some clouds. On our way up, we met up with an old local who worked in Wyoming as a cowboy. He was so happy to have folks to talk to, and he soon discovered I spoke English. He showed us his driver´s licence and I chatting with him for a while. You NEVER know who you will meet on the Camino!

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When we approached the entrance to the tunnel, we all were in total awe. It was amazing to see, and Nestor was actually the first to get through, with a lot of encouraging words from Jean. Needless to say, it´s not an easy task for a donkey to climb like this! He was well rewarded with lots of chocolate and bread once he got through.

In the tunnel itself are relics of an old house or home. As well there is a little chapel where mass is still said every so often. We stopped for lunch, which at this point we anticipated with great joy! Climbing is hard work!

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The occurrence and relevance of the tunnel is attested since the 16th century, more so since the 13th, when historic circumstances rendered it a preferred route for pilgrimage and trade. The San Adrian mount and pass are “rugged and difficult for horses”, comments the cartographer Jan Janssonius in his Novus Atlas. “The passengers usually carve their names on the thick stones or the rocks, so there are recorded many names with the date of the year they crossed the roughness of these mountains”, he adds. In approx. 1567, Jorge Braun conjures up the inside of the tunnel: the nice inn and the good suppers offered to the pilgrims, especially to those who brought money along, and the fodder supplied to horses, no matter if the travellers were devoid of money.

Pilgrims coming south from Zegama take the pilgrimage way. On nearing the San Adrian tunnel, the hut shaped Sancti Spiritus hermitage stands right on the left of the way. It is often claimed that it may have belonged to the Templar Knights, while this association remains contentious.

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After lunch we continued on through another challenge, the descent which was the demise of my knee. Even if the climb was really tough, I´d take two climbs in exchange for one descent! The walk on the leveled off terrain was beautiful – partly in the woods, reminiscent of the cottage. I went ahead of the group when Nestor hesitated crossing a wooden bridge, and I headed towards the next village. About 5 km further, I met a couple playing cards under a structure, and after chatting with them, the senor offered to drive me to the bigger village which was 6 km further out. I took his offer as my then my knee was quite sore. The team ended up staying in the next village passed my pickup point, 7 km before my pension. We were to connect again today, but there were no buses available to their stop planned tonight, so I am ahead by 18 km in a small town called Vitoria. I will meet up with them tomorrow evening, and will rest my knee and later I will discover this quaint city of Vitoria.