Day One September 13, 2017
After waking up to complaining roommates about the one of them snorting all night, I was completely rested because I wore my ears all night.. Breakfast consisted of corn flakes with whole milk, toast butter, and jam. Coffee, water, and juice. Joseph provided the meal and is the owner of this old house turned hotel. He told us that the house was built around 1650. He said the year is etched into a window glass in the front. He also said the houses on each side is dated to 1570’s.
Finally,with breakfast out of the way, everything packed, I said goodbye to the other 20 people that were staying there and headed up to the Pilgrim Office. The Pilgrim Office was manned by only one person, and he repeatedly, and patiently providing the same instructions over, and over, to each of the fresh pilgrims wanting a passport.
Pilgrim passport, final directions, and today’s warnings from the office, I was good to go!
Out the door, though the stone gates (yup, the same gate Martin Sheen went though) and up the hill.
Wait a minute…. up the mountain!
Let’s talk about the Pyrenees. This is a real mountain range and the slope is extreme at times. There was no way I could have prepared for what lay ahead. My training ground was by comparison dinner-plate flat. My training had been pretty much un-elevating ground…no hills, let alone mountains. Here I am pounding away constantly fighting the grade, and more importantly, gravity. The clouds were hanging just above St. Jean Pied de Port completely masking the road ahead, disguising the size of the Pyrenees before us. I was already puffing pretty good 20 minutes into my walk. And I thought I had prepared myself well.
By mid-morning, the sun brought an intense 90 degree , not alone was the climb a challenge, the temperature had me ringing wet.
About an hour into the climb I am wondering if I can lose a kidney…..anything to reduce the weight and make this climb easier. What does a kidney weigh? If I could lose a couple of pounds I would consider it……anything. My stride diminished to less then a foot for each step.
When I felt the path couldn’t become steeper I would turn the next corner and the grade increased by 50%. (Note to self: Don’t ever think the road can’t get steeper) When I thought the road couldn’t become more difficult, I would turn the next bend and I would be facing a rock and mud path. It strikes me, this would be difficult to negotiate even on the best of days. (Note to self: stop thinking the road can’t get any worse.
This route is directly through farm land. Near vertical farmland, but farmland all the same.
I came to a semi-flat part in a bend of the road. First flat spot since starting and it turn out that was my destination for today, Orisson!
The rest of the day was a recovery. I had arrived in time for lunch but too early to check in to get a bed. So lunch it was.
There is a patio in front of the Albergue and it provides a beautiful view of the Pyrenees and the valleys.
Finally at 2pm those of us with reservations were able to check in. Laundry was first on the “to do” items, and then a shower. You are given a coin…..when inserted in the shower gives you five minutes of luke warm water. I’m not complaining.
Finally, after going back outside, sitting and talking to so many people we gathered inside for dinner. We sat at picnic tables and were served roast chicken, vegetable soup, potatoes and beans, and desert was a thin cake. There was an abundance red wine at the tables….I firmly believe this was served for medicinal purposes.
Day 02 –September 14, 2017
Our breakfast consists of bread, butter, and a small assortment of jams. Coffee and orange juice are provided…..and that’s it. I didn’t say toast, or eggs, or even fruit. This is the fuel we are given to climb the rest of the Pyrenees.
To give you an idea of what we (the pilgrims) will be “up” to……we will climb more altitude than yesterday and cross into Spain.
Largely I walked the day in solitude. For the most part I would see others but not be close enough to talk. Today was much different from yesterdays brilliant sunshine. The weather turned cool to the 50´s and raining.
At times I was reduced to steps where the heal of my right boot would be behind my left toes. I was making progress with less than my own foot length. The going was painfully slow, many, many times. Finally I came to the Spain/France border.
No immigration, no customs,…. nothing. If you haven’t had enough climbing yet, you are in luck. For another 45 minutes the path zigs and zags until you arrive at the summit.
My first thought was “thankfully there is no more climbing uphill”.
The wind was very cold and intent on ripping us off the mountain and so I obliged. Down I go.
The path down was wet and extremely steep and treacherous. This is not a path for the nervous or weak. Without the walking-poles this section of the Camino would have been very dangerous..
Down at the bottom of the trail, just before entering Roncesvalles, a plaque commemorates the death of a Brazlian pilgrim. I assume this pilgrim started in St. Jean Pied de Port and met his end a day into his Camino. Sad and sobering.
Finally coming out of the woods an enormous monastery appears. The whole reason for this small town is to welcome pilgrims after their passage through the mountains. The original church was built over 1000 years ago. Tonight, I am spending the night at the monastery.
I spend the afternoon taking a good shower, washing my muddy clothes, and writing my blog. Later, dinner at the monastery, then attend a pilgrim mass at 8pm., then sleep.