August 10 & 11, 2018
Just a bit about our first night’s town from “A Village to Village Guide to Hiking the Camino de Santiago”: “St Jean Pied de Port has been welcoming pilgrims and ‘God Walkers’ for hundreds of years…St. Jean was founded in the late 12th century and served as the capital of Navarra, the Basque kingdom, after St-Jean-le-Vieux (‘Saint John the Old’) was destroyed by the army of Richard the Lionheart. Camino routes from all over France converged in St. Jean before crossing the treacherous and demanding Pyrenees Mountains.”
The day we arrived we walked uphill to “pass through the Porte de San Jaques, a 15th-century city gate named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998.” Further uphill we reached “…the Citadelle, a 17th-century French military building now used as a school, which affords a marvelous view back down to the Old City. Steep stairs to the east lead down to the 14th-century Gothic church, Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont, constructed of red schist stone and dedicated by Sancho the Strong to commemorate the battle of Las Navas in 1212.”
“From the church it is possible to walk easy along the river, crossing over via a Roman bridge and returning via Porte d’Espagne, the ‘door to Spain’ which will begin your journey over the Pyrenees.”
The morning of “Day 1” was quite discombobulating! Since we were only walking half as far as most of our housemates (given a recommended reservation we made) we knew we had a short day and that the rest would be rushing to breakfast. So we took our time – and almost missed it!! After bread with soft cheese and jam, some granola and coffee we walked over to the pilgrim’s office and weighed my pack. Now I knew my pack weighed eighteen pounds when I left home. But I also brought some items for my week in France plus my son gave me two books on my way to the airport. I had hoped to send them home with my daughter – no such luck. I convinced myself I could go ahead and haul it forward but the scale told me otherwise – Thirty Pounds!!! Uh uh, No Way, No How!! Soooo, we waited around until the post office opened up so I could mail those unnecessary items on to Santiago de Compostela. At 9:30 we set out but we were so turned around from going out of our way that we walked in circles and headed out the complete opposite direction!!! Finally at 10:00 we were underway after we asked directions of a very helpful Frenchman who happened to be a Priest from Le Puy, France and he had just finished his Camino yesterday!!
It was an extremely difficult day, with severe uphills, seemingly going on forever!! Thankfully, the temperatures were in the 70’s instead of the 90’s as they had been the whole week prior. And the vistas!!! I almost missed our stopping point, so resigned was I to the steep climbing and the steely mindset it required. I filled up my water bottle at a cute little café and turned around to find that it was our reserved albergue!!! What a truly wonderful surprise!! It was clean, efficient, perched upon an amazing hillside, good people & good food – I’d say, perfect!!
On Saturday we arose to a spectacular sunrise, had a light breakfast and took to the road again. I lost track of how many times I sang, “The Hills Are Alive…”. This adventure was worth everything just for these days in the Pyrenees. My pictures don’t do justice!! We were constantly hearing the beautiful sounds of chiming bells around the necks of sheep, cows and horses – everywhere!!
“Pic D‘ Orisson affords the most Heavenly view!! Here there is a statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus that shepherds brought from Lourdes. We also saw a shepherd call his dogs up a mountain side, then command them to move the sheep (so cute to see them scuttling along, bells a ringing) and then call his dogs to stop them and return to his feet!! The shepherdess kindly offered to take several of our photos together!
What a wonderful, challenging, satisfying day! It will live on for me as a cherished memory!!!
We were sooo ready to complete our day, however, and cheered when we saw pilgrim friends from yesterday in the courtyard!
The albergue we stayed at housed 200 pilgrims!!! Each alcove had 2 beautiful & modern bunk beds – but so many in a row on each floor!!!! We skipped dinner, had our own feast of olives, crackers, cheese & vino and hit the sack early – before our Italian and Spanish roommates returned. Life is good!!