First Week from St. Jean Pied de Port to Viana (91 miles)
Our soft landing in an Airbnb in Biarritz, France found us in the artistic, welcoming home of Francoise, Cristian, and their quirky cat, Pepino (means cucumber in Spanish). They forgave us for claiming their room, accidentally, instead of the one intended for us.
The morning of May 9th found us at the Pilgrim Office in St. Jean where the Camino passport (credencial) is issued, along with a scallop shell, which, along with yellow arrows, is found everywhere guiding the pilgrims on their journey.
Eager to get going, we ignored the sage advice of seasoned travelers warning us of the difficulty of the first day’s hike and advising us to stay in the cushy albergue (inn) of Orisson 8 very steep km (4.8 miles) from St. Jean. Foolhardy travelers that we were, we pressed on and found ourselves in a gale force sleet storm as we approached the highest point of the Pyrenees. Not a particularly propitious way to set out, we truly could have succumbed to hypothermia that very first day. Cold, soaked, and exhausted, we crossed into Spain, before dark, and followed a winding path down to the public albergue of Roncesvalles. This was our first experience in a huge dormitory (in an old, renovated convent). After a hearty dinner shared with other pilgrims, we bedded down by 10PM (lights out), serenaded by a chorus of snoring pilgrims, and arose at the crack of dawn, 6AM, heading out to hike by 7AM. Just under 800 km (500 miles) to our destination of Santiago de Compostela!
The spring countryside of the Camino is stunningly beautiful, with verdant valleys, farmlands, peaks, spring flowers, and vineyards everywhere you gaze.
You know that Calendula cream that we’re always prescribing for cuts and scrapes? Well, here is the real deal!
One of the most meaningful and heartwarming parts of the Camino is meeting new friends from all over the world, each of them with their own reasons to undertake such a seemingly impossible journey! There is a continual ebb and flow since everyone has his/her own pace, time frame, level of endurance, intention, age, and inner story. Everyone seems to be extremely friendly, helpful, and supportive. A wise German friend, Karina, gave us great advice the second day to literally lighten our loads. Daily life on the Camino is spartanly simple: the maximum recommended amount to carry is 10% of your body weight, including a couple of liters of water! Sending 7 pounds of non-essential items by mail to a hotel in Santiago de Compostela proved to be a fabulous idea! When Judyth caught her toe on a loose rock, resulting, literally, in face plant on the trail, seconds later, Alan, who had heard the resounding thud, came to her rescue. Formerly a Chicago stock trader, he insisted on carrying her pack for the next half hour until she fully recovered. A similar rescue ensued, days later, when Bob took a tumble, and was rescued by several kind French ladies reviving him milk chocolate, his favorite! The first week on the Camino can be brutal on the feet, and rests, foot plasters, Compeed roll-on lubricant, and foot creams are essential.
We have enjoyed many special connections and moments with fellow pilgrims. Judyth’s fluency in Spanish and French, and Bob’s ability to hold his own with Spanish, thanks to our life in Chile, has made a real difference in opening our world! You literally never know whom you will meet around the next bend in the road, and what you have to share and to teach each other. One highlight of today occurred when we happened upon a hole-in-the wall refreshment station with fresh orange juice and a super basic Panini griddle. But the real warmth and juice overflowed from Don Pepe. A former peregrino (pilgrim), he received inner guidance that he could be of most benefit to leave behind his former life and to welcome and serve the pilgrims! He warmly invited us to pull up a couple of chairs, out of the wind, and assured us there was no need to make a purchase. This kind, simple, welcoming caballero has devoted his current life to writing prose and poetry about the myriad trials and tribulations of life on the Camino. Visitors to his little oasis are invited to dedicate their own special message, either in his guest book or with a marker on the butcher paper on the wall. We felt blessed by his special presence as a reminder to keep life simple and to remember the Divine in all those who walk the way.