Day 3 – 19th September 2015, St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson.
And so it begins! After yet another disturbed night at Le Chemin Vers L’Etoile (more squeaky bunk beds, snoring, early bird pilgrims rising at 4am and rustling plus another with a complete lack of head torch etiquette….sigh), I got up early. In fact I fairly leapt out of bed like a spring lamb I did! I felt the excitement rising to the surface of my body and spirit (even though my mind hadn’t quite caught up yet). Today was the day for setting off on the first leg of the Camino Frances. I couldn’t quite believe the day had arrived so quickly.
Alan and I packed our stuff and went downstairs to the dining room. A lovely local lady called Helena, who is a naturopath and musician made us some delicious, energy-enhancing ‘Jus de Vie’, (life juice) from apple, orange, carrot, cucumber, turmeric and ginger. As she handed me my glass, she said “This will get you over the hill.” Er yes, I thought it should do in physical terms (hopefully not in ageing terms!…I guess some things can be lost or gained in translation…).
Ahem….that hill, she was referring to is the infamous, steep climb out of St. Jean Pied de Port up the Rue D’Espagne, under the arch and up the road. I mean really UP the road. I’m pretty sure Eric warned us that the gradient was 20% but it felt more like a sheer vertical slope to me. Alan and I set off in trepidation just as the mist was rising from the streets and enveloped the town in an etheric veil. How magical I thought to myself. My backpack felt like it weighed a ton (oh was Eric right?) as we clambered along the Route de Napoleon. We tried to crack some lame jokes in between laboured breaths about how, perhaps, the Route de Napoleon required pilgrims to be really short, having one arm and a desire to conquer Europe? Anyway, shortly, as we rounded a steep bend out of town, I bumped into Janey. A few minutes later, she passed us in a hurry, as she aimed to walk all the way to Roncesvalles on her first day, and called to me “I have a present to give you” and pressed something small and shiny into my hand. “It’s a St. Christopher….it’s been blessed by Pope Benedict and St. Christopher will keep you safe. I wanted to thank you for your kindness”. I was very touched by this and wished Janey “Buen Camino” as she went on her way.
The kindness of strangers, who are friends in the making, never ceases to amaze and humble me all over the world. The Camino, I think embodies a microcosm of this as pilgrims from the four corners of the globe, meet, greet, eat, walk together and share their stories.
As we left the environs of St. Jean, the road snaked upwards through rich, verdant fields and cows tinkling their cow bells. The inclines were steep still but every now and then we had some respite when the road levelled out a little. The scenery was stunning! We were climbing up into the mountains. While we ascended further, I could here the cacophony of several dogs barking. I turned to Alan and we thought and said the same thing “Do you think that is a dog fight near a cheese farm?” (A nod to Jack from Ireland from The Way).
The sun was in full radiance when we zig zagged up yet another steep slope and spotted a cafe. Was it a mirage? No it was a Gite at Hunto, called Ferme Ithurburia. Time for a coffee stop out on the terrace, while chatting to Glory, an American retired fire fighter, who was walking her second Camino. She embarked on her first Camino after her mum died. We connected immediately over caring for and losing our mothers and shared a poignant moment. A few mins later three boisterous Irish blokes rocked up for a fag break. They were spending a week on the Camino and aimed to reach Logrono and didn’t stop long. Their nicotine-fuelled energy was palpable as they made their escape from an American guy they had been arguing about politics with. He casually sauntered in and introduced himself as John. He enigmatically said “Philosophise on this…Imagine a turtle, walking sideways uphill and laughing.”….”Oh and a word of advice, don’t discuss politics on the Camino. Peace up people!”. John divulged that owing to the US’s strict policy on holidays, he only had two weeks to walk part of the Camino, as far as he could and intended to return the following year to complete it. I reflected on how lucky I was to be able to take my time to walk the whole way in one go. I felt grateful.
Ultreia is a Basque word that one hears a lot when starting from St. Jean. It means onward. After coffee we slowly but surely pressed onwards and upwards to our goal at Orisson, 8kms into the route. The views were incredible, it was like walking on the roof of the world. Soon we reached our refuge and received a warm welcome from the staff, who stamped our pilgrim passports and showed us to our very clean dorm down a precipitous path that had eco showers. Right on!
Unpacking the sleeping bag becomes the first ritual, closely followed by checking out the loo. All good! Alan and I enjoyed some delicious, veggie soup for lunch and then I retired for an hour long nap. I really needed it. I handwashed a couple of items of clothing and relaxed until dinner.
The evening pilgrim meal was memorable. The dining room was packed out with pilgrims from all ages and nationalities. I sat next to three Americans -Laurie, Mary and Dan and a French guy called Benoit. Dinner was lively, lots of animated chatter over soup, roast chicken and a veg stew followed by a light-as-a-feather Basque cake, all washed down with water and wine. At the end we gave rapturous applause to the chef and were each invited to stand up and introduce ourselves, say where we were from, who we were walking with and where we hoped to reach. It was like a meeting of the United Nations, only more fun, dynamic and productive! The atmosphere was very convivial as pilgrims and new friends wandered off to gain some shut eye before an early start the next morning.
It really was a Bon Nuit!
…stay tuned for another exciting episode…
Peace, love and light,