For those who have seen the movie “The Way” it seems quite romantic to arrive at the start of the camino by the old train with all the other pilgrims. Unfortunately the train isn’t running from Bayonne to St Jean at the moment. Apparently there was some landslide or something last November and repair work is still underway. A bus runs from the station instead and is the only option though it takes a somewhat winding route from Bayonne out into the country. It was only just over an hour so it wasn’t too bad a trip – although I had to stop myself from reading and writing as what I thought motion sickness had started to kick in – that wouldn’t have happened on the train I thought.
Anyway we arrived in Saint Jean Pied de Port again in one piece and hoisted our packs on and headed up into the old city to find the Pilgrim’s Office – our hostel was directly opposite and came highly recommended from all the experts online. Well there was no disappointment there! We were allocated a room with six others, a French man and a German, a French couple and an Irish Girl with her Scottish Friend who now lives in Australia. Not a bad bunch for the first night – in fact Barb and Elizabeth (I think I have that right) were a good laugh – and we all had fun trying to communicate in the other languages as well.
It cost 30 Euro a night and included dinner and breakfast. Dinner was vegetable soup with salad and dessert and wine and wasnt too bad actually. We played a few games before dinner to introduce ourselves and get to know our first “Camino family”. France, Italy, USA, Germany, Ireland, Spain and us. When introducing ourselves we had to say why we were doing the Camino and my Beloved told everyone that his wife said there were great dives sites all the way! Really – such a joker!
Before dinner we wandered around town a bit marvelling at how beautiful this little place was when I realised there were fast becoming too many urgent rushes to the bathroom for me. Would you believe I now had some sort of tummy bug? Well having had so many antibiotics of late its not surprising really. But the day before we begin our hike! Really. Ain’t nobody got time for that ! (to quote an American I once saw on TV after her house burnt down).
Well out came the medicine kit (again..) but I was reluctant to ingest any more antibiotics.
I survived the night in the dormitory and only had to visit the bathroom twice. Breakfast was a simple continental spread and by the time we ventured down to eat most of the pilgrims had already departed for their journey to Santiago. I didnt feel 100 percent but I was fit enough in my view to begin the hike up the first 8 kilometres over the Pyrenees – just taking it very slowly – and having a stop gap from the medicine cabinet. I sure took it slowly. So slowly at one point I came around a bend and found my beloved having a nap whilst laying face first across a rock.
After the 5 kilometres up to Hunto we had a coffee break (the last for 17 kilometres apparently (apart from our Orisson Refuge)) and as we were leaving my beloved suggested we should get going – I quickly responded with “I am going” but this was the steepest part of the whole trek so we had a good laugh when he suggested that the road wasnt moving – I was slow but we were making progress. So many people were overtaking us I was thrilled when we overtook an older American couple – and then I felt a great sense of achievement when we passed an older Australian couple and they didnt even have packs on (our first Aussie encounter and they were from so near home). I felt like an expert. That is until I started seeing slugs on the damp road going faster. I had to speed up to get a photo of one! (not really but it felt like it).
We arrived at Orrison after an almost vertical 8 kilometre hike. This was another small hostel where the opportunity to get to know people over dinner made us all feel very welcome and consequently we met another great bunch – some of who had been in the same hostel the night before. Spanish, French, Romanian, Irish, American, Italian, German, Koreans etc etc and Us. Husband again informed everyone that I had told him there would be great dive sites all along the way – dirty rat! We shared a room with a nice American couple and also a nice Italian couple.
Unfortunately I had not quite rid myself of the stomach bug – so for the first few hours after we arrived I sat watch over one of the few washing machines we would see in coming days. It was right next to the bathroom which was most convenient. Husband enjoyed meeting everyone in the bar over the very large beer glasses whilst I steadily sipped water and popped down for one cup of tea and met a few of our new companions. I finally relented and out came the hard core antibiotics and immodium. We had what was said to be the hardest 17 kms of the Camino the next day crossing the Pyrenees from France into Spain and down into Roncenvalles. The thought of needing a bathroom and not having one in the cold and remote hills filled me with fear. Taking these meds proved a good move and after an early night I surprisingly slept for 9 hours and woke up feeling like a million dollars (not really but I felt that I could do it – again very slowly). My beloved was very patient. Fortunately the day heading up to Orisson we had had some great views back over the mountains because as we were leaving Orisson we had none! The fog was thick and we probably had no more than 20 metres visibility at times, 100 metres at best. The fog didnt clear this day until we were almost in Roncenvalles.
With each step I kept saying to myself yep this is a walk in the park compared to Patagonia, after all there was no sleet blowing in our ears. But as we got closer and closer to the highest peak (1400m or so) the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and biting cold rain came in waves. It wasn’t far off Patagonia let me tell you! My beloved had insisted on lightening his load and for warmth he had only a fleece jumper, a light raincoat and a poncho – which I had near insisted he bring as it covered both he and his pack. He therefore needed to keep moving to keep the body heat up. (By the way he was ever so grateful for the poncho!) I had an Icebreaker wool tshirt and jumper along with a zip up “fleece” and waterproof jacket. My pack has its own cover. Whilst we warmed up with the steep inclines – the higher we got the cold still seemed to seep in to our bones.
Not long before the final ascent was a French entrpreneur with a little caravan, a basic annex and hot coffee! That was a pleasant surprise I can assure you – gave me enough of a kick to power on. At this point I pulled out my silk liner gloves which worked wonders with my hiking poles but husband had to keep his hands up the opposite sleeves to save his fingers from freezing. This time I passed a 70 year old Italian and a couple of other older Europeans. There were certainly some dangerous areas over the next part where you could see how wind or snow could lead to a wrong step that would see people stumble over rather steep drops to the sides of the path and inevitable death. We also spotted a skeleton of a small animal that had been picked to the bone by the vultures – we weren’t going to dawdle there too long. It wasn’t much past here til we reached Col de Leopar which is the highest point of the crossing. After here a rather steep descent begins.
The pilgrim office had informed us that the direct path straight down was closed and we should take the longer but less dangerous route at this point and turn right (only 1.5km more mind you). When we came to the divide our first little marital tiff arose. Husband did not wish to vere from the yellow arrows (these were constant all over the pass) and I didnt want to disobey the Pilgrims office (or the Aussies walking for Parkinsons who had also warned us). Furthermore the red and white tape which said something in Spanish that I didnt understand had been obviously tied across the hard way and people had ripped it off! I had heard stories of people doing their knees in on this one section (in fact we had met someone in Brisbane recently) some having to quit the Camino almost before it had begun. So I was taking the high road! He could take the low road no matter what! Well needless to say my beloved was not prepared to let me go it alone as he was worried about me so we both went the high road. If that was the easy road thank heavens we didn’t take the hard way!
We eventually strolled into the back of the huge hostel and obtained two of the last remaining beds in the new section housing over 100 people and it had only been opened a year or two. The hostel was also offering a pilgrim meal at one of the bars at 8.30pm. I wanted to eat earlier so headed over and booked us into the other bar for dinner at 7pm. We made our beds, showered and husband decided to head down for a drink – I could barely move and told him I’d meet him there soon and we would then go to the pilgrim mass – it was Sunday so there was also a special blessing for pilgrims to wish them well on the way to Santiago – this was a really beautiful experience and two of our new American friends gave readings – one in Spanish and the other in English.
We had dinner with an American family who were sending there bags on to each new destination. I still wasn’t sure what drove us to keep carrying ours – although I did send on a couple of kilos on of post camino gear that included a dress and some sandals and makeup. The company as usual was great but the pilgrim dinner was a bit of a disappointment for husband as he’s not a big fish lover and the trout in this part of Spain is very popular. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Well the illness seemed almost gone although I was completely exhausted with feet that ached like you wouldnt believe. I had been keeping my knees taped so they werent too bad so far. One of my ankles showed a slight rash but nothing too annoying. Off to bed early again and with seriously good earplugs in as there must have been a hundred people on the same floor all in cubicles of 4 that didnt quite reach the ceiling.
I was very fortunate to have the cosy top bunk with an amazing Korean man on the other side of the divide. This man had taken the art of snoring to a new level. I had just been bragging about my silicone earplugs at dinner – but they were no match for the snoring man from Korea! He filled the entire room with his 40 decibel snorts. I was thrilled to share a dividing wall with him as you can imagine. He was snoring like an out of tune trombone player in an echo chamber! I was on the other side of an amplifying wall. I wanted to reach over the cubicle and hold the pillow over his head! I was so tired that the thought of going to prison for murder seemed less of a torture than listening to this through the night. Lucky for him I was so stiff I could barely move. I restrained myself and made it through the night without committing murder (just). I awoke after a couple of short naps where he likely suffered apnea and went silent for brief moments. My husband could have challenged him in days past but thankfully he now has a cpap machine. I was keen to move on in the morning and have this night become a memory! The next days walk was not meant to be as challenging so we set off in the cold and misty rain in search of our next destination. There had been no murder so I was free to walk. And tonight I had hopes of obtaining habitacione doble – a double room sin the Korean snoring champion!
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