Ups and downs

Today we woke up to a rain that persisted all day. You don’t see any photos because it was too wet to take the phone/camera out of the inner dry pocket of my rain coat. That is all I will say about the rain because it became something that was just there and was not oppressive. I had read other pilgrim’s writings about how their breakfast consisted of cafe con leche doble and bread. I thought that was a choice they made. When I entered the dining room this morning the table was set with bread, butter, jelly and large bowls. I thought ah, cereal…maybe oatmeal. I watched others with their bowl approach the bar where milk was poured in the bowl. But where were they getting the cereal? I traced the approach to the bar back and saw a woman add coffee to her bowl. Odd. Maybe that’s common in whatever country she’s from. Then I watched others. The bowl was a giant coffee cup (doble) and the milk was…the only source of protein. So I joined the ranks of those who started the day with cafe con leche doble with bread and butter and jelly. The day started going up steeply as I told you it would. Then it leveled off into a gentle up. We had been walking on a paved road so far. About a km from where the Camino left the road there was a truck parked with awning. It was a former pilgrim who would stamp one’s pilgrim passport and had hot coffee and other snack food items for sale. It was a wonderful gift. He warned us that in 5 minutes we needed to turn right off the road. Five minutes later we reached that intersection. It wasn’t that it wasn’t well marked, it was just that it was difficult to see any path there through the grass. But we turned right and an occasional splash of yellow paint on a rock reassured us that we were on the right path. We walked along a path about a foot wide on the side of a hill. On either side of us were meadows with occasional grazing sheep. Eventually the path led down to a wider path that was very well marked and we entered Spain.
The Spanish Camino had a marker post every 100 meters (with the number to call for emergencies). The route leveled out for quite a stretch which made for good walking. Then we started going down. It surely would be a joy to go down after so much up, right? At first I thought so. Then I was really glad I had walking poles. Then as my legs got rubbery and wobbly I realized that down is not all it’s cracked up to be. Plus it was a little slippery from…moisture. We did make it safely to the monastery at Roncesvalles, checked in, got our sellos, picked out bunks (indoors and dry!) and went to make a reservation for the pilgrim’s meal. After a shower, a cup of coffee and a glass of quite good Basque red house wine I was feeling good. I can’t believe I haven’t talked about food. The pilgrim’s meal last night was a great vegetable soup, roast lamb, white beans in a great sauce (a little pork fat as ham for flavor), with house red wine and bread and gâteau for dessert. It was great and it was easy to overeat. Once again the vistas today were stunning. I has also been amazing learning the stories of those traveling with us. Some of them are truly heroic. When I can get to a full key board instead of my iPhone I will tell some of them. Almost time for dinner then a church service. Tomorrow more down but more gradually. Sent from my iPhone

“Did I mention the rain.”

This morning we took the train to St. Jean Pied dePort (SJPP), checked in at the pilgrim office (June is pictured outside the office) and picked up our pilgrim passport with it’s first stamp (sello). After a cup of coffee at a cafe, which allowed June to finish a book so she would not need to carry it, we started our walk…in the rain. It wasn’t a heavy rain but it did add to the “experience.”

The first time I heard our friend Mark LeBlanc talk about his Camino experience he talked about the challenge the rain added to an otherwise very challenging first day. He talked about the steep upward climb out of SJPP, needing to stop and rest, reflecting on how he was only at mile 2, exhausted, with 498 more miles to go, “And did I mention the rain?” It’s a fitting title for today’s blog. You start out going up and you think, “Golly this up thing is tiring!” Then it gets really steep and you don’t think about much except “Does it look a little flatter way up there?” (It isn’t.) We planned to stop and had booked a place (a tent was all they had left) at Orrison. Orrison is about 1/3 of the way to Roncesvalles which is a common first day stop (8 of the 24km), and is about 1/2 of the altitude climbed on the way there (700 of the 1400 meters). We had decided that with the late train arrival into SJPP and our jet lag that we would take it easy the first day and stop at Orrison. We are very glad we did. I don’t know how people make it all the way to Roncesvalle that first day. Mark explains it as following wise advice he received, “You can always take another step.” I’d like to know what the evidence for that is. The view along this part of the Camino is stunning. We looked down into lush valleys, some forested and other covered with grass with sheep grazing. The clouds and broken sections of mist lent a pleasant softness to the countryside. The Refugio at Orrison is nice and includes dinner and breakfast. The tents are smallish but dry and have mattresses, sheets and blankets. It felt good to shower, put on dry clothes, have a glass of wine and reflect on the day. Tomorrow’s path has less total elevation increase but starts with a more rapid assent. But we will be rested and…

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Sent from my iPhone

On trains in France

We are now on the train from Bordeaux (from Paris) to Bayonne. We will be getting into Bayonne at a little after 11:00 PM and will spend the night there. It has been a tiring day. I don’t sleep well on planes so I’ve gotten about 3 or 4 hours of sleep, mostly on trains. We’ve gotten the navigation around French rail stations down pretty well and it is actually pretty nicely organized. It’s a skill we won’t use again on this trip but…you never know. The country side as seen from the train has been nice but the views around Bordeaux, which are supposed to be beautiful, were in the dark of night. Tomorrow we make our way from Bayonne to St. Jean Pied de Port and the walk begins. Things should be looking up from there, literally, as we climb into the Pyrenees.

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Sent from my iPhone

Pilgrimage

Today it begins. After thinking about it for years and making plans for about a year we leave today to travel to St. Jean Pied de Port in France. That is one of the popular towns for beginning the walk that is known as the Camino de Santiago ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Way_of_St._James ). We will be walking 500 miles from St. Jean in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain along the route known as the French Route or Camino Francés.

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The journey will take somewhere around 34 days of walking and a few more of resting. It is not an organized walk so there is no set itinerary or agenda. We anticipate that it will be a journey for the body, mind and soul. Beyond that we don’t know what to anticipate. We will be carrying most of what we need for those 5+ weeks on our backs getting to know more about what is essential in our lives. From what we’ve read “essential” equals about 20 – 25 pounds. We are not camping which helps with the weight. We will stay mostly in Refugios, which are shelters for pilgrims and are similar to hostels, and sometimes in hotels. We don’t have to carry food other that what we need for lunch on the route. A collection of most of what I think I need looks like this.

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In the next few hours we will be double checking our lists, adding some things (not too much) and probably taking some things out of our packs. One thing that I decided to take after much thought is my cell phone. It can serve as a multifunction device. I can use it for emergencies, for a camera, and thanks to the training I received from Griff Wigley I can post to this blog. I hope that I will be able to find things to write about and pictures to share. Then I hope I can find a wi-fi connection to send the postings.

So, in a matter of hours my world will be the Camino, the refugios and cafes, the other pilgrims and my pack.

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When we get back I’m sure I will have stories to share Over the Table.