Walking the Way, Day 1
We got up early to catch our 730am train to Bayonne, then changed to a cute local train to take us to St Jean Pied de Port (St John at the Foot of the Gateway) where we will begin our 500 mile walk. We board the train with lots of other people who are wearing backpacks. The atmosphere is festive and the scenery is green and gorgeous. There are a few clouds, but it looks like the rain is past. It’s about 9:30am.
The first thing we do is walk to the top of the town and enter properly through the St James gate. Then we descend down the narrow medieval street to the Pilgrim Office. Pilgrims are standing in line to get checked in. We patiently wait behind some German bicyclists (yes, you can bicycle the Camino!) There was also a woman with her dog, who was wearing his own set of panniers, ready to hike.
It’s our turn and we all present our US Passports and sign in. We then each receive our own Pilgrim Passport. This certifies us as Official Pilgims and has lots of empty space to receive stamps from everywhere we go along the Way. We get a list of the pilgrim accommodations (called alberges or refugios) with information such as who is running them (private or city or church), how far they are from each other, and what kind of facilities they offer. The first “stage” of the walk is 27 kilometers, but we’re going to break it up and stay at the private Refugio Orisson just 8km from St Jean. That 8km is one of the steepest parts of the entire walk, getting us halfway to the pass through the Pyrenees.
We take our first Pilgrim steps down to the church for a quiet moment of prayer. I think the boys appreciated the next stop to grab a sandwich at the deli a little more. We started walking out of town and up the trail and I believe they finished eating their yummy chorizo or local ham and cheese on a baguette before we left the houses of the town. Even though we started together, Mary, Susie, and I lost them when we stopped to lose a layer of clothing and adjust our packs.
Eight kilometers is only 5 miles. It was 11am and we couldn’t check into our refugio until 3pm, so we took our time. Good thing, too, because it was pretty much straight up. I’ll put some pics at the bottom of this entry to give you an idea of how it was. Let’s just say it took 4 hours to climb those 5 miles and when we finally got to our refugio, we were soooo happy. The boys were chillin’ at the picnic tables in front, empty beer bottles in front of them. They told us they had been there for an hour. Hmmmm….
We were shown our beds in a room with 5 sets of bunks. Arriving later than some others, only Dominic and Mary were lucky enough to get the bottom bunks. We each received a token for a 5 minute shower and that was the first thing each of us (except for Morgan) did. We then hand-washed our dirty clothes and hung them out to dry. It was still kind of cloudy and cool, so there was little chance they would dry all the way, but one could hope.
The two best things about Orisson were the view and the dinner. I put my fleece and scarf on and went to the deck that overlooks the base of the Pyrenees. Gorgeous view! I brought my iPad and tried to write, but ended up in conversation about homeschool with a John from South Africa and John and Katherine from Los Angeles. Before we knew it, it was dinnertime.
Dinner was delicious bean soup and bread, then pork with sauce and potatoes, then Santiago cake with all the wine and water you could drink. The dining room was set up with 4 long tables and our little group sat between John from South Korea (78 years old – kids disapproved of his decision to go, but his wife gave him the go-ahead) and Simon from Italy. The food was great, the wine was flowing and the boys were becoming more amazing to themselves by the minute. We urged them to drink lots of water, too, which they did.
Then, the woman who checked us in and served us dinner (the short one with the cute bob playing a pilgrim getting off the train in The Way) stood up and announced that we all needed to stand up and introduce ourselves to each other. There were so many nationalities in that room! People from France, Germany, Spain, Hungary, South Korea, Italy, Brazil, US, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands – I’m sure there were more, because not everyone spoke up.
We then stumbled down to our bunk beds, brushed our teeth, and climbed up to bed. Someone was already snoring. I tried to do a little more writing, but was soon asleep. Crossing the Pyrenees tomorrow!