Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Four days later

It's four days later.

Saturday 3 May - tough crossing of The Pyrenees via Route Napoleon. Not so much the climb, but the horrendous weather. Rain, wind, cold, low cloud - couldn't see more than 20 metres ahead. Couldn't feel my feet most of the time. No photos until the long steep descent in the stunning forest is nearly over. Too wet, too cold, too cloudy - and too muddy - to get the camera out any earlier. Very pleased to arrive at Roncesvalles, 27 kms later. We did it. Hot shower, fresh clothes - amazing how the previous 7 hours falls away. Tout va bien. But I'm en Espana now so - todo esta bien!  Shortly after we arrive, the rain stops and the sun comes out. 

Hotel Roncesvalles and the twos Casas complet, so stayed at the very nice, but very big albergue with nearly 200 others - dinner at the Hotel is some consolation. Horrified by the huge number of pilgrims in Roncesvalles - and not thrilled with some of what I see and hear. Pierre warned me May is becoming the busiest month, and this year overwhelmingly non-European and English speaking - in Australian, New Zealand, American and Irish accents. A very different atmosphere to my earlier Spanish Caminos and the comparatively deserted Chemin du Puy. I meet some nice pilgrims but find myself sticking close to my French friends. Knowing the small towns ahead the next day - barely more than villages - I wonder where all these people will sleep!

Sunday 4 May - gentle nostalgic walk from Roncesvalles to Zubiri. Still horrified by crowds but manage to get into a quiet space and enjoy The Way.  When we stop for the day, the numbers hit me again. Pleased to have rooms in a nice pensione with Dominique, the other Dominique and Blaise. The small town is 'complet' and filled with pilgrims. I notice cafes and albergues that didn't exist a year ago. The local powers that be open the gymnasium to accommodate overflow on the floor. Yikes!  Feeling more thankful every minute for my wonderful Spanish Caminos of 2011 and 2013 - so peaceful by comparison. 

Monday 5 May - brilliant sunshine for the walk to Pamplona. Picture of me at favourite outdoor cafe along The Way. Jill and I photographed at same cafe last year - just a month earlier - all rugged up. Arrived in Pamplona before 1pm in brilliant sunshine. Enjoyed an afternoon strolling around, interrupted by late lunch at fabulous little tapas bar. Met Dominique, the other Dominique and Blaise at Cafe Iruna (famous for Hemingway connection) - vino at an outdoor table, great for people watching in Plaza del Castillo, followed by dinner. Sad to say goodbye - and already know I will miss them, and the walking! I'm not used to being the one leaving The Way while others continue. 

Tuesday 6 May - after just an hour's bus ride. I'm in San Sebastián. As with Barcelona, love at first sight. And not just because of the tapas. Note to self:  I'm not walking 20-30 kms a day now - try to show some restraint! Sightings of Camino shells and signs and the odd pilgrim bring a smile - San Sebastián is on the Camino del Norte. Perhaps I will walk that path one day. 

Heading out again now to explore more of San Sebastián. I'm already in love, and haven't even made it to the beach yet. 

The End. Home in a few days. Hasta Luego. 

J x


Friday, May 2, 2014

Camino Le Puy (Chemin du Puy)

My rest day in St Jean Pied de Port was anything but restful. It was a busy, emotional, funny, exhausting and happy day. I walked out to meet Sheryl and Glenn as planned and we walked back in together in the rain. It struck me that the grey skies and persistent rain were just as it was when we (Sheryl, Glenn, Jill and I) set out from this town on 1 April last year, though not quite as cold. 

We enjoyed a wonderful lunch together - sharing the highlights of our time on The Way since we'd last been together on Day 7. They were taking the late afternoon train to Paris then on to Antwerp tomorrow to visit Carlo - and invited me to come with them. I thought about it over lunch but decided to stay on The Way for a while longer. There is already talk of the next Camino possibilities. You never know. Tout est possible au Chemin. 

Seeing Sheryl and Glenn again today, hearing from Ana asking whether I might come to Barcelona before I return home, saying au revoir to Delphine and others at dinner tonight, making plans with Dominique for an early start tomorrow to walk the Route Napoleon across The Pyrenees into Spain - the Camino is all about the people - the ones you meet along The Way and the ones you miss from home. 

A dear friend said to me a few weeks ago, 'I read the words and I see the pictures, but I know some days are really hard'. And they are. And it's not usually because of the long distance, the pack that's just a bit heavier than it should be, the tough terrain, the thick mud or the persistent rain. The hard days are when you've walked alone for three days, but feel more lonely sitting at dinner with 10 people who are speaking a language you don't understand. Or when you see something so stunningly beautiful or find yourself in such a special place (for example, the l'Alchimste gite) that you want someone from your 'real life' to be with you to bear witness to the experience. Or you accidentally delete the photos from the l'Alchimiste gite that you would love to have seen and shared - and hopefully still will. Or you think of home and feel you are away too long. 

But thanks to so many people, I had very few really hard days. Most days, I was just happy to be walking in the unique - and now familiar - way that the Camino offers. And mindful of how fortunate I am to have the time, the resources and the good health to be able to do it. 

So thank you to my Camino angels who made this another wonderful adventure for me - Sheryl, Glenn, Carlo, Sive, Mary-Rose and Brian, Ana, Natalie, Valerie, Sylvie and Jean, Evelyne, Elena, Jean-Phillipe, Veronique, Simone, the three ladies in the Gite Communal at Mirramont, Jean-Gatean, Emmanuel, Max and Sebastian, Dominique, Delphine and Pierre. 

With not too many pilgrims, and 95% of those French speaking, the connection to home was especially important for me this time.  BIG THANK YOU you to all my family and friends, and friends of friends, who have been 'following' me along The Way - and for your kind and enthusiastic messages. And special thanks to Clare and Richard for taking such wonderful care of Zoe and Zac. I've missed them, but have known they are in good hands and having a fine time!

I expect this will be my last update. I plan to continue on The Way for the next 4-5 days, walking the first 100 kms or so of the Camino Frances, for the third time. I may be tempted to add a few photos but, as for the words, I've said enough for now. More than enough!  

A bientot. Hasta Luego. 

J x

PS. I left two things in St Jean Pied de Port. To thank Pierre for his kindness, I bought with me from home a CD of Gurrumul Yunupingu with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. I gave it to Pierre last night and he seemed very happy to receive such a gift. When I went into his store today, the music was playing. He said it is 'tres tranquille', good for calming pilgrims who are often coming in to the store stressed as they are about to begin their daunting adventure! 

The second thing I've left is a little white stone, which I placed in the pavement of Rue de Citadelle - see the last photo. It has travelled from home and all along The Way. Who knows where it will end up but, for now, it is part of this pilgrim town.