I met my first fellow pilgrim at the Stansted airport having organised to catch a taxi with him from Biarittz to St Jean Pied de Port through a pilgrim forum site. Nick and I had an an interesting flight on Ryanair...the wing of the plane was inches from hitting the tarmac, being an Irish airline they were probably too busy drinking their Guiness. We met some more pilgrims whilst waiting to get our passports stamped, it is true, on the camino you are never alone unless you choose to be!
St Jean is the starting point for most pilgrims on the Camino Frances. The old quarter retains its cobbled streets and is overlooked by the Citadelle, the views from which are mindblowing with the pyrenees in all directions. I stayed at a pilgrim hostel called L´Espirit du Chenin which literally means The Spirit of the Way which is most appropriate as the owner seems to embody the spirit of the way and was a wonderful host. At the hostel I met a few other solo travellers and we decided we would hike the first day together to help get over the first day nerves. The pilgrim office informed us that it was too dangerous to traverse the Napolean route over the Pyranees due to heavy snow and fog and to therefore take the alternative route via Valcarlos.
We set off in the morning, a group of 5 - David (a sculpter but a Doctor in a previous life), Margie (a strong American women who was previously a professional runner), Theresa (Persuer(spelling) of the Seaborne cruise ships, Frank (a Dutch horse shed builder) and myself. We had intended to follow the advice of the locals but somehow took a wrong turn and ended up half way up the mountain. We took a vote and decided to continue on instead of turning back as the weather was beautiful....
1400m we climbed, it was at approx the 1000m mark we hit snow but the tracks were clear so we kept on. Around 1200m we had to leave the track and head overland, it was here things got interesting! The snow was in parts up to my knees, we had fog closing in on us and it was a tad chilly to say the least. At the Fontaine de Roland we waited for Miss Korea to catch up as we were concerned about her hiking alone. The fog deepened as we hiked along the side of the mountain but started to clear as we decended into woodland. It was the most physicall demanding day of my life but also the most rewarding. All of agreed we could not have done it alone, we forged a bond that day, we achieved something impossible, and the faces on the other pilgrims when we told them of our journey was a look of disbelief but also awe. We shared a beer and a bottle of wine that night and their was silent agreement to continue walking together. How long for, only time will tell, but time is something we have plenty off.
The hostelerios at Roncevalles called us bad pilgrims for taking the dangerous route, so this is what we now call ourselves, our group name :)
Camino injuries Day 1: nil.
Day 2 and the legs were stiff but quickly got moving. A long hike of 27km but only a few hills to climb so was a walk in the park in comparison to the day before. We hiked in Larrasoana mid afternoon with drizzle following us. The albergue at Larrasoana is very basic and with a chorus of snoring not much sleep was had.
Camino injuries Day 2: blister on toe on left foot.
The first part of Day 3 was very scenic criss crossing the Rio Arga a number of times and then hiking up Monte Miravalles overlooking Pamplona. I had always planned a rest day for Pamplona and the others decided they would join me (Nick has joined our group too making us 6). The outer suburbs of Pamplona are worse than the new suburban developents in Perth, a real eye sore. Thankfully they have the old town as their saving grace. Cobbled streets, narrow alleys, restaurants and bars abundant. We spent much of the afternoon doing washing and then headed out for Pinxos and Vino...at 2euro the night was a lot of fun! We ended up in a bar that Hemmingway use to sit and write in and when they kicked us out at closing time it was off to bed (thankfully the Pamplona albergue closes later than most, normally we have to be in the hostel by 10pm). On our way back to the albergue my right shoulder (not the one i had surgery on!) decided to pop out...and all i was doing was walking! My left shoulder is also giving me a bit of trouble, so life is getting interesting.
Camino injuries Day 3: blister on toe worsened, right shoulder disclocation.
I´m currently on the day off in Pamplona. We have visited the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria la Real and the Plaza del Toros )bull stadium...no fighting today though!). Now it´s time for some rest before hitting the road again.
Hope all are well at home, I´m having an awesome time despite the injuries. Lots of love xxx