I’m now taking a rest day in Saint Jean Pied de Port. Saturday started a little late and the sheep were already running around the farm when we set off on the final day of the Via Podiensis. The routes from Tours and Vezelay join us at SJPDP to become the Camino Frances.
The walk to SJPDP was a bit special because so many people I’ve met over the past 2 or 3 weeks happened to be there. We have been a good group of pilgrims. Saturday was our last day together as some were finishing in SJPDP, C is carving a track to Irun and the others are crossing the Pyrenees on different days. So when we arrived in SJPDP no excuses were needed for a few beers.
It was fun watching pilgrims around town and guessing who was arriving after walking hundreds of tough kilometres in France and who had just stepped off the train wearing smart new clothes and with clean tidy hair. None of them hobbling on blistered feet or nursing torn ligaments or tendinitis. Yet.
I checked into the gite when it opened at 4pm and was soon feeling like a post grad among freshers. Just in front of me was the first English pilgrim I’ve seen this year. She looked like she’d just finished her ‘A’ levels and had a brand new backpack from Mountain Warehouse. She seemed very self assured but you could almost see where her worried parents had kissed her goodbye at the airport in the morning. It reminded me of setting off on my first big adventure in Europe when I was 17. It also reminds me that my Twitter account is “worried parents” and you wouldn’t get that one nowadays.
Amazingly, another English girl turned up. I was already in my bunk when I heard my name being mentioned and saw someone pointing in my direction. This girl was a bundle of nerves. She had brought a US plug adapter instead of a European one. I gave her my power pack for the night and told her where to find the Apple Store in Pamplona to buy a European charger. She then asked whether it would be good to wear walking sandles on the Camino. I suggested she wear her boots until clear of the Pyrenees. In the morning I woke to find the power pack by my feet.
Everyone was fumbling around for ages unpacking, checking everything and repacking repeatedly. And they all kept saying “I can’t believe I’m here”. One man had packed everything in plastic bags and maintained a constant loud rustling for 75 minutes. If he persists, one day someone will throw him out of the window. It was nearly midnight before the last one settled down. From tonight they’ll all be snoring by 9pm.
Of course it’s a tough first day for the new pilgrims with a steep climb of 1250 meters followed by a short sharp descent into Roncevaux Abbey for the night. Total distance 25Km. And day 2 is no better with a long injury inducing descent. The pharmacies will be waiting in Pamplona, shelves stacked with Compeed and assorted bandages.
The heatwave continues with temperatures rising to 35 degrees tomorrow in SJPDP but it will be a few degrees lower in Roncevaux. Another early start.