I was expecting something of a quiet day in SJPDP yesterday but that only lasted long enough to write my blog over breakfast. After that I bumped into P, the US management consultant and we went for a beer. Then C (my walking companion until Condom) joined followed by A (my walking companion after Condom), and then Fr (my walking companion until SJPDP). All of us then joined M (the Australian actress) who was enjoying a quiet lunch alone.
After siesta we all regrouped along with Co and others for dinner and suddenly the day was over.
This morning I met N and M at 6.00 outside the baker and after a pain aux chocolate we set off in a generally upward direction following the usual signs and the pilgrims hoping to beat the 36 degrees forecast later in SJPDP. The old GR65 signs which guided me all the way from Le Puy were now competing for prominence with the yellow arrow of the Camino Frances but navigation was predominantly “follow the person in front”. The new pilgrims looked happy when passing the signpost to Compostela showing 765 Kms but I know they will be suffering badly by Pamplona.
The walk was both beautifully scenic and historic. One thinks of Charlemagne and Napoleon but more especially the people who have bravely crossed the Pyrenees in all seasons to fight in the Spanish Civil War or to escape the Nazi Vichy French regime. But for us it was a perfect day of blue skies and clear visibility without the usual early morning mist. We reached the Orisson gite at the end of the steepest section by 8.15 and had coffee and Basque gateau. M had booked a night there, possibly expecting to arrive much later but she was looking forward to some peace and quiet to continue writing her next production.
I would advise anyone walking the Camino Frances to reserve a night at Orisson. It spares the body the whole punishing 1250m climb followed by a treacherously steep descent over 26 Kms on the first day. And Orisson has a special welcoming atmosphere for new pilgrims which I learnt about last year. And again, the Basque gateau is the best you will ever taste. Book early.
So N and I continued the climb over the mountains, past the grazing sheep and horses, the unmarked border into Spain and then through a beautiful forest for the descent to the former 12th century monastery at Roncesvalles. Nowadays the complex resembles a Camino holiday camp with hundreds of pilgrims. During dinner I was reflecting on some of the happy little gites in France and their kind Madames.