Distance from Saint Jean Pied du Port to Orisson 8.4 kilometres.
The weather in Saint Jean Pied du Port this morning turned out to be unexpectedly fair. The cloudy skies of the night before had given way to bright sunshine and warmer than expected temperatures. As a cloud would pass, or in shade, the winds were still a bit brisk, but the day promised to be perfect for our first day of walking.
After another breakfast of fresh, crispy baguettes and homemade jams and jellies at our guesthouse we went to Lidl, one of those soulless mega-chain grocery stores, to get some tortilla wraps for lunch and a few other supplies for the walk ahead. We weren’t going far today, but the guidebooks say, due to an almost 700 meters climb in elevation, this portion is one of the more difficult parts of the walk.
What wasn’t hard was finding the start of the path; it was signed and well marked. But, the easiest way was to simply follow the other “pilgrims” wearing backpacks with scallop shells tied on to the back. It wasn’t crowded, but there was a steady trickle of trekkers heading up the hill from near the cathedral.
Our Camino began inauspiciously enough when we stepped through Porte St. Jaques onto a road that quickly changed from cobblestone to asphalt and began a steady climb into the Pyrenees mountains. We had to share the road with cars, delivery vehicles and the occasional farm tractor, but it never felt crowded and everyone played nicely together. Soon we entered an area of switchbacks where the traffic thinned out, the vistas opened up and the only sounds were of songbirds and a cool wind.
At about kilometre four there was a small restaurant, with a large patio, that offered small plates of food and most importantly freshly brewed coffee. It was a great place to people watch and bask in the sunshine, but The Camino was calling, so reluctantly we put our backpacks on and continued upward.
After a few more kilometres we found a nice flat piece of grass, unpacked our lunches, ate and soaked in the scenery and especially the sounds of silence. After three years in SE Asia you forget what a luxury quiet can be.
The Refuge Orisson, our residence for the night, was only a few more kilometres away, so after lingering a bit longer, we rejoined the trail, which in parts was now a gravel pathway and in others, narrow paved road gently climbing still.
We arrived at Orisson just before 2 PM. 8.4 kilometres in a little over three-and-a-half hours not very speedy, but we have intentionally made this trip about quality of experience and not mindlessly covering a lot ground.
They put Sarah and me in a “family room” with a double bed and two
singles, telling us that two women, our roommates, would be arriving later. The room itself was a pleasant surprise. Spotlessly clean with an ensuite bathroom, nice new mattresses and a view of the seemingly endless valley below. It wasn’t the Ritz, but for basic accommodation in very, very rural western France it would do.
I was in the shower when our roommates arrived, but I could hear Sarah chatting with them and laughing about where they were from. In what seems to be one of the weirdest of coincidences so far of the trip, both of the ladies were Americans from my home state of Texas. After I towelled off I went to greet them and instantly liked them both. In yet another coincidence they had only met the night before in St. Jean Pied de Port and decided to travel together.
While they arranged their things, we sat and chatted about things American and Texas. Again, I liked them both, but they reminded me of why I have chosen a different life. They had both been in France for less than 48 hours and were already expressing their concerns about being in a place so “foreign”. One got out a flashlight to inspect her mattress for bed bugs and then insisted on checking ours, looking at every spot with paranoia and suspicion, saying, “Look at this. What is that?” about every speck of dust. (There was no problem) The other took our a bag of drugs, over the counter and prescription, that included Valium to relax her from the stress of being away on a “relaxing” trip and Ambien to make sure she slept. I believe in taking precautions, but this bordered on paranoia and I could tell the fear was running their trip. I was proud of them for taking on the challenge of “The Camino”, but a bit privately embarrassed as well.
Dinner was a simple “Pilgrim Meal” served at huge communal tables, of vegetables, chicken baked with thyme and garlic and baguettes served family style. Oh, I forgot to mention, free flow jugs of red wine. We were all in out rooms by 9PM. Tired from the day, but feeling warm from the good company and being pilgrims on the Camino Trail.