Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Camino 2013 - Day 1: Oloron-Ste Marie To Sarrance

We got up late the first day. At least it was late by my standards. Last Camino I routinely got up between 6:00AM and 6:30AM and was out the door twenty minutes later. This time around that was not possible. I do not like to walk in the dark. Many sad Camino stories start with "I left before dawn and I missed an arrow ...". The stories usually end with someone walking some ungodly distance in the wrong direction.  In early September, dawn (when there is enough light to see by, roughly a half hour before sunrise) was around 7:20AM so rising anytime before 7:00AM would be a waste of good sleep. Even by this standard we got out late - 8:30AM.

Oloron-Ste Marie in the drizzle along the Aspe river.
It was drizzling when we left the hostel. I wanted to stop at the tourism office to buy a French pilgrim's credential and a pilgrim's shell. The French credentials is bigger than the American one I'd brought with me. The tourism office didn't open until 9:00AM (the reason we left so late). To kill some time we stopped at a bakery and bought a croissant and orange juice for breakfast. I'm not much of a pastry guy but I have to admit that the genuine French stuff was pretty good. This was my first French croissant and it would be the first of many ... croissants and chocolate Napoleons mostly.

We found the tourism office but they did not sell credentials or shells despite being on the Arles Way. The Arles Way is the portion of the Camino in France between Arles and Somport. They directed us to a bar/cafe across from Saint Mary's church. The church was on the Camino and would be our official starting point.  There was even a distance market outside it.

The interior of the Saint Mary's Cathedral in Oloron-Ste Marie.
The bar had credentials but they did not have a stamp or shells. The church also did not have a stamp or at least there wasn't anyone there who knew about it. We left Oloron without a stamp which for me was a little disappointing. It turns out there was a stamp at our hostel. We didn't think of going back there.

The Camino leaves the church and takes you to the nearest flight of stairs. The stairs take you up a hill that gave you a great view of Oloron. We passed another smaller church before following a road out of town.

Oloron-Ste Marie seen from the top of the stairs.
The Camino takes you south through the French countryside. The Camino doesn't turn west until you leave Jaca, Spain, several days away.  As we left town we passed groups of hunters and their excited dogs - they were ready to chase down wild boar. The trail left the road and headed up a dirt trail. A lot of the Camino in France is dirt path and feels more wild than most places along the Camino Frances in Spain. The path is marked with shell markers or, more commonly, the red and white GR marker.  The GR - Grande Randonnée - are long distance walking trails in parts of Europe.

A couple of GR markers in Oloron-Ste Marie.
We stopped in the first village and ordered some sandwiches to go. Turns out we were lucky as the bar closed shortly after we left so that the owner could attend a culinary festival in Oloron. Other pilgrims would not be so lucky and would go hungry.

The more wild trails of the French Arles Way.
The views along the trail were beautiful and the villages and towns we passed had that old European charm. The only thing was the light rain and drizzle that came and went during the walk. One charming town had cutouts from fairy tales. Jean de la Fontaine was a noted fabulist/poet and the town of Escot remembers him with the colorful cutouts of his storybook characters.

The Tortoise and the Hare.
The last section before arriving in Sarrance is a very narrow dirt trail following a hillside along a river (sadly the dreary day and the shade from the trees prevented me from taking a good clear picture of the trail here). The drop from the trail to the river was a bit steep and made me a bit nervous. The fact the rain had made the trail a bit muddy and slippery didn't help.  Having hiking poles did help a lot here by helping me steady myself on the uneven and slippery surface of the trail.  While I was a little nervous along this stretch, these are the types of trails I like the most - a bit wild.

I was happy to reach Sarrance. I was tired and wet.  I wasn't really feeling jetlagged but the relatively short first day seemed very long to me.  We followed markers to the albergue - an active monastery. There are still three or four monks in residence.
The monastery where we spent the night in Sarrance.
We got beds and took a hot shower which felt very nice after being somewhat damp most of the day. This was followed by washing the clothes we wore that day. Last Camino I would go two or three days between washings. This time laundry was done nearly everyday. We hung the clothes in a furnace room where we hoped it would dry. It did not. It took a few days, and the sun coming out, for the clothes to finally dry.

We spent some of the afternoon wandering around the tiny village and buying food supplies for the next day in a small store attached to a hotel/restaurant.  I played ball with a dog - he brought his ball to a hole in the fence so I could throw it.  We also visited the church attached to the monastery.  Like last time, we visited lots of churches along the Camino.

The church attached to the monastery.
There were twelve pilgrims at the albergue.  This would be one of the largest groups we would encounter on the Arles/Aragones way.  This number would be dwarfed most days on the French Way.

The evening meal was a communal meal and was really good. I think I've never had a bad communal meal on the Camino. The group was a mix of different countries.  We met a very nice French man (J-M) who we would see along the way for the next two weeks.  Most of the pilgrims that night were German. One group, three women and a man, had done many Caminos and had written books about it. We would meet the man, NB, later along the Camino. One of the women, the only one who spoke good English, came in giving off bad vibes. She was a bit ... unpleasant. The bad mood on arrival was probably due to hard rain they walked through (and we missed) and not being able to get anything to eat along the walk (the bar we ate at was closed when they came through). I wondered if we would be stuck walking with this unpleasant person.  Everyone else was pleasant to chat with, often with Gv translating for me.

I went to sleep to the sound of rain and a little thunder.  I slept well but I started my Camino sleeping pattern.  I would fall asleep fast but I would wake two or three times during the night - usually around 1:00AM and 4:00AM.  4:00AM was when I would wake up and pull on the blanket.  This pattern would repeat itself along the entire Camino.  It became a comforting habit on my adventure.

Pictures can be found in my 2013 Camino de Santiago Google Photos album.  More pictures will be added as I add more posts.

Total Distance on Day 1: 22 km (13.67 Miles)*
Total Distance Walked:  22 km (13.67 Miles)

Approximate Track of the day's hike.¤
[Click on map for a larger version]
* Note: Since I didn't take my GPS and the camera GPS tracks are unreliable, I am using the distances listed on the awesome Caminoguide.net website unless otherwise noted.

¤ Note: The tracks were made using my Nikon AW100 camera's GPS.  In most cases I have had to edit the tracks to removed obvious tracking errors.  When the track is heavily edited, the elevation plots become unreliable and are not included.  The start of the day's hike is on the right and ends on the left - North to South.

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