Homer's Travels: Camino 2023 - The Beginning

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Camino 2023 - The Beginning

Time to post about our Camino.  On May eleventh the Wife and I started to make our way to the start of the Camino.   We flew from Omaha to Chicago where we hit our first delay.  Our flight from Chicago to Paris was delayed just over an hour due to a technical  issue in the cockpit (a bad screen of some sort).  This was when I really started to worry.  The time we had in Paris to get our checked bag, get through customs and passport control, and to get to the train station was a bit tight before you took the delay into account.

We arrived in Paris.  We collected our bag (the bag with all the liquids and pointy things that irritate security people - we'd carried our backpacks on the plane), breezed through customs and passport control, and headed for the taxi station.  As we got in the taxi we told our driver we needed to get to the train station in an hour before our train left.  His English and our French were not that great but I'd printed out the name of the station so I could just show it to the driver without me mangling the pronunciation. When he heard we needed to get there in an hour he made this 'are you crazy' face.

The taxi took off and he drove like a madman until we hit the late morning traffic.  Along the way we saw the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower in the distance.  Despite the traffic he got us to the station with about ten minutes to spare.  He even followed us into the station to make sure we knew where to catch our train.  When we say that our train was delayed we all had a laugh.

Our train to Bayonne was over an hour late - the second delay of the journey.  It was a relaxing ride through the French countryside and we ate some lunch along the way.

When we got to Bayonne our connection was still there.  Bayonne is a small train station so walking over to our connecting train was easy.  The train to St Jean Pied de Port is a small, two car train.  The cars are newer and bigger than the ones I rode in twelve years ago on my first Camino.

View from our hotel room.
(Taken by the Wife)
An hour later our travels were done.  It started raining just before we arrive at the station.  The Wife and I broke out our rain gear and we started walking to our hotel. 

We had to wait for someone to open the door and check us into our hotel located in an old building (the year 1720 marked over the door) in the historic area of the city.  Our room was nice and the location was ideal.

The next morning (Saturday) the wife discovered that her backpack sternum strap had pulled loose sometimes during transit.  I tried to get it back on but couldn't do it.  Fortunately there was an outfitter next door to our hotel and when the man who worked there couldn't fix it, the woman who worked with him, after whispering that she was better than him, fixed it for the Wife.

I want to say something here.  Back in 2011 on my first Camino there were precious few services geared towards pilgrims.  No outfitters.  Most bakeries, bars, and restaurants didn't open until 9:00am.  I have to say that in the last twelve years that has changed.  St Jean Pied de Port has two outfitters on the same street.  Bakeries open with breakfast services as early as 6:30am.  Food trucks have appeared along the road in the Pyrenees.  This makes things a lot easier for the pilgrims.

Bridge over the Nive river in St Jean Pied de Port.
We spent a day buying snacks for our first and second walking days, a little sightseeing around this nice French city, and eating good meals in preparation for our walk.  We'd beat the rush and had gotten our pilgrim's passport and Camino shells at the pilgrim's office the day we'd arrived.

Sunday, 14 May was the official start of our Camino.  We had a very short day to the Orisson Albergue (pilgrim's hostel) so we were not in a hurry to leave.  We had a reservation at Orisson so we were not in a race.  The Wife went to Mass at a small church not far from our hotel.  When she returned it was drizzling so we geared up, put on our rain gear, and headed into the Pyrenees mountains.

Despite the on and off rain there were some views to be had in the Pyrenees mountains.
A lot of what I saw along the way didn't match my memory of my first Camino which is understandable.  Memory fades and landscapes and civilization changes as well.

We met a couple of women as we were resting and admiring the cloudy view.  One was from England (El) and the other Australian (Tr).  We would run into them over the next week or so.  Ar least one of them is still walking the Camino as of this post.

The view from the Orisson Albergue ... The blue sky made an appearance.
After 4.9 miles (7.9 km) with 2,200 ft (670 m) of elevation climb we reached Orisson where we checked in, did our chores, and made ourselves comfortable at the bar/restaurant.  That evening there was a communal meal with everyone at the Albergue.  We all got up and introduced ourselves.  There were people from all over the world on the Camino for many diverse reasons. Here, along with El and Tr, we met Sa and her mother Le.  We would see them many times over the next two weeks. 

The view down the mountain from the trail.
The hazy rain made the forest look ethereal.
(Photo taken by the Wife)
The next day, Monday, we left Orisson with a to-go sandwich packed in our backpacks and headed out into the rain.  Today would be the hardest day of our entire Camino, not because it was the longest day but because of the elevation change.  Over the next 11 miles (18 km) we could climb up 2,600 ft (793 m) and down 2,040 ft (622 m).  After walking into Spain we stopped at a small shelter where a bunch of us crowded in out of the rain.  The Wife and I ate our to-go ham and cheese sandwiches before going back out in the rain.

The last part going into Roncesvalles, Spain is a very steep drop down the mountain.  It was slow, wet, and a bit hazardous.  We were already tired by the time we started down this section.  By the time we arrived at the Roncesvalles Albergue we were exhausted.

We checked into the Albergue and did our chores.  The rain came and went as we explored the area around the albergue.  The main things in the area are a church, a few hotels, and restaurants that all cater to the pilgrims.  The Wife and I had a few drinks with pilgrims we'd met at Orisson before going to pilgrim's mass and having a communal meal at one of the restaurants (where we met more pilgrims).

It was colder this time compared to my first Camino.  It was a bit chilly sleeping in the albergue despite the building being full of people.  I still slept well if I recall correctly.

I took only a few photos this Camino.  The Wife took more and I will supplement the ones I took with hers.  Photos can be found in my 2023 Camino de Santiago (The Wife's Camino) Google Photos album.

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