Arrival

It is 10:15 p.m. French time. I have been sitting for 12 hours  today and walked maybe a total of 1k. I am exhausted. This does not bode well for a walking holiday.

 

I left Protection Island 7:30 am yesterday and arrived at St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, at 7:30 pm today: Wednesday.  As we lined up to catch EasyJet from London to Biarritz, a young woman with a backpack that still had empty space in it (we noticed), asked if we were doing the Camino. This was Ditte from Denmark who joined us as did David from the UK and Steffen from Germany, who were also on the plane. Our clothes and backpacks identify us to each other. By the time we passed thru customs, we were a group.
From R to L: Ditte, Stefen, David, Linda on the train
from Bayonne to St. Jean Pied du Port
We huddled around the bus stop trying to understand the schedule and the various options. We knew we had to either get a bus the whole way to St. JeanPdP or bus into Bayonne and catch the train which we preferred. Steffen had notes and a plan and more French language skills than the rest of us which elevated him to group leader. We bused to Bayonne and got a group rate for the train to St. Jean Pied du Port which was about half the price.

 

St Jean-Pied-de-Port is the epicentre for pilgrims since four pilgrim routes converge here at the foot (Pied) of the (de) pass over the Pyrenees mountains (Port). St James (Jean) at the foot of the pass aka St Jean Pied du Port.
Getting off the train, we met Diane from White Rock with a 25lb pack. I’m not sure if she will survive the 1400 metre climb on Friday. I live at 20 feet above sea level, and I huff and puff lugging myself up from the boat. 1400 metres is just under 4,600 feet!  St Jeans is less than 100 meters above sea level so we have to climb, ascend if you will, a total of 1300 meters or 4262 feet! I am not looking forward to this.  On the bright side; the guidebook says the first day, or two if you stop at Orison, is the worst of the whole pilgrimage.
4:00a.m. Thursday morning.  Ditte and David are heading off at 7 today. Despite being wide awake, Linda and I anticipate jet lag and will head off Friday morning with Steffen.  Our goal for Friday is only 8k, to Orisson, to deal with any vestiges of jet lag, but even that involves a 600-meter steep climb. Saturday will be 18k, 10k of it uphill another 550 meters and the last 8k downhill 500 meters.
We spend the day exploring the town and castle and shopping for hiking poles. We also stopped in at the volunteer-run pilgrimage office to get our ‘pilgrim passports stamped.  Simon the volunteer, gives us a list of albergues along the route and a map showing the route out of town and over the pass. Pictures highlight details we need to watch for.  The first is a picture of a yellow arrow at a crossroads.
‘Take a left here.’
Then he stabs the picture at the top of the page and looks us in the eyes intently ‘Do NOT take this path!  It is too dangerous in the wet.’
Pointing to an alternative route, he advises us ‘Take this path instead. It is not so steep.’
We take the papers and plan to memorize the photo of the path not to be taken.
The Forecast for the mountain pass is 18 degrees with heavy thunderstorms late afternoon. I think about that: being on the top of a mountain pass in a thunderstorm.
Distance to go: 800k
Food: 1 bad cup of coffee, 1 good one, 3 mini cannellés, 1 baguette filled with tuna, half a baguette with jam…you can see where this is going. And some fromage de Brisbes (sheep) the local speciality.
Feeling: only a little jet lagged.
Aches and pains: knee is not giving me much concern.

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