Friday, July 6, 2012

Day 1 Camino de Santiago July 6th, 2012

I'm totally skipping writing about Morocco for now and will fill in those wonderful days when the opportunity arises.  But for now, it's too much effort to keep both a journal of the Camino de Santiago experience and to Blog it, so here we go:

There are at least six different Caminos in Europe, some starting as far away as Germany and the Netherlands, but they all converge at the small French town of St. Jean Pier du Pont (St. John at the foot of the Pass) in the Pyrenees.

The city is off the beauty charts.  If I ever break the law, it would be a good place to start looking for me.  I had a day to burn because I had hurt my arm and needed to go to the doctor.  At first I was upset, but as is often the case when we initially think something is turns out good.  It poured down raining, making what would have been my first day extra tough.  So... thank you bad arm + I got to go see a French doctor for 23E.

It is there that the pilgrims descend on the city from all over the world to hike the 800 k or about 500 miles to city all the way across northern Spain in the town of Santiago de Campostela.  It was here that St. James body was brought all the way from the Holy Land and buried in secret.  When they found him 1100 years later, he became a cause for pilgrims to walk across Europe.  They also came to fight agains the Moors, who were Muslim.  In St. Jean, pilgrims have a dinner in the Auberge they are staying in, kinda like an official goodbye.  People state their reasons for hiking the Camino, toasts are made and all in all, it produces a sense of camaraderie.
Talk about a fascinating experience:  The guy with his back to you, a German named Lucas, and his girlfriend Athena?? from Norway had been living in Mexico for two years.  There were three Koreans, three people from France, one from Germany and a lady from Holland.  Any guesses who couldn't speak one word of English - T'weren't the Koreans!  The place was spotless and the hosts were former pilgrims who were running the auberge for 3 weeks.  Very nice people serving traditional Basque fare.

 While on the trail, I saw the Mother Mary! does every other pilgrim, so cancel those tickets!

Okay stop talking, "Here comes another tourist!  The trail passes through some seriously gorgeous farm land and forest!  Some looked like Sherwood Forest, other land looked like Switzerland!

Sometimes, the beauty was too strong and I had to rest and give praise for being able to experience so many beautiful vistas!!

One has to be careful.  The Moors are famous for their ability to camflaouge themselves!  This scheme almost got me!

There are many signs along the way to mark the trail.  The most common is a seashell which shows all the trails in Europe converging into one at St. Jean, on the Spain/France border.  Sometimes they use a yellow arrow, painted on the road.  

We were very fortunate that we had no rain, but the remnants of the clouds made for beautiful vistas.  The temperature was about 50 - 55 degrees and was perfect for hiking.  A hiker is constantly passing other “pilgrims”, talking for a few minutes, and then wishing each other a ”Bien Camino”.  

Sheep and goat have their own unique way of marking the trail for Pilgrims!

Tales tell the story that nine women in this forest that were burned to death because they were accused of being witches... Right!  Did it occur to these superstitious folks that if they had been witches, then the accusers would be toads by now?  Maybe they were bitches, but that still is no cause for burning them...well most of the time anyway.

I loved this part of the trail, it was covered in thick leaves.  Like walking on a Dr. Scholl's cushion for a couple of miles.  Today’s hike was about 2/3 pavement and 1/3 natural.  Up up and up some more.  The last 3.5 k were the toughest.  Straight downhill  Knees felt like jumping out of my pants.

Gorgeous scenery.  I would advocate Spain as a country to visit to anyone.  Beautiful beaches.  Quaint villages,  Modern cities.  Great tourist attractions.  It has everything but a desert!  

There are 2 water stops on the first day.  This one is supposedly where Roland,one of Charlemagne's generals was killed.  It was revenge by the Basque for him burning down the town of Pamplona (for which the bulls all cheered!).
So in memory of Roland, this watering hole has been named after him.  Lucky fella!

At the end of the day we ended up in Ronceville, Spain.  Not much of a town, but enough.  Three hotels/hostels all with bars and a Pilgrim’s Menu which offered pasta, yougurt, and trout.  

As for me... it had almost everything but one, that I required.

Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.
Will Rogers