Monday, May 6, 2013

Day 12 and 13. Up and Over the Pyrenees

Writing this on Monday, May 6. The last couple of days of our journey were intense, but we were so driven to finish the trek that we didn't realize how exhausted we were until the day after we were done.

We reached St. Jean Pied de Port on Wednesday, May 1. We were so excited to reach St. Jean, it was such a lively, beautiful town at the foot of the Pyrenees, filled with pilgrims getting ready to begin their journey to Santiago de Compostela, as it is the usual starting place for those starting the Camino in France. Those starting in Spain normally will begin n Roncesvalles, Spain. The first photo below shows us as we just arrived in St. Jean, stopping for lunch at a sidewalk cafe.

The second photo below is a copy of our map of the Pyrenees route. It shows the altitude gain of 1400 meters (4200 feet) from St. Jean, followed by a decent into Roncesvalles once we cross the border into Spain. Many pilgrims get injured on this stretch, especially if they are just starting out and are not yet used to trekking with a huge backpack.

The day before we arrived, the pass was closed because of the bad weather, but the pass opened on the day we arrived in St. Jean. That afternoon we walked the first 6 kilometers of the pass. The next day we started at the same place we left off. Getting the first 6 km of uphill done helped the next day.

On Thursday morning we continued the trek. The day started out pleasant, though cloudy. Because of trekking uphill we warmed up quickly and were just wearing our tshirt layers. Then it got windy and cold and soon started to rain. We soon had to put all our layers back on. Near the high point of the pass and downhill into Spain we came to snow that was left from the storm of the previous days. At one point we had to trek down a snow covered hill. Krishna sledded down the snow on his bottom. Several pilgrims did the same. Wish we could have taken a video of it.

On the Spain side we walked through birch tree forests. The paths were covered with carpets of birch leaves, so beautiful. As we walked into Roncesvalles it was raining. We went to the pilgrims office and received the Roncesvalles stamp in our pilgrim passport, the same stamp we received when we started our first Camino more than a decade ago. We had come full circle and have now, finally, completed this journey of 1000 miles! Such happiness and joy at that moment!

That evening we attended the pilgrim mass in the monastery church at Roncesvalles. There the priest blessed the pilgrims who were about to begin their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and we felt blessed to have finally completed our journey.

We spent some time at La Posada, a bar at the entry to Roncesvalles, greeting pilgrims as they arrived from St. Jean and sharing stories about the Camino. Krishna bought beers for many exhausted looking pilgrims and gave them lots of encouragement.

The next morning we said goodby to our friends from the US, Canada and Australia who walked with us the last 2 weeks, and began the second part of our trip. We rented a car in Pamplona are are now driving toward Santiago de Compostela, visiting some favorite places along the Camino and reliving some special moments. When we reach Santiago, our plan is to return our rental car at the airport and walk the last approximately 10 miles into the city along the Camino route (which passes near the airport) and reach the Cathedral on foot to pay homage to St. James and perform the pilgrim rituals once more.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Day 11 Olhaiby to Utziate, Basque Country - rain, sun and hail

We started the day in pouring rain, wearing four layers and rain gear. Before long though the sun began to peak out of the dark clouds. We crossed a pretty bridge, called, Moulin Bridge then ascended up a rocky, slippery, muddy track to a small hamlet called, Gibraltar.

Gibraltar was a highlight of the day - it is the spot where three French Camino routes meet (the one from le Puy which we took, one from Vezeley, and one from Paris). A stone marker denotes the junction.

From Gibraltar it was an uphill trek to Soyarza Chapel at the top of a hill where we were rewarded with a most beautiful panoramic view of the Pyrenees. We were so lucky the sun was still isthmus for a while and we could enjoy the moments.

After a quick picnic lunch we started walking again and soon had to quickly put our rain gear on for a sudden downpour. Very few places have been open in the small French towns that we have been passing through, but we were lucky to find a bar open in Ostabat where we stopped to warm up with a cafe au lait.

The weather was continuously changing. Before long we had another down pour. It cleared up for a while. Then suddenly came a hail storm.

A pilgrim we met today told us that the high pass over the Pyrenees had been closed the last two days because of the weather. There are two routes that the pilgrims take. The Napoleon route is the high pass that we are hoping to take. The second route is actually the original Camino but goes along the road. When the weather is bad the high route is not safe so sometimes it is closed. We will find out tomorrow when we reach Saint Jean Pied de Port.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Day 9 and 10 Navarrenx and the Eglise de l'Hopital Saint Blaise

The weather reports were saying rain for the next few days and it was so cold and windy on day 8, so we started out on day 9 wearing flu rain gear and extra layers. The day turned out to be a pleasant day and the walk was relatively shorter. We reached Navarrenx in early afternoon and had just enough time to have a beer and cafe au lait before a group lunch at our hotel (the only place open in town, since it was Sunday).

Navarrenx was the first town in France to be fortified with Italian style ramparts. The church of Saint Germaine was built in the 1500s and was soon converted to a Protestant temple. Later, in the 17th century it became a Catholic Church again. In former times Navarrenx had a significant population of Cagots ( an outcast population). Many of them became important public figures in the town.

Since we had time in the afternoon we took a drive to the Elgise de l'Hopital Saint Blaise. It is a 12th century Romanesque church that has now become a UNESCO world heritage site.

Today, day 10, turned out to be another beautiful day. Before leaving Navarrenx we walked a little on the town walls/ramparts. We covered 24 km today the country roads and paths. Saw cows, sheep, ducks, polombiere (pigeon blinds where hunters hide and wait to catch pigeons). Here and there we continue to hear cuckoos, reminding us of our dear friend, Claire, who walked with us on part 1 from Le Puy to Figeac.

Met 4 pilgrims from Germany who walk some of the Camino each year, starting from Heidelberg a few years ago. This year they will walk up to Burgos.

Staying tonight in a farmhouse run by a French/Basque family.

Hard to believe that we have only three more days of walking - 69 km to go. Day after tomorrow we will reach Saint Jean Pied de Port, then begin our Pyrenees climb.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Day 8 Rain and more rain

Today was another rainy day. Our walk was wet and cold, so we didn't take our iPad along and have no photos of the day's journey to post. We walked from Aethez-de-Bearne to the Muret Sanctuary. A shame we didn't stop there because of the weather. It was the site of the Battle of Muret in which the Catholics, led by Simon de Montfort, won a battle against the Cathars.

We would have ended our day at Muret but continued another 4 km to Sauvelade, where a church is all that remains of a Benedictine monastery, built in the 12th century. It was originally dedicated to Mary but later was dedicated to Saint James in honor of the pilgrims who stopped to rest in the abbey.

Now that we are back in our hotel the sun has come out. We looked out our window and were surprised of our view...of the Pyrenees...looking much closer now. In just a few days we'll reach them.

Our hotel has a story. It is a 12th century, 3 story house, that had been in ruins. Two English gentlemen bought the property and renovated it. Now it is a wonderful B&B. Its said that it was the home of the mistress of King Henry IV.

Forgot to mention anything about the blisters...they are there...the worst of any of our journeys. Will loose four toenails soon. Still have to keep walking. An angel is walking with us- Lois from Canada wrapped my toes in lamb's wool yesterday and it felt like I was walking on clouds.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Day 7 in Arthez-de-Bearn

We haven't had internet access for the last few days. Finally we are staying at a hotel in a town called, Arthez-de-Bearn, that has wifi so we can begin to catch up.

The last three days have been very similar - country roads and dirt paths (sometimes muddy), rolling hills.

On DAY 3 we walked about 24 kilometers. We started around 9 am and finished by 5 pm. After we were done we went by van on a side trip to Lupiac (hopefully spelled correctly) which is the town that D'Artagnan, of the three musketeers fame, lived. We planned to visit the museum, and hurried to get there before it closed, but found that it was closed on Mondays.

On DAY 4 we started from Lanne Soubiran. It had a little church with a large porch and an unusual dome. As we walked toward it we expected it to be something other than a church.

It was a long walking day, about 25 km, and pretty hot. Had a picnic lunch in a town called, Barcelonne du Gers

We ended the day at the doorstep of a hotel in Aire sur l'Adour. It was a pretty large and town along the river, Adour. There was some construction going on so we couldn't enter the church, but the next morning (DAY 5) we stopped by a local church near the hotel, a 19th century, Eglise de Sainte Quitterie, which was built on the site of a Benedictine Monastery.

On DAY 5 we walked from Aire sur l'Adour to Pimbo. The street leaving Aire sur l'Adour, was called, Rue Nelson Mandela.

Today we had our first glimpse of the Pyrenees, snow-covered in the distance. Each day from now on they will get closer.

A highlight of DAY 5 was the Eglise de Sensacq. It was an eleventh century church dedicated to St. James. It had a total immersion baptismal font for infants. Somehow it seemed so special. We had walked for so long through woods on a very hot day. Seeing this little beautiful church made us feel so peaceful. Krishna rang the church bell several times before we left. Wish we had taken photos of it on the iPad so we can post them now, but we will have to wait.

We ended the day in Pimbo after a long stretch of a narrow path. Pimbo is an old Batide village founded in 1268. It has a collegiate church of Saint-Barthelmy on the site of a monastery founded by Charlemagne.

On DAY 6, after walking about 7 kilometers, we stopped at a place called, Arzacq-Arrziguet. It is a Bstide town founded in the 14th century. The church had a stained glass window of Saint James. We stopped at a grocery store to get things to carry for a picnic lunch later, and stopped for coffee outside the church, before continuing on. We turned on a small street called, Chemin de Saint-Jacques, and walked along side of a large, artificial lake. We missed our turn off just before the end of the lake and had to backtrack to find our way again.

We ate our picnic lunch in front of a little church in Louvigny and ended our day in Larreule where there was Benedictine monastery on top of a hill above the town, founded in AD 995.

We rode to a hotel in Arthez-de-Bearn where we will stay for three nights. Happy to find that it has wifi and we can start to reconnect with everyone after three days out of touch.

Today, DAY 7, the forecast was rain. The temperature dropped more than ten degrees. It was a cool, wet and gusty day. Luckily, the walk was only 18 km, shorter than most of our days, which have usually been around 24 km. We ended our day's walk in Arthez-de-Bearn early enough to have a short Skype session with La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club just before the meeting began.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Day 3 past Eauze to past Nogaro

We just stopped in Nogaro for lunch and might be able to get Internet here. So maybe we can post a quick blog. All going good. The trek today has been vey much like the last couple days - country roads, sometimes muddy dirt paths through lots of greenery. Few towns along the way.

Few churches today. Stopped at Eglise Hopital Saint Christe, formerly belonging to the order of the Knights of Malta. The church was supposed to be locked because the guidebook says it's in dangerous condition, but it was open.

We only passed one stone cross so far. It was a discoidal cross leading to the town of Nogaro, which takes its name from Nogarium (a place planted with walnuts), established in the eleventh century. Nogaro has a Romanesque church with former hospital Saint Jacques nearby.

May not have more Internet today but we still have more kilometers ahead to walk this afternoon.

Day 2 Montreal du Gers to just past Eauze (23 km)

We are finally getting a few minutes to relax in our room before dinner. We will sleep good tonight after walking 23 kilometers. Yesterday was a long day even though we only walked 18 km. We first had to drive 1 1/2 hours from Toulouse so we started walking late in the morning. Then we made several interesting stops along the way. By the time we got to the hotel we had just enough time for a late dinner then some sleep.

There were only a few small hamlets along today's route. Being Sunday, everything was closed as well. There was only one town today, Eauze (pronounced like 'Oz'). We stopped there for a bit because it was the first time we found wifi. Now we'll have to wait to publish this blog until the next time we have Internet access. The paths today were a bit muddy through it was a beautiful day and slightly warmer than yesterday.