Now that we've gotten ourselves settled into our cute little camping car and spent a few weeks getting to know her, it's time to put Bijou into storage. We're going to leave her behind for a few weeks to walk the Camino de Santiago. The Way of St. James.
In the olden days the Camino de Santiago was one of three important medieval Christian pilgrimages (the other two being Jerusalem and Rome) where folks would one day take off from their front door and make their way to the cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Here, it is believed, the relics of the disciple, St. James the Greater, are housed. Pilgrims came from all over Europe and therefore forged multiple routes that converge near Santiago. The hope, after all that effort and probably a lot of pain and suffering, is that a weary pilgrim would receive some measure of forgiveness for his sins or perhaps even a plenary indulgence, which is like a do-over for your soul. Total forgiveness for all your sins. Worth it, right?
Think about it, though. Those medieval pilgrims didn't have proper shoes, "technical pants", lightweight backpacks and all the accoutrements of today's peregrinos. They wore robes, walked in sandals and carried a stick. Think, Jesus. Unless I lived just around the corner, I would have had to do some pretty bad stuff to be needing that much forgiveness. But I guess back then there was probably a different litmus test for sinning, and pain and suffering were just part of the deal. That's not to say we won't experience some pain and suffering, I mean c'mon, it's 500 miles. We're not looking forward to that, but what we are looking forward to is getting out of our comfort zone. I think we nailed it, frankly.
In modern times, there are as many reasons for walking the Camino as there are pilgrims. There are those who still do it for religious or spiritual reasons, for self-discovery, some do it for the personal and physical challenge and even more because they saw the movie "The Way" with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez and thought it looked like fun. Valid reasons, all.
The route we've chosen, known as Camino Frances, or the French Way, starts in St. Jean Pied de Port, France at the foothills of the western Pyrenees mountains. It is a 500-mile walk, or longer should we choose to carry on to Finisterre on the Atlantic coast (and burn all our clothes, if tradition is to be followed). A typical first day, according to the guidebooks, is to trek the Napoleon Route from St. Jean (elev. 560ft) across the Pyrenees (summit elev. 4750ft) to Roncevalles, Spain (elev. 3117ft). This hike is 15.6 miles from start to finish and I can practically hear my lungs bursting already! There is a saying, "the Camino provides" and thankfully the Camino has provided the lovely little hotel Orisson right on the path about five miles from St. Jean. Granted, it's still a pretty good vertical hike, but at least it's not too far for our first day out, just about five miles. We will hike over the summit and on to Roncevalles on Day Two.
Orisson and Pamplona are the only reservations we've made, as we plan to wing it most of the way. We have no set timeline or agenda other than to walk most days, stay healthy, enjoy the scenery, the food and wine, the architecture, the history, the culture, the locals and our fellow pilgrims. We will walk rain or shine, unless there is some dangerous weather element such as lightning or gale force winds that keeps us still or unless one of us is temporarily crippled, which is not out of the realm of possibility :)
We feel prepared with regard to stuff. We spent some time breaking in our new Oboz hiking boots, putting about 150 miles on them over the past few months. So far our feet love the boots, but we've not yet done a 15 mile day. The longest walk we've done in preparation was about 10 miles, most were around the five or six mile mark. None of those were with our packs.
Our backpacks are lightweight, we both got Osprey packs, mine is 36 liters and Steven's is 50 liters. He's had some challenges paring down his camera gear while I'm trying to decide what clothes to take. I would love to keep my pack around 10 lbs., but we'll see. Experienced pilgrims are fond of saying, "take what you need, not what you want" which is easy for them to say because they are already done. How do we know the difference before we even start? We do not have to carry any food or food preparation gear, tents or sleeping bags, only snacks and water as there are plenty of services along the way. We do, however, need to be prepared for hot, relentlessly sunny days as well as cold, rainy, muddy days and everything in between. We will stay mostly in pilgrim hostels (albergues) with perhaps the odd private room here and there. Facilities can be found in most every village, as well as bars (which are small cafes) and sometimes grocery stores. We will be walking though the larger cities of Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos and Leon, where we can find just about anything we might need in terms of gear or medical assistance.
When we first arrive in St. Jean Pied de Port we will make our way to the Pilgrim Office where we will be issued a Pilgrim Passport, or credencial. This is an important document. At each stop along the Camino, we are to get a stamp as proof of our journey, which is needed to stay in the pilgrim-only albergues. You can't just rock up in a taxi and stay in these places, you have to have walked there. It's also our proof that we walked the entire Camino (and didn't take a bus or taxi at any point in the last 100 kms) and are therefore entitled to receive a Compostela commemorating our pilgrimage once we reach Santiago. As an aside, pilgrims with limited time, energy, patience, money, etc. can earn a Compostela by walking the final 100 kms from Sarria to Santiago. It is at this point along the route where fresh and happy faces join the weary peregrinos who are four weeks and nearly 700 kms into their journey.
Along the Way, at the Cruz de Ferro, tradition dictates that we leave behind a rock from our place of origin. Last December, when we spent the holidays with our kids, Steven painted the front of our rock with the ubiquitous Camino symbols - the sea shell and the yellow arrow. On Christmas Eve, we passed the rock around and each of our children signed the back of it, at the same time "letting go" of their burdens. (I cried, of course.) A few weeks later, at the ranch, my parents did the same. So, that little rock you see in the title photo carries a great deal of significance for us. It will accompany us on our journey until we leave it behind on the Camino.
We arrive in St. Jean Pied de Port by train on Friday where we will stay two nights at an Airbnb. We have a few items still to purchase and we want to spend a little time in town, watch the pilgrims come and go and just take it all in. On Easter Sunday, April 21st, we begin our Camino. We should arrive in Santiago in late May or early June unless one of us rolls an ankle, in which case we'll be back in Bijou much sooner. Let's hope that is not the case.
So that's the plan. I know it seems like we've barely gotten started on the whole European travel thing and now we've planned this big interruption. In any other scenario I would probably be devastated to leave Bijou behind, but I am so looking forward to this journey. I am looking forward to a slower pace, for time to think and be filled with gratitude for the life we have and the friends and family who love and support us. I am not sure what our blog posting situation will be, but I hope you'll stick around for whatever it is. :)
UP NEXT: I just hope I am alive to write something.