On the 21st September 2011 my son, Mick, and I set off on our Camino adventure from St Jean Pied de Port in France. We both misguidedly thought that we had decided to walk The Way of St James, but with hindsight and having completed the Camino, I now know that it doesn’t work like that at all. One doesn’t choose to walk the Camino – the Camino chooses you, not unlike when casting directors of a movie say to auditioning actors “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” If you’re walking the Camino, or seriously planning to walk it, it’s usually because you’ve been influenced by a book, a person or a movie. Believe me, you’ve received the call!
One of my greatest challenges is heat, which I cannot tolerate, so I decided to walk in late September through to the end of October as the average autumn temperatures were supposed to be max 17C and min 7C. St James’s wicked assistant noted this with glee and ordered a drought and heat wave in Spain so that I could face my worst nightmares. Temperatures for four of the six weeks I walked were in the 30C’s and high 20C’s. You may think this is just because of global warming, but I KNOW there’s a ghost there somewhere! Where I scurry indoors at home before 8.00 a.m. to avoid heat, on the Camino I had to walk in it for six to eight hours a day.
Mick was not spared either. He posted a facetious comment on Facebook that said something like: “I’ve decided to join Mom on the Camino. How difficult can it be to place one foot in front of the other?” Well, the said ghost happily noted that comment in his little black book and Mick soon found out that with watery blisters within blisters, heat, mountains and a weary body, it can be rather difficult to place one foot in front of the other and walk 20 to 30 kilometers day after day for three weeks (which was the duration of his Camino.)
I trained for months before I set off and when I left home I boasted that I was a “lean, mean walking machine.” That egotistical statement was soon knocked on its head when I slipped on a step of the albergue on the very first day of our walk and had to hobble most of the way with an ever-worsening ankle injury. Folks who feared insect bites had to deal with bedbugs and vegetarians had a hard time finding meals that contained anything other than French fries.
We made the right decision when we booked a night at Orisson (8 kms from St Jean Pied de Port) to break the journey over the Pyrenees. It gave us a chance to relax, enjoy the scenery from a large wooden deck whilst sipping ice cold beers, and to meet folks from all over the world who would pop in and out of our lives at various times over the next few weeks. People walk at different speeds and stop at different places and albergues every night, so it’s always great to catch up with them again after a few days or weeks and compare blisters and body pains, as well as sharing Camino anecdotes.
The walk over the Pyrenees offered up spectacular scenery. The fact that the path never levelled out at all and just headed straight up for 20 kms meant that we had to stop often to catch our breath and calm hearts that were pounding at our chests like demented woodpeckers. This gave us a chance to take photos and just soak in the beauty of the landscape dotted with sheep, wild horses and ponies. Overhead dozens of Griffon Vultures and Kites circled effortlessly in search of food. When the mist rolled in it enveloped us and we had to strain our eyes to find the markers that kept us on the right path. It was such a beautiful section of the walk.
Join me next week as we walk through the Navarra region….