IN THE BEGINNING - Hiking the El Camino

May 22nd 2017
Published: December 6th 2017
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We caught the train from Biarritz, France to St John Pied de Port where the El Camino North begins.

One of the women I met on the trail likened the El Camino experience to life…labor, birth, childhood, middle age, death. I think that is a good analogy. I’ve already written about preparation. Labor was leaving Biarritz and getting to St Jean. My daughter Lauren was instrumental in getting us started on the trail. It was wrenching for me to leave my daughter-in-law and continue with our plans to complete the 500 mile walk to Santiago. But Lauren realized it would be difficult to finish the whole Way in the time we had allotted and we could not stay longer in Biarritz. We had to move on. Visiting with Mindy in France was fun…but we had to part and get on the trail.

From Biarritz we traveled by bus to the train station. The train took us to St Jean Pied de Port where we registered and got our Compostela, the document stamped at our lodging each day. When we arrived in Santiago we would verify our trip with the Compostela. We also purchased a scallop shell to hang on our pack, identifying us as a pilgrim. At first I was embarrassed to call myself a pilgrim,

When we got off the train we just followed the other people with packs to the town.
but within the first week I accepted the term easily. After a hearty lunch we set off on the path to Santiago, Spain. Once birthed, it was baby steps. Learning to communicate (we had very little Spanish and we picked up a few words along the way), finding a room, meals, sights to see. We enjoyed it all.

At first we just walked away from our lodging in the morning and tried to make a certain number of miles each day, then arrived at our proposed destination and started looking for a place to stay. It worked most of the time. It didn’t take us long to realize we wanted our privacy. We looked for a double room at the albergues (lodging for Pilgrims) and a couple of times we had to walk on to the next town to find an available room. A few times we had to take a bed in a dormitory (many Albergues offer only beds in a dormitory) as the next town was just too far away. Each experience was the right experience for that day.

HOSPITALITY PLUS: One very rainy day, we actually had five minutes of hail, then pounding rain and

Once again we found our way by following others, or asking directions. Here we received our "Compestela", a passport stamped every night at our lodging.
lightning, we arrived at our proposed albergue, tired and drenched. There was just an enormous dormitory with shared bathrooms. It is hard to share on a good day but we imagined a nightmare with all the cold muddy pilgrims vying for shower time and laundry facilities. Lauren and I took one look at the crowded dorm and decided to walk to the next village, several more hard miles. On our approach we saw several signs advertising dinner, a bed, and breakfast for only fifteen euros. I scoffed and pompously said, “Imagine what that lodging is like?” It turned out it was the only albergue in town and we were lucky there was a bed for each of us. We went in and paid for two beds at the bar which busy with locals unwinding from the day. The manager/bartender was a lovely lady with a welcoming smile. All our belongings were drenched, including our sleeping bags and she offered to wash and dry our clothes while we showered. It cost a few dollar but she did all the work. After cleaning up and donning dry clothes we were ushered in to a small dining room. There were only eight of

The first few miles of our trip were through residential areas, and all uphill.
us in the fifteen bed albergue so it was an intimate dinner, five men, a young girl from Taiwan and Lauren and I. Our hostess bustled in with baskets of fresh baguettes, water, wine and two large round plates of lasagna. We finished eating and in she came again, loudly proclaiming, “Chicas, you have barely touched the food…” and she proceeded to dish out huge second helpings to everyone. We obediently ate. Then she cleared those dishes and brought in two large serving plates of chicken in a rich gravy. We all took small helpings since we had already eaten so much. There was a re-run of her activity of before…mock disappointment, while she served up large ladles of the chicken. Then it was time for desert. We had a choice of ice cream, flan, or cake. Lauren said she was too full and didn’t want desert. The hostess looked at her with mock outrage (I thought). Turned out it was outrage. She delivered the deserts, then slammed a banana down in front of my daughter. “For later,” she said. We finally escaped the feast and saw her return with after dinner aperitifs. Chagrinned, we returned for a glass. She

These differed by towns but they helped us find our way, as did the bright yellow arrows painted on roads, walls, and houses.
left the whole bottle. The men had consumed two bottles of wine already, so we were a happy group and it was a pleasant way to end the cold, wet day. The next morning we were fortified with a self-serve continental breakfast before we hit the trail with our dry packs.

Just a note about the Peregrino (pilgrim) food. Breakfast is frugal…bread and jam and tea or coffee, and I thought it was often overpriced. Usually a café will have fresh croissants, even bacon and eggs, and other breakfast fare. Our favorite breakfast/lunch food was Spanish tortilla, which is a quiche-like dish made of scrambled eggs and cooked potatoes. Each “bar” has its own presentation. Some have onion, green pepper, and different seasonings. This became a staple. Lauren’s comfort food for breakfast, or anytime, was chocolate croissants.

The Peregrino dinner is a bargain, averaging between eight and eleven euros. It consists of fresh bread, a drink, either water or wine (and sometimes beer). For the first “plate” there is a choice of pasta, a huge mixed salad, a meat dish, or a vegetable dish. The second plate is a choice of one of four meat dishes. Desert is

The scenery was constantly changing, especially as we began crossing the Pyrenees.
included, usually an ice cream bar, a cake, flan or fruit. Lauren and I occasionally shared a dinner because we didn’t have enough appetite for the whole thing. Sometimes we opted for paella, when it was available, pizza, or even a hamburger. In the big cities there was sometimes a Mc Donald’s or Burger King, but we never resorted to these. If we could have avoided the big cities entirely, Lauren would have done so.

Rarely we would go to a small supermarket and buy fruit and bread, and maybe cheese. It was a nice change. Even with this abundance of food Lauren and I lost weight on the trail. Walking seven to eight hours a day, sometimes even longer, requires a lot of calories.

Additional photos below
Photos: 10, Displayed: 10



My daughter, Lauren, making friends. This followed an interminable, steep descent. I was exhausted...there were only three spaces left when we arrived at the Monastery.

We watched as the number of kilometers gradually diminished. Sometimes the trail ran right beside the road. There was not much traffic, however.

At first it just looked like littering, but it was not.

Pilgrims carried souvenirs of family members, the ill, or the dead, to place on the trail in memory of them.

6th December 2017

The Way
I've just read this blog and also gone back and read your two preparation and planning blogs...I got excited on your behalf :) Looking forward to reading more about this amazing journey. Cheers, Ren
6th August 2018

In the Beginning
Thanks Ren and Drew...You two look like you should take this pilgrimage...It is such an amazing trip and can be done quite reasonably, since you decided how much you want to spend. You will make great memories.
3rd August 2018

I missed this blog...
perhaps as you only entered Europe for the location. I also walked the Camino de Sep/Oct 2016...and just some stages as I hurt myself coming down the Alto de Perdon.
6th August 2018

In the Beginning
This was such a wonderful trip. I hope yours was too, despite the difficulties you encountered. I'd like to hear more about it.
7th August 2018

My pilgrimages...
You can read about each of my pilgrimages as I've posted blogs for each.
8th August 2018

In the Beginning
I'll be sure and do that.

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