St Jean Pied de Port
We started our day in this glorious part of the world by heading straight to the post office. Me, to post 3kg of stuff to Santiago de Compostela. I hadn’t even taken a single step on the Camino yet but the reality of our journey looking at the size of the surrounding mountain ranges hit home. My pack was way too heavy.
When I started researching for the Camino, I read that a lot of the pilgrims use walking poles. Being as uncoordinated as I am, I knew this was probably not something I was going to do. I did suggest them to Mick who has some oesto arthritis in one knee. He poo poo’d me, and that was the end of it until he starting reading about them in Melbourne, 2 days before we left the country. Mick being Mick, was not satisfied with any of the good brands available in Australia, he needed Pacerpoles, only available from the UK and only available online. The internet said they could deliver them in 5-10 days. They were ordered to be sent to St Jean Pied de Port. Fair to say that I was dubious.
Thankfully Micks trip to the post office was just as successful as mine, and his beloved Pacerpoles have arrived.
Yes my Pacerpoles arrived (www.pacerpole.com to anyone who is interested) and they are glorious indeed. I rapidly put them together without looking at the instructions (to Pam’s annoyance) and we set off on a little exploratory test run.
We blast past our hotel (Hotel Ramuntcho) and turn left walking up a steep hill at the top of which lies a College amidst ruins of buildings built between the fourteenth and seventeenth century. The view is spectacular and draws many French tourists.
We circle the hill and on the far side come across a steep descent. Still new to the art of pole walking I charge down the steps in a manner that has Pam yelling cautionary advice behind me. Somehow we make it to the bottom unscathed and turn left walking the bank of the fast running Nive.
The water looks fresh, cold and inviting as it runs clear over worn oval stones. As we walk beside the river I am on the lookout for a place to enter. Clean stream riverbanks are far more holy to me than any church, no matter how spectacularly built they may be. Soon Pam and I happen upon a little path leading to a log over stones in the river where we sit. The temptation grows too strong and I peel off my boots and stride (well I would like to say stride but mince would be more accurate) into the centre of the stream.
The water is cold and fresh and alive. I stand in the centre of the stream and splash water over my head and down my neck and back. Time stands still and looks on. Roots sprout from the bottom of my feet and pushing the rocks aside, penetrate deep into the Earth under where I stand.
Now I have arrived in Europe and am ready for the Camino and what may come.
Pam dries my feet as we sit together on the riverbank and we head back to town taking the steep stairs uphill in practice for our soon to come days of ascent (Yay Pacerpoles). We have much to do in preparation for the Camino, the most important of which is to obtain our Camino passport ( the Credencial del Peregrino). This is a record of our Camino journey where stamps from each and every destination of each days march are imprinted. The passport is checked in Santiago before the pilgrim is issued with a Compostela as a memento of the Camino pilgrimage.
We check into the Pilgrims office and are jovially greeted by Camino volunteers. We are asked which language we speak and go to the desk where a happy man greets us with our first Buen Camino. He starts our Credencial del Peregrino with the Saint Jean Pied de Port stamp in green and dates it 28/08/2013. ‘Our pilgrimage has begun’ he tells us. We ask if he has completed the Camino and he pulls out one, then another completed passport and tells of his plans to walk again from other directions.
Pam wants us both to carry scallop shells on our pilgrimage and our guide tells us a little of the history of the scallop shell symbol and how it was used in a practical manner to gather water for drinking and extinguishing camp fires. The scallop shell is tied to the backpack and distinguishes you as a Camino pilgrim and not ‘just a tourist’.
The rest of our preparation completed we wander the cobblestone streets of St Jean Pied de Port.
We come across an exquisite spice and herb shop that needs no advertising, the intoxicating aroma emitting from its open door draws in nearly every passerby. We enter entranced and gaze in amazement at the variety of spices, salts, dried herbs and fruit and nuts available for sale. At my insistence we purchase a quantity of Brazil, Macadamia and Almond nuts along with naturally dried grapes, apricots and cranberries.
Pam pulls me drooling from the shop and we hunt for lunch. We decide on crepes, which I have never eaten before, and we are brought the most delicious flavoursome Buckwheat crepe treat imaginable. France continues to delight with its food.
Earlier that day we had decided to stay a second night in St Jean Pied de Port and our hotel transfers us from room 14 to room 10. Should you ever find yourself in St Jean and looking for accommodation book room 10 at the Hotel Ramuntcho.
We finalise our packing and sit down on the balcony overlooking the town feeling blessed and happy. The sun sets as we eat simply with food purchased from the market on fresh baguette and drink bordeaux red wine from plastic glasses.
Camino here we come, ready or not.
Pam and Mick.