[If you happened to come here by chance and you feel inclined to read about the walk which ends below, then rather than read backwards, as it were, you might prefer to click on the link to my website at the right, go to Chemin de Vezelay, and begin, as the King said to the Rabbit, at the beginning. You will find other walks there as well.]
7 July 2012
In the street the pilgrims come and go
Talking of Santiago
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is the pilgrims' base camp. They assemble here from all over the world, ready to make their ascent of the Pyrenees.
As I walked through the old gate yesterday, into the historic centre of town, the main street was thick with pilgrims, walking up the hill with their backpacks to the Accueil Pelerin or congregating outside, or sitting at tables at bars and restaurants. And the town was ready for them. Accueil Pelerin, Accueil Jacquaire, Boutique du Pelerin, Auberge du Pelerin, Refuge du Pelerin, Gite du Pelerin, Menu du Pelerin, etc. No trouble finding accommodation. And many will be off already to gites along the way to Roncevalles.
They come in every size and shape and colour, of every age from young kids to older couples.
The younger people seemed to be already forming in groups as they are wont to do. I met one threesome, a Quebecoise, an American, and an Italian. Others, I fear, may be forming into groups of their own kind. They may be doing the Camino to find themselves, but they are more likely to do this if they walk with people who are different from them.
But early this morning, before the arrival of the first train, it was strangely quiet. It was a great day for crossing the mountains, sunny and clear. When I crossed in April 2003, it was cold and foggy. I will never forget the relief of coming down out of the mist and seeing Roncevalles below. But today I would be in no hurry to get down.
I had breakfast with a Dutch woman who was about to begin a two-week stint as a hospitalier at Orison, a gite half-way between Saint-Jean and Roncevalles, a popular stop for pilgrims who want to cross the Pyrenees in two steps. We talked about the education system in Holland.
That is what I have missed on this walk: meeting people from different cultures and talking about what makes us different and what makes us the same. This, I think, is the greatest benefit of walking the Camino. So I will not walk the Chemin de Tours next year. Too few people to meet.