Monday, 2 July 2012

Camino de Santiago: The Pyrenees

DSCN7274 by DavetreksWhen walking in Britain last year several other walkers recommended the Camino de Santiago to me. In Thailand, Yuki, who had walked the walk and Natcho who talked the talk, made me even more intrigued. So, with a reduced 20 pound (10k) pack, I've decided to experience the 485 mile (780km) route, across the breadth of northern Spain, for myself.
Monday 29 May: From Biarritz airport a shuttle bus runs to the French riverside cathedral town of Bayonne where I spend the day before catching the reduced service 9:00pm local train (it's a French religious holiday) to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the traditional starting point for the Camino de Frances. First I call into the Accueil or pilgrim's office to obtain my credencial or pilgrim passport - this important document allows access to discounted pilgrim accommodation and meals en-route and is date stamped at albergues (pilgrim's refuges) and other places to serve as proof you have survived the entire camino.
Imagine my surprise, when I arrive at Sarl Zuharpepa albergue which the Accueil has allocated to me, and spy Natcho sitting on the bed next to mine - a happy coincidence. I also meet Irish couple Erin & Cameron who arrive at the same time.
Sarl Zuharpepa albergue (12) - mixed 14-bed dorm with comfortable single beds (not bunks), en-suite hot water (important if you wet-shave) and showers, plus free wifi.
Tuesday 30 May: St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles - 16 miles (25km). It's an early start and once out of a misty St-Jean it's up, up, up along the strenuous Route de Napoleon with spectacular views back down to France. I accompany Natcho safely over the border and into Spain where I leave him soaking his feet in a the Fontaine de Roland. Like most first time walkers Nacho is suffering a bit, he's a big lad. Once over Col de Lepoeder it's down, down, down, to the abbey at Roncesvalles. It is here, in 778, that Roland, commander of Charlemagne's rear-guard, was killed by Basque tribesmen - yes, we are in Basque country.
I have an enjoyable dinner with Natcho, a Canadian girl and a quiet English girl with striking dreadlocks, Natasha. At €9 the three course pilgrim's menu at the abbey restaurant seems good value but the food's not great. During our conversation Natcho tells us that tapas were originally free bites served with wine so as not to drink on an empty stomach. Older style bars still serve simple tapas free, as I will later discover.
Albergue de Peregrinos (10) in the abbey building - modern with comfortable purpose-built bunks in cosy four-bed compartments with power points and free wifi. Hot water and showers, but no blankets provided, it's a chilly mountain night.

Photos of the Camino de Santiago: The Pyrenees. I've now walked 16 miles (25km).

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