Fog City Boy on the Camino Francés
Pamplona, Spain – April 7, 2015 (republished April 14, 2015)
[Ed. Note: I have had the very positive experience of working with WordPress staff in resolving issues involving posting of my photographs. While I am not sure that we understand what went wrong yet, I am able to proceed using a “patch” of sorts. Enjoy the pictures. Thank you for your patience!]
The flight from San Francisco to Paris was the best kind – uneventful. I arrived tired but optimistic, made my way to the SNCF railway station at the airport, and took a train to Biarritz (France) where I spent two nights, recovering from transmeridian travel (aka jetlag). I highly recommend Hotel Le Bon Coin whose staff were friendly and eager to please.
Biarritz is a lovely coastal city with a long maritime tradition. I enjoyed walking along the beaches which were shrouded in overcast skys and boasted turgid waters just offshore.
The town has an aquarium and maritime museum that is well worth the time should you visit Biarritz. The aquarium is actually the best one I´ve ever visited!
Adjacent to the aquarium is a very moving memorial to citizens of Biarritz who died in World Wars I and II. Particularly poignant are plaques listing not only the soldiers and sailors who died in uniform, but also the members of the resistance who were killed, those deported to the Nazi death camps, and also common citizens of Biarritz who were killed during the second world war. The statuary adjoining the memorial brought a lump to my throat.
Followers of this blog will recall that last year on the Camino Portugues, I met only nine peregrinos between Lisbon and Porto – about half way to Santiago! But on the Camino Frances, I met over nine peregrinos at the railway station in Bayonne – before any of us even got to the start! Americans, Australians, Japanese, Germans – all the world was there.
St. Jean Pied de Port (France) is a lovely small town of only a few hundred inhabitants – most of whom appear to be there to service the needs of tourists, not all of whom are about to set out on the Camino.
I called at the Pilgrim Office, got a stamp on my Credencial (pilgrim passport) and inquired about the weather on top of the mountain. Bad news – there was 16 inches of snow on the ground and it was still snowing. Clearly the preferred route to Roncesvalles was not available. That notwithstanding, I met a 20-something young fellow traveling with a Rhodesian Ridgeback named “Apache” who was determined to brave the “route of Napoleón.” I hope he made it. Or better yet, I hope he took the alternate route as did the rest of us.
Immediately after departing St. Jean, the Way traverses lovely rural highways and byways. After about two hours, the Way crosses into Spain. There is no marker at the boarder. But the language changes abruptly.
I allowed two days for the first stage – not wanting to over commit until I got my “walking legs.” Once in Roncesvalles, I toured the facilities, including a beautiful church, and an alberque (pilgrim hostel) that can house over 100 peregrinos. A hospitalero there told me that they had housed 350 peregrinos the previous night. Apparently many Spaniards take advantage of a four-day Easter holiday weekend and walk from Roncesvalles to Pamplona as an Easter pilgrimage.
The next morning, many peregrinos set out for the two day walk to Pamplona. Clearly, Fog City Boy has a ways to go!
Most of the two days that brought me to Pamplona was through rustic territory rather than along busy highways. Again, quite different from the early stages of the Camino Portugues last year. Not all of the Way is flat and user-friendly to your legs and feet. Much of the Way is steeply up hill. And steeply down.
My lodging in the small town of Zubiri was a small pension that was a fifth story walk-up . . . after a long day of ups and downs! But peregrinos go on undaunted!
In addition to peregrinos going by foot, I encountered cyclists, and others traveling by horse. Apparently there is a service that boards the horses overnight and returns them to the caballeros fresh in the morning.
Along the Way, I encountered a memorial to a young peregrino whose Camino ended earlier than it should have. Passing peregrinos have placed small stones on the cross in recognition of the pilgrimage, and the loss.
Pamplona is a lovely city with many magnificant builidings and a charming old town to explore. On the day I arrived, a Basque separatist demonstration was in full swing. Literally thousands of Basques had traveled there to make a point and to party. It was a big and joyous party!
The bulls were not running, but a large monument in the center city attests to Pamplona´s pride in the event, and the danger inherant in it.
Throughout its history, Pamplona has welcomed pilgrims of all nationalities and faiths. They even welcome cyclists with special waymarks emplaced on their streets. Steven, this one´s for you!
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With that, I´m off.