El Camino de Santiago

Trip Start Mar 04, 2008
Trip End Oct 06, 2008

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Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  , Navarra,
Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ainaz´ New Blog: www.travelpod.com/members/ainaz

Ola! I'm at a small coin-op internet terminal which doesn't have a USB connection, so unfortunately photos will have to wait until I get to a real internet cafe. Man, Spain is hot! France was generally quite cool, but on this side of the Pyranees everything changed.

I broke camp in a light drizzle out of St. Jean Pied de Port in France Friday morning. I tried to wait out the rain but it didn't seem to want to clear up so I donned my rain gear and packed up a wet tent. Then the sun came out...no matter, I was heading up into the mountains. It'll likely be raining up there, I thought, and in any case it will be cold.

As it turns out, St. Jean Pied de Port is the 'start' of one of the access legs of El Camino de Santiago, the ancient and famous pilgrimmage path to the city of Santiago in NW Spain. Funny I should fluke upon it this way. We had considered doing the Camino before we left, but figured we probably wouldn't make it this far west/south.

Seven kilometres out of town one enters the town of Arneguy on the Spanish border. This is where I first saw the legions of 'Pilgrims' clad in their rain-slickers and Hi-Tec boots marching along the highway.

Arneguy is where the ascent into the mountains begins to get tough. It is a gruelling 20 km stretch of uphill and switchbacks to the first of three mountain passes en route to Pamplona. El Puerto de Ibañeta. Elevation 1057 m. Naturally it was raining during the entire climb, and sections of the switchback were quite windy. Being such a grunt, however, I managed to stay warm with just my long sleeved riding shirt. After one particularly cold and windy stretch, I rounded a bend and the summit came into view. ¡Oh, San Salvador!

El Puerto de Ibañeta has a tiny church with a gigantic cross next to it. Sidewalls of the church are composed of unimpressive dull coloured glass shards. Sneaking around the front and peering in through two holes in the locked wooden doors one observes an astounding mosaic of colours shedding light on a gruesome hanging Jesus statue, a leaning cross and a couple of small pews. I'll put up the photos as soon as I can!

No time to dilly dally though. My body heat was leaving me quickly and it is now time for the descent. Off I went into the blowing rain, shivering and cursing at passing motorists with their heated seats and air conditioning. This downhill section was the most trying portion of the day. I much prefer battling through a rigourous uphill climb than to idly freeze my ass and fingers off while my bike carries me downhill at 40 km/h.

I saw lots of 'Pilgrims' along this stretch, strolling along with their thermal socks and store-bought walking sticks, no doubt having tucked into a quaint little Spanish cafe to avoid the worst of the rain.

This whole 'Pilgrimage' thing bothers me. It has just become too fashionable. These people aren't walking the Camino as some religious passage, they're doing it to tell their friends that they hiked 'The Camino! Oh, it was soooo wonderful and spiritual.'

It seems to me that sacrifice is an integral part of a pilgrimage. It isn't a comfortable stroll in top of the line gear with every amenity at your fingertips and warm, dry, comfortable accomodation every night. I overheard a guy in downtown Pamplona chatting with another fellow about how he 'thinks' he will pack up and get back on the trail tomorrow. Just how long have you been relaxing in Pamplona, buddy? Furthermore, this guy looked as though the only sacrifice he has made on his 'Pilgrimage' is on the order of forgoing sugar with his morning espresso because his 'Refuge' had run out.

Not wanting to count myself in on this charade, I have thus far refused to refer to myself as a 'Pilgrim', despite their special privilages. I approached the tourism booth in Pamplona inquiring about cheap accomodation for the night. All of the hostels were booked solid, I was informed, but for 'Pilgrims' like myself (I guess I looked the part) there are special 'Refuges' which can't turn anybody away.

'Ummm...well, I'm not exactly a pilgrim'
'Oh, you're not doing the Camino?'
'No. Well, yes, this section anyway, but it just happens to be on my route'
'So you're JUST a tourist?'
'I suppose.'
'In that case, there is a campground 6 km up the highway.'

And so I lost my chance a staying in a bonefide 'Refuge'. Nevermind, I'm sure I could not handle the conversations that stay would have entailed.

At first I had no plans to do the Camino. Then once I found myself on it I thought I'd give it a shot for a couple of days, then head south. Before this thought had left my head I found myself counting out the kilometres to the terminus in Santiago (go figure, the Camino de Santiago actually ends in Santiago! Hey, it surprised ME.)

Take care,

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sillydoll on

Perhaps your ending up on the camino is not an accident?
So, you don't want to be a pilgrim and you didn't want to do a pilgrimage: perhaps YOU are the pilgrimage? Perhaps you are meant to be there, to walk the way, to learn a bit about yourself, about others, about accepting that we are all pilgrims on the trail!
There is a 10thC hymn that is sung at Roncesvalles.

Its doors are open to the sick and well
to Catholics as well as to pagans,
Jews, Heretics, beggars and the indigent,
and it embraces all like brothers.

Maybe this is the lesson fate wants you to learn??

Buen Camino rBruce.

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