The Pyrenees France and Spain

My journey on the Camino de Santiago started in September 2017. At the time I wrote blogged entries with pictures whenever I could. Now, three years later, it is time to revisit the journey; I am re-posting the entries with a few updates. Enjoy.

Over the Pyrenees

Pace yourself.

It is good advice when you walk the first leg of the Camino de Santiago. It is also good advice for life itself.

The day started a little later that I would have liked; I had to wait for the scrumptious French Breakfast that started around 7:30 a.m. After a good breakfast, and even better French Coffee, I was on the road by 8 a.m. ready and eager for the 25 km that waited to be conquered. Going over the Pyrenees involved, surprise-surprise, an elevation gain of about 1,390 m. So, with this elevation gain the 25 km becomes roughly 32 km if everything was on level ground. 

And as a side note, in many guides of the Camino the first leg is described as your baptism by fire and if you survive this ... then you are good to go the rest of the Way.

The lady from Vermont and the Gentleman “paying for his sins”

Just on the outskirts of St. Jean Pied-de-Port I met a lady from Vermont who retired recently. She was walking with two other people, relatives of hers. It was nice talking with her; and over the next couple of weeks I would meet her party a few more times.

Sun breaking through the clouds on the Pyreneess

Going over the Pyrenees, still on the French side, with the sun trying to break through the clouds

The scenery was very nice with the sun breaking through the clouds, cornfields breaking up the mountain fields, and muddy pools reminding us it rained a day or so ago.

I met a lady from Taiwan who encouraged me to use the hiking poles I brought with me. Up to this point they had taken a free ride on the backpack. I was glad I listened to her, because I started using the hiking poles and they never left my side whether uphill or downhill or level ground (believe me, hiking poles quickly become your best friend on the Camino).

The most interesting person I met that day was a gentleman from the States, out of breath he said, “I am paying for my sins.” I was laughing inside because I was enjoying God’s creation.

On to the border

Vierge d’Orisson standing watch

The Vierge d’Orisson—the Virgin of Orisson—standing watch.

Just as I thought it might be time to find a bathroom, the stop at Orisson appeared. At this point about 8 km had past and an elevation gain of about 700+ m made your legs and knees wonder, "what on earth is going on." And yet, the reward (for the slight inconvenience of muscle aches and pains) is more spectacular views of the Pyrenees landscape and a multitude of French Ponies and Manech sheep as well as the occasional Griffon vulture. A few kilometers after Orisson, I came across Vierge d’Orisson – Virgin of Orisson. Shepherds brought this statue from Lourdes and the Virgin of Orisson has kept vigil here ever since.

Border between France and Spain

The Border between France and Spain on the Camino

What do you image when you think about a border crossing? Perhaps you think “Custom Agents.” Well, this border crossing on the Camino between France and Spain was a Texas Gate! Yes, a Texas Gate. Though just before it is the Fontaine de Roland. From here it is 4 km to the highest point, Col de Leopoeder at 1450 m (the hike started at St. Jean at 60 m above sea level, that is about a 1,390 m elevation gain over 21 km).

The descent and a sore knee

This brings us to the last 4 km of the hike. Now, as much as I don't like to admit it, my left knee was screaming at me by now and my left knee was my good knee. I taped it with KT-tape in the morning just in case; however, hairy knees and KT-tape do not like each other (he he, I guess I have to shave my knees). Luckily, I brought two knee braces with me and quickly, after 19 km of uphill, remedied the crying knee (a remedy a little too late as I would learn during the next stage). Now it was downhill, quite steep too, as I descend 500 m in 4 km. However, it is through Beech woods, Bosque de Irati, where I found quite a few Crocus Nodifloras.

Crocus Nodifloras in the wood, Spain

Crocus Nodifloras in the Beech Wood near Roncesvalles, Spain

Valley of Thorns–Roncesvalles

And the first stage of the Camino de Santiago is done, I have arrived at the Valley of Thrones–Roncesvalles.

My resting place for the night was built in the 1750s.

In Roncesvalles we find Capilla de Sancti Spiritus, where it is said the rear guard of Charlemagne’s Army was buried; and just beside it is the Capitola de Santiago both dating back to the 12th Century. The main church is Iglesias Santa Maria, also dating back to the 12 Century.

The first leg of the Camino, over the Pyrenees, is said to be a baptism by fire. I think it was more than that. The Pyrenees was perhaps the most enjoyable part of the journey for me. Yes, it was challenging going uphill most of the day. At the end awaits the Valley of Thorns. Don’t we find roses, or at least a rose, among the thorns?

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