St. Jean Pied de Port literally means “St. John at the Foot of the Mountain Pass,” and I began the gentle ascent through the Pyrenees along the side of the paved road. A small, unassuming metal sign showed the “Route de Napoléon,” and I was thrilled to walk where Napoleon had long ago. There were many more pilgrims than I had expected – young, old, skinny, fat, and everywhere in between. Some carried giant backpacks resembling ones I would normally see on a multi-day wilderness backpacking trip. Others carried ones so small, I wondered where all their gear was. My forty-five liter backpack was about average size, and it was full. So full that, with embarrassment, I had to carry a shopping bag containing food. From Page 28, Camino de Santiago In 20 Days.
Now, I’ll begin my journey on the Camino de Santiago. If you have my book, I’m in the chapter, Day 1: Having Flesh Torn From My Body By A Pack of Wild Dogs. Even if you don’t have my book, you can still enjoy this post, and learn more about walking the French Way or Camino Francés (map from Wikipedia Commons). On my last post, A Walk In St. Jean Pied de Port, France, I spent an afternoon touring around the Basque town. I would recommend that you to save some time for relaxing, and even arrive two days prior to your start if possible. St. Jean Pied de Port is a lovely town, rich in history, and the start of the French Way.
On a pleasant, late April morning, I began my journey on the Camino de Santiago. Outside the Pilgrim Office on the Rue de la Citadelle, in the old town. The buildings along the narrow, cobbled street framed the Pyrenees in the distance.
Descend to the lower area of St. Jean along the Rue de la Citadelle and follow the Route De Napoléon. I was excited when I saw this sign.
From St. Jean, the Camino follows this road.
The vibrant colours of the forest and farmland. Sheep, horses, and cattle grazed in these fields.
The early part of the French Way mostly followed a paved road. Here’s the first, short, dirt path through farmland. By now, some pilgrims realized they carried too much and discarded items to lessen their load.
Farmland near Orisson. Notice how the houses seem to cling to the side of the steep hill.
The Auberge Orisson is located eight kilometers from St. Jean. It attracts pilgrims who started late in the day, prefer an easy first day, or have early difficulties and had to stop.
The deck outside the Auberge Orisson, overlooking the Pyrenees. A great spot for a break!
After Orisson, the Camino continued to follow this road through farmland and patches of brush.
As I wrote on page 30, “I had expected pilgrim memorials for those who had passed away on the Camino, but the first ones made me think…..They reminded me that, no matter how much I thought I was ready, I was always vulnerable, and life could be gone in an instant. Nobody came to the Camino expecting to die.”
The Pyrenees as we continue to climb.
I stopped to watch these magnificent Haflinger horses in a field above the road.
The Cruceiro near the Pic de Leizar Atheka. Here, I stopped and laid on the soft grass facing the Pyrenees to the north.
My simple lunch included part of a baguette from a bakery in St. Jean Pied de Port and Loreztia black cherry jam from a shop in Bayonne.
The sign points The Way to Roncesvalles. Ahead is the Pic de Leizar Atheka, the peak in the center. This was the high point in the Pyrenees for the time being…
I imagine this shelter near the Pic de Leizar Atheka has been protecting pilgrims for centuries.
And me 🙂
I hope you enjoyed this post. To this point, I had walked about 17 kilometers from St. Jean Pied de Port, with an elevation gain of about 1,200 meters. Although it can be trying for many pilgrims, and should not be taken lightly, most of the Camino was along the paved road, and I found it fairly easy. On my next post, On the Camino de Santiago: the Pyrenees to Zubiri, Spain, I’ll cross the border into Spain, have a break in Roncesvalles, visit a village that was frequented by Hemingway, and arrive in Zubiri exhausted. Please join me.
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