Last year I wrote this post and scheduled it to be published when we were already over in France/Spain doing our modified Camino Santiago. Somehow I messed up and it wasn’t posted, so it’s going in as an anniversary note, of sorts:
“Began real early preparing for our Camino Frances (the popular French route to Santiago de Compostela). First stage was to be through the Pyrenees. I estimated the “lowest freaky possible temperature ever” for our passage on the highest point at Col de Lepoeder (1427 metres above sea level) to be -7 degrees C on April 25 (when we expected to be doing it) My estimate was done by checking the lowest temperature ever recorded for Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on that date and subtracting about 0.65 degrees for every 100 m increase in altitude.”
I liked this photo right away and, after thinking about why, a few reasons come to mind. The way the shapes work, for one: the mountainside divides the image into two almost equal triangles, which simplifies things so that one’s eye is drawn to the end of the road that continues on to the left. The fog creates a feeling of mystery and uncertainty of what the figure in red will encounter along the way. (As it turned out – more fog.) The small, red figure stands out almost like an apparition against the green and grey.
Size is important symbolically here: I can’t help feeling a humility when I compare the size of the human form with the vastness of the Pyrenees. We felt isolated walking here, though the faint sound of an invisible cow-bell hinted that this lonely place was occupied by other humans who were making a simple living by farming nearby. I was moved by the evidence that humans here were living in a great deal more harmony with the land than humans like us who live on what was once prime Ontario farms and now is mostly asphalt, brick and concrete.
The cow-bell, it turned out, was a horse-bell. Three horses eventually appeared around the bend, almost invisible to the right of our path in the mist. The photo works better when I show only two.
The crossing from France into Spain occurred simply without kiosks, toll-booths and guards. It was marked by a sign that said Navarre.
I’ve been largely out of WordPress touch since the last week of April, when Anita and I flew to France to begin our first Camino Santiago. We chose the Camino Frances, which is the most popular. We also chose not to walk all of the 780 kilometers (485 miles) from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela near the NW coast of Spain.
We walked some of the most difficult stages, such as the first stage from France through the Cize Passes to Roncesvalles, following the route taken by Charlemagne in the 8th C and Napoleon Bonaparte in the 19th. Not counting sightseeing we walked almost 200 km in about 15 different bits.
We chose to do it this way because, as a couple, we have physical limitations that would have put our long-term fitness at risk if we had walked the whole way and because we wanted to have the energy to sight-see primarily in Pamplona, Estella, Burgos and León along the way. I joke that there were three in our party: Anita, my camera and I. A total love for Spain and its incomparably rich and crazy history was a major inspiration for me.
I will admit right away that this is not the “purest” way of doing the Camino Frances. Some will argue that one must do Le Chemin de Saint-Jacques in its totality, walking every inch and carrying all one’s necessities all the way. Some take no photos. Some take one photo at the beginning and one at the end. A few whip their backs in penance carrying a cross as they trudge the Way of Saint James (we didn’t see any of this particularly tiny subgroup). I respect each individual’s camino. There are as many camino choices as there are pilgrims. If you choose to judge ours… so be it.
We happen to think that ours was everything we hoped for and more. A thorough itinerary of our trip, including our chosen refugios, pensións, casa rurales, hotels, public buses taken, walk lengths will follow soon. We were on the camino from April 25 until May 16, when we arrived at the pilgrim office in Santiago de Compostela to be congratulated and get our Compostelas, the documents that certify that one has completed the pilgrimage on foot. We traveled the last 113 kilometers across Galícia from Sarria to Santiago completely on foot and, by so doing, qualified for our Compostelas. We added 4 nights in Santiago and three nights in Bilbao to the trip, flying home from the latter on May 23.