On the 17th, we awoke early enough to have breakfast at the Albergue and be out by the posted 8 a.m. time. Janine the hospitalera served us coffee and pastries, nothing memorable.
As we left, we went looking to buy a walking sticks and a washcloth. But the shops were closed so we walked around the village and marveled at the architecture. The river runs right through the town and I took photos.
Finally the shops opened and in my broken French we negotiated the sale of the sticks, made locally and designed specifically for the Camino. After testing several and spending far too long making the decision, I bought one that seemed the right height and was unique. It has an animal carved on it–not sure if it is a beaver, a muskrat, a ferret, or what. But it felt right! Also walked to another store and bought a hand towel mit: white with green trim.
And finally, we were off; we walked back across the town and up into the hills by a residential area. After a bit, Becky realized we were lost as we came to a dead end by some structures of a cabin in ruin. We backtracked and got on the right path, it was narrow footpath and due to the snow it was a bit scary. But my walking stick that began to call Ani, for the unidentified Animalito, served me well. Becky realized that there was still another path that we could’ve been on. It was at a crossroads right out of St. Jean Pied a Port where we could’ve chosen a more difficult mountain path, or one that was more rural but not as difficult. Without knowing we picked the easiest, by the highway. Not knowing any better, I was happy, but Becky was disappointed because she wanted me to experience the more rugged but not dangerous rural one that she had traveled on four years earlier. About 2 hours later, we stopped to take a bit of some bread we had bought and to rest. That morning, I realized that I had not packed the small sleeve where I had packed my moleskin! I feared the worst; but Becky let me cut a bit off of hers and I had applied the skin-like fabric to my toes and a spot on my ankle where I feared I may get blisters. When we stopped, I “felt” for blisters and nothing! I did feel a bit tired, but not too much so. I adjusted the backpack again to make sure the lumbar area was not being stressed too much with the weight. And off we went again.
We crossed the border into Spain and didn’t even know it. As we entered a tiny border village, a sign welcomed us to Spain, The traffic and street signs were now in Basque and Spanish; as if by magic all the French disappeared and everyone spoke Spanish when we entered a truck stop café to drink some juice and go to the bathroom. We continued walking and came to the small village of Valcarlos where we planned to spend the night at the Albergue público. We arrived to find it locked and a note directing us to the grocery store to pick up a key. We did as instructed and while there, I bought a rain hat: dark green. We settled in two bunk beds side by side noting that there was a backpack and some gear by another bed; apparently there was a pilgrim already there. The two pilgrims, a man from Madrid, Pablo and a woman from the Netherlands whom we met at the Pamplona bus station the day before had left much earlier from St. Jean Pied a Port and were no doubt already in Roncesvalles, the goal for most pilgrims leaving St. Jean in the morning.
We laid down to rest a bit when a young man came in. It was his gear on the nearby bunk. Jose was on his way from a town in Valencia to Irun–from the Mediterranean to the Cantabric; instead of walking to Santiago he was walking along the Pyrenees traversing Spain from south to north accompanied by his two mules, both named “Moon” one in Catalan and the other in Spanish, Luna. We had a light dinner. We had bought a carrot, a potato, an onion for the soup Becky prepared using the packet of soup she had bought with her from Whole Foods.
This our first stage of the Camino Francés in Spain is not listed in the Codex Calixtinus which begins the pilgrimage in Spain from Jaca. The priceless Codex Calixtinus, Europe’s first travel guide, was stolen last July from the Cathedral library in what is being called the theft of the century. Originally commissioned by Pope Callixtus II, the illustrated manuscript was compiled between 1135 and 1139 by the French friar and scholar Aymeric Picaud, and has been the foundational text for many a travel guide and historical treatise on the Camino since the 12th century. I had never heard of the famous Codex, but once on the Camino it kept coming up and not just in references in our Travel Guide.
Codex Calixtinus page showing Charlemagne and his knights on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Photograph: Universal /Getty Images accessed: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/07/codex-calixtinus-manuscript-stolen-santiago-compostela
A translation of the Codex can be found online as well; the manuscript provides much more than just the origins of the Camino and Charlemagne’s connection to it; it has valuable information about medieval life and how this remote region was seen by the Holy See.
When we began walking, I proposed to offer my walk to a particular person, occasion, event or memory. Doing so brought many gifts including some surprising “messages” for people, some of whom I had not thought of in years. Starting today I will also post a meditation focus for the day–nothing too long or complicated, but in keeping with my goal of recording my reflections and my contemplative life during the Camino, I believe it is only fitting.
MEDITATION FOCUS: Beginnings. How do we start on a path? Are there really specific points of departure? Or are we merely linking earlier departures to current ones?
When I say that I took the first step on the Camino today, I am really linking this first physical step on the path to the many “first steps” that led me here; I can go back to 1979 and my desire to emprender el viaje.So I have begun this path many times, when I made the decision to do it, when I bought the boots, when I left San Antonio, When I left Toledo…but only on December 17 did I physically begin walking and feeling it in my body–the physicality of it reminds me that I am a body in this time an space, suffering cold an aches and yet I am a soul as well, rejoicing in the beauty of nature and the kindness of others.