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Accounts of the Camino

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My wife and her sister are walking the Camino from St. Jean to Santiago. They have planned 2 1/2 months for the adventure. On occasion I will provide her accounts:

Started from St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson (both in France), into Spain: to Roncevalles, Viskarret, to Akerreta, to Pamplona

St. Jean Pied de Port is a tiny town is the former ancient capital of the Basque region. The streets were crowded with tourists, many on local bank holiday; a favorite activity is watching pilgrims from France and Germany and other parts of Europe entering St. Jean thru the town´s medieval gate on its western side in search of a night´s accomodation. If you are an early riser, you can watch the very same pilgrims leaving via the same street on its eastern end to begin their climb into the Pyrenees.
Which is what my sister Carmen and I did on 5/3, excited and a little bit fearful, feeling that this might be a bit beyond us. The countryside is beautiful. The cream-colored cows keep their faces buried in the spring grass. The herds of sheep and lambs scatter and flee when we pass and form and unform into mysterious lines and patterns. Overhead black vultures float, flashing gold when they tip their wings. They are watching and waiting for us to fail and we think they have a point. The people we meet smile and wave and call out "Buen Camino," Good camino.
The weather is sunny but scorching hot in the mountains. The first day we climb about 2500 feet in about 7 or 8 miles. It is very steep and pretty soon we are staggering. That night we stay in our first refugio (hostel). It is very clean. There are 6 bunks to a room and people from all over are chattering in multiple languages (german, french, italian, portugese, spanish, basque). Carmen talks to everyone, despite the fact that she speaks none of these languages.
The next day, up another 1500 feet and down about the same. This area of the Pyrenees is the area where Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, died in 778 along with many French noblemen. His death is recorded in the epic poem Chanson de Roland. Like many great legends, the geography is a bit inexact as he seems to have fought and blown his horn and died in multiple places. The descent on day 2 is ruinous on the body - aches and pains and grim blisters. But that night we sleep in the town of Roncevalles where pilgrims have crossed into Spain for over a thousand years. Many pilgrims who did not make it across the mountains are buried here, as well as (who else?), the soldiers who fought and died with Roland. We rest, tend our wounds and limp about to see the sights.

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