Saturday, May 23, 2015

Camino de Santiago - Getting There

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As I begin to write esta, it already has-been a whole week since starting the Camino de Santiago , but it feels as though I Have Been on This journey for months already. That every day goes by, I am taking in so many new experiences, That I have started to fear I will forget some of the details of how I Have Been feeling from moment to moment. The Days Have Been so Packed with movement and fun, but even though I will probably not remember every detail When I have the chance to write them all down, there are just too many experiences along the way to write .. so I will be fine With the highlights I remember.

Many things about the Camino de Santiago, I will share with you in later posts. What is the Way? (You can whos check the link above if you want.) Why do you call yourselves 'Pilgrims'? What is the historical significance behind all of this? For now I just want to tell why I am here and technically how I arrived. I'll try to cover all information in later posts.

I originally Heard about the Camino de Santiago About 20 years ago, when i read the book ' The Pilgrimage 'by Paulo Coelho , i had fallen in love with the writing of Coelho after reading His masterpiece, 'The Alchemist.' After That I kind of wanted to read absolutely everything That I HAD ever written. 'The Pilgrimage' documents Paulo's spiritual journey, before I ever started writing, leading up to and following him all the way through His completion of the Camino de Santiago.

I fell in love with the notion of taking a journey, by foot, through Europe. Not only my discovering new things around, but also, even at my age, discovering things about myself. Paulo's journey was One That I Had to take for His Reasons .. but everyone walks the Way That They have reason to own Attempt the epic feat of crossing Spain, by foot. Some people do not even know exactly why They are here .. They just thought it Might be a cool thing to do. One thing is for sure though, and I can only say esta even one week into the road, That nobody is quite the same after They finish esta journey. Mind, body and spirit are tested here .. and there is no pass / fail .. there is only growth.

There are many starting points for the Camino de Santiago. There are pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela That begin THROUGHOUT Europe. The most famous starting point though is the small French village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port About 5 kilometers over the Spanish border. This is the starting point in Which Paulo Cuelho His adventure started, so this is where i wanted to begin mine. Here is the one and only time I wanted to model my journey after Paulo's. Even though I Had Such deep admiration for esta brilliant man, my journey was not the same as His .. I needed to let my own story unfold.

I flew into Madrid and spent three days with a wonderful Couchsurfing host before boarding a bus to Pamplona (€ 16.50), where i would catch a bus then a Directly to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. This was all quite painless. The buses are clean and the people are polite.

When you reach Pamplona though, and you find the gate through Which end you will be boarding your bus to the starting point of the road (€ 22) , you will find yourself in Line with 20 or 30 other fresh pilgrims.

Bring a small rock from home or a place this is special to you. You will walk 2/3 of the camino with this rock, so do not chose one that is too big. Just after you pass through the mountains to a location Known as 'Cruz de Ferro' or 'The Iron Cross.' There, it is a tradition to lay down your stone at the base of the landmark and say a prayer. (More info on That in Part 9 of this blog series on Camino de Santiago)
May You think your journey starts in France, but pay attention to the people around you at This Point. You will see some of them so many times

over the next few weeks and it is quite likely That someone with you on bus That Will Become a life-long friend. This is Where your Journey Begins as You have now joined a group of other pilgrims.

The trip to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port Takes a little more than 2 hours, and I tried my hardest not to look out the windows at the stunning locations We were passing through. Some of These villages are on the route we will be walking and I did not want to ruin the experience of discovering ancient villages These Until I arrived there by foot on my journey.

When we arrived, the bus let us out and we picked up our backpack .. but nobody was there to point us in the direction we needed to go. We just started moving in mass, guided by instinct .. And eventually we saw some signs That confirmed We were going the right direction, and Helped guide us through the village.

Nothing excites me more than the mixture of adventure and having no idea what I am getting myself into. When I arrived in France, I honestly Knew little about what I was to do .. Actually other than trying to find a place to stay for the night. As an arriving pilgrim About to start your journey though, you need to register in the 'Pilgrim Office' and you can find That at # 39 on the main street ( Rue de la Citadelle)  of the village.

ST. Jean-Pied-de-Port
This is the capital city of the region of Basse Navarre in the French Basque country. This small town at the foot of Rancesvalles Pass (aka Cisa Pass) is the last stopping place on the three pilgrim routes going through France before going over the Pyrenees mountains into Spain. The Roman connecting road between France (Bordeaux) and Spain (Astorga) over the 'Summus Pyreneus' Followed the narrow valley of the river via Luzaide Valcarlos and the Ibaneta Pass (a route That was already in use by the Celts). For the march to Spain, Napoleon's troops chose the path Strategically More favorable Lepoeder ove the pass (today Known as the 'Route Napoleon').
From the 12th to the 16th century, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port Belonged to the (Spanish) Until the kingdom of Navarre region finally fell to the French in 1589. The Basque language is alive on Both Sides of the boundary With the same traditions as, for example, the ball game 'pelota' (Spanish 'ball', a kind of cross Between played tennis and squash With the hand). Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port was Declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1988. Pilgrims Have Been entering the old town With its elegant old buildings and tiny streets paved since the Middle Ages through the Porte de St. Jacques and walking along the Rue de la Citadelle , named after the military site high above the town.

Depending on what time of year you arrive in 'St Jean', there will probably be a line of pilgrims standing outside the door, ready to register for the Camino. There is so much information About your journey hanging on the walls, that you 'will not have any time to take it all in before you are called to the table to register as a pilgrim.

Suddenly I was seated before an extremely jolly man That Could Easily be Holy. I Asked "Do you have a place to sleep tonight?" I replied in the negative and I Told me I had a place for me. So THAT left out trying to find a place to sleep. This was pretty easy.

I paid my € 4 fee for my pilgrim's passport (a credential you get stamped in every village you pass through) and I was Told to wait outside With the rest of the other pilgrims That Were going to the same place I was sleeping That Night.

This guy was so positive and wonderful I Asked to Take His photo. I Seemed I amused At this, but Then I Asked if I wanted His autograph too. I said "Nah" that was OK .. but thanks! It was not Until Later That someone Mentioned That to me esta twinkly-eyed gentleman was featured in the documentary about the Camino de Santiago. Pilgrims probably ask him for quite a bit His autograph Actually.

(Selfie Being abducted while in a van after arriving in France.)

Standing outside of the Pilgrim Office we are Introduced to a French man. I owns The House That we will be sleeping in This Night. I have to go .. and I will give us a ride to His House. We walked around the corner and the ADH will no windows in the back and wooden benches Were That Were not even fastened to the floor. "Welcome aboard. This ride is free." He Said. As we gleefully packed into the van. We all Knew That not only HAD started our journey .. but a month-long, full-scale adventure was just about to begin.

The only problem With This Is That the arrangement will HAD taken up 1 kilometer up the road, a whole kilometer into our path. This really did not sit well with me, so after unpacking my things onto my bunk bed in His guest house, I Walked back to the village and then a back tot have house again ... So THAT I did not miss that one kilometer of the journey.

Back at the house, I spent some time with the other pilgrims as well as the owner of the house and his wife and new baby. It turns out the wife That was eleven esta British pilgrim doing the Camino de Santiago. She happened to spend the night at Frenchman's guest house esta .. And They fell in love and now They have a baby.

That night .. I have never heard so many varieties of snoring. Were there only 11 of us in That room, but I Heard less cacophony in the chaos of the Amazon.  But I could not be happier. In the morning I will be starting the Camino de Santiago and I will Have the chance to accomplish something I Had Been dreaming of for over two decades.

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Notre Dame Eglise St. Jean-Pied-de-Port
 (Gothic - 13th / 14th century)

Lots of shops in villages will Have MOST walking sticks
 and other paraphernalia to sell pilgrim.
Pretty much all you will find here are boring sticks with metal tips.

If you want a walking stick .. save your money!  Wait a few days .. and I will tell you several places in following posts That way you can get your stick for FREE from some legendary road locations, Directly from legendary personalities road.

Some sights along the road back into the village.
Taking note of the signs I will need to Become aware of while following the path.

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