Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Welcome to Our Blog


This blog describes our walk along the Via Podiensis (a.k.a. Chemin St. Jacques, GR65) from May - July 2017.  We hiked 736 km from Le Puy-en-Velay, France to Roncesvalles, Spain over 41 days, making a stop in Rocamadour, France along the way.  It was a wonderful experience.  For those of you interested in hiking the trail, we have included a description and review of the clothes and gear we took with us.  Thank you for reading, and we hope you enjoy!



To follow our hike on the Camino Frances follow this Link.

To follow our hike on the Camino Portuguese follow this Link.

To follow our hike on the Camino Finisterre from Santiago to Muxia to Finisterre follow this Link.

We hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Reflections



Since finishing our walk along the Via Podiensis and heading home we have been reflecting on the many different experiences and adventures we had along the way.  One of the most common questions we have been asked upon our return is whether it was 'as good as' the Camino Frances, which we walked last October, and whether we "liked it" as much.  Surprisingly, it is rather difficult to provide a simple and succinct answer to that question.  In short, the Via Podiensis was stunningly beautiful and very different than the Camino Frances, and we enjoyed it enormously.  As to how it compared to the Camino Frances ... here are some of our initial thoughts and impressions, largely unorganized and in no particular order ....

The Trail

The main trail from Le Puy en Velay to Roncesvalles is 774 km, which is similar in length to the Camino Frances. However, we found the terrain to be far more challenging, especially during the first two weeks. 



The trail begins in Velay, where volcanic spires and peaks rise above a hilly landscape.  It then traverses a very deep forested gorge created by the Allier River before entering Margeride.  The countryside in this region includes granite highlands and meadows, pine covered slopes, and peat bogs.  From there the trail climbs onto the Aubrac plateau, which presents a vast and open landscape where the volcanic and granite earth shows through pastureland that is home to some 50,000 head of cattle.  The open fields turn to thick beech and oak forests as the trail descends into the beautiful Lot River valley, some segments of which are designated as world heritage sites.  On the far side of the valley the trail enters Quercy, which is a dry limestone plateau called the Causses that is famous for its pigeon lofts and the small stone huts the shepherds built there.  Next the trail slowly transitions to the more fertile lands of Gascony where agriculture dominates the landscape and the vineyards of Armagnac are prevalent.  In the final days the trail enters the rolling hills of Basque country, with the red and white buildings and flocks of sheep, and of course the grand finale consists of crossing the Pyranees into Spain. 

There are also ten monuments along the Le Puy Way that are recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites and are considered milestones on the way to Santiago de Compostela.  These include the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Hotel-Dieu (Le Puy-en-Velay), the pilgrim's bridge on the Boralds (Saint Chely d'Aubrac), the bridge over the Lot River (Estaing), the Abbey Sainte-Foy and bridge over the Dourdou (Conques), Saint Etienne Cathedral and the Valentre bridge (Cahors), Saint-Pierre Abbey and its cloister (Moissac), and the Saint-Jacques gate (Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port).  In addition, the trail passes through numerous fortified villages, many of which have achieved the designation of one of the most beautiful villages in France, through medieval villages with their bridges and gates, past chateaus, old castles, and numerous chapels, churches, and cathedrals.

Although the Le Puy Way took us through drastically different landscapes, and we passed numerous monuments along the way, for some reason we felt it lacked the milestones of the Camino Frances, and we felt at times that we weren't really making progress.  This struck us as interesting, and made us think about how our expectations are shaped, and how our experiences are in turn affected by our preconceptions.  We had read a lot of about the Camino Frances before we left, and "knew" that we would cross the Pyranees, then have to traverse the Meseta, and then climb O Cebreiro and enter Galicia, and we had read about how the physical changes in the landscape could mirror our inner journeys.  We also "knew" there were large towns and cathedrals in Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon that marked our progress and helped divide the journey into thirds, and we had heard of the templar castle in Ponferrada and the ritual at Cruz de Ferro.  Since we didn't decide to walk the Le Puy Way until a few weeks before we left, and we were unable to find much information on it in English before our departure, our expectations were pretty much summed up by the phrase "stunningly beautiful and extremely physically challenging."  We had no idea sense of any milestones to look forward to along the way, so we simply walked and accepted whatever we encountered.  It was a wonderful experience, and in many ways left us very free to discover everything as it came, but it was certainly a different experience for us than what we encountered on the Camino Frances.

In terms of physically navigating the GR65, we found the trail to be very clearly marked from start to finish, with the possible exception of entrances and exits to a few of the larger towns.  However, unlike the Camino Frances, for most of the way the trail markers are the red and white bars of the GR65, which are supplemented by official signs with more detailed information that affixed to their own posts.  The markers are less frequent and more sophisticated, and it isn't really until after Cahors that we really began to see the blue and yellow shell markers and other signs of the Camino at all.  The large and ubiquitous yellow spray-painted arrows of the Camino Frances were nowhere to be seen in France.


Another difference we noticed was that the GR65 is not a central part of the communities it passes through.  In Spain we found that many small towns catered to pilgrims, and bars and restaurants vied to be the first ones at the edge of town, or attempted to re-direct the camino past their business establishments. Bars offering coffee and take-away foods like croissants or bocadillos were virtually non-existent in the villages of France.  Many towns had fantastic bakeries and delis that were happy to supply hikers, but it was clear that their main purpose was to serve the local community, and they closed in the middle of the day.  In many instances the GR went past villages and towns without going through them as well.  In Spain it seemed like the Camino was routed through all the small towns, and almost always took pilgrims past the church in the middle of each community.  This was not necessarily the case in France, and many of the chapels and churches we passed were closed.  Another difference was that in France there was no difference between the condition of buildings and amenities on and off the Way, whereas in some Spanish villages it seemed like signs of poverty were much more prevalent off the Way than on it.  When we were hot and wanting a cold drink, or hungry and tired, the comparative scarcity of amenities sometimes felt inconvenient, but most of the time I think it was nice to feel that we were visiting real French communities, and not traveling along a route that existed mainly to meet the real or imagined needs of the pilgrims. 

The Community of Hikers

We had read that some people encountered only a handful of pilgrims along the whole trail, and would often walk all day without seeing another hiker.  This was not the case for us at all!  The pilgrim's mass in Le Puy, which we attended before setting out, must have had nearly 100 pilgrims in attendance.  However, despite the energy and relative crowds of people setting off from Le Puy, the proportion of walkers who considered themselves pilgrims was perhaps comparatively small until after we left Cahors.

The community of hikers on the trail primarily consisted of French people, followed by Germans.  Many French people seemingly choose to complete the Le Puy Way over the course of a few years, walking for 2-3 weeks a year.  So, in contrast to the Camino Frances, the vast majority of people we met were not walking the entire Le Puy Way in one go, and only a handful were planning to go all the way to Santiago de Compostela this year.  In addition, many people we met before Cahors did not consider themselves to be pilgrims at all, but were simply out hiking along the GR65 for a weekend, or a couple weeks.  As a result, I think we met and spoke to far more people on the Le Puy way than we did on the Camino Frances, but we spent a far shorter length of time with most of them.  So, in some ways the sense of common purpose that exists on the Spanish portion of the Camino, where many people are hoping to make it to Santiago de Compostela, was not as strong on the Le Puy Way.  Also, the community of familiar faces you see every day from beginning to end was not as consistent on the Le Puy Way.  This in no way diminished our experience - we met some extraordinary people who shared amazing stories, and I think it also helped to put the trail in perspective.  We spoke to people who started walking in Slovakia, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and elsewhere, and who had chosen various routes to end up at the point where we met them, and various points for their final destinations.  This gave us a new perspective on the questions "What is a true pilgrim?" and "What is a pilgrimage?" that are much debated on the Camino Frances.  On the Camino Frances it can be tempting to get arrogant in the last 100 km kilometers before Sarria, when the bus pilgrims started to pervade, if you have "walked the whole way", by which you mean you started in St. Jean Pied de Port.  Walking the Le Puy Way, where there is no certificate of accomplishment at the end, and no door of forgiveness into a final cathedral, and where people come from all over Europe on a vast network of GR trails to join The Way, you are left to answer these questions differently.

Language

Another difference on this trail is that many people do not speak English.  Almost without exception everyone was extremely nice to us, and went out of their way to help us.  The spirit of the Camino was present and strong throughout.  We did meet some people who were English speakers, but often during the communal dinners in the gites we found ourselves largely excluded from the lively and interesting sounding conservations, because they were simply too fast for us to follow in French.  Unlike on the Camino Frances, where we found that much of the conservation in the albergues was conducted in English, this was not the case on the Le Puy Way.  We certainly managed quite well speaking only English, and found lots of interesting people to share stories with, but at times it was a little isolating.

Accommodations

Although it is not absolutely necessary, hikers are encouraged to make reservations at the gites at least one day in advance along the Le Puy Way.  I think this was largely so that gite owners could plan the meals, as many accommodations offer 'half-board' or 'demi-pension' options, which is a bed, dinner, and breakfast.  In some ways it felt like this requirement reduced the spontaneity we found on the Camino Frances, but it did give an entirely different atmosphere to the whole experience.  Unlike Spain, the gite owners not only knew how to take a reservation, but they also knew how to keep one, so once you had booked, you knew you had place to stay the following day.  The gites typically didn't allow hikers in until 3:00 - 3:30pm, so there was not absolutely no hurry to arrive early.  This meant that most people got up at 6:30 or 7:00, enjoyed an hour long breakfast, and then headed out.  The 4:00 am alarms, followed by the hour long scuffle as everyone dropped everything while trying to pack in the dark didn't happen.   Many people seemed willing to explore monuments, churches, viewpoints and other sights that were slightly off the trail, and many people also stopped for a leisurely lunch or picnic break around noon.  As a result, the days were relaxed and unrushed, and there was never a race for a bed.

The gites themselves were also very different.  Dormitories typically had 6 beds or 10 at most, and in many cases these were single beds, not bunk beds.  Compared to Spain, there was a huge amount of space!  There was also often a bathroom for each dormitory, making the ratio of people to facilities much lower than in Spain.  When we went, there were often only 2 - 4 people in each dormitory room as well.  Towards Basque country the gites became more like Spanish albergues, but they were still typically much roomier and much cleaner.

The hospitality was also very different.  Hikers were typically greeted with a cold drink at the door, and sometimes a small cookie or biscuit.  The drink was often cold water with a choice of fruit, mint, or anis syrup, which was very welcome.  After the cold drink, introduction, and a chat, hikers were shown to their rooms or beds and left to clean themselves and their laundry and rest.  Payment and the stamping of the pilgrim passport were frequently done after dinner, or sometimes after breakfast the following morning.  

Food

During the first part of the trail, to someone from North America, the food and beverages seemed like gourmet offerings.  Dinners consisted of 5 courses - soup and baguette, green salad, a main course consisting of some kind of meat, a cheese plate, and a desert.  Each course was fantastic and usually very artistically presented.  Unlike Spain, where the pilgrim's menu was generally the same day after day and sometimes was constructed from ingredients out of a can, the French meals often featured a local delicacy (such as aligot in Aubrac, duck or foie gras in Quercy, nut cake, or armagnac), and were extremely good!  There was often a great deal of pride exhibited in the local produce, and it was always well deserved.  Towards the end of the hike, as facilities became more reminiscent of the Spain experience, the food became more streamlined as well (e.g., orange juice came from a dispenser and wasn't fresh), but it was still good and quite varied.

Cost

The cost of walking the Le Puy Way was higher for us than the cost of walking the Camino Frances, but it is difficult to say exactly by how much.  In many cases half-board (bed, dinner, and breakfast) was offered for 30 - 35 Euros a night, so I think it would be reasonable to budget 35 Euros a day plus lunch, plus a bit extra for admissions, etc.  In Spain we opted for a double room in many of the albergues, which was usually 40 Euros excluding food.  Since food is very cheap in Spain, it probably didn't cost us 30 Euros for dinner and breakfast for two, but we aren't sure exactly what it did cost.  So, for us it was a bit more expensive, but possibly not that much more.  A bed for one in the dormitories in France was usually around 15 Euros, which is only slightly more than in Spain, but in many cases the meals were also 14-15 Euros, and there weren't a whole lot of options in some towns if you didn't want to opt for half-board.  Even if you didn't mind cooking your own dinner, or eating a picnic, there wasn't always an open grocery store in the smaller towns.  There were a few instances where we ended up staying in hotels because everything else was either booked or closed due to local festivals, and these rooms were a bit more expensive again - generally 75-90 Euros for two, including only breakfast. I think it would certainly be possible to keep the costs lower than we did, but it would require much better advanced planning.  It is possible to camp most or all of the time as well I think, which also would reduce costs, but would take some planning to ensure you had food.  We made a point of staying in as many of the pilgrim hostels that operated by donation as we could, and these turned out to be some of our best experiences.  We always donated the same amount we would have paid in a regular gite, and this is highly encouraged, but you are free to donate whatever your financial circumstances allow, which could be another way to reduce costs if you really have no other options.  My recommendation would be that if you are on a very tight budget, it might be a good idea to book as much as possible in advance to ensure there is space at the accomodation of your choice, and you don't end up paying more than you want to. My feeling is that it would still likely be a little more expensive than Spain, but perhaps not too much more.  We found that the prices listed in the Miam Miam Dodo guide were generally spot on to what we were charged, so I would say this is a good resource to use for planning a budget.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Day 42 - Roncesvalles to Bordeaux

This morning the first alarm went off in the dormitory at 4:30 am. Its owner couldn't locate it, so it kept going at full volume until everyone was thoroughly awake. Since there was no point pretending, everyone decided to get up. We were once again reminded that it always takes a while for people to get into a routine of un-packing and re-packing their knapsacks that doesn't involve 4-5 attempts and utter chaos.

We headed down to a somewhat meager seeming breakfast in the hotel, and then reluctantly bid our new companions farewell and 'Buen Camino!'

We had to be out of the dorms by 8, but our bus back to St Jean Pied de Port didn't arrive until 11, so we sat out front and watched the stream of eager and determined looking pilgrims heading off down the trail to Zubiri and beyond. As a final gift for us from St James, it began to pour and it was only about 10 degrees out. This made it very slightly easier not to simply get up and keep walking towards Santiago, although it still took a lot of willpower not to!

We went in to Casa Sabina for a coffee to warm up, and then visited the cathedral for a bit. It was actually quite magical to be in there alone in the dark for a while, and reflect on all our experiences on the Way of St James. Eventually we went into La Posada for another coffee, and then it was finally time to catch the bus.

At the stop we met a pair of American ladies who we heading back to St Jean to start the hike, and a German man who was busing to Pamplona. We thought we might be the only people on the bus back, but it was more than half full.

After more than a month of walking, the speed of the bus was a little horrifying. The road was even worse. The first 45 minutes consisted of a steep descent down incredibly tight hairpin turns, on a road that wasn't wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. Several times the bus met a transport on a corner, jolted and scudded to a halt, and proceeded to reverse back up the hairpin turn until the other vehicle could pass. It was a very steep mountain road, and although the forested scenery was beautiful, the frequent brushes with death were a bit distracting.
Going by way of the road did let us see Valcarlos, which is where hikers are directed to cross the mountains in the event of bad weather. Valcarlos is actually quite a large town, unlike Orisson, and it looked quite nice. However, it looked like a fair bit of the path was on the road, which I think would be unpleasant with the constant traffic. This impression might be incorrect however, because we did see the lady from New Zealand in Roncesvalles, and she said the walk by way of Valcarlos was beautiful.

We arrived back in St Jean safely, stopped at a bakery for sustaining croissants, and then boarded our train for Bordeaux. As we sped across the rain soaked landscape it felt like our Camino was over, and our transition from pilgrim to tourist was complete.  As we sped across the rain drenched countryside it was a good time to reflect on all the many things we have seen and experienced over the past 42 days.  It really has been a 'Buen Camino' and we are enormously grateful to everyone who has helped us and followed along on our journey.

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Practical Information:

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Day 41 - Orisson to Roncesvalles

The alarms in the dormitory in Orisson began going off at around 5 am, even though breakfast wasn't being offered until 7. Quite a few people had decided that they needed to get an early start and didn't have time for breakfast. Although we can still remember what it was like to feel as though there was a rush to get there, this attitude was never present on the French part of the way. Our decision to head out before breakfast to avoid some of the worst heat was treated as scandalous, and I think some of our fellow hikers on the Le Puy way were worried for our survival.

We stayed for breakfast, and to collect our picnic lunch, and when we finally headed out around 7:30 we were treated to a truly spectacular sunrise!



As we climbed it felt like no matter where we looked there was incredible beauty.






We remembered some of the contours of the path from the fall, but the views were entirely new and stunning.
 

We also finally saw the Madonna statue that is featured in so many photos, but which we missed the first time around because she was lost in fog. As we climbed it got increasingly windy and cold. It also began to feel more rugged and rocky.







Around mid morning we came upon a snack truck parked in the lee of the mountain, and stopped for a coffee. By this point we had passed or caught up to most of the people who had left before breakfast.



After the short break there was another 1 km stretch of climbing.







After this there followed a relatively flat area, where we came to the fountain of Roland, and the Spanish border.







The descent from the peak was longer than we remembered it, and somewhat less magical without the mist, although it was still very beautful.






When we finally came to the point just above the last very steep descent into the valley, we realized we could look down into the valley and see the monastery in Roncesvalles!



We made the descent down through the steep forested path, and arrived around noon at the monastery. We were not able to check in until 2 pm, so we went to the bar at Casa Sabina and had a coffee, hung out in the courtyard and visited the gift shop. When we finally checked in we discovered that our bunks were in a very similar location to ones we occupied last fall.



While we showered and submitted our laundry it poured rain and hailed enough to leave drifts of ice in the courtyard. How lucky we were not to be among those caught on the mountain!

Later in the afternoon a fully loaded donkey arrived in the courtyard. While his master waited to check in we kept the donkey company. He was very patient and good natured, and had apparently been on the road for 30 days.

We visited the church, and also the cloister, which we hadn't seen before. It was very beautiful, and seemed different, and more Spanish than any we have seen in previous days, althoug it is difficult to explain why.

We had dinner at the Roncesvalles hotel with a wonderful group of English speaking pilgrims, many of whom we had met in Orisson. I sat next to a man who had walked all the way from Slovakia, and who was heading back home. What a journey that must have been!

It was good to be back on the Camino as we remembered it, and we knew this would only make it harder to leave! 

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Practical Information:
Distance: 16.2 km
Cumulative ascent: 770 m
Cumulative descent: 333 m
Max Temperature: 15˚C
Accommodations: Albergue de la Colegiata Real

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Day 40 - St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson

Today was again about perspective – we embarked on a familiar path, yet everything looked different. Armed with the knowledge that the walk to Orisson only takes about 3 hours, we slept in and had a late breakfast. We shared the meal with a couple from New Zealand who were very excited to begin their Camino, but who were going by way of Valcarlos. Perhaps we will see them again in Roncesvalles.


We headed back into town, through the city walls, down the street, and out the other end to begin the climb around 8 am. The town was relatively empty, most of the pilgrims having already set out on their new adventures.
When we set out it was in bright sunny weather, which was a stark contrast to last fall, when we set off in darkness. The climb out of town was familiar, but it seemed like the landmarks came faster than they did the first time. We found the familiar GR markers, as well as the new shell markings and a few yellow arrows in spray paint. We also passed the barn for a donkey we remember well, although the donkey was absent. There were a few other changes as well, including many gites that we don't remember seeing last fall.






Although there were fewer hikers than when we set out in the morning rush before, there were still far more hikers than we have been seeing in the previous days.



Most stunning of all were the mountains themselves! In the fall the whole landscape was shrouded in mist, which was mysterious and magical. This is probably how the Pyrannees will remain in my mind, but the panoramic views we found today were truly stunning.



As we climbed the asphalt road grew steadily steeper. However, what we remember as a very difficult climb last year was not hard for us to manage. It turns out 801 km of preparation on a more physically challenging trail was good training, and served us well!



When we reached the gite at Honto, where we were planning to stop for a coffee, we found it closed. Although this was disappointing, because we wanted to reminisce, we were feeling fine, and happy to continue.



When we reached the stretch of path that leaves the asphalt and goes straight up the hillside as a dirt track it got really windy. We could imagine getting swept off the side of the mountain quite easily, although we were never in any actual danger. As we paused part way up to admire the view and take a few photos we were unexpectedly overrun by a heard of sheep. This was lots of fun.





Although the dirt track was steep, and the road afterwards was steeper, we still found ourselves rounding the corner at Orisson long before we expected to. It felt like a very short hike, and we could have continued on, but as it turned out we avoided a very heavy downpour by stopping.





We sat on the patio under the awning at Orisson and enjoyed a coffee and a piece of Basque cake. The lady from South Africa we met yesterday was already there, and we spent a few hours engaged in interesting conversation with her. It turned out that we could check in early, so we did that around 11:00 am, and then went for a walk along the road.

As we climbed the clouds grew more and more menacing, prompting us to return to the vicinity of the gite. There was a group of horses down the road from Orisson, and we enjoyed their company under the dramatic skies until it began to pour. When we moved inside we joined a large table of English speaking pilgrims and spent an enjoyable few hours listening to their stories. Among the other hikers was a girl from Wiinnipeg, an American high school teacher on her second Camino, a lady from Denmark, and a couple from Quebec whose story revealed many challenges.

As we sat in the dining area we were joined by a large group of local Basque men. They enjoyed their meal and many many drinks over the course of the afternoon. When the pilgrim meal started they were still there, and they began to sing Basque chants. Although this was another unexpected musical treat, it was not the last one of the night. There was an older gentleman from Italy, who was experiencing some serious medical issues, who stood up after the meal and sang several opera songs very powerfully and beautifully. Another wonderful surprise to end a beautiful day.

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Practical Information:
Distance: 8 km
Cumulative ascent: 650 m
Cumulative descent: 10 m
Max Temperature: 24˚C
Accommodations: Orisson

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Day 39 - Ostabat to Saint Jean Pied de Port

Well, today we connected the dots by arriving back at the place where we began our first Camino, and where we first heard of the Le Puy Way and its beauty. As always, coming to the end of an adventure was bittersweet, although we still have two days left.

We shared a breakfast in our gite with the many many flies and our fellow hikers, and then headed out into the countryside for the final run into Saint Jean Pied de Port. As we left Ostabat there was a beautiful pink sunrise, although the day was generally overcast.



We left the road and walked along a forested track for a bit. The countryside looked magical cloaked in mist, with the white and red Basque houses, and the flocks of grazing sheep. The sound of bells on grazing animals in the mist, whether they are on sheep, horses, or cows, is something I will always associate with the Pyrannees.





Although there were some very beautiful stretches of path, for a lot of the day we followed the highway, either walking on a trail beside it, or hiking directly on it. This was not really a very romantic approach to St Jean Pied de Port.





Around 11 we came to a small chapel which was open, and we stepped inside. We were able to climb up into the choir area at the back, and we found a small bat hanging from the ceiling. As we left the bells began ringing, and for some reason they tolled 40 times. This was slightly unnerving, and caused the bat to take off as well.

Another random but interesting wildlife discovery was one of the largest earthworms I have ever seen!



Around noon we arrived in the town of St Jean le Vieux. We were in no hurry to end our hike, so we stopped for a coffee at the hotel. As we sat there several hikers we recognized passed us by, and we were struck, as we often are, that one of the amazing things about the Camino is that you can find yourself sitting on the sidewalk in a town you have never been to before, and you know people.




After our coffee we explored the town a little further and stopped at the bakery for a pastry.



It was a short walk through a small town with a cheese farm to St Jean Pied de Port. Just before town we passed the junction with GR 10, which of coarse made us think. We had seriously been considering hiking on GR10 up to Irun, but we didn't have quite enough days left to make it up there before our flight home. It was exciting to enter St. Jean from the top of the hill, having put it in a different context.

As we approached the gate in the old city wall we saw that St Jean Pied de Port has been designated as one of the most beautiful villages in France. We also encountered a large tour group, and a white trolley filled with tourists was just squeezing its way through the gate. Somehow this gave the town a different feel to what we experienced on our first visit.





We made our way down the main street, just as it began to rain. We were struck by how excited and full of anticipation the other pilgrims were. We hadn't made a reservation for the night, so our first stop was the pilgrim welcome office. As we stood in line at number 39 we realized that the conversations around us were suddenly mostly in English. The lady on front of us was from Quebec, and we struck up a conversation with another very friendly lady from South Africa.




After getting our stamps we headed across the street for a coffee and a slice of Basque cake while we tried to decide where to stay. We were partially tempted to try to get a bed in the same dormitory where we stayed at the beginning of our first Camino, but at the same time it felt like this might not be quite right. We walked down the street calling gites as we went to see if they had space, and looking in on others. No one answered, and none of the gites opened their doors before 3 or 4 pm. We didn't really fancy hanging about in the rain with our packs for the next 2 hours, so we took it as a sign and called a Chambre d'hotes we had passed on the way in just outside the city walls. The British couple who run it had a free room, and somehow this felt right. Although we envied the hordes of hikers in the dorms, eager to begin their new journeys, we somehow felt we didn't quite belong in their midst.

After checking in and doing chores we walked through town again, checked out a few bookstores in the hopes of finding a photobook on the Chemin Compostelle that we had been seeing across France, and headed down to the train station to change our tickets for Bordeaux to one day earlier. As we waited in the station we met two of the couples we have been hiking with, who were heading home. We suddenly realized how different this hike is – there is no grand arrival at a destination, where everyone can meet up and spend a night celebrating, and no final mass. Many people walk into town, get the next train out, and are simply gone.

After this somewhat sobering experience we sat in a covered cafe and had a crepe, while watching the world going by and reviewing our many experiences along the way. We spent a quiet afternoon in town, did laundry at the laudromat since it was pouring and nothing was going to dry, and generally just walked around. We also visited the church, and were able to attend the pilgrim mass, which is something that was relatively infrequent along the way in France.







We had a celebration dinner down by the river, which consisted of goat cheese salad and rose wine, and then in the evening we went to listen to Basque chants in the church. This was one of those unexpected things that turned out to be amazing!


 
The first part was presented by a large group of singers, and the second part was sung by two very talented teenagers. Basque chants are very lively and happy sounding, and many of them seem to involve a chorus that the whole audience sings. It was kind of fun to see the gite owners from the place we stayed at in Ostabat having a lovely time in the audience, and to realize that a lot of the audience were locals who knew the language and the chants.





After the concert we walked around the town for a bit and Sean took photos, and then we headed up the hill to bed.

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Practical Information: 
Distance: 22.5 km

Cumulative ascent: 625 m
Cumulative descent: 613 m
Max Temperature: 22˚C
Accommodations: Maison Errecaldia