It is quite a challenge to start the day with a mountain. We stopped in at the Pilgrim Office early to get a weather report, then paused at the bridge for a photo before passing under the Town Gate, and remarked ‘we are not in the Shire any more…’
It is said that the Camino has three stages. The first is physical – knocking the body into shape, dealing with pain, learning the routine and finding your stride. The second is mental – testing your tenacity to keep getting out of bed; walking day after day can be, well, boring, and a challenge to keep focus on the destination. The third stage is the spiritual journey, once the physical barriers have been dealt with, and the routine is settled, there is time to consider and reflect. But first there is a mountain to deal with.
One thousand six hundred metres in 7.9kms is a long steep climb. It begins right out of St Jean with a steep climb that just gets steeper. It is known as the Napoleon Route as Napoleon marched his troops over this pass in the Pyrenees.
Other pilgrims have described this first day as ‘brutal’. They’re right. It is probably the hardest day’s walk I have ever done. We were both struggling within a couple of kilometres, and we stopped frequently to catch our breath. We saw a super fit team of Italian cyclists making little headway against the hill, with some people walking faster than the riders. The stops also gave us fantastic views, but the climb was relentless.
The packs are still a little too heavy, and we could not have managed the climb without the trekking poles. I read once, that used properly, they can take around 18% of the load off your knees.
Almost at a standstill, we finally reached Huntto and refilled our water bottles and bought coffees and baguettes. Our breakfast at the Gite had been sparse, just a couple of thin slices of baguette, a pot of yoghurt and coffee – nowhere near our energy requirement for the climb. Lesson learned.
As the afternoon approached we were very slow, but conscious of a 3.00pm deadline for our reservation. We made it with 20 minutes to spare, and as the Orisson albergue came into view we cheered aloud and walked into a great welcome with many who had passed us earlier, cheering us in. We got our credential stamped and signed in for our room. Luxury! a room with one double and two single beds. We shared with another Australian couple – very like-minded people and we got on well.
It had taken 7 hours to get just over 7kms, a salutary reminder of our journey ahead. We washed our clothes – though drying proved difficult as the air was humid.
The view of sunset was breathtaking.
Dinner was an event to remember! Wonderful food – three courses and endless wine. We were all asked to introduce ourselves – our country, and where we hoped to reach. There was quite a French contingent, so I made our introduction in French and English – the French appreciated it and came over to chat later. At one point the Italians broke into a passable operatic version of Oh Sole Mio! more singing and more wine flowed and then we called it a night. It was a night to remember.
INDEX – If you wish to follow our journey from the beginning, or jump in to any of the Camino posts,
here is a link to the index page – which can also be found in the navigation bar at the top of this blog