People of the Camino

At a small Fiesta in Puenta de Orbigo on the Camino de Santiago, we saw this young woman playing the bagpipes. Her face was a study in concentration as her fingers moved skillfully over the chanter. Life did not appear to be easy in these towns.

Hospital de Orbigo

It is said that the weight of your pack is the sum of your fears. Sometimes the way people carry their pack expresses much about the kind of life they’ve had – and the inventive ways to deal with carrying a pack if your back is no longer as strong as it once was. I wondered how the trolley handled some of the rockier or muddier paths. But, by suspending it from his waist, this walker is able to keep his hands free to assist with the effort of walking itself.

pack on trolley

Beside the road the chestnut gatherers laboured to reap the harvest while dodging the falling chestnuts, ignoring the steady stream of pilgrims passing through.

Chestnut gatherer

Marcelino the hermit and self-styled ‘trainee pilgrim’ (peregrino pasante) ran a donativo stall. He was dressed in traditional medieval pilgrim robes and shared his wisdom and provisions with any pilgrims who stopped to chat.


Ermita del peregrino pasante

In Burgos, we encountered these hard-working cafe staff setting out tables and chairs ready for the evening trade. The cafes are an essential supply line for the pilgrims and for the locals who exchange stories and observations on the passing parade of tourists and peregrinos.

Cafe workers

We were serenaded by this accordion player in Logroño, who moved from table to table sharing his cheer and Spanish ballads. He was a delight and reminded me of my early faltering start on my road to being a professional musician. I began by busking – and in the process learned a lot about the art of entertaining, irrespective of any skills on the instrument itself. I have seen many performers play skilful music, but in such a deadpan way that they fail to engage the audience. This guy lit up the square with his joyful music and singing.

street performer, Logroño


In Madrid there was a festival of Santa Maria, patron saint of Madrid. The statue of the Virgin was paraded around the town accompanied by a huge procession of people from various community and local groups. I was captivated by the characterful faces in the procession.


This woman was carrying her young son, and she gave me a huge smile as she saw me lift the camera towards her.

Smiling Woman with child

Some took their Dowager role very seriously


While others perhaps mourned for loved ones lost


A father’s love

Man and child

For some, there is always a better way


Or contained their thoughts

containing her thoughts

There is a real strength in these people – and a sense of community – of people bound together despite day-to-day trials. And a genuine warmth, yet a distance from strangers. It was a privilege to walk among them.

Holy procession

Paris to St Jean Pied de Port

We arrived early at Gare Montparnasse – scene of that famous photo from 1895 where a steam train failed to stop and crashed through from the upper floor. You can read about that incident here

1895 train wreck at Gare Montparnasse [source: Wikipedia]

1895 train wreck at Gare Montparnasse [source: Wikipedia]

And here is what it looks like today – that platform behind the glass front was where it all happened.

Gare Montparnasse

We boarded the TGV from Montparnasse to Bayonne. At Bayonne we changed trains for the Pilgrim Express – a bus on rails to take pilgrims to St Jean Pied de Port. As we climbed steadily from the coast we could see steep hills rising on either side. Passing the first really steep mountain, a hush descended over the train, as the pilgrims-to-be realised these were the hills we would be climbing from first light tomorrow.

On the pilgrim train

I, too, fell silent, not because of the effort ahead, but the realisation I would not be able to capture such scenes on the phone effectively. I had packed the camera for sending ahead as I considered it too heavy, but seeing the scenery, I made a last-minute reversal of that decision. There was one chance to retrieve the camera – and that being after we arrived at St Jean Pied de Port. Picture the scene – on a bench in the main street there we were, pulling out clothes and underwear in order to find the well-cushioned camera and charger – much to the amusement of the locals and fellow pilgrims 🙂

As soon as we pulled into the station, we joined all the others in photographing the sign for the start of our Camino

St Jean Pied de Port

We made our way up the steep hill to the Pilgrim Office, where we registered, picked up our shells and got a favourable weather report for the climb to Orisson. Then next door to despatch our main city luggage (70 euros with unlimited storage time). We were committed.

We reached our Gite, and got the last private room, where we quickly dropped our packs, grabbed the tech in a bag and headed out to find a place to eat – which we found about 100metres away.

Our first ‘pilgrim menu’

  • a huge fresh salad
  • Spaghetti Bolognaise for me
  • delicious ice cream (2 scoops)
  • spectacular capuccino – the best we’ve had in France!
  • wine

As we ordered, a couple of the other patrons turned and smiled at us, nodding their acknowledgement that here we are, another two peregrinos about to start an awfully big adventure.

Then back to the Gite (Gite Zuharpeta) for a shower, repack and so to sleep.



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


Paris – the final pack for the Camino

Arriving back in Paris after a two-day visit to Northern France to see some friends, it is time to get serious for the final pack. We will be sending a bag on to Santiago de Compostela with our smart clothes, so we will only have the bare essentials for the backpacks we’ll take on the Camino de Santiago (French route).

Camino pack

We repacked several times, weighing the packs each time, only to find them still too heavy, so we repacked again.

See here for my packing video made before we departed from Australia.

With the third re-pack it is uncomfortably apparent that my DSLR camera is just too heavy – it weighs almost 1.5kg in its bag. So it’s hard decision time. Reluctantly, I have to admit that my 10kg backpack is right on the limit – and that is without water – or the camera! So, with the decision made, I packed the camera in the send-on bag and resolved to work on my iPhone camera skills.

With that decision made, and the packs as light as we could manage, it was time to get some sleep – to be ready for an early check-out and a short walk to the Montparnasse railway station.


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