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Learning to Walk, Day 42, Saturday, October 8, Harambelz to Mongolos, 15-ish km

October 8, 2022

Goodness. Day 42. I’ve been walking (and sometimes resting) for six weeks! Today started with this glorious view about a kilometer or two into the walk:

The cloud cover grew thicker and thicker through the day so I really couldn’t see the higher mountains. I found it disorienting. I kept feeling like I was walking north, because I couldn’t tell where the sun and mountains were. I kept telling myself “you are walking south and west” but without the sun and mountains I just couldn’t get my inner compass to cooperate. I think tomorrow will be clearer, so that should help. I hope that forecast holds—I really want to see the mountains as I get closer!

I am trying to wrap my head around the fact that I am finishing the Chemin tomorrow. May people walking this route cross over the mountains and finish in Roncevaux/Roncesvalles, but St. Jean Pied de Port, tomorrow’s destination marks the beginning of the Camino Frances across Spain—the most well-traveled route to Santiago. And it will be much more crowded with pilgrims from all over than anything I have yet experienced. In France, the majority of people walking are French. There are others from Belgium and Germany and Quebec, and very few from the US. There will be many fellow Americans once I get to St. Jean. Most folks from the USA don’t even know about the French routes, but many know about the Camino in Spain and that is what most Americans walk. It is going to be a very different vibe. I will no longer be staying in gites. I will no longer be eating fabulous French food. There will be many more people on the path. I’ve read many posts about the challenges of adjusting to the Camino after walking the Chemin. Many of the posts are from people who long to be back on the Chemin. I am just telling myself, “it will be different,” and trying hard not to pre-judge it. There are others who prefer the Camino—it is easier walking for one thing—crossing the Pyrenees is the most difficult part. While there are some climbs, and some tricky descents in Spain, my understanding is that what I have just done on the Chemin Le Puy is FAR more physically challenging than what I will encounter on the Camino Frances. And many people prefer having more people to walk with and dine with along the way. While I have crossed paths with the same people along parts of this route, it sounds like more “Camino families” form in Spain. I will take it as it comes!

Today was a very solitary walk—I should probably treasure it knowing what’s ahead! Since most people walk in one day what I am doing in two, they stayed about 4 km beyond where I did last night, in Ostabat, and walked at a faster pace to get to St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPDP) today. So apart from one camper who quickly passed and outpaced me this morning, I have been the only one on the path. Well, me and thousands of sheep and cows. You do not want to see, or smell, the bottom of my boots. Gite owners insist you leave your boots at the door for a very good reason. You cannot avoid stepping in it.

I mentioned Ostabat, Ostabat is an ancient, famous stopping place for pilgrims. My guide book says that in the Middle Ages Ostabat could accommodate 5000 pilgrims in its 20 inns. Ummm. Help me with the math here. That’s 250 pilgrims per inn, right? They must have been shoulder to shoulder and head to foot on the floors. And sleeping in the stables. I walked through Ostabat an hour or so after leaving this morning. And was grateful for the tiny epicerie/boulanger where I could buy the usual ham/cheese/butter on a baguette sandwich for lunch and a chocolatine (that’s southwestern France for pain au chocolat) for my late morning snack. I figure I am almost out of France, so I will enjoy the chocolatine and almond croissants while I’m here.

I’m staying tonight in a Chambres d’Hotes, like a B & B, but less expensive than most B & B’s. This one is just lovely, in an 18th century house. Below is my beautiful bedroom. It is a treat! The accommodations in Spain will be different—the albergues will be more communal and dorm-like than the gites in France. But I believe there are also Chambre d’Hotes type options if I need my own room from time to time. And most albergues do not provide wonderful home-cooked meals like the gites in France do. I think most pilgrims eat out or cook in the communal kitchen at the albergue. The restaurants in Spain have “pilgrim meals” where you usually have a choice of a couple of entrees, and appetizer, I think, and dessert. My understanding is they tend to get repetitive—chicken and fries—so many people order off the regular menu instead. The pilgrim’s meal is cheaper. Designed to be filling and affordable, I believe.

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