Saturday, 7 February 2009

The next part of my story

The Spanish gate at St Jean de Pied de Port
Walking up the hill into the town we are faced with a tee junction. We turn left and walk one hundred yards up the hill, coming to a stop outside a shop. Only it is not a shop it is an office. The office of the French Confraternity of St James. The office is full. There have been those who walk faster than we who get to claim their credential before us. We join the queue. All shapes of pilgrims are here. Long ones, short ones, bald, hairy, badly cut ones, young ones, old ones, old ones trying to be young ones. young ones trying to be old ones, Male and female he made them, pilgrims he made them all. I am called forward. I present my credential. It is stamped and returned a few details are taken. Name, age, passport number, sex etc. Hans is next. His interview is a little longer. He has to fill in a more comprehensive form. Why does he want to go on pilgrimage? It is Cultural, Religious, Other or a blend of the three. It's a blend. He gets his pilgrim passport. It is smaller than mine. That will fit into his pocket much more easily than the A5 thing that I have.We withdraw to the street where Hans tells me that he is going to walk the route Napoleon. The high way across the top of the mountains. I am for the low way, recommended for those who are not very fit. That's me, fat and unfit. We walked together to the end of the town. Facing us at the bottom of the hill is the Spanish gate. This is the real start of the pilgrimage. It is 550 miles of walking from here. Outside the gate he goes one way and I go the the other, as Hans has directed me. I begin to walk downhill only to walk in a complete circle back into St Jean by another way. Perhaps Hans is not such a reliable guide as I thought? Again I leave by the Spanish gate and go up the hill this time to a very obvious fork in the road. Here I turn right and skirt around the side of a hill to join what seems a fairly mainish road.At this stage there is a walkway or pavement.It seems positively suburban.But soon we are out of the town and no pavement.I have by now picked up the famous yellow arrows originally put down by Father Elias of Cebreiro many years before. I hope these will take me all the way to Santiago. The day was not easy, but it was uneventful. The most exciting part was where the path diverged from the road and cut a large number of S bends off. It was at this point that I learnt that all the pilgrims went by the route Napoleon. This meant that any off road sections were overgrown and not trampled. The result being that it was a hard path to walk. Towards the end of the day I breasted the hill to come out on a small road at the highest point on the way. Coming towards me was a couple of older folk. In the front was a weathered, gnarled woman,looking happy and full of life. She was having a great time. Behind, was what I took to be her husband. He looked beaten up to say the least. I was glad that I had gone the easier way! I wondered if he wished he had? Later I discovered that they were French. They were retired. They were going to do the whole length of the Pilgrimage. Every afternoon I came across them in the same state of liveliness/exhaustion. It went on for three days until one evening she was on her own. On enquiry I found that they had had a heart to heart. The result was that she was to walk and he had caught the bus to Santiago. He was there by now, sitting on a bar stool drinking cold beer. There were others with me at this time. We all went silent. Drinking the words in and in our imaginations a share of his Santiago beer. The silence said it all

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