Day 32 (August 24, 2016)
I left Bidarray before the crack of dawn, almost too early as the darkness made it hard to make sure I was following the right trail. Even after dawn, the day looked to be a cloudy one, even as I ascended the morning’s mountain by scrambling over rocks. The switchbacks we have on many United States trails seem like a luxury compared to these French trails in the Pyrenees. The French just take the most direct route humanly feasible up the mountain, no matter how steep that makes it. Here is a picture shows the fog of the morning as I climbed up these rocks.
Amazingly, after almost making it all the way up the mountain, I suddenly passed the fog, as though I’d passed into a new world, above separate from below, a barrier beyond which nothing seemingly exists. Looking down on the fog below, it started crawling up the mountainside, seeming half alive as though it were trying to escape the suns burning rays that would evaporate it out of existence. Seeing it move up was a pretty neat experience.
The day otherwise went more or less like other Pyrenees days until I reached the town of Ainhoa, my intended destination when I started. I can’t explain what came over me there, something about the town just didn’t appeal. It’s a pretty town to be sure, very touristic, lots of people eating at the bars and cafes along the main drag, the houses painted in Basque fashion immaculately, the church comparatively extravagant inside. But my body, my mind just said keep walking, perhaps its the stares from people that make you feel out of place, which I shouldn’t be surprised at since with the pack on, my long hair and beard, sweating and dirty, I look out of place. The next place to stay being about 8 miles, 13 km beyond, a daunting proposition at 2:30 PM on a very hot day where the high was in the mid 90’s, 36 Celsius. I knew that the idea was mad, though once the thought entered my mind, just like the thought to walk the Camino del Norte, I couldn’t extirpate the thought from my brain (there’s a word I remember from my college days but never get to use). So I walked on to the village of Sare, arriving around 6 PM. But before I left Ainhoa, I did only the most logical thing possible to boost my morale for the remaining day’s walk: I bought two Basque cakes (Gateaux Basque), one cream and one berry, and scarfed them down before leaving. Needless to say my stomach hurt a little.
Day 33 (August 25th, 2016)
This was probably the hardest day so far for me, perhaps 1600 meters–about one mile–of climbing on the hottest day yet. I couldn’t have picked a worse combination, and there wasn’t water to fill up along the way, though a couple restaurants could be found.
At first, The Way passed the mountain La Rhune above a fog-covered valley below.
La Rhune, a holy place for Basque people, to which dozens of people were heading up to while I headed down to the valley below until the next climb. Somewhere after, I must have taken a wrong turn, however, as soon enough I was on a trail and no markings showing me which path I was on. After going a little further to be sure, I just decided to keep walking on the trail until I could find a place to jut back the way I thought I was supposed to be going. I tend to get lost in life a lot, be it in my car, walking, everywhere, but the nice thing about getting lost so often is that you learn how to get unlost too. I’ve never liked to use GPS or smartphones for this reason, as like many things, it’s a skill we have to cultivate in order for our geospatial thinking to function properly, or at least so I think. If we rely on GPS every time we get lost, the ability to sense the direction, to use waymarkers gets less and less, forcing us to rely more and more on GPS.
Anyhow, pretty soon the couple hikers I passed weren’t speaking French any more, but Spanish. No borders to mark the change to another country, no change in landscape, nothing. When I finally found the hill at a touristy hilltop call Ibardin, the buildings, things for sale, drivers, they were certainly different. Pretty soon I was back in France for the remaining portion to the border town of Hendaye, right across from its Spanish counterpart, Irun. Here are some more pictures from the day.
This picture looks down into the area with three towns, Hendaye on the foreground right, Hondarriba in the back ground right, Irun in the left center.
Camino del Norte
In addition to many other differences, the places pilgrim’s sleep on the del Norte are also much different than in France, where a regimented process governs the check-in, in which the credential is extremely important and is checked thoroughly for accuracy before one is given a bed. The sleeping conditions are much simpler than in France, lacking the same French hospitality of food and coziness that now seems incredible in comparison. In some ways, though, the simplicity seems more authentic for being on a pilgrimage, where the extravagance of our normal lives is called into question. Speaking of which, here is my credential from France filled with stamps almost on both sides.
The prices in stores and cafes also dropped immediately once over the border, the architecture radically different, the cities much more city-like with the hustle and bustle of cars buzzing, random noises and yelling, more than a little bit disorienting after being used to navigating French towns that have a form of similar organization even in light of their vast differences. In Irun, though you wouldn’t think so being just a stone’s throw away, but finding my way around was a bit harder.
Immediately the Camino has taken on a much more international flair here as opposed to the almost entirely French one on the Le Puy Way. Although I wish I’d been able to speak more French to build closer friendships with French pilgrims, it’s nice to be able to have in-depth conversations with people again. Even though most people walking are still from Europe, they tend to speak English better than before.
Otherwise, aside from a different culture, more people to talk to, simpler conditions, nothing truly changes for me, going across a border and walking a new way. The same lifestyle beckons each morning, the same routine at day’s end. The walking is all that matters.