(Day 1: 13km)
This morning we hoof it to the train station to catch a train first to Beyonne and then to Saint Jean Pied de Port. When we get to Beyonne we are directed to a bus, as are nearly 50 other pelegrinos. By the time however we get to Beyonne, I, as well as Sue and Jerry are in serious need of a toilet. The only problem is that there is one at the train station and it is currently occupied with one gentleman before us (not Jerry). We wait impatiently as we have only 20 min before our bus is to leave. I see a sign on the outside of the one stall toilet door that advised there is a “20 minute limit” to its use. Who requires use of a public toilet for 20 minutes and why would there be a notice with a limit? Apparently there is a regular problem with excessive use, and today, at this moment is one of them. …And I was beginning to think that Mr. Murphy had gone home or had someone else he’d rather annoy. With minutes to spare, no relief was apparent as it was time to board. Hastily we board the bus after throwing our packs haphazard under the bus (storage). Once on board, I can not find my ticket. WTF? I search franticly for it and even get off the bus for a moment to retrace my steps. It is no where to be found. I take my seat as the driver starts her engine. I just had it…please don’t check for tickets I plead inside my head. Paul is annoyed, “How can you lose your ticket?”, he snorts. Maybe I handed it to you when I checked about the bus, I reply. ” Don’t go blaming me now”, he retorts. Just check and see if you have it I plead. He digs through his stuff and tucked inside all of our papers AND with his ticket, it miraculously appears. Phew, I sigh, and the driver begins to pull out. All that stress for nothing. Paul is still annoyed, and tells me not to hand him anymore of my stuff…to carry. We’ll see. The bus winds through idealic countryside, something you would see in a travel brochure. It is barely two lanes wide. With every hard turn and bump my bladder is reminded of how full it is. My brain tells it to be quiet, “you’ve survived worse, and for longer, go back to sleep”, it orders.
We arrive in St. Jean Pied de Port at the train station and offload from the bus. No one is certain where to go. I’m not concerned with where we are going unless there is a place to pee. At this point I miss hiking the PCT, there was no waiting to pee. Of course the train station and its one bathroom is closed, so off to follow the herd to the Camino office to check in and get our first stamp of this 800km journey. We wait in line and finally check in.
They convene an orientation for those English speakers and then proceed to confirm who we say we are and stamp our official Camino passports.
We learn that the albergue at Orisson is full and will be full for the next two days. Now for Paul and I, there would be plenty of time for us to make the mileage up to and past Orisson and to the albergue at Roncesvalles, but we don’t want to kill Sue and Jerry (just yet…just kidding…we don’t really) our first day out. Plan ” B” is to take the “lower” less traveled route through Valcarlos. It will be 12 km, as opposed to 8km but we are told it’s an “easier” route.
There is a bit of road walking, a “gentle” incline to Valcarlos, and then a straight climb up and over the pass and then down to Roncesvalles. 6 km in, and Jerry appears to be having problems with his leg. He recently had a stint put in one leg and was scheduled to have another, but not enough time in-between the procedure and our travel date. Luckily we have arrived at a shopping center, gas stop area on the edge of a small village and it is decide we (as in I, based on my poor but greater than the rest of the groups command of French and Spanish) will call for a taxi to ferry Jerry and most of our “heavy” stuff (why not) the rest of the way to Valcarlos. While there he can scout it out and get us a place to stay. Meanwhile Paul is at the roadside bar having a beer. I return after a bit of pantomime and mixture of languages (they speak Basque here) I secure Jerry a taxi, but it will be a bit of a wait, nearly an hour. Jerry is fine with that and exclaims, “In that case I’ll have a beer…or two”, and laughs.
We saddle up and Sue, Paul and I peel off to finish the remaining 6km or so. When I asked how far Valcarlos was, no joke, I was told 2km. That was via car though. By foot/trail it was 6 km and finished with a massive uphill to Valcarlos.
The trail was a combination of paved and sparsely traveled blacktop road and would drop down into a deep green wooded area that paralleled a fast running river. We found out quickly, as with the PCT, if one is in doubt of which way the path/trail goes, take the one that goes uphill. We arrive finally at the Lizette albergue, and Jerry greets us on the trail, all smiles. He has us all dialed in and has the 411 of the town and its amenities. Good job Jerry, I shall name you ” Scout”.
The albergue was less than full, which allowed us to have one bunk room to ourselves. The shower was glorious, as it is an amazing treat to have even after one day of walking. We head to the Super mercado (super market) which also has a restaurant. A little shopping for tomorrow’s trail lunch, and then dinner. We ask for a menu, and the shop keep, waitress, bartender asks us what we want, “no menu”. I then ask her what they have. We have our choice of beef steak, lamb, or trout. “Do you want first or second course”, she asks, ” or both”? Hmm. “Both” includes salad, wine and desert. Easy decision when wine is involved…both is our reply. Paul has steak and the rest of us choose the trout. Their preparation of the Brook trout takes me back to a father’s day backpacking trip with my dad and his friend as a kid.
They cooked up Brook trout for every meal. I loved it so much, they gave me their tails, as they were like potato chips for me. Amazing how a simple dish can conjure up such memories.
We finnaly waddle back to the albergue (because we are full, and just a little stiff now), only to discover that it’s past 10pm. Shit. We read something, somewhere about being locked out after 10 pm. Sure enough, we were locked out, and no bell upon which to bail someone, or a window where the others are sleeping to bang on. After shaking the door, like that was going to help, we discover a key pad and a phone number. We call the number (thank God for our International calling plan). Spanish ensues. Shit. I start with French. Shit wrong language. German now comes to mind. The wine is NOT helping. Finally I conjure enough Spanish to get the point across that we are pelegrinos and are locked out. He gives me the code in Spanish. I plug it in, hope I got it right, cause he just hung up. Walla, we are in. We laugh nervously knowing that that could have been an interesting night, and make a point to set our alarms so as to be in by 10pm…lesson learned.