Our romantic idyll in France slowly came to a happy ending. We had fallen in love again with each other and with France, and now it was time to become true pilgrims. We mailed home a box of our fancy duds, ditched a suitcase, and switched everything into our backpacks: each carrying two changes of trekking gear, toiletries, water bottles and ponchos. John carried 18 pounds. and me, about 13 pounds.
We had a “shakedown” cruise by walking 10 km. in the rain from Malesherbes to Boulancourt, and arrived soggy, sore, and happy with our success to a small BnB. Our hosts, Bruno and Catherine, were planning their coming wedding day after living common law for 25 years! She had chosen a passage from “Le Petit Prince” for their unique ceremony, and we exchanged rapturous remarks about one of my all-time favorite books, one that had actually began my love for the French language.
From there we caught a bus to Orleans, (where Joan of Arc had finally succeeded in liberating France from English occupation), and then a train to Bayonne, then another train to St. Jean Pied au Port, to begin our walk. But we missed our connection because the train was 30 minutes late! The Lord supplied us with “angels” in the human guise of Francois, a war correspondent (who just happened to cover Viet-Nam when John was there!) Latifah his Moroccan wife, and their son Sylvan. They maneuvered us to First Class seats using classy complaints. He regaled us with stories of French history as we traveled.
When we arrived in St. Jean on August 31st, we were surprised at how cool it was. The pilgrims before us had suffered broiling heat for two weeks. We were eating dinner at an outdoor cafe when a storm rolled in, complete with driving rain, hail, thunder and lightening. We were not dressed properly, and shivered inside the cafe with all the other pilgrims.
That day we had our pilgrim “passports” stamped at the municipal albergue, were blessed with a private room and double-checked our gear. This hostel was abuzz with eager pilgrims, eager as we were to begin. The next morning, we began our El Camino, or the “Way of St, James” ( brother of John the apostle), in a rain that continued all day. But nothing could have prepared me for the journey to our first destination in Varcarlos. We had to take an alternative path called Charlemagne’s Route ever the Spanish Pyrenees into Spain because the other primary route’s hostel was totally booked, and with weather life this, we needed lodging for the night. It was supposed to be less steep then Napolean’s Route, and much easier.