I loaded up my backpack for an early flight to Dallas, packing the bare minimum of things I needed, of course, because I would be carrying this load up and down mountain ranges for more than 500 miles. Therefore, I had all my things on the living room floor strategically laid out to make sure I had everything and that it was packed according to use and order needed. I made sure I had thought of everything.
Physically, I felt prepared for my 500-mile walk, the Camino de Santiago, from hiking with a 30-pound backpack on the back roads and hills of Camden Point, Mo. the trails at Smithville Lake in Smithville, Mo. and the trails and bluffs at Weston Bend State Park in Weston, Mo. This training got me ready to start my pilgrimage to reach Santiago in about 37 days.
My Camino walk was set to begin Monday, Aug. 17 with travel.
On the day before my flight, I was up all night finishing preparations and left the house at 3:30 a.m. with my sister, Paula. The KCI Airport was busy as usual and had all sellouts. The board said there were 17 standbys in front of me.
My first flight from KCI Airport, which took me to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, allowed me to make my connection to Paris with a first-class seat. I fly standby whenever possible so the first adventure is always finding a seat and making necessary connecting flights.
Finally, the ticket agent called my name, and I’m off to Paris.
After arriving in Paris, the next leg of my journey is by train to Bayonne in the south of France. At Bayonne, it’s a bus trip to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (St-Jean), France, the ancient capital of the Basque region.
I was excited seeing so many Pilgrims at the train station.
The closer I got to St-Jean there were a growing number of Pilgrims with backpacks everywhere. Everyone was talking to each other and sharing stories. All the people around me were excited and almost always had the same questions: “So you must be doing the Camino? What’s your name? Why are you doing the Camino?”
I love this question because I enjoy talking about family, my parents and my personal journey.
St-Jean is both lovely and the starting point for many Pilgrims beginning their Camino journey.The great challenge with starting from this point involves testing physical limitations while walking over the mountain ranges to Roncesvalles. This portion of the walk is often considered one of the most difficult on the entire French Route.
One of the first stops in St-Jean is the Pilgrim’s office.
There were seven or eight people at the table helping with the questions, finding places to stay for that night and giving out the Pilgrims credential. I inquired if the Camino was busy and found out that in the last two days there were 360 Pilgrims on Sunday, 330 on Monday and a little more than 9,000 in the last two months.
At the edge of St-Jean, I found a sign that indicates the pass over the Pyrenees Mountain Range is open and safe to go.
On the morning of my first hiking day, I talked to the owner of a small cafe and sandwich shop that serves “breakfast” and he started serving me one of those “French breakfasts.” I was up early, anxious for a good start and looking for a good breakfast. Of course, their breakfast is very different. For example, they serve very small coffee (i.e. dollhouse size). In this case, it was in a larger cup but very dainty.
I said, “Can u put a little more coffee in there?” The owner said, “Sure,” and brought my croissant and orange juice. I looked at it longing for something more significant and asked, “Can you bring me some butter?”
At this point we both start laughing he says, “You’re going to break me.” I’m laughing and explain, “I just want to put something on it like butter or ham.” We are still laughing and he goes and gets me some ham.
One croissant and orange juice? Well, that’s not breakfast.
I have experienced an overwhelming amount of generosity in just the first few days alone from everyone I meet. Many people helped me and contributed to my wellbeing from the beginning. One very kind woman helped me with my feet and gave me some medical tape to put over a blister.
In the Albergues, tired and exhausted people helped to make sure you found everything you needed (ie washroom, dinner).
The dinner meal is always fabulous. Everybody in the Albergue sits around a long table, and other tables in the room have wine and water always available. The food is brought to the table in big bowls.
The person nearest the bowls serves the others or someone close will serve.
Everyone I meet are incredible people. I easily felt safe leaving my things in the Albergue. Everyone here is on a mission and we all know we are in this together and help one another as much as possible in any way we can.
Upon reaching Orrison, I was ready to go over the Pyrenees and arrive at Roncesvalles in Spain. I found my Albergue in Orrison and immediately washed and hung my laundry to dry. The area to hang my few clothing items was just outside my room which I share with 14 people in bunk beds. I only have a small amount of clothing, including two button-down shirts, two T-shirts, two pairs of pants and three pairs of socks.
You can’t let this laundry get ahead of you.
I washed everything in the bathroom sink using a small package of shampoo. It works great, cleans the clothes, and is very light to carry.
I quickly bought a hiking stick that could help with walking up the Pyrenees.
The Camino walk is physically demanding. It took me about five hours to walk to Orisson. From Orisson to Roncesvalles, it took almost eight hours uphill for about 20 kilometers and downhill for 7 kilometers. The downhill portion is almost worse than the uphill since it puts additional stress on your knees. You end up climbing about 1,250 meters but doing it over a much longer length than the 20 kilometers shown on map.
On Wednesday, Aug. 19, I left Roncesvalles, which was my first night in Spain, and hiking to Zubiri, 15 miles away. From Zubiri, I was set to hike 13 miles to Pamplona on Sunday morning, along the river Rio Arga.
I am told Pamplona is a beautiful city and the Camino runs through its historic heart. I will definitely be checking out some of Hemingway’s favorite haunts.
John Larimer, a 56-year-old resident of Camden Point, Mo., is currently on a 500-mile walk across Spain known as the Camino de Santiago. John began traveling abroad at the age of 16 and developed a passion and love for exploring history and other countries.