Day 35: Pamplona (the end, finally)

Pic 1: Monument to the Encierro (bull run).  This amazing sculpture had me captivated for the longest.  You must walk all around it slowly to see it come alive.  Fascinating!

I got into Pamplona yesterday with Heinrich at about 8am. The morning was sunny and beautiful and the city was barely stirring. With the chance of getting coffee and breakfast before 9am nearly nil, we decided to walk the streets and plazas of this magnificent old city. There is so much to see in Pamplona, but no visit should exclude the Plaza de Toros, especially close to San Fermin, the annual festival made famous by the running of the bulls which starts on July 6, the day I leave the city.

Pic 2 : My best Hemingway impersonation 

I found an albergue by the cathedral at 10am, but was given no chance of a second night due to San Fermin. With everything booked up across the city in anticipation of the predicted 2 million plus visitors, one albergue on the edge of the city, that does not take reservations, offered me hope if I could be there by 10am the next morning.  So after a good night’s rest, I headed out to find the lone albergue with available beds, burdened with the fear of sleeping in the streets to catch my train the following day. Thankfully, I was actually the first to arrive and consequently was virtually guaranteed a bed for the night. Which is why I am lying around in the cool grass shaded by the bull fighting ring, reading what else but Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”.

 In the end, I couldn’t find a massage or a pedicure, but I did find a couple of bars with crazy delicious pinchos and I have a ticket for tomorrow’s train to Madrid to meet my beautiful family, so I’m feeling pretty blessed. I hope the same is true for you!

Pic 3: Pinchos.   Just as yummy as it looks.

I expect my last post to be a simple picture confirming that the Cox family has once again been reunited.

If you have received any value from these blogs, it was a completely unexpected bonus.  For the real value has been for me personally as I’ve sat around processing each day by writing, thinking, remembering and laughing about both the beauty and absurdity in life.




Day 33 and 34: Roncevaux and Arre

Pic 1: 10 km up from St Jean in the Pyrenees 

The walk from St Jean Pier-de-Port was a little disappointing today (day 33). The walk itself lived up to the reputation of being a long difficult climb. But the day was wet, cold, and windy all day with about 20 ft visibility. So even though I had a very challenging work out, I could not see a thing and I was miserably cold the whole time. Again, I say that knowing that it was still a whole lot better than spending the day at work getting caught up on email. It’s all relative, right!

I did get to spend the evening with a whole new group of pilgrims in St Jean which was enjoyable. This was the first night for all 20 at the supper table. And the host, as an icebreaker, asked everyone to introduce themselves and create a title for a movie that would describe why they are walking the Camino. It was really interesting hearing all the different responses. Suffice it to say, that people are on the Camino for every imaginable reason.
I arrived at the huge albergue in Roncevaux at 12 and had to wait until 2pm to get to my room. I stayed in dormitory with 72 beds on one floor.
I hooked up in Roncevaux with a few of the pilgrims from the night before in St Jean giving me a chance to see how they were doing after the difficult climb over the Pyrenees.  

Pic 2: One hour from Roncevaux.  It was a beautiful day for walking

One of the pilgrims from Le Puy, Jean Marc, who I’ve been seeing off and on for my whole time on the Camino, challenged me in Roncevaux to go 27 km to Larrosoana which would leave only 16 km to get to Pamplona the next day. However after 10 km into my walk, a fellow named Heinrich, from South Africa, whom I met at the Gite in St Jean, challenged me to push an extra 10km to Arre (38 km) which would leave only 4km to Pamplona on my last day. Finally, after lots of walking and talking, we strolled into the albergue at Arre de Trinidad at 3:30pm. So that was roughly 8 hours at an average of 5km/hr. Thankfully, my feet feel are fine, but I can’t say the same for my friend Heinrich. Unfortunately he’s got blisters on his blisters. I may have to fetch the poor guy supper tonight for him to eat in bed.

Pic 3: The Pyrenees in Navarre Spain are a beautiful site 

So the cool thing is that I only have 4km to my final destination tomorrow. I’m looking forward to a short day and some foot therapy. I could really use a sports massage on my feet and legs. A pedicure would be good as well because my feet are looking more like a shedding snake than human feet.

Day 31 and 32: Ostebat and St Jean Pied-de-Port

Pic 1: The hills around Ostebat.

It was a beautiful day once again (day 31) in the French Basque Country traveling from Aroue to Ostebat. Once in Ostebat. The rain came in the afternoon and stayed for the rest of the day and into the night.  
Today (day 32) it rained from start to finish. I left Ostebat after breakfast at about 10 minutes to 7. I put my poncho on before i stepped out and never removed it until arriving 25 km later in St Jean at 11:30. The odd thing is that I was just as wet inside my poncho as outside from sweat. The only difference is that my backpack was dry.

Pic 2: The river Nive in St Jean

So today is the official end of GR 65 or the Via Podiensis. For most of the French, St Jean is where they finish the pilgrimage. For everyone else, St Jean marks the start of the Camino Frances which travels west across the north of Spain to Santiago some 800 kilometers away.

From Le Puy I departed 32 days ago and have travelled over 820km. However, I will start with hundreds of other pilgrims tomorrow morning climbing the Pyrenees toward Roncevaux, a slow climb for 25 km which ends with a 3km descent.

From there I have 2 more days before arriving in Pamplona, my final destination. In total, I’ll have walked 900 km (560 miles) in 35 days.

Day 28, 29, 30: Arthez-de-Bearn, Navarrenx, and Aroue, respectively.

Pic 1: Leaving Arthez w Pyrenees on the horizon

Pic 2: proof that Trent actually went to France

We’ve now entered the French Basque country and thankfully the temperature has finally cooled a bit. There were a few days back when Billy was still with me where I thought my shoes might start smoking. With the cooler weather, now it’s not so important to get going at the crack of dawn and walking in the middle of the day is once again possible. 

Yesterday (day 28) in Arthez-de Bearn we saw a heavy rain in the late afternoon. Fortunately, most of the pilgrims were already finished for the day. It’s nice not be stuck on the path when the showers and lightning starts.

Pic 3: French Basque Country 

I feel like I’ve seen a lot of southern France and have been very impressed with the beauty. But after a while the cornfields, wheat fields, vineyards, pastures, hills and valleys and rivers and streams become commonplace. So, no longer captivated by the environment, I was beginning to set my sights on my rendezvous with Tabby and the kiddos which meant pushing through each day with only the end in mind. Well today (day 29), as we were leaving the town of Arthez-de-Bearn, I was awakened anew to the beauty of this place as the whole of the Pyrenees range unfolded before me. A panorama of green mountains on the horizon getting closer with each step. Wow! What a spectacular view. We were up and down all day long over beautiful rolling pastureland always with the Pyrenees as a backdrop.  

Pic 5: On the road to Aoure

At days end, we found a Gite in Navarrenx, only 70 km from the foot of the mountains. I keep using the word “we” because I’ve been traveling with Albert, a retired journalist from Holland for over a week now. And for the last four days we’ve been also traveling with Nikolai, a retired farmer from Normandy, and Tina, a 35 year-old medical doctor born in Sao Tome who now lives and works in Lyon. We’ve all talked a lot and laugh a lot and spent hours, as is customary in France, eating and drinking together. I get to practice French and they all get to work on their English as well. It’s been fun!

Pic 6: Breakfast with a few new friends (Nickolai, Albert, Christina, me, and Tina)

It’s fascinating really, the people that you meet and the things they share with perfect strangers. I guess the walking alone in quiet all day tends to draw people out, so to speak. One of the most memorable evenings was when Gerhardt, a tall fast-walking serious sort of chap from Stuttgart, pushed back from the table after the meal was long finished and the conversation had begun to wane, and concealing something from his backpack he turned his back on the table and rotated once more to face us all wearing a huge red ball upon his nose. In the next few minutes our mouths hung open and our eyes transfixed on the most delightful and most unlikely of clowns. After his short performance, Gerhardt then told us the story of how at 50 years of age, he was a burned-out business man. So for his birthday, his friends knowing his desperate estate, gifted him with clown lessons. Best gift he’d ever received! 

I think there are a lot of us that could use some clown lessons.

Day 25, 26, and 27: Soubiran, Aire-sur-l’Adour, Arzacq

Pic: A small paradise for pilgrims along the way.  Someone from the area just created it free of charge for us.

I left my charger behind in Eauze two days ago, consequently I haven’t had much chance to write or take photos.  
Hopefully I’ll be able to get a new one at my next destination tomorrow or the next day.
Today (day 27) after climbing out of Aire-sur-l’Adour I got my first glimpse of the Pyrenees mountains. I am still about 130 km from my climb over them at St Jean Pier-de-Port. I expect to arrive at St Jean on Saturday.
About an hour into my walk, I caught up to a 21 year-old American from Massachusetts. Other than Billy and myself, Barbie was only the third American I’d met on the Chemin. Barbie is in a growing group of young people from the west that I meet in Africa occasionally. She’s smart, energetic, generous and idealistic. She feels completely unmotivated to join her version of the “rat race”. She doesn’t want to compete in the working world. She doesn’t care about money and is willing to travel the world on a shoestring to meet people who think differently than she does. She doesn’t want to get chewed up and spit out or feel like fuel for the fire. Instead she wants to know the meaning of life and wants a manageable program on how to handle things when they get too complex or feel out of control. She wants to feel like she’s making a difference in people’s lives. She wants to help people with their problems and give them a philosophy on how to keep the internal harmony that she thinks she’s found. But she admits that “we can’t just all keep walking the Camino day after day for the rest of our lives.”
She reminds me of the sign that I read on the Camino the other day. It read “we really can change the world”. Because we live in a profoundly broken world, most people think that the obvious solution is to fix it. “If we could all just get along”, and “open our eyes” and “stop electing the wrong leaders” and starting “redistributing our wealth” and so on and so forth, then the world would be a better place. That’s the basic theory in one fashion or another and most of the world believes this same story.  
But the Bible tells me that the only thing that needs fixin’ is me. I need a new heart! One that is, thankfully, available immediately upon request. I’m only to ask! And with the aid of a new heart I will begin to see what God is doing in this broken world and join him, joyfully! And so make sense of my own personal suffering, and gain His perspective on my own successes. How refreshing is the truth, that I am not responsible for the broken world but only to come personally to the one who has numbered every hair and named every sparrow to accomplish His perfect purposes!

Day 24: Condom to Eauze

Day 24: Condom to EauzeThe walk from Condom was another long one. Finding some rest, water and coffee in a few places along the road helped though. 

 Eauze is in an area called Bas – Armagnac. Armagnac is also the name of a well known liquor, similar to cognac,  made from the grapes of the area. And boy are there a lot of grapes in this area! I like a beautiful vineyard as much as anyone, but 30 plus km of row after row and field after field of grapevines made for pretty monotonous viewing.

I don’t that the boredom didn’t bring me to a really special day with God though. I find myself getting choked up thinking of the sweetness of God dealing with my brokenness as I walked alone with Him. I’ve been dodging God on a particular issue not wanting or not able to deal with it in the past. Walking on the Chemin left me no place to hide. There’s no computer to run to. There’s no work to engage in. There’s only me and my thoughts and Him. I found myself totally confronted with no where to turn and nothing to do be repent or rebel. So I’m walking and crying and thanking God all at the same time realizing that this moment of love from my father was worth 35 days of walking.  

Thanks for praying for me!

Pic 1: The view from Condom to Eauze.

Day 21 and 22: Castelneau and Condom 

Last night I stayed in a average Gite d’tape called the Bonte Divine (Divine goodness).  The names of some of these places are quite inventive, like Le Nid des anges (The Nest of Angels). However, yesterday I ran across a Gite called Les Canabels.  Now I don’t actually know what that means in French, but it sounds a lot like “the cannibals”. You’d think if a person was trying to lure complete strangers into their house for the night they’d use a name a little less threatening.   I don’t know about you, but I’m not overnighting in a place that sounds like they might eat their own kind.  Tonight I’m in “Relais de St Jacque” (relay of Saint Jacques) in the city of Condom. Yeah, yeah I know! How could you name a city that. Well as it so happens the name is a contraction of two words meaning confluence and market, describing both the place’s significance as a 10th century market town and its location at the convergence of two rivers. I hope you feel the weight of ignorance being lifted slightly!

Anyway, the place has one of the most amazing cathedrals with one of the most amazing paintings.

Pic: St Pierre Cathedral in Condom

Today was all but a rest day with only a 10km walk to get here after a marathon 40km day yesterday. Tomorrow I’ll do another 33km followed by a lighter 20km on Saturday. 

 Thankfully all of the long walks of this week allowed me to get one day ahead of schedule, which means I can have one day rest in Pamplona before meeting Tabby and the kids in Madrid.  I anticipate a day of burning my stinky pilgrim clothes and buying something a little more fitting a 6 week hiatus from my family. Boy, am I ever ready to see them!