Blog 11 - Part 1 – the Camino—Piedmont Route
Leaving Lourdes would prove itself to be a quite difficult task as its draw for you to stay is so hard to pull away from. Planning on a late-morning departure that would turn into an early afternoon one, I was forced to stop at a much earlier town than I originally wanted. Fortunately, from the Philippian who is training for a marathon and has walked the Camino twice, crossed paths with me and directed me to the Marian shrine in Betharram (the town we were in). Getting to stay in a retreat house run by an order of missionary priest whose congregation that was founded in this small town, allowed me to have a restful sleep and recover for the days to come.
That night I also had my first real French meal at the only restaurant in the town that was open. Ordering was quite difficult… but helping me order in French and paying for some of my meal and desert, a local French couple helped me to experience the blissful world of French cuisine on a missionary’s budget!
Getting to experience the Camino for the first time last month with a group was a huge blessing and I learned many things. However, there were also many bad habits that I had picked up as well. Towns to stop and fill up on pastries and café con leche are few and far between here and the trail is much less consistently marked well in many places. The need to bring your own food and map is essential here and I have succeeded everyday in having either lost the trail or almost died of hunger— the result of trying to keep my load as minimal as possible and carrying only French map. However the Polish looking flags that guide the pilgrims on the way of Piedmont → to the Camino Frances to Compostella of Santiago help to lead me on. Matka boshka there’s no one to walk with yet either!
Two Weddings and a Funeral
Today I left the village of the Hospital Saint Blaise with two French couples that I have been traveling with since Arudy. The ‘way’ from Lourdes –la Voie de Piemont, the way of Piedmont, does not attract many pilgrims during this time of year; these are the only two pair I have come across since Lourdes. Yesterday they were with me in Oloron-Ste-Marie and again at the retreat house in Saint Blaise. This morning after saying goodbye (their pace set for being able to take in more of the countryside), I left with the very high and surreal expectations for being able to gallivant across 40 plus kilometers of Southern France and into St. Jean Peid de Port. After about 10 kilometers those aspirations would all but vanish with the thought of continuing in such humid and soaked weather. After 5 more kilometers those aspirations would subsequently be crushed with the realization that it was still another 42 kilometers (actual distance was different than previously thought). With all hope being lost for making it to Saint Jean Pied de Port—to a city big enough to be able to carry US to French electrical current adaptors to replace the ones I had lost in Lourdes, I settled to spend the night in Mauleon.
Coming into town I stopped at Café le Europe and sat down to celebrate what it means to be a connoisseur of European Pizza (when I was seven I had pizza everyday for thirteen days while traveling throughout Europe). Recovering for a bit I then was able to make it across to the huge and towering French Church where my soon to be good friend Mary would tell me that a funeral was about to take place but that the priest could probably give me a interview afterwards. Sitting through a funeral mass for someone I didn’t know in a language I didn’t understand, I came to the realization that my own expectations also needed to be let go.
My bag entering Mauleon was the heaviest it has been, and hopefully will be. Having already known what to expect by walking the finally portion of the Camino a month prior, I came in with expectations that were much lighter physical, mental, and spiritual struggle. Approaching Mauleon, I was upset and didn’t want to walk anymore (some of the dialogue I was having between the cows and the trees on my left “…Why did I walk from Lourdes? All is not well, it’s not fun, it’s wet all the time, there is no one to interview, I can’t find Internet and I’m soooo hungry… I could have started in Ste Jean Pied de Port and saved a week and could have made it into Fatima by Oct. 13th… the date of the last apparition… this is stupid.” …got the pic? Like the rain that had been falling all week, so was my moral.
Since sharing refuges with the two French couples in Arudy, Oloron, Ste Blaise, and Mauleon, who though had been walking at a slower pace were still meeting me at the same place, helped remind me of the importance behind the walk, ‘the way’ in which you get to the next town (as a champion or k’oed) and the outlook you take in getting there is the most important. The military veteran that was being put to rest helped me to remember that life is short, the Camino is short and the more I moan about my troubles the less I will be able to enjoy it. I am here for a reason and I want to be open to finding out what that is…
Agur (bye! in Basque)