I have discovered how to blog from my phone! So here are my last two posts from Facebook. One was posted just over a week ago; the second yesterday. From now on, during our rest day, I will post on this blog as well as Facebook.
Rainy day in France
Very sunny day when crossing the Pyrenees
So we have completed the first stage of our adventure - 462 km in 21 days. We arrived in St Jean Pied de Port half an hour ago. Our gîte doesn't open for a while so we are having a beer. The GR65 (the French chemin we have been following) ends here and after our day off we cross the Pyrenees.
I feel a bit sad because I have really enjoyed the French part of our journey. Speaking French, learning about the country I live in, feeling part of a particular pilgrim community.
It already feels different here. This is the starting point for most pilgrims. Already we have heard many more languages and seen many more young people. And most people seem very clean compared to us. We had a wet and muddy walk this morning so are not very shiny right now. It also feels more like a pilgrim industry here. Lots of shops selling things that no pilgrim in their right mind would add to their heavy rucksacks but given the number of normal tourists and French pilgrims who finish here, perhaps they are the target consumer. I think Alex and I both feel a bit overwhelmed with the noise and number of people after our quiet walks over the last three weeks. There is even a little tourist train going around the town. This is far away from the miles of empty countryside that we have been through.
But I am also excited. I'm aware a new phase of our walk begins in 2 days. We will be speaking Spanish and most likely English most of the time. We will be in dormitories of up to 300 people. It is unlikely that from now on we will have no one in front or behind us.
But who knows. Nothing I have experienced so far has been quite as I had imagined it would be. I have been tireder than I predicted I would be but I am much fitter than I realised. My feet have caused me problems, not my back or my shoulders or my knees. I have quite liked walking in the rain. I have been more hungry than I have ever been in my life. And I have eaten well, very well.
We are now in the Basque Country which has its own language and its own sense of itself. It is also stunningly beautiful: hilly, green, remote. Houses are white with red or green painted woodwork and out of the town they are fairly rare. Lots of sheep farming - this area is famous for its sheep cheese. We stayed on a farm last night and the host treated us to a few songs in Basque (plus rather watered down wine) - each place we have stayed in has had its charms. And he also sang the pilgrim song which we have come to learn - 'Ultreia' an expression used in the Middle Ages on the Chemin meaning 'aller plus loin, plus haut', 'always keep going further, higher'.
PS. Thank you so much for continued donations. £3000 raised so far. Would love to raise even more. Even a fiver makes a difference. Please go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Sophie-Breese to make a donation to the ME Association. (Sorry, you will have to copy and paste the link!)
Today we are having a rest day in the rather chic town of Logroño in northern Spain. We have walked 635 km (400 miles) and done a fair amount of climbing and going down in this dry almost desert-like landscape.
Our highlights in the last week:
Crossing the Pyrenees with its stunning views and staying that night in the Abbey of Roncesvalles in bed numbers 324 and 325. The abbey - the main stopping place for pilgrims after a 27km walk with a 1400 metre ascent - was restored a few years ago and the dormitories were stunning.
Arriving in the middle of the town festival in Puenta de Reina, drinking whiskey and coke with 15 French teenagers, watching the running of the bulls and dancing until late (8.30pm) to live Basque music.
Passing through beautiful medieval villages emerging out of barren land, all graced with huge churches built in the twelfth century when the Camino first became so important.
Eating the most delicious meal in our aubergue in Zubiri ( quinoa salad amongst other dishes!) sharing our table with 8 Mexicans, a German woman and a woman from Catalonia. We spent most of the evening laughing.
Drinking wine from a wine fountain at 8 am (no joke) after leaving Estella - a small town with 10 enormous churches - and adding some to a water bottle for lunch. Shortly after we were shown a tree loaded with ripe almonds by two Korean girls. That day we had almonds, sweet grapes, figs and wine for lunch.
Bumping into pilgrims we had met in France and thought we had lost; it feels as if we have known them for years. Making new friends. So far I have exchanged contact details with French, German, Polish, Mexican and British pilgrims.
Yesterday during our 30 km walk with some unexpected climbs in 30 degree heat, we heard some music. In the vines, under an olive grove, a man was playing Cohen's 'Hallelujah' on a guitar. It was one of those moments - and we have had many on this walk - that we will never forget.
The Spanish Camino is entirely different to the French Chemin. Hundreds of people, tens of languages, warm greetings from everyone. It is a celebration of life.
Please consider donating if you haven't done so already. I have to say that I am pretty proud of myself for doing what I have done so far and 14 years ago, when I was first ill with ME, I was dreaming of being able to walk to the bathroom unaided not walking 635 km. I am getting tired but curiously this week has been mainly tiredness from chatting so much to the many pilgrims we have met. To donate to the ME Association please go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Sophie-Breese. Thank you!