What a fantastic walk today! If only the sky was sunny with just one cloud providing shade for us all day, it would have been perfect. That’s kind of asking too much though. As it was, we had a little rain and it was pretty cool but not too cold. We also had a fair bit of sun early on. The best part was that at about the halfway point at the height of our climb, we could look back down the valley and see 80% of the trials that we just walked earlier in the morning, then 200m further over the col, we could see our whole route the rest of the way to St.-Jean.
The first four kilometers was mostly flat with a few small hills on a gravel track and a very small farm road. It was easy going because today was our last day and we were excited. At the village of Ibarrolle, we had an option. Both trails seemed marked but we were told by Carlos that the official Camino climbed the mountain that was looming over Ibarrolle. It was supposed to be a 400m climb mostly on a new dirt or grass trail. The other option was called the “valley route” which was on a small quiet backroad. That sounded good to us. We turned left at the village where the keen people would turn right.
On our GPS, the map is not topographical so I couldn’t really decider much about the two options but it looked to me as if these two paths came back together 8km after the turn on the “valley route” and 10km after the turn on the obviously mountainous route. After we turned left on the valley route though, we could see a long valley with no obvious exit at the other end. Soon, we were climbing too. And climbing. And climbing. The mountainous route was a 400m climb. It turned out that ours was a measly 360m climb over several kilometers. I guess that means we saved 40m of height. We win? I guess so.
As noted though, once we almost reached the top at the Col de Gamia, we could look back on all but about 2km of what we walked so far. Then we rounded a corner and we could see the whole valley on the other side with Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port at the far end. It was glorious! It was spectacular! In the background were the Pyrenees with their tops shrouded in clouds. I have trouble imagining how beautiful it would have been on a clear day but I wasn’t bothered. It was spectacular enough for us already. It was a just reward for the whole walk and problems we have had.
As the official route and the variation came closer together, we took a farm track to get over to the official route. We only had 2km on that muddy dirt track before we were back on road again. It was there, just before the town with the ever-so-delicate name of Bussunarits-Sarrasquette that we saw a sight that shocked us a bit. Just before we reached the road, we saw a group of five pilgrims joining the new road from a different angle. Another one also joined shortly after the others. Then three more came. What was going on? It turns out that this is where the Le Puy Camino route comes into St.-Jean. We only saw these nine pilgrims on the trail then but soon, in town of St.-Jean-le-Vieux, we saw 20 pilgrims’ backpacks stacked inside the doorway of one restaurant. We quickly left and found a bar with only seven pilgrims there. We must feel the same as the people on the space station when they come back to earth after a six month deployment. Where did all these people come from and Hyde don’t the go away! Actually, the ones we saw were a bit loud and irritation but that’s my problem, not theirs.
With a final little hill, we climbed almost up to the Citadel before walking down the ancient road, through the Porte-Saint-Jacques and to the Pilgrims Office for a last stamp. We were done. We were very, very happy.
Melanie has written up some thoughts on the walk. It’s too late tonight to post them but I promise to do so tomorrow in Lourdes, if at all possible. I also promise to do a final summary, particularly for people who are thinking of doing this route. I am not sure when that will happen though. Please give me time. I am tired.
Peace y’all and thank you very much for all the encouraging words, thoughts and prayers. They help far more than you will every know.