At this point in my journey I am only a week away from my primary destination goal of this walk – the town of St. Jean Pied de Port – the point where the Camino Frances begins. I have been walking now for 34 days and have covered almost 650 km (400 miles) which means I only have about 135 km (85 miles) left! It is exciting to realize that this adventure will soon be over and that I will be wending my way home shortly.
After a lot of soul searching (there’s plenty of time for that while walking alone all day long) I have pretty much decided to stop walking once I get to St. Jean. A Sunday stroll of 790km (495 miles) is probably enough for an old guy like me. I don’t need to prove anything by walking another 790km all the way to Santiago. After all, I already walked that Camino three years ago.
However, I would still like to obtain a Compostella from the Cathedral in Santiago – the document certifying that I “officially” completed my pilgrimage. So, after arriving in St. Jean Pied de Port I am planning to travel by various means to the town of Sarria, Spain, which is just beyond the 100km minimum distance required for obtaining the Compostella. That portion of the Camino will present a real culture shock to me since large multitudes of pilgrims begin their walk there – all of them in hopes of also obtaining a Compostella. I am so used to walking alone almost all the time that the congested trail from Sarria will take some time for adjustment on my part.
Since my last posting I have traveled through some of the most beautiful towns and countryside in France. Many of the towns have been designated as “one of the most beautiful towns in France” and most of them are justified in claiming that designation. The churches and cathedrals are beautiful in a majestic, stately way. They don’t have the stunning gold altar pieces (called “retablos”) that you see in Spain, but they have a true beauty all their own. I try to at least peek inside every church (from cathedrals to tiny village chapels) that I pass along the way and am rarely disappointed. To be honest, this trek has been decidedly less spiritual than the pilgrimage through Spain a few years back, but the frequent visits to these houses of worship, which are almost always open, is uplifting and provides a spiritual element I otherwise find missing. The walk and the people are lovely, but it’s just not a particularly spiritual pilgrimage.
Last week I had my first taste of rain. It showered briefly on and off for a couple of days. But, then it decided to rain steadily for several hours as I approached the town of Lectoure – hence the title of this posting. Walking in the rain is a unique experience. It’s not especially bad, but it’s also not my favorite thing to do. But, you have to keep walking, so onward into the rain you go. During this rainy day my rain gear (poncho, primarily) kept me and my pack dry, but my boots were wet and quite muddy (on the outside only, thank goodness.) I arrived at my gite in Lectoure dripping wet and the gite owner was kind enough to let me in early so I could drop off my pack and hang up my poncho to dry. Such is life on the Camino. Since then, there have been a couple of short showers and lots of threatening skies, but no serious rain. I hope that trend holds for the next week or so.
I am now in the final portion of the trek at the small town of Arzacq-Arraziquet and have settled in to the Gite Communal. Several members of my current “Camino family” are also staying here for the night. My Camino family has evolved over time as people have moved on at different rates of progress or ended their walks to return to their homes, work, or whatever. But, I have made many new friendships along the way. The evolutionary nature of Camino families is a normal part of the Camino and as previous members leave you are assured that new members will join. We don’t normally walk together during the day, other than for short spells when our paths meet. But we see each other for those brief moments as we pass each other on the trail and frequently stay at the same gates in the evenings. That is where relationships are formed as we discuss life and the Camino nightly over dinner. It’s a wonderful experience.