Oh boy…here comes the rain on our first short introduction to walking the Camino. After two amazing weeks with Christie’s mom in Montenegro, Croatia and Barcelona….. we made our way to San Sebastian in Northern Spain. From there we caught a short taxi ride across the border to Hendaye, France. There, we hopped on the train to Bayonne. After a one hour lunch break, we joined all the other new pilgrims on the train to the starting point of the Camino, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in Southern France.
We decided at the last minute to arrive in Saint Jean a day early. All accommodations were completely booked in the town. Luckily, we found Hotel Mendy in a small village four kilometers away called Saint-Jean-le-Vieux. The short four kilometer walk to the hotel was a quick introduction to walking with seven extra pounds. We smiled when realizing that our packing skills were quite good…….. as we passed several pilgrims with packs double our size. On the way to our hotel, we met a mother and daughter named Katherine & Emily. They were from Florida and starting the Camino a day earlier. It was Emily’s idea to do the Camino while she took a semester off from nursing school. Her mother was fortunately able to take a seven week vacation from work. Katherine is hoping her job is still there when she returns to Florida.
The Rainy Camino
We awoke to this morning to the sound of pouring rain. Thank goodness we aren’t starting the Camino until tomorrow! The first day entails a 28 km walk through the rugged Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. Hence, we were excited to exercise and where our new ponchos during our four kilometer trek back into Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Upon arrival, we went straight to our hostel called Gite Ultreia. The hostel owners (Bernard and Fafa) are former pilgrims who have made a friendly and warm environment in their home.
Official Credential @ Pilgrim’s Office
Once we had a brief break from the rain, we headed to the Pilgrim’s Office. This is where we registered for the El Camino and obtained our Pilgrim’s Passport (Credential). The credential is your bible on the Camino and serves as “proof” that you’ve visited all of the destinations. It is customary to obtain a stamp each day from refugios or cafes that signify your presence at villages on particular dates. At the end of the Camino, it’s compulsory to present your credential with stamps to the Cathedral in Santiago in order to receive the official Compostela certificate. It is also required that you have two stamps per day during the last 100 kilometers.
The pilgrims office was filled with everyone who traveled with us on the train from Bayonne. Everyone was smiling ear to ear, anxiously awaiting their first official stamp…….. signifying the start of their Camino. The office is staffed with volunteers who are former pilgrims. All new pilgrims receive a brief consultation on geography, routes and the importance of taking care of one’s body. Our counselor told us that he has lost 20 pounds during each pilgrimage. Our eyes lit up with hope! Once he finished sharing his wisdom, we were sent on our way. Buen Camino!
The Pilgrim’s Scallop Shell
The scallop shell has been a symbol of the Camino de Santiago for centuries. It is the traditional emblem of St. James, the apostle and Patron Saint of Spain. There are several legends which depict the symbolism behind the scallop shell. One myth involves St. James’ undamaged body washing ashore covered in scallop shells off the Galician coast. The shell acts as a metaphor for pilgrims, as the groves represent various routes coming together at Santiago de Compostela. This is where the tomb of St. James is located. The shell is seen as God’s hand guiding the pilgrims and can also be used as a drinking cup or bowl. The scallop shell also symbolizes a sign of fertility. It is demonstrated in depictions of Venus, the Roman goddess, who is always captured inside of sea shells. Some have even taken on the Camino as a fertility pilgrimage to bear a child.
Tomorrow, we land in Northern Spain at the small Basque village called Roncesvalles. It is situated in the Navarre region at an altitude of 900 metres in the Pyrenees.
See our Photo Album:
St. Jean Pied de Port