As I woke in the magic atmosphere of St.Blaise with its yellow stones painted gold by the morning sun, I felt very good and extremely energized. Another day, another stage!
By reading some documentation at “la Gite” (French for refuge) however I learned that most pilgrims reach St. Jean in three days from here. I only planned for two, since on Monday I wanted to start the tough crossing of the Pyrenees from St.Jean to Roncesvalles. In the enthusiasm of the morning, I thought about doing an additional half stage more today and the other half on top of tomorrow’s stage.
As I reached the start of the trail I got a slap on the face for my cocky arrogance. The village of Odiarp is rated for more than 6 hours, and by right I should have gone another 6 km to reach Garabye, that is the mid point of the following stage.
Knowing already that the timings posted on signboards are calibrated on the sturdy pace of the villagers, I got a sudden bad feeling. The trail started immediately with an endless steep climb in the forest, cutting short all my scarces resources, and I had to fight the demon of failure a few times.
As comfort, I acknowledged the grace of a sudden breeze that came in just at the right time, or a small bird flying low in front of me as to show me the right path. Few times a yellow spotted butterfly touched my arm in sign of encouragement. I figured these were the tangible signs of your prayers. The countryside is amazingly beautiful and helps to refocus the mind from the painful feet and the scorching temperature.
In the continuous climbs and descents, I made the decision to stop in Mauleon to rest for the day, and to take a bus tomorrow to reach St Jost Ibarra, the last stop before reaching St. Jean. This decision elated my spirit, but I had again to fight the laughing demon of failure. Would now St.James be angry with me for cheating? Anyway, despite the shorter distance planned, I still walked for 7 hours and by the time I reached Mauleon I was in pity for myself.
La Gite des Pelerins of Mauleon is hosted in a school, and the keys are managed by a bar owner who agreed to let me have them in exchange of 10 euros. Another pleasant surprise as I climbed the fly of stairs to the upper floor. Another very neat place, yet deserted, full of supplies with fresh linen on the beds.
Actually, I am carrying 3 kg worth of night supplies, which so far I never used. I am wondering if these are just excellent examples of pilgrims’ refuges or they will be always the same. I need to consider mail back home half of my pack, in case. The fridge has a few leftovers from the previous occupants, so I have to take a mental note to do the same on my next stop.
Finished my laundry and after a short nap, I ventured out to see the village and to look for a restaurant. The village is already considered part of the Basque region, which the Spanish still call Upper Navarra. The village, as many others so far is built high on the banks of a river with a quite picturesque look. High above an old medieval fort is overlooking the quiet village underneath, with the proud Basque flag on the high mast.
Looking to try another Assiette du Pelerin, I entered a restaurant near the river, where they asked me for my pilgrim credential before serving me a combo entree with green and tomato salad, eggs, charcuterie, and white asparagus, followed by a pasta Bolognese (with beef ragout) and two scoops of sorbet. All for 12 euro, isn’it amazing?
Financially, I am running over my target of euro 1.5 per Km so far, due to the choice of hotels of the first days. As I proceed with hopefully longer distances, and many more pilgrim menus, I may have a chance to make it.
Last amazing surprise for the day, has been the visit of André, while I was wolfing down the pasta: André is from the Amis du Chemin de Santiago Association, and came to meet me at the restaurant to welcome me and provide any information I needed. He proudly stamped my passport again with a green stamp and organized with a little shop nearby to sell me food tomorrow before I leave.
I was humbly grateful for all this attention and care and I have a growing desire to give back somehow, sometime all these attentions. Perhaps my inner discovery started today.