From the beginning – to Orisson

After a long drive which I slept through in parts, we arrived in St Jean. I remember it as tiny, not much more than a steep street stretching past the pilgrim office and up to the castle, but then we just tumbled off the train and had little time to sightsee. Now suddenly there was traffic and people milling about without backpacks, all very surprising. We had a lovely picnic lunch before going off to get our first stamp from the pilgrim office, which according to their website should be open until one.

It wasn’t. Not impressed with the info on the website, we went in search of a cold drink before setting off uphill. On the way we went into the church and lit a candle to lost friends.

Then up we went! I remembered the first hill out of town being steep, but over the years I’ve come to believe that I was exaggerating and that it couldn’t be that bad. It is. It’s like the camino whispering: Are you sure? Are you really sure? But up we walked and like all uphills it eventually ended. Then came a new one. And one more. Twisting, turning, always up.

Colleen and I took it slow and easy, we had beds in Orisson so we were in no hurry and had nothing to prove. There were very few pilgrims left on the way so late in the day, most of them would have left St Jean early in the morning to get all the way to Roncesvalles, 27 km with lots of up and down hill and no services apart from Orisson, 8 km in. This first part of the climb is very steep and equally beautiful, well worth the effort. Just stop, turn, breathe and enjoy the view.

We had perfect weather, so I’ll let the photos tell the story:

After a long and steady climb we arrived at Orisson and had a well deserved drink on the decking area with the spectacular view of the Pyrenean mountains. I could sit there forever and just stare. With a clara.

Orisson has a tradition of serving a communal meal for the people who stay there, and before dessert they also ask you to stand up and quickly introduce yourself and say why you have come on the camino. So many nationalities and stories came out in that short round through the room, and some of the people who were there that night will no doubt meet regularly for the rest of the walk. Some might become friends, maybe for life. The atmosphere of excitement and joy at being on the way was so contagious I too wanted to walk all the way, but I wouldn’t be able to this time.

I just had to enjoy it while it lasted.

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