Limping to the finish: Navarrenx to Aroue to Ostabat-Asme to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

For most of the journey, Babar and I have had different cadences and walking styles. However, just before Navarrenx, we started walking alongside each other. I think it was a good thing for both of us, as it slowed us down a bit. He’d been suffering from some sharp pain in one of his feet for over a week. More recently, I’d started to develop some pain in one of my shins. The good news for me is that it really only hurts when I walk up hills, walk down hills, or stop walking altogether.

Leaving the walled city of Navarrenx.

An added bonus for me was that Babar’s wife was doing base support for him, calling ahead to find open beds and make reservations. While she was on the phone, she reserved for me as well. I let them know how grateful I was.

Before sunrise at the farm gîte in Ostabat-Asme.

And since we went three days without passing through a village with an ATM, I had a chance to help Babar too when he ran out of cash. Although, if one more day had gone by without an ATM, I would have been in the same boat as him.

Graffiti in these parts are often targeted toward pilgrims — in a nice way. This one offered just a word of encouragement.

These last few days were spent walking through the heart of French Basque country. The countryside started rolling into foothills as the Pyrenees came into clearer view with each passing day. The village names stopped being difficult to pronounce and started becoming impossible to pronounce. And the food at the supper table changed too. Suddenly veal was a staple, and the celebrated espelette pepper gave the dishes a welcome extra bit of flavor. Not that I’m complaining about French cooking in general.

Walking through the French Basque countryside, with the Pyrenees getting ever closer.

Over the last two weeks, it’s been obvious that I was going to arrive in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port earlier than planned. Many experienced pilgrims along the way encouraged me to take one day of my extra time and make the first stage into Spain — to Roncesvalles — while my body is still warm from weeks of walking. So even though I had originally planned to end this year’s part of the pilgrimage in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, when I passed through the port into the walled part of the city yesterday, I was thinking it was going to by second-to-last day of walking.

Arrival into the walled city of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

Within about an hour, though, while I was having lunch and a couple final beers with Babar, I had a change of heart. I was still dealing with a lot of shin pain, and I had a feeling that I had accomplished exactly what I’d intended to accomplish this year. I made what I think was a positive decision to restart the pilgrimage in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port next year — starting what is probably the hardest stage of the entire journey at a time when I am well rested and free of pain. The enormous sense of relief I felt after making this decision told me I made the right call.

Lunch in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Veal again, this time in a cream sauce. Not complaining.

Walking around Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port was a bit surreal. It’s a major starting point for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, so much so that many bloggers — especially my fellow American bloggers — don’t even acknowledge there are other starting points. After four weeks of being surrounded by a certain subculture that was at least somewhat grubby, I now saw people with brand new backpacks and walking shoes, men with fresh haircuts and trimmed facial hair, and women still wearing makeup and doing their hair.

I, on the other hand, still looked and smelled like a pilgrim. Those of us who’d already been walking could spot each other, like a secret handshake or a gang sign.

Crossing the river out of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port toward Santiago de Compostela. This year as a momentary tourist, perhaps next year with my pack.

Equally surreal was the supper table conversation last night. After weeks of being surrounded mostly by French pilgrims and being the worst French speaker at the table, in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, I was the only person at the table who spoke French at all. As such, I was by default the one to whom the host complained about other guests. The guests were English, Dutch, Italian, Spanish … and also one American guy.

The exterior wall of the gîte was in fact the ramparts of the walled city. I thought that was pretty cool.

Today, I’ve started a long, slow journey home. I’m emphasizing the slow part. I need time to recover physically, and I need time to process the last four weeks mentally. I also need time to readapt. This morning was the first time in 30 days that I’ve been carried anywhere other than by using my own legs and feet. I felt immediately motion sick when the first bus I boarded started moving. The train was somewhat easier.

Approximate distance walked Monday: 13.1 miles.

Approximate distance walked Tuesday: 16.2 miles.

Approximate distance walked Wednesday: 12.9 miles.

If I did my math correctly, that puts my total distance for the trip at 481.1 miles in 28 days. Not too shabby for a first-time long distance pilgrim! Keep in mind my total includes wrong turns, walking around in circles because I’m confused, and in a few cases, bad data from the GPS in my phone. I’ll probably make some minor adjustments to those numbers when I get home.