Early the following morning we set out for St-John-Pied-de-Port. We were hungry because we had decided to find a cafe along the way for a bite to eat, although getting out of Bayonne proved to be no easy task, and it was some time before we stumbled across our first “official” signpost showing the Shell emblem.
We were soon on a track that ran alongside a river until we eventually joined the D918. As we turned a corner and started up a hill I noticed a small hotel with a cosy looking café. I called John back as he had missed it. We ordered some coffee and a few slices of cake (cake for breakfast – you’d never do that at home!). There was nobody else in the cafe and the proprietor was in a chatty mood so it was hard to bid him farewell, particularly when we produced our Pilgrims’ Passes for him to sign and he told us that the two coffees were “on the house”. We got back on the bikes, John said “Pity we didn’t find this hotel yesterday as it looks a good place to spend the night”. The rest of the day we rode along a quiet D918.
Our first real cycling day hadn’t been particularly gruelling as we rode along the river valleys with the occasional incline, hardly a hill, thrown in for good measure. As the day wore on, it was getting hotter so we were both glad to reach St-John-Pied-de-Port. Here, we joined other walkers and cyclists who were eager to begin their Camino.
Along with the inevitable shops filled with just about everything you might need on the Camino, there was a very official-looking Pilgrim’s Office. We stopped in there to get our Passports stamped and were greeted by a group of very cheerful, helpful volunteers.
Translated loosely Saint-John-Pied-de-Port literally means “St John at the foot of the pass”. It services the French Pyrenean foothills. Well-frequented by tourists as well as pilgrims it is a convenient starting-off point for many.
It had never occurred to us to book somewhere to stay at any stage of this trip but when we arrived, I did wonder if we should have thought of it for our first stop. As it turned out, we found a charming little pension along the Route de la Citadelle, very near the Pilgrim’s office. Once we had found beds in a mixed dorm, we joined four other pilgrims who already there. The only other woman was Nicki, a young Canadian who was nursing a rather bulky laptop that she insisted she was going to carry with her. There was a father and his son who planned to walk only part of the route because of time constraints. We were surprised to find that they both had iPads with them.
The fourth pilgrim was an elderly American, who had been marking time waiting for a replacement Visa card to be delivered to the local post office, because he had lost his. This gent had almost become a firm fixture at the albergue, with the proprietor giving him free food and lodging while he waited. He had lost everything and was unable to even book passage home until the bank had sent the Card. Indeed, it seemed that just about everybody had various electronic gadgets with them. Whatever happened to “roughing it” which was what I have always associated pilgrimages with? Spending a delightful evening in their company, we all compared notes and experiences of our routes to reach St John. I remember thinking that, if this first night in a dormitory was anything to go by, then we were indeed in for a brilliant trip.