Yesterday we saw the sunrise twice which was lovely. Our focus (at least mine), though, was all about the “moment of arrival” in St. Jean Pied de Port. It came in the early afternoon when we entered through the same city gate on Rue de la Citadelle that we walked through at the start of our first Camino on my 70th birthday, September 10, 2015. Eight years later, we have come full circle and are celebrating Dave’s 85th birthday.
In 2015 we watched pilgrims arriving from the east and wondered where they were coming from. We knew nothing then about the five Camino routes in France that go through St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. Now we know at least one of them.
The steep, cobblestoned main street was bustling with fresh faced pilgrims excited at the prospect of starting the Camino Frances. Many were clustered around the Pilgrim’s Office where they would get their first stamp in their new Credencials. We stopped to get our second to last stamp and then Joseph at Gite d’Etape Beilari gave us the last one.
Beilari is a favourite place to stay in St. Jean and Joseph is a host who is dedicated to seeing pilgrims off to a good start (or in our case, a good end). Beilari means “pilgrim” in the Basque language. Their sign reads: “In Beilari, we divest ourselves of the character we have believed we are, of all the social rules, work, family, and feel ourselves seated together at the same table. We are invited to exchange a glance, open ourselves to the stranger, and share the essence of whom we are. And just for a few moments, we understand that this ‘unknown person’ is really a part of ourselves, that separation does not exist, that we are all part of a unique and planetary family. You have taken the first step. And now you are here…”
This was a perfect place to celebrate Dave’s 85th birthday, with new pilgrim friends, champagne, and traditional Basque cake. After dinner “Happy Birthday” was sung in at least four languages: English, French, Dutch, and (maybe) German. We were all asked to give a word to describe our Camino. Dave’s word was “Nature” and mine was “Celebration.” We could put both words together and say: Celebrate Nature! We can also celebrate our good fortune to have completed this 766 km journey.
Everything I think of saying about this journey along the Via Podiensis from Le Puy-en-Velay sounds so ordinary – amazing, beautiful, challenging, etc. It was all those things but it was anything but “ordinary.” We walked under cliffs, through fairytale villages, saw awesome 30,000-year-old cave paintings, and met many people of various nationalities. Some were Camino Angels that showed up exactly when they were needed. Every day was an adventure that added up to the adventure of a lifetime.
We had time to spare this morning before heading to the train station so we walked up the hill with the pilgrims who were beginning their journey. The sun came over the hill, then it was time for us to go. We were off to Bayonne and Paris. “Wow” to both cities! We just finished dinner at a cafe open to the street while jazz musicians played to their audience. It was so… “PARIS!” ♥️We’ll see more during the next two days and then will be homeward bound.