Day 1 — The Hills Have Eyes (and Teeth)

I may have underestimated the first stage as an easier option compared to taking the Napoleon Route. I was already leaning towards taking the alternate “winter” route through the Pyrenees called the Valcarlos Route (Valcarlos is a little town of Charlemagne and Roland fame). The Napoleon Route is a younger alternative to Valcarlos that goes straight over the top of one of the mountains, and became popular in the Middle Ages so pilgrims could avoid the robberies that plagued the original route. Now, it’s super popular. Not sure why except maybe youthful bravado (there were a LOT of young adults turning left towards Napoleon as I was turning right).

Let me just sum up today by telling you that it was beautiful and it was HARD. Like, really hard. Like, “am I going to die today?” hard. Tomorrow is supposed to be even more difficult (!!!). I may truly die tomorrow (wrote this last night and it’s really today — it’s 7 am and the Wi-Fi came back on).

I’m also relieved to discover that everyone in this town speaks French. No communication breakdown yet. Yet.

Here. Have some photos-

Leaving Saint Jean Pied du Port:

All of the signs in this region of France are in two languages: French and Basque:

My first St James statuette sighting.

Made another friend but he’s kind of quiet. Saw a lot of his cousins, too.

This shopping mall was put in my path by God. I’m kidding; it’s on the map. But I had just run out of water and I was hungry. Plus, there hadn’t been anyplace to sit down since leaving SJPdP. Imagine my surprise to learn it was also just inside Spain. Did I miss the “Welcome to Spain” sign? Where do I get my real passport stamped? I think I crossed over somewhere near a house where a very angry mini-pinscher was trying to shoo me off.

Lunch!

Found a sign another mile or two past the shopping center.

Also found my sister Brenda a lovely village home.

After this point, the hills were really getting me and I stopped taking pics. I did stop to enjoy the beautiful creek and building ruins at the base of Valcarlos. The climb after this creek was perhaps the most excruciating — felt practically vertical.

I was so grumpy and exhausted, I stopped taking pics once I reached town. Except this amazing site.

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