Trekcapri’s Camino de Santiago-Hiking the Pyrenees Part I – SJPDP to Orisson

Main Street SJPDP
This is the main street in the old section of SJDPP

Window Display
No question, I'm in France.

Grocery Store
Stocked up with snacks.

Statue Outside Church
Close-up of Statue outside of the Church. I went in to say a quick prayer before I left town.

Pointing the Way
On the street heading out of town.

River View
Beautiful River Views while crossing the bridges.

River View
Beautiful river view.

Fork in the Road
To the right is the Napolean Route which goes to Refugio Orisson.

Beautiful Horse
On my way out of town I saw this beautiful Horse.

Lower part of trail.
It's a gradual climb at this point.

The higher I climb the more mist I see.

Getting higher
The views are stunning, the higher I climb.

Mist covered valley below
I take rest stops to catch my breath and appreciate the views.

Fellow Pilgrims
I'm not the only one appreciating and photographing the views.

Sheep Grazing
You pass my cows, horses and sheep grazing in nearby fields.

Big Hill Coming Up
I remember seeing this hill on YouTube.

Pilgrims Ahead
I can see how big this hill is by the pilgrims walking at the top.

More Hills to the Right
One turn after the other, one hill to climb after the other.

Hills were relentless
I saw more pilgrims in the upper sections.

Beautiful Views
I'm higher now and the views are magnificent.

School Kids
A group of 50 teens from Pamplona heading to Roncesvalles.

Fork In the Road
To the left is the way. This became very seep.

More Beautiful Views.
Sometimes I really had to stop to appreciate the views (and catch my breath).

More Climbing
Just when you finish one hill another one is ahead.

Rocky path
More Hills

My first sighting of Mary
This is where I first met Mary from Canada.

Steep Hill
The photo doesn't do this hill justice. It was so steep.

We're getting there.
I can sense that we are close

We're so close.
Mary and I kept thinking that Orisson is just around the corner only to see another hill.

We're Here!
Finally, Mary turns back to me to announce that we made it to Orisson.

Checking In At Orisson
This wonderful staff checked me in and stamped my Credencial.

Deck with a view
While we wait for dinner time, I am enjoying the sun and the view.

Cake & Coke (My lunch)
I got there too late for the lunch menu so all I had was a cake and coke to tie me over to dinner.

Pilgrims resting
The down time gave us all time to mingle and enjoy the sun and views.

Cow Parade
It was cool to watch as local farmers paraded their cows through.

My Orisson Crew
It was nice to meet some cool people at Orisson.

Sheep Parade
We also saw these horned sheep parade through. Very fun.

Communal Dinner
It was a full house. First course, a wonderful soup.

There was wine!
There was wine and lots of it.

After Dinner
After dinner I sat out on the deck for a while. It was so beautiful, peaceful.

Orisson At Night
While the staff cleared the dinner tables, pilgrims above in their dorm prepare for bed.

After a good night’s sleep, I wake up in time for the included 7:00 am hotel breakfast.  A couple of crossants, hard boiled eggs, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee.  I am feeling excited and nervous about today’s short but very steep climb up to Refugio Orisson.
I place my primary pack near the receptionist so the transport service can take it up to Orisson for me.  By 8:30 a.m., I am out of the door and on my way.  I follow the arrows through the arch and across the bridge, which was featured in the movie, “The Way” with Martin Sheen.  I left later than most pilgrims who were walking all the way to Roncesvalles, but I did see a few other pilgrims on my way out of town which was a good sign that I was heading in the right direction.
The arrows and signage are clear and helpful.  Soon I come across the first fork in the road. To the left is the lower path and to the right is heading to the Napoleon Route and Refugio Orisson. I am already fully aware of just how steep of a climb this will be and I’m only on the lower portion of this stage. Yikes!  Next to the road I see this beautiful horse standing by the wired fence.  It was cool! I only wish I had like an apple or something to feed her.  I talked with her a bit before moving on.
The hills were relentless.  After getting up one hill, there were more hills to climb, some of which were steeper than the one I just climbed.  I was beginning to see more pilgrims on the path, some of whom I caught up with but mostly those who caught up with me.
I remember watching YouTube videos of pilgrims making this climb and here I was walking that very same scene.  Hearing myself breathing harder and harder as I try to grasp for some air.  It was the combination of the higher elevation, the steepness of the hills and my obvious poor fitness level that slowed me down.
It was here on these steeper sections that I first met Mary from Canada.  Both Mary and I struggled on the steep climbs and we kept giving each other encouragements.  Soon a group of about 50 teens passed us. These kids were so energetic and lively. One of the counselors told Mary and I that they were from Pamplona and were heading directly to Roncesvalles. It was a weekend trip that she questioned herself for agreeing to take.  She was kidding of course. We can tell that she was a dedicated teacher as she waited for the back of the pack group to catch up and giving them needed encouragements.
Just then, I flash backed to my childhood growing up as a kid in Hawaii.  I remembered two particular hiking school trips I went on, Moana Loa Valley and the Diamond Head Crater hikes.  On both trips, some of my school mates dropped out due to exhaustion, but I was so determined to make it to the top of the Diamond Head crater and to the water falls at the end of the Moana Loa Valley hike.  I kept pushing myself to keep going until I made it to the end of both hikes.  I guess even as a child, I had the drive to finish what I started and not give up.
I can already see that the Camino was giving me the time to reflect back on my life.  My childhood hiking memories made me realize that maybe I had a bit of Camino pilgrim in me very early on in my life.
With each hill conquered, Mary and I, kept hoping that we’d turn the corner to find Refugio Orisson but each corner we were greeted with another steep hill to climb.  Finally, Mary turns back towards me with her trekking poles high up in the air to announce that we finally reached the refugio.  We both celebrate and with sweat rolling down our foreheads, we wait our turn to check in.  I was first and although I tried to be roomed with Mary, I was brought to another room to be shared with 3 other strangers.  Mary was assigned to the dorms.  I was a little bummed at first but when I discovered that I was luckily assigned a private room only to be shared by three other pilgrims with our own private shower and bath, I was happy.  Although, the kitchen had a selection bocadillo (sandwhiches), but none of them appealed to me (I don’t eat meat or like cheese).  I did notice a nice piece of cake in their glass display and ordered it along with a coke (with ice).  This should be okay until dinner was served at 6:30 pm.  While resting I watched as pilgrims arrived. This was when I first spotted Gigi and her son, Bobbi.  There is a deck where pilgrims can sit to wait until dinner time and where pilgrims moving on to Roncesvalles can rest.
The views from the deck are stunning and I enjoyed meeting so many different pilgrims.  I had to wait until my roommates were done showering before I could do my wash, while others like Mary were using the one washer and dryer.
I really enjoyed my stay at Refugio Orisson especially the Communal dinner where everyone introduced themselves and shared where they were from.  I liked how there was no mentioning of what we did for a living, our educational backgrounds, and/or what our religious or political beliefs were in life, because quite simply on the Camino we are all the same, a pilgrim making our way to Santiago de Compostela.
It was a lively mixed group of pilgrims from the US, Ireland, Israel, Brazil, England, Spain, Sweden, Japan, Canada, Australia, Copenhagen and Italy.  Bottles of wine to go with a nice hearty soup, chicken (salad for me), bread and a cake dessert were enjoyed by all as various enthusiastic conversations and loud laughter were heard around the dinner room.  The more wine that was consumed, the more lively the conversations became. As I fondly recall, there were some singing going on as well!
I enjoyed the communal dinner and talking with other pilgrims, but not being able to sleep was hard.  I don’t mind the lack of privacy, but I need my sleep.  While my roommates seemed to have slept quite well (and fast I might add), I was wide awake.  The snoring in the albergues are quite legendary and it is all very true.  My roommates were nice, but the snoring and other bodily noises kept me up all night. I think I may have had only 10 minutes (if that) of solid sleep.  On a good note, I really loved listening to the cow bells at night.  One pilgrim friend told me she literally had to get up and sit outside in the dark for awhile because she could not sleep with all the snoring.
I feel like the stories of the pilgrims I bonded with on the first tough stages of the camino really stuck with me throughout my Camino.  Mary, who was from Canada told me that she was walking the Camino for herself and her brother.  The original plan was for them to do the Camino together, but he unfortunately and unexpectedly passed away just before they were to come to Spain.  She decided to continue their journey and much like in the movie, The Way, Mary brought her brother’s ashes with her on the Camino.  I felt a special bond with her because she and I both struggled on the Pyrenee hills.  I also met Sara, Gigi and her son Bobbi, several pilgrims from Ireland, an Australian and a 70 year old female from Sweden who was walking her second Camino.  Sara was on the Camino to figure out her next relationship move. Her boyfriend proposed to her but she is not yet sure if he is the one. This pilgrimage was to help her to find the answer.  Gigi, a retired navel reservist, from Wisconsin was here with her son Bobbi to fulfill her dream of walking her Camino.  The retired lawyer from Australia was here for the challenge of doing a long distance adventure as was the couple from Long Beach whom I shared my Orisson room with.  Their goal was to do the entire Camino carrying their packs and not skipping one inch of it. I, of course, had no such lofty goals and had my bag transported all the way to Santiago.
Hearing everyone’s stories made me realize that people make this journey for a wide variety of reasons. Is the Camino about the number of miles we have to walk or the pain we must overcome? Is a “true” pilgrim someone who carry their pack, sleep in only albergues and doesn’t skip any sections of the Camino?  Those who do have truly earned their bragging rights for sure.  For me, my Camino was not about the number of miles or my ability to carry my own pack and only sleep in Albergues. I soon flashed back to what I wrote after training and running in my first Marathon.  Here’s what I had to say after the experience.
So to ask the question again,  “WHY RUN A MARATHON?” Did I do it for the challenge?  Did I do it for the thrill? Did I do it for the accolades? The answer . . . . I did it for the “JOURNEY.”
You really don’t know what you are capable of accomplishing until you actually dive in and give it a try.  At the lowest point of my journey, I had to search deep within myself to find out what I was truly made of.  And what did I learn?  I realized that the greatest achievements in life are found not necessarily in the final outcome itself, but in the experience and the journey.
My Camino was to be a personal journey of reflections and gratitude for all the opportunities I was afforded in my life.  It was to be a combination of embarking on both an internal as well as external journey. I soon discovered that there was to also be an “invisible Journey” which unveiled itself along the way.
I think the Camino is whatever we want it to be.  It is an experience that will change something inside of us and that something will become a part of who we are long after we have reached Santiago de Compostela.  What was a constant theme among pilgrims is that there is simply no one way and no one reason for doing the Camino.  What is most important about this journey is that you make it your own.
My tag line for my blog states that travelling lets me see the world through my eyes.  After meeting so many pilgrims and hearing their life stories, I think that walking the Camino de Santiago is an experience that will allow me to see the world (and life) through other people’s eyes.
After dinner, I spend some time out by the deck with a few other pilgrims to enjoy the quiet beauty of the Pyrenees one last time before turning in for the night.  I can hear the cow bells coming from somewhere nearby in the dark. I can hear the rattling of plates and silverware from the staff cleaning up after dinner and I can see pilgrims in their dorm rooms above the dining room preparing for bed.  As difficult as this day was with climbing up those hills, I feel so happy and blessed to be here in this place, at this moment and in this time.
It’s been a dream of mine to be here and somehow even though I know this is reality and I’m here, I can’t help but feel like I’m still dreaming.  It feels surreal and awesome at the same time. If all of these experiences and thoughts occurred on just day one of my pilgrimage, I wonder what the rest of the days will bring?  I can’t wait to find out.
Next, Orisson to Roncesvalles (Part II of the Pyrenees).
Here is a Youtube video of a few clips I recorded on my way from SJPDP to Orisson.

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