I did not have the best of starts. On the Camino, yellow arrows (or in some cases white and red rectangles) show the way. I had been walking close to half an hour and realized I wasn’t seeing either of those indicators. Hmmm. Just then an elderly gentleman approached me speaking in very rapid French, waving his arms and pointing back the way I came. While I didn’t understand much of what he said, I knew he was telling me I had taken a wrong turn and needed to go back and find a road that branched off to my right.
After a bit of searching, I did find the right path, and almost immediately started to climb. And climb. And climb. Thank goodness for my training walks up Haeckel Hill. This was certainly no steeper than that, and the views were magnificent. For the next two hours I walked, not meeting another soul.
Then I spotted two women up ahead, and they were speaking English. I caught up to them and introduced myself. They were Emily from New Orleans, a delightful southern belle of a woman who would amuse me to no end in the early days of my Camino, and her lovely friend Candice from Kansas City. We walked the rest of the way to Orisson together, which was only 8 kilometres up the trail. Many people walk all the way to Roncesvalles on their first day, 27 kilometres away, but I had no intentions of doing so, especially since I had gotten such a late start.
At Orisson, I carried out what was to become the daily ritual of the pilgrim: first I showered, then I hand washed the clothes I had worn that day and prayed to the weather gods that they would dry by night fall, and finally I laid down and elevated my legs. I was sharing a room with Candice and Emily, along with a woman from France named Elizabeth. Elisabeth spoke no English so I was given the dubious job of translator. She was walking the Camino in sections, as many Europeans do who can’t get a large chunk of time off of their work to make the journey all in one go.
It was about this time that I met Jo Anne and Moya, two woman from Calgary. They were the first Canadians I met, but there were to be many others as I would soon discover. Some people characterized us as ‘the Canadian invasion’. We sat, some of us drinking tea and others sipping wine, getting acquainted. Moya was a retired philosophy professor; Jo Anne a nurse who had walked the Camino on three previous occasions. We pumped her for information about what to expect. She told us that the section to Orisson was one of the steepest on the whole Camino; tomorrow’s walk into Roncesvalles would be easier. With that bit of reassuring information, I wandered back to my room to do some journal writing and wait for dinner.