OSTABAT-ASME – SAINT-JEAN-PIED-DE-PORT
But if it sings it’s a good sign
A sign you can sign your name
Then very gently you’ll detach
A feather from the bird
And write your name in a corner of the painting.
In order to meet Emeline, I got up at 4:30 am. Emeline wanted to continue her way to Santiago today and I agreed to meet her around noon. It was totally dark when I left the refuge, with the half moon shining through the fog. My headlamp helped me to see the markers on the way.
It was a gorgeous hike. Sheep peacefully grazed in the meadows and the sound of ringing cowbells filled the air. The organization “Amis du Chemin de Compostelle” planted fruit trees with old varieties along the way and even as they were not ripe yet, I appreciated their effort.
The path lead through atmospheric villages and all would have been perfect, would I have not forgotten my bread for breakfast. For four hours, I had nothing to eat. Also, I did not drink the usual coffee in the morning. The day became extremely hot with 104 degree Fahrenheit and hardly any shade. When I arrived in the village of Saint-Jean-le-Vieux, I was totally exhausted.
The breakfast in a bar was extremely rewarding and I rested for a long time. Before I left town, I visited the nearby church. There, on a gravestone in the cemetery, laid the most beautiful bird I have ever seen. The bird was dead. It was a barn owl, hardly grown out of its childhood with still a veil of white feathers around the bigger, golden brown ones. The sight of beauty and dread, undivided, totally shook me up. Who killed this beautiful being? Who put it on this gravestone? Everything was a total mystery to me. It affected me so much that, two days later, I had a dream of a dead bird becoming alive again and flying off into the big sky.
Through the medieval gate of St. James, I entered St. Jean-Pied-de-Port at noon. Emeline was already expecting me in front of one of the street cafes. It was so great to see her. For hours, we spoke about our experiences along the way. She was sad to leave the solitude and missed already the French greeting of the pilgrims, “Bon Courage.” Now, the greeting would become “Buen Camino” with hundreds of pilgrims walking the way to Santiago each day.
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a bursting town full of pilgrims of all ages and nationalities. Many of them start their way to Santiago de Compostela from there and had their first day of hiking over the Pyreneans to Roncesvalles in front of them – a very strenuous hike.
I stayed in the refuge “L’Esprit du Chemin”, the refuge Huberta and Arnold once owned, the couple I had met in the beginning of my pilgrimage in Le Chemin.
The new Basque owner took great care of the pilgrims. We each introduced each other at the dinner table. There were fourteen pilgrims on this day at his refuge, less than usual. Two pilgrims from Belgium started their pilgrimage in their hometown in Belgium and had already hiked for more than three months. Four pilgrims came from Spain, two from America, one from Switzerland, two from Ireland. There was also one Canadian and one French guy. We all shared our stories. For most of them, it was the start or the continuation of the pilgrimage
At the end of the day, I went to the church of Notre Dame and was lighting a candle as a thank you to the Way I was able to walk. Even with some difficulties along the way, the feeling of joy and deep thankfulness for life was always with me. With that, I want to express my deep gratitude for those who walked with me and I hope that you could feel the Spirit of the Way, which is a Spirit of Joy.