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The Reason We Walk, St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France

We spotted a picnic table and decided that this would be a good place for lunch. We unwrapped our sandwiches which we had purchased before we left town and we began to eat. We were enjoying our meal and being off of our feet for a few minutes when an elderly man with long grey hair approached.

“Do you mind if I join you?” The man asked in a thick German accent.

“Not at all! Feel free to join us” I said.

The man sat down and began to tell us his story. He told us that he was a volunteer worker at the hostels that can be found along the trail. He has walked the Camino at least ten times and volunteers for months at a time in the hostels, meeting pilgrims along the way. He told us that he was a theologian and that he had studied the history of the Camino.

“Why are you walking the Camino?” He asked.

“We just felt like taking a nice long walk” I responded with a smile in a light-hearted manner.

The man frowned.

“That is not a good answer!” the man gruffly stated.

“Well, I, uh, I have other reasons too…” I quickly said, trying to provide an adequate reason, but not really wanting to share my personal reasons with someone I just met a few minutes ago.

“It isn’t about the destination, its about the journey” Ol quickly volunteered.

“Yes! You understand!” The gruff German nodded toward Ol and seemed to glare at me.

We finished our lunch and quickly made our escape from the judgmental German.

When we were safely down the trail and Ol began to laugh.

“That guy reminded me of the Seinfeld episode with the Soup Nazi. No soup for you!” Ol laughed. “I think that we should call him the Trail Nazi!”

While my answer to the Trail Nazi may not have been acceptable, we have found that each person we meet has a different reason for walking the Camino.

The last few days of our hike in France were beautiful and bittersweet. I knew that I would miss more than just the chocolate filled croissants, decadent cheeses, and fine wines we had grown accustomed to. We were also saying goodbye to trail mates that were ending their journey in St. Jean Pied-de-Port.

Along the way, we have met several hikers that we have become friends with after only spending a few days with them. They have shared our reasons for walking the camino as well as our reasons for retiring early. We seemed to have a lot in common. It may be because we all share a passion for travel and adventure.

We met people who had hiked other portions of the Camino and shared their tips on where to stay and things to do in Spain. They also assured us that we would have no trouble crossing the Pyrenees mountain range as we were now in good shape and had our “trail legs”. That wouldn’t be the case for many just starting the Pilgrimage..

Our last few days we had perfect weather, we had yet to walk in the rain. We soaked up the beauty of the rural French countryside not knowing when we would return. I was going to miss the colorful markets and the charming French people and traditions.

We also enjoyed a visit to a very special small chapel that is owned by four families. It was at a crossroads where several camino paths come together. Like many of France’s churches there was a local person there to welcome us and share the history.

Ol and I walked through the historic gates to St. Jean Pied-de-Port (which means at the foot of the pass) after a relatively easy hike. As we entered the bustling hiking town, where the many Camino trails through France converge, before crossing into Spain, we could feel the energy of the hikers. Some were busy getting their Pilgrimage credentials, others were busy making plans for trains and planes home, while others searched for a place to stay.

We decided to stop at the Pilgrims office to see if we needed another credential and to ask for information on lodging. After a few minutes, we had a map, our stamp in our credential, and were on our way to a nice hotel.

As we walked down the winding, narrow, steep street, we found a hiking store and we ducked in and purchased a few new pairs of our preferred brand of socks; PHd Smart Wool. We then checked in to our hotel and then set-off to find a laundromat.

Luckily everything we needed was within a few blocks of our hotel. We sat at a street side bar and had a few beers while we waited on our clothes to wash. It was a great place to watch people. Hikers from all around the world had come to hike the camino. It was a little like watching kids on the first day of school. We noticed the shiny, new backpacks and brand new shoes.

We passed the time by guessing which hikers would have trouble on the journey. I’ll never understand the people with packs nearly as big as they were.

We ran into several people who were also hiking onto Santiago that we had met on our hike through France. They laughed when we showed them our bag of new fluffy socks.

After a few food purchases, we were ready, to say goodbye to France and our friends who were not going on to Santiago.

For us, we were only at the halfway point of our journey. All that remained between us and Santiago were a few big mountains, about one more month, and 500 more miles. But for the new hikers, they had a lot of new experiences to look forward to. My advice to these new hikers would be to take time to enjoy the scenery, hike with a light pack, don't hike if injured, and most of all if they run into the Trail Nazi they had better have a good reason for hiking! Bueno Camino!

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