15 June 2012

Camino de Santiago Day 3: St Paul les Dax - St Jean Pied de Port

We started our day with a good breakfast that we had bought the night before, making "conversation" with our fellow pilgrims, or trying to at least. We learned that Claude had been an amateur competitor and claimed to have climbed all the major cols in France. He was using a Selle Royal leather saddle that he said he's been using for 25 years! (Alberto said he hopes his Brooks will  last as long!) We also learned they were planning to turn around when they got to Santiago and cycle home again. We joked about Claude's leg muscles - actually they were really strong - hope we're as fit as him when we're 65!

Despite our pledges to be quicker in the morning, we didn't get on the road until about 8:30. We saw many signposts for the Camino along the route and knew we were getting closer to the traditional starting point for the Camino Frances. Very early on we could tell that ths stage wouldn't be as flat as the day before -- after all, we were cycling towards the Pyrenees! In Peyrehorade we encountered the first few sharp hills and could see that the terrain was pretty rolling, and very green.

Rolling hills
After Peyrehorade we saw a few walking pilgrims and then a Dutch cycling couple who we cycled with for a short time. It is easy to spot a Dutch cyclist: full Ortlieb gear, butterfly handblars, touring bikes, and dynamo hubs. They had cycled from home (obviously) and were carrying a lot of stuff! We talked about the weather the day before and they said they had taken it as a day off. For most of the morning we would pass them and then get passed by them, as we stopped for various reasons or took various wrong turns.

Dutch cyclists
We enjoyed a few minutes of sun towards midday and realised that we had reached the French Basque country as many of the road signs were in both languages. In St Palais we had our daily intake of French pastries, including a Basque cake that was very yummy. As we were heading off from the boulangerie the rain began to fall. We decided not to put our waterproofs on as the day was still quite warm, and with the rolling hills we would have been too hot. We hoped it wouldn't last too long, but in reality it rained all the way til we reached St Jean Pied de Port.

Signs in the French Basque Country
Just to keep things interesting, Alberto thought he would divert us to the proper Camino path which he could see on his GPS when we were about 20km from St Jean. We climbed a steep road and enjoyed a snack overlooking a nice vista, and then descended a steep and muddy trail with plenty of wet rocks. Alberto enjoyed it but it was a bit beyond my skill level, especially in the rain! We went back to the D road that headed straight to St Jean for the final kms, passing more and more walking pilgrims on this stretch.

Pausing to consider the wet rocks ahead.
The road into St Jean was nice and fast, but there were a few steep sections. We pressed on to keep ourselves warm as we still hadn't put our waterproofs on. About 5km before the town we diverted to the walkers' route, along quiet lanes although with steeper gradients than the main road.

In St Jean we chatted to a British/French couple who were on a tour of the Basque country (cycling) who told us that some of the albergues were already full! We headed to the Association des Amis de St Jacques which was full of Pilgrims arriving and starting their journey. They told us about the two options for crossing the Pyrenees, either on the roads or on the walkers' route, and the advantages of disadvantages of both. We decided to see how the weather was and to make our final decision in the morning. They also had an albergue - 8 euros for bed and breakfast.

At the gate to St Jean Pied de Port
We had a well-needed shower (our first of the trip!) and did some laundry. We had to hang our clothes all over the bunk bed as it was too wet to hang them outside. Alberto cleaned the bikes in the garden of the albergue, which overlooks the road heading in to St Jean. He looked down and glimpsed Claude and Gerard cycling into town! We kept an eye out for them that evening in town but never did find them. We did see one of the Dutch cyclists from Peyrehorade. They had arrived about an hour after us and were staying in the campground just outside of town.

In the garden of the albergue

St Jean Pied de Port
We went for a walk to find some dinner. Although the town was very cute, it was quite touristy and expensive. We eventually settled on Chez Edouard, which had one of the cheapest pilgrim's menus (12.50 for three courses and wine) which was actually pretty good.

After making some sandwiches to take with us for the climb and chatting with some Spaniards in the albergue, we went to bed amidst snores and funny smells. We were now officially on the Camino Frances and tomorrow we'd cross the Pyrenees and enter Spain.

Stats for the day:
Odometer: 91km
Moving time: 5 hours 20 minutes
Stopped time: 1 hour 43 minutes
Moving average: 17 kph
Overall average: 12.9 kph
Max speed: 54.2 kph

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