50 Days of Camino

Kevin Soltysiak's travel log of the way of St. James, the "Camino de Santiago"


Pau — Oloron-Sainte-Marie

We woke up quite early, our host still being a student. We grabbed a coffee with him then said our goodbyes, and we found a place to do our first laundry of the trip. After that, it was time for a second breakfast, buying some food, and we went to the train station to reach a town called Ogeu-les-Bains.

Gave d'Ossau Alternate view

We had very little interest into going back to Morlaas to follow exactly the path, and there wasn’t any town that were interesting to go to except Oloron-Sainte-Marie, and that one was too far to our taste. So we went to Ogeu and followed a very nice path along a river (the “gave d’Ossau”) which was about three hours of walk. This walk is among the ones I enjoyed the most in France and maybe overall.

So yep. Technically we “cheated” and did not walk all the way, I know. Sue me. :)

Once we were in Oloron, we mailed back home our unnecessary stuff in order to be lighter for the moutains. Then we bought some groceries again, and found a place to plant the tent at the football stadium. The club was having a meeting and they were kind enough to let us stay there.


Oloron-Sainte-Marie — Sarrance

After almost two weeks of sleeping in a tent, we were becoming quite good at waking up, packing our stuff, the tent, and getting ready quickly. We stopped to get coffee and bought some pastries. When the lady saw our bags, she gave us free leftovers and wished us well! The kind of thing that will put you in a good mood in the morning.

Before being out of the city, we met a new pilgrim, Zoltan. While talking with him, we learned that he had been walking from Hungary… He had started at the beginning of May, so he had been walking for five months. It was as impressive as it was humbling.

Around 11h, we arrived in Eysus and stopped in a place called “La Salamandre”. That place was awesome. The owners were very friendly, and they had a tapas plate that was really good and really cheap. I had lived in Paris for about a year before starting the Camino, and that kind of plate would be thrice the price there!

After an extended break there, we started again. We were now getting into the mountains themselves. Not really climbing yet, but the landscapes were getting more impressive hour by hour. Just before a town called Escot, I even got to witness a helicopter landing. Apparently, it was carrying stuff to a higher point in the mountains.

I could drive that.

The walk itself was enjoyable, but required attention: the rain of the past few days had made it slippery, and many paths were narrow and not well lit. But we got to Sarrance, and we took a break at the entrance of the city. 4€ Mojitos ! I took two of them. I was in a good mood, between the landscapes, the walk, and Loïc’s ankle was improving.

We met Daniel and François, the pilgrims we met in Auch again. They had planned on stopping at Oloron-Sainte-Marie, so we thought we wouldn’t be seeing them after we last met with them in Morlaas. But they were enjoying themselves too much, it seems, and so they wanted to go the Somport now. They also introduced us to two other pilgrims, Pascale and Maryvonne, whom they had met that day or the day earlier.

Who took that mountain's side? I like mountains.

They were sleeping at the monastery, but it was a bit too expensive for us. However, the man in charge of hosting the pilgrims agreed to let us plant the tent in their backyard for free! There was a mild rain but we found a spot covered by trees. We then took our dinner, and a duck stole a bit of cheese out of Loïc’s hand. We called it our fee for the night.

Sarrance — Borce

The walk that day was similar to what we had the day before: enjoyable, but slippery. Without good boots, I’m sure I would have hurt my ankles or more. It was a bit hard to walk this kind of path right after waking up, but I managed. We arrived in Bedous for a coffee break that we took at a place called “L’escala”, halway between a library, halfway between a bar. The kind of place I could see myself hangout during the day, while I’m working or writing these words, for instance.

Loïc... ...is ready.

Even though it was cloudy and a bit gray, we had a nice view on the mountains. Short disclaimer: I love mountains. I found them beautiful, nature’s very own cathedrals. I hope the pictures I took do them justice!

Ma', look at the clouds! So fluffy.

We arrived in Accous for our lunch break. According to my notes, on that day, “Loïc is putting back his boots on without the semelle, the dummy”. Apparently, it was worth writing down. The road to Borce was starting to look like mountain hiking: not too steep yet, but a nice preview of the following days. And we met our first cows since the test hike !

I see a way in...

We arrived near 15:30. I think it’s safe to say that by that day, we had found our rythm. We were walking at a decent pace, we managed to achieve our daily goal late afternoon at best and had enough time to scout the city, take a break, run some errands, and plant the tent.

Yep, we're in.

We would meet many pilgrims on the camino who could only walk for two weeks, due to work reasons. And I always felt a bit sorry for them, because two weeks seemed like the time your body needs to get in shape and used to what you’re asking him: after, you’ll enjoy the walk way more than before.

Blue sky, gray sky.

Anyway, we grabbed beers to celebrate our second week-yversary. It seemed than I got quite drunk with mine, because I wrote it down. But that’s what a 12° beer will do to you, after all.

Then we had dinner with the four other pilgrims, Daniel, Françoise, Maryvonne, and Pascale. Once again, this was supposed to be the last time we would the Daniel and Françoise, but this time it happened to be true. We ate, laughed, and drank like a happy family, and it felt very good. And that night, we slept in the chapel! It wasn’t spooky, sadly.

Borce Our accomodation

Borce — Lac d'Arlet

This was the day things started to get serious. We were at an altitude of a little bit more than 600m, and by the end of the day we had planned to be around 2000m. We decided the days before not to follow the official route through the Somport, but to go off track. We wanted to see more moutains, better landscapes, and mostly, we wanted to challenge ourselves.

Where we started and where we finished

The plan was to get to the Lac d’Arlet, and if it wasn’t a good place to plant the tent, find a refuge. The beginning of the walk was quite steep and hard. I remember being sweaty and panting most of the time. But before 10h, we were around 1000m. We met two hikers (not pilgrims) who were going to the same place we were. They told us that the refuge was closed, but that there should be a room with beds and blankets accessible. It sounded way better than the tent.

The valley... ... and its inhabitants

The next part was a valley. It was going up still but not as much as earlier, and it was quite enjoyable. Loïc was behind but only because he was too busy eating berries all the time. His ankle was not troubling him any more, and my blisters were a distant memory; we felt as good as we could and it was well needed on that day.

Loïc, leading the way Autumn colors

We took our lunch break right before the end of the valley, and what came next was in the hardest bit of my camino. We had trouble finding the right path and went the wrong way a couple of times. At some point, we just sucked it up and kept going, even though it was the steepest road I had ever climbed. I had to take breaks every 30 seconds to catch my break… I was a bit scared for my knees, too. They had been holding up pretty well until then, but that part was more demanding than anything we’d done until then.

Those colors... ... and those sights...

Oh hi there.

After about half an hour after starting this bit, the slope got a little easier. Still steep but less demanding, and with flat portions here and there. I remember getting quite tired and cold and wanting to take a break, but Loïc was ahead of me and I didn’t felt like losing track of him so I kept going. Until after a turn, I noticed and lake and realized we had made it!

Grass & rocks

I had quite the sense of accomplishment, and it lasted for about ten minutes :) Then I caught my breath and a cloud started to set over the lake and we couldn’t see it any longer. We barely had time to enjoy it! The walk before it was beautiful though, even though I was too exhausted to fully enjoy it. The hikers we had met earlier arrived right after us, and as promised the refuge had a winter room that was opened. And so… we started by taking a three-hour nap until 18/19h. It was freaking cold: I remember sleeping under three blankets and still not feeling warm enough.

Around the lake

Once we managed to wake up from our nap, we ate and spoke with the hikers. One of them was hellbent on sleeping in the tent despite the cold: he took a few blankets with him and left us. I remember thinking of a friend of mine who would do exactly the same: he’ll recognize himself when he reads those words :)

We really liked those red mountains

Lots of trees too!

Lac d'Arlet — Siresa

The night was a bit hard, between the cold and the way-too-long nap, but I woke up feeling rested enough. I was a bit sad that I didn’t think about looking at the sky: I don’t think I was in a better spot during my life, if the sky was clear enough. But well. I peaked outside, and it was still cold, but sunny, and the cloud was gone! We could finally see the lake again.

We said goodbye to our hiking friends and went our way. Our plan was to stay around this altitude for a while, see a few more peaks, and then only start going downhill again. The paths were good and the sights beautiful, but from time to time there were a strong, cold wind, the kind that make you wish you weren’t on a small mountain path…

Somebody's been smoking.

And then, we made a mistake and started going downhill too soon and off track. By the time we realized it, it was a bit late and we weren’t feeling like going uphill again, so we took our chances. This could have been pretty stupid: that part of the mountain was steep, with tall grass that prevented you from seeing the shape of the ground, and I’m surprised we got out of it without any trouble, except a scare or two.

After what felt like hours of going down, we finally reached the valley, found our path again, and had our lunch break there. At this point, we realized: we were in Spain! We had made it! The rest of the path was demanding, but very enjoyable. At some point I slipped and fell on my butt; I was lucky not to have pulled any muscle, but it was a close call. This was how my legs were letting me know that even though I hadn’t hurt myself, I was reaching my limits.

Can you tell I love mountains?

We reached another valley, which was the spanish entrance of the pyrenees national park. After that, it was a long road. It was a bit of a letdown, walking on a road again, but we were still in the mountains and the sights made up for it. We stopped for a quick coffee and at somepoint the path went through the mountains again, and quite steep quickly. And that’s where I asked too much of my knee and knew I had hurt myself. I took the rest of the path slowly and started walking on the road as soon as I could, but the harm was done.

I managed to drag myself to a camping place outside of Siresa, where we paid way too much for a spot to plant the tent and have showers, but we didn’t have a lot of options. That night I was smart enough to peak outside the tent and yep, the starry night look incredible.

Previously: Pau ~ Pyrénées Atlantiques

Next: Camino Aragones