72km Irotz to Saint Jean Pied de Port
“Mountains rise ahead
Sun warms our toes as we bike
To their misty peaks” — Friedel
We took a tip from Keith, a pilgrim we met in the hostel in Pamplona, and spent our morning composing haikus while cycling towards the pass over the Pyrenees and into France. We were quite pleased with our efforts – maybe not up to Japanese expert level but we thought they were pretty good for an amateur attempt. It was a good way to occupy our minds as we pedalled up the hill.
The crossing was actually quite tame, more so than we expected after hearing so much debate from other cyclists on where to cross the mountain range. We feared a killer climb but ended up with a gentle uphill ramble through woodland and then spent most of the day cruising downhill to Saint Jean Pied de Port, a key starting point for the trek to Santiago. It’s nice to be back in France, a country we both love and where we both speak the language. We always feel at home here. It’s our first time in the Pyrenees though so there’s lots to explore.
Just today coming down the mountain we noticed long-haired sheep and a type of pig we haven’t seen before and there are lots of signs for cheese and wine tasting alongside the road. Our progress could slow quite a bit over the coming days! Another pleasant surprise is the return of the municipal campground. We loved these in Portugal as they usually meant clean but cheap camping. Spanish campsites were always privately run and the prices were pretty outrageous so we’re very happy to once again have a reasonable option when we need to clean up after a couple days of wild camping.
In the campground we met Richard, a cyclist on his own and planning to follow the trail to Santiago, before turning south to Porto and then east to Salamanca. We invited him to a dinner of salad, pasta and wine and really enjoyed hearing his tales about other cycling trips (Lands End to John O’Groats and around the Orkney and Hebrides islands) as the rain poured down around us. Our tarp once again came to the rescue and gave us lots of dry space to sit. We hope our evening meal was a sign of a better trip to come for Richard since he was hit by a car on the first day leaving Biarritz! Luckily he wasn’t hurt and we were amazed that he was not too shaken up to continue. In Richard we also found a man in need of a Spanish map (the one he was planning to use was 40 years old, from the honeymoon he and his wife took after their marriage) so we happily gave him our road atlas.