Yesterday we arrived by bus from Pamplona at our starting point in Saint Jean Pied-de-Port, a little jewel of a town in the heart of French Basque country,
We stayed at an equally charming little gite – the French word for “albergue”, or pilgrim hostel,- the same one we stayed at last time, but the new owners changed the name from “L’Esprit du Chemin”, to “Beilari”, the Basque name for “pilgrim,”.
The new owners, a nice young Basque couple named Joceleux and his wife Jakline, like most hospitaliéros who run the Camino albergues, see their work of providing food and shelter for the pilgrims as a vocation. Therefore before dinner Joceleux had the pilgrims, 20 of us altogether, sit around the dining room table and led us in getting-to-know-you games and a few spiritual exercises.
Unlike last time we stayed at L’Esprit du Chemin when there were a variety of languages represented among the pilgrims, this time all of us, except for one Brazilian man, spoke English, though our nationalities were well-represented: Americans Irish, Australian, New Zealander, and Dutch. As last time, though there were a few youngsters among us, most of the pilgrims staying at Beilari were middle-aged or older. I think this was probably because this gite is a bit pricier than most. It cost 34€ (about $40 ) per person, which included dinner, lodgings, breakfast, and a substantial lunch to take on the road the next day.
The dinner was fantastic, and was prepared by the gite's cook, a beautiful and sweet young African-American lady from San Francisco named Elizabeth who's lived in St. Jean for three years with her Basque husband.
The dinner was served family-style and the servings were copious, more than enough for seconds, which most of us went for. The first course was a delicious pea soup which we mopped up with thick slabs of fresh crusty bread from a basket that was always being refilled throughout the meal. The second course was a salad nicoise with lettuce, green beans-well, they were actually yellow beans, shredded carrots, hard-boiled eggs, olives, and tuna. Next came a vegetable gratine, which is like mac & cheese with veggies instead of mac, served over pasta shells. And two bottles of red wine at the table. The pilgrims say that the red wine in this part of Spain is so mellow that you can drink all you want without a hang-over the next day, though not being a drinker I can't vouch for that one.
Dessert was bowls of rice pudding and herb tea. Now, it's been my observation that when it comes to rice pudding people seem to fall into the "love it" or "leave it" camps. Some of of the pilgrims left theirs, though since I fall into the first camp I ate every spoonful of my own rice pudding and could have scarfed up all the left-behind bowls as well if a modicum of delicacy had not prevented me.
Sleeping accommodations were co-ed dorm-style, the norm along the Camino,
with two commodes and 2 showers to share among the 20 of us, though we managed.. Joceleux had announced that wake-up was at 6:15 am but that we shouldn't set any alarms as the angels would wake us in the morning. Sure enough at 6:15 we heard a beautiful, heavenly-sounding choir, angelic music piped into our room.
After a breakfast of the same crusty bread with cheese, butter, jam and Nutella, cereal, orange juice, coffee, and tea, we pilgrims all gave a toast to world peace.
Then we returned to the dorm room, where the piped-in angelic music had been replaced by the opening strains of the William Tell Overture played over and over, presumably to inspire us to get ourselves packed an on our way,which we soon were,
....ready to start our first day on the Camino.
A romantic comedy of errors.
Lots and lots of errors.
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