Day 8 – Recuperation at St Jean


From St-Jean-Pied-de-Porte, realistically speaking, it is 34 days hard march to Santiago di Compostela. The hardest walk by far will be tomorrow when I ascend to Roncesvalles. The weather, to an extent, is on my side though. It’s colder than it has been. The rain has blown in. Treacherous footing, but less sweat.

This is my only day off. I’m spending it in Pilgrim Central. Literally St Jean at the Foot of the Pass. It’s been strategically important enough over the years to have been contested frequently, and razed to the ground at least once by Richard I on his crusades. The economy revolves around pilgrims. €10 blister plasters compete with €70 silk sleeping bag liners for the “Seriously?” prize. If you’re going on a pilgrimage, stock up beforehand or they will take you for everything you’re worth. A lot of people here have a stick and a bag, although there’s also loads of pink around today for a breast cancer run with only women running. I’m wearing my pink shirt in solidarity.


I’m finding it hard to have a day off. Everything in me wants to walk. I’m learning to do what I need though, and to take care of myself. Today I will rest despite not wanting to. I can spend the time obsessing about the contents of my pack.

I’ve only done a week, but I’ve got a pretty good handle on equipment now. I’ve chucked loads and this is what’s left. I’ll put it here for people considering doing this madness.

I walk in a trail hat borrowed from my cousin. It keeps the sun off my head and out of my eyes. I adore my trousers that convert to shorts. I’ve got a spare pair that don’t convert and I only wear them when the others are filthy. One stick so I have the other hand free for arse scratching, orange peeling, compass bothering etc. 4 pairs of socks, 4 pairs of pants. Arnica cream and compeed and padded bandages and some other basic first aid (antiseptic wipes, sting wipes). Vitamin pills. Lighter. A pocket knife. Two T-Shirts, two sleeved shirts. A light towel. A small container of laundry detergent. A hankie for the early morning drip. Sleeping bag and liner – haven’t used the liner yet. Also haven’t used thermals and kagoule and rain poncho but I don’t regret it as I reckon I will. Mobile phone with a battery charging case so you can plug in both phone and charger to the same socket. Plug adaptor. Thai fisherman trousers, sarong and espadrilles to make it perfectly clear I’m a hippy in the evenings (actually chosen for lack of weight). An amethyst. To give the lie to the last comment. Also a gong, incense, a liturgy of Nichiren Buddhism and some beads. And my tarot cards. Fight me. Soap. Sudocrem for the chafing. Tiger Balm so I can forget to wash my hands and go to the loo – (never again, especially before bed.) Sunblock – factor 50 – a thing I rarely if ever use but I’m needing it up here. WATER FLASK or I’d be dead. Compass for those “Where the fuck am I?” moments when GPS goes whoopsie and decides you’re in Germany (aka all the time). Super light fleecy top – ( I’m wearing it now. Love it.) Big light scarf – (tablecloth/neck warmer). Fitbit. It’s a brilliant luxury. It wakes me with a silent alarm in the crowded auberges. It vibrates happily when I hit fifteen miles, to tell me I’m doing well as that’s around when it starts to hurt now. It monitors heart rate and sleep patterns. It tells the time. It’s a small light.

Toothbrush and toothpaste. A drybag you can attach to the outside of your rucksack with your lunch. Ziplock freezer bags so the six day old reblochon doesn’t get all over the inside of the dry bag. Lunch is usually a mixture of moisture carriers, proteins and bread. I think a great deal about how much things weigh. I always have an orange though for emergencies. And of course a gargantuan tin vessel of holy water collected by my teenage mother that everyone looks at strangely because I can’t close my pack around it. And my uncle’s tarnished rosary. They’re the catholics here.

I’ve been on the road less traveled and I’ve found adequate laundry facilities to keep my clothes fresh. I’ve never had to re-wear socks or pants. From here on it’ll get more crowded but there’s an economy and an infrastructure coming into play. There’ll be launderettes. Expensive but in existence.

I’ve been planning my route extremely carefully to make sure I stop at the cheap auberges. That’s the best way. Ideally the gîtes paroissales run by the church, even if I write “NMHRK” in all the guest books. If I wasn’t doing that I’d be spending a minimum of €30 per night which would murder me. After Asson I now phone ahead in the morning, or the night before. Usually it’s not necessary but I don’t want to get stuck on the porch again.

Accommodation cost has varied from €6 to €30. So has what is offered for the price. You take what you get. The Curé and his cat wanted 6 for a bed and two meals  The farmhouse with double bed to me alone was 30 for the same. My ideal is 10 per night plus 10 for evening meal (If I’m not just stuffing cheese and ham again.) That’s what I get in the gîte paroissale here in St Jean, with all I can eat dinner, red wine and robust breakfast in an extremely clean environment. No bed bugs here for sure. I’ve got their bites on my stomach and my wrist from L’Hôpital Sainte-Blaise.

With 34 nights left we’re looking at a minimum €680 not counting coffee/lunch/luxuries. It’s not cheap being a pilgrim. But I’d pay a lot more for a life coach, a therapist, a personal trainer and a grief counselor. So it’s probably worth it.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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