But the Medieval pilgrims didn’t have Siri and google maps or a minivan. We set the GPS but then just followed the signs with scallop shells on them. “Roncevaux” he signs said. The narrow road followed a river. Each time we crossed a bridge we seemed to be on the other side of the rather porous border of France and Spain in Basquelandia. Then finally, the outlet mall tastefully tucked along the river (larger than one would think from the road) announced our official entry into Spain.
We plunked into the van feeling as stuffed as the taxidermy animals in the restaurant. No word yet from any of our local contacts; mischief on our minds.
Kate pulled out her paper map. “How about Spain? I’ve never taken this road to Spain.” She points to the border of the two countries on the map. There’s a part of France that sticks into Spain (or is it the other way?) to form a nipple. Her finger traces a road through the pass in the mountains. The way of the pilgrims to St Jacques de Compostell, an ancient footpath that wends it’s way along the river between the mountain peaks and over the border to Spain (and then the sea). Countless seekers have funneled through this pass on foot. And towns like St Jean Pied de Port sprung up to give them refuge and sustenance along the way, each stop being a day’s walk from the other.
And quickly, the switchbacks began. With each turn a spectacular view of this mountain, then that valley, then that mountain. And the streams and brooks and waterfalls. Just when Kate said something about St Jacques again, we passed the pilgrim, the same young man we had seen before lunch. He was making incredible time. But we had also had a rather epic lunch.
A little way further Kate pulled over so I could photograph some sheep on the side of the road. I stepped out just as a car came whipping down the mountain. Two sheep did that thing, where they hesitated in the road wondering what to do then one bolted straight into the path of the small car and the other followed. The first sheep barely crossed the road. The second literally leapt over the hood of the car. Uninjured. Not sure if I screamed.
Finally, we reached the top of the mountain and the church. And the view. We picked out the “back view” of Josette’s mountain.
Kate told me about Charlemagne and puppet reenactments of Orlando Furioso all the way down the mountain. But half way down, we saw our pilgrim again. This time I’m sure I waved and he waved back.