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Guidebooks use words like "tough" and "hard" to describe the leg of the Camino that crosses the Pyrenees from St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles.
People who have walked it fix you with a faraway gaze and carefully pick words like "challenging" and "arduous" as if they can't quite reconcile memory with reality. Their comments are tempered by time, and you know what they say about time being a great healer: The "challenging" experience gets polished with each recounting of the tale into a smooth nugget of accomplishment and pride.
Gather round boys and girls while I tell you in the clearest, bluntest language what it's really like.
Crossing the Pyrenees is torture: Imagine Hell under sunny skies.
Unbearable, brutal, wicked, hideous doesn't describe it yet by half. Never has my body or my spirit been pushed or crushed so hard. It was the sort of pain that makes you weep, except you cannot weep because crying requires energy and you have to conserve every drop for the next step. At some point you're practically begging Death to wave his scythe over you and end the suffering.
The Camino is often described as a metaphorical journey through your lifetime. If that's the case then the section from St. Jean over the Pyrenees and into Roncescalles is a metaphor for one's struggle through the birth canal: No wonder we all emerge screaming.
The Pyrenees was a staggering challenge to our little group. Had one of us perished it would not have surprised me. We were over our heads. Several times I contemplated curling up into the fetal position by the side of the path just to rest, but the nice lady at the pilgrim office the day before had told us about a pilgrim who had done precisely that weeks earlier. He was found dead.
It was understandable then that we were all skittish that first day on the Camino simply because of the Pyrenees. Our insistence to start in St. Jean had been made partly because we were purists and partly because we were vain: Women rarely turn down anything described as a "calorie killer."
On May 1, we rose before dawn.
Theresa, Georgina and I conducted our absolutions that morning with feigned confidence while struggling silently with our own levels of disorientation and jet lag. I'm sure I wasn't the only one asking herself: "What the hell am I doing here?"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Jane's is the story of "everywoman", or, better stated,every woman who has told herself "I could, I should, oh heck, you only live once, I'm going to.....(whatever)" and then done it. That said, there were few surprises here, few aha moments, few life altering revelations or inducements offered. It is a travelogue,albeit one with a nuanced beginning, but a light summer appetizer instead of the less filling diet of mindless romance tales on the summer reading menu.