Day 1 (9/23) - Oloron Ste Marie to Sarrance (23.4 km): What a day! We knew we were poorly organized and that this route would be much different than last year's Camino Frances but not this different. Getting out of town wasn't too bad but we were still learning how/where the way would be marked. We don't have a good map (i.e. one showing the trail) and the instructions that I downloaded aren't too clear. We made a small side-step but got back on the road and found the place where the trail first leaves the road. The markings are pretty good but a bit sparse. There are red and white stripes indicating the French GR653 (usually) alongside the familiar yellow scallop shell symbol. The villages were pretty small and we found no open cafes or bars. The path was through forests and on small roads. We had a picnic lunch of baguette, soft cheese and olives and continued on. The distance ended up being a bit more than expected by 1.4km and the end-point of Sarrance was described as a "sleepy village" and that was an understatement. There should have been two small hotels and we only noticed one and it was closed. The pilgrim's hostel run by the monastery was nowhere to be found. I was very worried and while Cindy was waiting for me to find a room, found a bus stop with a schedule bus passing through in a few minutes so ran back and got Cindy, We were discussing taking the bus into Spain and two people walked by. They did not speak english but I indicated by sign language we wanted a place to sleep. They asked if we were "Pelerins" (French for Pilgrims) and we said, "oui" and they led us back to the monastery and showed us how to enter. It looked abandoned but we found someone (who spoke english) and he showed us the pelerin area. There were about 9 people counting us and several were english speakers. We are now settled in after a great shower and things are looking up! It was a very stressful experience and seemed like we might have nowhere to stay! Had a nice visit with the Canadian pilgrims and they called ahead to make reservations for us at the sam Gite d'etape where they will stay tomorrow. We wandered around looking for the refectory and found it -- dinner was interesting. There are two priests here, one is 88 years old and the "young one" must be nearly 70. Other than the priests, there were ~10 pilgrims and a local couple. Food was nothing special but the whole experience was quite nice.
We will only be walking in France for 3 days so thought things would be easier. However, speaking French and making advance reservations, even in a monastery, seem more than a bit important!
948km to Santiago de Compestela! We may run out of time but are setting off to see how far we can/will go.
Waymarks that we will follow. In France the camino is also way-marked as GR653.
Oloron Ste Marie
Countryside on day one.
Most of the trail was not this rugged.
This sign was on one of the monastery entrances (pelerins is French for pilgrims) but we did see this doorway until we left.
Departing Sarrance the next morning - "sleepy village"!