Dear Christine and Renee.

It was a good day to travel. The taxi from our hotel in Biarritz was on time to the minute and delivered us flawlessly to the railway station in nearby Bayonne. The train was in the station early as it was the origination point for our destination, Saint Jean Pied-de-Port. We had the luxury of 1st choice adjoining seats and relaxed as the small 2 car train filled to capacity, mostly with Camino bound passengers.

A young gentleman wearing sandals, shorts, and a loose-fit tee-shirt boarded shortly after us, definitely not a pilgrim. To our surprise he was the engineer!

We departed on time for our picturesque 1 hour transit up and into the Pyrenees Mountains. There were a few whistle stops and at least a score of tunnels which must have been cut over 100 years ago. We seemed to reach back in time as we drew closer to SJPdP.

A medieval bridge
Farmhouse
“Boef”
Nearing our destination
The station at SJPdP

Very little has changed in this medieval village since I was last here 11 years ago. That is really no surprise since most of the buildings on the narrow cobblestone street where we are staying date to the 1600’s and 1700’s.

One of the village gates.
Near our Pension
In the distance the bridge to the Camino

One proudly displays a stone above the door declaring it was once St. Francis Xavier’s ancestral home.

The church just down the street, Notre Dame du Bout du Pont, sits just inside of the fortress wall that once encircled the village and dates to the 1300’s. We hope to attend Mass there tomorrow.

We stopped at the Pilgrim Office to register and were told that it is fortunate we are not starting our Camino tomorrow (Sunday) as a major storm is predicted. Monday is our departure day and the weather forecast is excellent. More good luck.

In 2013 I bought a beret, wearing it in the evenings on the Camino. Today I was again tempted at the sight of an upscale shop featuring this traditional French and Basque headwear. The shopkeeper did the fitting for both of us. He explained that his excellent English derived from his time living in Miami where in his youth he was a professional Jai Alai player.

Does the hat make the man?

One language “disconnect”: We stopped at a small bar for tapas and mineral water. Somehow the proprietor misunderstood my request. Britton turned to me and said, “Grandpa, that doesn’t look like water.” I awoke from my daydreaming stupor unable to stop the gentleman. I stared at two large beers he had poured for us. I drank one and left the other to the unknown.

In the States distillers call what disappears from the whiskey barrels over time the “Angel’s Share”. Maybe some “Camino Angel” (not named Britton) drank the second beer.

Love to both of you. Peace, Dad

Written at Saint Jean PdP, June 8, 2024.

PS. Yes, there was food…

Dear Christine and Renee.

I expected to enjoy my time on this journey with Britton but I can’t say that I expected him to be such a delightful traveling companion. Kind, thoughtful, and patient. He is beyond his years. I know that we are barely into this trip but I think that I am seeing Britton at his core, the person he is and will be.

.

The flight from Kansas City to Atlanta was nondescript but pleasant. The trip from Atlanta to Paris was excellent as we were treated to high class accommodations.

There was plenty of room to stretch out, real food, real silverware, and real wine for me, Sprite for Britton. I fear that I may have spoiled him to the point that he will no longer be satisfied flying economy coach.

The “fly in the ointment” was discovered when I looked on my Delta App and saw that my bag was happily onboard, traveling with us across the Atlantic. Britton‘s bag took an unscheduled detour. I felt my anxiety rise and expressed my concern to Britton. He merely shrugged his shoulders and said that since there was nothing we could do about it at the moment, why worry. Amazing at only 15! 

Ultimately, I was able to secure enough information and contact the necessary authorities to arrange for a departure of the errant bag on the next flight to Paris, and then to Biarritz. With luck it will arrive before noon today. We will have to travel to the airport to retrieve it, €50 round-trip by taxi. I understand that Delta will pay compensation.

Last night neither Britton nor I felt particularly hungry after the stress of 20 hours of nonstop travel, but we forced ourselves to find a bite and a drink. What we found was a delightful nightlife at street-side restaurants where tapas were the order of the night.

We enjoyed four different tapas: spicy potatoes, roasted red peppers in sauce, ham and cheese croquettes, and blood sausage with a raw egg yolk.

All were new to Britton and he certainly found his appetite! Me too. Mineral water for Britton, an excellent wine for me, and we closed with dessert.

There are some very deep pockets in this town, and we overheard an order being placed for €5000 bottle of wine (about $5,500.00)! 

A hot shower and comfortable beds were the welcome finish to what had been an arduous day.

Love to both of you. Peace. Dad

PS. We just got a call from the airport. The bag has arrived! 

Written at Biarritz, France, 7 June. 

A few more pictures from Biarritz:

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Dear Britton.

I am in Arkansas camping for the next three weeks. The first two weeks I am solo. Grandmother will be joining me for the last week. I hope to use this time to do some mountain hiking in preparation for what we will encounter in Spain. I also find that the solitary time puts me better in touch with my thoughts.

The view from Magazine Mountain, the highest point in Arkansas.

It occurred to me that I should try to reflect on our coming Camino as I might have when I was 15 years old. Perhaps then I can better anticipate your excitement… and more importantly, your anxieties.

The world of a 15-year-old consists almost entirely of school, friends, extracurricular activities, and family. The world of a 72-year-old is immensely broader.

The Camino is a walking meditation. During the periods of silence our thoughts are necessarily drawn in different directions. Mine will likely find focus on where I am and where I have been on life’s journey. You may find your thoughts drawn to where you are and what the future may hold for you.

It occurs to me that my 15-year-old self might have been concerned about what I would miss during the coming summer. No summer job, no time with friends, no time with my siblings, and of course, no time with mom. I recently heard this referred to as FOMO, the fear of missing out.

Switching to my 72-year-old brain I ask you to take what I say as a matter of faith: If you were to spend this summer in Kansas City it would be just another summer, hardly distinguishable from any other. However, our weeks together on the Camino de Santiago, hiking 525 miles across Spain, may forge indelible shared memories that we will both hold dear in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Peace Britton. Love, Grandpa.

Bursting with enthusiasm upon our return from Spain in 2013, Christine and I were passionate to spread the message of the Camino in Kansas City. We founded the local group that would formally become the Kansas City Chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino (KCAPOC). As time and other responsibilities redirected our focus we withdrew from active participation in the group.

Fast forward to March and we received an invitation for Britton and me to be recognized for our coming hike across Spain and to participate in the KCAPOC monthly Pilgrim’s Hike.

On March 9th we joined members of the group for a Pilgrim’s Blessing and Shell Ceremony. Along with 13 other “pilgrims” who would be walking at various times this year to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, we received scallop shells, a group blessing, and the good wishes of the larger membership. This shell is the symbol of a pilgrim on the Camino.

Britton and I are joined by Doctor Doug for the group recital of the Pilgrim’s Blessing.

Britton receives his Camino scallop shell, the symbol of a Pilgrim on the Camino, from Maggie.

Britton and I stand recognized along with 13 other Pilgrims who will be walking the Camino at various times this year.

KCAPOC has grown! There are now more than 200 active members, nearly 40 of which assembled on the cold Saturday morning for the hike in the woods of Overland Park, Kansas.

Nearly 40 Kansas City area pilgrims gather for a blessing, shell ceremony, and hike in Johnson County Kansas.

Christine and I are joined in reunion by dear friends Maggie and her husband, Dr Doug. We first met Maggie on the Camino in 2013.

This was grandson Britton’s first experience being embraced by the kinship of Camino Pilgrimage. It is just the beginning.

Peace Everyone! Pete

 

In 2022 my posts to this site from the Portuguese Camino took the form of open letters home. These were well received and provided me with a natural, conversational, way to communicate that hinted at the relationship that Christine and I share. I was writing to her, yet aware of the larger audience. A side benefit for me was that I felt her presence as I penned each word. It was a relief from the shadow of being alone.

This coming June my 15-year-old grandson Britton and I will depart for 6 weeks in France and Spain. Life and fate willing, we will be hiking the 500+ mile “French Route” of the Camino de Santiago. This will be the longest time that I have spent away from Christine and the longest spent with any of our grandchildren. It will be the longest that he has spent apart from his mother and siblings. Britton is one of three surviving quadruplets. He has been with brother Simon and sister Delaney 7 months longer than he has taking breath in life. (Their births came very early, and they were very tiny.) Think about it. There is also his 6-year-old sister, Lennon, who will certainly feel his absence.

I have no doubt that he is up to the physical challenges. Britton is nearly 6 feet tall and is a muscular 190 pounds. However, the trials for both of us go beyond the physical requirements of walking many miles, day after day. We are separated by 58 years and 2 generations. He must learn and adjust to my peculiarities and I to his.

It is my hope that Britton might contribute an occasional paragraph to his grandmother and mother, giving insight to his own unique perspectives. However, recalling the focuses of my own teenage years I will not hold my breath.

Peace Everyone. Pete