Before today I had various romantic visions for our departure on the Camino de Santiago from Lourdes - a quiet moment, a taste of holy water, a last peek into the splendid cathedral to wish us well on our way. Au contraire, there myself and Adeline stood in the pouring rain like drenched rats as a passing Frenchman cracked a joke about us looking like hunch-backs in our bright red ponchos. We were surrounded by a milling crowd of plastic covered wheel chairs and umbrella wielding nuns, while we desperately tried to take the obligatory selfie, me hoping my iPhone is water-proof. To the uninitiated this must've all seemed very Monty Python.
And then we were off.
That's the Lourdes cathedral in die background.
Actually, walking while it rains cats and dogs is quite enjoyable if you're geared well, so we took it in our stride. After following the river for a kilometer or two we switched to a lush forested path. A small deer darted shyly among the trees, and every now and than we'd stop to look at a lizard or insect that looked strange to our South African eyes. It was great to be solitary and surrounded by nature.
After about 15km of walking along largely deserted farm roads we reached Betharram, the first main town on our route. We lunched at a hotel restaurant where we briefly noticed the only other pilgrims for the day. Next we set off for a steep climb on a path leading 200m up a forested hill to a small, intriguing cemetery with three full-size crosses towering overhead. All along the way and at the top we saw beautifully designed religious shrines, I wish I knew the history behind them. Was it the legacy of a rich aristocrat from the previous century? It certainly looked that way...
We'd estimated the road to Asson where we're staying over to be about 20km but the farm roads stretched into a distance of 29km according to my gps - quite a distance, but still immensely enjoyable for the first day on Camino. We arrived in Asson around six, hunted for the parish refuge, were taken to an upstairs, bare basics room. We were looking forward to having a celebratory dinner at a cosy little French bistro, but were rather abruptly told all shops and restaurants in town close at five. A quick scouting walk around the village confirmed that - all we could find was a croissant vending machine (where else in the world do you find that??) but after punching in a Euro, turns out it was empty.
Which meant our minimalistic dinner before we nodded off for the day consisted of an energy bar for each of us and two sachets of cuppacino that kind souls back home had donated to us. Such are the blessings of friends...