03 February 2015

St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson, France

St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson

We woke up to a beautiful day in St. Jean Pied de Port (SJP). For breakfast we ate rice cakes with PB2, almonds and apricots, and chocolate soy milk. It was here we learned Camino Lesson #2: Eat a bigger breakfast! Or, more importantly, listen to your body. I quickly learned that I needed to start the day with a hearty meal, while A. felt better sleeping in a little, having a bite before we left for the day, and later on having a substantial mid-morning snack.

We stopped in a shop by the church and bought apples, figs, bananas and plums, as well as a small jar of jam, rice cakes, lentils and quick-rice.

One regret from SJP: that we didn't stock up on spices from the bulk spice shop by the church! You can't miss it... It was very fragrant and beautiful (and, if I remember correctly, economical).

st. jean pied de port, where we met our first camino angel
On our way to the "starting point" of the Camino, we ducked into the very picturesque church and enjoyed the little bridge and tranquil views of the town.  It was here that a passing stranger stopped and bid us luck and imparted some meaningful advice for when the way got tough. "Pray to Mary, and She will push you up the mountain." When we asked her where the camino began (meaning the trail-head), she told us it started the moment we got out of bed and walked to our front doors. "Every morning, I put the Camino under my feet," she reflected. We don't know who she was or where she came from, but we like to think of her as our angel! We did remember her words when we felt like we couldn't keep walking, and it helped. A lot.

After a trip to the Post Office to mail some unnecessary items home, we finally got on our way to the Camino starting point.

didn't take long for us to start feeling like this cow...

The first day is basically crossing over a mountain range... the one that separates France from Spain. This part of the walk is b e a u t i f u l, but also extremely steep. As we munched on our second-breakfast of bananas with chocolate PB2 and apples, and later on our lunch of rice cakes with veggie pate, Gatorade and figs, we became increasingly worried about making it to Roncesvalles (the first stop in Spain) by nightfall. We had a slight moment of panic when we realized we'd only walked 4 km and it was already 3pm! Our emergency plan was to sleep in some huts we saw etched on the map about halfway to our destination. Thank God for our next Camino Angels... two Australian couples who started the day with us... and passed us very early in the afternoon. They told us they were planning to stop at the small albergue about halfway up the mountain for the night. They told us it was advance reservation only, but by the time we made it to the entrance, one of the guys had confirmed that there were empty beds and strongly encouraged us to stay there for the night. (He must have seen the exhaustion and desperation in our sad, sad eyes.) After a brief chat with the albergue owners at their restaurant up the road (including stories about how they helped Martin Sheen scout locations while he was filming The Way), we settled into Refuge Kayola in Orisson.

our aussie angels below.... we had come so far, but not far enough!

The albergue was very cozy with some amazing views. We skipped out on the communal meal in the restaurant and cooked some lentils and rice flavored with veggie bouillon, Nutritional Yeast (aka. "nooch") and... a Korean condiment known as go chu jang! We found it in the fridge of the albergue... leading us to Camino Lesson #3: Always check the kitchen to see what is available/has been left behind by previous pilgrims. You may be surprised with some treasures! We were also lucky that the kitchen was well-equipped with pots and pans.

the most satisfying bowl of lentils of our lives

One of the best aspects of Camino life is the community that is built among the pilgrims. Our Aussie friends asked about our vegan diet, and our initial worries that being vegan would isolate us were immediately alleviated. They were very respectful and interested (and of course they checked in with us over the following days to make sure we were getting enough to eat). It was really sweet!


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences! My husband and I will be walking El Camino as vegans just five weeks from now. I would love to hear more of your experiences and tips before we go.

    1. Michaela, congrats on the decision to walk the Camino! I'm glad the blog has been helpful... Please check back soon as I've gotten the writing bug and will be posting many more entries in the next few weeks. Being vegan on the Camino will be tough but it is definitely doable. Preparation is key, but Spain is also becoming more vegan-friendly and you can find lots of vegan products (and fresh fruit & veggies) in supermarkets. If you're not gluten-free as well, you won't have to worry as much about carrying extra food around "just in case." Also keep an eye out for fruterias, little shops that sell fresh produce. Let me know if you have any specific questions... would be glad to help if I can! Buen Camino :)