Walking on the Chemin de Compostelle, Week 3 (and a half): On beauty and the act of welcome

As I’m approaching the end of my over 3 weeks walk from Le Puy en Velay to Saint Jean Pied de Port, I’m starting to notice a few things. First, that I don’t know how I’ll be able to cope with having to go back to a normal amount of food per day (as opposed to here where I can easily have two breakfasts (and have never eaten so much baguette in my life), a lunch break, sometimes an ice cream break, cake if I should feel like it and, of course, a gargantuesque dinner. None of it matters if you walk 35 kilometers. Second, as it is for many things that run on their own time, that it both feels like I’ve been walking for an eternity and that it has lasted only a glimpse, and I don’t want it to end. I’m lucky enough not to end with a collection of blisters (I’ve seen feet that could have gone through wars) so I could go on walking, but if I were to continue on this way to Compostella, I now know why I would go. For the people you’ll meet and the shared moments.It is the first time I do a hike in which the main attraction isn’t the views and the landscape. I mean, it has been beautiful (more so in the beginning and again in the last part, as we walked through the Bearn region, the Pays Basque and came nearer and nearer to the Pyrreneans) but mostly what I’ll be bringing back with me (if I succeed to stay clear from bedbugs until the end) is the amazing spirit of welcome and generosity of some places I’ve stayed on the way. Those “gites”, often run by ex-pilgrims (or pilgrims, I don’t know if you really loose the identity once you’ve stopped walking, I would bet if you ask them they will argue you are changed for ever) are opened doors and cosy places where I’ve had amazing food and wine(of course) but mostly the ability to hear people and their stories, laugh with them, share an evening. In one of the last ones I’ve stayed, in Navarrenx, a self proclaimed “Maison philosophale” run by an alchimist who had posted lessons and motos everywhere, i was nicely summarized:

from L’alchimiste, in Navarrenx

“L’accueil, c’est ouvrir grand sa porte et n’attendre personne”

The act of welcome is to open the door wide and not to expect anybody

And that is what those people do, everyday each season (which stretches from april to november), preparing food and making tired pilgrims feel at home on the way, not really making much money out of it, but becaus they like to give without expecting anything else thant the chance of meeting someone for a while. 

And there is no price to put on those moments spent together, just the certainty that we did meet, and that as I’m walking away I’ll try to keep my door and heart as open as theirs


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