Just when we started to settle into the life of hiking on the Way of St. James, we had to face the question: Are you real pilgrims? Which brought us to the question: What ARE real pilgrims?
We often stayed at the home of families who host pilgrims for the night, offering a dinner together, a cosy bed and warm shower, and breakfast the next morning. The pilgrims offer stories of their adventures and a small contribution in the end. When we shared our story, the reaction was either: “Wow, that’s a long pilgrimage!” or: “So you did not really intend to go on a pilgrimage to Santiago?” That made us think a bit, as we had chosen the Way of St. James mainly for practical reasons. But so do a lot of pilgrims – because it’s well signposted, there is no lack of accommodation, and you easily find company. However, it is impossible not to be touched by the history of this network of walking paths, followed for many centuries by the most diverse people for the most different reasons. It offers time for introspection and reflection and the special spirit of the way, which can be found in signs along the way, but first and foremost in the people one meets, enhances this process.
Our wonderful hosts:
We crossed two départements, Vendée and Charente-Maritime, in 14 days (days 314 to 327) – and did not take a single rest day! The reason for that haste was that José’s brother would arrive to join us and we wanted to spend a rest day with him and friends and family in Rochefort. Jorge was not the only visitor in France; our friend Anne-Marie was back for two more hiking days, together with her husband Jimmy! The day they left was the day we returned to the coast. As beautiful as the landscape in the countryside has been, nothing compares to being close to the sea.
There have been so many impressions on this part of the way, that we will leave you with the images rather than torturing you with long descriptions.
Clisson, last stronghold of Brittany, and the beginning of the Vendée part of the way:
Hiking in Vendée:
We picked up our friends at the train station of Rochefort before a looong hiking day. The ferry bridge which we were supposed to take to reach the other side was still closed, forcing us to walk 5 km more and cross a busy car bridge. It was pitch dark when we finally reached our destination and could enjoy a well-deserved dinner together!
The next day was a bit easier and had a nice surprise: Passing by a house with the symbol of the Way of St. James, we were invited inside by the family and were offered coffee and biscuits.
We boarded the ferry in Royan, which not only took us to the next département, Gironde, but also to the beach! At first, we followed the official way, a long straight line in the middle of pine trees. But the desire to be close to the sea was so strong that we soon changed to walking on the beach, which turned out to be a good walking experience. After 14 days without a break, we arrived in Montalivet, from where we traveled back to Rochefort to meet José’s brother and aunt.