First day on Camino Frances

After a hearty breakfast in Gite Beilari’s warm kitchen I set out feeling strong. I was aiming for Valcarlos. Roncevalles could wait until tomorrow. I crossed the fabled bridge and left the cobblestones of the old town behind.
The sun shone on the stream of pilgrims emerging out of the early morning fog of the valley. The trees were still bare, their branches weaving a web over fields high above the red-roofed farmhouses. Buds were shut tight waiting for spring and the creeks below them rushed with snow melt. Sheep in full wool grazed on pasture up to their knees, fenced in by sticks and wire that would never have kept skittish Australian merinos in.
To an Australian used to dried grass and brown-red dust the fields in the foothills of the Pyrenees were luminous. The green was so bright that I put on my sunglasses within 10 minutes of leaving St Jean-Pied-de-Port. Dave, who’d shared a dorm in Beilari, and I walked together for a while. He was worried that he wouldn’t make Santiago but his optimism grew as the sun came out and the road opened out before us.
As I marched toward Valcarlos I wondered why I had to travel half way around the world to feel so alive. Pondering this question I stopped on the river bank opposite Valcarlos. The sun felt soft on my skin, so different to the harsh Antipodean sun I’d left only a few days before. My companions from breakfast trooped past, eyes on the road. I stayed, not waiting for anything in particular just revelling in the riches of the moment. I was on my way; on the Way; on the Camino Frances, at last, and this moment felt complete.
The world was fresh and my eyes, ears and skin were soaking in every detail. I was in the moment, in my skin, alive to the world and my response to it. I’d read about mindfulness and tried to practise it in the crevasses of time between work and home, between the demands of patients and dependents, but had not grasped its full meaning until now. Opening myself up to this experience allowed the world into my consciousness. I was pulled in to the present moment as I let the past fall away and the future take care of itself. On the road to Valcarlos I could not control the future and the past didn’t matter. I’d finally given the present space in my awareness and let it have the attention it deserved.

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