|Eric Viotte in an uncharacteristic still position|
|Julian, one of the many volunteers I would meet in coming weeks|
It had rained all day, but by late afternoon it was letting up when I arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port. I was full of anticipation about the journey and my first stop was to pick up my Pilgrim’s Credential, which is the document required to stay in Albergues and when stamped by each accommodation along the route, is the proof required to secure the Compestella certificate in Santiago de Compestella.
The albergues were filing up but I did find a bed at the Gite le Chemin vers Etoile, which means “Cottage on the way to the Stars”. A beautiful name referring to the start of the journey to Santiago de Compostella, which is named for the discovery, by sheppards, of St. James (Santiago), the apostle and brother of Christ who been led to the relics by the stars (compostella). Here I met the delightful and energetic owner, Eric Viotte, who was setting the stage for the Pilgrimage to each guest as he signed them in and showed them to their bunks. I’d been itching to draw and say down to sketch Julian, from Belgium. He had completed the Camino last year and was volunteering his help to Eric for a couple of weeks. I met many of these volunteers over the coming weeks.
Later, I managed to get Eric to sit down in the kitchen for few minutes. Between interruptions he gave me some insight into his passion for the Camino. He walked the Camino in 2007, starting in France and had to lay up in St. Jean Pied de Port for 10 days to recover from tendonitis. His experience was so profound that 2 years later he quit a very senior position with an international corporation in Paris and bought the albergue.
He told me that I would only be a “walker” until I completed the journey and attended the Pilgrim’s mass in Santiago de Compostella. He passionately advised me not to expect anything, but to throw away my preconceptions and the special magic of the Camino would reveal itself. He hinted that there are some predictable stages and emotions over the four weeks, but emphasised setting my own pace to intentionally choose (or leave) companions.
He closed my little interview with these nuggets of wisdom.
“You will come to love yourself and stop judging others”.
“Open your heart.”
“This is life.”
Good advice. Thank-you Eric.