- July 03rd, 2011
- Walking the Camino
The Journey Begins
I remember flying from Stansted in the UK to Biarritz in France and recognising other travellers as fellow pilgrims. Each one dressed in walking gear and hiking boots, collecting a full backpack from the baggage carousel, the slight look of apprehension was a clear giveaway.
The bus journey from the airport to Bayonne Station gave me a rusty opportunity to practice schoolgirl French. On arrival, I purchased a train ticket for the onward journey to St. Jean Pied du Port and a cheese baguette for dinner. A few hours later, sitting opposite pilgrim passengers in the carriage, smiles of acknowledgment combined with the shyness of new friends.
Pilgrim or Sheep?
Disembarking from the train into the tiny town of St. Jean I looked habitually around for transport and then thought to myself, ‘You’re a pilgrim now. It’s time to walk!’ I commenced up the slight hill, following the other pilgrims like a loyal sheep and arrived at the wall of the town. Left or right I wondered? It was time to tune into my inner compass and I cautiously strolled left.
Reaching the Pilgrim’s Office a few hundred metres later, I signed the register and received my Credencial in return – the Pilgrim’s Passport that entitled me to stay in Pilgrim’s accommodation along the way. There were blank pages ready to be stamped at each night’s stop as a record of my journey to Santiago de Compostella. I chose a scallop shell from the basket, the ancient symbol of the Camino, tied it to my pack and stepped back into the cobbled street, now initiated into the walk.
Four Legged Friend
The Albergue or ‘refuge’ I had planned to stay at was already full and I found an available bed at a place nearby. I was surprised to see a large dog tied up to the bunk bed below my allocation. The dog was making unsettling noises as I started to unpack and I contemplated the night ahead… Animal whimpering through the night keeping me awake, when I needed to have a good nights rest in preparation for an early start on the first day of my walk.
The landlady was unimpressed when ten minutes after checking into the refuge I decided to check out. She graciously returned my euro’s, ‘Didn’t I realise it was basic accommodation along the way? What do you expect?’ I imagined her saying – the translation more through feeling than literal understanding. ‘Yes basic is fine,’ I replied silently to myself, ‘I just didn’t expect four legged pilgrims as well, especially ones that sound more nervous than I am about crossing the Pyrenees and walking from one side of Spain to the other.’
I returned to the Pilgrim’s Office and realised it was now so late in the day that accommodation options were limited. There was room in a car with a mother and daughter trio from Canada and so I found myself slightly out of town, blowing the budget on the first night in a homely place offering dinner, bed and breakfast and sharing a comfortable twin room.
Reasons for Walking
The homemade meal of pate, paella and port was a stylish way to commence the Camino and I appreciated the luxury of a hot shower and a canine free space to sleep. During dinner, one of the daughters asked why I was travelling alone and I responded with surprise to the question, ‘Why not?’ At that stage in my life it felt like the most natural choice in the world. It was ultimately a journey within myself, a healing journey, an adventure of the spirit.
I discovered later on that the mother had always wanted to walk the Camino with her husband. He had recently passed away unexpectedly and the daughters suggested they walk together instead. At times when we crossed paths during the walk I could feel her grief and loneliness. I felt touched by the family walking together in mutual support, planning to meet up with the third daughter and grandson further into the journey. I connected with a deep sense of gratitude that my Camino was about to begin and that it felt like the perfect time in my life to undertake the journey.
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