The 7th of April started early and I headed to the train station in San Sebastian with Carly, who had told me first to take one train to Hendaye, right at the border between Spain and France and then to Bayonne in France. From Bayonne I would take the last train to Saint Jean Pied de Port.. (All places mentioned is Basque country).
After a hug many thank you´s to Carly, and a few waves I was on my own. Subtle excitement began to grow as I sat in the train observing people coming in and out as well as the stations and landscape we passed. I was ready and felt good, I was where I was supposed to be and soon to begin a “real” journey walking, just like I had envisioned in my head, manifested as an image on the front cover of my book, hence my focus of my project Your Unique Journey, which focus is uniqueness and our journey in life, all soon to be pursuit in reality.
The two first train rides went smooth and when arriving in Bayonne, I had already seen people with backpacks get on the train to Saint Jean Pied de Port. The train to SJPDP was unfortunately cancelled due to water on the tracks, but a bus was substituted. It was here in Bayonne, I met the first pilgrims – some of whom I would meet many times along the path to Santiago. I had my first chat with an older American couple, where the talk began in what would become the usual start of a pilgrim conversation:
Where are you from?
How did you get to know about The Camino to Santiago?
Why are you doing it?
Jeff and Carroll were from the Seattle area in the USA. They got to know about The Camino mainly through the movie The Way. They wanted to do this to take time off civilization, be in nature and they had taken out almost two months to finish in Santiago, due to an expected slower pace.
Waiting on the bus outside, it was mainly people with backpacks but in all ages that had gathered. I initiated a conversation with another older looking man on my right, both of us overlooking the parking lot for the bus. He had a big seashell around his neck, a white beard, a hiking cap and looked kind. We talked for a bit and when the bus arrived and got on, he invited me to sit next to him right at the window seat in front just behind the driver.
I could not have asked for a better start on my journey towards the main starting hub on The Camino, because just a few initial questions got me the rundown of this historic pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. Besides that, the history of how languages developed all over Europe, how and why different groups of nations and races of people looked the way they did and lived the way they did and much more… all of it was connected in odd ways of course due to natural evolution and development – which was fascinating!
What obviously was the main topic was the history of the pilgrimage to Santiago and how it originated. It was in short, due to not having a pilgrim destination anymore around the 700´s AD to Jerusalem, because the Muslims back then had taken it from the Christians. So the current arch bishop wanted to find another pilgrim destination. It became Santiago de Compostella but what was funny was the perceived myth about the whole thing, that he told me!?
He said, that the first person perceived to have taken the pilgrimage from France to Santiago de Compostella was the current king of the time, and Saint James was the person the pilgrimage is made in the name of: “The way of St. James”, as he was the last apostle of Jesus’. His body was found, brought to Santiago and berried there, but he told me, that the time of the king’s pilgrimage, which was supposed to be the very first one, was done 100 years before the body of St. James was even found? So the reason for the kings pilgrimage, was NOT “The Way of St. James” because the body and real reason for the pilgrimage did not exist until about 100 years later!?
We first introduced each other’s names in the end of our conversation, but it was puzzling to hear Claus´s conclusion. Nonetheless I had more of a grin on my face than anything else. So, as funny as it sounds, on my way to SJPdP and this historic and religious and/or spiritual journey which has been walked for over 1000 years by millions, there is reason to believe that it is all based on a myth!? A little laughable, but at the end of the day, it did not really matter to me, but did drew another conclusion: “The reason for walking obviously does not matter, what you will get from it is the reason, yet unknown.”
Before we got off the bus, he told me about an albergue (a pilgrim hostel) named Casa Paderborn in Pamplona, that he knew about due to his past Camino experiences and told me to look that up and stay there when reaching the city that is famous for its bull run and Hemingway.
We walked together from the bus until arriving at the official pilgrim office in SJPdP, which issues the official pilgrim passports and helps you feel welcome and set up for the time to come as well as a bed for the night – I elected to start the following day. On the way there, he gave me some advice, which was to follow my own pace. It was also here, that by donation you could receive the most important symbol for a pilgrim; the sea shall to attach to your backpack. There is a story to this too, because this is the modern way of showing you are a pilgrim. Back in the day, the sea shall was the proof that you had walked the pilgrimage all the way to the coast or “the end of the earth” and brought this back as the item to prove it with. A few people I was with choose to do this as well.
(Since spotting the first Camino path indicators – it was like it all had begun)
(The No. 39 – was the official pilgrim office that issues the pilgrim passports, sea shells, that welcomes you and help you get ready)
After finding my bed for the night, it was time to find a cap, a guide book and look around SJPdP – a beautiful and eclectic village with such charm. The roofs of the houses, the landscapes of the mountains around and the river that ran through underneath the many bridges, made it such an elegant place.
In addition I met the first pilgrims in the dormitory and talked throughout the day with Nick from Canada, who always had wanted to walk The Camino and Alfredo from Spain who was riding a bike to Santiago. We all had dinner that evening and talked thick and thin about The Camino, the Basque country where Alfredo was from, and much else… the magic had begun – bonding with fellow pilgrims.
After dinner, a walk with Nick around the village and up to a castle on a hill overlooking the entire village, turned into an idea to search for some of the places where the movie The Way had been filmed. The very albergue where we slept was in fact in the movie as well as a couple of the places where the main character walks around, one of them; across a bridge beginning The Camino.
Looking over the village and mountains – we were trying to spot the road to begin tomorrow and also the big mountain we had heard so much about. Carroll that I met in Bayonne, told me that the week before there were two feet of snow up there and therefore closed off – Yikes!
At the same time, I was amused by being here and felt ready to begin this journey.
After the wandering, it was time to turn in and be-friend the pilgrim life style officially, for the first time, by sleeping in the same room with 20+ people. The same subtle excitement, that was with me on the train, was even more present within me now and it was not easy to calm down completely, knowing that tomorrow it will all begin and go straight up the 1400+ meter high mountain; Col de Lepoeder towards Roncesvalles.
Next blog is coming up within a week to 10 days!
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