Monday, September 26, 2011

Dream Walking

 Ten years ago today I was in Paris with my sister and ex-brother-in-law at the start of an adventure that would end, after 500 miles of walking, one month and one day  later in the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela.   Looking back, it seems a lifetime ago. This week I will be reposting some of the entries I wrote about my walk in celebration of this major accomplishment in my life.  Each repost begins with the date,  the segment of the trip the post is about, a short weather report about  the day,  the number of miles/kilometers  I walked that day, and the total number of miles/kilometers I had walked up to that entry.

September 26, 2001
Paris - St. Jean clear/warm
0/0 - 0/0

After breakfast we take the subway to the train station. My sister and brother-in-law wait with me until the train's departure track is announced and then walk me to my car. I can see my sister is upset and saddened by my departure, something I understand since I feel a little anxious myself. Watching them walk away makes me feel very lonesome.

Train travel in Europe is marvelous. The train I am on is a high speed TGV that travels at around 186 mph. Five hours after I leave Paris I am in Bayonne. When I step down from the train I panic. What am I doing? I am by myself in a country where I don't speak the language and heading for another country where I don't know the language well enough to feel comfortable speaking it. I have never felt so alone in my life. Change in plan. I will take the next train back to Paris and spend the next five weeks hanging out at my sister's house.

By the time I walk into the train station I have calmed down enough to know that I am not going back to Paris. When I get to the ticket agent I realize I don't know how to ask for a ticket to St. Jean in French. I pull out my guidebook and find the page that has the words St. Jean-Pied-De-Port written on it and point to them saying, "Por va vor?" The woman nods and hands me a ticket for St. Jean. I say thank you in English and she says you are welcome in English and we both laugh.

I sit down thinking I'll have to wait awhile for the next train to St. Jean because there is no one in the train station except me. I look around for the train information board and see that the next train is at 3:04P on Track 2. Then I look for a clock and see that it reads 3:01P. Yikes! I get up and start hurriedly for Track 2. I have to go through an underground tunnel and when I reach the top of the steps to Platform 2, I see a small single car electric train that looks like it was designed by Warner Brother cartoonists in the 1940's. It is plump with bulbous corners and painted bright red.

The car is full and I end up sitting on a jump seat facing all the other passengers. I sit there looking at but not seeing everyone else and wonder where they are going. I suddenly notice that everyone else is wearing hiking boots-just like me, have backpacks-just like me, and are dressed-just like me. All of them are going to walk the Camino. I am surprised because I did not expect many people to be walking this time of year. The ride up to St. Jean is great. The warm weather (all the windows are open) and the mountains we are travelling through remind me of cruising through the foothills outside Denver on a summer day.

When we get to St. Jean, one of the buckles that hold my backpack straps tight falls to the ground as I get off the train. I pick it up, take it and my pack over to a bench behind the train station and fix it. When I look up I am alone. Jeez, this day is just full of little panic jolts. I rush to the front of the station and see two backpacks disappearing around a corner, across the plaza and up the street. By the time I get there the people connected to the backpacks have vanished. A woman is walking down the street toward me so I ask her (in my simple Spanish) where the tourist office is. She does not understand me so I repeat the words tourist office and her face lights up in understanding. She walks me up a narrow street and points up another street to a stone archway and then gestures to the left. I understand that I am to go under the archway and then turn left. I do as she tells me and end up in front of the Association Amis Les du Saint Jacques office; meeting some of the people from the train.

At the office I get a Credencial del Peregrino, which is a pilgrim passport, and pay for a bed at the Refugio. The passport is a long strip of thick paper accordion folded into seven pages. The front page has a drawing of a cockleshell, while the back page has a map of the Camino route. My passport is number 5580. Each Refugio I stay at will put a stamp in my passport.

B asks me if I have a sleeping bag. Everyone else has a large backpack with the sleeping bag tied to the outside. They are carrying the kind of pack I used when I did wilderness backpacking and planned on being gone for a week. To show B my sleeping bag I have to pull everything out of my pack, the sleeping bag is at the bottom. I pull out a pair of pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a light fleece pullover, a hat, two pairs of undies, two sports bras, two pairs of socks, a swimmer's towel, a plastic bag with toilet articles, a rain poncho, my ultra light sleeping bag, and my ultra light sleep mat. I also have a pair of sunglasses, a pair of flip flops, a tin whistle, a throwaway camera, a school notebook with half the pages torn out, a pen, a small flashlight, a water bottle, a few little packs of high energy goop, my guidebook, a Spanish phrase book, my passport, a credit card, a ATM card, and some money. B is worried that the sleeping bag won't be warm enough but I think it will be fine. Keeping the weight down was very important to me, and I even plan to tear pages out of my guidebook as I go alone. I know the pack is going to feel heavier the longer I carry it.

In the few hours we have before the door to the Refugio is closed for the night we go out to buy food for the walk over the Pyrenees tomorrow, and to eat dinner. Later, as I lay in my bunk, comfortable in my sleeping bag, I think about how far away from home I am and wonder why I am here intending to walk 500 miles across Spain.


Ally Bean said...

I'm glad that you are posting these again.  I'm still in awe of you doing this walk.  It is something to be celebrated over and over again.    

Have you read the book Fumbling by Kerry Egan?  It is her experiences walking on the Camino de Santiago.  I found it delightful and real. 

jerry carlin said...

How cool is this! I will be reading every day! So, I need to know? How old were you??? I was 17 the first time, but that was 1965, almost a half century ago!  It should be a law to have to travel in our youth, that Wanderyar, discovering the world and ourselves!  This will be a great story!

Blue Witch said...

*delighted* :)

la pergrina said...

Thanks, Ally.  I haven't read Kerry Egan's book but if you found it delightful that's good enough for me.  I will see if I can get it through my library.

la pergrina said...

Welcome, Jerry.  I was 50 when I did the walk  and admire you for doing yours when you were only 17 years old.  I've already written about my walk here and doing so is how my blog got started.  If you want to read the whole story go to my sidebar and pick "The Camino" under LABELS.  Since the post are archived they will come up in backward order.

la pergrina said...

You should be, if you hadn't reminded me about it my anivercery would have passed without notice by me. Thank you. :)