Camino Frances (Part 1) : Getting to St Jean Pied de Port
Updated: Jul 13, 2019
It had been a year in the planning.....but many years as an item on my bucket list. I had heard about the Camino, the pilgrimage, the Way of St. James. Not being a religious person, doing a pilgrimage didn't really appeal to me and so I set off without a reason/purpose for doing the Camino (it didn't take me long to figure out that everything has a purpose as did my Camino) other than it was the first item on my bucket list scheduled to be done as a means of separating my corporate life to one of retirement. #thewayofstjames #thefrenchway #Camino #thewayofstjames
2016 was a year of massive shifts and changes in my life. The year in which I retired from a 30 year tenure with a Financial Services company; the year in which I supported my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in relocating to the USA permanently and the year in which I sold my house of 15years as part of freeing myself up all of which were part of a universal shift to set me on a different path.
I can't tell you how many times I packed and repacked my backpack. In fact I landed up buying 2 backpacks and finally settled on taking the larger of the two (big mistake as i would come to realise). In the weeks leading up to my departure, I felt out of sorts, restless and anxious. Not once did I doubt going, but I struggled to get rid of this unsettled state. Packing and repacking the backpack didn't do anything to settle me down it only heightened this feeling. Of course I trawled forums and anything Camino on the internet, researching and preparing myself. One day on a Camino Forum I happened upon a conversation thread where a woman was describing exactly what i was feeling. Wow - it was amazing! I now know this is commonly referred to as the 'Camino Jitters' and many a pilgrim commented that they too had had it. Finally an explanation that made total sense to me. Didn't stop the jitters but at least I knew what it was.
On the morning of the 20th April 2017 I awoke with a sense of calm, peace .....in fact it was the first morning I did not have the jitters..... excitement yes, but no anxiety. I was on my way.
Belinda, Elaine & Carol seeing me off at Cape Town international..... Thanks ladies - it meant the world to me that you were there.
I spent the weekend in London at my niece's place. I left my suitcase there and the plan was to start my Camino from her front door. Yes, I unpacked and repacked my backpack at least twice in that week. I was carrying too much and knew it. I just so struggled to take anything out so decided that I would leave it as is. I would come to learn that one needs very little to BE. I see now that the years of corporate life and lessons from the 'University of Life' have created in me a deep need to be fully prepared for any (and I mean any) potential event.
My Camino started with leaving London by tube to Stanstead Airport. I was on my own...travelling solo for the first time in my life. The flight to Biarritz was just over 2 hours and on arrival I took a taxi to my hotel. A great sense of calm surrounded me, I was truly on this journey and it felt right. I had never embarked on a journey of this nature on my own before. I had been told that it was the best way to do the Camino. Strangely being on my own did not in the least worry me. My jitters/anxiety was more around not knowing what to expect, fear of loneliness and fear of failure. I couldn't speak French but still managed to communicate with the locals. I found that speaking Afrikaans would be very handy as the locals thought I was Dutch. They switched to English albeit it a broken English. I of course responded in my very best 'broken English'!
After a stunning stroll down to the seaside, I enjoyed a great meal and a glass of vino, my only company being the young waiter at the little Bistro next door to my hotel and a few locals. Biarritz is a beautiful seaside village in South West France. Would have loved to spend more time, but the Camino was beckoning.
I taxied from Biarritz to Bayonne Station the next morning and the reality really hit - I was on the Camino. Everyone around me (apart from some locals) was on the Camino, all carrying back packs and headed to St Jean Pied de Port. It was on the coach (the trains were suspended) that I met the first of the people who would become part of my Camino family. Suzanne and Lola both from the USA and both doing the Camino on their own. We chatted the entire time. This too was the first of many times I was asked "So why are you doing the Camino?".
We arrived in St Jean Pied de Port (hereafter referred to as SJPdP) that afternoon. I did get to meet a few other pilgrims on the coach that day, but never saw them again. This was a taste of the transient nature of friendships on the Camino.
I had the afternoon and evening to explore SJPdP and savour my first experience of the French countryside and their cuisine. The little village was busy and abounding with pilgrims from all corners of this earth. I didn't feel alone. I was one of many embarking on a journey that would shift something in our lives. Everyone greeted everyone - it was like I had arrived at a familiar place - where strangers were merely friends you did not yet know.
And then I met my first "Camino Angel": Marco...