After an extra 24 hours in Iceland, I’m on my way to St Jean Pied de Port. It’s close now: I’m on a train in Bordeaux, about to depart for Bayonne, where I’ll switch again for SJPP.
Iceland was sort of like a twilight zone- which is not to say that it was undesirable or strange- but that it felt like it was existing in some sort of separate space and time. I mean, it never got dark! Was it 10am or 5pm or 11pm or 4am? And for that matter, what day was it? When did I leave JFK, how long had I been traveling, what was the time difference, when should I be eating, how long have I been wearing these clothes? I’ve had two hours of sleep in the past… I don’t even know how many days. It’s felt like I’ve been traveling for weeks, but I think it’s under two days. Or just over two days. I’m not sure.
Choosing to take the later flight out of Iceland- despite the Twilight-zone-ness of it all- was a good choice. I flew “overnight” to Paris, and on the way to the airport hung out with Luke, the last of flight #612. I felt like I had a friend with me, someone I’d known a lot longer than a day and a half. Once we got to Paris we hugged goodbye, and I thought that this was a great way to begin my trip. I’ve been very focused- and worried- about the connections I’ll make with others while I’m away, and traveling to Paris with Luke felt like a good omen.
I effortlessly found the RER and made my way to Montparnasse. I just did a very similar trip last year (catching a train in Montparnasse for the south of France), but that time it felt difficult. Not really knowing where to go, lugging around a huge suitcase, experiencing Europe after being away for so many years.
This time? Carrying a bag on my back is a great way to go. I made all of my connections so quickly that when I showed up at the ticket booth to find a way to SJPP, I ended up on a much earlier train than I expected. In fact, the whole thing was so simple, and I was even speaking French! Last year I forgot to get my ticket ‘composter’, I was on the wrong car and in someone’s seat, and trying to explain myself in French was a disaster. I don’t know exactly what happened between last year and this year, but in terms of traveling, I’ll call it confidence. And experience.
In any case, I’ll be arriving in SJPP around 4:30 this afternoon, giving me about 3 hours more time than I thought I would have. It’s perfect. Enough time to buy a credential (the passport I’ll need to present in albergues and cafes to prove that I’m a pilgrim), track down a walking stick and scallop shell, and take a look at the town. And take a shower. At this stage, that’s important.
And tomorrow, it will be time to begin this walk, and time to tackle the Pyrenees. Because of the travel delays, I lost my reservation at Orisson, the alberge in the Pyrenees that would have split up a long and difficult first day’s walk. So now it will be straight on to Roncesvalles, and I will have to do what just about everyone considers to be the most challenging day of the entire Camino. (Partly because of the steep ascents and descents, and partly because this is the very first day).
As I was getting on this train I thought I saw a small group of Pilgrims: 3 or 4 guys, all young and fit, with big packs and European accents, laughing and shoving each other. I chickened out and didn’t say anything, but finally, this pilgrimage feels close. I’m moving towards my starting point and others are, too. A whole bunch of people from all over the world are congregating in a small French town to begin a long walk, and this will be the group I start with. I have some nerves, and I may have a lot more when the train pulls into SJPP, but right now it’s mostly excitement. Time to walk!