Travel day to St. Jean Pied de Port… I traveled by train from Antequera, Spain (9am) to Pamplona, Spain, then took a bus to St. Jean Pied de Port in France, arriving at 8pm. Long travel day! I realized when I got to France that my cell phone locked itself and I didn’t have the code to unlock it, so the hostel let me use their computer and internet to contact Laurie and have her find the code.
The hostel was good (and cheap!). There were four to a room. You don’t get to choose… you get what you get. I was placed in a room with two older women from France and a guy from Holland. The Holland guy started his trek on the Camino in his homeland (there are pilgrimage trails the converge from all over Europe). He had already covered 1600km before today! He is a 51 year old guys who “goes to mass occasionally, but wants something deeper”. He studies philosophy. He admits that he is searching for something more. He is reading a Shirley Mclain book about walking the Camino, but he isn’t impressed that she writes about seeing UFOs. We had a long talk about what he is looking for. He talked a lot about his belief that all religions have the same basic foundations. He was interesting and we had some good conversation. I did a lot of asking questions and listening, mostly.
Day One…St. Jean Pied de Port, France – Roncevalles, Spain
Before we hit the trail, The Hollander and I went to a bakery and shared a loaf of fresh bread (hmmm… breaking bread together). As we were standing there, the pilgrims began to slowly emerge from the various hostels and buildings and begin their walk for the day, heading down the street and out of town. The Hollander was quiet, then he said that his hair was standing on end as he watched. He started crying. We parted ways after we finished our bread and I went to meet up with the Aggie group.
The Aggies – great group! I got to hear some of their stories. They all have different stories and struggles – don’t we all! They are all looking at their majors, at jobs, at their futures. Many of them have parents my age.
I met a kid from Sweden on the trail today. He’s “looking for himself” on The Camino. Talked a lot about partying and traveling. He has lived in the USA and Australia for some time. He is my new best friend, since he thought that I was 32 years old! HA!
Today was probably the toughest day of the trail, as this section is 25km long and an almost 1500m climb in altitude. I passed a woman along the way. She was standing still, head down, looking really discouraged. I stopped to see if she was okay and talk. Her husband died 2 years ago. She is hiking the Camino to try to figure out how to get on with her life. Now, not even halfway in to the first day, she was ready to quit. She was so down. She wanted to give up. We talked a while and we walked together. Talking and having someone to listen to her kept her going. She even said that she forgot the pains of the climb as we talked. She cried to me about her husband. She says that she talks to him from time to time, and that she is angry at God for it all. I told her that I thought that God was big enough to handle the fact that she was angry right now and He is probably okay with that emotion. She asked if I was a Buddhist. I told her, “No, I’m a follower of Jesus.” She smiled and said that He was a good one to follow.
Near the end of our walk today, the trail turned to a downhill stretch which was difficult. She began to have a hard time with the descent. I gave her my walking stick to help take the weight off her knees and help her balance. She gladly accepted it. I then started to have severe pain in my knee – this happened about two months ago, too, just after I had done a pretty steep descent on a trail. It was like there was a knife under my knee cap. It was intense. I stopped and prayed, “Please God. I don’t know what to do. I gave her all that I had, the one thing that I had to help with the descent. Now I don’t think I can make it down. God, all I have is you now. Please take away this pain.” I walked for another minute or two before I had to stop. I sat to rest and think through my options. When I got up, there was no pain left at all! In fact, I was bouncing and running the rest of the way down the trail!
At dinner (the albergues host dinner) I shared that story with her as we ate. She said that God sent me to her today, to help her make it and not quit. She had given up when I stopped to talk to her.
Oh, one other little side story… I stopped to encourage another lady. She was from Minnesota. She was having a tough time with the climb. I said a few encouraging words and told her she could do it. She said that her plan was to just make it another 25 steps, then rest, then another 25 steps, then rest. She was going to follow that plan until she got there. I wished her well and kept going. Later, I ran in to her at the albergue and said, “Hey! I told you that you could do it!” She smiled and laughed and said, “Yeah, I did. Hey, are you guys from Texas?” I told her yes, and she asked, “Are you the Aggies from Texas A&M?” She had seen the Facebook page and had commented on it the other day! Small world!
I have one of the 300 beds in this albergue tonight. Only two showers in the place. I’m going to go get one of them before everyone else crowds in. It’s like a meat market for pilgrims. But it is warm and clean and the hosts are really nice.