April 30th, 2013
3 months preparation and I was now ready to embark on my journey from London. I had searched the internet, camino forums and hiking shops for the lightest of everything – sleeping bag, clothes, toiletries, backpack, shoes, hiking poles etc and had packed and re-packed my bag about 5 times in the week leading up to today. It still weighed 9kgs without water. So be it.
The journey from London entailed travelling on the 07:01 Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord, then taking the metro across Paris to Montparnasse station, then the TGV from Montparnasse to Bayonne, and finally a train from Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port, arriving at 19:33. I had 12 hours of travelling time to contemplate what I was about to start… I sewed my camino forum badge and part of my finger onto my backpack, I flipped through the guidebook, I ate French pastries and I thought about my reasons for doing the camino.
When I arrived in Bayonne, the train platform for the St Jean train was overcrowded and the station staff were asking for volunteers to take a bus instead; they insisted there was no possible way everyone could fit onto the two carriage train. They also said the bus would arrive in St Jean sooner, and after an already long day I volunteered for the bus. I met Hans, Chantal, Amy and Luisa while waiting for the bus and was happy to have met some friendly faces. The bus eventually arrived after the train had left but did bring us into St Jean a few minutes before the train arrived.
I went straight to Hotel Ramuntcho to drop off my bag and then walked around the corner to the pilgrim’s office and stood in the queue outside with many other pilgrims waiting to receive their pilgrim’s passport. I thought the pilgrim’s office would be closed when I arrived in St Jean – that’s why I had booked 2 nights at the hotel to allow time to go to the pilgrim’s office the following morning and then start walking the next day on the 2nd… It was only after speaking to the other pilgrims on the bus did I find out it would still be open when I arrived. It was quite emotional receiving the pilgrim’s passport, I had a tear in my eye when the lady who served me stamped my passport with the first stamp and said “Buen Camino.”
Now I had the passport I was having second thoughts about staying in St Jean for 2 nights, I felt like I had to start walking. I went for a stroll around the town, took some photos, then went for dinner and bumped into Luisa. We had a lovely dinner together, then went back to the pilgrim’s office to pick up a scallop shell (I had completely forgotten to get it the first time I was there), then we said goodbye. Everyone I had met today was starting the walk tomorrow. I needed to get back to the hotel and cancel my reservation for the 2nd night; I was starting my camino tomorrow!