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Setting forth in the universe – part 1 of the El Camino de Santiago

Posted by on Srp 31, 2012

The train slowly, and then rapidly, rolls out of Montparnasse station, Paris.  8:29, right on time, I notice.  I have a bite to eat and lull into a restful sleep.  Well, as restful as can be on the TGV.  It was a hard day’s night last night.  The hostel bed was less than comfortable, then one of my “roomies” got chucked out at around midnight (was in the wrong room apparently. I found it surprising given that it was a guy in what was supposed to be an all-girl’s room), I won’t even mention the foul odour of shoes that had walked the streets of Paris all day.  Get used to it Mary, I said to myself, there’s a lot more of this coming where you’re headed to!  But the main reason I couldn’t sleep was the sheer excitement, and trepidation, of what was awaiting me for the next week or so…

I find myself waking up at Bordeaux at around noon with Eddie Vedder’s “Setting forth” playing in my head.  Yes, I’ve decided that “Into the wild” will be the soundtrack of choice in my mind as I make my way to the starting point of the El Camino de Santiago.  The countryside doesn’t dazzle me so I put my iPod on and write a few notes on the sheet music I’d taken with me.  Soon enough, we reach Bayonne, so I grab my stuff (backpack, walking sticks and ukulele), step off the train and look for the next train I have to catch, to St. Jean Pied de Port.  I see it goes from platform B and as I have have about an hour or so to kill, I buy myself a kebab.  It’s the first one I’ve had in about 7 years, having been a vegetarian until about two weeks ago.  The doctors said that I have to start eating more proteins to help my sarcoidosis.  I don’t feel good about eating meat but as the old Croatian proverb goes, what you have to do isn’t difficult…

15:05, the train rolls out of St. Jean Pied de Port.  Not a fast TGV train but a nice slow local Aquitaine train.  Tickets please, the conductor shouts out in French.  So I show him my ticket and snooze off, still tired from last night and to be honest, the last 10 days.  I had just completed a tour of France with my dear Druyd brothers and sisters and it was an utter blast but all the travelling, setting up and packing up before and after every concert as well as the occassional partying does take the mickey out of you.  I wake up about half an hour later to the most magnificent scenery I have seen in my life.  A river weaving its way near the railway tracks, lush green banks dotted with fishermen and the awe inspiring Pyrenees in the background.  The view literally takes my breath away.  Only the train trip to Salzburg could come close to this incredible beauty.   Why the hell have I been sleeping for half an hour, I ask myself, what a dummy am I!  But my eyes are wide open now and I take in every square inch of the scenery. 

The train then arrives at St. Jean de Pied.  What the hell was I doing for two days in Paris, walking around a city full of noise, hard asphalt, stuff I’d seen a million times before when I could have been here??? But what is is.  I’m here now and that’s what counts.  Funnily enough, even though we hadn’t discussed it before, I see my friend Davor sitting on a bench in front of the station waiting for me.  He guessed I’d be on the train given it’s the only one that comes each day!  We head to look for our credencial and a place to stay for the night.  Luckily, there are two places at the private hostel across the road from the pilgrim’s office.  I say luckily because  it would be the loveliest hostel on our entire trip.  L’esprit du chemin it’s called and I highly recommend it. 

We walk around the town, soak our feet in the river and talk.  I still feel trepidation about our journey, especially the first day, the most difficult, when we have to cross the Pyrenees.  At dinner in the hostel, our hostess Catherine asks what made us take up this journey and what our wishes were.  There were many varied answers.  Mine was this: “I honestly don’t know, all I do know is that I was very drawn to it and felt I had to do it.  I want to see whether I am capable of walking approximately 20 km a day, every day, and most especially of crossing the Pyrenees.   I think that if I am then there are no limits to what I am capable of.  My wish?  To survive and to come back if I do.”

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