st jean pied de port, pyrenees-atlantiques, france, 630am
i do enjoy the intimacy of writing to friends. the taste of words. the fragrance of memories and thoughts. all very delicious, magical, often intimidating and sad, smudged with life bits. the idea of taking the time to form sentences to see where it all goes.
on 27th of may, 3am in the morning, as i fall into sleep in the bustle of city night, i had one thought that came across my head, like a comet: go to the camino.
i wasnt too sure at that point what camino was. i still cannot remember where i have heard about it. or why it came to me then.
it's one of the three medieval pilgrimage route (other two are to jerusalem and to rome), leading to santiago de compostela, galicia, spain, where supposedly body of st. james was transported from rome and was buried.. the route i took, camino frances, the most popular one, starts from the southern pyrenee, st. jean pied de port- 800km journey. and you can now walk or bike, or take the donkey (teehee). upon completion, pilgrims were given pardons (indulgence) from the catholic church (though now, if you do the last 100km on foot/ 200km on bike, it is considered 'completed'), and since the dark days, thousands of people have walked on it.
with slight confusion, i texted the bookbomber to test the water: do you think i am crazy?
whiplash text back at 305am: go!
and by next day, i had everything arranged- the travel, finances, discussion with minnow. on 3 june, i flew to manchester. main options to getting to st. jean is either getting to biarritz airport or to bayonne train station and take the bus to this little town. i flew manchester-paris, then TGV from paris to bayonne, then to crowded bus full of 'pilgrims' to st. jean, on 7th, i was walking from st. jean pied de port.
with 5 kg of backpack, i was a drop of water in the eternal wave of people, seeking for - well, many different things. i am still not sure what have brought me to step one. and now that i have finished, i am not sure what it is that has came out of it. too soon to tell.
about the logistics of camino itself:
once one has obtained the pilgrim passport (you can acquire one from st. johns brothers across the world or get one where you arrive, should you start at a main departure point, like st. jean), one is to get it stamped every night- stamp will include location and date. this is to verify that youve done the camino as specified by the church if one plans to obtain the indulgence (compostela) upon arrival in santiago.
as a pilgrim, one usually stays in an 'albergue,' a minimalist hostel. they open in the afternoon and stamps your passport. you\re likely to be put on a bunk bed with others (some municipal ones are quite big, housing over 100 people per night). the main advantage would be the social mingling and the cost-effectiveness (municipals ones cost 5-10 euros per night, private ones from 10-15 usually), but there will be minimal furnishing and one is expected to get out and start walking by the morning (9am usually, though most people tend to start much earlier (esp. when it's really hot!).
daily routine: wake, (eat optional breakfast), pack, walk, check into an albergue, shower, wash/hang clothing, inspect and care for feet (some horrific blisters out there and other injuries), make the bed (thanks to bedbug problems, all places require you to put on disposable liner sheets on bed/pillows. major pain if you are short and are allocated on upper bunk), forage/cook/eat/drink, sleep. repeat. people did took time for rest days- popular stops are the big towns such as pamplona, burgos and leon.
in my pack were:
sleeping bag liner, wool undies (top/bottom)
non-walking clothing: a skirt, a tanktop and long sleeve
walking clothing: hat, detachable leg pants, a t-shirt
a hoodie and waterproof jacket
3 pairs of socks and undies
pair of sandals (for shower, etc)
notebook, guide book, 2 pens and 1 pencil
solar charger, usb charger, three cables
two mp3 players (which was not used), earphones
small pack of: bandages, needles, ibuprofen, nail clipper
2 x travel size toothpaste, toothbrush
one bar of soap (hair/body), a comb, travel towel
water bottle, a sandwich (always!)
like a snail, i packed as little as possible.
it was amazing how heavy the pack felt at times though. digging through the shoulder, under the beating sun. also under pouring rain. navarra had one of the worst flood damage while i was walking the camino- to a point where the route was completely buried under water and people had to take the highway.
the first night, i ran into two aussie brothers and they become the bookend of my travel (wait for it!). after sharing the sleeping quarter with the two gents, curled up in a prawn position (the mountain regions can be quite cold, and to minimize the weight, i did not pack a sleeping bag but only a cotton liner- brrr. i wore pretty much everything i owned haha!), next morning, at 630am, i started my first day of camino, going over the mountains.
what was i going to find?
i was not sure, but i sure flew over the mountain pass-
with this newly found freedom/restriction of the camino.
like drop of water, riding on the great eternal wave.