I left Paris aboard the SNCF high-speed train Friday morning and whisked south through Bordeaux, at nearly 200 mph at times, to Bayonne. What a pleasure train travel can be compared to flying!
At Bayonne, I expected to connect to another train to St. Jean Pied-de-Port (SJPP) but found a “special bus for pilgrims” laid on by the railway instead. It sounded interesting, so I boarded the very nice tour bus and we wound our way through the foohills and quaint towns to SJPP, arriving at the train station at the same time the train woud have. Perfect.
There was a Spanish family sitting in front of me on the bus, with a tiny dog in a dog carrier/backpack. I wondered if they were really going to go on the Camino with the dog!
My hotel is on the rue de Citadelle, the main drag through the old town and the route of the Camino itself. The Pilgrim Office, an important source of information and resources, is just up the street. It’s now Saturday and there is an energy and tension in the people passing by, a sense of anticipation. I was out on the front steps this morning at 8:00 AM and wishing “Buen Camino” to those folks heading down the street to begin their walk (or bike ride, in some cases).
The town is the former capital of the region and is a tourist spot. French schools go back into session next week, so this is the last summer holiday weekend and SJPP is jammed. The weather is really nice today, sunny with temps in the 80s. The forecast for the next few days, and my Camino start on Monday, is not so good. It’s a case of hoping the weatherman has gotten it wrong; almost no one gets through the Camino without getting rained on but starting off in the rain kind of dampens the spirit.
I’m spending today loafing and packing. I’m using a two-bag strategy: I’m wearing my excellent Gregory Zulu 40-litre backpack and having a small duffel bag transported each day. This lets me keep the backpack weight down to a managable 14 pounds (including 4 lbs of water in the hydration bladder) and still access supplies and gear I deem essential. As you may remember, I’m 6’2” and 230 lbs so my clothes, shoes, etc. are larger/heavier than some, and this strategy, based on my last Camino experience, works for me. I’m just lucky that the bag transport services along the Camino are good and reliable.
The good news this morning is that the weather forecast for the next few days is improving. When I went over the mountains in 2019, it was through a hellish storm and I missed all the fantastic views. There now seems to be a chance I’ll see them this year.
I’ve arranged a meet-up this afternoon with some fellow pilgrims who are also starting off tomorrow. I’ve already had some nice conversations over breakfast with pilgrims from Canada, France, and Germany. The comradery of a shared challenge is easily established.
The next few days will be strenuous and I may not be able to post daily but I’ll catch up ASAP. Hang in there with me and wish me luck!