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First Steps

IMG_0755It felt daunting, that first morning, lacing up my boots, strapping on the backpack and self-conciously making my way through the deserted old cobblestone streets of St Jean.

Most of that day’s batch of pilgrims had already left at the crack of dawn to tackle the long trek over the Pyrenees but I’d decided to break myself in gently, walking only as far as the auberge at Orisson, 8km away.

The steep climb towards the mountains began at once: it was hard going but it was on a good road and I could walk at my own pace. I felt the weight of the pack on my back and was grateful that I’d followed all previous pilgrims advice to keep it to a minimum.

And while I had started out alone, by dinnertime that night I’d made friends with Pat and Lola, two Canadian ladies d’un certain age, Peter from Denmark and a loquacious Australian joker called John who nicknamed me “The Renga” in honour of my hair colour. It stuck.

P1000116Americans Brian and Elaine from Buffalo were also there that first night and although we met only intermittently in the weeks that followed, we ended up walking into Santiago 31 days later, just hours apart.

But that first night we all shared food, wine, laughter and our hopes for the journey ahead. After dinner the auberge owner asked people to stand up and say where they were and why they were walking the camino. Most said it was for spiritual or religious reasons so when I announced I had sold my house, given up my work and left a relationship behind there was a cheer!

Later I rolled out my sleeping bag and crawled into a bunk in a room with four mature French lady farmers and a South African girl. One French woman glanced up: “C’est vous!” she exclaimed to me then called to her friends to come and see. They all stared  and eventually explained they’d been “surprised” by my honesty. Or that’s how I chose to interpret their words.

P1000147 I hadn’t slept in communal facilities since schooldays but I was instantly at ease with the companionship and closed my eyes to the accompaniment of French snoring, easily audible above my earplugs.

I had a feeling this was going to be a memorable journey.

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