September 12, 2002

9/12/02 St Jean-Pied-de-Port

This morning, after saying goodbye to my cousin Cindy, I walked to the station to catch a train from Toulouse to Bayonne. I was nervous but not scared. There's just something about traveling by modern means that I don't like. Maybe it's that I don't have any control! I show up and just hope it goes according to plan.

The weather today was spectacular! Blue sky all around with cool breezes. The countryside looked beautiful in the sunlight. For awhile, none of my fellow passengers felt like talking. One got off and another got on. He had a backpack and when I recognized that he was reading a guidebook in English, I took a chance to ask him where he was hiking.

Alan is an art teacher specializing in sculpture. He's from Oxford and just out to join his friends for a week or two of hiking in the Pyrenees. He was also traveling to St Jean, so I felt much more at ease traveling by train.

At Bayonne, we switched to a one-car train that was also the engine. What a surprise to me when it began to fill up with pilgrims and their backpacks. Miguel was from Portugal, and Mark was from London. And sitting across from me was Angela from California. Here I thought I was going to be the only person speaking English, and now I find several people, even from America.

The ride up the mountain was awesome, with mountain peaks towering above us while the train struggled up the tracks.

Once we reached St Jean-Pied-de-Port, it was a simple matter of following the map posted at the train station for the Accueil Saint Jacques. But we all got lost. Hope that isn't an omen of things to come. At the refugio, all the beds were taken, so I ended up renting a room in a private house for $24, plus another $5 for breakfast. Kind of reminded me of my costly beginning to the bike trip last year.

Mark, Angela and I joined Bruno, a retired Economist from Canada, for a beer. Mark just finished his 3rd year in college studying English Literature. Angela lives in San Francisco working for Levi's and is getting married this fall. As we drank our expensive beers, the town was packed full of tourists. Not at all what I imagined of this tiny little hamlet on the border.

We did a bit of shopping and had a few sandwiches. Back at the refugio, I joined the communal dinner table as everyone got acquainted. Others I met were a kid from Paris and a couple from Brazil. Everyone either had that buzz of impending adventure or was exhausted from the days travel to just get to St Jean from other parts of Europe.

Tonight I recited my prayers for the first time, trying to put something of myself into them. I don't know what the next six weeks will bring but I know it will be good. And I even got to use a bit of my Spanish today, even though we're still technically in France.