JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF MY TRUTH – EL CAMINO DE SANTIAGO 2009
Day 0, Friday, 22 May 2009, Paris to San Jean Pied-de-Port, France
Be open to the gifts of the Camino Angels in all their guises.
|Click here for Day 0 Photo Gallery|
~7:00 AM – Awake in Room #112, Hotel Saint-Paul le Marais, No. 8 Rue de Sévigné, Paris, France
Scot and I are up early, and energized for our trips, he back to DC, and I off to uncertain adventure. Tomorrow will be my first day to walk El Camino de Santiago (literally “The Road of Saint James” in Spanish, AKA The Path or Way of Saint James) so I call it my Day 1. That makes today my Day 0 (the day before Day 1).
Note: Scot is a high school friend and fellow Boy Scout from another Troop in our hometown. We worked together at Scout Camp, and were partners on two 50-mile canoe trips. He agreed to meet me in Paris, show me the city he knows well, and offer appropriate doses of moral support. I was nervous, and it was nice to have an old friend remind me that I could do this.
~8:30 AM – Depart Hotel Saint-Paul le Marais
I leave my suitcase with Scot, don my backpack & hat, grab my walking-pole, and head towards the metro station. Scot will take my suitcase back to DC, and ship it to my mother’s home in Texas.
~9:15 AM – Arrive Gare de Paris – Montparnasse
Note: Gare = Train Station.
I already have my ticket which I purchased at Montparnasse station on Monday, May 18 (my 3rd day in Paris). I confirm the track for my train, settle my thoughts, and look for the perfect lunch.
~10:00 AM, Purchase lunch for train ride at Restaurant Paul Mont Quai, Gare de Paris – Montparnasse
Lunch: baguette with cheese + juice (Minute Maid Tropical, 330 ml bottle) + slice of flan (AKA custard).
Cost (lunch) = €7.70
I walk slowly along the platform looking for the specific train-car with my reserved seat (first-class ticket – fully refundable, aisle-seat #45, car #11). After a moment, I notice that all first-class cars are located at the front of the train, and I’m way at the back. It’s getting late so I start running. When at my seat, I realize all train-cars are connected with walk-through passageways. I could have boarded at any car, and easily walked to my seat.
~10:10 AM – Depart Gare de Paris – Montparnasse on SNCF-TGV #8515
Note: SNCF-TGV = French National Railway Company – High Speed Train.
From Paris to Bayonne (birth place of the bayonet, I believe), the TGV is fast, sleek, and efficient.
Cost (train) = €129.40
~2:52 PM – Arrive Gare de Bayonne, France
~3:06 PM – Depart Gare de Bayonne, France on SNCF-TER #67335
Note: SNCF-TER = French National Railway Company – Regional Express Train.
From Bayonne to St. Jean, the TER is a single car, much slower, and everything I hoped it would be. As I step off the TGV, I step out of the 21st century and into a classic European fairytale. I pass through a short tunnel under the TGV and climb onto the smaller and less sophisticated single-car of the TER. Soon, the fairytale is complete with clickity-clackity lullaby, painted countryside, gentle side-to-side rocking, and melodic whistle at each road-crossing or tunnel.
~3:30 PM – Pass Gare de Halsou-Larressorre
I regain consciousness, and realize I’ve been lost in sensory-overload. Had I slipped into the fairytale? It’s time to start documenting my trip with photos & video. I shoot my first video of the day, and see a sign announcing Halsou-Larressorre in 500 m. We pass the train station (Gare), but do not stop.
~3:50 PM – Meet fellow pilgrims on TER
Note: A pilgrim is any traveler on a spiritual journey to a sacred (or holy) destination. The destination of our pilgrimage is the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela (literally “Saint James, under the Field of Stars” or “Saint James’ Burial Ground” in colloquial Latin).
From Bayonne, the train-car is full of pilgrims, and I meet Anna and several other pilgrims; I don’t recall their names.
A young man from South Korea is sitting directly in front of me with all his possessions in plastic shopping bags. He asks if there’s a place in San Jean to purchase a sleeping bag. I don’t know, but tell him (as confidently as possible), “I’m sure there is.”
~4:20 PM – Arrive Gare de San Jean Pied-de-Port (SJPP), France
Note: San Jean Pied-de-Port = Saint John, at the Foot of the Pass.
Passengers exit both ends of the single train-car, and everyone heads southward up the gently inclined Avenue Renaud. The pilgrims, with their unique destination, cross Place Charles de Gaulle (AKA Highway D-933), ascend a few steps, pass through the arch of an ancient stone gate-way, and enter the walled inner-city along Rue de France (literally “Street of France”). I’m swept along by the crowd as we turn left at the T- intersection, and continue walking uphill along Rue de la Citadelle (literally “Street of the Citadel”) to the Pilgrim’s Office at No. 39.
~4:35 PM – Enter Pilgrim’s Office at No. 39, Rue de la Citadelle
I find myself in line behind Anna even though I don’t remember any deliberate intention to do so. I’m talking with her in Spanish as we wait in line. When she sits down to register, the kind attendant suggests I be quiet in a firm, direct, and cute French sort of way. Does he think I’m flirting? Am I flirting?
Soon, she’s finished, Pilgrim’s Credential (AKA Pilgrim’s Passport) in hand, and she’s gone. It’s my turn, so I sit down, present my U.S. Passport for identification purposes, and politely respond to the attendant. I pay the fee, and complete page 1 of my Pilgrim’s Credential (name, address, nationality, passport number, date, & I mark an X in the box: “on foot”). I sign at the bottom of page 7 to accept the conditions of its issuance — it’s all in French with no time to translate. He registers me in his book, stamps my credential, and releases me. In the next moment, I too am on the street with the coveted Pilgrim’s Passport in hand.
Cost (pilgrim’s credential) = €2.00
I stand in the center of the street, and allow myself a few moments to take in the full and immense energy of this ancient place. I must look lost since I’m spinning around aimlessly and oblivious to everyone around me.
Anna is sitting beside a man on a stone bench in front of No. 37 Rue de la Citadelle, first door to the right after exiting the Pilgrim’s office. Anna is waving her hand, and beckoning me to join her. At first I don’t notice, but quickly my soul snaps back into my body, and my senses return an instant later. I scurry over to see what she wants. Apparently, there’s a sign posted near the door (in French) advertising rooms for pilgrims. The man is a good friend of the owner, affirms that she does rent beds to pilgrims, and assures us she will return in a moment.
Almost by accident, it seems, I discover my first night’s accommodation on El Camino de Santiago. The owner returns, and welcomes us into her home.
~5:00 PM – Enter Private Residence, No. 37 Rue de la Citadelle
We leave our boots by the front door, and are led up 3 flights of stairs to three small rooms tucked into the roof of her home. There are eight beds, and space for 10. The two larger beds (each in its own side-room) are to be shared; a mother and daughter take one, and two buddies the other.
Other pilgrims stay in rooms on the lower floors, but I don’t focus on the details. There are 12-14 pilgrims in this private home; maybe more. We all share a communal bathroom and shower on the back porch. There’s a lovely view north over a narrow garden towards the train station and the newer sections of town. Also, I discover the requisite clothes-lines for hanging our hand-washed clothing.
The owner is firm with her instructions, and we secretly refer to her as The General. However, we agree her home is comfortable and clean, and she very kind under that stern outward demeanor.
Cost (bed & breakfast) = €12.00
~6:20 PM – Depart Private Residence, No. 37 Rue de la Citadelle
I leave alone to tour the city, take some photos, and shoot some videos. I begin shooting short videos in front of the Pilgrim’s Office, and then move a few feet southwest where I shoot more in front of the Private Residence where I’m staying.
Note1: An inscription is carved in the stone above the door of the Private Residence. It reads: “LACOSTE ET 1724 IANNE DECHEBERZ.” I’m not too sure, but guess that it’s the name of the original owner or business (Lacoste), year completed (1724), and architect (Ianne Decheberz, or possibly Janne Decheberz). Is ET an abbreviation for établi (literally “established” in French)?
Note 2: At each end of the inscription is a Celtic symbol, the Lauburu (literally “Four Heads” in Basque, AKA Basque Cross), and is common in Basque Country. The icon is certainly decorative, probably protective, and generally considered a symbol of prosperity. Today, it is a universal symbol of Basque Country and the Basque people.
I enter the garden behind the Pilgrim’s Office (at No. 39), and discover wild flowers growing from the ancient stone-wall along its back edge. The massive wall shields us from the busy streets below, and reminds me of a time when it must have been indispensable protection for this quiet village at the foot of the pass.
I wander along various streets including: Avenue Renaud (street up from train station), Place Charles de Gaulle (major street below stone-wall behind Pilgrim’s Office & Private Residence), Rue de la Citadelle, Rue de France, and the bridge over the River Nive (La Nive de Béhérobie) on Rue d’Espagne (literally “Street of Spain” & my exit tomorrow morning).
Finally, I find myself walking southwest along Place Charles de Gaulle (from Avenue Renaud) when Anna (my Camino Angel) spots me again, and beckons me to join her. She’s with a large group seated along several tables placed end-to-end. They’re in front of a small restaurant, but all chairs are occupied.
~7:55 PM – Dinner at Chez Edouard, No.10 Place Charles de Gaulle
The Restaurant is at the intersection of Place Charles de Gaulle and Rue de l’Eglise (literally “Street of the Church”). It’s near a second arched gate-way into the walled inner- city, and close to the River Nive, but without a direct view of either.
The waitress offers me a small table (for one or maybe two) near Anna & her Camino friends, but with stern instructions not to move my chair or table closer to the group. I’m reminded that Anna is a social butterfly, and I will benefit by staying close. I feel happy and free to be here, now, at this precise place and time. I don’t feel lonely despite being separated and exiled by the waitress. I’m close enough to feel their energy, but far enough to enjoy my meal, focus on my thoughts, and swim in my private ocean of sensations, feelings, and emotions.
Dinner: mixed salad + small vegetarian pizza (tomato sauce, cheese, onion, mushroom, bell pepper & black olives on a paper-thin crust) + sparkling water (Badoit, 500 ml glass bottle).
Cost (dinner) = €14.50
~9:00 PM – Purchase snacks at Alimentación Irigaray, No. 12 Rue d’Espagne
Rue D’Espagne begins at the bridge over the River Nive, and is a direct extension of Rue de la Citadelle, where the Pilgrim’s office, and my night’s lodging are located. Tomorrow morning, Rue D’Espagne will take me southwesterly out of San Jean Pied-de- Port, connect to Route de Napoléon (literally “Route of Napoléon”), and usher me over the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles (literally “Valley of Thorns” or “Valley of Blackberries” in broken French, I believe).
Snacks: French apple + canned juice (Minute Maid, 330 ml, for immediate consumption) + small chunk of hard goat-cheese + assorted dried fruit + almonds.
Cost (snacks) = €9.62
~9:30 PM – Enter Private Residence, No. 37 Rue de la Citadelle
I climb the staircase to my bed, store the snacks in the hard-plastic box I keep in the top of my pack, and quickly prepare for sleep; I have a big day tomorrow. The apple and other snacks will provide a light lunch tomorrow and snacks thereafter.
Note1: The hard-plastic resealable snap-top box keeps fresh fruit and other snacks from being crushed in the pack. Size = 1.7 lt (1.8 qt) — 15.9 cm x 15.9 cm x 9.2 cm high (6-1⁄4 in x 6-1⁄4 in x 3-5⁄8 in high).
Note2: The French apple, a local variety I’m guessing, is more of a personal statement than a necessity. I think to myself, “Hey, if I’m in France, I’m gonna eat a French apple.” The canned juice is already gone.
~10:00 PM – Lights-out & Quiet-time
Hasta mañana (literally “until tomorrow”)!
Life Lessons, Camino Angels & Spiritual Hind-sight
(Day 1812, 8 May 2014, Copperas Cove, TX):
LL0.1 Day 0 – Life Lesson #1
At ~4:40 PM, I was in the Pilgrim’s Office in San Jean when I received my Pilgrim’s Passport, and a double-sided, A4-sized, sheet of paper entitled “The Cize Pass.” It was written in English (some broken), and showed the highlights, a simple map, and warnings along the first stage of El Camino from San Jean Pied-de-Port across the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles. The attendant circled a few places I should note: Honto & Refuge auberge d’Orisson.
Note: A4-sized = 21.0 cm x 29.7 cm (8.27 in x 11.69 in).
I also received a double-sided, A4-sized, sheet of paper listing Les Refuges (literally “Refugios” in French, AKA Albergues) along El Camino from San Jean Pied-de-Port to Fisterra. It included telephone numbers, number of beds, and services available. I found it particularly interesting that it noted if bicycles or horses are accepted.
Finally, I received a double-sided, A4-sized, sheet of paper showing a graphical representation of the entire El Camino, broken into 34 stages. Each stage showed a topographical side-view, relative distances, elevations above sea-level, and key landmarks along the route.
The last two sheets were in French. Luckily, I understood the French since it is similar enough to written Spanish.
The three sheets were nice to have, and I certainly appreciated receiving them. However, I rarely reviewed them, and never had a genuine need for them.
I had brought a simple spiral-bound book-of-maps, by Pili Pala Press, with limited information about landmarks, restaurants, and accommodations. I wondered if it would be enough.
I grossly underestimated the huge support from locals, the extensive network of information signs posted everywhere, and the helpful nature of my fellow pilgrims. With everything else, my limited book-of-maps was the perfect companion.
LL0.2 Day 0 – Life Lesson #2
At ~4:45 PM, I exited the Pilgrim’s Office with credential in hand, and started spinning aimlessly in the middle of the street. I had my first out-of-body experience on El Camino. My soul leaped skyward to see this ancient place from a loftier perspective. It needed to know, first-hand, if the ancient spirits were benevolent and welcoming. I don’t remember any other sensations, but I felt awake, safe, and at-peace to my core. Even a splash of déjà vu rippled through me.
I was at the beginning of a journey to end all journeys, and I still didn’t feel quite ready. Looking back, I see this soul-body separation as the one essential tool that allowed me to complete El Camino to Santiago, and then continue on to Finisterre (AKA Fisterra in Galician).
From an ego perspective, I had already told everyone my plan, and I was running out of excuses. I surrendered to the pull, quietened the monkeys in my mind, and committed to walking the requisite 550 miles (880 km) from San Jean to the end of the earth. Once there, I dreamed of leaping off the edge with little care for if, how or where I might land. Arthur C. Clarke tells us that we can leap first, and build our wings on the way down, but I’m forever the skeptic. Should I pack a parachute, just in case, and where might I procure such a thing on such short notice?
Today was the first of many times my soul would step out, sometimes for a moment and sometimes for an entire day. It would be years before I could fully grasp the tremendous benefit of having a soul so willing & able to separate from its body.
LL0.3 Day 0 – Life Lesson #3
At ~4:50 PM, just after my first out-of-body experience, and just before joining Anna at the Private Residence, I exhausted all of my prior planning for the trip. I arrived in San Jean, somehow found the Pilgrim’s Office, and had no idea where I would sleep that night or where I would eat or even how I might actually accomplish this feat. I had even less of an idea how to deal with tomorrow or any other day on El Camino.
I wondered if I could arrive in Finisterre by July 7, 2009, my 50th Birthday. Would that be possible or even reasonable?
Anna was a precious soul and my first Camino Angel. She taught me my first lessons of being a pilgrim, and gifted me my Pilgrim’s Scallop-Shell
I surrendered to the experience, and always found myself surrounded by the protective energy of El Camino. Camino Angels were everywhere, and one always transpired at the precise moment I needed help. Every true need was always satisfied, and I never found myself wanting for anything.
|DAY 0 STATISTICS|
|FRIDAY, 22 MAY 2009
PARIS TO SAN JEAN PIED-DE-PORT (SJPP), FRANCE
Start Point = Hotel Saint-Paul le Marais, Paris, Room #112
Start Time = ~8:30 AM
End Point = Private Residence, No. 37 Rue de la Citadelle, San Jean Pied-de-Port
End Time = ~5:00 PM
Key Landmarks = Paris, Gare de Bayonne, San Jean Pied-de-Port
Total Daily Expenses = €175.22
1. View SW from window of Room #112, Hotel Saint-Paul le Marais, No. 8 Rue de Sévigné – Paris, France – Day (-3) (200905219-00-00081-1.jpg, 3:50 PM) (48°51’20″ N 2°21’43” E) Click to view on map.
2. View SE out of train-car (from front) towards railway sign: “Halsou Larressorre a 500 m” – route from Bayonne to San Jean Pied-de-Port – Day 0 (20090522-01-00098-1.jpg, 3:29 PM) (43°22’56” N 1°25’54” W) Click to view on map.
3. View NNW back along center-line of train-car – from front – route from Bayonne to San Jean Pied-de-Port – Day 0 (20090522-02-00099-1.jpg, 3:29 PM) (43°22’47” N 1°25’46” W) Click to view on map.
4. View W from my seat on train-car – Anna’s profile in window – route from Bayonne to San Jean Pied-de-Port – Day 0 (20090522-03-00106-3.jpg, 3:52 PM) (43°18’5″ N 1°21’2″ W) Click to view on map.
5. View NNW from platform towards front of train-car – route from Bayonne to San Jean Pied-de-Port – Day 0 (20090522-04-00110-1.jpg, 4:23 PM) (43°10’4″ N 1°14’15” W) Click to view on map.
6. Pilgrim’s Credential (front cover) – issued by Friends of El Camino de Santiago – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-05-PC-Front.jpg, ~4:40 PM) (43°9’48” N 1°14’9″ W) Click to view on map.
7. Pilgrim’s Credential (pages 1&2) – issued by Friends of El Camino de Santiago – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-06-PC-1&2.jpg, ~4:40 PM) (43°9’48” N 1°14’9″ W) Click to view on map.
8. Pilgrim’s Credential (page 7) – issued by Friends of El Camino de Santiago – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-07-PC-7.jpg, ~4:40 PM) (43°9’48” N 1°14’9″ W) Click to view on map.
9. Pilgrim’s Stamp: “ACCUEIL SAINT JACQUES – S. Jean Pied de Port” – Pilgrim’s Office – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-08-PS-1.jpg, ~4:40 PM) (43°9’48” N 1°14’9″ W) Click to view on map.
10. View NE from street towards entrance of Pilgrim’s Office – No. 39 Rue de la Citadelle – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-09-00118-1.jpg, 6:22 PM) (43°9’48” N 1°14’9″ W) Click to view on map.
11. View N from street towards entrance to Private Residence – No. 37 Rue de la Citadelle – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-10-00120-1.jpg, 6:22 PM) (43°9’48” N 1°14’9″ W) Click to view on map.
12. View SSE towards backs of No. 39 & No. 37, Rue de la Citadelle – from ancient stone wall at back of Pilgrim’s Office – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-11-00123-1.jpg, 6:27 PM) (43°9’50″ N 1°14’10” W) Click to view on map.
13. View towards flowers growing out of ancient stone wall – behind No. 39 Rue de la Citadelle (Pilgrim’s Office) – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-12-00126-1.jpg, 6:30 PM) (43°9’50” N 1°14’10” W) Click to view on map.
14. View SSE towards arch of stone gate-way on Rue de France – from intersection of Av. Renaud & Place Charles de Gaulle – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-13-00128-1.jpg, 6:33 PM) (43°9’49” N 1°14’13” W) Click to view on map.
15. View WNW (looking downstream) along the River Nive (La Nive de Béhérobie) – from the bridge on Rue d’Espagne – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-14-00139-1.jpg, 7:04 PM) (43°9’44” N 1°14’14” W) Click to view on map.
16. View ESE (looking upstream) along the River Nive (La Nive de Béhérobie) – from the bridge on Rue d’Espagne – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-15-00140-1.jpg, 7:05 PM) (43°9’44” N 1°14’14” W) Click to view on map.
17. View SSW towards bridge over the River Nive on Rue d’Espagne – from intersection of Rue de la Citadelle & Rue de l’Eglise – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-16-00149-1.jpg, 7:10 PM) (43°9’45” N 1°14’13” W) Click to view on map.
18. View ENE along Rue de la Citadelle – from intersection with Rue de France – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-17-00152-1.jpg, 7:13 PM) (43°9’47” N 1°14’11” W) Click to view on map.
19. View NE towards metal sign at arch of stone gate-way on Rue de France – on stairway leading up from Place Charles de Gaulle – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-18-00153-1.jpg, 7:16 PM) (43°9’49” N 1°14’13” W) Click to view on map.
20. Dinner at Chez Edouard, No.10 Place Charles de Gaulle – SJPP – Day 0 (20090522-19-00159-2.jpg, 8:00 PM) (43°9’46” N 1°14’16” W) Click to view on map.