I had been in Scotland for a week with my family where I put no planning or foresight into any activities. It was all laid out by my dad and my soon to be brother in law, a Scotsman. Terrible food and weather, lovely people. After I parted with my family in the airport, I felt the panic and excitement of the trip to come, mostly loneliness. I took a 3 hour flight to Paris and then boarded an hour long flight to Biarritz from there. At the airport, I decided to get a taxi from the airport directly to St. Jean de Porte, fearing that if I waited two hours for the 9 pm train, I would not be able to secure a bed in a hostel that night. I paid 130 euros for the cab and it took an hour to arrive in St. Jean Pied de Porte. In the days that followed I regretted that carelessness. Factoring in my ravenous appetite at all hours and guzzling of “Aqua” (a sugary Gatorade type drink in Spain), 130 euros could finance roughly five days on the Camino, provided you were very frugal. Hostels cost anywhere from 5 euros to 12 euros, most of the bigger cities will have an “albergue municipal” that costs 5 euros. An “Albergue” is a hostel for pilgrims. Occasionally there will be a donation hostel or a hostel run by nuns or priests where they wash your feet at night. The only time I encountered a Catholic/Clergy run hostel was at the end of a roughly 55 km day. My feet were throbbing in pain and they told me, “there’s another one in 2 km.”
The cab driver didn’t speak much but he told me in jumbled English he would drop me off at the tourist office. When I first stepped out, I was greeted by Estelle and Juan, who had large backpacks on, and wore lost expressions, they stood no farther than 4 feet from the cab as I exited. They were a Spanish couple from Burgos, Spain in their forties that belonged in a fashion catalogue. They were in search of a hostel and exuded a casualness that implied I was part of their search as soon as I exited the cab. I quickly became accustomed to this lack of barriers or norms of privately held personal space, with all the welcoming pilgrims I met. Estelle started speaking to me in Spanish and we found the tourist office, to get our “pilgrim passport” stamped to verify our place as true pilgrims and gain entry each “albergue” along the way.
I finally settled into a hostel only a few blocks from the pilgrim office. I was lonely, scared, nervous for the long and arduous hike to come. I timidly ventured out to find a place to eat. A fair skinned brunette with wide, kind eyes sat across from me at the Italian restaurant as everyone watched the semi-final of France vs. Germany in Euro Cup soccer. I ordered a margherita pizza for myself, as my adventurous palette is wont to do. “Who are you rooting for?” I asked.
“Germany. I’m Silke.”
“Oh, are you walking the Camino? Come join me.”
“Yes I start tomorrow.” She said.
“Me too.” I said.
I glanced down at her screen on the table. I saw what was likely a boyfriend in a close embrace with her on the background of her IPhone screen. We chatted for the rest of the game and my outlook on the Camino improved, knowing I was on my way to making a friend. I ambled back to the hostel and tossed and turned for an entire night with smelly, snoring Italians and Frenchman in the $5 a night hostel.