Madelyn Given took this photo in Bayonne, France before starting the Camino trail.

Beginning the el Camino

I was anxious to begin the walk on the Path of St. James in August 2014, and to get there, the first step was a five-hour train trip from Paris to Bayonne. I planned to stay here one night to see a part of France new to me. At the top of this post is one of the photos I took in Bayonne, a lovely small city situated on a large river in southern France. It was so peaceful and clean after leaving Paris.

After arriving in Bayonne, I walked from the train station, across the long bridge, to the city center where I found my hotel. I registered and was ready to settle in when I asked about taking the train early the next day. To my surprise, I learned that I needed to get the ticket now, pronto, before the station closed—as the train station office would not be open tomorrow!

I hurried to my room and set my pack down (which had by now become a routine), locked the door, hurried out of the hotel, down the city streets, and across the bridge to the train station. I purchased a train/bus combo ticket to Cambo-les-Bains then St Jean Pied de Port, France. I was now very confused about my ticket and getting to St. Jean!

In planning my trip, getting to St. Jean was the most difficult part. I heard stories that the trains were not running, or there was construction on the railroad tracks. It was a long roundabout way to get to this small town, but I knew that if many others had arrived there I would too. The woman in the ticket office at the railway station counter was very pleasant; she assured me that this one ticket was good for the train and the bus trip needed as my final steps to arrive at the beginning of the el Camino trail.

Next morning I was up and out of the hotel before dawn, going across the bridge to the train station, ready to board the train to Cambo-les-Bains, France. When I boarded, I noticed immediately that the train was practically empty and those on board were all carrying back packs. Reserved strangers slowly began to introduce themselves and soon I found that a young woman sitting near me was from France, across from me were Irishman John and Priest Michael from England, two German men, a Korean couple, and a young Australian man. Later all of us met again on the el Camino, spent some time walking together or staying at the same albergues, and became part of the el Camino family.

In Cambo-les-Bains, a bus was waiting for us and I jumped on for a forty-five minute ride to St. Jean Pied de Port, France, a small town at the base of the Pyrenees. This is the beginning of the French el Camino, one of the most popular el Camino trails. I was happy to be here.

I was planning to spend the night in St. Jean, but it was still morning after I registered with the officials of the el Camino headquarters. I walked around the small town, mailed a package at the post office, sat at an outside café, and had a coffee. It was a lovely warm, sunny day and I was anxious to begin walking on the trail. I went back to the headquarters and asked if they thought it was sensible to start walking this late in the day on the trail.

In the beginning of an adventure it is the unknown and taking that first step that is most difficult. The official who was so pleasant and helpful to check me in earlier said let me call and see if there are any beds still available on the trail ahead. The first place was full but another albergue only 3 kilometers up the hill on the trail had available beds. That was all I needed to know.

I thanked her and went out the door, then cheerfully headed through the streets and out of town. I felt so free, so excited, and so ready to be on my way. It was early afternoon and I had already had an early train ride, a bus ride, registered at the headquarters, and received my Camino passport—so the bonus was to get a start for the next day!

It was a short walk for me but I was out of the town with all the tourists. It wasn’t far but just enough to know it would be a great beginning the next day. I was a happy pilgrim walker.

(posted Nov. 17, 2014)