Sitting in the train station at Hendaye, a Basque town just inside the French border. Last here in 1970 when Duane, Karen and I were on our way to the US from Congo after high school. Spanish trains run on a different gauge than other parts of Europe so everyone going North has to switch trains here. In 1970 we were also delayed some hours after the slowest train ride ever from Porto- It seems like we shared our car with chickens – as well as people – and it was a relief to get out and move. It was a beautiful sunny day and we walked the promenade along the water with glorious views of the other side of the bay.
I retraced my steps today for about an hour, keeping an eye on the clouds. One brief instant of sun illuminated Irun on the far side before the sprinkles began.
There was not even that much sun the whole ride from Madrid. It was so dark outside that the lights in the train prevented you from seeing anything besides the reflection of the train’s interior. Except for one beautiful stretch through the Cantabrian Mountains. That made me wonder what else I had missed.
Again enjoyed the ride with interesting row mate. Tony from Australia. Tony was a relaxed, interesting, soft-spoken and agreeable companion. A lawyer. Perhaps recently retired. It was fun sussing out that he was also en route to SJPDP and hearing the story of how he came to make this trip. How miraculous that of all the places in the train he should end up next to me! He reported that a friend had emailed him yesterday to say that the number of pilgrims departing daily from SJPDP is holding steady at a couple hundred. Based on the number of backpacks with cockle shells that have passed through this station, I believe it. He also is planning to walk only 10k to Orisson the first day, and said the auberge there was a place where I could make reservations – which would probably be wise given the volume of pilgrims – and gave me a phone number. Made my first phone call using the Spanish prepaid phone card on my Nokia, but we were in the mountains and I got cut off just as the phone was answered. After several hours of pleasant conversation and quiet companionship with Tony the conductor came by to punch our tickets and informed Tony that he was in the right seat in the wrong car! (He didn’t switch.)
It will be such a relief to actually get out of holding pattern and start walking. Doing, not anticipating. Next few days they are predicting variable clouds/rain/thunder showers, temperature 15 c/59 f. It will be almost like home.
Finally arrived in St. Jean Pied-de -Port after dark. Delayed by a huge flood in Bayonne. At the station the subterranean passage under the tracks completely full of water. Track to SJPDP is also under water and closed so we took a bus. Got to go through several small towns that looked like huge gardens. Quaint but lived in and vibrant. Fav name, Hotel Pont d’Enfer. Seat companion Manfred from Gratz in Austria. At end of trip he introduced me to another solo about my age, Sieglinde, who speaks only German.
Not a single bed in any hotel/auberge in town, so they opened the gym and promised mats on the floor. We were en route when a volunteer remembered a woman in town who takes in women and/or couples, and was due back today from a trip out of town. A phone call later Sieglinde and I each had a private room in Marie’s house. I can imagine doing this once in a while for special events, but there have been so many pilgrims this year she’s had guests frequently. Marie is a delight, funny, kind, helpful – and she speaks German, a godsend for communicating with Sieglinde (she also has ancestors who were hoteliers) . She sent us to dinner where it was a trip trying to translate the menu for Sieglinde. My French is working, and I’m having fun making a fool of myself. In spite of the fact that my German is non-existent Sieglinde talks to me as if I should understand and when she stops speaking everyone looks at me as if I could translate! I started having her write down key phrases in my notebook so I have some idea what we are talking about.
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