Tuesday, September 3. I made the first notes of the day sitting at a café table outside a train station in Biarritz, waiting for our first train of the day. Nearby, six French women huddled around another table, sipping coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking so fast to each other I couldn’t recognize a single word of their conversation.
I smiled and savored the morning in France. An occasional breeze would blow, carrying from their table to ours the alternating scent of too sweet perfume – grandma perfume – and smoke. These will be the aromas of France that I store in my memories.
Derrick and I boarded our train to Bayonne. There we wandered around outside the train station to take in some sites while we wait for our final train to St. Jean. We walked along a bridge, wander beside a carousel, across busy streets and alongside old and important looking buildings. The whole time I was a tense mixture of excitement about being in France and anxiety about catching our next train. Eventually we amble back to the station and discover that the number of pilgrims waiting there had quadrupled.
At that moment I realized my vision of an lonely walk with friends was not realistic.
This was confirmed when they had to add two train cars to the original pair in order to accommodate the number of pilgrims ready to leave for St. Jean. Derrick struck up a conversation with another pilgrim, an Australian woman, who understood French well enough to help us sort out what was going on as they made everyone already on board get off the train while they add two more cars.
Finally, we were onboard and on our way to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port. Bill, we assumed, was there and we would reconnect with him soon. The ride through the French countryside, passing along mountain streams and through deep valleys as we rolled south, was beautiful. I sat and stared out the window, soaking it in. This was France.
And then, just like that, we were there. St. Jean. The train doors opened, and pilgrims poured out onto the sidewalk. Bill had come down to meet us and show us around. Later, I wrote in my diary:
When we arrived in St. Jean it was like a swarm of locusts disembarking the train. So many pictures under the St. Jean-Pied-de-Port sign.
Later, in the afternoon, after a meal, Bill introduced us to the beautiful little town and I wrote:
We registered at the Camino pilgrim’s office. A nice, older lady tried to help me in French. She was very generous with my lack of French. Derrick made conversation with people in line and those passing by. Got my credentials and 1st stamp. My bag weighed 17lbs. We are looking to have our bags transported to Roncevalles.
Just before they locked the doors of our Albergue, someone discovered you could get a wifi signal just outside of the “closed for the night” pilgrims office (where some late arriving pilgrims were stretching out in their sleeping bags). I was able to get on for a moment to send and receive messages to Donna at home. I was more grateful for that connection than I can possibly put into words. I had no idea what the next day would hold for us as we crossed the Pyrenees.
That night as I prepared for bed, hoping to be able to settle down enough to sleep, I reflected on the consolations from the day.
I felt God especially close in so many ways. Breeze up on the terrace where we hang clothes to dry. The expansive view across the valley. Lighting a candle for us. Interactions with other pilgrims. God is in all these moments.
My final entry that night: Morning starts @ 6:15 a.m. Walk begins @ 7 a.m.