Arriving in Saint Jean Pied de Port and getting right in the head

“You’re leaving tomorrow,” the Pilgrim Center volunteer half-asked, half-instructed me.

“Uh… Umm… No, I think I will stay in Saint Jean a second day before I start walking to Santiago. I haven’t slept for 24 hours. J’ai besoin de dormir.

He frowned slightly and said in French, “It’s good to get going right away.”

He may have been right. I remembered learning that most albergues have a policy of allowing pilgrims to stay one night only. However, on this fact I was certain: I needed sleep. I needed to adjust to the time zone or I would be good for nothing.

Avoiding further discussion of my plans, I inquired about the use of a computer and was escorted to a tiny room for this very purpose. It’s very kind of them to provide it. Apparently everyone wants to send an email home to announce their safe arrival. I was in for a surprise, when I found myself seated at the international computer.

Have you ever considered how many accents there are in Europe? I’m not referring to verbal ones, I mean the written accents – the Spanish cedilla, the French accent grave, the connected æ from Latin. Here they were, all were on a single keyboard, every key marked with at least four symbols. In a normal situation, I might have been able to wing it, but my brain working at half its normal speed from travel fatigue. With a time limit of 15 minutes on the computer, I didn’t have long to figure it out and still send an email.

A solution was found when the Dutch pilgrim beside me and I swapped computers. Hers had the “normal” keyboard and she was happy to switch.

After sending a quick note home, I went to the albergue with all my worldly belongings, my new scallop shell, and a tiny piece of paper with my bed number written on it. The large, darkened room was packed with double-decker bunks and strewn with packs and shoes. I could make out several bodies lying motionless on their beds. Apparently, I wasn’t the only exhausted pilgrim.

The number on my paper led me to an upper bunk and a heavyset man below. I noticed two large men on either side. All likely snorers.

Despite all the extended travel, associated disorientation, fatigue and uncertainty, I felt safe and happy. As I set down my pack on the floor at last, I thought, “I’m here. I’ve arrived.”

No longer on high alert to navigate airports and transportation, I shifted into a lower gear, found my bearings, and awaited bedtime. I returned to the pilgrim center to request information about the albergue Carol had suggested and learned a good way to get a bed there the next night. I met a lovely woman from London and we agreed to meet up for dinner later.

In a matter of hours, I found myself sitting in the evening’s warm sunshine by the river, listening to the spring birds singing and the water burbling below. My new friend, Louise, and I had prowled around a local shop selecting regional delicacies for us to enjoy for dinner. It was bliss. A cup of wine, a tangy goats’ milk cheese, local sausage, crackers, olives, pickled white asparagus, and chocolate, of course, for dessert.

Completely relaxed, I sketched the scenery from our perch on the walkway stone fence. We talked about what had led us to be here, what we hoped to learn, the power of choices. It was delightful to talk to someone so engaged with life. I didn’t know it then, but we would meet up much later and enjoy further such conversations. I felt so happy.

And the happiness continued despite raucous roncadores (snorers) that night. Bone tired, I cried tears of gratitude for a place to lay my head and weary body. As someone who enjoys life’s creature comforts, I was surprised to feel compassion and understanding for my fellow snoring sleepers, rather than hostility and resentment. My own rest was fitful and interrupted, but I arose in the morning feeling alive and present.

Did I commence my Camino that day? Of course not. I’d made up my mind to have a day to recover, and that I did. The pilgrim trusts her inner knowing and – when a Frenchman tells her what to do – she trusts her inner rebel too. 😉

4 thoughts on “Arriving in Saint Jean Pied de Port and getting right in the head

    1. Right? 🙂 It’s interesting to look back and see how I was very much in reactive- and entitlement-mode when I arrived… and how that got smoothed over the longer I walked.

      There’s a great quote about how “the traveler is critical, but the pilgrim is grateful” and I totally made that transition myself over time. I became less picky and more thankful for little things like running water and a mattress to lay down on at night.

      Not so much when I first arrived in St Jean (as embarrassing as this is to admit!).

  1. Ah, don’t be too hard in yourself either, Jen. I doubt you were acting as entitled as you might think–I expect you were doing your best to take care of yourself, in the ways you know how, while in a new place, and about to embark on a big challenge. Zero judgement on that!
    It’s easy to look back in ourselves in the past and point out where we were “too” something or “not enough” something…thing is, you were doing your best –just as you are doing your best in life right now.
    So, I applaud the part of you that stuck her heels in for more sleep, and took things at her own pace. True Camino.

    1. Your comment brings tears to my eyes, dear friend. You speak the truth. True Camino, indeed.

      Hugging you from afar! ❤

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