For once, it didn’t matter that my flight was delayed. It was actually a blessing that my 10:20 p.m. flight to Lisbon from Dulles International Airport on Friday, August 31 sat on the tarmac for nearly two hours due to thunderstorms and lightning. What was meant to be a 7:15 hour flight was supposed to deposit me in Lisbon at 10:35 a.m. on Saturday, September 1, meaning I would have to wait around Lisbon eleven hours for my overnight train to Hendaye, France.
Before boarding the flight, I met two ladies traveling to Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona. They said they’d send prayers along with me. Two other ladies with quite heavy backpacks were embarking on the 140-mile Portuguese route of the Camino. We wished each other Buen Camino! and boarded the plane to wait for take-off.
Onboard, passengers swarmed around sulkily, like a hive of sated yet edgy bees. Passengers were allowed to leave the plane if they took all their carry-on bags. When the luggage was finally loaded in the cargo hold once the storms passed, the flight crew rounded up the wayward passengers.
Finally airborne, I watched the 2018 Fred Rogers movie, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Fred Rogers was creator, composer, producer, head writer, and host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968–2001). He talked about how there is something inside us that hasn’t been lost – childhood. On his show, he addressed children’s feelings, such as “I think I might be a mistake.” Or, “I’m not like anyone else.” Besides addressing children’s everyday emotions, he also addressed social issues of the times, such as divorce, war, assassinations and racial tensions. On one notable episode, Rogers soaked his feet alongside African-American Officer François Clemmons in a kiddie pool on a hot day, a subtle symbolic message of inclusion during a time when racial segregation in the United States was widespread.
As our country is in the same predicament today as it was in the 1960s, I promised myself to pray for the state of the world, and my country, as I walked the Camino.
I tried to sleep but when my efforts failed, I watched the in-flight map. At one point we were over St. John’s and Grand Bank, Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. Later, at 4:27 a.m., the local time in Lisbon was 9:27 and we had 2:37 hours to go. The estimated arrival time was 12:04. Altitude 35,092 feet. Traveled 2,334 miles. The airplane icon onscreen hovered about midway over the Atlantic, northwest of the Azores.
Because we didn’t take off until close to midnight, I arrived in Lisbon at 12:06 p.m., narrowing the window of time from 11 to 9 hours before the next step of my journey.
From the airport, I took the metro three stops to Estacao Gare do Oriente in the Vasco da Gama area of the city. The station had a luggage storage area but I was stymied by the lockers; luckily an Italian couple showed me how to use them. It was miserably hot. Dressed in the long hiking pants and long-sleeve shirt that I’d worn overnight on the plane, I was sweaty and uncomfortable. At the Vasco da Gama Mall, I sat at a cafe and enjoyed a pastel de nata and a cold coffee. I thought the mall would offer some respite from the heat, but it didn’t seem to be air-conditioned, so I escaped to walk on a promenade along the sea. At a place called Sea Palace, I had Dim Sum, but that was just as miserable at it had no air-conditioning either. I sweated during my entire meal. I so wanted to stretch out somewhere and sleep, but that was impossible. It was a miserable nine hours waiting for the time to pass.
Finally, I grabbed my pack from the locker at Oriente and and boarded the overnight train to Hendaye at 9:34 p.m.
On the Trenhotel, I settled into a compartment on train #310, Car 13, Bed 31. I found it odd the arrangement of 1s & 3s in the various numbers, especially as I’ve always considered #13 my lucky number. I stretched out on the bottom bunk across from a chubby Spanish woman wearing a black & white striped blouse; she had barricaded herself into her bed with several large suitcases. At one point during the train ride, I tried to close the curtains since the lights from the passing stations kept waking me up, but she snapped at me and refused to allow it.
Above me was an 18-year-old German girl wearing a skimpy knit tank dress; she was traveling alone for the first time. An Austrian girl burst into our compartment in the middle of the night and climbed noisily to the top bunk above the Spanish woman. For a long time, the two girls chatted in German over our heads, “Ach so!” flying back and forth between them. The Spanish woman’s perpetual sighs wove through their conversation. As I lay there, fully dressed in my hiking clothes, sleep proved elusive.
The train trundled and rumbled and clanked, and through the curtains, rectangles of light glided and flickered across the compartment’s walls. I drifted in and out of sleep. The Spanish woman left the train in Madrid, taking her sighs with her.
I finally fell into a deep sleep, waking at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. The German girl and I chatted. She wanted to study at university to be a history and geography teacher. She hadn’t had a great trip because she had problems with her Master Card not working. When she called her bank, they said something was wrong with the servers. She was running out of money. A guy in Barcelona followed her in his car one night; he was masturbating, which greatly upset her. She was heading to Paris to stay four days, after which she’d return home to Germany.
I ate a sweet bun I’d bought from the Oriente train station, but I had no coffee. It didn’t matter, I suppose, as I wasn’t all that hungry anyway.
I arrived in Hendaye, France at 11:33 a.m. on Sunday, September 2. After about an hour wait, I caught another 1-hour train from Hendaye to Bayonne. Out the window, I saw charming red-roof and whitewashed towns against a backdrop of sea.
I think I smelled pretty sour from all the sweating yesterday and no shower for two days.
In Bayonne, I waited with a throng of pilgrims for the next train to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. When it finally arrived, people jammed onboard. It was so crowded, we could hardly move. Luckily an additional car was arranged and half the people moved to the other car, giving us a bit of breathing room. On the train, I had a long conversation with Ingrid from Minnesota.
We arrived in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, September 2. Pilgrims scattered to their albergues in the old town. I trudged up the main street in search of Beilari, and Ingrid went off to her albergue. It turned out that Ingrid and I would stay in Beilari on the night before we began our pilgrimage (our second night in St-Jean) and we’d walk together our first two days over the Pyrenees. I would meet her numerous times on the Camino, but eventually she would leave me behind, as most people did, because her pace was faster than mine.
We walked through the city gate, Porte St-Jacques, into the old town.
I was quite tired and disoriented from my long and convoluted journey as I climbed up through the old cobbled streets to find my sweet spot for the night.
After I checked in at Beilari, I wandered a bit around the old town. As I wouldn’t begin walking until Tuesday morning, the 4th, I knew I’d be able to explore more fully the next day.
At Beilari, I shared a room with Molly from Michigan, Erika from Sweden, and Ferri from Indonesia. At 7:30, we were invited to apertivo. We tossed an invisible ball to each other. When we “caught” it, we shared our names, nationalities, and a brief sentence about why we were doing the Camino. I said I wanted to learn to have faith that everything would turn out all right.
As Beilari doesn’t make a full meal on Sunday nights, they offered a free meal of vegetable soup and bread. On Monday night, we would enjoy a full meal. Two hearty Irish guys told our group they planned on walking the whole Camino in 26 days!
Molly and Ferri planned to walk all the way to Roncesvalles in one day, whereas I’d made a reservation in Orisson for my first night, meaning I’d get to Roncesvalles in two days. They said they were sending their backpacks ahead because of the long walk. I considered whether I should do the same because I was seriously afraid of not making it over the Pyrenees with my heavy pack and my bad knee.
It felt so good to get into a comfortable bed. Beilari turned lights out by 10:30, encouraging a peaceful night for all pilgrims.
**August 31-September 2, 2018*
“ON JOURNEY” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about the journey itself for a recently visited specific destination. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.
In this case, I wrote about my experience of the long journey just to get to the start of the Camino Frances in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France.
Include the link in the comments below by Tuesday, December 18 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this challenge on Wednesday, December 19, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be an ongoing invitation, once on the third Wednesday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!