So Tom, Camilla and I decided not to wait for 7 more hours for the bus to Saint Jean Pied de Port (SJPP), and that we will hitchhike to there instead starting now. Two nights no sleep, two days no proper meals, I just decide to follow them and see how it goes. We follow our designated route which turns out to be longer than I have expected…WAY longer than I have expected.
We end up walking 2 hours 30 minutes, with only 1 stop in the middle at a supermarket where I got an apple and water. Something general about me personally, I adore coffee; I wake up in the morning for coffee before anything else! So yeah it was torture being that sleepy and not finding any bars on the route we’re taking to have a coffee. it was then that i learned that humans, like horses, can sleep while standing, or basically while walking! and wake up hitting a wall or just before tripping!
We finally decide this is the place we’ll hitchhike from. Being a first timer I let them do it, I think it took us around 30 minutes to get our first ride which is not so bad. It’s a small Citroën which we fit all inside, the guy speaks English and he starts a conversation with Tom. He could only take us to Zubiri though which is around 17 km down the road, where he works. I passed out during this whole ride, and woke up when we stopped in Zubiri, we got off the car and finally found a bar right there on the road and I had my coffee!
It was after we returned to the road again and sat there trying to find a car for over 40 minutes that Tom surprised me by saying it is kind of hard to hitchhike the three of us together, and that we should split! Of course I couldn’t say anything to him but I was thinking to myself that I should have just stayed at the bus station, now I’m in the middle of nowhere and the two people I’m walking with will just leave me here! Nice!
He was nice enough though to stop a car for me and let me go with it and they stay for another ride. I got in the extremely old Renault with a very old driver who speaks no word of English. I kept trying with all the energy left for my brain to function to explain to him that I want to go to SJPP, and he probably had a hard time too explaining to me where he was going, which I have no idea what that was. Except at the point when he stopped in a small looking village and pointed at a house and said “Mi Casa”, yeah ok, now I understood that this is where he is going.
I got off the car in the village I still don’t know its name, but which seemed to be +/- 20 Km after Zubiri. I walk through the village and I meet some Camino bikers. My first Pilgrims, on their way to Santiago. I get a better feeling that I am in the correct direction because I’m going opposite to them. After the village was over I stayed there on the road for over 45 minutes, just pointing to whatever car passing by, none would stop. Until finally someone decided to take me, a 4×4 Nissan, a young driver looking in his 30s, who speaks no English.
I, however, understood that he is not going all the way to SJPP, he is only going to Roncesvalles, 28 Km away from SJPP, and it will be my first stop after day 1 walking the Camino. He seemed to be making fun of pilgrims like me, who are having a hard time reaching SJPP, and they are going to walk back to those cities anyway. For some reason this made sense to me, but I was still determined to reach SJPP. The thrill of crossing borders (that don’t exist) and just saying I have walked from France!
This third ride was all going uphill, steep uphill, until at some point we reached Roncesvalles and he dropped me off, high on the mountains, and yes you guessed it, in the middle of the clouds. I have always dreamed of walking through the clouds, since we don’t have very high peaks in Egypt to do that so I’ve ever done it before. However being in that situation, 2 days no sleep, tired, hungry, don’t know how I will reach the next place, having to hitchhike in the clouds? This is not how I imagined my first encounter with the clouds hehe.
I tried standing on side of the road as usual and waiting for cars, but cars never came. And in no time I was soaking wet, still only in my shorts and a t-shirt, I was freezing! My hair was dropping water on my neck which made me shiver hehe. So I finally decided that Roncesvalles to SJPP is a day’s walk, 28 Km, I will start walking before I freeze to death in this spot, and still I will sign to all cars. So I’ll either get there walking or I will get lucky and a car will pick me up.
The walk was descending, and it was annoying because when going down the mountain on a road you keep on going back and forth in the same place, just moving down. I was again having the mixed feelings of what the heck am I doing here? Why am I doing this to myself? Will I be able to make it? Will I be able to even make it to SJPP?
After what seemed like forever, which was about 45 minutes, finally a car was nice enough to stop and pick me up, a Citroën Berlingo. First thing I notice is that there was a dog in the backseat, and then I noticed that there are 3 people in the car. This was weird because whenever there were more people than the driver in the car they usually never stopped. I open the door to get it and this was really surprising, movie happy ending likewise! It was Tom and Camilla inside.
I get in and we start catching up on what happened, they have been also having a hard time finding a car a little bit before Roncesvalles, and they have had one more ride than I did, which lasted for 500 meters! The lady driver was French, no she wasn’t French; she was Basque! And very proud of the Basque country. My French isn’t so good (my Spanish is better than my French…), but Tom kept talking to her and translating to me, she kept telling us about the Basque country, its borders in North East Spain and the neighboring France. She didn’t stop talking about the Basque.
At one small village she stopped at a supermarket to buy cigarettes, when she came back she had 3 lighters with her with the Basque flag, she gave them to us! It was very sweet of her! And it was really nice to have a friendly person after a tiring journey.
We finally reached SJPP and she dropped us off in front of the tourist information office. We get directions for the pilgrims’ office and go there, get our credentials (the pilgrim’s passport) and book us beds in the albergue.
I went in the albergue to meet my bed, yes this was a meeting! An intense one! Took a shower, went out and had some proper food, walked around SJPP a little, went back to the albergue and met Tom and chatted with him a little bit.
In our room it was only me, Tom, Camilla, and the guy who gave the first advice on the Camino about how to pack, and a weird tall blonde guy, who was sitting alone outside in the cold, with a Johnnie Walker bottle and a map of Europe. I will not lie me and Tom made fun of him at that point, saying he was thinking “What the hell brought me here!!!” and then gulping down his whiskey to forget it.
PS. This Johnnie Walker guy is the most I made friends with at the end, and he knows I made fun of him when I first saw him! If you are reading, Thanks for being there for me dude :).