First Fears at St Jean Pied de Port

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St Jean Pied de Port Train StationThis is the view that most pilgrims first get of St Jean Pied de Port as they get off the train. I remember it quite clearly, I was wondering what was ahead of me. I had not read much about the Camino before heading off there for a month, my flat mate and college friend had been my sole source of information.

At St Jean my short lived fear set in.  I had done some planning, packed way too much, stopped over in Paris to see a friend, and now here I was ready to walk across Spain.  What have I done, I though.  Fear has always been there in my life, I still do things but I am aware of its background noise.  It is odd that I didn’t expect it to be there on the Camino, perhaps it is so subtle that I have no expectation of it till it makes it presence felt.  But as usual I trudge on, and I did.

I had imagined me walking in wilderness, I had wondered how I would cope not talking to other people for days on end – oh I was so wrong about the whole experience. I was not committed to walking the whole Camino – I had decided if it was too hard or if I did not like it I was off somewhere else – I had some money in the bank and a completely free sumer in front of me, I was treating it just like a walking holiday – it can be and it can be more than that, so much more.

Getting to St Jean

I traveled by train overnight to Bayonne from Paris. While waiting to catch the local train to St Jean I saw others on the platform who looked like they could be potential pilgrims also. They had their rucksacks, some had walking staffs, some had the scallop shell hanging from their rucksack – they all seemed to eye each other warily. Little did we know that in the days ahead we would get used to just walking up to each other and easily starting conversations. Little did we know of what lay ahead.

Getting Started

St Jean Train StationWhat lay ahead for me during the first few days was pain and lots of it.  I had done some hill walking, but no real training for the Camino Frances, I had no idea what it would be like to walk 780km and walk day after day. Because I arrived in St Jean near lunch time I had to wait till after lunch for the Camino office to open and issue me with a pilgrims passport – this is required to stay in the pilgrims hostels.

So the first day I only walked 8km, but it felt like 8km up a ladder – it was all up hill.  I was a bit over weight and not walking fit – on top of all that my rucksack was just too heavy – 14kg – 10kg should have been the max.  I slept my first night in a hostel for a long time, this took a bit of getting used to – the last time I had slept in a hostel I was a teenager.

The next day I walked onward to Roncesvalles, I was still exhausted at the end of the day once again – I have no idea how unfit people like me manage that walk in one day, it might have helped if I did not smoke…  The pain and doing something helped the fear dissipate and I just got on with the walk in front of me.  I do find the same solution to dealing with fear always works for me – just doing the next thing in front of me.

Oddly, looking back, the more I walked the more committed I became to the Camino.

My memories until I reached Pamplona are still quite vague – due to the pain from my blisters.  I learned how to deal with them and had no problems the second time I walked the Camino Frances.


Posted in Camino Thoughts
5 comments on “First Fears at St Jean Pied de Port
  1. DECLAN curran says:

    HI walked the camino from st jean for two and unfortunatley i got caught up with younger people i met a long the way and found myself walking at there pase , anyway it took me two weeks in my view to find out what walking the comino was all about ,. i had done some things in my life that im not proud of that led me here ,i met lovely people from Germany , Spain ,USA , IRELAND , AND Sweden as i walked along the way .
    I have to say im in my late 40s but young at heart ha , any way walking the camino is something i will never forget , there is something about taking time out on your own to find out more about yourself and who you think you are .
    Having met different people as i walked i found most complained about the weight of there back packs some about there boots.
    There is a lot more i could say but the main thing i took from the two weeks walking was No1 walk at your own pace No2 you only have to eat one slice of the
    cake at a time and not all at once and getting to Santiago is the cherry on the cake.God bless you alll

  2. januarias says:

    one should never fear there are so many pilgrims who care about each other and therefore help is always there. I do enjoy having a companion but if not having found one I always make sure there are walkers in front of me and behind for security.

  3. Patrick says:

    Another nice entry, Leslie. You speak from the heart when you describe your experiences.

    A fellow peregrino said to me that the first third of the walk is about the body; the second is about the mind; and the third is about the heart. This is an oversimplification of the journey. But no doubt, the first days are demanding on the body.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Susan says:

    I want to hear more!!!!

  5. Ellen says:

    Dear Leslie, I too have that fear and like you I take one step at a time and push through it. I’m seriously thinking about doing the walk next year May or June or Sept. or Oct. I think what scares me the most is finding a starting point and how to get from the major airport to the starting point. I’m not sure if anybody will be going with me yet. Thanks for your sharing.

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