Just getting to the Camino was an adventure!
In Toulouse, I woke up at dawn, gathered my belongings, and headed out in search of the gare. Following my downloaded map, I wound my way through sleepy city streets. When I got to the station, I was grateful to discover that the bus to Pau was still running, seemingly unaffected by the bus strike. After visiting the first of many French restrooms without toilet paper, I climbed into the bus, smiling and apologizing for my lack of French as I attempted to buy a ticket. Eventually, I joined the passengers heading to Pau.
Especially given the last two data points, it appears that the success of a given hike is inversely correlated with the amount of preparation I’d done. I spent months getting everything in order for the PCT: I studied the maps, dehydrated all of my meals, arranged all of my mail drops, updated my gear, and trained extensively. I left with lots of fanfare and returned just 1/3 of the trail later. In contrast, I headed to Spain without more than a handful of people knowing and basically winged my wonderful Camino, as I had only a general idea of the route I wanted to take.
And, that’s why the bus ride to Pau left me awestruck. I’d known that the Col du Somport was a pass in the Pyrenees, and I’d known that the mountains were grand; however, I had not expected to see them on the bus ride, to find them rising steeply from the horizon and covered in snow. I couldn’t wait to walk among them!
The bus dropped its Pau-bound passengers near a roundabout in the center of town. After orienting myself with the map, I began the journey to Lescar, where I would find the Chemin d’Arles.
As I walked to Lescar along a busy boulevard, I felt as though I could have easily been in any suburban setting in the US: There was traffic, there were billboards, and there was even a McDonald’s. I took a detour for a lesson in how impossible it is to use a post office when you can’t speak the local language.
On the road into Lescar, I got my first taste of the Camino: Outside of town, there was a gated home, with a sign outside welcoming pilgrims. As I paused to try to decipher the information, a local bicyled past, shouting, “Buen Camino!” I didn’t know then how significant a part of Camino culture those words were; I had arrived!