Finding the Camino

Just getting to the Camino was an adventure!

Mountain views from the bus

Mountain views from the bus

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.

Hydrangeas in France

Hydrangeas in France

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.

The streets of Lescar

The streets of Lescar

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!

Arriving at the refuge

Arriving at the refuge

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