December last year was definitely different from those I remember from previous years. Christmas, New Year’s Eve. Shopping, cooking, Christmas Eve, gifts. Dressing up like Santa Claus. This time there was none of that. On 6th of December, I have started a journey, from Saint Jean Pied de Port, a small French town, which was supposed to take me to Santiago de Compostela, and then to the ocean. I hoped the long lonely journey would give me answers for some questions and lead me… I did not know where. Today, after four months, I sit down to write down this story and the memories seem very clear. In case of any difficulties I have my notes and recordings as a backup. This is the first post out of a series of posts about Camino, in which I would like to sketch out the process of preparation and what I did on the last days before the start.

Where the hell did that idea come from? People don’t often make the decision to spend the most family-friendly months of the year alone, walking dozens of kilometers every day. Pilgrimage? I must admit that I did not treat my Camino that way. I have read about Saint James in the middle of the journey. I was not prepared at all. I needed loneliness. One of the most, if not the most important stage in my life, ended. I knew that I would need time to sort everything out in my head. December seemed perfect. Camino, however, was not my first thought. In November I browsed the offers on the workaway site. English teacher in Indonesia, an employee on a farm somewhere in Argentina. It sounded great but there was no time to prepare everything. Camino is definitely easier. You do not have to prepare anything at all. Just pack your backpack and go. I learned about the route two years earlier from my friend Monika who spent the whole September on Camino. After the trip she decided to move to Spain.

Once the decision was made I started collecting information. I have to admit that there is a lot of them on the Internet. Most of them, however, describe Camino during the summer. I knew that Saint James route in December will look totally different. On one blog I found the opinion that northern Spain in the winter has very similar weather conditions to Scotland. Wonderful. I wanted to get through all of Camino Frances, so I had to start in France and face the Pyrenees at the very beginning of my trip. So I had to prepare for the snow too. A whole range of possibilities. When the weigher’s meter exceeded 17 kilograms, I stopped weighing my backpack. Fleece, rain jacket, two pairs of shoes, one for winter, the other for summer conditions, thermal shirts and trousers, rain trousers, cape, cap, gloves, mug, thermos, food box, water bag, about two kilos of food, headlight, knife, pocketknife, pepper spray. I did not know what to expect. Two pieces of thermal foil, just in case. Ebook reader, dictaphone and a notebook, computer, camera and tripod. I gave up with ukulele. I have to admit that I regretted taking a computer with me very quickly. And quickly I started to resent my DSLR as well. I still don’t know how much my backpack weighed. In Berlin, where I started the whole trip, the weight at the airport indicated 20.8 kilograms. However, I had the computer, DSLR and few other things with me on board.

On November 29th, after 9 P.M. I started my journey. I spent 9 hours in Polski Bus reading “Pilgrim” by Paulo Coelho, which was the only  paper book I took with me. I left it later in the hostel in Barcelona. I do not recommend it. The book, not the hostel. I spent three days in Berlin. I visited some museums, Christmas markets, where you could smell the mulled wine and curry sausages. On the 2nd of December I flew to Mallorca from Schönefeld airport. Palma de Mallorca was terribly boring and I regret that I had to spend two whole days there. I  took a few photos, went on short walks. But I had to be careful because on the first day in Berlin on my right foot I saw… a blister. Yup. I had about 800 kilometers in front of me and I started with a blister. Life.

From Mallorca I caught a ferry to Barcelona, where I only managed to visit the Escriba confectionery. Around 10 P.M. I arrived to Skate Hostel where I spent the night. I got up at 5:00 A.M. The room was terribly stuffy. It is possible that I began to feel a bit of stress. I did not know what to expect. It was not a good night. I was just glad that the Russians I met in the evening did not sleep in my room. Those guys did not have personal culture at all, gently speaking. I gathered all my belongings and went to the kitchen. I made myself a breakfast. Unfortunately, the oven did not work and I was forced to cook my pasta in the microwave, which I mastered to perfection later on. I wrote that I took two kilos of food with me. Mainly pasta and Knorr instant. Yummy! Plus a lot of chocolate. Well, that’s all. I ate some pasta and packed the rest in a plastic box. At 6:10 I left the hostel. After 200 meters I caught a taxi. The woman driving the car was writing something on WhatsApp the entire way. Probably romance, I thought. Later, I saw a photo of her son, who she was trying to convince to go to school. Such an affair.

I got off at the station. I smoked the last cigarette. After four hours of sleep, I had a strong headache. I went to the platform number four. To my surprise, there were tapes for scanning luggage at the entrance. Shit, I thought. The list of forbidden goods included knives, and in my backpack there was a pocketknife and a tourist knife. I put a backpack on the tape calmly. The camera and handheld backpack landed next to it. A moment of uncertainty. Nothing happened. The backpack traveled smoothly. Suddenly one of the bodyguards shouted ‘WAIT!’. Shit. Fortunately he stopped the guy who tried to run without being controlled. I succeeded. On the train I tried to sleep at first. Later I watched a movie in Spanish and began to work on the photos. At some point, I decided to check the departure time of buses that run from Pamplona to Saint Jean. I clicked the search. Nothing. Zero results. Impossible, I thought. A month ago there were at least three buses a day. Of course. But not in December. The only option I got was to get to San Sebastian. Fortunately, I was siting on the train that was finishing its course there. In Pamplona I asked the controller if I could buy a ticket from him. I paid 22 euros and I returned to the train. In San Sebastian I found a bus station and found out that unfortunately there are no tickets left. Luckily, there is the Internet. And there weren’t any problems with buying tickets online. I got a little hungry so I decided to find a shop. I bought two beers, peanuts and a roll. I had a great urge to smoke. The bus drove me to Bayonne. All I had to do was catch the train to Saint Jean. When I tried to buy tickets in the ticket machine, it turned out that it was not possible to choose the last train of the day. A “Special Train” label was displayed next to it. The morning train was available. I started to check the accommodation options. The prices were starting at 35 euros. Fortunately, at the cash desk, the gentleman said that I can buy a ticket from him. And the “Special Train” was just a bus. The driver immediately knew where I was going. The backpack said everything.

And so I finally reached Saint Jean Pied de Port. After leaving the bus I knew that besides me, Camino would be traversed by at least four Asians. Asians here? Together, we found the Pilgrim House where two older ladies, who only spoke French, handed us Pilgrim Passports for which we paid two euros each. Pilgrims Credentials are necessary when you want to stay at Albergues. The French also informed us of Napoleon’s closed route leading through Pyrenees and penalties up to 12,000 euros if one chooses to go there anyway. Well that is not nice. We said goodbye and went to the Albergue Municipal. Two Asians, as it turned out all South Koreans, went to sleep at the hostel. I went to Albergue with the other two. Father and son probably. We knocked. Nothing. The light was shining but it seemed that nobody was inside. After a while the father went back to the Pilgrim’s House. After a moment a smiling girl opened the door and said that we just had to press the small piece of metal to enter. At first I thought that she was a receptionist. However she disappeared into the room and told us to come inside. After waiting for a while it turned out that the reception is self-service. 10 euros had to be put in the envelope with the number of the bed. And that’s it. In the kitchen I found out an information about breakfast between 6:00 and 8:00 in the morning. Free bread, butter and jam was in the fridge. After checking in, I went for a short walk in search of a shop and a beer. I sat down and wrote a note from day zero. An American was talking loudly on the phone. He said that he dreamed that the interlocutor was also with him on Camino. I heard nervous laughter. I went to take a shower. I did not know at that time that soon it would become one of the most pleasant events during next days. I took out the beer from the fridge, drank it and started to get ready for sleep. I practiced Spanish before bedtime. From my experience, I knew that it will be hard to communicate in English. It was the 5th of December. I still did not know which path to take tomorrow…