Getting to St. Jean Pied de Port

I´m a little behind but what´s new.  I see that Chris has posted a blog entry already (isn´t he speedy!) which is great.  I´ve completed my first day too, but before I write about that I wanted to tell you about getting to St. Jean Pied de Port as it turned into even more of a rigamarole than I expected.  I wrote the following ¨journal¨entry while waiting for the train to SJPP:

We left the hostel at 8:15 am and it is now 6:30 pm and we are still in Bayonne. Our day did not go as planned right from the start.  Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the post office at 8:30 sharp when it was supposed to be open only to find it locked up tight.  Come to think of it, the streets were awfully deserted for a Monday morning at rush hour.  As we stood in front of the post office looking rather confused and perplexed, a passerby called out in Spanish, ¨It´s a holiday today – everything is closed!¨  Great, now what were we going to do with all our stuff than needed to be shipped to Santiago de Compostela? Our gear was now reorganized and not easy to carry.  After considering our options, we headed to the bus station with all our bags, not a simple task.  If we could catch the 9:30 bus to Irun we may have enough time to post our baggage from there, assuming, of course that they didn´t have a holiday today too.

We soon discovered the 9:30 bus was sold out.  How could that be when just the night before we checked on line and the bus was virtually empty? I guess there were more travellers with the holiday.  All we could do was book the next bus, a luxury bus at more than twice the cost (29.50 euro instead of 13.95).  Ahhh, but what luxury we enjoyed.  These were quite possibly the most comfortable seats we have sat in since be began travelling eight months ago.  And we had on-board service to boot!  It was the best bus ride we have taken, even better than that luxurious bus between Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls.

As we pulled into Irun, we kept our eyes peeled for a post office.  Amazing – there was a post office just two blocks from where the bus dropped us off.  When we reached the post office, it was open – no holiday in Irun!  The lady at the post office did not speak a word of English but very patiently listened to my bastardization of the language as I tried to explain what we needed to do.  Well, in no time flat she produced two large boxes, tape, marker, scissors and proceeded to package up our belongings.  Within fifteen minutes we were on our way.

Now we needed to hurry to catch the train from Hendaye to Bayonne, but we were still in Irun.  I thought Hendaye was just a short walk down the street but we learned it was over 3 km away.  We needed to get there fast in order to make our connection.  We went back to the train station where the bus had dropped us off.  Imagine our surprise when we saw a train departing in just 10 minutes.  When I tried to purchase our tickets, the man said, in French, we needed to go to the regional train station to catch that train.  Just 300 m straight ahead and then turn right for 100 m.  Sure, no problem.  Now that we only had our Camino packs on our backs (11 kg for me and 13.5 kg for Chris – I know they are too heavy), we could really hustle our way to the station.  In fact, I broke into a run near the end, only to see the tail end of the train leaving the station a full five minutes early.  Now what?

A station attendant who only spoke Spanish (I was getting dizzy with the languages) said we could catch the local train to Hendaye – just 100 m ahead and then turn right and then something something.  My Spanish is not very good.  We found the exit to the station but could not find the entrance.  Finally, losing patience and just focused on catching the damn train, I suggested to Chris we jump the exit barrier – we needed to catch this train.  As I was hopping over the barrier (something I have never done in my life I assure you), Chris feebly observed there were security cameras watching us….but he followed suit anyways.  We had been reduced to criminals but at least we were partners in crime!

Once in the station, we saw the next train left in 15 minutes giving us plenty of time to purchase our tickets.  Now it was obvious where the entrance was so we headed to the entrance but we were stopped in our tracks.  You needed a ticket to exit and you need to exit to purchase the ticket.  The woman selling tickets came out of her booth to see what our problem was and I explained we did not have tickets but we wanted to buy tickets (this was in French).  She said, ¨But where did you come from?¨ ¨From downstairs,¨ I replied innocently.  She looked confused and then I explained we jumped the barrier.  I apologized profusely assuring her we were not criminals and we now wanted to legitimately buy our ticket.  She obliged us shaking her head in disbelief.

We arrived in Hendaye with 20 minutes to spare only to learn our 6:00 train to SJPP was cancelled.  Why?  A holiday in France of course.  These holidays are killing us today.  But there is a 9:00 train that will bring us in at 10:30.  We buy our tickets wondering where we will sleep tonight as we know all the hostels shut their doors at 10:00 pm.  Perhaps this will be our first night sleeping under the stars.  Outside the station we met a mother and daughter who tried to persuade us to share a taxi ride with them at 110 euros.  We declined and they found another person to split the cost.

I wrote the above while we were waiting for our train.  The end of the story is as follows:

The train was on schedule and we arrived at 10:30 in SJPP to find the little village quite closed down for the night.  We headed to the Pilgrim Office as we heard they sometimes stayed open for the last train.  Maybe they could help us find a room for the night.  On our way, a woman popped out of her hostel and notified our small group (about 10) that she had 4 beds available – a double private room and 2 dorm beds.  We grabbed the private room sight unseen.  We then went to the Pilgrim Office which was open to get our passports and general information and a shell, the symbol of the camino.  We even managed to get a snack and a beer.

We crawled into bed at about midnight enjoying our last night together.

Note:  I apologize there are not photos.  I have a few for this post but cannot upload from this computer.  Will do so later when I have better access.


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