The Adventure Begins
In July 2018, during my section hike into Santiago, I had a chat with Sue from California. She was telling me about a guy named Brian who she had met on the first day of her pilgrimage. Brian had a business called "A flavour of the Camino", where he would guide new pilgrims for a week's adventure on this magical path. He helped organise their accommodation, luggage transfer met his customers each morning for a "briefing". Brian gave them detailed maps and itineraries for the day ahead and basically, the new pilgrim did not have to think much for themselves, just walk. To me, that wasn't what the Camino was about. It is ok to have a guide and point you in the right direction, but the Camino is something that you experience through the magic of walking, eating with people from all over the world, making new friends and sharing in the beauty that this country has to offer. The Camino is about enlightenment, the discovery of new things and finding your way in life, and in my opinion, this cannot be wrapped up in a "package holiday" style experience - but the idea was fermenting in my head about organising a Camino experience for those who were not confident about taking those first steps on their own.
In summary, my Camino Tasters would achieve the following goals:-
- Walkers would become pilgrims and feel part of something special.
- Each of my clients would experience at least one night in an albergue/hostel (even if it was in a small room of just eight people).
- My customers would have a plan for fitness levels and feel confident the minute they stepped onto the trail.
- They would be well prepared for things such as gear to carry, mileage we were covering, how to use apps for navigation and much more
- Each customer would spend some time on their own and process anything they needed to process. It was essential for me that they knew how to walk at their own pace and appreciate that it is not always essential to walk with the people with who you arrived with.
- Each customer will also experience a moment when they open up to a complete stranger (or a stranger will bear all to them). There is something quite healing about this process and it happens naturally on the Camino.
- My main objective was to inspire each person to continue their Camino journey on their own (or together) after this experience.
With the above in mind, I was about to take my first customers on their very first Camino experience. It would be four days of walking, from St Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona. We would be spending two nights in Albergues (pilgrim hostels) and the other two nights I expected to stay in plush, more comfortable hotels.
They say your Camino starts from home and today has been no exception.
Rachel and I left the house around 8 am, we had a quick McDonalds breakfast and collected Julie & Becky. Stansted, here we come! There were eight of us in total. Myself, Rachel and Julie were all reliving a previous Camino, but Becky (15 years old), Hayley, Debby, John and Caron were all newbies. (I won't mention the ages of the others, but let's just say that they were all over 50).
We were all flying from Stansted to Biarritz with exception to Julie, Becky & Rachel, who was flying to Bilbao (as the flights were much cheaper). The plan was to meet up in Bayonne (France) later that evening. I hugged Rachel goodbye at Stansted and wished them a pleasant flight, whilst I waited for the rest of the gang to turn up. There was certainly an element of nervous excitement in the air as I hear a squeal from Caron when she spotted me at the airport. Hugs all-round and then to my surprise, Hayley announced that she has a present for me. This is rather bizarre, but as they walked through the airport doors Hayley trod on something that had been left of the floor! Yep, it was a plastic cow! (Of all things). As she handed it to me I knew that one of my challenges during this Camino was to get over my fear of cows. I knew I would be facing them, but at that stage, I didn't know that I would actually be walking alongside them!
Everyone is putting their rucksacks into nice little bags, whilst Debby and I are digging out the clingfilm. It is important to make sure that the straps on your backpack are wrapped up well otherwise they get caught in the conveyor belt and it can make a right mess of your pack. As I am nursing an aching back from all the clingfilm wrapping I making a mental note to purchase a little bag of my own. If I can find one that will double up as a rain cover then I won't be carrying any extra weight.
The Ryanair journey was very fast and the pilot managed to trim quite a bit of time off the flight.
We landed in Biarritz and one particular pilgrim was on a mission to get a taxi. This pilgrim needed to be in control and wanted to get to the end destination as soon as possible. I smiled to myself as I knew that the need for control would change over the next four days and a new person would start to emerge at the end of this journey. As we were waiting for everyone else to use the bathroom, I started to wonder what other lessons each pilgrim would be learning on this Camino. I knew that my lesson was going to be patience. To the extent that Rachel and I had agreed a private word between us. If I heard her say "Pineapple" then this meant "Mum, be patient!". Needless to say, the word "pineapple" was said to me numerous times a day for the first few days! I was with some very strong-willed clients, who were all very successful business people and they each had their own way of doing things. I was also with my daughter who had a mind of her own, and my best friend who if she was any more laid back then she would be horizontal. "Pineapple - Be Patient".
Julie, Rachel and Becky’s taxi had a massage chair and heated seats!
It was now nearly 7pm and Julie, Becky & Rachel had not yet reached the hotel. I was starting to get a little anxious, but then I remembered that I was connected to both Julie & Rachel on Find Friends (good old technology eh?"). I launch the app and discover that they were minutes away. I join John at the cafe across the way. John is already on his second expresso and clearly enjoying every mouthful. He tells me how good the coffee is so I head inside and order an Americano. The others turn up and then the car arrives with Julie & co-inside. They have been travelling in a very posh Merc Benz that had heated seats and massage chairs! The downside was that the driver was grumpy and didn't say a word to them on the whole 2 hours car ride. All settled and time to explore.
The hotel is very cosy for two unsuspecting pilgrims!
We purchased train tickets and then explored the beautiful city of Bayonne. Getting the tickets was something else that I could have easily purchased ahead of time (like a package holiday), but I wanted my customers to experience every moment. Trying to figure out the ticket machine was all part of the journey. It was interesting to see who took control and they all helped each other out. The bonding was starting already. Little did I know at this stage that two pilgrims were about to get very cosy together!
We saw a shark, another cow and a nice man with a young girl on his shoulders took our photo.
The landlady at the hotel recommended a restaurant which was over the river. John loaded it into Google Maps and we all followed his lead. It was at this point that Hayley mentioned to me that their triple room was not the three single beds that I had booked. Debby & Hayley were in a double bed!! I was horrified! These people hardly knew each other and were about to spend their first night in the same bad. Eek! I offered to speak to the hotel to sort it out, but they told me it was only one night and that it was not really a problem. In hindsight, I should have offered to swap rooms and me and Rachel could have easily shared a double bed together, but I didn't think about it at the time. Yep, this was going to be an interesting trip!
Bayonne is obviously a popular destination for stag and hen weekends as we saw all sorts of sights on our hunt for this restaurant. A man dressed as a shark, another party were dressed as cows and we spotted lots of little noddy busses. We found the restaurant and the waiter did not understand why we wanted to sit outside. I could imagine him muttering "mad Brits" under his breath. We just wanted to watch the world go by and enjoy being by the river.
Dinner tonight was a Tapas delight, although two days budget was blown in one night!
After dinner, we took a leisurely stroll back to the hotel. John went off on his own to explore the city and came back with lots of amazing photos.
As I type there is a full-blown concert going on outside our bedroom window in Bayonne! It continues into the night and I am worried about the lack of sleep for both me and my tribe.
Tomorrow we start walking!
Each turn in the road brings a new adventure. Bringing customers onto the Camino is something completely new to me and I am a little bit worried that it may spoil my own Camino experience. At the moment everyone is getting on really well and there is still a lot of nerves and excitement in the air. Tomorrow we start walking and I am looking forward to taking a sip of wine at the Orisson in the Pyrenees. I just hope the weather is kind to us.