Travel Date: Wednesday, April 16 2014
After I picked up my last bag, I left baggage claim, dug out my iPhone and looked at my tentative plan. Two hours before my first flight, my face was buried in my laptop looking at how I can get from Madrid, Spain to Saint Jean Pied de Port (SJPP) in one day. It was going to be a difficult journey since I just finished flying 12 hours including layovers with little rest.
Looks like I have to get from Madrid Airport (Terminal 4) to Atocha Renfe station in Madrid, transfer to Alcoa Train to Pampalona and then find a Bus from Pampalona to SJPP.
I walked to the information counter and practiced my broken Spanish and then spoke in English. After talking to multiple bus drivers (who were extremely rude) I got the transfer to the correct terminal T1 to T4, and now to confirm the correct train and acquire a train ticket. I got redirected from the first ticket agent, to a second ticket agent, and then finally the third ticket agent who told me for 62 euros I could get from Madrid to Pampalona with ease with two train transfers. SOLD and I will be on time.
I get on the first Renfe train from Madrid to Atocha. Takes about 45 mins. During the ride, I talk to a Spanish girl and her family. Turns out she also speaks English and went to live in New York a couple of years ago. They all wish me a safe journey before they depart. Making friends with Spanish people is easy despite the language barrier.
Forty five minutes later I arrive one hour ahead of schedule, and talk to multiple other Renfe agents to get to the correct terminal. I am learning new Spanish words by listening and constantly interacting. It is very challenging and exciting at the same time.
Finally, I find the correct terminal and make conversations with everyone around me. Some speak Spanish and English and some don’t. But everyone is friendly and eager to help as best they can. And then I begin the boarding the second train from Atocha to Pampalona.
I noticed a guy with a backpack ahead of me also attempting to board the same train. I run ahead and chat with him. Fernando is from Uruguay and speaks perfect English and Spanish. YES! And he is also doing the Camino starting from the same place in SJPP. YES! We are around the same age, and when we compare our tickets it appears that our seat number are almost next to each other. I am one row behind him and one seat to the left. It is said that the Camino will always provide and it sure did.
We hop on board and decide to sit together. A two man wolf pack.
Fernando and I talk for a bit, trade notes on the Camino and our plans to catch the bus from Pampalona to SJPP at 5:30 PM for 20 Euros. He takes a nap, and being the unstoppable friendly chatter box I am, I strike up a conversation with the senorita beside me.
Sonia is from Guadalahara and lives in Madrid. She has traveled all over the world including Dubai multiple times so we initially chat about that and her other ambitious travel plans. I introduce her to Fernando when he wakes from his immediate nap, and all three of us enjoy a great intermittent conversations for the duration of the trip. Sonia becomes my next Spanish teacher giving me tips on pronunciation, grammar, Spanish history, etc. She is really an awesome person, we decide to stay in touch and perhaps I will run into her when I go back to Madrid before my return to the US.
On the train during a lull, a man walks up to us on the train and sees our backpacks and asks us if we are doing the Camino. Turns out he is also going to SJPP and is trying to get all the people on the train who are going to SJPP to rent a taxi instead of waiting for the bus. Not only it is a few euros cheaper but we will get there much more quickly. Fernando and I are on board.
The view from Madrid to Pampalona gives me a good view of the conditions we are going to be walking in. A portion of it is predominantly like an irrigated desert, and closer to Pampalona it is luscious greenery and beautiful landscape.
After we arrive there are about 11 of us catching two cabs from Pampalona to SJPP for under 20 Euros. Not only will we get there waaaay ahead of schedule, but we get to beat the rush traffic and get our pilgrims passport/credentials and check into an albergue (which is basically like a hostel) but for pilgrims.
I and 7 other people hop onto our first bus and we head on out to SJPP.
When we get there all of us are relieved. The ride was quite windy and curvy through the Pyreenes, so many of the passengers were close to getting car sick. We saw many really small but wonderful towns and amazing views of the mountains. Some of them reminded me of the landscapes in Virginia and West Virginia.
First time in a long time I was in two countries in one day and literally crossed the border on tiny bridge. One moment I am in Spain and the next moment I am in France. I love my life and so grateful this dream I’ve had for 2 years is actualizing.
Expenses: 81 Euros
Train: 61 Euros (Ticket from Airport to Pamplona)
Taxi: 20 Euro (Taxi from Pamplona to Roncesvalles)