Keeping up her habit of getting into the cars of people she hardly knows, our heroine used Blablacar.com for the first time today. It’s basically Uber meets hitchhiking. Drivers post where they’re going, when, how much money they want, and how many spaces they have available. Riders search for someone going their way. Why? Because it’s cheaper and faster than public transportation. And you get to meet some locals.
Riders can check out the profile of their potential driver, which includes reviews, photos of the driver and their car, as well as a little info about the driver and their trip. Riders commit by paying via PayPal or credit card.
Our heroine searched for a ride from Bayonne, France to Burgos, Spain. She found a 31-year-old woman heading from somewhere else further back in France, across Spain, and all the way to Portugal. But both of our heroine’s towns were on the way. They texted back-and-forth to set up a meeting place, and this morning our heroine took a bus to the IKEA in Bayonne to meet her ride.
The car was filled nearly to the brim with people and bags. Our heroine was the sixth passenger. The rider in the backseat noticed the scallop shell on our heroine’s backpack (a universal symbol of the Camino routes and the pilgrims who walk them) and asked if our heroine was going to walk the Camino. “I was walking a route in France– from Le Puy to Figeac, and now I’m going to Spain to volunteer at a hostel along the Camino.” Turns out the rider in the backseat was headed to St Jean-de-Luz, a town on the Atlantic coast of France, to begin walking the Camino Del Norte. It was her first time doing a Camino, her first time doing anything physically challenging. And why? Because her father had died in January and she needed to clear some space in her head, she said.
Thirty minutes later the future pilgrim departed the car outside her destination. Our heroine noticed that she had a cardboard sign on which she had printed “Centre Ville,” the words that mean “center of the village” in France. Though the pilgrim had no Camino experience, she was obviously an experienced hitchhiker. Our heroine wished her “Buon Camino,” and then quickly realized that the new pilgrim had probably never heard the sentiment before, and didn’t know what it meant. But soon the pilgrim would hear it nearly every day from people wanting to wish her well on her journey.
The group settled back in, and two hours later pulled off the highway for a lunch break. The only man in the car picked up some food at McDonald’s. They then drove to the small village they saw and set up a picnic in the park beside the church. Our heroine went to the nearby bar and had her first tortilla of this trip. (A tortilla in Spain is like a quiche without the crust. Except that it only has potatoes–and sometimes carmelized onions–in it.)
Another hour passed and they reached Burgos. Our heroine first noticed yellow arrows, and then pilgrims with their packs, and realized they were driving along the Camino route. Our heroine encouraged the driver to let her off 3 km (1.8 miles) from the historic district. All four of the other passengers were headed to Portugal and had another five hours ahead of them, and our heroine knew she could find her way to the Cathedral and the nearby municipal albergue (hostel) by following the yellow arrows.
Despite the 90° heat our heroine enjoyed being on the trail again. She was in the newer, modern part of the city and the large buildings shaded most of her way.
A few blocks into her walk, a man in dress pants and a button-down shirt wished her a “Buon Camino” as he walked past. She said, “Merci,” not having yet adjusted to speaking Spanish instead of French.
Forty-five minutes later, she arrived at the municipal albergue. The signs at the entrance said it was only for pilgrims. She wondered if they would accept her as technically she had really not walked very far that day. She tried to explain to the men at the front desk, who spoke no English, that she was going to be a hospitalera (volunteer) on Friday at San Antón, but they had no idea what she was trying to communicate. So she just showed them her Camino credential (a small book she had that showed stamps she had collected along the way thus proving her legitimacy as a pilgrim). The men confirmed that she wanted one bed, accepted her five Euros, and then pointed her in the direction of the elevators.
Our heroine found her way to the sixth floor and to her assigned top bunk. Memories flooded back as she took in the scene before her. Twenty bunkbeds in one room. Towels hanging from the edge of them, pilgrims hoping they would dry by the next day. Sleeping bags spread on mattresses. The din of German, English, Spanish. She was certainly not on a French Camino route anymore. This was the start of a whole other experience.