Starting the Journey
On April 24th I was standing nervously in the floor of my flat looking around and wondering after a three hours sleep: Should I really go? It would be so easy to stay. And just go back into bed. Ten minutes later I watch myself walking to the bus station. But the bus has already left two minutes ahead of schedule. Wait a minute… was that a sign? Tempting to think so. But I resisted and ordered a taxi to catch my train to France. „Are you Konrad?“ the driver asked. „Sure“ But while getting into the cab I thought: „Who is this guy starting this trip all by himself?“ I used to travel alone a lot when I was a student. To Africa mainly. But the last years I only made trips with my boys or my girlfriend. Or as a business. So here I am all by myself starting my way from Wiesbaden to Saint Jean Pied du Port.
I had a short stop in Paris Montparnasse. Not to give up here and continue instead was mentally a hard part again. Why should I really go? I have two sons back home who might actually need me there. My business is not the strongest at the moment. Some clever marketing ideas would be useful. Maybe a relaunch of my wedding pictures website. And for 6 years I am in a long distance relation ship, even though I am not a long distance relation guy at all. I had many good reasons to turn around and go back home. Then I heard music in the distance. It felt like a soundtrack to my doubts. I was fascinated by a guy who played movie themes at a piano. Right there in the train station. The Jungle Book. Pirates of the Caribbean. And as I turned around I saw the first pilgrims heading to the train. Paris is by far the most beautiful city on earth and it was really tempting to stay a few days and then go back home. But, I jumped on the train heading to Bayonne.
The camera vs. the brain
While watching France through the window passing by my thoughts were roaming around in all directions. The usual carousell. And the landscape started to get blurry. At that moment I started to realise that our brain too has the option to blur the world out – just like my camera. If I concentrate and focus on the world outside – I can see it sharply. Just like a picture taken with a very fast shutter. But as soon as I let my thoughts wander around everything gets out of focus because of the speed of the TGV. Just like a picture taken with a longer shutter. ‚Funny‘, I thought. Maybe I can use the trip to get a new feeling for photography again.
From Bayonne to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
From Bayonne onwards our little pilgrim tour continued by bus. A bus full of pilgrims. Felt a bit like a school trip. No idea how many busses arrive in Saint Jean Pied du Port per day. But it is a picturesque town fully prepared for pilgrims. Pilgrims like me. A strange feeling to call myself a pilgrim!
The first challenge here was getting my Credencial del Peregrino. This is your pilgrim passport. It is your entry ticket to the pilgrim alberques – these nice little cosy places where you try to sleep. Well at least some really are cosy. And it is the booklet in which you collect the stamps on your way. You need a certain amount of stamps to finally get your Compostela – your certificate of pilgrimage. So I went to the friendly and well organised pilgrim office, got in line and pretended not to look too nervous. Is it starting here? My pilgrimage? Somehow I thought back to the moment when I moved out of my parents home and moved to a beautiful town called Marburg to study. In order to enlist I had to get in line at the university and sign in. Me, Konrad Licht. This was the moment when I should officially become a student of social anthropology and film. And the moment when I had to stand on my own feet. Back than in 2000 I remember well how I could not stand it somehow and walked outside to take deep breaths. I was afraid. I remember how I had to get outside the university building. But I can’t remember how I went back inside. That memory is blurred. But since the next day my studies did actually begin, I somehow must have managed to overcome this fear.
In the busy pilgrims office I did not need to go outside. Seventeen years later I guess I am somehow grown up now. A little bit. And beside the Credencial and some nice tips for the route I also got my pilgrim shell as a trophy for growing up. The shell was on a donation basis. And I had a glimpse on the huge map on the not so freshly painted wall. The route I am planning to walk. I never walked such a distance in my life. Physically I am not unfit. I run two times a week. Last year even a Marathon. In Paris, of course. But walking 800 km with a 9kg backpack leaving everything else behind? Will my feet manage that? How about my back? And how about my mental constitution? I felt strange in that moment.
I guess it is to late to turn around and go back home now. At least today. So after I finished in the pilgrims office I checked in into the first pilgrim alberque: The Auberge du Pelerin. It was a six bed room. I was excited but not too much in a party mood on my first day. So without looking left or right I went straight to have dinner alone in a small restaurant nearby. Twelve Euro for a menu including soup, unsalted chicken and dessert. And including wine and water. I decided not to drink alcohol on my way. After dinner I walked a little bit around this nice little town, took two or three photographs and went to bed. I wondered how I will be able to sleep after such a long and exciting day. And with the strangers in the room.