Books read, hundreds of questions answered, training done and my backpack prepared with such precision and sub-10kg efficiency… the day had arrived. I was as ready as anyone could possibly be to fly to Paris with my El Camino pilgrim friend Jenny. We couldn’t have been more excited. Goodbye to our husbands, we were ready to board.
Our scheduled arrival in Paris gave us plenty of time to connect with the train to Bayonne. Within minutes, it seemed, Jenny had collected her backpack from the carousel. Mine won’t be long, I thought, we had plenty of time and I’m always up for a bit of people-watching at baggage carousels, particularly in Paris. However, when the carousel emptied and Jenny and I were the only ones left standing, my heart sank.
Within 15 minutes it was confirmed, my backpack was missing, and no-one, but no-one, knew where it was. “There’s not even any record of it leaving Australia”, the attendant said. “Come back in the morning”, was all she could offer. Apart from my ‘flight clothes’ (fortunately including my beloved walking boots) and my purse, I had virtually nothing for my so eagerly-anticipated El Camino adventure, let alone an unexpected night or two in Paris waiting for my gear to arrive.
Two days later, still no bag. Three consecutive early morning visits to the airport revealed nothing; the mystery deepened. All the airline was prepared to do was give me an over-sized T-shirt and a toothbrush! Accommodation, food and replacement gear were my, or my insurer’s, problem they claimed. (By the way, after returning home, I discovered that our accommodation and food while waiting in Paris was not covered by travel insurance!)
Teary, disappointed and angry, but determined not to let this monumental airline stuff-up affect my Camino, Jenny and I went shopping. All I needed was the bare essentials I thought, 5kg max. I hopefully imagined that my pack would catch up with me in the next few days. We planned to set off the following morning.
After a night at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port we were ready to register at the pilgrim office and buy my scallop shell. My Camino had started, and all I needed to carry was 5kgs, a blessing in disguise I thought, trying to put a positive twist on recent events.
The language barrier and our moving every day made it difficult for us to know the latest regarding my bag. Almost two weeks later, arriving in Najera, Jenny’s mobile phone received a message to say ‘Phone the airport’. Happily, they had found my bag but were not too sure where to send it. It then occurred to me that neither would I know where to send it because we were arranging our stages and accommodation as we went. Also, I was a bit nervous about having it sent somewhere that might be insecure; I had a second credit card and some personal valuables in the pack.
Surprisingly, by this stage I was doing quite well with my 5kg pack. Washing stuff every night was proving workable. I was certainly appreciating the lighter load. A passing trekker from Norway had given me a beautiful fleece (to lighten her load), and an Aussie from Victoria gave me her sandals. So I agreed with the airline that they would send my just-under-10kg pack to Santiago de Compostela, to the hotel we’d booked for a treat at the end of our Camino. I went on to complete my magnificent 6-week Camino with a 5kg pack, without any difficulty or inconvenience.
I like to occasionally share my ‘LOST Tango in Paris’ experience with prospective Camino trekkers because I feel it helps demonstrate how little you really need in the way of clothes and accessories. Although it was wonderful to dive into my original pack and have a change of clothes at the end of the walk, I didn’t actually need all the stuff I’d packed in Australia. We saw numerous folk in trouble with the weight they were carrying, some with aches, pains and blisters that were seriously delaying their progress and, worst of all, impacting on the sense of wonder, excitement and achievement that comes from doing the Camino with a clear mind and healthy body.