Editor’s Note –

Santa Ynez Valley Star contributing writer Robin Laroche just started her journey across the Camino de Santiago for her birthday. Hope you enjoy her travels as much as we do!

April 13, 2018

By Robin Laroche

Well my friends, here is the first letter home.
Needless to say, I made it. After 11 long hours up and over North America and across the Atlantic on the smoothest 747 flight I think I’ve ever been on. Literally. Not a single bump and the softest landing ever. Amsterdam greeted me with clouds and a wind chill of some freezing degree in centigrade, but Danmark gave me beautiful sunshine, though just as cold. It’s a good 30 minute drive from Billund to Dons, and every passing mile of the countryside is worth the drive. I have told quite a few people about the beauty of Danmark, every cable, electrical wire, telephone line, etc. in this country is underground. That said, as you drive along the highways and byways, the only thing you see are rolling hills, farm fields, homes, churches, and lots of forest. Nothing is tainted by colossal poles with obnoxious wires hanging about. It is one of my favourite things about the country. Now you have a visual.
I can’t quite explain the comfort I feel here, but when Hans Axel and I got to his house, it just felt like coming to my second home. I love it. Dorte, Hans’ sister,  picked me shortly after I arrived and we went to town to exchange some money and run errands.
Kolding was just the same. Every building a different color if not brick, every road cobbled and old. All the squares still charming, and despite the freezing cold, people still milled about in coats, wearing smiles, even sitting outside on sidewalks sipping coffee and eating scones. We ran our errands and stopped by her appartment, then ventured out on a walk around a park I had never visited. Danmark has had the longest, coldest winter in 30 years and it is finally starting to wear off. The leaves on all the trees are gone and they stand naked with tiny buds ready to burst. The snow has melted so the ponds are full to the brim and little brookes run along the walking paths. Dorte told me that by the time I am done with my journey and return, everything will be green. I can not wait.
Hans and I are off to the market,
April 17, 2018
Leaving Danmark was the turning point.  I hardly slept the night before,  tossing and turning, looking at the clock every half hour or so. I finally wokeup at 545 and tried to collect my thoughts.  Everything felt surreal; was I really getting on a plane to head to France? Was I really going to walk 470 long miles thru Spain? Why? What was I doing it for? Could I even really do it? And a zillion other thoughts that, indeed, questioned my sanity.

I laid there for some time staring at the cieling before rolling out of bed and getting in the shower. Hans wasn’t taking me to the airport until 8, and though I felt like I had time to kill…. the minutes ticked by before I could count them.
I was’t until we left the yard that the lump in my throat built. I didn’t know if I wanted to cry or laugh or both. My insecurities screamed at me… what the hell were you thinking doing something like this at your age, alone??!   I suppressed tears and sucked the lump back in to my belly, and calmly responded, because I am strong, and because I can.
Hans and I said our farewells, I’d be back in a few weeks time. Then I headed to security.
Hoping over to the UK, going thru customs, then getting back into the departures used up the 3 hour layover I had quite nicely… if your in Stansted, the less time is the best time. Both flights were smooth and fully seated, though I didn’t speak to a single person on either. I think I was preparing myself for solitude without actually being alone.
Arriving in Biarritz was no great prize,  but it was easy and made figuring out how to get to the hotel simple.  It’s a tiny airport,  and for that I was thankful.  I failed to change any money into euro’s in the UK because I was sure the French airport I was destined for would have a kiosk.  Not true.  There I was with American money and credit cards and not a clue how I was going to get to the hotel. And once again that beautiful, divine voice that resides inside me, called out: mom gave you euros!
I dug through my bag and found the little pouch of coins mom gave me before I left. 11 euros. God help me, please say a taxi isn’t more than that. I sent up my prayer and headed for the taxi dock, jumped in a cab, and 8 euro later, I was at my hotel.
After checking in, I ventured out. It’s now or never Robin, start your journey, my voice sang out.
I walked about a half mile to the market and spent about and hour inside, trying my hand at deciphering French.  All I have to say is, there is a reason why there are pictures on products. Thank God for universal marketing. I picked up some essentials and headed back to the hotel.
Starving and tired, I showered for what I knew would probably be the last time in a private area for a while, and threw on the only lounge wear I brought, my favorite sweater and leggins, before heading for dinner. Book in hand and wallet on hip,  I sat at a high table in the corner and again, praised photography.  The pictures of everything looked delicious, however only the cheese board made my stomach groan. “Un petite (pointed at the fromaige)…” and my server finished with asking me if I’d like wine with it. My brain said Duh, but I politely nodded and replied “Red Please”.  Three chapters, five pieces of cheese, a fresh warm baguette and half bottle of wine later, I was ready for bed. It was only 9:30 p.m., but I needed rest.
I slept like a bear in hibernation.
My body was preparing for the long trek ahead. I felt it.  It felt like peace.
April 18, 2018
This morning I was wide awake at 5:30 a.m. I dressed, packed, went downstairs and grabbed a latte from the vending machine, checked in with mom and dad, then started for the train station. To my surprise,  last night when I was looking in to getting to Saint Jean, I found that my hotel was equidistant from both the airport and the train station. How i lucked out, I do not know,  but from what I am learning as this journey is unfolding, my guardian angels are very present.
I have no idea if my hotel was in the ghetto or not,  but as I walked in the pitch black morning hours,  I was surrounded by industrial buildings most of which were decorated with vibrant graffiti.  There was not a soul out,  nor a car engine warming, just me,  my pack,  and the swish of my hiking pants as I made my way down the street. For about a half mile,  my senses were on high alert,  hearing everything, seeing everything… then I saw the station. Only one person was inside. It was warm and the smell of croissants filled the room, so I bought one, and a latte,  from the cafe… where I waited for my 7 o’clock train.
I’m sitting on a bus bound for Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port and have been writing this email since I boarded the train to Bayonne. Everyone around me is bound for The Camino. All ages, all nationalities, all sizes. For the first time since I’ve I left,  I no longer feel alone. There is no longer a lump trying to rise in the back of my throat,  no tears trying to give a good crocodile roll down my cheek.  The country side is inviting and beautiful.
I have an unfamiliar feeling settling deep within me… a sense of inner strength that I didn’t know I had… My own voice telling me, You are strong,  you can do this.