Thursday, April 7
Saint Jean Pied de Port, France to Roncesvalles, Spain
25 km / 15 miles
Good morning! Today marks day 1 of my Camino de Santiago!
I woke up this morning at 5 Am, to the rustling of the early birds eager to begin and the loud snores of those still floating in their dreams. I laid in bed a while, proud of myself for gotten a full nights sleep despite the top bunk, the 15 other peregrinos (pilgrims), and the stench of dirty socks and clothes. I hadn’t slept in a hostel dorm room, or as we refer to them on the Camino, a municipal allergies, in maybe 6 years. Yesterdays long travel day from New York definitely helped knock me out.
As more pilgrims rolled out of bed, I began to quietly gather my things, tiptoeing around as not to wake the rest. I ate a complimentary breakfast from the albergue consisting of slices of bread and jam. And after repacking my bag, making sure everything was in its place, it was time. I bundled up, as it was 40 degrees this early in the morning, and left the albergue with a new friend I made, Fernando from Madrid. He has done sections of the Camino before but this would be his first complete Camino.
We made our way down the cobble stoned street. The town was not awake yet as most windows were dark and no one else was out. At the bottom of the road, an arch way signified the beginning of the walk. And as we walked underneath, the bell tower atop rang seven strokes. We begin day 1 to Roncesvalles at 7 am.
There are two routes to Roncesvalles, the Napoleon way, over the Pyrenees, or the ValCarlos way, alongside the mountains. The Napoleon way is a bit more challenging, but also more rewarding, with incredible views of France and Spain below and the feeling of achievement after conquering parts of the Pyrenees mountains. Unfortunately, because of bad weather and snow storms the last week, local governments have closed the Napoleon Way until the snow melts and it becomes safer to traverse. A bit of a disappointment, to be honest, but alas, Valcarlos will be the way.
We turn right out of town and walk through farms, rolling hill, and fields of sheep. The sun slowly began to rose, shining on low hovering clouds in the valleys behind us. It was so beautiful. And we were off. I tried to take in every little step I could; every little scent, noise, and sight. The bells on the sheep on the hillside above us. The cold air on my nose and fingers. The awful, yet wonderful smell, of manure. This is where I’ve dreamed to be and now I am finally here.
Much of the Valcarlos route follows a long winding, gradually climbing road. And we walked along that road, with almost no shoulder, in the direction of oncoming traffic. It wasn’t terribly busy, but very now and then a car or truck would swing around a corner and immediately take the middle of the road as to give us room. I’m sure the locals are very used to us by now. A few times the Camino would turn off the road onto a trail, marked by yellow arrows and yellow shells, hugging a rushing river down below. The entire way so far has been so well marked, yellow arrows and shells everywhere: on buildings, rocks, the road, trees. They have made it almost impossible to get lost. But I’m sure I’ll find a way.
A sign marking 4.8 kilometers to Roncesvalles meant we were almost there. My feet and shoulders were hurting and I could already feel the hot shower I so badly wanted. But not before a steep ascent over a section of Pyrenees, covered in mud, trickling down water, and at one point even snow; it wasn’t long before my feet got wet. And even though we were re routed from the challenge of the Napoleon route, we were welcomed to the Camino with quite an intense climb of switchbacks and sometimes straight up with steep inclines. I think the lack of snacks I brought took it’s toll because my steps dragged on and I was tired. After a good section of snow and views of the mountains around us, including the end of the Napoleon route, we reached the top, greeted by freezing cold air and strong winds.
It felt good to have completed such a challenging climb, maybe 1,200 kilometers (3,600 feet) high, but I knew we weren’t done yet. We had about 2 kilometers down the mountain into Roncesvalles. I set out alone, as I had to take my time descending because of bad knees that were already screaming at me. Melting snow rushed down the mountain, flooding our trail a bit too. But I turned the corner and could see a Hogwarts-like monstrosity of a building in a clearing. And as much as I wished it was Hogwarts, I was happy just the same, as it was the ending point of today, our albergue, where a hot shower and a bed awaited me. And ohhh how hot the shower was. Nothing cleanses the mind and body after a long day of hiking than a hot shower. I arrived to Roncesvalles at 1 pm, completing my first day of the Camino after 6 hours. 37,000 steps, 25 kilometers (15 miles) and I feel good. My feet hurt, my shoulders hurt, my knees hurt, but my mind feels strong. I know tomorrow I’ll be hurting but we take every day one day at a time.
Dinner was in another building in the complex. I can’t even say Roncesvalles is a town, it’s more a church complex with hotel, albergue, three restaurants, and a museum. Nothing else here. Dinner was a 11 euro and called a “peregrino dinner,” basically a full meal including wine for a flat price. And it’s very typical of most albergues. I was sat with three other solo peregrinos: Marcus from Indiana, Giacomo from Italy, and Chris from England who is 64! The Camino is literally for anyone and everyone. After good conversation, a nice hot meal, and delicious local Navarra wine, we headed back to the albergue complex for bed. Lets hope my body isn’t completely sore and stiff tomorrow.
PS I apologize to my American followers, but everything out here is in metric units so I will be using kilometers quite a bit.
I’ll try to provide feet but yeah, sorry.
Wednesday arrival (Day 0)
€20 Transport from Biarritz to Saint Jean Pied de Port
€8 Muscle relaxing cream
€11 Municipal albergue
€4 Fruit and loaf of bread
€70 Bag transport to Santiago
Thursday (Day 1)
€11 Peregrino Dinner