Camino de Santiago, Day 1
Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles 17 miles
This article is a first in my series of walking 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago with my husband Scott. Some articles will be only about one day of walking, and some may include a few days of walking, for the lengths will vary.
The day we had been waiting months for had finally arrived! All of our training, hiking, and preparation would be put to the test. It was day 1 of our 500 mile walk on the Camino de Santiago.
I’m sure you can imagine how we were feeling as we made our way in the dark to our first Pilgrim’s Breakfast at 6:30a.m. Our host from the hostel gave us each a cereal bowl, a cup and a spoon. We sat with two young Korean men and a man from the Ukraine. Our host gave us orange juice and bread, and then asked if we wanted coffee. I declined, as I was worried the coffee would bother me as we would be hiking at a higher elevation all day. The rest of the table said yes, and she proceeded to fill their cereal bowls full of coffee. Yes, their cereal bowls! Very little English was spoken, so the men watched Scott as he poured milk and sugar into his bowl. They followed suit and all drank their coffee from bowls. Scott and I wondered if it was the way coffee would be served on the camino. Lucky for us, it didn’t end up that way other mornings. We did learn along the way that we would be given one glass and it would be used for wine, water and anything else at our meal.
We had a very minimal breakfast of juice, bread and jam with very minimal conversation with our fellow pilgrims. Scott asked the Korean men how to say hello in Korean. They wrote it down on a piece of paper which Scott kept in his pocket for several days, ready to greet them or any other Koreans we may see along the way.
We hefted our packs and made our way up the street to the first of many yellow camino arrows which would guide us the next 500 miles. Wearing long sleeves and shorts, we were comfortable in the darkness and fog.
We followed the main road uphill for the next five hours. Some areas were very steep, sometimes it was a dirt path next to horses or cows, and sometimes just a trail near the road. We saw other pilgrims like us, carrying our packs, with the far away destination of Santiago de Compostela as our goal.
There were groups of pilgrims moving quickly without packs, they had shipped theirs ahead to be picked-up at the end of the day. We met several people and chatted as we walked, but mainly we all said “Buen Camino” in passing, as it was a greeting which covered all languages.
We were amazed at how far up into the mountains we climbed. It was absolutely beautiful, as the rolling hills were dotted with livestock and it was so green.
We were surprised at how many older people were walking the camino. Quite a few were between 60-80 years old! We walked with a little, old, French woman for a long time. Although we didn’t speak each other’s language, we did smile back and forth often. Scott and I stopped often to take pictures, or eat a snack. We saw the little, old, French lady pass us by. Eventually, we passed her again, until the next time we took a break or were sidetracked by a flower we had never seen before, or a horse walking by. Back and forth we went with the little, old, French lady. She took small steps and just kept on going all the time. I really admired her determination. Weeks later as we were walking the camino, if I became tired or was climbing a steep hill, I told myself to keep taking small steps, don’t stop, be like the little, old French lady. I may not have seen her again after this day, but she was often in my thoughts.
One highlight of our day as we neared the top of our climb, was a man selling food and snack out of his van at the edge of the mountain. What a treat to eat hard-boiled eggs and drink iced tea for our lunch, with the most amazing views! Days later we would find out the man with the van was near the unmarked border of France and Spain, and he would have given us a stamp for our pilgrim passport!
Ending Our Day
Several hours later, as we were melting from the heat we drug ourselves into the tiny town of Roncesvalles. This was about 17 miles and 7.5 hours after we had started our walk.
We didn’t have reservations for rooms on the camino, as we hoped to always find a place to stay each day. Unfortunately, we checked at a hotel and a hostel, but their rooms were already full. Luckily for us, we got one of the last rooms at the La Posada Hotel! Our host spoke Spanish and that was when we realized we weren’t even in France anymore! There was no noticeable border crossing or sign that we saw along the way. The hotel was very nice, and included an excellent Pilgrim’s Dinner of lentil soup, pasta and fish. In the morning we were served lunch meat and pastries.
The main tourist attraction in town was the Collegiate Church. Exploring the grounds, we bought fresh cheese from a small vendor.
Day 1 was a great success and we couldn’t wait to see what other experience the camino would bring us.
DAY 1: 17 miles and 7.5 hours of walking