The starting point for the Camino Frances is the medieval town of St. Jean Pied de Port. Our first night was at the aubergue Le Chemin Vers L’Etoile; the owner an ex-Parisian that walked the Camino 9 years ago offered his sage advice, “the Camino will provide what you need but maybe not what you want”. This was a bit of foreshadowing for our overnight in his 500 year old peregrinos hostel.
Starting at around 4:30 am, some of our fellow pilgrims thought getting an early start was a good idea and starting digging through their packs and clomping around in their boots at that ridiculously premature hour. So John and I rolled out of bed at 5:00, and hit the pavement by 7:00 am; it was still dark outside. We were excited to finally be on our way … until we started up hill.
Today was a classic Douglas “death march”. Over the years, our family has been involved in a number of death marches, hikes or walks driven by some unwavering need to get there. No one can fall behind; no matter the distance, the heat, the cold, the elevation, the blisters. Today was such a day. The climb was 3,000′ elevation gain over a total distance of 24.8 kilometers or 15.4 miles. The hike is said to have lovely views of the Pyrenees but today was cold (upper40’s), and windy, and rainy. Ten long hours after we started, we walked into Roncesvalles, our stop for the night.
Despite the tribulations of weather, the hike was awesome. We chatted with fellow pilgrims from Canada, Germany, Japan, England, and Wisconsin (not actually a country) and everyone had a story and a smile.
We saw herds of Basque mountain horses and long wooled Latxa sheep. The mist rolled across the desolate highlands and occasionally the distant villages peaked out of the fog. An amazing first day. -K