Camino Frances | Day 1
Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, 24.4 km
And the adventure begins
First day on the Camino. I made my way from the french town of Saint Jean Pied de Port to the border town of Roncesvalles in Spain. Cold day with a few surprises and over all challenging start to a long journey.
One minute update
Day one, so excited, the start of an epic the journey, an adventure of epic proportions, I think you get the idea. They say you are supposed to say something meaningful and here I am at a loss of words. The morning started with a quick breakfast at the Albergue and I was out the door at 6:30 am before the sun came up. It was pretty cold as I walked the empty streets of Saint Jean Pied de Port.
I had my first technical problem as my camera is set to NTSC and it’s not in sync with the electricity in Europe. Let’s not get technical, you end up getting a flicker effect. The only way to fix it is to set the shutter on the camera to 50 instead of 60.
I followed a couple of pilgrims on my way out of town and soon I was out in the countryside walking steep hills. For now, is all been paved roads but that’s about to change.
Today promises to be one of the hardest day as I need to walk 21 km, climb 1,400 meters (4,000 ft) over the French Pyrenees in one swing as opposed to splitting the day in two as some pilgrims do. This should take me anywhere between 6 to 8 hours and my body is already feeling it.
The views of the French countryside were spectacular. The low-level fog blanketed the cow and sheep gracing fields. My expectations are simple, leave the daily stress of modern-day life behind and go back to a simpler time, to embrace the stillness of el Camino. Therefore, I decided to put away my headphones and try to be in the moment. Experience the here and now and not drift away into my old habits.
Not all that wander are lost, I know exactly where I am and I know exactly where I’m going but it is just going to take some time. As it turns out I’m somewhere between the French and Spanish border. I thought for a moment that I had crossed it but I was still a good 10 km away.
I made it to the albergue in Orisson. The landscape was very eerie as the fog had covered the area. I set my backpack down next to ten others or so and went in for a second breakfast. As it turns out I had a Spanish omelet and some coffee and milk. As it turns out, this will become my staple breakfast in the coming days. Heads up, this is the only albergue you can stay if you plan to split this stage. Book ahead as it fills up fast.
I kept going into the mist and soon it was a total whiteout. I could only see a few hundred feet in any direction. Walked past some emergency shelters used in the winter times when it snows up here, and the temperature plummeted.
I came across my first cross or memorial to a fellow fallen pilgrim. It hit hard, to think although uncommon, some people do die attempting this pilgrimage. The sad part is that the majority die in the first weeks of the trek as your body is not used to the physical excretion you are putting it through.
I saw the first pilgrim walking el Camino with dogs. It is not an easy task as municipal albergues don’t allow pets and they need to carry extra rations to feed them.
Got my last French stamp and a snack at an improvised stand in the middle of nowhere. The guy spoke a little Spanish, enough to tell me the temperature was 10 degrees Celcius without considering the wind chill factor. My mouth was completely numbed from the cold, and I was having trouble speaking into the camera.
Made it over the highest point and refilled my water bottle at a fountain next to the border with Spain. Surprisingly enough they have wifi all the way up here.
I am now in the province of Navarra, 8 km to Ronsesvalle. The trees have lost their foliage, and it covered the path. The forest looked dead and spooky with some patches of burn vegetation, but I’m officially in Spain.
The battery on the microphone gave out due in part to the cold temperature. I will buy a replacement in the first market I come across. The drone was also complaining about the low temperature as it did not want to take off at one point.
The sun started to creep up from behind the clouds just as I made it to a second emergency shelter only 5.2 km from Ronsesvalle. I was done with the climb but what goes up must eventually come down and that it did. This where I wished I had brought my trekking poles with me. I left them behind trying to save on weight but realized they are a necessity here.
I walked the last stretch into Ronsesvalle with a group of Spanish pilgrims I will grow very fond of in the coming days.
I checked into the massive albergue, I put away my shoes, took a shower, washed my clothes and hanged them out to dry in the backyard. I got the top bunk bed, 172 if you are ever there. I was sharing it with a Korean family. The place had sketchy wifi and a donativo box. If you don’t need an item or are looking for one this is the go-to place.
I walked around and realized this is not even a village, let alone a town. It is just two albergues, a couple of restaurants and a church. I saw a bus full of pilgrims arriving, and this is where I learned that to the Spanish pilgrims this is the official starting point of El Camino and they don’t like it when you call it El Camino Frances.
I had my first pilgrim meal with the company of many strange faces, some of which will become friends. I finally thought of something inspiring to say and it goes something like this “And so the story goes that with a single step an extraordinary journey unfolds.” What do you think? That’s all I got
Daily Cost Breakdown
Rue de la Citadelle, 55 | +33 617 103 189
Refuge Accueil Paroissial Kaserna
43, rue d'Espagne | +33 559 37 65 17
Gîte d'étape Ultreia
Rue de la Citadelle, 8 | +33 680 88 46 22
Gîte d'étape Beilari
Rue de la Citadelle, 40 | +33 559 37 24 68
2, avenue Renaud | +33 524 341 900
6, route d'Arneguy | +33 559 370 236
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Gîte Buen Camino
30, rue de la Citadelle | +33 663 26 1 202 | +33 559 372 523
Gîte Le Chemin vers l'Etoile
Rue d'Espagne, 21 | +33 559 37 20 71 | +33 670 20 82 13
Gîte-Chambre d'hôtes Ferme Ithurburia
Route Napoléon | +33 559 37 11 17
+33 559 49 13 03 | +33 681 49 79 56
+33 559 49 13 03 | +33 681 49 79 56
Albergue de peregrinos
+34 948 760 000
+34 948 760 105 | www.hotelroncesvalles.com
Hostal Casa Sabina
Roncesvalles, 18 | +34 948 760 012
Carretera Francia s/n, 31650 Roncesvalles, Spain
+34 948 790 322
+34 948 760 105 | www.casadebeneficiados.com