Homer's Travels: Camino De Santiago - Saint Jean Pied De Port To Roncesvalles

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Camino De Santiago - Saint Jean Pied De Port To Roncesvalles

I got up early and dressed quickly my first day.  I was anxious to leave my traveling ordeal behind me and to get on the Camino and have my real adventure begin.  I’d paid my hotel bill the night before as the front office would not be open until 8:00 AM. I walked down the stairs, put my key on the hook next to the front desk and unlocked the front door as I was instructed the night before. It was 6:45 AM when I started. That would be one of my latest starts on the Camino.

Breakfast was out of the question. Nothing opened before 7:30 AM and many places didn’t open until 9:00 AM. The restaurants along the Camino were not very pilgrim friendly ... at least not in the early morning.

The one day delay turned out to be good for the weather - No rain this morning. I headed out of town along the Route de Napoléon (there are two ways over the Pyrenees to Roncevalles the boring road route and the more challenging Route de Napoléon). The views along the way were amazing with the sun still low in the sky.  I kept stopping to take pictures of beautiful sun lit valleys and mountains.  It was gorgeous and I was a little giddy at this point.

While all the picture taking stops gave me plenty of opportunity for rest, my first real sit down rest stop was at the Albergue of Orisson. I stopped here, bought a Coke, and a Bocadillo de Jamón (A ham sandwich made of thinly sliced Serrano Ham - think Prosciutto). I ate my snack while watching cows graze along ... and on ... the road. I just want to note here that all the sandwiches I ate in France and Spain were on some form of long roll, mostly Baguettes. For the first few days the hard french bread crust tore up the roof of my mouth. I eventually learned to crunch the crust so that it wouldn’t turn my mouth into a raw, painful mess.

As I ate the sandwich the clouds thickened and it started to drizzle. I stuffed two thirds of the sandwich in my pocket, put the rain cover on my bag, and continued on the Camino. Fortunately the drizzle was short lived but the fog was not. The temperature dropped with the visibility. Soon you could only see some 20 yards (18.29 m) in any direction. I refused to put on my jacket (I’d taken it off after leaving the town due to overheating) and other pilgrims asked me if I were cold. I wasn’t as I tend to warm up when I walk. As long as I put my hands in my pockets I was fine.

The fog added to the beauty in some parts and diminished it in other.  It added an aura of mystery to the landscape.  Up ahead a cairn and cross became visible in a fog.  Up until then the Camino had mostly followed roads. At the cairn and cross the path goes off the road and follows a dirt path/road. I pulled out my sandwich and ate some more as I walked by some horses. Bells are still used on the cattle, sheep, and horses and as I walked by the horses you could hear the clanking of bells.

The scenery changed as I entered Spain. Near the border I passed a water fountain, the Fontaine de Roland, named after one of Charlemagne’s paladins (Roland) who, according to legend, died fighting a Saracen ambush.  This was one of the reasons I was a little giddy.  I was walking a path used by Napoleon's armies and, before that, those of Charlemagne and his paladins.  How cool was that!?!  Very Cool.  My first username on compuserve and the internet was Paladin so this all had an added significance to me.

From here the markers became more numerous and the trail was easy to follow (Basque ETA graffiti also made its first appearance here). I also started getting pretty tired around that time. I still had a ways to go and the trail going up and down took its tole on my legs. My giddiness diminished somewhat as my energy level dropped.  I reached a paved road. I’d been told by the pilgrim’s office that the paved road was easier to do then the dirt path down the hill. The dirt path was too steep. I’d been watching for this road. I’d planned on going down the road. In my exhaustion induced delirium, after noting the presence of the road, I kept on following trh Camino markers down the steep path. By the time I realized what I'd done (It was STEEP) it was too late to turn around and my knees berated me all the way down the hill. A pair of treking poles would have come in handy on this hill (and many others to follow).

Reaching the bottom and seeing the buildings that were Roncesvalles was awesome. I could still walk and, frankly, I felt better than I expected I would. I wandered around a bit until I found the Albergue. I checked in, payed my fee, got my credential stamped, and received my bunk assignment. This Albergue holds at least 400 people and probably could hold more in a pinch.

The way up to the sleeping area was blocked so I walked around a bit and came across, at the end of a long hallway, an unblocked staircase leading up. I found my bunk, dumped my stuff in the adjoining locker, and went in search of a shower. I think I may have been the first on the floor and I took advantage of the clean showers and sink area. It was very nice to feel clean, shaved, and with minty breath.

The rest of the afternoon was a mix of walking around and napping in my bunk. It was rather cool out and the wind was chilly. I was wearing flip-flops to give my feet some breathing room. Wearing socks with flip-flops ... doesn't work very well but I managed to do it as it was way too cold to walk around barefoot.  There wasn't much in Roncesvalles - an Albergue, a hotel, a church, a gift shop, and a couple restaurants.

Around 6:00 PM I decided I needed to eat so I went up to one of the restaurants. Turns out the pilgrim’s meals were only available at 7:00 PM and 8:30 PM ... oh yeah, the 7:00 PM spots were all full. See ya at 8:30 PM.

I wandered around but, for some reason, I found it difficult to meet people. Surrounded by close to 400 people I felt incredibly alone. The fact there were a lot of people speaking languages I couldn’t begin to understand was part of it. The fact I was tired and felt the effort to seek out people was too hard was another. I'd hope to run into KV and MC as they thought they might be staying in Orrison but I did not see them.  Turns out they's reached Roncesvalles the first day and had already moved on. My mood sunk a little as I waited to eat dinner.

I managed to get seated a little early. It was warm in the restaurant and felt wonderful after having waited out in the cold for an hour. There were only a few large tables so they grouped pilgrims together. I ended up at a table with a Dutch couple (He spoke English), two Irish girls (A day later I would discover their names, SB and MN), and two Italian girls. When the Dutch man talked to one of the Italian girls (He asked if she wanted bread) she said in perfect unaccented English: “I don’t speak English.” (I would later discover from another pilgrim that the Italian girls were from wealthy families and no one knew why they were doing the Camino. I never saw them again).

The meal was simple and good enough. A salad, thin and tough pork loin, greasy french fries, and yogurt. (Greasy french fries were served with just about every meal I had in Spain. They became less greasy as I walked west.) Most of the pilgrim’s meals that I had in Spain were that, simple and good enough. Few I would considered good - a handful maybe - none bad.

I said my good nights and went to my bunk where I had a restless and very cold night (Someone kept opening the windows). The albergue (all the albergues actually) did not provide sheets. The beds had a disposable cover for the mattress but no cover for the pilgrim. My thin sleeping bag liner was warm but not warm enough. Fortunately for me other albergues would have blankets.  I managed to get some sleep that night.

That’s how my adventure of a lifetime began.

Total Distance: 15.2 Miles (24.46 km)
Total Time: 6 hours 6 minutes
Total Elevation Up: 5,450 ft (1,661.16 m)
Total Elevation Down: 3,084 ft (940 m)

[Click on map for a larger version]


  1. I tend to forget that you guys don't have any real bread. Better use your teeth indeed :).

  2. So exciting!! :D Well, not about the bread that bites back, but it's cool that you are able to do this! :D

  3. Gany: I think the Wife, who bakes some awesome bread, soft bread, would beg to differ.

    Miss McC: Thanks. It was awesome in many ways.