Thursday, September 19, 2013

Day 1 - St Jean Pied de Port (France) to Roncesvalles (Spain) - 25km

I made an early start on that first morning, after a restless night - almost bang on 7am - nervous and unsure of how I was going to manage the distance, the climb, the weather.  I wasn't anything like the first out of the blocks, though.  Dave from the US, with whom I walked and chatted with a few times over the next few days - is passing through the archway immediately after the church entrance.

As I climbed through the foothills and it got lighter, there were glimpses of views back into France, and by the time I reached the auberge at Orisson (was that really only 8 kilometres?) a light drizzle was falling, so a cup of tea was very welcome.  A third of the day's target done, and I haven't collapsed yet - there's hope!

When I resumed walking, the foot traffic had increased noticeably- many pilgrims spend the night at Orisson to get a head start on that first day - and I got a measure of how one is never alone for very long on the Camino.
As I climbed, the drizzle came and went, the mist pretty constant.  This is what much of the first day of the Camino looked like. Sadly not a grand view, but to be honest I'm not sure how much I would have noticed. I was trying too hard to breathe to concentrate on much else.

The last stretch up to the highest point at Col de Lepoeder (1450 metres) was through both open and wooded terrain - very pretty in spite of the lack of a grand view, and I got a second wind.  I filled my water bottle at the Fontaine de Rolande, and proceeded up the now rather muddy track past the stone marker into Navarre (16.7 km).  Two-thirds of the journey done - I was tired and absolutely soaked - from perspiration rather than the rain - but at least the end was in sight, figuratively speaking at least.

From there the track went steeply downhill through tussocky slopes, and then finally through a picturesque beech forest along a valley to Roncesvalles.  Spent the last hour or so trying to keep up with a very fit guy named Ralph from Frankfurt.

The hostel in Roncesvalles is a newly renovated building with almost 200 beds - very modern, smart and clean, and run efficiently by Dutch volunteers.  After a very welcome shower and getting my clothes washed, I spent the afternoon lying on my bed resting. Then enjoyed my first "Pilgrim Menu" - including grilled baby trout trunchetta and red wine - in a restaurant nearby, getting to know Ralph, Dave and a couple of Japanese pilgrims with very little English.  Another early night - establishing a routine.

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