This was day 1 of our almost one month long Camino de Santiago adventure. Click on the Camino de Santiago label to see all related posts.
As I have already mentioned in my opening post on Camino de Santiago, we chose to walk along the Camino Francés branch of the way. We flew in to the nearby Biarritz airport and arrived to Saint Jean Pied de Port on a sunny Sunday afternoon of May 18th, 2014.
We started our Camino in France mainly because we wanted to experience the Pyrenees. Another reason was that we had thought we could just squeeze those 800 kilometres into 26 days we had for walking.
The first thing we did upon arrival was stamp our pilgrim credentials. First impressions of SJPdP were not all that great. Prices in the town were quite a bit higher than we had expected. We had one of the worst pizzas ever and it was not cheap either.
We were just hoping this had something to do with the fact we were in France.
Apart from that we liked the look of the little town. It is tucked amongst small hills with Pyrenees already visible to the west.
Pilgrim menus were on offer for 12 Euro. A bed in an albergue dorm room costed the same.
Since the weather can get really nasty in the Pyrenees, we had been hoping for good weather on our initial day. We have heard quite a few stories of recently injured pilgrims on this part of the way. A few people also die on this part of the Camino almost every year.
Luckily at 6 in the morning we woke up into a beautiful morning, had some fruit for breakfast and just before 7 we headed for the hills. Views were getting better and better as we were climbing higher. The steep path got us huffing and puffing at some points but we were able to keep quite a good pace. It seemed like we were well prepared.
We started our day at 180 metres above sea level and reached Col Lepoeder mountain pass at 1.430 metres (the highest point of Camino Francés) before descending again. Roncesvalles, our destination for the first day, lies at 900 metres and is already in Spain.
The total walking distance planned for the day was 26 kilometres.
Roughly after 8 kilometres of walking and a half of the total vertical gain in elevation planned for the day we stopped at Refuge Orisson. Many pilgrims choose to spend a night there and continue in the morning. We were still quite fresh and after a sandwich, Basque cake and a glass of orange juice, we were on our way again. It was quite a break - one and a half hour long.
Apart from a few clouds the sky was mostly clear. The wind however was picking up and at some points it was very strong (gusts of over 90 km/h as we learned later).
Somewhere near the top I had to take care of my first blister. It was a really small one and the smallest of Compeed plasters took care of it. We both took the opportunity to dry our feet and change into fresh socks.
On the way down we kept thinking about a dangerous stretch of the path we were told to avoid. There was a bit steeper section which we think was the "dangerous stretch" but it did not seem like anything special to us. Maybe in bad weather it is a different thing.
At 14:30 we already reached the imposing monastery at Roncesvalles (Orreaga in Basque). Check-in procedure was followed by a thorough stretching session. We were feeling good.
The monastery albergue is really huge (183 beds), well kept and very well organised. A hot shower that felt really good was followed by a relaxing afternoon and a good supper at a nearby La Posada restaurant. We enjoyed supper with other pilgrims and shared a few laughs. Spirits were high.
After supper we got back to monastery just in time to see the end of evening mass. From there we went straight to our room. We were already pleasantly tired and lights out policy at 22:00 made perfect sense. We set our alarm for 5:30, put in our earplugs and drifted away...