DAY 0: THE BEGINNING OF THE EL CAMINO DE SANTIAGO
We left Madrid today by train to arrive in Pamplona. At the station, we encountered a bit of a misunderstanding, a taxi fiasco if you will. Once it was all figured out, we began an hour long journey for only the strongest of stomachs.
Our driver whizzed through small villages randomly pointing out sections of the Camino trail in Spanish. He took hairpin turns at questionable speeds and had a short run-in with the police. It was quite the hair-raising experience.
We survived and made it to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port this afternoon. It is the official start of the El Camino de Santiago.
Just over the border from Spain in the Basque region of France, the town is nestled in the foothills of the Pyranees. It is as picturesque as they come. We wandered around and found a 17th century citadel, medieval wall, and a path along the river.
After exploring the town, we enjoyed our first pilgrim meal. The three course meal is offered at most restaurants along the route and is usually between 9 and 14 euros.
Tonight it included vegetable broth soup, strips of pork, fries, Basque cake and a glass of wine for thirteen euros. The dessert is a local tradition that tastes like a lemon filled pound cake. Yum!
After dinner, we slowly made our way back to Alburgue du Pelerin. Tonight we have a private room, shared bath with the most breathtaking view of the countryside. You can even see the city wall.
I can’t believe after months of talking and planning, it is finally happening. Tomorrow is day one and I can’t help but feel anxious and excited. I wonder if we’ll get any sleep?
I cannot believe we leave tomorrow!!
DAY 1: SAINT-JEAN-PIED-DE-PORT TO VALCARLOS
The bags started shuffling and muffled voices could be heard before dawn. Those going over the mountain today via the Napoleon route have a long day ahead of them.
Those of us that decided to take the side route, via Valcarlos, have a less intense day. We walk roughly eight miles to our next overnight so there is no hurry to get started too early.
We head out of our alburgue around 8am, most of the other pilgrims have already left. We search the tiny town for an open cafe so we can get a small breakfast and coffee to get us going.
Most of the shops and restaurants are closed, but we find one close to the beginning of the trail. We take a quick stop then head out for the beginning of our Camino adventure.
We walk on the road half of the time, but we are relieved to find it not that busy with passing cars. The countryside is dotted with green pastures, bunches of trees, and stone houses. We see lillies and stunted sycamore trees.
It is cool in the morning but as the day goes on, we shed our layers.
We arrive to an empty albergue a little after noon in Valcarlos, the sign says “Luzaideko Aterpea Albergue” but we are looking for Albergue de Valcarlos. Turns out they are the same place.
I would consider today a great start! Nothing too challenging for our bodies for day one. Tomorrow will be a tough one though.
Day 2: Valcarlos to Roncesvalles
I have mixed feelings about today because half was road walking and the other half in a magical setting. I hate being on the road, but at least we didn’t see much traffic.
The sections in the forest are lovely. The green moss glows and the treetops provide shade for us on the path. Many flowing waterfalls along the path give us a peaceful background sound.
We came across a friendly local pointing us in the right direction. He even spoke a little English. We comment that he speaks it well and he says he hasn’t spoken English in forty years!
The last quarter of the day is tough with a constant steep climb so we arrive at the albergue exhausted. Tonight we are staying at a renovated monastery turned into sleeping quarters for at least 100 pilgrims, Albergue de Peregrinos Orreaga Roncasvalles. There are multiple floors with two sets of bunks in each sleeping section.
Tired but so far so good. I didn’t even ask myself once, “what was I thinking?”
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