Day 1: SJPP to Roncesvalles
Our first day on el Camino de Santiago
Mileage: 14.7 miles
We arrived to St. Jean de Pied Port by train the evening before we were to begin our 500 mile pilgrimage towards Santiago, Spain. We were pleasantly surprised to be greeted into an adorable, quaint village. It was picture-perfect and exactly how I imagined a mountain village in the south of France would look like. In anticipation of getting an early start on our trek over the Pyrenees mountains into Spain, we bought some fresh fruit at a small store the night before. We also stopped by the Office of Tourism and registered as pilgrims. We received a pilgrim passport to be filled with stamps from villages and significant sites along the trek. We went to sleep early and set our alarms for 6am.
We woke up, got dressed, and packed our packs. Well, I packed both our packs. It's an art- efficiently packing a backpack to bear weight appropriately, while leaving certain items accessible. I braided Mom's hair (a single French braid is the only style that prevents sweaty hair from tangling into a nest while keeping wispies out of your face). We started our morning with coffee and a croissant, adjusted our packs, and began walking into the mountains. We were out the door when my Mom suddenly realized she didn't have her sunglasses. This was shocking because I'M usually the one losing my stuff. Fortunately, she remembered just in time and found them up in our room. If we had been hiking half an hour before she realized, there's no way we'd go back...valuable mileage would have been gained!
The first day of trekking was tough- it's known to be the most difficult day on the Camino! My poor, poor mother! My mom is super tough and super strong but it's hard carrying a pack all day up and over mountains. I was nervous she'd get hurt or get dehydrate or faint from lack of snacking and everything in between. I routinely proposed snack breaks every 1.5-2 hours. Even if it's stopping for a minute and eating a handful of trail mix, it really helps your mood and energizes you for the next hour. Well, my Mom is stubborn and insisted she felt better when she was walking and felt worse when she stopped. I forced us to stop for a lunch break but other than that we were eating and walking.
Finally, after telling my Mom about 20 times "I'm pretty sure this is the last up", we crossed into Spain! Legs and bodies aching, we started going down- like really steeply down. So down that if I didn't have trekking poles I'd be running from tree to tree to keep from falling down the mountain. It was tough on the knees, for sure. Turns out, we took the dangerous route down the mountain. Classic mix-up...sorry, Mom! The whole time we were hiking down, I was wondering what the dangerous route was like. I was sure you'd need a harness and ropes to get down anything more dangerous.
We showed up to the one and only hostel in the town of Roncesvalles (population: 30) and were assigned bunk beds 256 and 257. We were horrified to find that we'd be sleeping in the same room as 180 other people, literally my moms worst nightmare. But the newly renovated church-turned-hostel divided bunks into cubbies of four, which was much more manageable. My mom handled the baptism-by-fire to hostel life like a champ. We ate an enormous dinner with bottomless wine and slept decently considering the amount of humans in one room.
A Trace of Grace
Notes from a trekking mama
I was not prepared for the armed guards at the airport or the busy city and very long bus ride when we arrived in Paris, but the journey to St Jean got better and better as the day went on. Beautiful rolling fields of sunflowers and the majestic mountains in the distance gave me a glimpse of our journey. I felt like I had entered a wonderland when we stepped off the train and walked up the hill to receive our "passport ".