Camino de Santiago : Day 1
Wed 13th September
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port > Roncesvalles
Distance Walked: 25km
6am the alarm was set by the old Frenchies, which kind of meant everyone was getting up whether they liked it or not.
It set the tone for what the rest of the walk might be like, regardless of what your schedule is, if you’re staying in the Albergues (that’s what they call these gigantic hostel type places) with anywhere between 6- 200 people in a dorm, then you will have to get used to the early starts and be up when the first person rises. Earplugs and eye-masks are a must have item. Considering they have signs that tell you to check out by 8am, I don’t think there’s much sleeping in that goes on anyway and after a long day walking, getting to bed early is not only essential but usually welcome. The place I was at last night had a 10pm curfew so I figure you can’t be out partying at Church raves until all hours anyway. The lady running the place was funny, but in a rude kind of way, or was she rude in a funny kind of way? She was abrupt and straight to the point, probably dealt with enough tourism in her time so I didn’t blame her, but it made me laugh. She had a Korean couple speaking broken English and it was all very comical watching them check-in before me. We had to take our shoes off before we entered the room, no washing clothes in the bathroom sink and it was an extra 5 euros for breakfast. NO! YOU CAN’T USE THE KITCHEN! It all seems very strict. Not the most welcoming of rules but that’s just what it is. The funny part is, people associate hostels with youth travellers on a budget, but the Camino has all ages doing it and everyone stays in the same accommodation, so you have 18 year olds and 80 year olds in dorms. It’s going to make for an interesting experience.
I got on the road by 7am, avoiding the breakfast which I later found out was just bread and jam, I’ve travelled a bit and tipped this would be the case so I gave myself a pat on the back for a job well done and told myself those 5 euros would be spent on beer at the end of the day. It was still dark and my head-torch was used for all of 3 minutes as the road wasn’t so badly lit. I can’t see myself being up that early again but I can’t bare to throw it away until the batteries go flat either. I’d bought a shell to tie onto my backpack for 2 euros, it’s a symbolic thing Peregrinos do, and I noticed they were selling hiking sticks, and I mean just sticks, that they’d polished and put a bit of string on for 10 euros. They really make a killing off the tourism here! I thought I’d wait for when I walked by a tree and just get one for free. My brain works in weird ways, one thing I won’t justify spending money on, and then I’ll buy a souvenir guide book for 17 euros, which has no city maps or is of any real use, I will be with people along the way, I have maps on my phone and from the moment I walked out the door I was at a loss for where to go and couldn’t be bothered looking in the damn book, so I just waited a minute for 2 others coming my way and allowed them to show me the way and away I was. Not long into it though and I felt annoyed by my disorganisation. I might have over-packed… I was supposed to carry around 8kg ideally so they all said. I didn’t factor in the weight of water and snacks, or the rest of the bag to be honest! I won’t lie, I didn’t get around to weighing anything, all I know is that when I walked out the door in Barcelona with the pack, it felt good. I had packed the night before somewhat stoned. Yep, I smoked a marijuana. Is mum reading this? I had been at Bunkers Carmel, a lookout overlooking Barcelona and sampled a ‘J’, this slowed my night down completely and made for a rather amusing effort trying to pack. When you’re packing for 40 days away its somewhat important to get it right. And I was in no state to be making sensible decisions! I had the option of borrowing proper hiking sticks in Barcelona but because I was too tired, my phone battery was going flat and I didn’t know my way around the city, I decided to skip that option. When you’re hiking through the Pyrenees mostly uphill and then downhill, your back and neck decide to remind you that you’re a bloody idiot! And maybe you should’ve gotten sticks! I felt the burn early on. . Around 5km in I did find a tree stick on the side of the road that clearly someone else had used, they’d even carved bark off for their hand area. I had my stick. I was good to go! It took about 8km before I found my stride and another couple of km’s before I switched shoes to feel fresh. I was told it’d be 27km today but we came in at 23km. However, my pedometer thingy I bought at Decathlon a few days ago told me I walked 25km since I left the hostel, so I’m trusting that! For what I paid for it, I hope it isn’t lying to me. (I spent a lot of money at Decathlon, a large chain of recreational & sports department store – and I see that many others did also, there’s a few generic brands and most people are wearing it). I did around 33,000 steps and who cares about the calories. I’m not dead yet. I had a few stops to enjoy the view and take some photos, but my body wanted me to push through and take the pack off and soak my feet.
The scenery was beautiful, perhaps similar of the Scottish Highlands and some farms in my home area to be honest. However, the atmosphere was a little different. From the moment I walked out of the bedroom I was greeted by an over excited Frenchman who shook my hand and wished me good luck. “Buen Camino” is how people greet each other on the walk, wishing you a good walk. From saying “bonjour” to “hola” as I crossed the Spanish border, and dealing with not knowing what language anyone spoke as I was passed by them or as I passed them, the safest greeting seemed to be “buen camino”. It’s what I will hear a lot on this walk. I’d better get used to saying it myself. Some people wanted to interact, others were in groups or on a solo mission. I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to talk to anyone for a great deal of time. I had my book and an iPod but realistically knew I wasn’t going to pull either of them out. I got chatting to an English guy and a German girl and had a beer at the end of the day with a Danish fella who wore a red robe weighing 2kg and looked like Gandolf. He was on his 6th Camino, however he had never walked the entire distance before, this time he was about to. There’s this one Albergue in Roncevalles which is an old monastery. Pretty much they have a monopoly in the town and run the show. They charge 12 euros for a bed and another 10 for a meal. All I’m saying is, the church is doing FINE! Stop giving them donations! I was stopped by a group of Spanish and French police on the walk, asking my intentions. I wondered if this could have ended me in jail if I said I didn’t have one yet, instead I deflected their questions by asking for a photo. Along the walk while sat eating some snacks a bird flew above me. I thought it was an eagle and I was smiling so much. I felt like this was a sign, that I was like an eagle and I was flying solo and… then I thought, your eyes aren’t great, it could’ve been a vulture or hawk looking for mice in the farms, so what do you know Marcus? Shut up and eat your snack. At a peak overlooking an amazing view there was a cross on the side of the road. The first of many I would see. I leaned down and noticed it was for a man named Jean-Paul, he was Dutch and I can only assume had died on the Camino in 2009. Now I’m not religious, but I know this is traditionally a religious pilgrimage and something came over me, I don’t know why, maybe because it was the first one I saw or whatever, but I felt compelled to cross my chest and said “Buen Camino Jean-Paul”. I looked out across the view and a shiver ran through my body. It wasn’t until I looked again at his year of birth that I realised he was my age when he’d died. Spooky. I walked off smiling, knowing that he died in a beautiful spot and knowing that if I died right there and then I’d be OK with it. I also smiled because I was alive and was doing something I wanted to be doing and felt grateful. And sometimes you need to stop and smell the roses. Then again, that might have been what got him killed! Too soon?
Dinner was a mix of Canadian, Spanish, Danish, English and French company at my table. Languages spoken were a mix but most settled on English. I’m broken from the walk, I have one blister and all I can think about is sleep.