Camino, Day 1 (April 5): St. Jean Pied de Port (France) to Roncevalles; 26.6 km (16.5 miles)

    • Blessings of the day (and not necessarily in order of occurrence or importance):

The forecast called for rain, but the rain never came! The forecast called for clouds and we had some times of sunshine!

    The energy and enthusiasm (ours and that of our fellow pilgrims [at least through the first half of the day…])
    Drop-dead gorgeous scenery: the greenest of green hillsides, waterfalls cascading down mountain paths and creating rushing mountain streams
    Meeting hikers from all over (Korea, Ireland, Brazil, Germany, France, Australia, and more!). All eager to smile and wish one another “Buen Camino”
    We continue to misplace every single thing we have brought with us, BUT… miracle of miracles, we seem to find those misplaced items after a lot of searching; nothing irrevocably lost to date
    I had a bad fall today about 8 or 9 miles into the hike (my right hiking pole caught on another hiker’s left pole; stopped me in my tracks and sent me crashing forward onto the tarmac BUT, and this is the blessing, so pay attention! Wait, not “blessing” but “blessings,” plural: I broke nothing, not even my glasses; nurse Ginny was at the ready with antibiotic spray and band-aids; I was able to get up on my own and forge ahead; and you’ll probably be spared viewing photos of my face for the next little bit…
    There was room in the monastery/convent when we arrived (it has 183 beds, but… there are a lot of pilgrims out here!). We are in a cute “cubby” for four, sharing it with a young girl from Korea
    We had a picnic lunch with a great loaf of crusty bread accompanied with sliced turkey and cheese; isn’t this the simplicity one yearns for when eating outdoors by the side of the road?
    We’ve heard rumors that tonight’s “pilgrim’s dinner” might come with wine. After today’s hike, that will be VERY VERY WELCOME!

I recommence this post several hours later. YES! There was wine! A bottle for our table of four. Here’s what our 10 euros bought us in addition to the wine: a bowl of pasta with a bit of sauce; trout (for the fish lovers) and a chicken leg & thigh for yours truly, along with the ubiquitous French fries; a basket of bread; ice cream (or yogurt or an apple). In case you are wondering: yes, I had the wine and yes, I enjoyed some vanilla/chocolate ice cream and YES, I ate every bite.

To continue those blessings:

  • We made the tail end of the Pilgrims Mass and got in on the “blessing” for Pilgrims. Tonight it was in Spanish (as opposed to last night’s French), neither of which I was able to understand well due to the acoustics of the centuries-old churches but which, however, were appreciated. We lit candles tonight in thanksgiving for a successful first day.
  • There’s internet access at this very old convent/monastery turned hostel. Not very strong, but still…
  • There was a cool place to do our laundry in the basement of the hostel. If I manage to post a photo below, you’ll see Ginny laboring over her sweaty clothes.
  • We’re actually HERE after years of dreaming and months of training and preparation!
  • While this hostel doesn’t provide blankets, a kind hospitalier (volunteer host) showed us a pile of things that pilgrims have left behind; they are for the use of anyone in need. We’ve taken a few items to keep us cozy for the night and…. it’s really quite a pleasant temperature here.  Considering that the walls of this old place are extraordinarily thick, they have done a wonderful job of modernizing the inside for basic comforts.
  • In conclusion: we are tickled pink that we handled this difficult day as well as we did! Couldn’t have ask for more (though maybe it would be nice to erase that one fall….)

Challenges of the day:

  • WOW was it ever uphill for most of the second half of today’s walk. So we’re talking about 9 miles uphill with nary a break in the climbing. (Herein, though, lies a blessing: Barb and I trained in Southern Indiana hill country, though our terrain is more up and down. All things considered, I think we were prepared for it.)
  • We three companions have yet to establish a good communication system (though we’re getting closer), so when Ginny ran into the bathroom she didn’t know that Barb and I were waiting for her. She somehow slipped out of the WC and headed on, unbeknownst to us…. Good learning lesson.
  • I removed my pack several times and set it down with weight on the Camelbak’s open valve. Summary: the drinking tube leaked on my pants, shoulder straps, and on my supply of ziploc bags. Another lesson to be learned.
  • Who really expected hot water for the entire shower anyway?  Deal with it! (The original pilgrims to Santiago would have been lucky to bathe once a month. No belly-aching allowed!)
  • Right now there’s a lot of “novelty.” Today’s route required attention (both in looking for signs and in being careful how you stepped, given the mud, the rocks, the steepness of the terrain, the narrowness of the path at times, and the potential to have a major downhill fall should one not be careful. That didn’t leave a lot of time for solitude and for sending prayers upward for all of you…. (Last night’s innkeeper said he believes in the 3-6-9 rule: three days to get used to the physical and practical aspects of the Camino; the next three to get one’s mind set in order; the next three to begin focusing on the spiritual. After that? Body, mind, and soul are ready to work together.

Some photos from our day

Oops, photos don’t want to upload and all lights will go out here in less than a minute. So…. this is what you get for this first Camino post. Night all!