Camino Day 1: St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles 25km

Let the Camino de Santiago begin. And didn’t it just?

The first day was eventful, a little scary and I did my first good deed in the spirit of the Camino after 2 hours. More later in this post.

Here I am outside the hostel in St Jean Pied de Port. Time is around 8am. I am keen to start walking.

I started walking with Allan, the Danish guy, who slept in the bunkbed above me. And with Daina and Rhys, the American mother and daughter who slept in the other two bunkbeds in my room.

I made a final visit to the local Pilgrim Office to weigh my bag with 1 litre of water and some snacks included.

9.5kg. I did a lot better than many other pilgrims that I spoke to. A 12kg backpack seemed common. I considered my backpack heavy enough.

The climb off St Jean Pied de Port and up the Pyrenees began. Orisson is around 600 meters higher in altitude than St Jean Pied de Port.

I had booked a bed in Orisson with the view to start slow as the walking distance from St Jean Pied de Port is only 8km or so. The hostel in Orisson is also the only place providing accommodation for a long time, some 17km or so beyond.

The weather was perfect for hiking to start with. Cool, overcast and no wind. Here is Daina during a break on the way up the “hill”.

Airing out moister off my feet.

The views from walking up the Pyrenees became more and more spectacular. As you would expect.

Looking back down on the Camino trail and some pilgrims. St Jean Pied de Port would be down there somewhere.

Well, I never got to sleep in that bed that I had booked at Hostel Orisson.

The reason was because Allan, the Danish bloke, faded and faded fast. He was coughing and coughing, more and more. Then he had to sit down and rest more and more often. It didn’t look good. And this was way before reaching Orisson.

Alan had not booked any bed anywhere, not at Orisson, not in Roncesvalles.

So in the spirit of the Camino, I offered him my bed for the night at the booked out Hostel Orisson. While I believed that I would make it to Roncesvalles in one day, I believed that Allan had zero chance.

Alan was so thankful and after I had a break with him at Hostel Orisson, I continued walking my Camino. Daina now was somewhere behind me. Her daughter Rhys was somewhere in front of me.

Soon the wind started to pick up. And pick up. More and more. Until it was approaching storm weather. A few spits of rain came down but nothing serious.

For obvious reasons, I did not take many photos. I kept the phone safe in a zip lock bag and then inside a zipped up pocket.

I spoke to Rhys a couple of days later and she said that her phone blew away. She had the phone in a pocket, which was not zipped up. She stumbled and out came the phone disappearing with the wind.

And there was a Camino horse… He looked half asleep with half closed eyes.

There were a couple of entrepreneurs along the way selling drinks and snacks to the pilgrims. It wouldn’t be visible in the photo but the wind here was frantic. The vendor had found a much secluded spot. I got myself a hot cup of tea and had a break there.

And a stamp. You can get a stamp in your Credential de Peregrino pretty much everywhere.

In summary, it was “mayhem” on the Pyrenees that day. 15 September 2015.

Some pilgrims had to sit down as they could not continue walking against the strong winds. Others were just “blown away”.

One pilgrim fell down and both broke his ankle and dislocated his shoulder. They had to evacuate him via helicopter. No, I would not like to the guy who winches down to get him. Not in that weather.

There was evacuation of many other pilgrims via buses, cars and other vehicles.

I later hear that the following day, they closed this Napoleon Route across the Pyrenees. There is a second and longer route further down, along a surfaced road. You can walk it but it is nowhere near as interesting. And you are bypassing Orisson with no alternative accommodation until Roncesvalles.

Hence, letting Allan have that bed in Hostel Orisson became a sort of blessing in disguise. I would not have been able to cross the Pyrenees the next day.

A few more pics along the way…

I found myself a new walking companion after a while. A lady perhaps a few years older than me from Chelmsford, UK named Fiona. She took the photo of me below.

It is hard to tell from the photo below but it shows the distance to Santiago de Compostela from here, 765km. Somewhere up in the Pyrenees.

I never found a sign confirming that the pilgrim has entered Spain on the Camino. Maybe it was there somewhere but I may have been too preoccupied in holding on to my hat to see the surroundings. Signs in Spanish rather than in French just appeared.

Mount Lepoeder is the highest point of the Camino at 1450 meters. From here it was down, down, down to Roncesvalles.

Fiona and I took the “slippery” gravel but quicker and steeper way down. Instead of the recommended safer, surfaced, not as steep but longer way.

Granted, in wet conditions, which it wasn’t today, it would have been dangerous. Today the descent was no more difficult than many declines of Australian bush tracks.

Amazing where you can find free WiFi these days… There was nothing here at Mount Lepoeder apart from the monument above.

Fiona and I arrived in Roncesvalles around 4pm with no visible scars after all that wind. In fact, given the conditions I thought that I had just the right equipment and clothes. Although it was a little brrrrreazzzzy as the Scotsman would have said.

The hostel in Roncesvalles is enormous and housed in an old monastery. 4 floors of housing and I was lucky enough to get a single bed here on the top floor. They use the basement accommodation for latecomers and it looked like a dungeon. It sure did. The top floor had single beds and was modern.

Here are a couple of photos from the following morning of the Roncesvalles Monastery. These do not show the front of the monastery but parts of one of its sides. I was too lazy to walk all the way around back to the front as that was not the way you continue your Camino.

I booked peregrino dinner (10€) and breakfast (3.50€) so with bed the cost was a total of 25.50€. Fine by me.

Menú del peregrino, a cheap but still 3 courses dinner, was not served until 8.40pm. Why this late and odd time? Because mass including a pilgrims blessing commenced at 8pm.

I went to the mass and got blessed for the walk to Santiago de Compostela like all the other pilgrims. At one point, all the new pilgrims 1 or 2 days into their Camino had to walk up the front. Despite not being a religious person, I found the blessing ceremony quite moving.

The dinner was not bad and would fill up any starving pilgrim’s stomach. Afterwards, I walked back to the monastery / albergue and to my bed. There was not much else to do there in Roncesvalles.

Lock out time was 10pm and at 10.05pm all the lights went out without warning.

So this is pilgrim life 🙂

25km walked, 760km left to walk after Day 1

3 thoughts on “Camino Day 1: St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles 25km

  1. Such great photos. Thank you for sharing these via your blog. They’ve brought back such strong memories. My friend & I started from St Jean on September 13. Although I don’t recall seeing you, from the photos Hans looks familiar. Jeanne

    1. Thank you Jeanne. All photos and all blogging through my iPhone 6, can you believe it? No photo of you so I can’t comment on whether we saw each other or not. I can not recall any Jeanne though.

  2. So glad I finally found your blog. I started the same day you did from SJPdP and stayed the night at Orisson. The Route Napolean was indeed closed the next day but no one at Orisson told us. So all of us staying at Orisson started walking. The wind was absolutely unbelievable. A woman was blown off her feet and broke her collar bone. Glasses were blown of people’s heads. Someone even had their contact lenses blown out of their eyes. I met a woman who’s earrings had been blown out of her ears. The hillsides were littered with stuff blown off pilgrims backpacks. For large amounts of the time we couldn’t make any progress at all. All we could do was plant our walking poles and try to stand against the wind. People were blown over many times. Some solved that problem by scooting along on their bottoms because there was no way they could stand up. My two travelling companions saved a French woman literally impaled on a rickety barb wire fence on the edge of a cliff. She was unable to move and holding on so tight that she had bleeding stigmata in the palms of her hands from the barbs on the fence. We were grateful to get an overflow bed in the basement at Roncesvalles. There were no dinners available as all booked out. I was so stunned at the lack of help and the absolute rudeness of one of the hospitalieros who told me off for supposedly cue jumping when there was not a soul in front me that I was speechless. So much for supporting pilgrims who’ve unknowingly walked across a closed route in atrocious conditions. All I could do was go to bed. I still think of that whole day as a dream and I’ve been searching for some confirmation and you’ve provided it. Thank you. And PS your kindness did indeed do you a great favour.

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