Camino day 1 St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France to Roncesvalles, Spain

by Kim on September 21, 2013 · 28 comments

I have reason to suspect that my backpack ate another backpack last night while I slept. When I awoke this morning it seemed to have doubled in size. My bag must weigh forty pounds. Just yesterday I was bragging about my packing skills. I take it back.

Regardless, I set out this morning around 7 a.m. after a simple pilgrims breakfast of toast, jam, and instant coffee. I’m walking with two Israelis I met on the bus from Pamplona, a med student and a waiter. Yesterday, we found the pilgrims office together and stood in line to receive our pilgrim passport, a bed in the albergue (pilgrims hostel), and shells to tie to our packs to identify us as pilgrims.

Later, we had dinner and too much wine. They showed me photos of their dogs and I showed them photos of mine. We talked about Israel and Oregon. And then we snuck back to our albergue right before curfew. I climbed into bed and listen to the Brazilian lady next to me snore like a hibernating bear. I lay in bed, staring at the bunk above me, desperately wanting to kick her. I fell asleep, finally, at 3:30 a.m.

The walk today was beautiful. The sky dawned clear and a crisp autumn blue. As we climbed upward towards Roncesvalles we gained views of the rolling green hills below us. Fog settled in the valleys and the Pyranees rose before us.

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Not my bag

Today, the first day of the Camino, is the most challenging of the whole walk until the final day into Santiago. I find this quite symbolic of life in general. Beginnings and endings are hardest, and in the middle you become who you are.

We sat down to eat lunch around noon. I’d packed a French baguette and a slab of French cheese. By this time we’d picked up a fourth walking partner, another Israeli who works as a tour guide. He had pesto and we applauded his good choices. I lay looking out over the green pastures, eating cheese dipped in pesto dipped in bread. Sheep roamed the hillsides. The sun was warm on my face.

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I finally sat up to go and, when I did, something shifted in my lower back. It felt like the foundation of my spine had settled. I whimpered. My backpack just sat there on the ground looking guilty.

I got up, slowly, and we took off again. My back stiffened up and I waddled like a penguin. The trail crested and began to wind brutally downhill. My pace slowed to a crawl.

I wanted to complain but there was no one to complain to. This is one benefit of traveling alone. Had Brian been with me I would have moaned about my back. As it was, I didn’t want my new friends to think I was a wuss or, worse, a whiner. So I kept my mouth shut and kept waddling.

I came upon a man from Germany who started walking the Camino in Germany. Three months already he’s been walking. When I asked him why he said it was because he wanted to strengthen his faith in his religion and himself. I thought that was brave. I asked him what he would do when he reaches Santiago. “I don’t know, “ he said. “How will I go back?” I did not have an answer. It’s the same question I ask myself all of the time.

Finally, around 3 p.m., Roncesvalles came into view. My Israeli friends and I booked beds in the albergue. Tonight we will attend a pilgrim’s dinner at one of the two restaurants in town. For ten euro we’ll have soup, french fries, a main course, and wine. We’ll eat at a big table with other pilgrims. For now, I sit in bed typing these notes. The woman in the bed across from me is from Cleveland. She’s my age and just quit her job to travel for a year. Soon, she’ll head to Myanmar to study in a Buddhist monetary. There are so many interesting people in the world.

Today I walked 16 miles (27 km).

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