So it begins… and up up up it goes – Buen Camino! (April 8th – Day 1 – Roncesvalles = 24,9km)

The Stage in Profile:

SJPdP - Roncesvalles
SJPdP – Roncesvalles

(The black dots are albergues for pilgrims)

I could not sleep any longer, a few choking motors from South Korea around the room of 16 occupied bunk beds made for a loud night. Especially the big guy who had the bunk on top of mine; sometimes it was like the entire bunk was about to tip over by the heavy turns he made throughout the night, as well as the intense snoring that made me shake the bunk up once in a while, to see if the explosions that came through his nose could stop for just a few minutes – man…!

I packed my backpack and went outside to find the last and perhaps most significant item for the voyage – a rock. A rock, you ask?? Yes, one of those small hard ones that hurt if someone hits you with it, and can be quite heavy if it is big enough. I found one and put it in one of the small stash pockets on the left strap of my backpack – the rock is to resemble a burden. My experience with it will be revealed later during the pilgrimage, so be patient and accept that it takes its time to walk some hundred kilometers before some answers arrive, alright? 😉

The weather was a little brisk, it was drizzling and still dark a little before 7 am. Kristina from California, asked me if I wanted to start walking? She had just been a volunteer in Madagascar for a year – one of those people who also had traveled the world thin. Yesterday, when I had made my departure with the German man Claus from the bus, I saw him go out the door and left from the pilgrim office. I was going to head the same way, as I did not see him after that. Fortunately, Kristina knew the correct way and it was to the right.

Ready and set to go!
Ready and set to go!

Nevertheless…  it all finally began. The first steps were being taken on The Camino and we walked across the bridge, where yesterday’s pictures of the river was taken and continued out the darkness of Saint Jean Pied de Port and onwards towards the mountain Col de Lepoeder (1437m) and Roncesvalles.
The drizzling was pretty much rain and I had to take out my poncho with only having walked 2 km and cover myself and my backpack up – grateful for that last purchase back home at that moment – phew!!

I had a faster pace than Kristina and got ahead of her. The darkness gave way for the light gradually as the walking had taken us on to the smaller country roads and so did the ascent to Col de Lepoeder. The weather did not improve, it was consistently wet, but was in a great mood and I liked going upwards and felt I was in pretty good shape.

A Camino Indicator
A Camino Indicator

I passed a group of South Koreans, and sarcastically asked them if they had regretted starting this, due to being in the midst of the cool, windy and wet weather? – They just smiled with a declination to the question and I continued. The first albergue was passed after just 6km, but obviously it was not in the cards to stop here.

A little later I met a girl with a huge red backpack. I never got her name, but she was from Germany and standing in doubt about where to go as there was a path going right and one straight on. I believed it was the one straight on, that was correct and she followed me as I passed her.

A Good Visual of the Weather Conditions
A Good Visual of the Blurry Weather Conditions











A bar showed up on the right, and here I met David from Michigan, who was walking The Camino to spend time with God and to prepare for the transition from medical school to becoming a doctor. He was graduating when he would return. We were joined by Leo from France, and we continued and got familiar with each other.

Leo had been on The Camino before with a group of friends, but they had walked way too long every day and he damaged his feet and legs so much that he did many of the last kilometers on that trip on crutches! He did have to give up… so this time he was here to finish The Way and do it right, but he only had 26 days to do it! Divide that by 800 and you have his daily cup of kilometers – wow, tough fella indeed!

It was around this time it began to get colder. The wind seemed to pick up and be a little more frisky with still nothing to see because of the fog and… it still rained. It was not the most fun of places to be, but felt my legs were strong and my green pilgrim´s mentality was being tested.

We continued from the asphalt road on to a dirt road to the right, passing a grave of a pilgrim, which there were a few of today. A longer muddy passage, that also had some forest in it lead us to our first break in a little concrete shed. Leo and me were walking together and we shared some of our provisions, before we walked on towards the peak.

We crossed it and began descending into forest terrain and here we encountered what Carroll from Bayonne had mentioned about snow. We began to walk around in about one feet of snow for a little while -I could easily see how you could either get lost or die up here if the wind picked up, and why it also had happened. The further down we got, the path dried up gradually and not too long after the sun came through and what a delight that was. The poncho dried and having crossed a mountain made for great satisfaction!

And down we go...
And down we go…

Leo had walked faster than me downwards, and he was out of sight, but I caught up with a German guy who´s name I don’t remember. He lived in Mallorca, where he had a construction company. We had a nice chat and walked together until reaching Roncesvalles.

This was the main stop the first day for the majority, but the German wanted to continue. We had our first 3-course pilgrim menu together at the restaurant near the albergue shortly after arrival at 1 pm, before he walked on. I checked in at the albergue after, and found a top bunk in a small section of 2´s, on a hall way that had about 10 sections all the way down plus the other side and this place had 4 or 5 additional levels – a big place for pilgrims.

The First two Stamps - on the Left SJPdP & Right Roncesvalles
The First two Stamps – on the Left SJPdP & Right Roncesvalles

Checking the backpack if anything was wet, hanging the wet stuff I had on and after taking a shower, some rest was needed. I spend that on some reading in the guide book as well as some writing and a nap. Next up was dinner, where I joined a round table and sat next to Kristina from earlier in the day and befriended Irene from Belgium and  Justin from Seattle. Great conversation all across the table, that included people from the US, Ireland, Australia and others, all sharing how the day had gone and much more.

Do you Remember This From the Movie The Way?
Do you Remember This From the Movie The Way?

Besides the journey of walking itself, what increases the magic and “specialness” of it is the bonding with fellow pilgrims. There is nothing like it – everyone here is equal and it is known in some untold way. There is natural desire to share one self with the others and listen to why everyone was here and so on… you get to know other people well very fast, because of the equilibrium that we all share and therefore don’t have any personal barriers up.

A nice time we all had this first evening – and satisfying to eat and look back at the accomplishment today, because it was indeed a tough nut to crack first this first day! Not long after we went back. It was only around 8.30-9, but it is late for a pilgrim and after 25km of walking it was time to get some needed sleep before another day of walking began.

It took some time to fall a sleep due to my nap earlier, but no matter if I slept or not, I was happy about where I was and looked forward to what had yet to show up.

Reflections & Insight of the day

Throughout the time before and during the first hours of being a pilgrim on The Camino, I felt I was exactly where I was supposed to be! For the first time in almost 3 years, I was  content with what I was doing and why. So why was I walking The Way?

When people asked me that question, I answered that I saw this journey as a bridge between all the negative, depressing and destructive things that I wanted to leave behind and literally walk towards a new and better life.

Insight of the day: “If we don’t follow our own pace and path, we will end up where everyone else are going.”


Next blog is coming up within a week to 10 days!

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