Tough day! We hiked over fifteen miles with 1,200 meters of elevation gain. I don't care who you are, it's difficult to begin a multi-week trek this way.
We woke at six thirty this morning and caught the seven forty train leaving Bayonne bound for St. Jean Pied de Port. With winding rivers and pastoral views, I couldn't pull my eyes from the scene.
Upon exiting the train at St. Jean, we muddled our way to the pilgrim's office. There we received explicit information about the day's route and our first credential stamp. These stamps are proof of travel and allow us to stay in peregrino albergues (pilgrim shelters) along the Camino. The room was alive with officials giving information and stamps to pilgrims of many nationalities.
After leaving the office, finding and staying on the "Way" was simple; the path was well marked with iconic yellow arrows. I'm certain that they will begin to show up in my sleep.
The route began with the cobblestone streets of St. Jean and proceeded uphill to open grassland inhabited by cow, sheep, goat and horse. The direction we walked was UP. The fog was heavy in the Pyrenees, hiding views but keeping us pleasantly cool.
At about ten kilometers, we halted at an established refugio (refuge) for soup and a shared sandwich. I was tempted to suggest staying there, but knew our resting place lay in Roncesvalles. We crossed over into Spain and, later, dropped down the back side where the path changed to darkened Alder forests.
At over twenty-six kilometers, we came upon the mammoth albergue Colegiata, our final destination. After showing our credentials and forking over a small fee, we were given an assigned bed as well as dinner and breakfast tickets.
After unpacking and setting up our sleeping situations, we hit the showers (hot!) and proceeded to a communal dinner. Soup, bread, pasta, fish and fries were served. Wine was offered as well as an after dinner yoghurt (10 Euros). The most enjoyable part was sitting around the table and chatting with fellow pilgrims. After a small amount of wine, everyone was convinced we had come through purgatory. It's easy to bond with people having a shared experience.
I can now clearly see the pattern of life offered by the Camino. In a few short days, this will all feel routine. Onward!