Camino de Santiago: Día 1

The Deets

  • Trajectory: Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles
  • Distance: Ambiguous. According to Guthooks, I’m at mile 15.3, but a) we’re dealing in kilometers, b) there was a detour, and then a detour of the detour, and c) I don’t actually care. I made it to Roncesvalles! Yay.
  • Church hostel price: 8€
  • Time spent on church tour: 72 minutes
  • Number of racist comments from priest to Japanese pilgrims: 3
  • Number of women who threw open their window sashes à la “Beauty and the Beast” in SJPDP to wish me “bonne chemin!”: 2 (true)
  • Adorable half pints of beer drank: 1
  • Snow: Yes
  • WiFi: Ubiquitous

The Valcarlos Option

Though it sounds like something they added to Wilson’s 14 Points, the Valcarlos Option is actually the alternate slash bad weather route for the first stage of the walk. In winter, it’s the only “real” option, as the Spanish government officially closes the Pyrenees haute route until April due to past unfortunate incidents.

The day can be divided into two sections: Pre-Valcarlos and Post-Valcarlos. The Pre section ambled on backroads and dirt roads, through farmlands with sheep and goats, past mossy stone walls and quaint houses with colorful doors. It was grey, and snow had fallen last night, so I walked with white-capped hills in the foreground.

I sat on a bench in Valcarlos and ate a Carrefour-sponsored bounty for lunch: Half a pound of tortilla española, four slices of prosciutto, and three Bonne Maman raspberry tartlettes. Peanut butter with a spork on the go does not seem like it will have to make an appearance on this journey. Tragic, I know.

The Post half of the day was a steady uphill for 10k, followed by a brief couple of kilometers into town. The Valcarlos Option for this half of the day is a terrifying road walk on the D135, a carretera national, which translates to winding mountain death highway. Two lanes, light snow, and nowhere to jump. To say I was walking in a heightened state of awareness would be the understatement of the century. I saw every snowflake, heard every drop of water from icicle to stone. I was not trying to die on day one, and especially not on a road walk. White trees blended into ominous white mountains, which disappeared seamlessly into a blinding white sky. Hairpin turns seemed to lead back to where I’d just come from. To be honest, I was a little scared. Additionally, my damn legs hurt! Road walking doesn’t have the same shock absorbers that trail walking does. When I saw that the path turned onto a woods trail, I was excited. However, my joy was short-lived when the snow got thigh-high. I made an about face and went for the Valcarlos Option Option, which was to continue on the road.

Roncesvalles, and Rest

The remainder of the day was pretty and uneventful. I arrived in Roncesvalles by 3:30, with plenty of time to shower, eat cheese, write, go on a tour of the church, eat more cheese, and get a beer at the local bar. It’s way past hiker midnight, but it’s not really hiking here…Is Pilgrim Midnight a thing? Let’s make it 10:30! ¡Buenas noches!

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