Friday, March 22, 2013

Day 1: St. Jean Pied de Port - Roncesvalles (28 kms)

Next day I wake up nice and early (i.e. 5 am!) with the sound of someone dropping coins in the dark room.  I cannot get back to sleep, so I start getting ready.  This is my first hiking day!  Breakfast at the pilgrim house, included with the bed price, is bread, butter, jam plus coffee, tea or cocoa served in a bowl.

I had originally planned to sleep at Hontto about 5 kms away, but since the route Napoleon was closed, I decide to go directly to Roncesvalles instead. I arrange to walk with one of the pilgrims, Jean Paul, a French retiree from Brittany. We leave at 7:30 am and are at Valcarlos by 10 am, mostly walking on small asphalt roads, highway sidings and the occasional trail.

Valcarlos Plaza

We have a strong headwind most of the remaining way over a main asphalt highway with occasional cars and trucks.  Since I only brought about a liter of water and did not refill at Valcarlos, I run out of water a few kilometers before Roncesvalles.  We walk on a snow-covered trail, which leads up to an extremely windy area with a little church.

Trekking on a snow field

Then it is a downhill through forests with leafless trees, trail littered with fallen branches due to the wind. We pass another snow field with patches of melted mushy muddy snow, and finally arrive in Roncesvalles at 2:30 pm.

I get my second stamp at the Roncesvalles albergue, a beautiful large modern hostel at a converted seminary. Pilgrim dinner for 9 euros was trout and red wine.  I attend the 8 pm pilgrim mass which gives a blessing for the pilgrims. I take advantage of the washing facilities and on to sleep.  I am looking forward to tomorrow's hike.

Roncesvalles Albergue
Inside the Roncesvalles Church

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