St. Jean Pied de Port was beautiful, but it was all the more so because it held all the expectation of my journey. I clambered off the bus with a host of other peregrinos who all seemed to have a better grasp of what to do and where to go than I did, so I just followed the crowd into town. The registration office was up on the hill, but closed for dinner, so I
took the time to claim a bed in my first albergue.
Old, wooden steps worn smooth by years of use spiraled up along the walls to our rooms. I was located in a top bunk on the second floor, the co-ed bathroom just down the hall. Welcome to Europe.
After getting settled in, I went back to the registration office and received my maps and second peregrino stamp. Then I headed up the hill to the old fort. The abundance of history layered on every stone has been overwhelming. And the views of the French countryside were majestic. They lifted me up after my travels.
In the morning I met Judith at breakfast. A German student embarking on the trip for personal and educational purposes, she asked if I’d like to start the trail with her. She’d never been backpacking before and didn’t want to start out alone. As a true gentleman I simply couldn’t refuse. We bought my walking sticks and some food on the way out of town, and then we were off!
Mostly sunny skies had turned to fog and misty rain overnight. As we ascended the Pyrenees that turned to a full on rain. Our spirits were not so easily dampened this early on, especially with the company and the views to be amazed by. At about eight kilometers we came to an albergue serving warm soup to cold, wet peregrinos. I settled for coffee since I’d already purchased food. Judith decided to stay there for the night, but since it was still only a little past ten I had to keep going. I understood this meant another 18 km, but there was no stopping me now!
I had different thoughts about 20 km in. Looking back now it seems like I hiked forever. In my mind, that first day day should have taken three! Images and scenes blur together, so I’ll let the photo collage show you what the foggy Pyrenees looks like. I can only image the majesty on a sunny day. My Camino revealed to me the mystic wonder of these shepherd hills.
By the time I was descending toward Roncesvalles I was cold, wet, and weary. I was both released and daunted by the great stone wall that greeted me as I came out of the forest. I had forgotten to get cash before leaving St. Jean thinking that the albergues would take Visa. They had pity on me and let me stay for just less than the designated 6 euro. I hobbled in to my bunk house, meeting David, Dalia, and Alice for the first time, and started the process that would become routine of showering and washing clothes before dinner. At last, after swapping “Why Camino” stories with my bunk mates, I embraced slumber.