Buen Camino! We’re on The Way

Camino De Santiago: Leaving St. Jean

We woke up early the next morning to the rustling of other pilgrims. They clambered from their bunks, gathered their gear, and left the hostel.

By the time we were ready to go, all morsels and dregs of coffee from the free communal breakfast were long gone.

“So much for the Camino spirit,” I thought as we headed out with empty stomachs.

We walked the cobblestone streets leading out of town like we were walking the aisle for a commencement. I guess in a way, we were.

We stopped to take pictures of the clock tower, the bridge crossing the river, the line of pilgrims marching like ants ahead of us.

It was too early for any shops or cafes to be open for breakfast and we wanted to get a move on. So we filled our water bottles at a fountain (I had some collapsible backup bottles to replace the one I lost) and marched on.

I didn’t look at the elevation profile before we started (why would I?). It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was completely unprepared for the climb over the Pyrenees.

It felt like everyone was passing me like I was standing still. I thought I was in better shape than this. I should have done more cardio.

My pack was heavy, my stomach was empty, and my legs were moving so slowly.

This was going to take forever.

I didn’t know it was possible to keep climbing up for that long. How were we even still on planet earth?

We stopped at the halfway point, Orisson, where we realized we should have made reservations. Of course, there were no vacancies.

So we took off our boots, ordered sandwiches and sangria, and took a rest to ponder our poor decisions.

There was no other option for us because we refused to take a taxi on our first day. So we ordered extra sandwiches to go, took up our gear, and trudged on. The food, sangria, and rest put me in a slightly better mood. Or maybe I just accepted my situation. Either way, things got better and I allowed myself to take in the scenery.

So these are the Pyrenees, I thought.

They’re beautiful, smooth, and sweeping. Lush and green. Dotted with grazing sheep and cattle. As we climbed, we could hear the gentle clanging of the cowbells echoing through the valley.

Camino de Santiago: Pyrenees

We crossed the highest point and hadn’t seen another pilgrim for some time. Then we notice clouds rolling in across the valley. We felt the temperature drop as the wind picked up.

We wondered how much further we had to walk until we could find a place for the night. We increased our pace as much as we could without stumbling.

At one point, our phones chimed, unceremoniously welcoming us to Spain.

Wait, what?

We just…walked across a country’s border and barely noticed? No border guards? No one checking passports? Even the sheep in the nearby field didn’t seem to notice us.

What is this place?!

We were walking through a very fairy tale-looking forest when a young Spanish kid on a motorbike stopped us.

Camino de Santiago: Fairytale Forest

He gestured that there was big rain coming.

What does that mean here? Is flash flooding an issue? How urgent is this?

We debated our situation and even started looking for a place to set up our tent because we weren’t sure how long it would take to get to accommodations.

But we decided to keep going, as it was mostly downhill at this point. We were deep in a forest and light was fading. Our fairy tale forest was starting to feel like a nightmare.

My legs were heavy and I seemed to find every rock and root in the path.

I kept grumbling and cursing about the distance markings. It seemed to stay the same at every signpost.

How was this possible?

My brain struggled to grasp the mile-to-kilometer conversion. All I had to go off of were 5ks and I had never completed a 5k over a mountain while carrying 30 pounds on my back.

I was pissed.

I was pissed at the distance. I was pissed at the trail. I was pissed at the weight on my back. I was pissed at the looming storm. I was pissed that I had no idea what I was doing and had no control of the situation.

And then I realized that I was vocalizing all this to Andy.

As if Andy could do anything to alleviate the situation.

I was being a terrible travel partner. If I had been walking with me, I would have left me behind long ago. I decided for both our sake that I would change my attitude. It was the only thing I had control over.

Here is the trail, and all we can do is keep moving forward.

After what seemed like forever, we left the fairytale/nightmare forest. We found ourselves in a clearing looking up at our destination, Roncesvalles.

Camino de Santiago: Roncesvalles

I collapsed on the grass and Andy went to see if there was a room available. When he came back, it had begun to rain. We hobbled to the check-in desk. The guy working told us that he had the only room left in the village and that it cost $125. I let out a whimper but said that we would take it.

He led us to our room which could have easily slept 5 people. The cost still hurt, but we were happy to see a private bathroom and shower.

Once again, we arrived too late for dinner but we didn’t care. We were so exhausted that we dumped our gear and immediately took showers. We heard the rain pouring outside and were so grateful to not still be in it.

Our bodies were stiff and feverish from the exertion.

I mixed two electrolyte packets in my water bladder and we gulped it down. We swallowed some ibuprofen and collapsed on the bed.

After 14 hours of hiking with a 1240m climb followed by a 470m descent, we had made it over our first big hurdle, the Pyrenees.

We walked into another country today.

We were on the Camino.


  1. Kathy Villarreal aka Mom

    What a start?! Making notes as I read this ?

    1. Oh no, I hope I don’t ruin any surprises ? If you even just glance at a guidebook, you’d be way ahead of me. Ha!

  2. Janie Steele

    A rude awakening. I don’t know how you prepare for this transition from working stiff to world traveler with all you own on your back. So much admiration for your moxie and adventuresome spirit. ??????

    1. I don’t know that we did do much preparing other than our research for packing and travel logistics. We just went for it and learned as we went along. It’s been quite an educational experience!

  3. ridersgrimm

    Love your candid report. Sometimes what we wish for doesn’t turn out like our dream.

    1. So true. That first day was SO challenging.

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