St Jean Pied De Port to Roncesvalles

st jean pied de port to roncesvalles

A valley just outside of “St Jean Pied De Port”

Route segment: 2

Wednesday 27th September 2000

This proves to be a baptism of fire. I have heard that you follow the yellow arrows. There are very few arrows out of “St Jean
Pied De Port” and at one particular fork in the road; it is not obvious which way to take. Of course I go right and take the wrong way and get lost for the best part of a day.

The scenery however is fantastic. But the training I did for a few weeks before coming here was not enough and I am struggling up and down steep hills on the worst roads imaginable. Think of the very worst farm track and it is ten times worse. I would not try and drive my 4*4 down those roads. Of course I have lost the proper path but the Camino path itself will prove to be very bad in parts.

It is apparently an old roman road where the nice stonework has deteriorated over the last two thousand years and is now just loose stones and mud and gravel. There are also modernised parts later in Spain, which are concrete or tarmac or have been improved for the benefit of local industry, such as the sections through parts of “La Rioja“.

It is still relatively early in the morning and it is quite misty. But the views as I walk are good:-

A picture of
Mist in the valleys south of “St Jean Pied De Port”

I find that it will take at least 3 days to get used to the backpack and my shoes. I will have problems with friction between the topmost parts of my inner thighs, which will need medical attention later. The worst problem will be a swelling of the muscles at the bottom of the front of my left leg, which will result in me stopping for several days later, in “Burgos” to recover.

Everyone will have an injury of some sort and it will become a common sight every evening to see my friends moving around very slowly after reaching a refuge and taking off their footwear.

I eventually reach a road and this proves to be the same road, which I travelled on the previous day from “Pamplona”. I walk on the road until I get to “Arneguy”. I have heard that Spanish coffee is good and want to try a cup in a bar. But the bar here is not open this time of the day and the barman points me to the next village, “Valcarlos”.

A picture of
The village of “Arneguy”

I eventually reach “Valcarlos” where I have the first coffee of the Camino. It is the best coffee I have ever tasted and I
begin to look forward each day to the first “Grande caffe con leche” of the day. They always use freshly ground coffee and use a fancy machine to make it.

It looks to me that they use an enormous amount of coffee for each cup and it is certainly strong stuff. On the road again, it seems that the path takes the road for most of the way now. The road is easy to walk on and at least 30 or 40 caravans must have been passed by on their way to Spain.

A picture of
A spectacular view from the road after “Valcarlos”

A picture of
Another spectacular view from the road

A picture of
Yet another spectacular view from the road

I find a sign, which directs me onto the Camino path. This goes onto rapidly rising tracks and I get a first taste of the typical Camino path. The path leads through forest and the views are fantastic. As it is my first day I do not know how to pace myself and it is getting into late afternoon and I have not reached the “Ibaneta Pass” which is the topmost part of the route through the Pyrenees. I am starting to worry that I will have to spend the night in the forest without a tent.

Eventually I reach the pass and am glad as it means only another 4 KM to go to get to “Roncesvalles”. The pass is above 2500 meters and the air does seem thinner that normal.

A picture of
A sign just before the “Ibaneta” pass

A picture of
The chapel at the “Ibaneta” pass

A picture of
These huge slugs can be found everywhere on the paths through the Pyrenees

The path starts to wind down from here. I hear the sounds of cowbells but it is coming from the road and as I turn the corner, I am presented with the sight of a large herd of mountain goats. They are blocking the road and won’t move out of the way of the cars on either side. This goes on for at least half an hour and I don’t feel like trying to pass them either as I have heard that goats can be aggressive creatures.

As it happens I pass them later with no problems at all. I have also heard that pilgrims have problems with dogs on the Camino but I will find that again I have no problems with the unchained ones. It is the chained ones that make all the noise and no wonder, I would too if I was kept in such circumstances.

A picture of
The herd of goats

When I eventually reach “Roncesvalles”, it is only a few minutes to closing time for the office. I get the passport stamped and arrange for the room for the night. But this is a monastery and there are strict rules in Spanish that I cannot read and the
asshole of a priest starts shouting at me in Spanish. Eventually he grabs me by the arm and pushes me and my backpack out of the refuge. I am in shock and start to wonder how I am going to spend the night.

This will not be the worst treatment that that particular priest will hand out to a pilgrim and I will speak to one Brazilian girl later who was turned out with all her stuff still in the room. She could not get it back until the morning so my experience was not the worst or uncommon. But it was a bad way to start the pilgrimage for me. It turns out that there was a mass and he wanted the room empty and locked during it.

I meet the Dutch guys in the bar nearby and they explain it all to me. I do manage to get back in later and I am kept awake all night by the most incredible variety of snoring I have ever heard. I begin to find it rather amusing and I was probably just too exhausted for sleep. I tried reading a book for a while, but it was too noisy. This time there were about 40 people in the room including a Spanish brother and sister, Daniel and Olivia and another Spanish chap, Geordie. I will keep meeting them again and again until “Logroño” where they stop and go home to start university.

Many of the people on the Camino are students and they don’t have the time to do the full trip before starting studies. Some are retired and have plenty of time and some are professionals like myself who only have enough time to do part of the trip but may already have done another part before or will do another part later.

A picture of
The refuge at “Roncesvalles”

A picture of
The church at “Roncesvalles”

On my second camino, I attempted to walk the traditional route and this is what awaited me:-

A picture of
Snow on the way to “Roncesvalles”