May 19, 2019
Starting Point: St. Jean Pied De Port (Basque) , 25.1 Kilometers
Town of Destination: Roncesvalles, Spain (Navarre)
The stress of starting our first hike and making a small dent into the 778 km to Santiago de Compostela, combined with knowing that this hike would be one of the most demanding because of the strenuous uphill climb was quite exciting but also made me nervous. Not to mention at this point it has been three days since we’ve had our phones taken away and surprisingly I did not miss it.
There were points where we ran out of things to talk about but we played a lot of card games and explored Pamplona which was the first city in Spain that we stayed at before starting our journey. Our days felt longer and sometimes I had panic attacks thinking I left my phone at places but in reality that was not the case. For once I felt like I had no responsibilities other than hiking the Camino and attending class. I had a lot of time to think about “the camino” on our way to St. Jean Pied de Port, France because it was a two hour car ride but it felt like four.
The first half of the drive was quite terrifying because our group was split into three vans and each had about 6-7 pilgrims(which is what we refer to ourselves to). Our driver drove extremely fast and seemed not to worry about the oncoming traffic or pedestrians that were crossing the streets. It made me really nervous so instead of sleeping on the way which is what I preferred to do because I was exhausted, I stayed awake just in case anything happened.
I was also the only one who could speak Spanish in my van so I assumed the responsibility of making sure I communicated to the driver if anyone needed anything. He also mentioned that the drive would be very rough because we were going through the Pyrenees and it would consist of a lot of turns and going up and down mountains, he was not wrong.
When we finally arrived in France it was exactly what I had imagined France to look like. Obviously we were not in Paris but everything was so aesthetically pleasing because the scenery was absolutely beautiful. We would only be in St. Jean the day we arrived and the morning before we left so Pablo (my professor) stressed that we should walk around as much as we can because we only had a limited time to be here and there was so much to see.
Being in France was truly eyeopening for me, as I described to my fellow classmates/pilgrims I have never felt so “useless” in my life. Personally I was struggling a lot with the language, I have never been in a position where I blanked and didn’t know what language to use. While in the States I constantly switch between English and Spanish. Being in France was very confusing to me because I knew simple words and phrases in French but for some reason I would still use English and Spanish or sometimes both.
I really appreciated the waitress at one of the restaurants because we did not know how to pay, order or even how the system of sitting down at a table worked in France. She used her phone and tried to translate what we were saying because she only knew a very small amount of English. It took us a lot longer to pay and order than I expected and I was a little disappointed I did not see french fries on the menu. Although it could of been on there but I was nervous, stressed, and I have never taken a French class in my life so I could have been mistaken as well.
I was not going to blog this for this week but I felt the need of documenting my first hike because it was easily one of the worst five hours of my entire life. During the entire hike I contemplated my decision about taking the course and attending the trip to Spain. I knew this hike would be extremely strenuous because our highest elevation point on the mountain that we would reach would be 4,757 ft. Hiking this was as terrible as it sounds and the weather certainly did not help our situation.
During the first two hours I was dripping in sweat and also rain, as soon as we left our albergue (hostal type place where we sleep) at 6 am it had already been raining 3 hours prior to that. I have never been able to hear my heart beat through my ears but the hills that we were climbing were so steep that it was just so physically exerting. My ears were also popping the entire way up the mountain but what I did not expect was the drastic temperature change that would await at the top of the mountain. I could also not see five feet ahead of me because it was so foggy, I tried to walk with at least one person because it helped keep my spirits up.
There was only one small truck stop to get food but my hands were so cold I couldn’t pull money out of my bag and I was too cold to take off my pack and get my snacks. We had only consumed a coffee and croissant that morning, so I was starving half way through but I was too cold to do anything about it. My water bladder was also filled up to 2.5 liters of water but I only drank half a liter in the beginning because towards the end I was so cold that my thirst for water was completely gone. By the end of the hike I was soaked, even with all my rain gear. Once we arrived at Roncesvalles I was filled with so many emotions especially the feeling relief and pure happiness that I made it to a building.
Later that evening our professor Pablo, mentioned that it was two degrees Celsius on our hike up the mountain. I was not surprised because it was hailing at one point and there was also snow at the peak of the mountain. I was surprised that I was able to persevere and complete the five excruciating hours of hiking through those terrible conditions. Sadly not everyone in our group was able to complete this hike. About ten people hitched a ride down the mountain when they reached the truck stand and then taxied the rest of the way to the we were staying at because of the bad conditions. Three of our classmates along with other pilgrims had to be evacuated off the mountain by emergency services.
We did not pack for conditions like this and the most coverage we had was our rain jackets that were obviously not equipped for 30 mile wind and extremely low temperatures. I have never been in a situation where I was truly concerned for my life especially since we had no method of communication with our classmates or Pablo until we reached a town. During my hike I was basically fighting with myself in order to continue and not give up, at the moment I completely regretted my decision of ever even signing up to come on this trip. Now I am glad I got to experinence myself at my worst moments and knowing that I am capable of much more than I think I am.
“The best view comes after the hardest climb”
Which was not the case for us because it was so foggy but the beginning of our hike to Roncesvalles was absolutely beautiful. Pictures did not do justice for the majority of the hikes I completed during my 6 weeks in Spain.