Camino de Santiago Day One: St. Jean Pied de Port to Valcarlos 

31 03 2018

Phew, we arrived in Valcarlos after an intense hike from St. Jean Pied de Port, 3 hours and 20 minutes only stopping twice for some water. The route took us out the gate of SJPP and through lots of farmland and then forest. Most of it was backcountry roads but one short stretch was right on the muddy grassy shoulder of the main highway. When we began it was hailing and dumping rain and then it would clear up a bit before dumping on us again. We passed farms where sheep grazed and pigs made love, amazing magnolias and forsythia in bloom, wild violets and mountain peaks covered with snow.  The farms provided a soundtrack of braying cows and chattering chickens and we would get wafts of the smells of fertile soil, and the various manures of the animals, each one distinctly different, and not entirely unpleasant. Gotta say I was pretty excited to finally witness the male pig’s unique corkscrew anatomy that I’d been warned of by college roommates including Robin Hopwood and Deb Stull. As I took some racy porcine video footage Suzy, my walking companion, was worried I was at the gateway to producing animal porn, but it’s just nature folks.


 The Valcarlos route was pretty empty, no doubt because most pilgrims started early in order to make it to Roncevalles. It winds around the river and bounces back and forth along the border of France and Spain. We opted to go for a short route…  according to my iPhone approximately 8.5 miles, 56 flights of stairs.  We figured we’d rather take it easy on day one due to potential gear, weather and other  issues such as difficulty finding accommodation on Easter weekend in Roncevalles. 


 I’m glad we did, at the end of our journey we had to descend all the way to the river and then back up to the town of Valcarlos.  The slope was a ridged pavement covered in leaves.  It was incredibly slippery from the rain and wet leaves and steep! I was so grateful for my poles and even leaning all the way over into the grade found myself almost slip twice. Seconds after we reached Valcarlos and entered our apartment at Apartamentos Mendiola the ominous cloud that was behind us reached the town and from our spacious kitchenette we watched a ridiculous hailstorm. 


After it was done the sun came back now it’s outing again the fourth time in a crazy cycle. I ditched my boots and socks and put on some Crocs at the apartment and went for a bite at Ardanegia, a cafe with their own wine. I got some hot fried gambas and French fries. This place has a vibe like a Spanish Big Sur, the cute cafe is attached to a grocery store and teeming with locals and lots of tourists in Camino gear.  I was so glad we didn’t have a full breakfast this morning or stop for lunch in Arneguy, nothing looked open anyway…We would have gotten stuck, and thank goodness weren’t on the way to Roncebvales with each of the squalls rolling through it would Have been totally miserable. After a few naps helped by the patter of more rain we headed back up to Ardanegia as our host told us if a celebration that was to happen on the eve of Easter with dancing and some special food.  As we enjoyed beers and watching all the locals it became clear that the fete was cancelled due to weather but we got our Valcarlos stamps at the grocery and headed out into the town to see two men on horseback riding down the middle of the highway.  They implored us to stay for the festival the following day.  Around the comer from the church we saw the large gathering and joined in buying more beers and the local special food for the event which was a tortilla like wrap with bacon, chorizo sausage , cheese or Nutella.  Delicious and only 3 Euro or 3,5 for two items.

Back to the grocer for snacks for day two and back to our apartment with the luxury of gathering our clean clothing!

Day One in the books, and feeling strong for the next leg to Espinal since Roncevalles was booked solid.  Happy Easter!

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One response

1 04 2018
Suzanne Keating

Woohoo!! Sounds like a great beginning… weather… beauty and local scenery, plus good food~

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