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  • Writer's pictureTaryn Watkins

To the heights and back down again. Camino Frances Day 1: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles

four people standing in front of Camino sign
Paul, Dana, Therese, and myself on our way to Santiago de Compostela

Packs were packed, shoes tied, stick in hand. Ready to go. Well, sort of. I am not sure I was ready for what God would do on the Camino de Santiago. But that first day I wasn't sure if I was ready to climb over the Pyrenees mountains.

There were three of us: Paul, Therese and myself as we started out on this adventure from St Jean Pied de Port, a beautiful town along a river in the shadow of the French side of the Pyrenees. Dana met up with us at Roncesvalles. We became the CamFam. That first day as we started out I felt so excited and nervous... it is difficult to describe that first day with all the anticipation and fear, the unknown but also the joy of the adventure. As we walked out of town and were looking for our first sign... well, we missed it, but there was someone there right away to help us find our way.

I still remember the first sight of the mountains in their full glory... and the slight dread no knowing how I would do with the climb. I am from Illinois after all. But as we started the ascent the relief of being on the way and the sometimes slow step after step gave some encouragement. Ok, we are really doing this. The whole day seemed like several in one... and if it's not too lame to say, magical. The first part was what I expected, open paths and brilliant vistas. I am deeply moved by the mountains, and these were glorious

As we walked and climbed higher and higher, clouds came and overshadowed us. We could barley see anything except the feet in front of us. And it seemed so exposed up there, not a tree, barley a rock or a sound. It was an alien place. The sound of the sheep among the clouds was the only thing to keep us company. It was also the first time peeing outside in my life. That is probably too much information, but it is actually part of the life of being on the road and the poverty of the experience. The Lord would continue to put me in increasingly uncomfortable situations of poverty in order that I could more rely on Him and on those around me. But that's day 2.

Then trees started gathering and it was a new world with a bright orange floor and green ceiling far above. Paul also enjoyed darting up and down the banks to discover something or poke something with a stick. This began the little boy Paul, old man DeBuff impression of him that I will keep to my dying days.

Then the descent. I was not expecting this to be the most difficult part of the hike, but going down is more often than not the time that is most dangerous and most prone to injury. But slowly we descended to a beautiful valley and our first look at the albergue at Roncesvalles, an enormous and expansive place with lots and lots of beds. I had a top bunk in a room full of pilgrims. This is where we started learning the pilgrim traditions and how to take care of our selves and cloths and food with tips from weathered pilgrims. Mass there was a really special experience in a very old church with so much history and Jesus' presence with us on the pilgrimage. I thought I would have a hard time sleeping with all those snores but I remember waking up and feeling ready for the next adventure.


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