Camino de Santiago Day One: Roncesvalles to Larrasoaña
Day one of the Camino, we began our morning routine the same way we would begin every morning for the next 30 days: We repacked our bags, laced up our shoes, ate a granola bar, filled our water bottles, slathered on sunscreen and we were off!
Today the Camino would shake my confidence and show me what I was truly in for, but that morning I started out confident and excited. We walked through wooded areas, rolling farm pastures, and adorable towns all with breathtaking views. And I thought to myself I can DEFINITELY get used to this every day!
If you live in the Midwest, you may be familiar with a road trip game called “Cows and Graveyards.” If you’re driving long stretches through farmland, you’re going to see lots of cows and you’re also going to drive past small graveyards attached to the churches. Alex and I had just been to my family reunion in Iowa the week before, so the rules were fresh in our mind:
The first person who sees a group of cows yells, “Cows!” And then the other person has to determine how many there are (this is just an eyeball guess). The seer of the cows then gets awarded that many points. So you’re trying to get more cows than the other person. BUT if someone sees a graveyard and yells, “Graveyard!” They get to take all of the other person’s cows.
So we Spanishified it to “Vacas y Muertos” as we walked through the hill Spanish farmland, practically in arm’s reach of the vacas. Alex won.
I placed each step confidently before the other, knowing that I was tough because I was a runner after all (I had just completed my first half marathon just a month before) as well as biked 7 miles each to and from my job each day before I had quit for another internship earlier that spring. In short, my ego was inflated. I figured if I could run 13.1 miles, walking 15 miles each day would be a piece of cake. If anything, I was worried that Alex wasn’t physically prepared for such a trek.
But the thing is, walking is harder than it seems.
As the sun continued to rise in the sky, the day quickly grew hot. We were lucky for the shade of the wooded mountains (we were walking through the foothills of the Pyrenees at this point), but the terrain kept climbing and falling, testing our lung capacity on the way up and testing our knees—I especially felt sharp twings in my left knee from some leftover IT band issues I had in my half marathon training—on the rocky way down.
We stopped for a late lunch in the town of Zubiri after 22km (13mi). We were exhausted and in need of a water refill, but mostly we were seeking an excuse to sit in the shade before going on…we had planned to get to Larrasoaña which was another 5km (3mi) from Zubiri, though many pilgrims were choosing this location as their final resting spot for the day.
Our mistake here was that we rested for close to an hour, so by the time we hoisted our backpacks on again, pulled on our sun hats, and willed our tired feet to continue just a little bit further, the sun was high and the heat pressed down on us.
That last hour of walking was absolutely brutal and the whole time I silently questioned whether I’d be able to do this every day for 29 more days. And so began my way to pass the time, to drown out the pain, and to forget how tired and thirsty and hot I was—I counted.
“Five more kilometers,” I told myself. “That’s 3.1 miles. That’s nothing. We can do that in an hour. One more hour until the boots come off, you can get off your feet, and you can change into clean clothes.”
But a small voice told me that it wasn’t 5 more kilometers, it was 760 more kilometers, and if today started on fresh legs, imagine what tomorrow will be like.
When we finally arrived in Larrasoaña, I felt the urgent pain in my feet that would become part of my daily routine for much of the Camino: I needed to be done walking and I needed to be done walking now. Even the short walk from the edge of town to the albergue felt like too much. And when the hospitalero told us that actually our bunk would be in the building that’s another block down the road, I wanted to throw a fit.
We found our bunk and collapsed onto the bare mattresses, trying to find the will to gather our items to shower and wash our clothes. Because that was the thing I would find—the simple act of standing in the shower or standing against the sink to wash your sweaty body and sweaty clothing from that day is almost the worst part. Mentally, you’re done for the day, but your body can’t understand why you’re still going through the grueling effort of remaining on your feet. It sounds dramatic, but ask any pilgrim and I swear they will tell you the same thing.
When we were showered, in fresh clothes, and our washed clothes were hanging in the afternoon sun on the clothes line outside the albergue, we finally allowed ourselves to enjoy a few minutes lying down. Alex began to drift to sleep and I shook him awake.
“No! We can’t sleep now or we’ll never be able to get to sleep tonight,” I insisted, remember the difficulty I had sleeping the night before.
Here’s the thing: I’m terrible at naps. I have always been terrible at naps. Naps are a horrendous lie that make you think you’re going to feel better afterward, but instead you feel disoriented and groggy. I don’t do naps. (But don’t worry, I would learn)
So once our legs had stopped screaming, we decided to make our way to the mini grocery story we had walked past on our way into town to get some ingredients for our dinner that night and mooch some wifi (pronounced in Spain “wee-fee”) so that we could shoot a quick note home saying that we had made it to Spain and had made it through our first day.
Then we returned to the main building of the albergue to cook a meal in the bare-bones kitchen, and while we ravenously polished our plates, we consulted our map to plan our walk to Pamplona tomorrow.
Exhausted as we were, it was still too early to turn in for the night, so we wandered to the Río Arga to soak our feet in the freezing water (some local children and their families had been swimming in it earlier, so we figured it was safe enough for us too). I waded carefully among the slippery smooth stones until everything was numb from mid-thigh down. This—even more than lying down on the bunk—was the best part of the day.
As the sun began to set, we made our way back to the albergue to collect our now-dry clothing from the clothing hangers and to sit at the picnic tables just outside the building. I journaled and Alex flipped through the mini map/pocketbook he had made for our trip.
I stopped focusing on my journaling and instead allowed myself to eavesdrop on the conversation of surrounding pilgrims. Three nearby were trying to play a game of cards, though the wind kept scattering their cards all over the yard. I noticed a woman our age and who I guessed was her father looking over their own guidebook at the next table over. From the rhythm of their speech, their olive tone, and dark hair I guessed they might be Italian.
When it was finally an appropriate time to go to bed, I halfhearted put in my earplugs knowing that no amount of pilgrim snoring would keep me from sleeping tonight.