On September 25 at 9am, I began the Camino de Santiago. I woke in the morning to a beautiful sunny day in Pamplona and was anxious to get the party started. I packed up all of my things, dropped my large bag with the front desk and asked, “Dónde está el camino?”. The concierge pointed me in the right direction and I was off.
Follow The Yellow Brick Road
Now think about it. You walk out of a hotel in a foreign country without mobile phone service and you are slated to walk about 14 miles to arrive to a town you have never heard of before. Oh, and you are all alone and the inhabitants of the country do not speak your language. It is exciting, but I gotta be honest, it is pretty freaking scary, too!
Don’t fret, dear pilgrim, because the Camino de Santiago has been around for over a thousand years and over a millennium the powers that be created a navigation system for pilgrims to find their way. My guess it was probably to benefit the locals from having to answer <how do I get to Santiago de Compostela?> hundreds of times a day! A way finder system of yellow arrows and the symbolic scallop shell of St. James is used to keep a pilgrim headed in the right direction. You know you are on the right path if you see either the arrow or the shell along your journey. All you have to do is skip your way down the yellow brick road! Sounds easy, right?
Once I got my bearings, it took me about an hour to exit the city of Pamplona. I walked through the beautiful central part of the city, a gorgeous park and a lovely suburb of Pamplona. It was nice to see so many locals exercising in the park. There were serious runners whizzing by more leisurely walkers on a Thursday morning.
I am not a morning person but one reason to scoot off in the morning is to avoid the afternoon heat. In late September it is still rather toasty during the day in Navarra, with the Spanish sun beating down and limited shade available. Another reason to get up and go is if you have not booked your accommodations in advance, it is first come first serve and there seems to be pressure to secure a bed in the best albergues. Of course, the princess pre-booked her accommodation (and refers to herself in the 3rd person)!
Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers
The first few days of the Camino are truly trial and error. If you took my advice in my prior post about prepping (Link here) then you may have already worked out the kinks with your gear. For me, I did not train beyond two to three hours at a time and I live in a temperate climate, so there were definitely kinks that needed to be ironed out along the way. For example, I initially carried my mobile phone in the side pocket of my pants for ease of access to take photos. Well, I sweat a lot and before I knew it I found that the heat from my leg had fogged up the lens of my phone! I needed a new place to stash my mobile as well as a few other (now soggy) papers I kept in the side pocket for navigation.
My feet were also a huge issue. The first day I wore my new, partially broken in, light-weight cross trainers. I thought they were ideal because they didn’t have a lot of mileage on them yet and they would breathe well on a hot day. These were not my magical Ruby Slippers!!!! The Camino has miles and miles of gravel paths, especially outside of the cities. That day, I could feel every piece of gravel under my feet, not to mention the chicken pox like blisters forming on my feet from not executing a well thought out ‘keep your feet dry’ plan. It was terrible!
A few things went right for me that day, though. I used a 3L bladder of water strapped to my backpack and it was perfect. In addition to the hydration pills I was taking and the water refills along the way, I felt healthy and hydrated. Also, my snacks rocked! I was so pumped to be walking I didn’t want to stop for lunch the first day. I brought nuts, Larabars and an apple that sustained me until later when I scarfed down a huge dinner before hitting the sack.
Friends Near And Far
Again, after you get the hang of the yellow arrow and scallop shell way finders, your mind wanders. I spent a lot of time taking in the sites and testing the gear. I also had the good fortune of meeting someone after an hour or so of walking named Becky. She was a friendly petite woman carrying a massive backpack. I liked her style immediately when I saw her Nalgene bottle was filled with red wine. Turns out, Becky was from a town in California, just 30 minutes away from my parents’ home. She began the Camino in St. Jean Pied de Port (she began about 4-5 days earlier than me), so in my eyes, she was a Camino expert! She gave me some great tips and I genuinely enjoyed chatting with her as we walked a few hours together.
One of the cool things about the Camino is the laissez-faire attitude pilgrims have along the Way of St. James. We pilgrims all acknowledge that there are many different reasons to be on the Camino and we respect that. It could mean that someone wants to walk alone or another pilgrim is excited to make new friends and traverse the path in the company of others the entire time. Regardless of your stance *that day*, all you have to say to move on your way is “Buen Camino” and it signals to the pilgrim, “Nice to meet you. I am now going to do my own thing.”
Becky and I parted ways when I wanted to stop in a village for a break and she wanted to continue. We said goodbye with a hug and a cheery “Buen Camino!” I completed the rest of the walk on my own that day and was thrilled to arrive in Puente de la Reina my rest spot for the night. I had completed my first day and I felt elated, exhausted and ready for a shower!
14 miles down, 406 miles to go! Next time we will cover more ground in Navarra and wine country! Please use the comment space to request topics you would like covered. Also, if you liked this post and want to read more, join ‘la princesa del camino’ newsletter to make sure you do not miss a post. ¡Buen Camino!