Day 1: Distance travelled 10kms. Total ascent 48m
Weather: Clear, dry and hot. Est: 28 degrees
Every year, thousands of ‘pilgrims’ journey along the Way of St James, a collection of pilgrimage routes to Santiago, marked by the yellow arrow flecha amarillo. Pilgrims like us undertaking a mixture of both inner and outer journeys, of discovery and of reflection. We begin our journey today – somewhat hesitantly as we meet other pilgrims who have been on the road for several days or weeks already – dusty, weary and nursing blisters and sore feet! What will our journey over the next three weeks bring? Have we prepared enough? Are we carrying too much? Are our shoes fitting well? GrandpaBear has already made the decision to package up 3kg of “extras” and post them ahead to Santiago, so we have a leisurely start to the day waiting for the post office to open.
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” Susan Hellar
As we wait in the village square, and older man comes up and strikes up conversation in Spanish…it therefore wasn’t as much a conversation as us trying to understand. He enthusiastically welcomes us and wishes us buen camino. It transpires that he is a roaming troubadour who travels the Camino playing in various towns and has completed four Caminos himself. Thereafter, it only took a couple of hours for us to learn the camino salute – a simple “hola – buen camino” that is said when passing any fellow pilgrim, and said to you by most passing Spaniards. It all adds to the sense of being part of something much larger than your own journey.
The Camino ultimately concludes in Santiago, the total distance being completely dependent on which path is taken. The main route we are journeying on covers over 900kms from France, across Northern Spain. We have joined the Camino at Astorga meaning we will cover approximately 300kms in the next three weeks. Accommodation is available for pilgrims in a range of albergue, hostales and refugios. A night’s shelter typically costs from 3 to 10 Euros per person, or in some places whatever you want to give, and they can be found every 5-10 kilometres along the Way. To stay in one of these places, the pilgrim must have a pilgrim passport credential which is stamped at each hostel with a rubber stamp cello. This ensures you have come a realistic distance from your last stop (no cheating by jumping in a taxi without being caught out!). Today is a very modest start to break us all in gently. As MBoy10 said.. “we are pilgrims in progress now!”.
Many of the waymarkers have the distinctive yellow scallop shell to guide you along the Way, or may be a simple yellow arrow painted on the ground or the side of a building, or may even be a collection of stones on the path and are distributed surprisingly frequently along the pathway, and through the towns. Should you hesitate to discern the correct direction, a friendly local is sure to call out a welcome and point the way out to you. It would appear impossible to get lost. However, today was an easy start, a short distance, relatively flat and a simple path. There are many kilometers to come! But so far, buen camino!
We arrive in Santa Catalina in time for a late lunch, and make the decision not to travel on to the next town, but to allow everyone a quiet afternoon to catch up on journals and rest before anyone gets truly weary. The village apparently only has a population of 50 so it doesn’t take long to wander around this small but picturesque ‘town’. There are actually several albergue in the village, we decide upon the one in the middle of the “town”, a lovely stone building with a spotless bunk room that we all fit in. The children spend the afternoon playing in the playground and the rest of us catch up on blogs, journals and washing – along with a quick tour of the village.
We experience our first “pilgrim meals” at the albergue – and order several variations and end up with a combination of soup, salad, pork/chicken/veal cutlets with chips, and fruit and ice-cream. A simple but tasty meal which leaves us all satisfied and ready for bed. The change of pace from racing around Paris is a marked and welcome change. After dinner we sit outside at the tables on the pavement by the albergue and contemplate tomorrows journey. All in all, a fantastic first day on the Camino.