Many pilgrims advised us on booking our accommodations ahead, to ensure there was space enough at the first albergue: a converted 12th-century church and monastery; however, in desiring to keep with the ethos of the Lord providing and trusting that there will be a bed, we decided against reserving and instead, believed.

The small village of Roncesvalles is little more than a large church, a couple of restaurants, and a hotel for those pilgrims with more sophisticated tastes. For the majority of pilgrims who walk the traditional French route of the Camino, it is the first resting point, situated at the base of the Pyrenese in the most northern regions of Spain. That first day begins in southern France, climbs quite high (although, not as much vertical gain as in other portions of the journey) and culminates in a dizzying downhill jaunt where one's knees, if not properly trained, might be screaming in pain.

The first day is quite the worst physically; nothing prepares you for how physically demanding it is from the start, spare having gotten there a day early, taken the time to survey the entire route on foot, and then start the next day anew.

The sight of the church is a welcomed one to weary travelers looking for lodging; unquestionably, it was for us. We arrived around 2:30 in the afternoon, paid the sum needed to rest there for the night, and immediately passed out in a shared room filled with roughly 50 other beds. It was more private than I expected it to be, although, in the late night, I was quite chilly.

There is a vividness to memories associated with this place: the smell and look of gray, blue, pink, and red socks, hand-washed, drying in the wind to be ready for the next day; cold stones beneath my tired feet on the way to the shower; a variety of pilgrims basking in the sunlight, refreshing themselves, fiercely worn yet fiercely determined not to fall asleep; the way the Padre conducted mass, entirely in Spanish (for we were in Spain), unaware or perhaps unsympathetic to the lack of understanding the majority attendees must have had due to their diversity of backgrounds and cultural upbringings; the towering stone walls that housed those same pilgrims, mish-mashed with updates that attempted (poorly at times and masterfully at others) bring improvements and additional lodgings to the ever-increasing amount of travelers that seek rest.

Not every day, or place, contains the feelings that this first one does, but that is why it is distinctive, precisely because it is.

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Writer, Photographer, Strategist

Portland, OR
By way of London, California, & Colorado