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Starting the Camino de Santiago

Got my Shell!

Got my Shell!

Getting from Pamplona, Spain to St. Jean Pied-du-Port, France

There is a direct bus from Pamplona to St. Jean Pied-du-Port, France.  The cost is 20 euros.  You can purchase the ticket from Window #2 at the Pamplona bus station.  If you are prone to motion sickness, I suggest you bring a bag with you because there is no bathroom on the bus.  It is one hair-pin turn after another and our driver drove like a bat out of hell.

Arrival in St. Jean Pied-du-Port, France

I am so excited that I keep tearing up.  Finally, I am here at the start of the Camino Frances and my camino will start tomorrow.  In the meantime, there is some paperwork to do and some sightseeing in this beautiful town.

The Pilgrim’s Office and the Refuge

Once you arrive in St. Jean Pied-du-Port, follow the side road over the river, through the city gate, and up the hill.  The Pilgrims office is on the left.  There we got maps, our Pilgrim’s passport, our scallop shells, and a reservation for a “refuge” or place to sleep for Day One and Day Two.  The refuge was just a few more steps up the hill and in an ancient building.  We walked down stone steps to get to our room which we shared with two huge men from Texas, who made sure we understood “East Texas”, and a couple from Guadalajara, Spain.   Despite the language barrier, we bonded with the couple from Spain because of the “bear-like” snoring of the Texas men that kept us all up all night, despite ear plugs.   I guess this is the beginning of the suffering of the pilgrim!

The Start of our Camino – Day One: St. Jean Pied-du-Port to Orrison

This morning we were given breakfast which was bread and butter and instant coffee which we were told to put in the “cups” the man pointed to, which were clearly not cups, but bowls.  I’m not one to judge but last night, we drank out of cups at dinner so I know cups exist in France.  Probably a big inside joke….”Ha Ha! We’ll make the pilgrims drink out of bowls, but we’ll act like they’re cups!”  French humor?

We thanked the volunteers who run the refuge for our bowl of coffee and off we went through the town and up the hill, and up, up, up.  There is no way to describe the green, gentle hills with clouds resting in their little valleys.  Or the heavenly sound of hundreds of cowbells of different pitch ringing in the distance.  Suffice it to say, it’s a beautiful start.

Bowl of Coffee

Cup of Coffee?

Many people choose to go all the way to Roncesvalles on their first day but we were worried that it would be too much for Day One, so we went to the first “Aubergue” (another name for “refuge” or hostel for pilgrims) just 8 kilometers  away.   Truthfully, it was a hard walk there but it came a bit too soon.  I could have walked more.  But there is no happy medium here – it’s either stop here or walk 27 straight kilometers (16.7 miles) up hill from St. Jean Pied-du-Port.  We decided to start easy and not invite injury since we are in no rush.

At the refuge we had baguettes with cheese and vegetable soup.  Never did anything taste better!  We are sharing our room with eight others.  One is a young goddess from Iceland who is an opera singer.   Two are the same people from Guadalajara we roomed with last night – Ninez and Jose Antonio.  The others are a mystery for now.

Everyone met for dinner of vegetable soup, lamb and bread.  We were told to introduce ourselves and Jamie and I are the only Americans except for ‘Curry’ from Tallahassee, Florida.  Most people are from Canada or Germany with two from Brazil, one from Switzerland, several from France, one from South Africa, and two from Spain.  Seems that the average age is about 55.  Really fun day.  We’re on our way!

Photos of St. Jean Pied-du-Port and the Camino de Santiago



  1. i did it from st. jean to ronsvongales . ouch, sore feet already . good to take it easy ,have a drink and enjoy life. read a book, chat with nice people why suffer. but my feet got used to it.and i made it 800 miles all together. thru portugal too. very nice.

  2. Beautiful blog about the Camino- I walked last year and am planning to return again this summer. I can’t wait to read more from your pilgrimage, and to dive into the rest of your blog!

    • Thank you for reading Nadine. It is such an amazing experience. I hope to return someday too.

  3. Brings back great memories!

  4. Laura,

    I just discovered your blog. I’m planning on walking the Camino next year. I’m an American expat living in France right now, and I haven’t read through all the comments, but French people drink out of bowls in the morning. It is so strange to me! I still enjoy my mug of tea while everyone else drinks tea, coffee, milk, whatever in a bowl. I look forward to reading about the rest of your journey.

    • Thanks for reading Sally. I’m about due for another Camino myself so maybe we’ll meet on the road next year!

      • Hi Laura,
        I ran into your website as I was searching for info on Camino de Santiago. My family are planning on this trip in May/Jun. When are you planning your trip? We are planning to fly to Madrid from San Diego and go to Pamplona.


        • Hi Min, I don’t have any firm plans to do another Camino (although I am sure another is on my future). Did you have questions I might be able to help you with? Thanks for reading!

  5. Hi Laura,
    I’ve been reading about your trip down the the Camino de Santiago and have been digging your website. I’m flying into Madrid in 2 weeks to start my Camino and was planning on taking train to Pamplona and figuring out how to get to St. Jean from there. I read on your post that there is a direct bus from Pamplona to St. Jean. I’m having a hard time finding out more about it. Could you possibly provide the name of the bus company and the location of the station you refer to in the post?

  6. Hello I enjoy your blog so much! So much detail, I was wondering I am doing the camino in May 2014 what was the weather like I’m so confused on bringing pants lol Thank you for your blog, it made me feel a little better about going without planning or a clue what I am doing lol

    • Thanks Aileen. May the clueless unite! The weather was crazy in May of last year. It was really unusually cold and rainy. I would suggest you bring pants. I would have frozen without them. Best wishes on your Camino!

  7. You mentioned using text as a way to communicate with Jamie. Did you have European phones, or US smartphones ? I’ve heard rates are astronomical on US phones.
    Also, if you have a need to pee while on the trail, is it plausible ?
    Your blog was one of the most enlightening yet. A friend & I are planning to go this May – thanks for your time to write it all down for us to read 🙂

    • Thanks so much for the compliment Nickie! We both had iphones from the U.S. Our phones were off the whole time (airplane mode) to be sure that we didn’t incur any crazy charges. Also, making sure your data settings are set so no data is incoming/outgoing automatically is important. All our communication (calling, texting, video chatting) was done over wifi (still possible if phone is in airplane mode). When we got home, there were no surprise charges.

      The apps we used to communicate were Skype and Tango. A lot of pilgrims used WhatsApp.

      Hope that helps and maybe I’ll see you on the road in May – getting the itch to walk again. Buen Camino!

    • Forgot to respond to the peeing question. 🙂 It’s not only plausible, sometimes it’s a necessity! Always carry toilet paper. Try to go off the trail a distance and carry a plastic bag for your toilet paper. Dispose of the trash when you get to a trash can.

      • Thank you for your answer. Hope you are enjoying your latest trek !

  8. Laura, I have just started ready about your Camino. Im thrilled that you have documented it so well. I am starting the end of september 2014 and can not wait. I am taking spanish lessons and wondered if you feel knowing the language is essential or just a plus. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jessica, I (shamefully) knew only a few words in Spanish and I got by just fine. English is sort of the universal language on the Camino amongst pilgrims and the locals along the Camino usually know some English as a necessity. Knowing the language will definitely enrich your experience and I applaud your efforts. Thanks for reading and let me know if you have more questions. Happy to help.

  9. OMG! I loved your photos. My husband and I leave this coming May and we also will be starting our Pilgrimage in SJDP. We are making our own plans, kind of being spontaneous. Not sure if that’s a good idea but we like a good adventure. Thank you for sharing

    • Thanks Rachel! Jamie and I were totally spontaneous, no guide book, no training, no clue! Thank God we had a sense of humor. It was an adventure and spontaneity worked great for us. You will LOVE it. Let me know if you have any questions before your trip. Buen Camino!

  10. I walked the the camino 2 years ago. I’v just begun to read your story with joyful recollection. Thanks.

    • Thank you for reading!

  11. Never fear that you were being made fun of…those bowls are what French people use for breakfast beverages–whether tea, coffee, or hot cocoa. Mugs really aren’t a french thing.

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