Actually we had not planned to go to Saint Jean before we got to Pamplona. We agreed that crossing the Pyrenees as early as on the first day may be too hard since we had no experience in mountain hiking at all. The idea was to start in Roncesvalles, which is more popular as a starting point for those taking Camino Frances. Just after having booked the plain tickets in March we realized that we would reach Pamplona on Saturday evening, while no bus leaves for Roncesvalles on Sunday. Since we still did not want to cross the mountains, we decided to try reaching Roncesvalles hitchhiking, which is very popular in Poland. Yet the recepcionist at the hostel in Pamplona warned us at breakfast that it is very uncommon to travel this way in Spain and that we were very likely to get stuck waiting all day at the highway for someone to give us a lift. Still, we felt very insecure about starting in Saint Jean and thought that maybe we could just take the bus, get off halfway and somehow reach our desitnation on foot. We went to the bus station to ask if it was possible, because we didn’t know the exact route of the bus, but we were surprised to hear that being it an international transfer we were not allowed to leave the bus before arriving at the final stop. The Way with Martin Sheen, which partially inspired us to go on Camino, was not really helpful to make up our minds at this particular moment, as the movie starts with the death of a guy who started his camino in the Pyrenees and never reached Spain. The weather in the mountains can be very treaterous. In the end, somehow we convinced ourselves that all in all we should give it a try, probably because of all the people waiting for departure, looking rather cheerful and optimistic. Well, we had a moment of doubt when the bus stopped in a village on the way to pick up some more pilgrims, but the driver made it clear that no one is allowed to get off.
In Saint Jean all our fears wore off when we saw how picturesque the village was. Some local festival was taking place that day so the streets were vey colourful, as you can see in the photo, and there was an orchestra playing music all the time. A friendly young woman in the first souvenir shop we went into told us the way to the pilgrim centre, where we could register and buy the passport as well as book two beds, in an albergue located on the same street. Nevertheless, we were surprised how difficult it was to communicate either in English or Spanish being so close to the Spanish-French border.
It went better at the pilgrim centre, where non-French volunteers helped the incomers get the formalities out of the way. After that, we checked-in at the albergue (or maybe rather: we just entered and, undisturbed, picked two bunk beds that were still free) which was very simple, pretty much what we expected, and we were very happy with the conditions.
The price included breakfast, but do not expect anything more than a piece of bread with jam. We went shopping to the nearby bakery and provided ourselves with some croissants for supper and baguettes for the following day, then we got some local cheese and ham at a grocery. After that, we hanged around for a while and took some photos and crossed the Puerta de Santiago showed on the picture below (a gate which was historically an entrance for pilgrims comming from the east) , yet we went to sleep very early, because we planned to get up up at 4 AM.
- bus ticket: 20 euros
- St James shell for the backpack: 2 euros
- food (shopping): 6.50 euros
- pilgrim’s passport: 2 euros
- cost of albergue with breakfast: 8 euros