We started the 500 mile walk in St. Jean pied de port (south of france), which gives you a certain amount of street-cred amongst the other pilgrims. This first leg is considered very difficult. It is an 18 mile walk with an elevation change of 3000 feet. This route took us through steep hills covered in lush grass with cows, horses, and sheep sprinkled throughout. The landscape changes considerably from lower elevations to the upper summit (and the weather too) We went from warm, sunny farmland, to cold and windy mountains, to dense forests of sycamore-like trees (still need to identify them)
We stayed in a small town with nothing more than a large church and a hostel, with a couple restaurants. The pilgrim´s hostel was in a large stone building with stone butress-vaults and wood roof. Inside there was about 90 bunk beds, and by 10p when the door locks and the lights shut off the place was full. They make you take your muddy boots off at the door and wear sandels inside. In the basement were bathrooms and showers. Despite the primitive sound of this place, it was actually quite modernized. And they run it like a tight ship. The lights came on right at 6a the next morning.
I´ve never slept in one room with so many people. I felt like I was in a pond of bullfrogs with all the strange and sometimes violent snoring that went on. I couldn´t sleep at first and was pissed off at how seemingly content the snoring people were. Maybe I wanted to participate too, like another frog adding to chorus.
The morning was crisp and cool. Fog hung onto the mountains until the sun started burning through. We ate breakfast in a small town a mile and half away from the pilgrim´s hostel, and continued walking. The trail already seems too crowded with pilgrims compared to our first day, which most people skip. The demographic is largely older people, either french or spanish. I´ve yet to meet another american.