Via Tolosana Day 19: Change yourself Donkey!

Castres to Dourgne – 22.3kms

Though I still tossed and turned, I had a much more comfy sleep. I’d stayed up late uploading photos to my blog.  It had rained all night and I was keen to pack all my belongings in plastic bags because it looked like it would rain all day too.  I heard Marielise get up, but she snuck out before I could say goodbye.  It was darkish outside as I was writing my pages. I finished packing when it was getting lighter and sat on the bed to put my boots on. I wonder how long my feet will stay dry.  I’d paid the night before, so I went down the two flights of stairs and out into the morning light.


Misty Castres

There were a few people around. I walked across the river to a boulangerie to get a quiche for lunch.  As I walked back towards the old part of town to catch a glimpse of the large St Jacques shell, I could smell brewing coffee coming from the upstairs apartments on each side of the small cobblestoned roads.  The street sweepers and I are the only ones that are out and about at 7am on a Sunday on this side of the river, and I dodge them while following the map out of town that I was given at the Office of Tourisme.


Homage to the chemin with the St Jacques Coquille

I make my way back across the river again towards the Town Hall and the beautiful gardens in front of the Goya museum.


The garden in front of the Musee Goya

As I walk, a huge flock of pigeons take off over the palace gardens.  I see a rabbit by the river. A park bench says to me “”Changer la monde commence par se changer so-meme” which I think is “to change the world, you must first change yourself“. That’s certainly one to take with me.


Changing the world

Fig trees show me their wares, getting riper every day I walk, but not quite ready I don’t think. The heady fig smell fills the damp air this morning.  It reminds me of Diptyque. When I first moved to Sydney I carried around a little cardboard sample of the beautiful Philosykos from the Parisienne perfumers, for ages, thinking I’d buy some.  I never did. The smell this morning is free.

It seems that not even joggers are out this early. I have the riverside path to myself, me, the rabbits and figs.  I have a little detour trying to find my way around a cemetery, then after figuring out I was on the right track before, I quickly went back to it.  I crossed a bridge, then made my way next to a building. It feels like I’m heading north, but I’m actually heading South-West today. The rain was getting heavier, so I pulled the pack cover out. As I did so, I realised there were a million yellow La Poste vans in the depot across the road. I might be exaggerating slightly. I caught them on their day of rest!


La Poste – day of rest

My exit from Castres seems much quicker than my entry and it is a nice walk, not boring at all. There is a boulangerie on the outskirts – for future reference, so I could’ve waited to get my breakfast and lunch. This route also took me past a little encampment of what looked like abandoned motorhomes and caravans. I think it is important for the pilgrim to see these sites of the fringe-dwellers of the opulent cities. It’s not all Hermès and Yves Saint Laurent you know.

Quite soon I am reaching large roundabouts, and country roads.  Out a few kilometres, I really need to go to the toilet, and there are not many possibilities. I come across a bus shelter that backs onto a field, with high grass around the back. I take my pack off and make use of the bench, and nip around the back and squat on the uneven ground amongst the high, wet grass. Pulling up my pants, I nearly lose balance and come a cropper.  It’s alright, the spectacle wasn’t wasted: the rabbits were watching!


Blue sky teasing

So I find two uses for a bus shelter in two days.  As my thigh muscles are not particularly toned, and it is actually painful to squat down, I need to take the pack off for toilet stops. Men are lucky, they just piss, pack and all. A bench is very handy as I don’t have to haul the pack up from the ground to get it on my back again. It is the little things!  After stopping, I took the pack cover off again, as it had cleared up and there were even patches of blue amongst the clouds. The blue skies were teasing though, because they never really appeared for very long after that.  I even put my long-sleeved top on as it was a little chilly. Song of the morning was I bless the rain down in Africa by Toto – hurry boy, she’s waiting there for you.  I’m such a romantic.  The rain doesn’t worry me, I was not looking forward to having to cope with it and walk, but actually it is beautiful walking in rain, as long as the pack is covered and I’ve got my raincoat on, it is cool. Lucky, because it seems to keep threatening to rain. The clouds are billowy and in places black. I ended up taking my rain jacket on and off all day because if it is not raining, it gets hot.

I’m feeling a bit lost today. Tired somehow. My left neck muscle is really sore and my feet get really tired and swollen by the end of a day walking. Today I even rubbed a little blister on my right second little toe – I think because of wet socks.

Leaving the larger highway out of town, I walked past a couple of donkeys, one looked pregnant. It was to be my two days of donkeys, because I saw another family walking with two donkeys when I got to Dourgne. Another lovely surprise today was turning a corner and finding two beautiful bridges in a little place called Fongledou – nice name.  I see a plant I don’t know, but suspect it is amaranth. Does anyone know cereals?


Pregnant donkey?


Surprise bridges

Huge fields of sunflowers appeared today. I came to some blackberries, but on the other side of a ditch next to the road. The embankment was too steep, so there were these plump berries, with nothing between us but a twisted ankle.  I didn’t risk it. Patience is a virtue.  The beautiful field of sunflowers opposite made up for it.


Sunflowers revisited

The locals had put a sweet little rest spot for pilgrims at Barginac (the word reminded me of a cross between cognac and that wonderful D-Generation Bargearse). Not ten minutes later I really did get lost, although I didn’t realise it.  I’d not noticed one of the balisages indicating a different road, so I set out up a really steep section of road – I was paying rather more attention to the amazing chateau on my left, than where I should have been going.  A guy in a car stopped to tell me that I was on the wrong road and that this was a very steep way up.  The roads did meet at the top, but boy was this the wrong way.  It is funny how when our attention wanders and we miss a sign, we end up making it harder for ourselves. I still thought I knew best and said I was following my map, but the kind man persisted, and eventually I realised he was right.  I carried on up the hill regardless, just aware that I needed to follow the crest of the hill at the top to join the road I should’ve been on. Boy was I exhausted when I got to the top, but the view at the top, and all the way up, was magnificent.  The lovely colours of the chemin – even in wrong turns. “There are no wrong turns, only unexpected paths” Mark Nepo.


The reward of a ‘wrong way’

There was an unexpected benefit – probably the most effective phone reception I’d had under a mobile phone tower – 5 bars. WOW! Just before the guy pointed out my wrong way, I saw a man take his dog out walking.  He went the ‘right’ way, and I could see him ahead for a long way. He seemed to be taking the same route I would walk.  When I’d long left my wrong turn behind, I finally left roadway for hedgerow where I met a jogger with very interesting hair, running very fast. A little later she returned and passed me again.


Shady track

Approaching Viviers-les-Montagnes, there was a really boggy clay path which got my boots all clogged up. When the muddy track turned into a small road, I saw an arched wall next to the road that looked like they had been half filled in, as if the road had risen several metres.  Viviers was a nice little town containing a bastide and chateau. I walked around the high walls of the bastide and then tried to look in the gates at the Chateau but couldn’t see much.  At the church, which wasn’t open, in a kind of Eleanor Rigby moment, two women were busily cleaning up paper hearts from yesterday’s wedding. They were inconveniently stuck firm to the stones after the rain overnight. I commiserated with them.  I walked away past a Peugeot like Sarah’s parents’ then along next an avenue of plane trees.

I paused and cooled down sitting on the park bench under beautifully trimmed plane trees on a little landing above a part of the town. I checked the time at 11:11am.  I ate my quiche, and gave my boots a good pedicure with the small stick I had carried with me since I last cleaned my boots in Gallargues-le-Montuex on day 4.

This little town was on the side of a hill, so I descended down to the main road where I would exit once again to the South-West.  I found a boulangerie, and had to have an eclair and a soft drink to finish off lunch, surprised that it was open on a Sunday morning.


Leaving Viviers-les-Montagnes


Sweet dilapidated window

When I left, with a light, misty rain, the roads seemed really busy for 11am in the morning, but I realised that everyone was busy travelling to their family’s house for lunch.  I was walking on roads with very little or no shoulders, so it was precarious on the main road at first.  Then I left the D50 to get to Dourgne, via a series of very little hamlets with old buildings set very close together. I saw two cyclists.


The old parka over the hat trick

Eventually when the rain was getting difficult, I did the old parker hood over the hat trick.  The changeable weather necessitated several on/offs with the rain protection. The hat had got a wash in the Castres laundromat, so it was well prepared for its job, it had survived well. Bull rushes again by the side of the road, which I hadn’t seen since day 2 in the Camargue.  12:12. The smell of corn. Sunflowers taller than me.


Chez maison?


Picnic dolmen

In one of the little towns, I sat on a low rock-seat to eat my morning tea.  I saw grapes next to wineries, cows, a Shetland pony and Compostelle graffiti.  Vague paths then tracked across the fields. More sunflowers. More avenues of trees.  I realised that sunflowers don’t do so well when in the shade of large trees.  Like children who grow up in the shadow of their parents, they may never quite reach maturity or the potential they may have had.  Interesting wood-stacking techniques, between two trees. More corn.


Overwhelmed baby sunflowers


There’s that Bellamy again!


Unique wood-stacking technique

I could see Saint Scholastique and En Calcat a long way before I was even close to them.  The last dirt road into Dourgne took forever to walk and I was really tired. My knees hurt, my little toe hurt, my spirit hurt – everything!  There were ground up bricks in the road and across the field of amaranth I could see a beautiful maison. High on the hill on my left, in the distance I could also see another building which the map showed as Chapelle de Saint-Ferreol, and by the looks a little memorial.


View towards Dourgne


St Scholastic and St Ferreol on the hill


Bricks in the way


Chez maison?  Name the cereal?

I trudged into Dourgne in case there was something open, and also to find a toilet, which I did – with bonus toilet paper. On the way I passed a family with some donkeys. Donkey days.  And floating down against the cloudy back-drop, a para-glider.  It was quite a climb up into the old town where the church was and I found a beautiful colonnaded group of shops where the Office of Tourisme was. It was unfortunately shut. I re-traced my steps back down the hill to follow the main road out of town to the Abbaye. On the way was encouraged by the beautiful smell of lilac or jasmine, that gorgeous sweet perfume.


Dourgne chapel, town centre


Doormen town centre


Office de Tourisme arcade


Cute advertisement

Finally at the Abbaye d’en Calcat, twenty minutes later, my spirits were pretty low. I could have cried. Yet it felt so very calm and was clearly going to be a tonic for me. Many people in lots of cars seemed to be coming and going from the large car park.  It seemed like a tourist destination as well as a pilgrimage destination with masses held for the public all day.  I waited in the foyer with a guy, Vincent, an enthusiastic ex-monk making his way around the region on his way to Arles and Marseilles the next day. He knew Australia as he’d travelled there 10 years ago. This order has an abbey in Perth apparently (a monk later told me it was in New Norcia, the order Benedictine – Subiaco). That certainly sounded like WA. Subiaco was the name of the AFL footy oval.  He also told me that today was the Saint’s Day of Mary Mackillop, our only Australian saint. That was an interesting coincidence as I’d just left the Australian Catholic University. When I’d worked in the Sydney campus, her chapel was just around the corner. And on the Melbourne campus, there is a series of historical markers leading to her statue. Vincent was waxing lyrical about some new herb that he was going to make into a herbal remedy, no doubt to make a million. I thought this was a strange combination. The number of words coming out of this man’s mouth, after a day of silence on my part, was overwhelming and my aching body was making me impatient for more silence. I fidgeted around, trying to find a comfortable position in the vinyl and wood chair that would accommodate my restless and over-tired legs, but there wasn’t one to be found. I was somewhat relieved to be welcomed by Brother Daniel to pay my money and find my room.

Brother Daniel received my donativo and I got my credential stamped. He could speak English, and spent some time surveying my credential as he had walked part of this route too – St Guilhem le Desert to En-Calcat. There we were both were re-living our walks. He said he didn’t enjoy the step I had just done between here and Castres. I said it was a hard day, despite being mostly flat, there were many hard roads. He took me to my room, #21 downstairs looking up to the car park. He said a pilgrim had been there last night – that might have been Manfred. This was not their peak time for pilgrims – they usually have more people here for retreats in groups.  They close in September when the big pilgrim numbers would normally come.  The room is modest in decor, but large with two single beds. It is quite modern and extremely clean. The bathroom WITH TOWELS, is wonderful. The sheets are beautiful linen and there are blankets.  The window is double-glazed so it feels like it will be warm, but I’m feeling a little cool as I’ve cooled down from my walk.  He explained meal times and masses, letting me know that the meals are silent. I like silence.  I explained about my Vipassana retreat and he knew of it – he had travelled in India and had a Zen buddhist friend. He also had a friend who has close ties to this place and teaches Vipassana in the French course.  Daniel was a dude! He had a smiling way, a nice little sense of humour. I felt at home.

I settled in, showered and went to do my washing. I had worn my long-sleeved shirt, so had to once again get around in a t-shirt, so I was a little cold. I had to get Daniel’s assistance because for some reason the washing machine took ages to finish.  I had a little nap between 5:15 and 5:45pm, when I rushed to hang out my washing, on the long lines in the laundry, then struggled up to mass at 6:00pm. It was 45 minutes long and was followed by dinner at 7:00pm. Vigiles was at 9:00pm for about 45minutes, although I left early as I felt I had to go to bed.  All stillness here. It was an amazing experience, as Sonja had said it would be.  Dinner was not quite silent, but accompanied by Leclair, Telemann and Vivaldi baroque flute pieces.   It was heavenly. It was also very wet outside. It had rained ever since I had arrived.

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