Via Tolosana Day 34: … just walking each other home.

Monlezon (Chez Nicole et Michel) to Maubourguet – 22.7kms

I awoke at 6 am. I wrote. I ate breakfast from the most delicious looking and tasting spread just before 7am, and for a short time with Paul. Yoghurt, cake, hot toast and coffee.  Everything you could want. Amazing.  I tried checking emails after asking for the password. Paul left soon after, and I went upstairs to clean my teeth.  I filled my water bottles and took the figs that Nicole had kindly saved for me and left about 8am.

I left from the farmhouse and yard, walked past paddocks of crops, up a small road towards the town on the hill, Monlezon. It was raining but there were no clouds.  I realised I was being sprayed by sprinklers, the light reflecting in the jet streams as a beautiful rainbow. What is the promise that I’ll witness today? Or maybe it will be my pot of gold.

I didn’t walk up to see the church, but walked past the old ruined castle and sung Moon over Ruined Castle, a staple in the Suzuki cello repertoire.

I met a young Italian man and stopped for a brief chat about what his route was.  He was walking ‘backwards’ from Santiago to Rome, so I had met two people in the same 24 hours who were both going to Italy.  As would become another feature of the day, he was walking home. It reminded me of the beautiful Ram Dass quote,

“We’re all just walking each other home.”

An email from my home in Australia had told me that the friend who had said they would stay in my place while I was away, had decided to move out.  I walked consumed by thoughts about the situation and worries about how I would pay my rent when I returned, considering I no longer had a job. I was engrossed all the way to Marciac, five kilometres.

A little further on and I saw the most bountiful fig tree so far, the figs looking really ripe. Then there was a medlar tree.  I congratulated myself on knowing what that was. I wonder how many other people could identify a medlar tree? It seems like an old fashioned fruit tree to me, a little like the pomegranate used to be before the current trendy craze in Australian cooking. Maybe it is just me that’s old fashioned.

An eglise spire rose well above the surrounding countryside and confirmed I was heading in the right direction.

Objects rising from paddocks are closer than they appear.

Sprinklers were a theme today, I turned right around a big lateral move one – it seems they accompany crop farming everywhere in the world. Paul had warned me at a certain point in the next day or so, I would have to take care not to get wet between sprinklers, but this one at least lay resting. The way was very open to the elements today – mostly wind.

IMG_4271

I stopped to have a brief look at a ruined church just before the town with an old oak tree that had seen better days.  As I approached the centre of the town, and was checking my maps, Nicole drove up next to me. It was nice to say hello/goodbye to her again.  I didn’t know whether to go into the town or to turn left and leave. Despite the multitude of signs, there was no clarity in my mind.

But I’m glad I decided to stay and look around the town, Marciac – the home of a big annual jazz festival (Diana Krall and Wynton Marsalis this year, no less). It would be nice to return to see it sometime.  I had a brief look in Chapelle Notre Dame de la Croix – it was light, calm and beautiful.

I walked past the sculpted heads of horses over doorways, along the corner of the plaza then continued out of town on my walk.  It was windy.

After a short walk along pretty flat road, there was a steep climb up out of the town.  I decided that I’d rest at the top of the hill before Le Château and eat my waffle from yesterday.  After 20 minutes or so, at the top, I once again struggled to find a good place to stop.  I was walking in a ‘run’ between paddocks, bordered by low fences and partly covered by low hedges, so although it was secluded, it was still exposed to there walkers if I wanted to pee.  In these parts, it is of course common not to see a soul, so I squatted comfortably next to the fence line.  Then a little further along I chose a seat looking into the next valley, and got out my waffle. A little hard, but unmistakably Belgian.  The best waffles are made with special sugar – beet sugar I think. I was once in a Permaculture group with Luc, a Belgian who made the most fantastic waffles on a machine he had made himself and used to take to fetes and fairs.  He was kind enough to make them for garden openings my partner and I had for the Open Garden Scheme in Colonel Light Gardens in the 1990s.  The waffles were a real hit. Warm and fresh, they are just heaven. Cold, not so much, but I have my memory and imagination.

Next I decided to examine my credentials, well actually just one: my little passport to pilgrim accommodation.  The little ink stamps are part of the physical souvenirs one accumulates as one walks, and they are highly individual, each bringing back the memories from the place they were purchased. I didn’t quite have 33, but not far off. The money collection by the host/ess in exchange for a stamp is one of the daily rituals of the way, but you can also get them from Office de Tourisme, and Mairie. You could easily accumulate many more than the allocated boxes on the small concertinaed piece of card.  It is I suppose like a dance card in some ways. I was finding it equally romantic, this traipse through the countryside – with agony and ecstasy in equal quantities.

As I was pondering how far I’d come, I noted a young buck in a beret approaching. He looked sporty, although I noted he was also sporting a coquille shell, a pilgrim.  All his clothes were proper walking clothes, with the strange addition of a beret – I mean, not strange for a French man, but strange for a long walker.  I was intrigued, and very smiley.  He looked young, maybe not in his twenties, but not much older. He shook my hand and held on for much longer than I thought he needed to, smiling as well and I wondered what was going on (in a good way). Enchanté Mattheiu! I was enchanted, although it just means pleased to meet you.

I tried at first to speak French, but felt quite ridiculous in my attempts, and it seemed he spoke very good English, so we continued in that.  I invited him to sit down, trying my hardest not to seem too enthusiastic, and he did and explained that he already knew who I was. (Great! My crazy reputation had preceded me).  He said he’d heard I was doing four blogs, and so I corrected him to say, I’m only doing one, but that I had only written about four days.  He explained he had met Sophie and Virginie last night, and they had told him about an Australien pilgrim who was blogging.

We exchanged details of what we were doing.  He was walking an interesting way in his holidays. He had walked three days from his home in Oloron, south to Col du Somport and Canfranc Estación, and had then returned home for a party.  Then he’d gone home to his parents house and had joined the route at St Christaud, stayed the night at Marciac, but left later than he expected because he wanted to have a coffee with a friend. It seemed he was on a pretty fast schedule, so I urged him to go on, as I felt I would slow such a sporty and athletic fellow. I would have loved to walk with him, but my fears about my pace and the ‘go your own way, any other way is straying‘ bells rang loudly in my head.  It disappointed me, but after a few more niceties, off he went.  Easy come, easy go they say.

After I’d had enough of a break, I got up, and descended the track, turning right around the edge of the paddock, and making an equally steep descent down the hill. My knees hurt.  I could see Mathieu in the distance, but I didn’t think I’d see him again.  I then settled into my rhythm, walking through lots of corn fields.  My sister texted me, and it felt comforting to have contact from Australia here in the middle of the countryside. I walked up a rise where on a raised bank, a small chapel sat, Eglise de Samazan. I’d found the little settlement, Le Château.  As I walked past it, I realised Matthieu had gone to check it out, and was just coming out. I kept walking as I knew he would catch me up. Not much further along the road, and we were walking together. I was right about his pace, he was fast: a gazelle.  We walked down the Côte du Pelerin.

It was probably another hour and we could see another church in the distance.

IMG_4292

Our conversation had ranged widely and I told him he was one of only three pilgrims I’d met.  There had been hardly any ‘real’ pilgrims.  We talked about his work, something he said he preferred not to ask of other pilgrims while walking. I found this interesting, as leaving work was one of the things that had flung me into this adventure. He had walked to Santiago before and had been very moved by the experience.  He stops at all churches to go inside if possible, much as I had been doing. It was nice to talk about the spiritual aspect of walking, and it surprised me that I had not really been able to talk about this with anyone other than Sonia previously. Most walkers I’d met, lovely as they were, seemed to enjoy the challenge of a long walk for it’s tourist and exercise benefits rather than any answers it might bring. We talked about families, I told him I loved France and have always wanted to live there. He thought that maybe it had just never been the right time.  He had come this way on bike some time before, and he was interested that everything seemed to be different when you walk rather than ride, including that everything seemed to take a whole lot longer and in that way can be unfamiliar. It was nice not to have to think about whether we were going in the right direction, he’d been this way before.  About an hour on and we stopped at Auriébat after finding a picnic table to sit at for lunch. We’d been searching for a place, and were going to go into the church but seemed to be too busy thinking of our lunch, and we missed it.

We sat opposite each other and joked and smiled lots. He gave me some of his family’s home-made saucisson cut with his French knife, and I shared my pear with him, cut with my Swiss-army knife.  It was all rather cute, although now I realise, slightly euphemistic. I could get used to this!  After we finished eating, he completely surprised me by wanting to take my photo. I thought this was very unfair if I wasn’t also allowed to take his, so I did. But just like dentists can’t reveal their faces on television, his smile remains my secret.

I liked him already – it was easy to when his ways reminded me of my own. He had ridden another route, he pats dogs, he says hello to horses. We found blackberries along the road, and stopped to pick them. I shared with him my secret for finding the really ripe ones and I picked some for him. They weren’t as abundant as they’d been in past weeks, and the ground seemed drier, possibly never producing as many here as in some parts I’d walked through. We delicately shared our pickings until he finally said we’d better leave some for other pilgrims. J’adore!

We continued on through the back-blocks, through Auricane where he stopped to look at a beautiful old farm house. We speculated about whether anyone lived there. He seemed to think it would be a nice place to live. Could I find anyone more like me a million miles from home? I told him about my cocker spaniels Monte and Carlo.

A few hundred metres on, we skirted a property that reminded me a little of the town called Spectre in Big Fish, except instead of sneakers hanging from power lines, it was the little coquilles St.Jacques shells nailed to every tree around the perimeter.  I get that it is helpful for pilgrims to see these little signs of encouragement, however it was slightly spooky.

It was windy in the afternoon, but despite the headwind we continued at a blistering pace. I managed to keep up, but only just.  I suppose I could’ve just asked him to slow down, but that thought never crossed my mind.

Getting nearer to Maubourguet he picked up some rubbish from the road (another thing I do), and decided he’d walk with it until he found a bin. The only problem was that it had grease on it, which he only realised after some time, and it went everywhere.  He had mentioned a few times that he was trying to decide whether to continue to Lahitte-Toupiere.

On the close outskirts of town we found an open water course which accompanied us nearly all the way and where it ended we stopped so Matthieu could wash his hands.  I noticed when he was crouching that he was wearing Salomon shoes.  I said “You have Salamon shoes, so do I”. “Yes, I saw”, he said.  I asked him cheekily, “So have you been checking out my shoes?” and he laughed and said “Always”.

We walked the last little stretch into town, having to take a slight detour because there were some fences being put up for the town fete.  We searched for the Office de Tourisme after passing the sideshows being set up in the afternoon sun. La Poste. At the office he asked about the boulangerie, and I asked about the caravan park. We walked back outside again, and he wanted to go and eat something and get supplies.  I started to go with him, but considering I was really worn out, my feet and legs were sore, and I’d said I wouldn’t be going on, I said that I’d go to the camping to wash and get settled.

He said,  “À bientôt!” and we kissed goodbye.

I walked away saying to myself “well if he wants to see you again, he will. Just keep walking”. I had mixed feelings. I really wanted to keep walking with him. I really liked him, but I didn’t want to go anyone else’s way, and I knew that today I was already exhausted, and I’d just be walking further for someone else.  I’d done that before and wasn’t going to do it again. I continued trying to work out what I should have done. I didn’t feel that I’d done the right thing.  Should I have told him I really wanted to walk with him? Would he stay so he could walk with me? What would he do?

I really could not have gone any further, and it was even a struggle getting the three-hundred or so metres to the caravan park.  I booked in and paid my 10 Euro fee for a tiny chalet-style cabin with five beds and got my credential stamped.  The woman at the office gave me menthe and I enjoyed it very much.  When I had finished she took me to the cabin. It was très mignon (very cute) however I only noticed when she’d already gone, that it didn’t have a lock. In fact, the door didn’t even close properly.  Now, it is one thing peeing in a toilet without a door, but it is a totally different situation sleeping alone in a caravan park in a town with no lock on your cabin.  When I asked, she just said put a chair in front of it. Great!

I tried to half imagine that Matthieu might come, but I think I knew that he wouldn’t. That made me sad and regretful. I was getting used to the idea that I’d be half-sleeping, worried for my safety with no-one else staying the night.  I went to inspect the showers/toilets, which were about 50 metres from the cabin.  The old push-button shower again, and squat toilets, with no toilet paper. Hmmm. Squatting after a day of walking is a very difficult feat. Every muscle in your thighs screams as you lower yourself from standing to squatting, having to somehow work through the pain as you hover to relieve yourself. You wonder how you can keep from collapsing completely. Out on the road behind a tree, it is not so challenging but when you’re hovering above a squat toilet – you have to aim as well. Then there is getting up again!  It would be the one thing I would try and train for if I walked again, not so much the endurance for the long days, but the thigh muscles for squatting. Men have it easy!

There were lovely porcelain sinks for washing clothes though and so after my shower I used them with my new soap, and hung my washing on the back wall facing the river.  It was still windy and there was a slight chill to the air, and across the river men en masse were playing a pretty serious petanque competition. I think I got wolf-whistles and leering comments, but I didn’t dare turn around to acknowledge them. I had to sleep all night without a lock on my cabin!

I walked back into town to the Office de Tourisme to see about where to get food. The woman told me that one opened in the morning. The boulangerie would be open as well. She told me that two other men were coming to stay in the cabin, and I said I was relieved because I didn’t want to be there alone. I asked about Matthieu, and she told me he had returned to tell her that he had decided to go to Lahitte-Toupiere today. I shared with her my disappointment. She commiserated saying “he was walking too fast for you”. I thought he would go on, but I was still sad.  I thought he was really sweet. But it is about moving on, isn’t it? No attachments. What a surprise to have met the Salamon-wearing, single virgo, who was not as young as he looked.

I decided I’d get lunch in the morning as well as breakfast, as there was nothing at the caravan park apart from coffee, so I made my way back to the cabin after going to the Cyber Cafe to check emails.  Biche o ma biche.

On returning I met Christian, a cyclist, who was doing the same route and had come from Toulouse.  I had a lie down because I was really tired and while doing so his two other friends, Patrice and Laurent arrived.  They sounded like a funny group mucking around outside the cabin.  After a quick snooze, I sat up to do my journal and when I’d finished, I introduced myself and we decided we’d check out the town fete.  I had said goodbye to one guy, and there were three to take his place.  I think you would call this a social life.

We walked into town to get some dinner. It was Christian’s birthday, and I was shouted dinner. Nice!  We had couscous at a restaurant that had extended it’s reach onto the square via trestle tables.  It was a busy night with many people out and about (probably half the town) and the restaurant was packed.  The food was great, lovely Moroccan curry with couscous. Patrice spoke really good English, so he acted as interpreter for us all, but I managed fairly well in French too. We had a great discussion about French and Australian culture and politics.  They were wonderful company and we laughed and joked a lot, even if I spent most of the night thinking about the gazelle who had just bounded away.

Later we walked around to la arène (the arena), where a bull fight was happening and where, judging by the noise, the other half of the town was. It was really loud, and I explained that not only was the 13 Euro entrance fee something I didn’t want to pay, but also I didn’t like bull-fighting.  Now I understood why part of the town was fenced off. It was a strange thing to see bull-fights appearing again at the other end of my walk and it reminded me of my first few days in Arles and the Camargue. It felt like the taureaux were book-ending my walk.  What would be more suitable for a Taurean? It is what makes me sympathise with the poor bulls.

We walked back along the streets, still hosting some revellers. We dropped in to a bar that was still open, packed with drunken young men singing at the top of their voices, listening to a live band outside. We stayed for one drink.  It was a late night, but thankfully one that promised a sound sleep with not just one, but three lovely mousquetaire (musketeers) to protect me. What an unbelievably amazing day of surprises.  I’d found several pots of gold.

Via Tolosana Day 33: Jesus Christ, the apple tree

L’Isle de Noe (Chez Edna) to Monlezun (Chez Nicole et Michel) – 20kms

I woke at 6:00am and wrote pages until 7am. In the sink in my bedroom there was the most massive spider, so I didn’t want to disturb it. They say that spiders symbolise change, well there’s a big change coming with this one! I brushed my teeth before breakfast so I could pack everything and take my pack down to breakfast without taking it with me. I also didn’t want to climb the stairs needlessly, I’m always sore.

IMG_4131

Edna was preparing a great brekky – bread, brioche, juice, fried eggs and tomato! Cup of coffee? No, pot of coffee – ab fab.  She had already put my clothes in the dryer as they hadn’t dried overnight. There had been precipitation, and even though I had them under cover, it was damp.  What a lovely hostess.  Such wonderful attention and care.  It was sad to leave because I had been relaxing into the little English-speaking oasis in my ‘desert of French’.  That sounds a little unfair. Don’t get me wrong, I love the opportunity to speak French, but after 32 days it had become quite tiring.

Edna said today would be a good walking day with lots of forest tracks. She was right.  I said farewell and walked out the door and over the bridge.  I first said hello to four horses and passed some sheep with tails intact – how humane!  Then ascended up a paved road that soon turned to forest track. Cows accompanied the sunrise. ‘Just smile’ said the sign.

I thought about yesterday. After ‘Flog It’ on the TV last night there was another documentary program about letter boxing.  I’d never heard of the sport, which appears to be a cross between orienteering, surveying and code-breaking and has people clambering all over the countryside in search of buried treasure.  The things people do.  I was still also a little bemused by this English woman who lives in her little French town watching Eastenders and Coronation Street via satellite TV from England’s green and pleasant land while entertaining a passing parade of internationals also partaking in our own version of spiritual orienteering.  It takes all kinds.

It was overcast and threatening to rain but not quite. I felt a little protected in the forest track and true to reputation, the way was soft and springy – a lovely relief for tired knees. Gossamer spider webs greeted me as perhaps I was the first to pass this morning.  Once again I found more sunflowers, then a little further along, the track looked like it was leading right to a house, but on the way there were several apple trees and a pear tree – all laying down their fruit for the passing pilgrim.  I saw the biggest apple I think I’ve ever seen – as big as the front of my foot.

Some paths were really muddy. Corn or maize made its debut today.  There were so many more pommes des arbres today that I found myself singing Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.  The original poem has a couple of extra verses.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

I passed grape vines and in parts the path is muddy clay. There are lots of options for accommodation and it seems all of them are making the most of en route advertising.   In and out of the forest, with the cloud cover, it sometimes got very dark in parts. March flies joined again, buzzing about me, threatening to land and bite.

It had escaped my consciousness that any town with the beginning ‘mont’, will be on a hill/mountain. It is likely you’ll need to ‘monter’ (climb) to get to it. This was the case for my approach to Montesquieu. This cute little town kind of snuck up on me, out of the countryside covered in free range ducks and geese and balisage avec fungi (alluding to the dampness of the day and the area).  Coquilles joined farm equipment and the chemin de terre paths were gorgeous under foot.

I got there around 9:45am and left again an hour later. The houses and old land marks were beautiful and today being Sunday, there was a marche in the town square. It was so small that it felt like it was being staged just for me.  Indeed, it seemed that I was the only one buying anything.  There was a little bar at the corner, and so after looking around the stalls (and buying a fresh Belgian waffle), I stopped in for a little coffee – a mouth-shaper for the waffle. Edna had said the coffee was cheap – only 1 Euro. Emerging back into the square, the guitarist outside was just starting his set and played while I chatted in Frenglish to the stall holders.

One was selling her hand-made soaps. I bought one that I thought looked like cross between a madeleine and a St Jacques shell, and I suggested this might be a good marketing ploy.  It was beautiful smelling soap. One she found was especially for washing clothes, and she then gave it to me – gorgeous peppermint smell.  How generous was that!  I said I’d advertise her on my blog, so here goes: Sabine Henon.

Another stall-holder was selling wines, and we had a lovely conversation about the Camino. He’d ridden it on his bike.  He only spoke French and yet I understood most of what he was saying.  His winery is near Maubourguet, so I took a flyer.

Another guy was an artist, Gerard Quak, whose coloured pencil drawings of the local animals and plants were just beautiful.  I bought some of his postcards and he pointed out some small figures on the town buildings nearby and replicated in the pictures.  I wanted to buy one tomato for lunch, but the vegetable sellers only sold them in bunches. I walked past the waffles again and decided I needed one for morning tea tomorrow too.  I bought cheese and tomato at the epicerie and bread at another stall. Fantastic to have lunch organised. The jazz played and it was yet another place that was difficult to leave.

When I finally felt like I needed to go, I walked out an arched gate and down a wide green path, then across the road to descend straight down a non-descript and overgrown path.  Apples and blackberries accosted me, a rabbit hopped across the path, bamboo grew, a rat lay still and stiff and the bells started again after I’d walked for several minutes down grassy paths on the low side of the hill.  I couldn’t decide whether to put the pack cover on or not. It was lightly sprinkling with rain, but I ended up leaving it off for another 5 kms or so.  I passed a whole field of Queen Anne’s lace and perhaps sorghum – I still don’t know what that crop is. I rang ahead to the Chambre d’hote for the night.  A jumper stuck in the blackberries, some poor pilgrim or farmer had lost the shirt off their back.

Sundays are very tranquil. There is a different feeling to them. Not the usual buzz.  I continued along farm tracks between paddocks of freshly planted crops with small seedlings framed by gentle rolling hills.  The seedlings in one field looked like broccoli.  I paused to put my pack cover and jacket on under a cherry tree, and realised though I had walked about 20 minutes, I could still see Montesquiou in the distance between the raindrops and fog. As with most days, I didn’t see any other walkers. The Via Tolosana is definitely the road less travelled.

In my next life I will own a pelerin gite in France. I’ll have two spaniels, Monte and Carlo (who will eat Royal Canin, of course) and after we’re done setting things straight in the gite of a morning, we’ll go for a walk in a forest. I’ll write books and be happy!

Approaching Pouylebon, I passed little apples and little plums, a Chinese lantern bush and a quince tree. Apples, apples and apples. Oak leaves. And I even saw a unicorn (licorne). I was going to try to make it to La Baraque for lunch, but when a bench presents itself, you take it.  It was clear again, so I took off my jacket. I went around the back of the building next door – it looked like the Mairie, and underneath found a convenient place to squat. It is not pleasant eating with a full bladder. I wrote yesterday’s diary and it was mostly peaceful until the tractor guy drove past. Evidently some people work on a Sunday. A female cyclist passes one way and then a male the other way – and they looked identically kitted out!

After a nice break, I checked out the beautiful old l’eglise and then left the town between some houses following a little path that led into the forest. I caught up two other walkers, out for a Sunday afternoon stroll. They were walking fairly slowly, so I did too, not wanting to disturb them.  It was a steep descent, through trees and at the bottom there was a clearing which I crossed. Here I caught up with the couple, and we found signs to say the forest was being logged. I thought it was elm and oak, but now I know what I do, it was more likely beech.  The woman said usually you’d need to go around, but because it was Sunday, it was unlikely there would be any loggers there today, but be careful.  I found a whole family of funghi. There were lots in the forests today.  Blackberries, cow paddocks and corn. Orange slugs.

A man in a red car drove past me in the forest. A bit strange being in there in a car – the track was boggy in parts.  Another couple on a stroll passed me going the other way.  I emerged from Le Grand Bois and came to La Baraque (passing the gite I was considering staying in before my change in plans), then shortly afterwards Saint-Christaud.  The church here was architecturally really interesting.  So many sunflowers.  I walked quite a way on a track but then getting closer to my destination, I joined small back roadways through Lagardere and Saint-Antoine, just little hamlets of a couple of houses.  Getting close to Monlezun, I crossed a small, really fast flowing river and imagined playing pooh sticks on the bridge (I was far too tired to actually go searching for sticks, or dash from one side of the bridge to the other).

On reaching the large road, D3, I turned right and would only need to go a five hundred metres before getting to Chez Nicole et Michel.  It was hairy on the main road.  It was really busy with cars going really fast. In the long grass near the ditch of water next to the road I saw a large dead mammal. I think it was a badger or maybe an otter – something I’d never seen alive, let alone dead. There had been lots of dead animals in the last couple of days.

Approaching what looked like a beautiful farm house, I realised Nicole happened to be outside looking at the road. She’d obviously seen me coming and was there to reassure me I’d found the right place.  I went inside with her to her kitchen, the large TV presenting a program about the wild horses of the Basque region. It was wonderful to see those huge creatures galloping through the mountains, the quintessential image of freedom. I was treated to menthe, my favourite, and we struggled along with small talk in my terrible, terrible French. It is at moments like these that I wish I made more of an effort when in Australia!  Nicole was lovely. The home is beautiful, and she showed me to my upstairs bedroom. She said Paul, an American had already arrived, and had the other room.  It was such a luxury to again have my own bed WITH SHEETS!  I showered in a beautiful bathroom, then washed my clothes. She then showed me where the line was – out behind the farm sheds facing South – a perfect place for washing under the eaves of the shed.  She gave me a tour around the back past several fig trees, and around through the back yard where they had an inviting outdoor table under a gazebo with huge wooden beams, where we would eat our dinner. I had a brief lie down back in my room, which was a nice thing.

I brought my diary down to do some writing but wasn’t there long before Paul came and we sat there with our aperitifs catching up on where we’d come from.  Paul was an American of independent means who liked walking. His family were at home in America and he had been to Santiago, and was now walking ‘backwards’ Puenta-la-Riena to Rome.  We sat up to the table when Nicole was ready, and ate the most beautiful meal. Three courses of extremely good food all brought out one by one from the house.  We repeatedly asked if she wanted any help, but she insisted we just sit – which was quite a relief.

IMG_4245

At the end of dinner, which consisted of a long conversation about most of the world’s issues, and a run down of Paul’s blogging experiences, and advice both ways about what was ahead of us, I went back to my room via the washing line, only to find that Nicole had kindly taken our washing down for us.  It was a nice chance to see a beautiful moon though directly over the hill town of Monlezun.

Back upstairs, and I wrote my journal for a while, and then fell to sleep in the beautiful, soft bed.

IMG_4246