Via Tolosana Day 46: As before, so after: a Marcel Pagnol ribbon.

Canfranc Estación back to France: a 56km bus ride via Col du Somport and tunnel

I wouldn’t normally have counted this day as part of my trip, but something so extraordinary occurred, that it has to be included for the fantastical day it was.

The 3 amigos were up around 7am and there was lots of faffing around, generating a lot of noise.  They left around 7:30am and I wished them “buen camino”. I got out of bed after that and packed slowly. I went downstairs and ate my pear and what I thought was going to be yoghurt, but just turned out to be set milk I think – room temperature as it had been in my room all night. I used the wifi for a bit and then set off.

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It was really cold outside in the shadow of the mountain. I walked past the restaurant I’d sat in the night before and realised they too had a pilgrim menu. The Office of Tourism was open today and I checked how the bus to Oloron-Sainte-Marie worked, and whether I could take the bus up to the Col du Somport as I had planned, or whether it wouldn’t work. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay here much longer without walking, as it was frigid.

I walked across the road to have a closer look at the Estación Internacional de Canfranc.  What a grand building! Amazingly huge. Amazingly neglected. I took some photos and was then trying to decide where to park myself to wait for the 11:18am bus to Col du Somport.

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I found a bar/restaurant that looked good for petit dejeuner. I walked in and straight away saw a pilgrim face – I don’t know how it is that one can tell, but after 46 days you just can. I went to put my things down at a neighbouring table, but she kept looking my way and smiling, so I said,

“Êtes-vous un pèlerin?” (who knows how I knew she’d speak French)
“Oui”, she said.
“Parlez-vous français?” I asked.
Oui je suis française” she replied.
“Je suis australien. Enchanté!”

And I sat down with my new friend and we chatted until 11.00am about our experiences on the way.  Marie-Helene had walked from her home on the same route as I had, but had continued down the valley, through Jaca and on to Saragossa. There she’d felt it time to come home, so she came back to Canfranc to return to France under the mountain on the bus – as I was doing also.  We’d had many shared experiences. She’d walked the Camino Frances before. We spoke broken English/French while I consumed freshly squeezed OJ, a snail (the baked kind, not the garden variety) and a cup of coffee. Perfect!  She was feeling lonely without the company of pilgrims on the way, so she was extremely happy to meet with me and chat – it continued her chemin experience. Serendipity, or providence?

She asked where I would stay for the night, and I said I’d go back to the gite in Oloron-Sainte-Marie, where I’d stayed just a few days ago. I was wanting to see the church I’d missed (it is a good one apparently) and I also wanted another chance to see Matthieu again. She offered to have me stay at her house! WOW!  The amazing things keep happening. Trust. Ask and it shall be given … in the most unexpected ways.  Marie’s son was going be picking her up from the bus station and driving her back to her house. I said I’d love to stay with her, but where on the chemin did she live? She took my Miam Miam Dodo and turned to the La Commande page.  That beautiful village with the chanting in l’eglise, the stèle discoïdale in the church yard and the photography exhibit where I had my most enchanting visit is her town, and much to my amazement I would get to visit it again!

At 11.00am, I explained that I wanted to take the bus up to the Col, as I believed it would come back down and be the same one that would then go on to Oloron-Sainte-Marie.  She thought that was a good idea and decided to join me, so we trotted off to the bus stop together.  Eventually it did turn out to be the same bus she would’ve caught – the 11:51am.

Taking the bus up to Col du Somport, the road seemed a much more major one than I’d walked past the day before.  We passed a huge fortified building set up high on one of the hills , Coll de Ladrones Fort (Thieves Pass Fort) on the way up. The day was so clear, compared to the fogginess of the two previous days. I was glad I’d decided to take this risk of getting this bus to see the pass again.  The bus stopped up there for 10 minutes, and I dashed in to say hello/goodbye again to Nieves, at Albergue Aysa, Marie and I posed for photos with the mountains in the background and then we were back on the bus ready for our return to France.  How lovely to be up in the crisp air on top of the Somport Pass again.  That was a lovely idea to come back up. The bus moves so quickly compared to my legs. It was interesting to see where I’d walked the day before.  M-H had walked different paths down this valley, but I think we all walk a different path off the mountain.  We encountered the sheep again, this time crossing in front of the bus – it must have been about the same time as I’d got to this point yesterday. Herds of sheep crossing – you could set your watch to them.

Back down to Canfranc again and the day had got a lot brighter. Maybe I’d have to revise my first impressions of this town.   A wedding seemed to be taking place, it was Saturday after all, and there were people walking the streets dressed up in their Sunday best. I was seeing a different side to this town now.

Travelling out the other side of the town, it wasn’t long before we were on the ramp for the tunnel.  Yes, the Somport Tunnel was right there, just behind the albergue where I’d slept last night. I didn’t realise it was so very close.   It was a quick subterranean shuttle. Before we knew it we were in Urdos, then Borce, then Accous, Bedous and Sarrance … and back in Oloron-Sainte-Marie. It was strange and puzzling at the same time trying to picture where I walked from the window of the bus. The hills we travelled past looked familiar, but the track is well-camouflaged. M-H had walked here a lot in her life. She had always lived close to the mountains.

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The familiar train station greeted me when we got to Oloron-Sainte-Marie and we waited a short while for her son to collect us. He and his girlfriend drove us home. They had a coffee when we arrived, but left soon afterwards.

M-H encouraged me to take a long bath.  It took no convincing. A bath is really a fantastic way to let the road slowly leave you. I had a long soak and washed my hair. How special to be hosted by someone who understands exactly what you are going through (at the same time they are going through it), and lovingly provides a home in which to relax. I felt extremely blessed and grateful.

She asked me later in the day, after we’d washed, done washing and eaten, whether I’d ever thought I might be back here.  I said to her that nothing I could have dreamed would have suggested I’d come back here on this trip. Although I did explain to her that I’d taken a photo of the house in the fields and also the restaurant with a wistful thought I could live here.  After all, you can see the Pyrenees from here.

M-H’s house is literally across the intersection from the first turn the route takes out of the little hamlet. She knows the woman who opens/closes the church and is in charge of the beautiful music playing there – she minded her cat while she was away.  Her neighbours across the way greeted her with eggs and massive tomatoes. Their daughter lives in Bordeaux and was visiting.  The husband is still farming, in his 90s. Absolutely amazing to see him drive back to the house on his tractor while we were talking outside at one stage.

When M-H had dinner on the boil, we went to spend some time in the church. Choirs singing Hallelujah greeted us in the church as we sat still, the sun streaming through the circular window at the back. We went next door to see if there were any pilgrims and to say hello and found four guys – three French and one Portugese.  They looked to be having a cool time but with a different mood to when Anne, Marion and I were there – one guy had walked all the way from Kiev – that’s serious: extreme pilgrimage.

We walked to Josette, the cat minder’s house to say hello and thank her.  Her sister had died in the week while M-H was away, which was really sad. It was clear from our short visit that she was a dynamo  – a great older woman.  We retrieved some of the peaches that had fallen from her tree and did the circuit route back to M-H’s place, past the Vendre Restaurant/Hotel.  For Sale for a number of years apparently.

M-H had gathered a few things from the garden and it was yum.  Rice, tomato and capsicum. Perfect. Peaches for dessert.  I booked a Bla-Bla Car after signing up for this cool scheme (that Francois had mentioned back in Morlaas).  We chatted for ages about the road, the way, life. What lessons we’d taken:

Live in the now (not the past or the future).

Go your own way.

Be still.

Ask always.

Love … just love.  Love is the answer to all your questions.

After retiring upstairs to my bedroom, I noticed a small stack of books on the shelf above my bed.  They were familiarly bound books as only the French do – with plain white covers. Classic.  And there, to my wonder, I saw the two I’d referred to in Day 6, La Gloire de mon père (My Father’s Glory) and Le Château de ma mère (My Mother’s Castle) sitting atop many others. They are very beautiful stories and very familiar to me (I have the DVDs at home on my shelf), and it felt like the gift of this day was tied with a Marcel Pagnol ribbon, bringing me full circle from all those days ago, climbing out of Montpelier with Jacques. History really does double back on itself, to show you just how far you have come.

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Climbing into a real bed at 9:30pm, snuggling under a fluffy doona in the country house of a warm and generous French pilgrim, I decided I was as close to home as I could be.

Via Tolosana Day 43: For all your questions, the answer is: LOVE.

Sarrance to Borce – 24kms

I woke up feeling very unsure about walking today again, I nevertheless got up to do my pages. It feels so good to be doing them so regularly. Breakfast with Diane. The guy I’d had an altercation with yesterday, came in and I said I was sorry. He was less than impressed, but I didn’t blame him, I had been a cow.  We completed our breakfast and Diane got going pretty quickly after leaving her banana. I had the remainder of – that helped to settle my stomach. I asked my knees and they wanted to walk, so I did.

Outside it was, of course, foggy and overcast, but despite a few small drops, there was nothing happening on the rain front.  The first little path was hairy. This was after being on the road for a little while with a steady slope up. Then, the path plunged down off the road to the right ‘you’re joking!’. Right down to river level, then up and down for several kilometres.  The track was still boggy and quite slippery in parts. As I was ascending some muddy steps in the track, my stick got stuck and I dropped it.  The track was so narrow, that while simultaneously stepping up, and also to turning around to descend the step to retrieve my stick, was near on impossible.  I gingerly stepped back down, my heart in my mouth (the hill dropped straight down from the path towards the river), it was muddy and slippery, but I outed the stick, then picked it up carefully, back up the little step again. It was an strange choice for a walking stick and I don’t quite know why I’ve kept it. The part I hold onto is a broken off piece, so it is rough and uncomfortable in my hand. It is also slightly too short, but it does seem to help me walk.

Best to have eaten your Weeties for the route today – I could feel that if my feet/legs had been tired like yesterday, I wouldn’t have coped.  The track for the first stretch is treacherous when wet and boggy and is not to be attempted on an empty stomach.  I crossed back over a bridge, and the track opened to a wider one – enough for a car. Walnuts appeared again. Champignons were many and slugs were black, just for something different.

I came across another gate this morning – metal – easy to open.  Hairy chestnuts had appeared for the last few days. But I now realise this is what Beech nuts look like too, so they could have been Beech nuts. After passing stone sculptures for 42 days, they returned with a vengeance today.  One called out to me to put another on top. I did a good job of it.

Coming up to Osse-en-Aspe I met Diane and we walked into Bedous together. She was going the same way as I was, but was turning off to retreat to another place high in the mountains for a few days, Lescun. We saw many birds flying around near the river as we crossed it – maybe the fish were jumping.  The railway cutting continues all the way to here. There was evidence of a thriving winter sport community.

Bedous is a beautiful little town, nestled in the mountain.  We both spent some time in the Office de Tourisme, and then I went to the toilet across the plaza. I said goodbye to Diane and wished her well. I saw four La Poste vehicles today, including one bike delivering mail to the Office of Tourisme. I spied Benjamin again, across the town square, but I wasn’t able to talk to him. I found a little organic shop with nice food, and handmade things. Quite the spot. I left passing a nice painting of a friendly dog on a door, by an artist in Navarranx – that place name has attracted me since Guillaume and Reiner mentioned it. Apparently there is a beautiful gite there. It looks like it is one my list for the Le Puy route!

I walked on, putting my footsteps into those of others who had left their muddy imprints not long before – how many have trod through this mud in the last 24 hours?  I stopped for a lovely little talk with a couple who took my photo with a massive mountain in the background – Jouers. They were lovely and he was touting the value of coming back to the Pyrénées to make a real tour of them. I told them I would love to return one day to explore. Next time, the sources thermales would definitely be on my list.  They explained this route only gets you through one valley, but of course there are dozens to see.

Coming into Accous I could hear distant cow bells, complete with screeching birds.  As I walked further around the valley they became clearer.

I walked past a little remote sculpture collection next to the path – the surprises one comes across!

I’m also reminded that in these mountains still reside bears, L’ours, of up to 300kgs, so I keep my eyes peeled.  They are probably dissuaded by all the cow bells, but you never know!  The little town of Accous peeped through the shaded path as I approached from above and the side. When the path turned a corner and I started walking towards the town with the mountainous backdrop, I noticed a para-glider in relief.  The parapents were coming in to land.

I was hoping to stay the night in this town, and walked toward where the gite was.  It looked fairly locked up, and as I was walking away from it, the woman from the gite drove past in her car, rolled her window down and asked me whether I was looking for a place, only to tell me that they were complet (full)!  And from her information, the epicerie (a little way away) closes at 12:00pm. It was 11:50am.  Not particularly helpful.  I realised I would need to go on.  I was feeling like walking more today, so this wasn’t too much of a problem, however I was slightly curious as to why someone stops purely to tell you not to bother.  It is not what I thought though after another 3 hours walking!  Access is a sweet little town. The brightly coloured fittings on houses, the pilgrim signs and continual stream of paragliders, never far from your attention.  As I was leaving towards the landing site, I noticed numerous emergency vehicles heading in that direction at a distance. I hope one jump hadn’t ended in tears …

The rich greys and browns of the stone walls and cliffs contrasted with bright green and white fog and the occasional red and white way marker. The little chemin de terre through fields were gorgeous, as was being dwarfed by loftier and loftier mountains on either side of the valley. Not hot, not cold, a little humid, so slightly uncomfortable for walking, but on I went. The path was wet in parts, creeks were bursting from the stormy weather the valley had experienced for the past two days and there were amazing rock formations all along the path, naturally occurring and person-made.  There was also quite a bit of busy road walking. A see why this valley gets it’s name – a dead aspe.  At one point the walk next to the busy road was so close that I decided to walk on the other side in the grass, on the river side.  Then all of a sudden, there was no path next to the wall, and I had to try and scale the wall again when there wasn’t any traffic.  I had to hoik my backpack up and over the wall, onto the thin shoulder of the road, then clamber over myself. At first I chose a part of the wall that was too high so I back-tracked a little to try somewhere else, grazing my arm on the beautifully set rocks in the wall. On this wall, I found a beautiful, slightly too short, perfectly round tree branch.  It made a lovely low, mellow knocking sound as I walked with it, and I later realised it was a beech branch. So I walked up the valley holding my wise wand. It had soft grey bark which was a huge contrast to the rough stick I held in my other hand.

I came across the tiny settlement of L’Estanguet which consisted of a ladder to nowhere, a big truck-stop restaurant, a view of part of the disused train line bridge and a couple of houses. Leaving the town, I crossed the busy main road, and saw the Pont de Lescun sign near a beautifully painted bus shelter.

I realised this was where Diane was headed.  I hope she made it OK, and more so, I hope she has some clear blue skies so she can appreciate the gorgeous views. They call it The Cirque de Lescun and it is definitely one for next time. The blue-green of the river continues to take my breath away, it is so beautiful. It can only probably be improved on in New Zealand, along the Milford Track. On the other side of the river I come to a hydroelectric plant and while skirting the outside fence I see a Japanese flag flying – interesting.  The piles of rocks continued, as did the familiar red and white stripes. For the observant, there were also answers:

For all your questions, the answer is: LOVE

The red and white even occurred naturally in toadstools. Sadly I didn’t see a complete one, but these (along with woodpeckers) which we are also not blessed with in Australia, continue to amaze me for the way they look exactly like they are portrayed in fairy tales and childrens’ books. Yes, they really are that rich red colour!  I passed trees who had their moss ‘shaved’ off for the balisage to be applied. It made me smile: nature’s version of a tattoo.

The last 5.8kms were really hard, especially the last little climb into Borce was difficult and steep. By this time, I was really exhausted. 24kms I think I trudged, straight up.  That’s heaps of steps. The town of Borce was a lovely stopping place though, and I was glad I had persevered with the long walk today. It’s twin town is Etsaut, which is across the valley, and which you see on the approach to Borce. That is where all the services are, like a supermarket and post office, and another gite. But I had my heart set on Borce, and to get to Etsaut would have meant finding my way across the river again.

I walked up the steep road which turned off from the main road, past chalet-style houses that made me feel like I was in Germany or Switzerland rather than the south of France.  The cute decorations, reminiscent of my first days on the road, some 800 kilometres ago, brought back the familiar French country sweetness. Continuing on through the main street, the beauty of this well-kept medieval town struck me.  There had certainly been some money invested here to ensure that these buildings were looking better than they had all those centuries ago probably. The Mairie is in a tower building – beautiful.

I was welcomed at the Communal epicerie/gite. It is a bar policed lazily by a sweet dog.  I paid my money and got a diablo menthe and a packet of chips. I realised I had not stopped for lunch!  There was no key required for the gite, which was up a set of stairs and behind the bar – it was open, so I let myself in. I found it to be yet another ancient building right next to the church and behind the Mairie.  It was cool, and I appeared to be the only one there.  The glass doors, framed by dark wood, open into a place where packs can be left, and the lounge room. Up a few steps and there is the classic long bench table that leads to the kitchen, which appeared to be randomly supplied with the leftovers of other pilgrims and well stocked with cooking utensils.

Up another set of stairs, and I find the toilets and bathrooms, then a room each for males and females. On the door, the most amusing introduction to a gite so far. It wins the ‘best rules sheet’ hands down – may the Borce be with you! They appear to have lots of problems with bed bugs – the legs of the beds sit in plastic containers containing some dubious powder.  It is super basic, but adequate accommodation though the bathrooms are dated and a little rudimentary, nevertheless I showered and washed my clothes with no problems.

I’d sat for a while in one of the chaise lounges out in the tiny back yard after pegging out my washing. It wasn’t particularly sunny, but it wasn’t quite cold and it was nice to relax outside. I was thinking that the monastery at Sarrance lacked these when I was there, and it was like an answered prayer that two appear at the next gite. Coming back inside, and sitting on my bed, I hear a “Bonjour!!” downstairs, at the front door. I was a little surprised because it was Benjamin. I thought he would’ve been way ahead of me again today. He had stopped in for supplies across the river at Etsaut, so after exchanging hellos I got the town reports and we discussed the contents of the kitchen and the gite generally. Afterwards I went out and back-tracked to the edge of town look at the ancient hospital building I’d seen on my way in and take more photos of the gorgeous buildings.

It turns out this hospital is now an Ecomuseum, holding an interesting and informative display about the  history of the pilgrimage, and a beautiful modern sculptural installation set off by beautiful lighting you can switch on. St Jacques makes an appearance yet again. Checking out the chapel, I find the familiar shell shape on the font set in the wall.  After my fact-finding mission, I returned to the bar to get wifi; there was none in the actual gite. I came back and wrote in my journal for a while.

Later on I cooked some dinner, something basic with food from the little epicerie in the bar, and shared it with Benjamin as there was too much for just me.  I went to bed around 9:25pm.  The room was really light with street lights outside, so I made curtains around my bunk like I’d seen Cloudine do.  Other pilgrims often have the best ideas about how to cope with the little inconveniences of the way.

Gate tally for today – 2 light steel, 2 light green gates, 1 compostelle grand (large) and 1 compostelle petite (small), 1 electric fence gate. Vertical metres covered today: from 370m – 424m – 493m – 524m – 660m.

Via Tolosana Day 42: Meaning of life day

Sarrance

I awoke at 4:30am and felt absolutely sick in my stomach.  This hadn’t happened on my journey so far. Other types of pain, but never sickly dread. That’s what it felt like.  It was still raining, and it had been all night.  I got up to do morning pages, not convinced that I would be walking at all today.

I have observed for myself and many others I’ve know over the years, that there certainly is some truth to what was identified perhaps tongue-in-cheek by Douglas Adams, and that is that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is truly 42. It is not surprising that it was Deep Thought that discovered it. My 42nd year was one of big changes, and I have called it my ‘meaning of life’ year ever since, so it was when I noticed that this was day 42, I was expecting something big!

I realised that I am nearing the end of my journey.  This meant I would be leaving France soon.  I never like leaving France. If only I could find a way to stay. It is turning into a big effort dragging myself up this final mountain, but it is dragging myself metaphorically through the idea that I will be leaving and ending this amazingly insightful time that is the real dead weight. I wrote a quote this morning from Pierre Gerrin, “ce n’est pas tont to qui marche sur le chemin, c’est plutôt le chemin qui marche en toi“.  You don’t walk on the way, the way walks you.  Maybe I don’t want to leave the walk just yet.  It is such a tempting way of life. Reiner has lived like this for 8 years.  I’ve met many people who return every year to follow a new version of the way.  What does it bring them to?  A great simplicity perhaps, or access to great generosity and a way of living that is deeply personal and functional?  For some it is the next step from abandoning all your possessions, putting faith in a higher place, that you will have everything you need if you just walk.  It is a very interesting thing to do, and will be so much an ongoing part of your life if you do it, even just once. It is alchemical as Guillaume said. It is real and purposeful.

Reflecting on these things, I began to re-visit my intentions for this trip.  What have I learnt about forgiveness, discipline and purpose?  I have practiced discipline and purpose, the walking and the writing have been clear reflections of this.  But I found myself wanting in the forgiveness department.  How do I do that, I asked?   Accept what has happened to you, and that each person has played an important and vital role in your life up until now.  Each character has played their correct part according to the script for you life. Accept this.  This is the purpose of your life. Just to accept that all is for a reason, and that reason is to bring you to know yourself and know God. Don’t doubt that this is true. Reiner said as much. You chose your life. Your body will continue to show you the way.  It is feeling again.  Watch it, listen to it.  It operates to keep you safe. It has turned the corner. The switch is set back to ‘on’. You have been re-started. Trust your body. Trust yourself. Trust God. You will never know such love as you have now.  You are the light that God has sent to the earth. Claim that light and shine it on everyone your meet. This is a cause for celebration, not trepidation.

Funny how things turn out.  At breakfast Marion tried to gee me up – “everything will turn out OK”. I started asking the hosts about taking a morning bus.  I found out what time it passed by and where it stopped.  It is the first day of spring in Australia, and Anita’s birthday.  Gradually, everyone left, the couple who were starting out on their journey together (in more way than one), then Marion and Sylvia.  Out into the rain they all went, but it wasn’t the rain that was keeping me.

I stayed, packing my bag up, planning my bus activities.  I spoke to Karine about it. She was a volunteer who had been helping out providing welcome to pilgrims for a little while in this place.  She was leaving today and so was the other hospitaliere, she’d left already.  I explained to her what had been happening for me. The distractions with my house in Australia, and having to constantly check whether there were bookings was taking a big toll.  We had a long chat, with a cup of tea.  She told me to be still, take my time to decide where to go next. She told me of the little walks I could do around the village – the shrine down by the river to the place where a fisherman and a shepherd on separate occasions had seen an Apparition of the Virgin Mary, the chapel of Mary Magdalene up at the back of the property.  Find solace in those peaceful places. Do what you need to do to be strong. She suggested if I could do without the money, why not take my house of the website, and cut email ties with Australia.  I decided to take my home off Airbnb, and just trust that things would be OK when I return.  In the morning the wifi wasn’t working, but it meant that I had time to contemplate what to do.  There is nothing I ‘have’ to do.  Not even go all the way to Col du Somport.

Calm. Silence. Trust. Confidence that all would be well. Go your own way. Take time to be still. It is all clear.

Karine said goodbye after we exchanged email addresses. She said I could have lunch with the community, she would tell Piere that I needed to stay tonight as well.

I took Karine’s advice and walked slowly around the town, to the Boucherie to see what they had, to the Virgin’s statue, then to Mary Magdalene’s chapel where I stayed for an hour.  As I walked back along the pruned plane tree path that curved around the hill, the ground felt softer.  I got back at 12:30 and suspected I was missing lunch, however I felt that I needed to connect to block out my Airbnb and tell my flatmate that I wouldn’t be contacting again until I was back in Australia.  I realised that some people like drama, and want to draw you into theirs, no matter where in the world you are.  This is their way, but it doesn’t have to be mine.  I have never warmed to it, and it has taken this episode for me to realise that some people are so completely wound up in themselves that they don’t give anyone else’s needs a second thought.  I don’t have any space for this deep anxiety in my life. Everything will work out for the best.  Yes, thy will be done, indeed.

There is no meaningless parroting for me any more. I want to live like this. I don’t want to have goals, I want the best life for myself, and I know that it will come with complete surrender. I will be asking so much more now, asking my body when it signals to me, asking myself when I am faced with a choice. There really are strong forces here to protect me. I know it. I no longer feel afraid in trepid situations, with cars and guns.  I know that I am safe.  What relief.

Lunch was pasta and roquefort cheese, I’m glad I stayed!  After lunch I lounged for a little minute and then heard the bells.  I thought I’d make myself scarce in case there were new arrivals at 2pm. I slept until 3pm and heard two new people. Then I ventured downstairs to the toilet and was surprised to find the green-eyed Benjamin in the welcome area.  He had stayed in Oloron for another night. I went upstairs again and back to bed.

Another pilgrim arrived and was shown my room. Her name is Diane. It is nice to have some people to share the space with.  A new energy.  I wrote my journal for over an hour.

I went down to the dining room for dinner, and there was confusion, part language and part beligerance about whether I’d paid for dinner. After getting to a more calm place, I was frustrated that I was again being drawn into a drama, that was probably my own creation.  I thought that Karine had said that what I paid covered me, but I ended up having a discussion with the guy who took over from Karine as hospitaliere. I got upset, as I really thought I had settled everything, and I was running out of money.  In the end I was in tears, and said that I wouldn’t stay for dinner if it was such a problem.  I walked back out into the cloister, through the welcome room and upstairs to my room where they new hospitaliere came to tell me I should come to dinner.  I wasn’t to be convinced, and stayed crying in the bedroom. This day that was meant to be a chance to collect myself, was turning into something different altogether. I went downstairs eventually and Benjamin kindly shared some noodles with me. He seemed sympathetic to my plight.  He is a happy fellow, who is always singing or whistling. Tonight it was Take 5 – the first tune so far that I’d recognised.

Let’s hope I feel OK to walk tomorrow, I don’t think I could manage to stay another day. I felt my welcome had well and truly worn out.

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Via Tolosana Day 41: Thy will be done

Oloron-Sainte-Marie to Sarrance – 19kms

I didn’t sleep very well. I tossed and turned and my knees hurt. It was not great.  I got up for pages. After breakfast, Anne, putting on a brave face, told me she wasn’t continuing. It made me sad for her that she wouldn’t be going any further.  After my interesting chat yesterday, today I made a commitment.  Thy will be done. Along with walking today for Anne, this was my mantra.

It took a while to leave this morning.  I went to the park to try for wifi, but it didn’t happen. I ended up leaving by the route which took me past the Post Office, just as the Dutch couple who’d been en velo and staying at the gite, rode past.  I saw them again when I found my way to a boulangerie that was open so I could find my lunch. It was good, and decorated in some very appropriate bread art.

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I crossed the river after descending the stairs to find the public toilet – nearly at river level. I started up Rue d’Aspe and found myself thinking of the Bible or Shakespeare, ancient books that speak of aspes. I hoped this wouldn’t mean I’d see any.

I was again sweating profusely by the time I’d scaled the hill, past a huge sculpture of a woman in front of another church, L’église Sainte-Croix. It was a Monument Historique, but not the one I thought it might be – I saw a diagram showing the main Oloron-Sainte-Marie cathedrale, and this wasn’t it.  Maybe on my way back to Pau I’d get to see it.  Inside the little chapel it was dim and musty, but I was drawn to the front where there was a coffin with a glass front with what looked like a small child inside – yes, a real, small, dead child.  It was supposedly the relics of St Clement, but I can’t find any reference to it. To be honest, it was quite eerie.  I didn’t stay long.

I walked out into the street, leaving this ancient, and creepy place, and found myself in the midst of renaissance buildings, the moon still in the sky.  The road ahead was long and straight  and I thought to myself, I’m leaving Matthieu’s town.

A gaggle of geese and ducks eyed me from a raised vacant block next to an old house, and despite the fact they could’ve flown at me at any time, they were content to survey me walking along the road below.

By the time I got out of Oloron, I’d reached the next little village, Soeix, and had views of the Pyrenees – now up really, really close.  It really did now feel like I was walking into them. Looking at them, and soon in them. It was warm but a little overcast, promising to rain in the afternoon, so I wanted to keep walking. I had many kilometres ahead of me – 20 or so, I think.

All through the Foret Communal- Oloron-St-Marie I caught webs again. The sweet smell of budleias, on a perfect, not sunny day for walking.  Big slugs were on the path again as were big bales of hay plonked right in the way of probably wheeled transport rather than pilgrims.  “No quarry in the forest”. The universal green movement.  I passed a school with bright coloured buildings and walked through little towns, by very big pumpkins, very ladensome apple trees and barbed wire to keep wheeled things out.

I found a nearly impassable fork where the dirt track left the road, but there was a huge tree down over the track.  I made my way carefully up the embankment, trying to go around the tree which had fallen on a power line (well what looked like a power line). I tried a few times to scale the steep, grassy incline and eventually made it up.  A little hairy though, trying to balance and avoid touching the tree.

In all my days of walking – now over forty, I came to my first gate. It had me thinking I had come the wrong way. I was a little taken aback, and confused, but the trail continued.  I carefully opened, then closed it after walking through. There would be two more before the day was out. Matthieu’s promise of some more corn continued, although I suspect today to be the last day of it.

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There was a long walk along a very straight road to St Christau, next to the river L’ourtau. I recorded the water as I walked.

A little further on and I came across a very Fawlty Towers-like spa/sauna retreat and quaint chapel across the road. It was a huge property which had clearly seen better days.  The eerie feeling returned: a strange place and quite deserted.  I asked whether there were any hot baths (thermes) of a woman who was leaving in a car, but she said they’d closed 2-3 years ago. Pity.  She said there was one in the Ossau valley but it seemed quite difficult to get to from the end of my route.  A hot spring would do wonders for my body!  I continued up to a large junction with a main road, and saw the sign for the resort. It even looked like the Fawlty Towers one. I chuckled to myself. I constantly amuse myself.

A short walk along the really busy road, D918, with a few large trucks passing, and then I was off the road again and walking along a grassy track that looked like it just disappeared up into the fields. It eventually turned into a steep and really cool and rocky little back track (that made my knees hurt again) down into the next town, Lurbe.  Interesting name.  There was an opportunity to stop where the road passed over a little, but rushing river, but I kept walking, visiting the church which was locked. I found little offerings on the way for pilgrims, out the front of someone’s house in the next town – walnuts and apples.  Next time I’ll bring my nutcracker with me.

I then continued walking what seemed like ages before I found a pile of rocks to sit on, next to a wall, under a walnut tree to have my saucisson and cheese sesame seed roll. I also ate a peach and picked some figs. I was right next to a small single-laned road, but not one car passed while I stopped for the half hour for lunch.  My lunch town had many ‘compostelle’ signs and a couple of gites according to my Miam Miam Dodo, but they weren’t in my price range.

Getting up from lunch, I put on my pack again, and started toward large hills – the last wide valley before I’d be walking in the deep river-cut valley.  As I walked, I could hear rumbling.  It grew louder and louder as I walked towards the malaise, or cliff which appeared to be being open cut right in front of me.  The sound was like a waterfall, but more industrial. It was a strange mix that sounded like a big monster crushing rocks, but eventually I did see a processing shed across the river.  I also saw there was another cutting below the level of the road I was on. I passed several groups of abandoned machinery, still in their lunchtime idleness and I later found a map showing a new light rail they were cutting – Oloron – Bedous.  God I love the French. Still building railroads!!  As I walked on, jumping over little streams that crossed the path, through paddocks and next to houses, it became obvious from the old bridges, that there had always been a railway line, and that this one was being re-claimed.

The Police came to me, We are spirits in the material world for some reason.

My great walking weather continued, budleias smelled in my general direction and there was more corn. After more building works and a slight feeling of uneasiness, I come across Sylvia lying on a random park bench, appropriately put in the middle of nowhere. She was siesta-ing and I said hello but declined to stop – I wanted to keep walking so as not to get wet.

In the little hillside town of Escot, I asked a man loading his truck where a fountain might be, and he directed me onwards. Sylvia caught me up where I was collecting water from an ancient water fountain while taking photos of La Fontaine cut outs – yes really!  Things do always happen in threes. I’d now had three La Fontaine experiences on this trip.  All through the town, there were wooden cutout characters of the various stories.  I tried to find a La Fontaine connection to this town, but I don’t think there is one, just some enthusiastic local(s).  Some characters were looking a little worse for wear, but it was an impressive display.  I missed the L’Ane veto de la Peau du Lion, number 5, but I snapped all the others.

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L’Ours et les deux Compagnons

Le Lièvre et la Tortue

Le Loup et la Cigogne

Le Corbeau et le Renard

L’Aigle, la Laie, et la Chatte

Le Loup et la chien

I saw La Poste. The little chapel looked cool – a white building with grey slate roof. I explained to Sylvia that I wouldn’t be able to talk today, as I get really tired from trying to talk in French after walking a whole day. My mood was descending fast into an abyss.

Just out of Escot we crossed the major road. It must be like Russian roulette in pilgrim high season, and then we were onto a little tiny track – a goat track that followed the river along the cliff above for the first 2.7 kilometres to Sarrance.  It seemed like many more steps than that.

The road wasn’t far away, and passing cars imposed on the rush of the river every now and again.

At first the track was wide, then under the beautiful old train bridge it narrowed to being a goat track, at some points close to the river, at others far away.  Some of the time it felt like I was walking on top of the river, several hundred trees and ancient rocks being the only thing suspending me above it. The path always sloped toward the river, so it felt precarious and with a little rain could be quite slippery and dangerous.  Then a gate, the second in 41 days, a compostelle and a sign on the gate saying the cows thanked you for closing it.  It was such a majestic environment.  The river was rushing, the cliffs imposing and the path shady: once again like a scene from a fantasy book – complete with ancient ruined buildings along the way – presumably from a time when this was the road into the mountains.

At one point I could see high above me to the greened cliffs, and I watched as a dozen eagles played in the jet streams. It reminded me of a sport I’ve seen, a kind of base jumping, where the jumper scales tall peaks then catches all the jet streams down wearing a suit with bat-like webbed wings.

There were starting to be autumn leaves on the track in some sections – my old favourite trees again, lots of them.  Finally, the track took me to a junction with the road again and the final gate for the day.  A brief walk along the busy major road and then Sarrance, not that I was making it a brief road. The hills during the day ascended 200 metres, then the up and down of the last goat track exhausted me completely. It certainly seemed like the longest 3 kms of the trip. I was doing the Cliff Young Shuffle again.

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Sarrance is beautiful.  It is nestled in an elbow of the river, and there were rock piles and nice sentiments greeting my ‘tre fatigue‘ disposition. Sylvia had just arrived also and was asking of the site – the acciuel for pelerins.  It was just near the church.  Sonnet et entier, sound the bell and enter.  On the edge of the square in front of the entrance, is a large love rounded stone love heart made from carefully laid river stones, but I was too tired and emotional to notice it until the next day when I did go into chapel.

We were led around a cloister containing a garden complete with coquille decoration and more carefully-laid stone. I later met Nicholas who was putting a similar stone border around the herb garden near the washing lines.  Great black ones with white streaks through them. I was exhausted and in the foulest of moods when I took off my boots, leaving my backpack in the small ‘wood room’, then up a couple of stairs, through a big door, into a biggish hall with big beams and a 16th century look and a sign which did not match my disposition – joie.

I opened the door and there was Marion – who came to give me a big hug. She sensed how difficult the day had been. She asked about Anne, and I said it was sad, but she had to retire.  I sat for a long time, drinking menthe syrop, barely able to walk.  A couple had come to start their walk, they’d just got married, and would be setting out in the morning. I eventually showered and washed my clothes. They were on the line for only minutes before the showers that had been promising themselves all day, finally arrived.  I made a quick grab for them and replaced them in the small shed holding the heating unit for the place. It was toasty and the clothes would dry quickly in there. The thunder lasted an hour, then the rain lasted until mid-morning the next day.

Blessing of blessings, there is wifi.  I accessed it, I had expected a booking for my home in Australia, but nothing came of it. September 1st tomorrow. Reminded myself to text Anita a Happy Birthday. Sat on the couch and chatted with Marion for a while – was going to go to chapel, but then decided not to.

I had a nap from 6 – 7:30pm, when Marion called me for dinner. She was self-catering, so  I walked with Sylvia to try and find the dining room.  We could smell it, but not see it and wandered around the cloister for a few minutes, trying to work it out.  Soup, fish, cheese & bonbonierie from the happy couple. Everyone helped with the washing up.  It seems like a little community of religious and non-religious make up this little establishment, and it reminded me a little of the meal I’d had at En Calcat as it had a musical accompaniment.  Maybe monks is the common theme there.  There is a tingly energy in this place. It is dim and musty, but rustic and homely in some way. All the participants helped with clearing the table and washing the dishes.