Via Tolosana Day 35: Donkey Kong dodging sprinklers

Maubourguet to Anoye – 22 kms

I awoke to Christian’s alarm.  I didn’t get up until about 6:30am though.  I half packed and took my pack out on the tiny verandah and wrote my pages from 7am – 7:45am. I said goodbye to Christian when he left.  I found this intriguing.  He arrived before the others the day before, and he left before the others.  I admired this independence. I wonder whether men can tolerate it of each other more than women can.  Maybe I will evolve into someone who will really be at ease with ‘going my own way’, because I certainly can’t feel it quite yet. If I had come on a long ride with my friends, I would feel that invisible pressure to go with them, not go my own way.  Is this how we are socialised as women and men, or is there something more primal about the difference between testosterone and oestrogen and it’s effects on our relating?

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I got my pages finished and then Patrice appeared, and later still Laurent.  Patrice rode to find out whether Casino (supermarket) was open, and it was.  So I gathered up the final few things into my pack and said goodbye to the guys.  It had been a great night. Off I went with my pack, after taking a photo of them in front of our cute chalet.  Seeing people on bikes took me back to my Vezelay route ride.  It is still a taxing way to travel, but riding another 5 kilometres to find a place to stay at night is less arduous than walking it.  I envied their mobility.

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Espaliered plane trees

I walked back into town to Casino also for today’s lunch, tonight’s dinner and the next day’s lunch. In some parts of the walk, it really does require that much forward planning, if your next stop is not in a town with an epicerie/boulangerie. You also have to consider that everything you carry is weighty, and after 20 kilometres, it can make a huge difference to how tired you get.  I bought pain at the boulangerie. All set.  It was 9:00am already – a late start. On the way out of town I passed my favourites, the Gendarmerie.  Matthieu said there would be a lot of corn from now on, and there was.  All day, right to the end.  There were also great views again of the Pyrenees, although this time it felt like instead of looking across hills at them, you were starting to look up at them from the plains.  It was a flat walk to start with, then a gentle hill took me upwards towards Lahitte-Toupiere.

The gazelle may have bounded away in the flesh, but I walked with him most of the day, thinking about the things he said and did, carrying some faint hope that I might, by some weird coincidence, catch him again.  Blackberries reminded me of our slim pickings, and his concern for other pilgrims and I said to myself, no, toujours beaucoup (no, always plenty) for everyone when you take only what you need.

I feel like a walking smell. I stink, my pack stinks, my t-shirts are manky and even after washing, they still reek. Yuk!

I came to a big road, the D943, and observed that the GR101 crossed heading south towards Lourdes. It was well-signposted. Perhaps this is where the guy in St Gervais sur Mare was heading. If I’d had more time, maybe this is the way I would have reached Lourdes.  As it was I preferred my detour-by-train plan.

10:10 when I next checked my phone.  Loud helicopters made their presence felt overhead as I was getting to Lahitte-Toupière, where Matthieu was planning to stay the night. The gite advertised yoga. I thought that was a lovely coincidence as he had said he’d like to take it up, and I was encouraging him to, given I had got so much out of yoga at various times in my life.

Just past the gite, thoughts a little diverted by a beret, I neglected to take the right fork in the road, and continued along a road – distracted also by the La Poste van that met me.  So when I got to the main road, I decided instead of just taking it into town, to re-trace my steps so as to walk the marked way.  It rewarded me with the most beautiful little paddock of sheep, some with big bells around their necks which tinkled and clanged in time with their tugging at the grass.  After some minutes recording this and photographing them, one walked up to me. I wondered if they’d also chatted to the gazelle this morning. (I might add, that I hadn’t realised that a possible reason for Matthieu’s sporting of a beret was a very good one. They had been produced in the town in which he lived since 1840 – I only found this out months after the walk.  If I’d noted out loud his unusual head gear, I might have found this out yesterday!).

Another four kilometres on and I rested for a while under the verandah of a church in Vidouze to eat a peach. There was a fantastically signposted water tap also, especially for pilgrims.  Just as I was going to leave, along rode Patrice and Laurent – they hadn’t left Maubourguet until 10am.  We chatted and joked again and then they rode off down the hill that I was to walk down.  What lovely men. What a happy meeting.

I left the road again, and was walking in fields of high corn, with sprinklers just starting up.  I crossed a small creek on a footbridge that had a hidden approach, and then walked onto farm tracks made of orange clay and small rocks.  The tracks were wet, and I realised this was where I play Donkey Kong Junior for real, and dodge sprinklers. I made one attempt, between two circulating pivots, and realised I wouldn’t make it through so I retreated.  Maybe those 24 hours playing these little beeping games high in the skies between Melbourne, Bangkok and Dhaka when I was twelve paid off. Thanks Nintendo 1982, I managed to make it through without getting soaked. Thanks Paul for the heads up about the sprinklers.

I looked down at the path I was walking along after this, and realised the set of tyre tracks differed.  Sometimes there was water pooled on one side, and not the other. Sometimes it was dry and rocky on one side and not the other. Some sides were tricky, and the other you could navigate without watching your step.  I realised that you may be walking in the same direction, on the same track as someone else, but still experience different terrain. Everyone’s path is absolutely unique.  I heard the helicopter overhead again. Out in the open for a while and I came across a large dry paddock of pigs.  They had some mud, and seemed happy in it.

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It was getting on to lunch time, and I had continued on in the cornfields for some time past Dexpers (nice name for a settlement), when up ahead, who do I see but my cheeky friends, Sophie et Virginie sitting down to have lunch on some big wooden crates on the edge of the track. How lovely. I joined them for lunch and for the next few hours of walking.  There were a few big hills to ascend and descend today, but thankfully the destination, Anoye, was in a valley.

In one part that was more dense trees, there were these strange contraptions in the forest.  It looked like there were platforms suspended high up, with ropes and pulleys to bring things up and down.  They were a little more sophisticated than what could be made by children, but it certainly looked like someone liked playing up high.

Today I saw espaliered plane trees, signs that said Arles was 560 kms away (which didn’t seem quite right), more orange slugs and road signs that now say ‘Cami’ rather than ‘Chemin’.  I spotted Chinese lantern plants again and a new occurrence that would last for many kilometres and the final days of my walk, ancient fruit varieties.

Planted by friends of the way, partly I suppose in commemoration of the trail, and partly to feed the pilgrims that traverse it, they were a sweet reminder that the path is cared for by a whole army of unseen caretakers.  It was nice to see these ancient varieties being resurrected, and the signs on the plants gave great information about them.

Just past Lucarré, there is a big lake, and the girls wanted to take their time and stop by it, so I walked back up another hill, on through Momy, stopping to look in the beautiful l’eglise with another rendition of St Roch with his sore leg, chuckling at a place called ‘Samson’s Lion’ and finally getting back on the road down the hill into Anoye.  It was a hot day on the road today, so I wanted to make sure to leave earlier tomorrow. I will have more sleep and less wine!

I arrived in the small town, once again being welcomed by fast-running water and found the communal gite which was a beautiful two story house.  The large front door was open and I went in, left my shoes downstairs and then climbed (with difficulty), the creaking wooden stairs, opened the tight door at the top and got acquainted with the sleeping quarters. Around 15 minutes later so did the girls.  And then who should show up, but Francois and Cloudine.  It is strange isn’t it?  You could hold on to make the good times last longer, clinging and desperately orchestrating your travel to stay with nice people, or you could continue in your own way, never knowing if you might come into contact with your lovely friends again, but in the intervening times, experiencing the lessons that are just for you to learn. The posse was back together again.  The way is a great teacher about letting go and having faith in your own time and pace. And of course, F & C had spent the night in the same place as the gazelle, so it was nice to share my excitement at having met him.

Even though it was upstairs, it was cool, and comfortable. The bunk beds were nice and the bathroom was good, and appropriately decorated with shell motifs.  What none of us realised was that there was also a little epicerie downstairs, that is magically opened when the clock strikes 6pm by local volunteers who look after this communal gite. All kinds of supplies can be purchased. Nice supplies, like chocolate! The kitchen upstairs is small and basic, but well stocked with cooking utensils for preparing food. I needn’t have hung around for Casino and the boulangerie this morning, but who would have known. The table was large, and would easily fit us all around it when we’d prepared our food.

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After showering I tried writing my journal, outside on the picnic bench but couldn’t seem to get into the mood. That and les bothersome moustiques. I went for a small walk around the town: past donkeys that were well on heat (what, is this spring or something??), to the little church – which was shut, and to the fontaine (fountain) – a pure spring, said to have healing qualities, made in 1652 according to the plaque. It was close to the gite, just around the back, luckily for my tired and aching legs. A few of us cooperated and chipped in for the 3Euro washing machine fee and got our clothes washed.  We were really late, so they didn’t quite dry, but that’s what all the spare bunk beds are for – drying washing while you sleep.

I’d bought some nice bio rice with salmon and I heated in the microwave for dinner. We all ate together at the kitchen table.  I finished writing my journal, and went to bed.

Via Tolosana Day 30: “Ultreia!”

Le Grangé (Giscaro) to Pied à Terre en Gascogne (L’Isle-Arné) – 17 kms

Up early again today. 6:00am.  Pages written, however I seem to have lost my kilometrico (pen of choice). This is a minor disaster, as the Artline pens I write my journal with are not fast enough for morning pages.  Try it. You’ll see. So I now need a new biro. I have also come to the end of my exercise book, so I need to decide what to do about it. I have a fresh one, but do I keep this one or post it home? I’m writing as the sun climbs up at one end of this big building after setting at the other end. Breakfast at 7:00am.

After dinner the night before, Andreas spent quite a bit of time talking to us about the route for the next few days from here. (I also read some of the interesting statistics he had collected about the pilgrims that pass through here. I began in Arles, and a minority start there, only 30%; 20 nationalities are represented – Australian doesn’t even figure; there is a bubble for walkers in their early 20s, and again in their 50s.  So you could say on the via Tolosana, an Australian woman in her mid-40s, who walks from Arles is scarce as hens teeth. It is not surprising I guess, they’re all busy having/raising children. I digress). There were two ways to go. You could follow the chemin de terre, which by-passed the town, or go by road direct through the town.   Before deciding to stay at Le Grangé, I was going to stay at Gimont, but decided against it, and he had helped me phone to the place to cancel the reservation. It is here that I needlessly made this day’s walk longer, and a little more involved.  I decided to ignore the advice to take the direct road into Gimont. I followed my own way with the re-assuring red and white signs. This ended up rewarding me with my first spectacular views of the Pyrenees, however left me with a few worries also.

Bon route! (si on ne revoit pas …. ) et n’oublie pas ton baton!! Good road! (If we do not see you ….) and do not forget your stick !!

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I set off at 8am and made my way down the grass track past the plums. Cloudine told me about some champignons that I missed at the bottom of the row, so I snapped a picture on my way out.

“Ultreia!”  Jacques told me about a pilgrim song with this name on Day 8.  They have thought of everything here, and their care extends to wishing their pilgrims “a good road” in the traditional way.

The distance that le Grange had on it’s sign were:

  • Toulouse – Leguevin – 23kms;
  • Leguevin – L’Isle Jourdain 14 kms;
  • L’Isle Jourdain – Gimont 16kms;
  • Gimont – L’Isle Arne 19kms;
  • L’Isle Arne – Auch 23kms.

Andreas had said there are as many different measures of the distances on this route as there are guide books and people who walk.  Miam Miam Dodo doesn’t provide the best maps, but other walkers have continued to ask to read it to get ideas for accommodation.

Jacques had written overnight: “I think the chemin learn us fraternization, simple way of life, humility, research on oneself, self improvement and more. Marelies and Manfred left yesterday for Lourdes. So I go further with Jacques”.  So it seems that he has been thinking a lot about his walk and the things he is learning.

I walk past concrete/stone cage retaining walls, then 4 dogs greet me up on the fence at a gorgeous chateau. It continues to be really dewy this morning – more than yesterday.

My pack felt lighter this morning for some reason, it made my feet a little more nimble to dodge the evidence of horses on the track. A dam could be seen through the trees. Many men were out busy with their farming.

I thought about my conversation with J-P yesterday. He had tried to teach me the contractions of words yesterday – I failed, but it now made me wonder about language.  Imagine a language that has only the present tense.  I am. We are. It is.

I took a left-hand turn following the markers where the road led into town and this guided me along the saddle of a hill. I happened to look left and saw shadows on the horizon. I was surprised. Jagged, massive, desolate-looking in parts, as if super-imposed on the horizon, like a back-drop curtain being lowered to the stage … the Pyrenees. I have to scale one of those on the last day!

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Now I know the reason for coming this way – perhaps I wouldn’t have seen them if I’d gone direct to Gimont.   Going my own way was not without it’s drawbacks. I stopped for a pee behind a hedge now looking at the Pyrenees. Down in the valley, a way off,  I could see a figure in white wandering along the hedgerow picking blackberries next to what looked like a creek.  As I walked down into the valley veering away from them on the other side of the hill, a ute travelled past them along a track by another creek – which I realised I would swing around and join.  It seems that white vehicles are my new nemesis this week.  A patch of doubt. Trepidation even.   Yesterday I waited for J-P. Today I had no-one. They all chose to go direct to town.  I continued to the bottom of the hill and turned left with the road hugging the creek back towards the van as I expected.  A few hundred metres, and there it was.  Parked off the road. No sign of an occupant. A spade in the tray. Where’s my cloak of invisibility when I need it. Something made me take my phone out and photograph it a little way back. I fussed nervously with the code on my phone, but got it in the end.  I took the photo.  Still no sign of it’s occupant.  I walked past, quickening my steps to get away as soon as possible. Another few hundred metres and I heard the ute start up. It drove up behind me. As it came closer I stepped off the track and walked in the rough earth of the ploughed and freshly sprouting field to let him pass unhindered.  I said “bonjour”. The man smiled and drove on.  There are times you wonder. I had no butterflies, no sick feeling, so of course I was always going to be safe.  It un-nerves me though. I need to call on my angels at times like these.

I continued, past big quince trees and spoke to the woman collecting blackberries.  Beaucoup pour confiture. My version of “many blackberries for jam”.  I met the D160 and walked along it for a while before leaving it again for a small track next to a field. In a few more minutes walking through the back roads near houses on the outskirts of town,  I could see Gimont in the distance, across a valley.

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I could see the path took me right down into the valley and down to the back of the town.  I could have taken the D4 straight in – it would’ve saved time. Oh well. I probably walked an extra km or two by the time I got back into town.

10:10

At the bottom of the town, I took the road back up towards the town square and church. I approached from the side, up really steep streets to the smell of cassoulet.  The name Esplanade des Capucin sounded interesting. It turns out the Capucin’s were an off-shoot of the Franciscans who ordered their life around rules drawn up in 1529.  Maybe the street has been here for a while then.

I wandered around and stopped at a little bar for a short black consumed amongst the smoking men passing their time in the morning – it was too early for lunch. I saw Cloudine and Francois and bought quiche for lunch later. Les Halles (literally translates as ‘the hall’ was the central market of an old town, and in my experience, usually included a big wooden structure). Here in Gimont it still stood, and took up the whole of the small centre of the town (very similar to Revel but much smaller). What’s more, the road went through the middle of it, underneath the large exposed beams. The pharmacy reminded me of the temperature. 27C – seems a bit hot for what it feels like. I needed to get some supplies for lunch tomorrow as it will be demi-pension tonight in another gite nowhere near a town. I purchased peaches and a pear at a little fruit and veg shop.  I can have the packet cassoulet that I bought in L’Isle Jourdain, for lunch tomorrow – then my pack will be a kilogram lighter.  I went to the Boulangerie again to get a coffee eclair. I ate it later when I stopped for lunch – unfortunately it wasn’t that good.

Walking back down the hill, down the main road again, I turned right where I saw further signs, more chemin de terre along the river, then across it (La Gimone) and joined the road just near the eglise – Chapelle de Cahuzac.  A woman was hanging out washing and I saw bull rushes again. They always remind me of Moses.

The church was dark, and the strong smell of Asiatic lilies was augmented by the sun streaming in.  A woman was attending to the flowers on alters.  I asked her where I could get my credential stamped, and she directed me to the hospital next door. Before I left I took some St Jacques and St Roch souvenir pictures. Pushing the big door of the hospital open, it seemed like a hospital anywhere, a real buzz of patients and staff busy with healing.  I got my tampon.  Outside there were some residents enjoying the sun.

Outside the Eglise, and around the back I saw one balisage and I followed the little single-laned road, quite a long way and didn’t see any further balisages.  It was getting hot, and I was already tired, even though I’d not gone far.  I lost faith that I’d find more balisages, and the road looked like it was going nowhere in particular. I thought I’d missed a turn.  I walked back towards the chapel and then left the road to the right along a little track upwards in the direction I was thinking was on track.  Past a Gendarmerie and then a big school-like place.  I just kept going even with no balisages.  I eventually emerged onto a paved road after travelling an overgrown dirt track between paddocks.  None of the road names looked right. Perdue – lost. Again! I thought it had to be further up the road so I kept following it.

Feeling nearly deflated, I asked a young guy in a big white van (maybe they’re not so bad after all) for directions.  He seemed to think I was on the right track, in fact when I went around the next bend, he stopped to show me the right place.  Just after this I saw the familiar balisages.  After he’d delivered something he came back my way and I waved a thank you as he sped past.

I stopped  to eat lunch, right by the side of a road that turned out to be a dead end, so there wasn’t ever going to be much traffic. It was after 12:30. Quiche and peaches. I needed a drink.

Balisages were a little infrequent in the afternoon, but it wasn’t too bad as the guide book map was OK.  I had a look where I had gone wrong and it looked like I had turned too soon, and that I should have kept walking further to make a turn to the left along a dirt track. After lunch I began walking inside hedgerows for most of the afternoon, disturbing lots of nesting birds as I went.  It was cooler as there was no direct sunlight.  Next to farms, cows, grapes, sorghum (?), sunflowers, Fresian cows.

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Patient miles.Grapes again.  Figs. I saw an old bell tower that looked hairy from a distance with all the shrubbery growing out of it. Everything gets more hairy with age. Don’t I know it. Farm machinery lay idle. Everyone was at lunch. I passed deep ruts in the track.  I thought of my first ride from Vezelay where one day I mused about the idea of being stuck in a rut after trying to ride through deep ruts that my peddles nearly got stuck in.

It was beautiful farming countryside with a Pyrenees backdrop. Freshly ploughed fields. Sometimes it is exciting when you can’t see what’s coming.  An old cemetery.  Au Chateau d’Arne. I neglected to say that yesterday two more very young French pilgrim stayed overnight. They were new to the trail, and had walked 30kms and arrived close to dark. They were self-catering, so we didn’t see them for dinner, but we chatted over breakfast.  As I neared the gite, I found them sitting in the long grass opposite the chateau. Their feet were blistering really badly, and I think they were concluding that it was not possible to keep walking such long stages. I wished them well – they were of course going further than my measly 17kms.

Not much further along the road, and I see the turn off for my gite avec fig tree driveway. I noted the ripe fruit for retrieval the next morning. It was really warm already, and I was the first there despite thinking I had got waylayed. I have found the gites need bookings, whereas the Communal Gites seem to be first come first served, so I don’t know why I was in such a hurry today. Pied à Terre en Gascogne is an absolutely gorgeous gite run by a similarly georgous couple, Martine and her husband.

A notice somewhere indicated that I could wait for welcome, so I walked into the largest building and sat and wrote for a while in a nook with an arched ceiling that felt Moroccan, possibly because of the colours and the adobe-look of the walls.  Everything felt very earthy and natural.

I noticed there were interesting pictures of foot reflexology, and then that Martine offered foot massages, so I booked one later for 6pm.  I lounged and another pilgrim arrived – travelling the other way avec trailor.  He’d started in Le Puy, walked to Puenta La Riena and was going back to Arles/Toulouse I think. Good idea! He said following the signs backwards is hard (don’t I know, I did it on my bike on the Vezelay route).  Virginie and Sophie arrived next.  I’d already showered and washed. Then Cloudine draped in her light walking scarf and Francois. And another pilgrim. It had turned out really hot and my clothes were dry by bed time.  Now, the nights get dewy, so I always have to take shoes and clothes inside for the night.  Sophie, Virginie and I continued our funny conversations and ventured into day jobs out on a little patio near the clothes line with our beers/lemonades that Martine keeps stocked in the fridge for a small donation.

Martine had organised dinner, and while it was cooking, was going to squeeze the massage time for me. This amazed me, that she was cooking a meal for around 10 people, and still could give me a massage. What a woman!!  I made my way over to her house, where she showed me to a little room on the outside.  Oils were burning, a soft ethereal soundtrack accompanied and she sat me in a big recliner couch and darkened the room.  Within minutes, I was floating on another planet in bliss. I told Martine I’d experienced sensations like this before when doing Vipassana and she knew of this kind of meditation.  She said she could feel the energy rise up to her head. It was amazing. Just amazing. Afterwards she gave me a big hug and I said we must have been friends in a former life. She smiled. The feeling of the whole place was so calm and grounded.

The meal – fabulous.  Puy lentils and duck, bortsh with bread and rilettes and date cake with custard. Red wine. Of Course.

After sitting up for a little writing and listening to Cloudine and Francois planning their next moves, I decided it was time to retire up the ladder to the group room in the attic. My tired, oiled and massaged feet slept very soundly!