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 40: Ask and it shall be given

Lacommande to Oloron-Sainte-Marie – 16kms

Up again at 6am for morning pages in the kitchen.  During the night Marion had to move under the verandah to get out of the light misty rain, so I found her there when I went to the kitchen to do my pages. It was humid and my clothes didn’t dry. That was a pity.  I hope they do tonight.  I might be in the unusual situation where I have both pairs of pants on the line drying!

Marion is my third angel.

I had miso soup from the little sachets I had carried from the beginning, but hadn’t used.  I packed up and left by 7:15am despite the late rising.  We had to lock the kitchen and leave the key in an allocated place before departure.

Marion and I left together, and walked out of the town, then upwards, as we would not once, not twice, but three times today.  Jamais deux sans trois (never two without three). An interesting observation.  But today it was three climbs plus lots of little hills as well, and a long stretch into Oloron.  We passed banana palms. What?

As we mounted the first hill, thankfully it was in my favourite forest again, the sweat was pouring.  Climbing up through the forest, we talked conspiracies, as one does, when one’s talking with me.  Marion spoke of some interesting writers, Lise Borbeau,  and Jacques Martel (who seem to be European equivalents of Louise Hay) who have written about the lessons our bodies teach us daily about our health.

We’d left with grey skies but at the top of the first hill, blue skies were smiling at us.  I take strong steps.  It continued to be uncomfortably humid.  I started to think about the last few days of my walk, and that perhaps the Pareto Principle was at play here – the last 20%, taking 80% of my energy. Despite this, my legs started to feel stronger today.  My knees carried me OK, even with the downhill stretches.  I pondered flexibility in my life, my decisions and the way I’m heading, my direction.

On one part of the path, Marion assisted me with fungi identification, but pointing out a little collection – “Why not take a photo of this one?”, she urged, pointing at a little pink one.  I said, “No, I’d prefer a photo of this”, as I noticed just ahead an amazing oyster like fungi in the path.  Walking a little further, “or this one”, and again “or this one” or “maybe this one”. INCROYABLE!   This massive profusion of fungus appeared on the track, and we were both smiling.

We could hear the not-so-distant barking of dogs in the forest, and thought that there must be hunting going on.  I was alert, but not alarmed you might say.  We walked right into a group of hunters with their dogs, guns slung over their shoulders.  This is either curing my gun-phobia or adding to it! It seemed that at every entrance we passed to the forest for the next few kilometres, there were men in high-viz fluoro outfits readying themselves to hunt.  Although one place I passed, it was 3 men having a cup of coffee, so I don’t know how much hunting was going on! And hopefully it was just coffee in their cups.

At Estialescq after the hills, Marion had a rest where we found a picnic table and I elected to continue.  I thought I might like to live at the The Tranquil Retirement Avenue.  There were many balisages today, and no chance of getting lost. The smallest little balisage even.  More cows.  Marion caught me up pretty quickly again, because I got distracted by donkeys.

We continued on together, overtaking each other when we took our different rest breaks.  Rounding a bend in the road, I was really impressed with the garden in front of a lovely house, and I stopped at the picnic table they’d set up for pilgrims under several large oak trees alongside a considerate water tap.  Surrounded by chickens, I thought 10:50am was a pretty good time for lunch, so I had my baguette with tuna, mayo and tomato. Marion caught me up and stopped with me when she got there, and had her sandwich. I had the last of my chocolate from Anoye.

I stayed when Marion continued, and as she was leaving the woman of the house returned with armfuls of baguettes. She came over to say hello with her wooden walking stick. She doesn’t do the Compostelle, but goes walking with her friends weekly on Sundays. She was keen to know where I’d come from and where I was going to. She told me about a place on the GR78 PiemontL’Hôpital-Saint-Blaise and suggested I would like it. It was actually just another days walk away from where I would be tonight. I’d put that on the list for when I walk the GR78.

She then suggested I might like a cafe!  Again – twice in two days.  I couldn’t believe it.  So off she went inside to get coffee.  Several minutes later, and she emerged from the house (which was probably 30-50 metres away, on the other side of the small dirt road, carrying a tray loaded with beverages and beurre biscuits. If this is Pyrenees hospitality, I’m in!

Then once I’d finished, and nearly as quickly as she appeared, she packed up, said “Aller! Aller!” and disppeared towards the house.  So I suppose I keep walking then! “One more hill to Oloron”, she said.

It was a rocky farm track winding around the hill past white cows and with the distant squeals of bathing children, I looked back to see a big waterslide on the other side of the valley. It seemed strangely superimposed on this pastoral landscape, but it must draw the crowds to continue operating. It seemed quite a big deal, especially on a warm day like today.  Rounding the hill, I had great views of the little hamlets I’d just passed through in the valley and could hear the bells of grazing sheep … or was it hunting dogs or cows? I decided to leave my small ‘cello’ water bottle empty today, so it jangled like a cow bell as I jerkily descended the steep bits. A man was shouting at his 4 dogs, out walking as I walked through a shady part before climbing another hill. He passed me going up the hill, the 4 dogs of different breeds and sizes all piled in the small car now, slobering all over the windows. I wondered what fate had befallen the person who was remembered on the side of the track. Was it a pilgrim, or a local?

As I was walking through the forest, a little sweat track, complete with exercise equipment presents itself. Let’s Get Physical. A woodpecker in the trees. When I finally emerged from the forest, and could see Oloron in the distance, there was a stripey red and white gate.  I suppose if you were super energetic, you could time yourself from start to finish. I’m close to civilisation now.
I was thinking a lot about Matthieu today. I was walking to his town. I wondered if I’d see him. I hoped I would.  I wonder how his mini-Camino had gone. I could hear fast cars travelling on the large main road, but when there, they had all deserted. Weary pilgrim emerges from the forest. Again I arrive taking a road next to water – a little creek, but no sooner do I join it, than I leave it again. There was water at the cemetery which I availed myself of.  I saw a beautiful 1762 house.  And walking on the large road into town, I cross the railway line, and my eyes follow it towards the mountains. Now there’s a winning combination! I spot a cool letterbox.  An eglise that I still can’t find the name of.
Hot and bothered at Oloron-Sainte-Marie.  I found the gite, and across the square a bar I could wait in.  I ordered my Diablo Menthe. I sat outside, readying myself for a little writing, but smokers came and sat right next door, I got up to leave, and I knocked the drink over. Shit.  I moved inside where I spied Anne, who seemed busy with her own things.  I ordered another drink and offered to pay for the other, but they insisted I not – that was nice of them – especially since I was in a foul mood and pissed off my seat in the shade outside was invaded by smoke. I sat inside, tried not to fume (‘scuse the pun) and wrote. There were quite a few others in the restaurant for their Sunday lunch.  The gite didn’t open until 3pm, just after the bar closed, so I went over at about 2.50pm and Anne and I were let in.
It was a lovely welcome, quite officious, but the gite is absolutely fantastic.  It had a washing machine – that’s always a good thing.  I asked about wifi, and my hosts said there may be some in the public park across the river.  I’ll investigate when my washing is finished. I was shown to my room, again we were to take our boots off and put them downstairs, so I walked around on the slippery tiled floor in my thick, sweaty socks. I took the chance of getting my two pairs of pants dried overnight and hung my washing out in the sun-burnt, gravel-filled courtyard at the back of the gite.  It is a tight ship at this place, run by a group of volunteers.  Before venturing for wifi, I found a small African epicerie just down the road and around the corner. No-one would know that the spotty pants I had on were my pyjamas!
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Carrying my groceries, and walking over the river, I did find wifi in the park along with a bric-a-brac/fete just in the last minutes of its Sunday existence. I had another potential booking for Airbnb. Another email from my errant flatmate.  After an hour, I walked to the Gare to check tickets back to Paris, half hoping that I might also see an errant Matthieu.  At Anoye, I’d mentioned to Cloudine that I was sad I hadn’t got to walk longer with him. She said I should look him up in Oloron, and that she remembered he lived near a hat shop.  I found no hat shops, despite asking my very helpful hosts at the gite.  I tried. I walked along next to the river and saw what looked like a library across the water. It looked really cool.  I walked back through the park to check whether Carrefour was open, it wasn’t, but I walked back through the park, and noticed an older guy with a shell on his backpack. Another pilgrim!
I introduced myself and spoke to him, Reiner, a German who had left all he had (wife, children and home) and literally put his full trust and life in the hands of God.  Walking wherever he is led by Jesus, I was fascinated, and more than a bit envious. We talked of saying ‘yes’ and forgiveness. He spoke wisely, and although his words were those of a born-again Christian, there were other suggestions that he lived this life authentically and deeply and wore this label understanding it’s subtlety.  One thing he explained to me, that he had come to know, stayed with me and I mulled it over. I recognised it, as it has been my understanding also of various faith-traditions. Though nominally Christian, he spoke of the small number of adherents in all religions that share the deep understanding of there being many paths.  These wise ones, in their diverse experiences of God, are connected together, all united in one way, each expressing their own variation. These are the people who would never dream of criticising or vilifying another for their faith, because they understand … we are all one. It threw into stark contrast the current climate of our times (and possibly all times before) that people and states think nothing of advocating war purely on the basis of a different religions.  He mentioned a person I’d not heard of, Jakob Lorber, a mystic who had dictated the Great Gospel of John.  It was such a beautiful exchange.  He was a passionate man, and very generous in sharing his discoveries.  At 8pm, the light escaping, we had to stop. He said we would continue forever if we didn’t. He was right. I still had to cook dinner, so I walked gingerly back across the river to the gite.
It was a hive of activity when I got back. My clothes had dried, so I removed them from the line, and said hello to a young pilgrim, Benjamin, who was writing his journal in the back courtyard.  I cooked a basic bean, rice and tomato sauce meal and ended up sharing with another pilgrim, Sylvia, as there was too much for me to eat, and cooked food is hard to take on the road, unless you have a little container.  A Dutch cyclist couple had also come in.  I retired after dinner to the shared room upstairs where Anne had already gone to bed. The beds were comfortable, but there was a lot of light coming in the windows from the street-lights outside. Warm air circulated through the room, and I wondered whether I might see Matthieu in the morning.

Via Tolosana Day 37: Detour to deep peace

Morlaas to Lourdes – a immeasurable journey to another world

I woke at 6:00am. No pages this morning, just a quick pack and breakfast, then out for the bus. Francois and Cloudine were up early too. They’ll walk to Pau and then take a BlaBlaCar tomorrow to Toulouse and fly home.  What a lovely thing it is to meet them again.  They had been my companions in the evenings for 8 out of 10 nights. I tell them it has been a great way to walk at our own pace but sharing meal times in the evening. But the dissolution of the posse is complete, or so I believe. We all go back to our other lives, our other ways.

There was a slight anxiety about getting out to the bus-stop on time for the bus, as I really wanted to be in Pau early to give me the maximum options for trains to Lourdes. And even though there is a bus stop out front of the pool, the bus does an interesting route around the town, and I had to make sure I waited on the right side of the road. Everything was fine, I was out waiting just after 7:00am I got on it at 7:15am, right on time and I was off and away.

After walking for so long, there is a kind of relief that comes from sitting in a bus, knowing the huge number of steps you are covering so swiftly. My knees feel better already! But the leaving seems too quick somehow. We speedily ascend a small hill out of Morlaas and turn right into a road that directs our gaze to the Pyrenees … again! The site still impresses and captivates me – more so the closer I get. To my left the sun is half peeking over the horizon, bathing the little valley with a subdued orange haze. As soon as I see it we have left Morlaas behind.

I arrive in Pau half an hour later, but am worried about which stop to get off at.  In the end I stay on the bus right to the train station.  I am immediately impressed by this city, and am glad I came here on the way to Lourdes. I get off the bus to get my train ticket at the gare, right across the road from another river – be like water, be near water.

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I have a bit of time before the train at 13:14pm. It sounds like a strange departure time, but it will depart on the dot. French trains are fantastically prompt I’ve found, as are the regional buses.

My next surprise for the day is a funicular. I love them. In fact, I love anything on tracks.  How perfect.  I have been on a couple before. There is a great one in Hong Kong that takes you up to Victoria Peak, Hong Kong, and there is the steepest one in the world in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia that takes your through lush forest undergrowth. Pau’s is petite, tres mignon – short and sweet, and a bit of a thrill, because if you look over the edge, the drop is sheer. I take the little tramcar to the top of the cliff on which much of the town sits, and find a cafe for 2nd breakfast with a course of wifi. There are a series of touristy cafes that look across a balustraded cliff-top straight towards the many peaks of the Pyrenees. The haze surprises me, but it is so very beautiful. What a great place to sit for a while.

It looks like I’ll be lugging around my pack, but I reckon that’s OK because I’m not walking very far today. It is a relief already.   Perhaps I will catch up on my blog. In the cafe, they’re playing Air, Sexy Boy. What a blast from my 1990s past that is. I love that album, Moon Safari. It too is on my playlist.

After hanging out on wifi for a while in the cafe, I decided to don my pack, and take a little look around.  I walked out, away from the mountains and found a large square.  After a little more walking I found, quite by accident, the L’église Saint-Jacques and took a photo of the stained glass.  Patricia was on duty at the time, wandering around the church, and she asked me if I wanted a tampon in my credential.  We had a nice chat. She is retired and planning to walk. I asked what her work was, and she said she was a professor of theology at university.  I told her about my detour to Lourdes, and she suggested we could pray for each other. I agreed, after all, she’d given me a tampon!

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Back out in the hazy day, the church says goodbye with it’s bells.

I took a quick loop back around to the west, past the Chateau but without time to go into it, and was fascinated by a network of streets underneath the level of the town I was on. I wondered how I’d get there because they didn’t seem to show on the map.  A secret city! Back around to the Boulevard des Pyrénées for more sunny vistas of those mountains, then down the funiculaire to the station.  I got a saucisson and pickle baguette, but my stomach didn’t agree I should’ve eaten it.

I’m sitting in the hall waiting, and three pilgrims walk in – I can’t quite understand what they’re doing, but we chat for a little bit.

A child starts playing the public piano labelled ‘A Vous De Jouer’, (It’s your turn – I presume, to play) over in the other corner of the hall and not long after, who should I see? Sophie and Virginie! Jamais deux sans trois! Things always happen in threes. This goodbye has now stretched for several days.  They greeted me with the same teases as always, then we sat together on the train. They were going through Lourdes all the way to Toulouse.

The mountains meet you first. Then as you approach in the train, you travel down a valley, and get an amazing view of the Basilique de l’Immaculée Conception in the valley. Sophie spotted it first.  It is beautiful.  I have always loved travelling through mountains on the train – maybe it was growing up on the Belair line where the train line cut through hills for the later half of the trip from Adelaide to Blackwood. I remember travelling from Paris, south to Florence through the mountains and being captivated. I tried to put off the thoughts that it was now only a week before I would walk into them to the end of my journey. My knees don’t want to go there, and my heart doesn’t want to leave the way.  I was getting nervous about my stop, and Virginie was telling me ‘Don’t worry, be happy’!  We said goodbye, this time for the last time, and promised to stay in touch. As the train drew away, we waved and carried on – an exuberant end to a wonderful 10 days with these two fantastic women.

Lourdes – I was excited.  Walking out of the station, I had no idea where my hotel would be, so I just walked in the direction of the huge basilica I’d seen from the train. Virginie had said that there was the gare, then the town, then the basilique, then the grotto. She was right.  I was quite surprised by just how many hotels there were, confirming what I already knew of the millions of pilgrims who visit here each year. Reading later, Lourdes’ number of beds is only second to Paris.  A dog and cat were on an awning on one hotel.  Gorgeous painted on windows of a trompe-l’œil.  Next, as I walked even closer to the epicentre, I was just stunned by how many shops there were selling religious paraphernalia. The Cathars would have a field day!

La poste was a harbinger of useful information because I stopped to take a photo of a phamacy with a van and the Virgin, and across the road I happened across a shop-front for Centre D’information Jacquaire.  I, of course went in.  They had lots of books about the various routes of the way, St Roch, St Jacques and information about hébergement (accommodation).  There actually turned out to be two pilgrim places in Lourdes, and if I wasn’t such a conscientious person, I could just have not shown at the hotel, and gone to one of them. It certainly would have saved some money.  The shopfront had only been open a matter of weeks, hence there was no information about them along the Arles route, but I’m sure they’ll get that organised soon enough.  Sylvia assisted me with finding my hotel, which was recommended by Bernadette and Patrick in Revel.

I walked down the tiny street, which looked tinier draped with so many crosses and icons, and found my street, which descended past Bernadette’s birthplace in the mill, and found my hotel. I installed myself there.  There was wifi, but I worked out it didn’t extend to my 4th floor room.  I left my pack, and decided not to shower because I’d just need another one after walking around all afternoon.

It was hot in the sun, and although there were many people about visiting the holy sanctuary, the basilica and grotte, it was strangely peaceful and calm.  I could feel it as soon as I got off the train.  We don’t yet have a measure for the energy that millions of people over a hundred and fifty years might bring to a place through their prayerful meditations, but you don’t have to be a sensitive soul to feel it in this place.

Deep Peace or more Deep peace

The commercial exploitation assaulting my senses like resounding gongs and clanging cymbals, wasn’t successful in lessening the impact of this sacred place.  I’m not Catholic, and I’m not particularly religious, but when you can feel the spirit of peace in a place and offer up your own prayers and thoughtful contemplations, it is an experience to be treasured.  Lourdes is a haven and sanctuary for pilgrims of all types.  Religious, sick (I saw one pilgrim on a hospital bed and many more in wheelchairs) or just devoted, many flock here seeking grace. It was a very moving experience and when you can bodily feel the calmness, it is hard to deny it’s potential for healing.

At any time, in this vast complex, there are probably several masses going on in the mass of venues, but I went inside downstairs first, Basilique Notre-Dame du Rosaire. It has gorgeous mosaics outside at the gateways and over the doors, and then also on the inside. Despite being subterranean, there is a muted lightness about it.  There was a mass being held, conducted by a priest in a purple hat – from Ireland from the sounds of it.  Behind him was the most beautiful mosaic of a woman who reminded me of a cross between Cate Blanchett and a friend’s little niece, who by all accounts could be another incarnation of St Bernadette herself. He was delivering the homily, and it was an interesting account of Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant, which takes me back to Soreze and Dom Robert’s amazing tapestry of the Annunciation. Everything is connected, isn’t it.

I stayed for the offering, in which a whole band of singers and musicians played a very Celtic-feeling group of songs accompanying my sniffling tears, and prayers of the faithful. I left before communion.  I said prayers for Yvonne, Patricia and my Parker family who have recently lost a cousin/nephew in a farming accident.

I ventured out into the sunlight and down the path to go behind to the grotto. I joined the line, as it didn’t look too long. For a few minutes the kids behind me were prattling on, however after a while the ‘silence in the grotto’ signs were heeded and we all patiently and silently stood in line.  It was just like the film, Lourdes.  People snake around under the overhanging walls, running their hands along them. So many hands, it has become smooth and is wet in parts where the moisture comes to the surface. I was hoping to catch a drip to the head, but alas it wasn’t to be. The spring itself is covered by a perspex cover, but as you walk around there are also drips from the ceiling, a continuous birth of water into the sunlight.  It is a very reverential and prayerful route and all respect the silence.  I was reminded of the Oriah Mountain Dreamer talk I listened to the day before on my walk – that there is the greatest intimacy in shared silence. That’s certainly how it felt, and that’s certainly a very good observation.

How often I just speak for the sake of filling in the space, with nothing really important to say.  It is worth pondering more.  After you have been along that wall, you emerge at the other end of it, and if you continue to walk away from the town, you pass through what is like a sideshow of burning candles.  Once past this, there are baths that you can go through as well. I was nearly going to, but it didn’t seem like the right time to go for me.  Instead I walked to get some ‘holy water’.

After this, I ascended the very long left (it was partly in shade), arm that reaches out to get to the top basilique, Basilique de l’Immaculée Conception. I was coming closer and closer to the huge gold crown that stops the dome of the first basilica I went in below. It isn’t as beautiful as the one below, but it was interesting because it was the original one. It was dark and ancient. I don’t know what that says about immaculate conception. The whole complex has grown like topsy, because more and more people come every year and this one tiny chapel wasn’t enough (by tiny, I mean it only seats 500 people).

After this I thought I’d wander back to say hello again to Sylvia, but got lured by the singing I could hear coming from the subterranean chapel, built to increase the congregational capacity yet again.  Reminiscent of concrete brutalism the Basilique Saint Pius X juxtaposes hung pictures of many saints around the edges of the space. It is enormous, and the giant angular struts supporting the ceiling make you feel like you’re walking around underneath a giant spider. Big change indicated here, well potentially anyway. It suits the purpose – seating vast amounts of people for mass masses.  Around the outside there is a ramp which descends to the mid-point of the oval shape were the chapel is at it’s narrowest. Then the ramp ascends again toward either end of the oval. If you look across the auditorium as you are walking you see there are even more posters in the central arena of the space, so no matter where you are, you will be in eye-shot of at least a couple of saints, apostles or martyrs. As I got towards the bottom, I don’t think my eyes failed me, but there across the cavern was our own Australian, Mary Mackillop.  I can’t remember whether she is a saint or just called Blessed.  That’s terrible, having worked at a Catholic university for a decade. I shouldn’t be admitting my total ignorance.  I kept walking and was more interested in Hildegard of Bingen, St Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena , Theresa of Avila and St Dominic, avowed converter of Cathars.

After finishing with the apostles, saints and matyrs I was outside again and it seemed that even the Air Force pay respect to St Bernadette. The crack of a super-fast jet doesn’t seem to dent the vibe though. I walked back up the little street to the St Jacques information shop to ask Sylvia whether she knew of any restaurants selling crepes sarrasin. She didn’t know, but I found the restaurant next door, a funny little place, had sel (salty – savoury) crepes on its menu, and so I ordered a salmon, creme fruit and basil one with frites.  The decor was intriguing – red walls, and statues of Mary next to Dali’s Tarot universal.  A bet each way perhaps?  It was a good enough meal with a little kir. A bit of a splurge in Lourdes.

I left with a full stomach and dropped in to Mary’s pharmacy for some Baume St Bernard – which Francois had encouraged me to use the night before.  It is basically like deep heat, and helps with any aches from the walk.  I found it did sooth to a certain extent, so I’ve added it to my armoury of lotions and oils.  I have Aveda Foot Relief – pepperminty goodness for my feet, Weleda Arnica Massage oil for my muscles and now St Bernard. Oh, and Aveda Blue Oil Balancing Concentrate for my nostrils.  My feet, knees and mind are well cared for.

I ascend in the small lift back up to my room, which has a window into a tiny atrium, but no view. The carpet is so buckled in the corridor, that this route has to go down in my book as rivalling the chemin. I wonder how many drunk and disoreintated tourists have tripped on it. Attention a la marche!

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I had a shower and washed my clothes, which I wring in the towels that are supplied. If you lay down wet clothes into a spread towel, then roll it up, then wring the little sausage, your clothes turn out nearly dry.  I have only a postage-stamp sized towel that I use to dry myself with, so it is not enough to do this to my clothes each night, but Francois and Cloudine had those great synthetic towels that they did a little washing-wringing ritual each night. This goes on the list for next time –  a proper towel. The reception were affronted by my question about whether they had a laundry, but maybe it was just my bad French.  I utilised all the hangers in the wardrobe and the curtain rod to hang my clothes overnight in the open window.  I did some writing, then decided to go downstairs to use the wifi. I successfully posted Day 6.  Yay!

Addendum: Centre D’information Jacquaire – Lourdes

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When I have asked at some pilgrim gites on the way, whether there are St Jacques pilgrim gites in Lourdes, people haven’t known.  I assumed that everyone is a pilgrim in Lourdes – to see the place where humble youngster, Bernadette saw her vision, and to taste and bathe in the waters of the natural spring there.  So when I arrived in Lourdes, and was wandering the streets looking for my hotel, I was surprised to see a shopfront titled Centre D’Information Jacquaire and the blue and yellow symbol of my way.

They had only been open for one month and they provide accueil (reception/welcome) for St Jacques pilgrims on the many routes through Lourdes.  What this means is that they can refer pilgrims to hébergement  in Lourdes and along the routes. The major ones that go through Lourdes are the Voie du Piemont GR78 and the GR101 which I crossed just outside of Maubourguet.  But it means also that pilgrims like me who have a credential, and are doing a way, but make a side trip, can also find accommodation that is cheaper than in the many hostels and religious hotels.

I spoke to Sylvia, a volunteer who had walked the Camino Frances in two parts in previous years.  She showed me the contacts for two places that take St Jacques pilgrims.  The office is well equipped with maps of Lourdes and many books about the various ways, and about Lourdes.  I was really impressed.  And they also stamp your credential.

Gite La Ruche – 21 rue de Pau (open 1st April – 30th October) with 9 places at 15 Euros per night.

Centre Assomption – 21 avenue Antone Beguere. I’m unsure the cost of this one.  Minimum stay of two nights, but that is sometimes common, and means that a pilgrim can rest in Lourdes without having to worry about the usual need to move on every day.

Via Tolosana Day 36: Guardian of solitude

Anoye to Morlaas – 16kms

It was going to be a hot day, so after waking, I wrote pages and left by 7.20am. I’m so glad I did, because it has put me in the swing of things again.  It was good to do, and meant I would arrive early at Morlaas.  Jacques had written to me “Are you following? Am in Borce. Are you well?”

I left the lovely gite and doubled-back to where I’d noted a fig and peach tree on the same street, and ate second breakfast.  I was thinking about the bath mat at Anoye and that the options for home decorating are immense with the coquille shell design.  There were beautiful old homes in Anoye, and they seemed to be well looked after. I walked up and out of the town,  climbing out of the cool air, the rising sun on my back casting it’s orange light everywhere.  I began to sense pockets of warm air, a portent of what would come later in the day.  Francois was right, it would be hot.

Grape vines. The Pyrenees peeking above the trees. Orange slugs – on the road now.  A dedicated group of volunteers is strong in Anoye as the gite had a great feeling and there were many details to make the pilgrim feel welcome. Chocolate being a prime one! Drinks in the fridge, potato crisps all purchased on the honour system. The volunteers who plant the trees also made their presence felt today – there were many more fruit trees planted by the road, but I noted that they were Amis de Chemin from St Jean Pied de Port.  I suppose I am getting close to there now (even though my route won’t pass through there – it is the gateway to the Pyrenees for the three other routes in France).

Aire de Compostelle provided a lovely picnic spot, but I didn’t need a break.

The architecture of the area seems to reflect the landscape. More horses.

I decided on a Cosmo Cosmolino soundtrack today, the Streetsweeper album. I was feeling cosmic, and cosmopolitan all at the same time.  I don’t know why I needed a sound track today, but I did.  I saw chestnuts again, buddleias and heard church bells.  Cows stared at me – what an easy life they have compared to their provoked brothers/sisters.  More running water.  Sarah McLachlanAnswer.  A warm wind blew.  Another river. The sweet smell of honeysuckle.  Fresh air (the temperature type not clean type).  I saw a pheasant today, crossing a road – that was a surprise. It was a busy road too, the D7.  It begs a ‘why did the pheasant cross the road’ joke, but I only have one joke in my repertoire, and everyone I know has heard it already.  “What’s brown and sticky?”… “A stick”.

I stopped for morning tea by a big fresh and clean river. It was a beautiful place.

Be near water. Be like water.

After my stop, I walked over the beautiful river I’d been observing (I ended up crossing six water courses by Morlaas), and then off on a road to the left to skirt another town, Raguet.

I started listening to Oriah Mountain Dreamer.  I am glad she is on my playlist.  Her talks, “Choosing a joyful dance” and “Dance of shared silence” spoke to me, not least because in the second one she mentioned Meister Eckhardt, who Matthieu had spoken about two days before.  She re-authors his great quote:

“There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as shared silence”

and called to my attention a beautiful idea from Rainer Marie Rilke

“… a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust.”

The Waterboys continued to buoy me with Preparing to Fly.  I saw a snake by the road, there was a rock on a pole and funghi accompanying a balisage on a tree.  It was once again a day of walking between many more cornfields and a little on bitumen roads. It was a happy day!

The battery to my phone went flat, and I was faced with listening to the growing sounds of Morlaas civilisation as I approached.  Something’s burning. Acorns appeared on the beautifully soft path and in the distance the views of the Pyrenees grew more and more stunning.  There are so many pots of gold, so much treasure to see and feel.  The sounds of big roads and even airports came into my consciousness with the whirring engines of light planes approaching from behind me.  Bullet casings again littered the path.

I crossed a busy highway, and began walking through the outskirts for longer than was comfortable, with the sun burning in the near-midday sky. I saw signs of public transport, bus-stops, and was contemplating taking a bus straight to Pau, but decided against it and kept walking.   The way had the feeling of approaching Castres, but Morlaas is much smaller than that, and Castres is more like the size of Pau.  Pau city centre is not actually on the route, though I was to find out it was really worth seeing. After visiting Lourdes, I thought I’d return to Morlaas and walk on to Lescar. Morlaas to Lescar actually borders the northern-most part of the outer suburbs of Pau (previously referred to as ‘the boring bits’).  In my experience though nothing is boring to a pilgrim.

I arrived around 11:30am to Morlaas – perfect timing.  I got a quiche at the boulangerie, along with a pain au chocolate with almonds and a soft drink as it would probably soon close for lunch. I went to the Office de Tourisme on the square facing the back of the church.  They couldn’t help me with a booking for Lourdes, but gave me the number of a place that could.  The office contained a number of interesting relics of centuries past, including a carved stone canard (duck), a carved musician and a great relief map of the Pyrenees.  It was a nice little collection along with the pilgrim’s staff.

It was really hot already and I was exhausted even though I’d only walked 16 kms. It was a slow saunter to the camping municipal (camp ground), which was right next to the public swimming pool and behind the park office. I booked my accommodation for tomorrow night and it was 45 Euro. A bit steep, but I wanted to see the place and it is always worth it.   I also decided that I would take the bus into Pau early the next morning, then the train to Lourdes.

At the gite behind the office, I met Julie, another pilgrim.  We had a nice chat about the way, and the insights and challenges it brings.  She was resting up, nursing a foot that she thought might be broken, but had been walking on it for some time.  She was also a ‘wild-camper’, and had her tent and tarp out drying on the washing line as she was doing a giant pack clean out.  She was also busy binding her St Jacques coquille shell to her staff – not an easy feat.  She was a real sweetie and we had a long chat about Australian history. She noticed that I felt very strongly about indigenous issues and that maybe I could move in that direction with my work when I got back.  Later Francios and Cloudine arrived.

I went off in the afternoon to get some cash, buy a new pen (my kilometrico had died and I had been working though my felt tip pens in my pencil case and other biros, but none were satisfactory.  It was a few days later that I realised the new pen was a Cristal M.  I don’t know what that says about me, but at least I wasn’t injecting the ink. I’d have to wait to get home to write again with a kilometrico).  I also took a walk through the beautiful, cool church. The stained glass windows threw bold colours onto the floor, walls and vaulted ceiling. It was beautiful.  And the portal  door is absolutely gorgeous.

On returning to the site, I found that Francois and Cloudine were going to go for a swim as we’d been told by the woman from the office that we could get in for free, so I decided to go too.  My first summer swim. Next time I’ll swim more, it is so nice after a day of walking.

I also went around to see whether there might be wifi somewhere and my walk took me to a bar.  I saw Virginie and Sophie there, they were staying somewhere else in probably a little more luxury than the campsite, although our accommodation was very clean and adequate.  They were going to walk to Pau to go home to Lyon/Marseilles the next day.

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There was a big supermarket on the other side of the fence from the caravan park and I went there to replenish supplies with once again, too much food, but it meant I ate well that night.   I ate dinner with everyone outside, and later still another walker, Bernard, arrived.  He sat separately to us though, which was a bit curious.  My dinner was a melange of rice, tuna, celery salad from the supermarket (which I really love), tomato and with a panacotta chaser. Nice work!

The warmth continued well after the sun went down and we all weren’t long out of bed. Back inside the common room, which was another large room the same size as the room with several bunk beds in it (but with no kitchen – that was outside in the same block as the toilets and showers), we realised that some budding young artists had helped with the decorations.  They were beautiful and I couldn’t help capturing them all.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Via Tolosana Day 32: Unfinished Symphony

Auch to L’Isle de Noe (Chez Edna Moody) – 23 kms

I’m on my way,” said the  Proclaimers, “from misery to happiness today”. On my way perhaps, but it actually took me a long time to leave.

Waking at 6am, I wrote pages in the kitchen while a spectacle was unfolding outside.  I saw the sun rise. It was a little misty at first, but as the sun rose higher and higher, the fog moved in, appearing almost stage-managed, and within half an hour I could no longer see the river. Beautifully spectacular and spooky at the same time. Francois was the next up and I told him about the English saying ‘red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning’. At 7:26am, the bells began peeling from the cathedral. Then after that announcement, the fog moved in and covered everything and you’d never know a sun even existed. Birds of a feather flocked together around the cathedral.

I finished my breakfast and packed up. I said goodbye to Francois, Cloudine and Yves, and in my haste, I neglected to replenish the little tin with my donation.

I left and got a pain au chocolate at the little boulangerie next door, then walked past the traders beginning to fill the square in front of the Cathedral with a marche (market), to get some money from a hole in the wall and wifi at the restaurant I was at the night before. A petite coffee – great!  I couldn’t work out why my blog wasn’t posted to Facebook – weird. I felt like I was delaying, the coffee, the wifi and all.

Leaving the cafe, I followed the pilgrim route out the side gate of the town – rue Espagne. On the way I snuck into Henry IVs house – wow!  The big wooden door was left ajar, unlike when I passed yesterday on my self-guided tour. Imagine having an apartment in his ex-house! The way out of the town felt similar to that of Salvetat – the only thing missing was a river. It was 9:00am before I was actually on my way.

The day’s weather felt mysterious, like Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. I receive a “Bon courage” from a woman walking a little dog. There were nice signs to follow out of the town.

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All blue at Dubonne. Little rocks led along a driveway away from the road – not my way. I sighted La Pause – for my Philosophy class (an actual little ‘suburb’). As Cloudine thought it would, the sun did come out.  I walked up for quite a while, ascending out of the town. It was cool, but muggy and I was quickly sopping wet, the hill making the sweat pour. Around one corner, where I found the highest balisage sign so far, a man walked towards me on the road. It was funny, because it looked like I was taking a photo of him, but all I wanted was the high sign. He asked if I was doing the St Jacques route and we had a little conversation.  We got onto the topic of Paris, and I said I’d been about 6 times – he said “Vous êtes Parisienne”.  I laughed and said I hope so. Really sweet. Stopping for photos or to write something actually became just an excuse to take a break and catch my breath. It was becoming more warm and sunny as the sun rose.

A few more hundred metres and I found the most idyllic golf course ever for my brother-in-law Johno.  At the summit, I crossed a big road, D943, and got along next to the Bois d’Auch then the Forêt domaniale d’Ordon-Larroque, but not in the parks, just on the road through them.  A guy on a tractor, making the smell of freshly turned soil. Mushrooms along the road – pink ones.  Walnut trees – a whole avenue of them.

Cars pass you on roads, some calmly, others like a whirlwind. It reminded me of how people pass us in our life.  Little dead frog, like the one in the toilets. Champignons. Chain saws. Mostly road walking – exhausting.  My mind continued to wander to thoughts of plans for tomorrow and anxiety about bookings but I reminded myself I only needed to worry about today, or really, just take the next step. Make each step the best it can be.  I passed a little deer farm with a high fence to keep them in with the barking dogs. Around another corner, the sun fully up and I took a break.

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I brazenly did my ablutions by the side of the road and then rested and ate my peach. I contemplated an oak’s branches as I lay there in the shade. Each branch divides to make it’s own oak tree pattern. As walked away from my rest spot, the freshly-turned sods, shining in the sun, caught my eye. Further on there were paddock-sized Japanese gravel patterns in the field.

Queen Anne’s lace skirted the road. More haricot vert appeared by the forest.  I left the road and along a little cut through between pine trees, then turned right onto a logging track. I walked in full forest for a while, but then on my right side, haricot vert beans again. Bois (woodland)  and a little dead bird. Small apples covered the path. At the bottom of the hill, I crossed a little creek that reminded me of the one in the backyard of my childhood in Hawthorndene. With the neighbour’s boys, we played for hours, sometimes following the creek line up or down through several other neighbour’s backyards. I emerged from this area into a new landscape. Sunflowers greeted me again. The soil was dry and ploughing at Ribere was causing a huge cloud of dust – thankfully not blowing in my direction.

Sometimes it’s not until you get really close to a turn, that you realise which way you need to go.  I left behind chainsaws and tractor noise for an eventual descent into the next town, Barran. I skirted along some pretty major road works (I was later to find out it was gas works), but the afternoon’s route didn’t seem quite right to me. The directions of the balisages didn’t seem to be same as Miam Miam Dodo. This confusion continued when I walked into town approaching from the opposite direction to what I should have on my map.  Just before Barran though, after a particularly long descent, in full sun with really sore knees, I sat on a small concrete bridge wall and ate my lunch. I demolished a saucisson baguette and another peach, the colour of the morning’s sunrise – I was in summer heaven.

Barran is a beautiful, small, flat town entered through an old stone gate to the north.  The church has a spire in an unusual spiral/helio pattern, a bell tower that I didn’t see and a lovely old halle.  Another claim to fame were little “Lous Limaques de Barran” – special gums that prevented people from coughing – well I never! The little tourist information boards are often fascinating when I have the time and inclination to look at them.

My backpack started squeaking again as I passed beautiful horses and old houses – really old houses.

I left the town toward the south, the smell of chicken sheds filling my nostrils. I left the main road descending onto a small grassy path that turned right and opened into fields of panted crops, then up a steep hill. A big water bird played above the small lake to my right as I climbed toward the ridge, and came upon tractors parked at the summit.  Walking along the top of the ridge, the clouds started to gather – it was a relief actually because the sun was hot. I spotted those beautiful mountains again. I walked with effort between sorghum (I assume) and sunflowers.  More pink mushrooms appeared,  reminding me of macaroons.  More haricot vert. In the last two days bullet casings have again joined the path. Through the forest and then an even more stunning view of the Pyrenees!! Spectacular. Pyrenees and sunflowers. Beautiful.

I was sauntering by the end, coming close to L’Isle de Noe.  It had been a long day of 24kms.  A cute bridge and church were not far from a mill pond at the end of the town that greeted me. It was certainly a picturesque little place nestled in the valley. On the main street I asked a woman for directions to Chez Edna and she indicated my destination was not far along the narrow road which divided houses with their doorsteps just a metre from the passing traffic.

The house is a little strange, from the outside looking like a mix of Robin Hood downstairs and Shakespeare on the top. It looks really old, but I was assured later that it wasn’t.  The inside is similarly unusual and quite dark, but this impression was more than balanced by the amazing hospitality of it’s owner, Edna.  I could tell from the name in my guide book that this wasn’t going to be a night of struggling in French, however I wasn’t quite prepared for how much of a haven of Little Britain this was going to be.  The door is always open, literally OPEN – ajar in other words.  I walked in after knocking and calling out hellos so as not to seem presumptive that I was going to be welcomed, but I needn’t have worried.  Edna greeted me like a long-lost relative. Downstairs is one big hall with a dining table and several places to sit, including big sofas in front of the TV.  At the back is the kitchen/bar which had a slight feel of an English pub, and then the back opens onto a small terrace containing a small, empty swimming pool.

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The gite is very homey, but not in a French way.  Edna didn’t seem in any hurry to have me take my boots off, or wash my filthy body, she just offered me a drink, a couch and a TV, which I obligingly shared and urged me to put my feet up – literally! My beverage of choice was beer.  I’m not inclined to drink beer very often, but it just seemed appropriate today.

First on the tele was ‘Flog it‘, an antique-roadshow-esque series which instead of giving polite advice about the provenance and values of one’s possessions, proceeded to take said prized possessions to a real-life auction to ascertain their value. Some of the items were well in need of ‘flogging’ and not at all to my taste. I eventually prised myself away from the television and Edna showed me upstairs to my room. It seemed I was the only one in that night.  My room was at the top of the stairs, at the head of a long passageway with rooms on either side. It had two single beds, a bed-side table, a desk and a shower in it.  The shower was quite agricultural. I had to shimmy in and out as it was quite a small little tube of a thing, and the door didn’t quite close properly. Later I washed my clothes in a basin near the toilet and hung them downstairs on a clothes rack out under the sky that was looking more overcast and like it would rain.

I don’t know whether it was Edna’s calm presence, or because I was revelling in being able to speak ‘real’ English without the fears of being misunderstood, but I just talked and talked. I got the impression that she would have just let me be, but I had a torrent of things pent up from my walking for the past 32 days, and it all spilled out. Everything from the job I’d just left, to the people I’d met, my deep love of France and my hopes and romantic dreams of finding that special person to share my life with. It was like the flood-gates had just been opened, and there was not closing them. She did get a few words in too. She told me about the wonderful people she’d hosted, and caught me up with a few of the friends that I’d made who had walked ahead. I think it was she who told me of the poor girl who’d been enthusiastically eating mushrooms on the way, only to find herself in hospital severely poisoned.

After cleaning up, on Edna’s recommendation, I went for a wander around the corner to see the Chateau. On the way I snuck into the boulangerie and had an eclair, as one does, with not much need for an excuse. There was a huge expanse of lawn in front of the gravel drive way and for a chateau it was quite modest. For a house it was gigantic. It had a gallery with an interesting exhibition about it’s history.  The woman who owned it had decided to give it back to the community. What a nice gesture, although I’m sure the Mairie could do without the upkeep bills.

Returning to my little pocket of England, I again sat in front of the TV, and we ate dinner from the large coffee table. It was a big meal. Salad, scrambled egg and asparagus for entree. Fish and potato pie, cheese, carrots and haricot verts accompanied by wine for mains.  And afters, crumble and cup of tea WITH milk!  How long have I been waiting for that!  Edna helped me plan my next 4 days. She suggested a bit of a change in plan, instead of La Barraque, Monlezun. It made the distances each day a little more even and gave me an extra day. She did her best impression of a wise fortune-teller, and predicted that I would be in a relationship by next year. She mention my hosts from a few days back and that they had met walking the Camino, and had ended up running a gite.  Little did I know that I would be teased with an extremely lovely single French man within 48 hours. Maybe she would be right.

The TV watching continued with the last part of Miss Congeniality and then Knocked Up.  The irony was not lost on me and my long soak in the English-speaking bath was complete. I didn’t go to bed until after 12pm, leaving Edna asleep on the lounge. What a crazy and wonderful night!!

Via Tolosana Day 31: Je Marche Seul … or not?

Pied à Terre en Gascogne (L’Isle-Arné) to Auch – 22kms

Up at just after 6am for pages. I was up before anyone, and wrote my pages in the Moroccan alcove.  I am enjoying the profile of this part of the walk, the rolling hills and farming countryside: completely pastoral. The morning light creeps in the windows as I write. A fly buzzes around – isn’t it too early for that?  All is well.

I thought it was a late start after breakfast, but actually not so. We left at 7:45am.  I departed with Virginie and Sophie and walked with them all day after they took a lovely photo of me and Martine.

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I collected the figs from the trees I’d staked out the day before. It was a cooler morning. Cows, goats and walnuts accompanied views of the Pyrenees.  All the dogs in L’Isle Arne barked for us. On the outskirts we passed an old farm with some pretty special architecture. Apparently, the more layers of tiles on the roof, the more wealthy the inhabitants. You could see the number of layers near the eaves.
Stones in stoby poles appeared again, just to remind us we were still pilgrims.  We had some great undercover tracks at first today.
There was a lovely church at Lussan where we stopped for a pee.  The man who had stayed at Martine’s the night before with his grandson had caught us up. Five pilgrims at once! A little further on, after Virginie was trying to convince me that the rolling hills reminded her of the TV series, Little House on the Prairie. I wasn’t convinced – I’d only read the book, and imagined a prairie as being quite flat and desolate.  She even sang the theme song to it, but I’d never seen the visuals so I couldn’t be convinced. (Virginie sent me the YouTube when she got home, and I had to concede, our walk on this day matched it perfectly). Nothing proves US imperialism more so than an French person saying their country reminds them of a prairie!
Our conversations and songs were wide-ranging walking through the farm paddocks. I got another French song reference which I’ve had to wait until now to listen to – Jean-Jacques Goldman’s Je March Seul.  Interesting his name is Jacques. There’s something about French pop hey! How would I know the lyrics would be so pertinent:
Je Marche Seul – Jean-Jacques Goldman

1
Comme un bateau drive
Sans but et sans mobile
Je marche dans la ville
Tout seul et anonyme
La ville et ses piges
Ce sont mes privilges
Je suis riche de a
Mais a ne s’ach
te pas
Et j’ m’en fous, j’ m’en fous de tout
De ces chanes qui pendent nos cous
J’ m’enfuis, j’oublie
Je m’offre un’ parenthse, un sursis
R
Je marche seul
Dans les rues qui se donnent
Et la nuit me pardonne,
Je marche seul
En oubliant les he
ures,
Je marche seul
Sans tmoin, sans personne
Que mes pas qui rsonnent,
Je marche seul
Acteur et voyeur
2
Se rencontrer, sduire
Quand la nuit fait des siennes
Promettre sans le dire
Juste des yeux qui tranent
Oh, quand la vie s’obstine
En
ces heures assassines
Je suis riche de a
Mais a ne s’achte pas
Et j’ m’en fous, j’ m’en fous de tout
De ces chanes qui pendent nos cous
J’ m’enfuis, j’oublie
Je m’offre un’ parenthse, un sursis
R
Je marche seul
Quand ma vie draisonne
Quan
d l’envie m’abandonne
Je marche seul
Pour me noyer d’ailleurs
Je marche seul…

I walk alone

Like a boat adrift
Without purpose and without reason
I walk though the city
All alone and anonymous
The city and its traps
Are my privileges
I’m all the richer for it
But it can’t be bought
And I don’t care, don’t care about anything
About these chains hanging on our necks
I run, I forget
I take a break, a respite
(chorus)
I walk alone
Through the streets giving themselves
And the night forgives me, I walk alone
Forgetting the hours
I walk alone
Without witness, without anyone
Only my steps ringing out, I walk alone
Actor and viewer
To meet, to charm
When the night is up to its tricks
To promise something without saying it
Just staring looks
Oh, when life is stubborn
At those murderous hours
I’m all the richer for it
But it can’t be bought
And I don’t care, don’t care about anything
About these chains hanging on our necks
I run, I forget
I take a break, a respite
(chorus)
I walk alone
When my life is nonsense
When desire abandons me
I walk alone
To drown with elsewhere
I walk alone…
Well that just about sums up my life!
I had a lovely conversation with Sophie about the way we say in English that we ‘spend time’ doing things.  She said in France time is definitely money but they don’t spend time, they pass time.  It is interesting to think about the difference.  Spending time sounds finite to me, but passing time feels like you’re sitting there watching time go past.  It bears a lot more thinking about.
I asked what the little bean bushes are that I have been seeing for a number of days and which today stretched across paddocks as far as the eye could see. They are haricots vert green beans known as flageolet (not to be confused with a woodwind instrument). They are picked very early, before they are fully ripe.   At the edge of a field, and right near a huge stack of hay, we ate morning tea. The girls shared their butter biscuits – yum.
I saw one La Poste vehicle today. More figs. There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain and I found it today picking blackberries.  We later climbed a single person path up a long hill next to a field and then took a high path studded with many baby oak trees (petite chene) and sauterelle (crickets). This had me singing the song I’d sung so much in choirs in the past – El Grillo by Josquin des Prez … again!
We would follow this path marked by broken tiles in the full and hot sun, right along the ridge and then down into Montegut – a cute town with amazing chateau behind tall gates.  But before we reached there, we stopped at a lookout spot where we could lunch in part-shade with the chateau turrets in view. Champignons kept us company for lunch and I ate my luke-warm cassoulet.  It wasn’t that nice – it would have been better warmed in a microwave as it was designed to be.
After a break, we descended past what looked like a local version of calvary – three reminder crosses.  We ambled into the little town, trying to work out whether we were going in the right direction. I was pretty keen on finding a toilet. We found a public one – a very public one. You know those horrid dreams, probably easily classed as nightmares, where you have to go to the toilet and there is no door. Well, once you’ve done this for real, I suppose you don’t have the nightmares any more.  The town was deserted, and there was really no risk, but it is an interesting experience. Leaving out of the other side of town, making our way around the little road below the chateau, we saw a pigeonnaire which was quite spectacular.
It was really hot now, and we made a big bitumen descent away from this little hill town. Ouch, my knees. We made our way toward a major road, and crossed a railway line.  We could see Auch cathedral for miles – hours before we got there, but it was quite a slog walking the last 4 or so kilometres. We started to get nice big signs although the map in my Miam Miam Dodo seemed really wrong!
It was nice to have company today! Although by the time we had about an hour to walk, I was getting grumpy and just wanted to be there.  This is the time I feel like I’m not great to walk with, but I suppose that is natural.  We had a small stop in the Parc du Couloume where we also refilled our water bottles. From here it was a direct walk along a busy river path towards the city.  Getting close, I decided I would make a beeline for the Office of Tourisme, whereas Sophie and Virginie said they’d go another way.  We parted.
All day we’d experienced patches of gorgeous architecture juxtaposed against the natural beauty of the land. Reaching Auch was the pinnacle of the built landscape. This beautiful town, the centrepiece of which is the Basilique Cathédrale Sainte-Marie d’Auch, is a renaissance dreamscape. The Office de Tourisme is magnificent – a C15th marvel. I visited to seek information about the presbytere that welcomes pilgrims, to book the next town (L’Isle de Noe) and get wifi. I tried unsuccessfully to get wifi to work, so made my way to the accommodation.
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Office de Tourisme

I opened the door, and introduced myself to the older woman who was there with the stamp for my credential and some helpful tourist information.  Cloudine and Francois arrived at the same time, and we were shown up together.  Up four flights of a very large staircase we entered through a small door with a class window covered by a curtain. There was a small room just off the entrance passage so I took it as it had one bed.  C & F found another room which was pretty self contained closer to the bathroom and kitchen. This left quite a big room with a number of beds between us. On the wall was the donativo (donation) tin. There was a balcony of kinds off the large room, and reached through the kitchen. When you walked out onto it, and looked back towards the kitchen, there was the cathedral. The view to river was similarly spectacular.I washed myself and my clothes as usual, then went out to see the town.
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In the cathedral I bumped into Virginie and Sophie – they had found their hotel.  Cloudine and Francois came in a little later too.  The 113 carved wooden choir stalls need to be seen to be believed, and to see them all you could stay for hours looking at the 1500 carvings. Every character has been lovingly carved and their faces are highly unique – a feat apparently achievable because the wood was submerged for many decades in the Gers river rendering the wood carvable in great detail. I think it would be difficult to concentrate as a choir member.  And at the end of a very long walk, it was almost overwhelming to me.
This cathedral also holds a famous St Jacques window so I had to souvenir this.
I had got a map of a trail around the town, so I went off to do it, starting at the back of the cathedral at the top of the Escalier monumental (Great staircase) down to the river that half-way down was the home to the bronzed d’Artagnan. Around the side of the town, I walked past Henry IV’s house where he had reportedly stayed with Catherine de Medicis. Up toward the centre of town again, past the library and Jacobin museum, I decide to get food for tomorrow, and then went back to eat some dinner at the presbytere.
I tried unsuccessfully to send a Skype recorded message to my sister at a nice restaurant/bar where I sat for a long time using wifi and another cafe gourmand.  I’m feeling sad it is the end of an era with Sophie, Virginie, Yves, Francois and Cloudine. Yves leaves tomorrow to go back to Nantes. The others will be walking different distances to me tomorrow so I’ll be alone again. I walked back to my accommodation 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.