Friday, June 24, 2016

Day 29, Thursday, June 23: Uhart-Mixe to St Jean-Pied-de-Port - 32.4 kms

Last night was sleepless with mosquitos whining persistently around our ears all night. Never mind, we were up & out at the crack of dawn again to beat the blazing afternoon heat. 

The route wound through undulating farmland with long flat stretches. It was  nowhere near as punishing as yesterday. Under a cloudless sky, I relished picking the last handful of wild cherries I'll see in a long while. It was a fitting finish to a spectacular 750 kms walk. 

When we sighted our Camino Le Puy goal, St Jean-Pied-de-Port, at 2:30 pm, we made our way excitedly to the  familiar gite from which we had set out 3 years ago for our 1st Camino: the Camino Frances. Our send-off had been memorable and we had wanted to end this Camino in the same gite: the former L'Esprit du Chemin, now changed hands to Beilari Aterpea. 

Problems soon ensued, as there was no booking for Geoff, only for me - a clear mistake by the gite owner, as was readily admitted. So, because they were choc-a-bloc, and highly embarrassed, they put us up in their beautiful little apartment, reserved for a gite volunteer. No two beds in the mixed dorm, as expected. We are here for two nights (a rest day tomorrow) so it's special indeed. 

Over dinner aperitifs with the 20 of us, we enjoyed the familiar routine of playing the imaginary ball game where you give your name, your country of origin and a few words relating to the Camino. There is great importance given here to being a family for one night. This took at least an hour because, although we all spoke very briefly as instructed, there was impressive attention paid to language comprehension, with everything being interpreted into English, Spanish, French and occasionally Portuguese. This broke the ice and everyone  was thoroughly relaxed enough to enjoy the delicious meal to follow. 

It has been a privilege to make this pilgrimage. With having had to cancel everything at the last minute last year for health reasons, we haven't taken anything for granted. Each day has felt like a special gift to be honoured and cherished. 

Thank you to all who have cheered us along the Way. Our hearts are bursting with gratitude for making it injury-free and in perfect health. Thank you for forgiving us all the typos, spelling mistakes & lack of French accents. The blog has invariably been written and the FB pics uploaded under heavy exhaustion with addled minds. 

Now onwards & upwards to the real Camino of ordinary life back home, seeking to take one day at a time, to embrace all that comes our way: the good, the bad, the ugly, the interruptions, the disappointments and the surprises. 

A final deep question: how on earth are we going to remember not to eat for a 30 kms walking day?


C'est la Vie

Geoff & Lyn

Thursday, June 23, 2016

DAY 28: Wed 22/6 Navarrenx To Uhart-Mixe; 33.2 kms

We enjoyed our night in the historic arsenal at Navarreux and very early this morning we made our advance, shooting through the town and over the ramparts like a couple of canon balls. 

Despite the little light we spotted the GR 65 Camino markers and made good progress in the cool. We were grateful for the early start as it hotted up to be our warmest and therefore most challenging day. 

We enjoyed the beautiful forests, the farmland and the sensational vistas as we got another day closer to the Pyrenees. It was almost a cloudless sky. 

In the mid-morning we stopped at a picnic area outside a farm. A farmer and his dog came out and informed us proudly that we were now in 'Pays de Basque' (Basque country). The road we were walking was the 'frontier'. Unfortunately our linguistic ability didn't stretch to Basque so the farmer's dog didn't sit down and back off when we were eating our biscuits. 

As we walked, we noticed the Basque houses-mostly white with beetroot coloured facings and shutters. 

Our gite is called Gite Escargot and it is a restaurant below with rooms upstairs. Isabelle, the manager, greeted us with two long refreshing glasses of cool lemon drink. We have been perspiring profusely today and we need much replenishing this evening. We've needed 3-4 litres of water each to keep up. 

Have been thinking in the sun today about walking. Harold Fry said that his unlikely pilgrimage was jut a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. If you do this enough times you'll get to your destination. He was struck by the sheer simplicity of it all. 

Yet we have admired some pilgrims who have walked with a beautiful rhythm and a deftness of step. Others we have seen banging their feet down and jolting their knees. 

Simple, the act of walking might be, but we have lots to learn about walking well. Not only seeing walking as a physical activity but allowing a peaceful, anxiety-free mind translate to our feet. 

A sign we spotted in one gite reads:

"Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet."
- Thich Nhat Hanh 

There are escargot signs abounding around our gite and in it's publicity. Makes us wonder what's on the menu for dinner tonight. Or are they reminders of the value of slow travel?

C'est la Vie

Geoff & Lyn Pound 

P.S. No escargot for dinner tonight. A lovely vegetarian meal outside with 9 pilgrims from Germany, France and we Aussies plus the French gite manager and a Dutch volunteer. 

There were two mulberry trees in the courtyard and it was nice to help ourselves to the tasty berries before dinner. 

P.P.S. Photos from our walk today are posted on our Facebook pages. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Day 27, June 21: Arthez-de-Bearn to Navarrenx - 32.6 kms

Dinner last night was a delightful surprise. All the pilgrims in the gite were commenting on how there was not a skerrick of food to be had anywhere in the village for cooking their own dinner - every food outlet was closed for various reasons. So comments began flying around, like - I've got a tomato and 4 biscuits - and I've got 2 slices of ham and one banana. No need. 

When the gite manager arrived at 5:30 pmand started stamping our pilgrim passports, she mentioned that someone up the road was going to cook especially for us all. And what a treat of a meal it was! Four courses prepared by a chef, including duck confit and panacotta. We relished it all but, as usual, when it came time to bid our leave politely and get a reasonably early night, no one wanted to make the first move. So we did, and you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief and they virtually leapt out of their seats and followed suit. This happens every night and we always wait for a French person to take the lead, not wanting to appear rude, but not this time. 

We had a restless night. French people at the end of their short Camino stage for this year who had planes or to catch were up at 4 am. Then, our fellow roommate kept slurping from his bottle of water all night and trotting off to the loo. If you can't beat'm, join'm, so we found ourselves on the road at 6 am

The 1st hour was silent & serene. We were walking along a ridge with the moon on our left and the rising sun on our right. What a needed start to a day that would surely test our mental toughness. 

Early, perfectly clear skies can only mean one thing: a scorcher of a day. Sure enough, by 9:30, the sun was singeing. With many very long steep ups and downs, we were starting to sag by 11 am, and this despite spectacular views of the snow-capped Pyrenees that kept creeping up on us. François to the rescue. Our Camino friend sidled up from behind, we began 'chatting' in French (a euphemism) and the next hour flew by and didn't seem gruelling at all as our thoughts ranged from types of cows to his deep reasons for walking this Camino. That's not to say we weren't back to drooping after lunch and until we reached our gite at 3pm, but François' steadying presence with us, at just the right time, was such a gift. 

Our communal gite tonight is quite something. It took us a while to find but when we decided to ask for directions in a cafe, we got some looks that seemed to suggest we were dumber than dumb because this was the very place where we were supposed to pay our money and receive our stamps - the gite was just a few doors down the road. It is in a building that is a classified historical monument, a former arsenal and residence of the kings of Navarre. The building is impressive, built around a huge internal courtyard. 

We have just cooked our own dinner and will get an early night in preparation for another very early getaway tomorrow to do our best to beat the heat. We're the only ones in our little dorm so we don't need to worry about waking our fellow pilgrims with rustling our plastic bags. 

Another memorable day to live into fully. 

C'est la Vie

Geoff & Lyn

Monday, June 20, 2016

Day 26, Monday 20 June, Arzacq-Arraziguet to Arthez-de-Bearn, 30.5 kms

We left soon after a good breakfast: a couple of bowls of coffee and heaps of bread and jam. Soon found ourselves walking the edge of a beautifully reflecting lake. 

Walked through farmland and got talking with a elderly shepherd about rugby and the All Blacks after showing an interest in his sheep. 

Lots of walking up hill and down dale with much steepness to contend with. It's to be expected as we near our destination - the Pyrenees. 

All the pilgrims are excited about sighting the snow capped mountains which look sensational from so many angles but for pilgrims ending at St Jean they signal the conclusion and for those going on to Spain they mark the commencement of a whole new chapter. 

The day was sunny and the hottest we have encountered thus far. Quite a lot of walking on narrow tar-sealed roads with the tar getting soft and runny. These hot roads really cook your feet. 

We are getting to know Francois who hails from the Champagne region but he unfortunately has not brought any of his local produce in his pack. He is an experienced pilgrim who a couple of years ago had walked from his home to another important pilgrim route from Vezelay. Yesterday he ventured off the Way and on to some farms. He arrived at the gite with lots of wild mushrooms. Before dinner he cooked them up and shared them with us before we ate our duck and pasta. 

Today we met up with Francois a few times on the Way. The first time he reported that he had found three truffles. The next time he said he'd just had a phone call from home to tell him he'd become a grandfather. 

One further insight from our duck meal last night: the meaty duck wings were served but no one picked up the wings in their fingers. Queen Elizabeth's fine habit of eating chicken with her fingers hasn't taken on in France. 

We arrived at our gite at 3.30 and find that we know many of the other pilgrims. We did not pass through many sizeable towns and didn't pass a grocery or supermarket that was open. Owing to it being a Monday and possibly a festival day, most of the pilgrims have no food and all food shops are closed. The gite manager has arranged for a nearby restaurant to open for us so we won't starve. 

So often when we have known we are nearing our village one of us has said: "That looks like our town for the night." Then the Way has taken a 90 degree turn and we end up somewhere else. So many reminders about the unpredictability and the surprises in following the Way. 

We continue to be grateful for the health and opportunity we have to be walking this Way in these five weeks. Today we have had another rich feast of beauty. 

C'est la Vie!

Geoff and Lyn Pound 

P.S. Some photos we took today are posted on our Facebook pages. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Day 25, Sunday June 19: Aire-sur-l'Adour to Arzacq-Arrazaguet - 34.5 kms

True to all warnings, last night was very noisy. The bands didn't stop until 1 am and then the drunk yobbos yelling through the streets persisted for ages after. Nevermind, we were in a cute place with a room of our own and we enjoyed charming company for dinner. 

At breakfast, being the only early birds  this time, we were able to chat to and thank the gite owner. She mentioned how much she enjoyed last night's dinner crowd but that it's not always like that. She said that sometimes pilgrims complain bitterly about seemingly little things and that she had to gently remind them that a pilgrim gite was not a hotel. This conversation set us on our way reflecting on how an attitude of gratitude over that of entitlement (the former being such an essential attitude to strive for as a pilgrim, we feel) is a constant choice and that it's easy to slide off balance.

We left an hour earlier today in order to make the most of walking in the morning, as we had a longer distance to cover. Very soon after setting out, we found ourselves walking around a beautiful lake, sometimes along a boardwalk. The first 20 kms was flat and at times we were walking through superb tree canopied woodlands for long stretches. It felt like sacred ground - the tranquility with no one else around. 

The last 14 kms was more undulating with some fairly steep ups & downs. We were very pleased to have overcast skies for most of the day - perfect walking weather. We had our usual delightful surprises of bumping into previous Camino friends we never thought we'd ever see again. 

Our accommodation tonight is unusual in that it is a gite communal, but with the option of dinner & breakfast, if desired. It's way smarter than any others we've stayed in and it highlights the way the village authorities have placed great importance on comfortable accommodation for pilgrims passing through. We're in a type of little motel with our own ensuite - such a luxury. What's more, the shower is as powerful as a massage shower and such a treat for aching shoulders. 

Dinner was highly enjoyable with around 20 present and the French people surrounding us made such an effort to communicate. We had roast duck - not sausages - which is a real specialty in the south-west of France. 

We have felt blessed today by all the highly transient encounters we've had with people interlacing our lives - total strangers who, often unawares, have shown us such kindness, through attitude, words or actions. It's stressed for us the way quantity, time-wise can, at times, be of little consequence. 

John Rutter's 'For the beauty if the earth' has given us great delight today. When we felt very tired we let it play until we felt the words wrapping around us, giving us a renewed sense of wonder at the beauty of the creation we were slowly moving through.   

Bonne nuit

Geoff & Lyn

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Day 24, 18 June, Lanne-Soubiran to Aire-sur-L'Adour, 20.7 kms

Had an early serve-yourself breakfast with a few pilgrims who had emerged before 7am. Noticed last night at dinner and this morning at breakfast that the man we shared a room with brought a big medicine container to the dining-room table.  Rheumatism and a heart disorder were some of the conditions he was taking medication for. He was so positive about it and it was inspiring to see that he wasn't allowing his health challenges to torpedo his pilgrimage. 

Only 200 metres on the way this morning and it was a case of donning our ponchos and walking in the rain. 45 minutes later it was sunny and too hot so the ponchos came off again. This happened three times today. People criticise Melbourne for having 'four seasons in one day' but the weather we've experienced in France these weeks has been mighty changeable. 

Walked through beautiful forest glades this morning and plenty of farms that were growing corn and grapes. 

Talked a lot today as we walked about the dinner time conversations that we had last night. We pressed the gite owner to tell us how she came to buy the house. She told us how several years ago she had, while walking a Camino, decided that she'd buy a house and become a gite owner and manager. This place came up on the Internet and it met her criteria of being right on the Camino path, in a rural setting (this village has only 100 inhabitants) and not in need of renovation. She had a high-flying job as a lawyer which she has given up even though some family and friends warned her that such a move would mean professional suicide. The vision and decision to make such a life changing move came as she was walking a Camino. 

Another pilgrim said she was personally challenged by people she'd met on the Way who were seriously attempting to make a difference in the world. She was being inspired to do the same. 

A few days ago another pilgrim told us that her walk was prompted by the death of her older brother three years ago. After the rawness of grief, now she was ready to do this walk in his memory and honour. She said that during the first three days of her walk her tears flowed like the rain. Now further along, she was walking for herself. 

One man, said that his walk was completely a matter for his own private reflections. 

People walk a Camino for a variety of reasons and it is fascinating to hear about these walks as being the sphere for transformations great and small. 

Our walk today was very pleasant and one of our shortest. However, 2 kms before our destination the rain absolutely bucketed down but, other than our extremities, we managed to stay dry, thankfully. We arrived at our gite (Gite La Maison des Pelerins) by 2.30pm, very early for us and a nice change. 

We had been warned about the annual weekend feria (festival with music, dancing, partying and the running of the Bulls) in Aire-sur-L'Adour and that it would be extremely noisy all night. We thought the rain might quieten proceedings but certainly not so thus far! There are loud speakers on every corner of the town centre with a booming base beat blaring out fit to raise the dead. The ear plugs are at the ready for tonight. 

It is lovely to reconnect with pilgrims we have met along the way. At our gite tonight we have already met two pilgrims from last night's gite, two from the night before and a couple we met at the converted school. Visiting the cathedral late this afternoon we met six other pilgrims we have stayed with in various places. 

We love the many greetings we receive and give on the Chemin (Way). The French greetings include:
Bonjour (good day)
Bonne journée (good day - throughout the whole day)
Bon Chemin (good way)
Bon route (good route or road)

We also often hear the Spanish greeting, 'Buen Camino' and the Latin greeting, 'Ultreia' (onward and upward). 

We are amused and we love the French greeting to someone when eating, 'Bon appetit!'. If you're having breakfast, someone arriving in the dining room will greet you not with a 'Bonjour' but a 'Bon appetit!'. When we're having a picnic on the side of the Way, complete strangers will greet us with a 'Bon appetit!'. We may say 'Enjoy' to our dinner companions but Down Under we don't have this wonderful eating greeting like the French. 

Our gite tonight has 3+ levels. It is old, cheery and adequate. Nice to have a room of our own with a sunflower yellow wall and skylight.  


Geoff and Lyn Pound 

P.S. Some photos from today are posted on our Facebook pages. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

DAY 23: Fri 17/6; Manciet - Lanne-Soubiran; 17.6 kms

Dinner last night and breakfast this morning were spent in the company of just one fellow pilgrim, Flo from Marseilles, now living in Guadeloupe. Her French was the most rapid we've encountered thus far, but she had a tiny bit of English so, along with our host who had a little more and joined us, we managed to have a great conversation. 

We started off in light rain to our habitual strains of: The Lord is My Shepherd (move right over Vicar of Dibley - she couldn't be further from our minds). The rain cleared for most of the morning but took off again at midday. The Way was comparatively easy, terrain-wise - mostly flat again with very few muddy stretches. It's also our shortest distance of the whole pilgrimage. We loved walking through vineyards on one side and huge fields of small sunflower plants on the other. 

Nogaro, a largish town, is where we stopped for picnic supplies. I love walking into towns a little behind Geoff (I know my place) and observing people's reactions to his socks pinned onto the back of his pack to air - they range from utter horror to amusement & delight. Occasionally, people stop us in the street and ask if we're pilgrims walking the Way of St Jacques and when we reply in the affirmative they give us such admiring smiles so much as to confer instant beatification upon us. We just give our halos a brisk shine and glide on by in a deservedly saintly way. 

Our gite tonight is a converted presbytery - a stunningly beautiful old home, tastefully decorated by the owner who has spent many years in former French colonies, like Senegal. We are sharing our room with a young French woman who worked in WA for 2 years and a French couple. 

The wonderful smells of dinner in the making wafting through the whole house are making us hungry - what do you reckon? Sausages? Flo, from our last gite and also our mud-loving Kentucky friend are also staying here tonight, plus an Austrian woman we met today, so there will be a few languages floating around the table. 

C'est la Vie

Geoff & Lyn