Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Day 6, May 31: Saint-Chely-d'Aubrac to Espalion - 23.7 kms

We walked early out of town to the tune of cowbells and a distant cuckoo. Ponchos on for the third day running, it was drizzling when we left but it soon sheeted down and did so on and off throughout the day. 

We had a Camino moment when, after about 8 kms of wind and rain, we stumbled across a little stone shelter with an elderly woman selling coffee/tea for 1 euro. She was so welcoming - obviously not trying to make any money out of it but just offering exhausted pilgrims a place to sit and a hot drink. 

The first 16 kms was extremely hard going - like yesterday but with another 24 hours of rain on the track. When we had explored the wonderful UNESCO heritage town of Saint Come D'Olt at the end of this section, we took one look at the track ahead and thought NO.  It was just a wide mass of deep mud that went on forever uphill with no foliage to cling to anywhere. Just as well there was a small road that went the 6 kms into Espalion where we were staying the night, so we opted for that. Even the road had huge puddles everywhere. Geoff's becoming a pro at leaping over puddles or jumping from one slippery muddy rock to another with gay abandon, pack swaying and poncho billowing out behind him. But not me. I approach such acrobatic feats more gingerly with the cautionary thought that I'm only one step away from a French hospital. 

We saw chestnuts lying all over the ground today and long stretches of chestnut trees; a wonky church steeple; an enormous flowery mushroom; startlingly vibrant stained glass church windows; pink sandstone buildings; a very friendly guy who's a fan of the All Blacks who we weren't expecting to bump into again . . .

It was a much awaited moment when we finally came down off the mountains and hit the Lot Valley with it's river winding through, it's rich alluvial soil for market gardening and it's string of villages along the river classified as among France's 'most beautiful'. We'll be walking through them in the coming days. 

Our dominant sound today was gushing water and it seemed to be pouring out of every conceivable crevice. 

C'est la Vie

Geoff & Lyn

Monday, May 30, 2016

Day 5 Les Quatre Chemins to St-Chely-d'Aubrac

A day of rain, ponchos, puddles and glorious mud. 

Climbed up to the highest point in the surrounding area, the Aubrac Plateau, which was wild, bleak, cold, windswept with rain sheeting onto our faces. It was tough but a beautiful part of the walk. It was like being slap bang in the middle of the French version of Wuthering Heights. 

Passed a group of 16 pilgrims. Much fun and hilarity but little opportunity for silence. We thought we preferred to travel in a smaller group or alone. Later in the day we came across a contemporary sculpture which had this telling statement along side of it:
"In the silence and the solitude one listens more to the essential."

We walked through many farms and had to negotiate bulls with horns uncut. Farmers were visiting their herds to check on the cows and calves born over night. 

Gone through a few tiny hamlets today but little open in the way of shops and cafes. 

We came across large fields of gorgeous flowers and at one point a farmer was cutting them with a mechanical cutter. They were mainly narcissus. 

It was a long walk of 32+ kilometres today, made even more difficult because of the very strong winds, rain, thick slippery mud, rocky slopes and large puddles galore. The last 8 kms into town were the longest 8 kms imaginable - steep, downhill, narrow river bed - extremely muddy and rocky. Thankfully, the Gortex waterproof linings in our boots worked their magic so that we arrived at Saint-Chely-d'Aubrac with perfectly dry footsies. 

C'est la vie. 

Geoff and Lyn

Day 4 - 29/5: Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole to Les Quatre Chemins - 25.6 kms

Day 4 - 29/5: Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole to Les Quatre Chemins - 25.6 kms

Poncho-clad, we left in the drizzle today and according to the locals it's going to be raining for the next three days. The rain didn't really let up all day, although we managed to snatch a quick picnic on a park bench for lunch. We love walking in the rain and marvelling at the freshly cleansed countryside. 

The terrain was treacherous, in parts, with lots of uphill, slippery, tree-root criss-crossed paths. The wind billowed out our ponchos fit to lift us up and out into the stratosphere (well . . .  maybe not Geoff). We passed by lots of fields of cows; it's unnerving when they stand perfectly still, en masse, and stare at you rather superciliously. I'm sure they were thinking in unison: 'Who do you think you are, you ridiculous looking twits! Don't you know you're in France, the land of haute couture - not sodden ponchos? Go and put something decent on!

We are loving the sheer isolation of this Camino - just the two us most of the time, right out in the sticks, walking through quaint little farming villages and the superb French countryside.  There seem to be only about 6-8 of us on the same stretch right now and it's a bit like a family. We tend to meet up along the track from time to time and then some of us usually end up staying at the same gite so we enjoy dinner together. We met 2 Danish guys today who are walking as far as the Pyrenees, as we are. We also bumped into Daniel and have just had dinner with him. We came across another wiry little man who rushed past us at breakneck speed (he's up for shin splints tomorrow) dressed in a bright red top, even brighter orange pants and sporting a lime green pack. We named him the leprechaun. 

The wayside chapels in this area appear to be simple and stark, in contrast to the Spanish ones that are dripping with gold and highly ornate with lots of filigree. We love this simplicity. 

When we arrived at our gite in the mid afternoon it was locked up with no one around so we spent the next couple of hours in the local watering hole. There were some real characters coming in and sitting at the bar. Just the raw material for a French version of Coronation Street. 

The proprietor eventually arrived and he pranced around showing us all the amenities. He was a real eccentric who enjoyed cracking jokes. He kept on gently flicking my little Arabic slipper earrings. I think this is the French adult equivalent of 'koochee koochee koo'. These earrings are my sole item of beauty ( it's not a fashion parade, Lyn).

Speaking of dinner, no prizes for guessing what we had. You guessed it - sausages - but this time with pasta. We have to say, the sausages are gourmet and absolutely delicious. We were laughing and joking with Daniel today about the way this would have to be all French people ever eat - sausages. So, he must have chatted to the proprietor of the gite who came to see us very concerned about whether or not we'd prefer eggs. I wonder how long we can keep this sausage caper going for? Sausages or not, we had a wonderful time over dinner with another couple of French women, plus the three of us. They struggled with a smattering of English, so were very understanding of our attempts at French. 

C'est la vie

Geoff & Lyn

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Day 3 La Clauze to St-Alban-sur-Limagnole

We all slept soundly last night in the dorms of 3-4 people. Everyone wanted to get an early start and the owner of the house obliged with an early breakfast. Coffee, crusty, fresh baguettes, homemade jam - it was absolutely delicious. 

We left at different times but it is fun how you bump into people you know throughout the day.

It was another challenging walk of 26 km with lots of hillclimbing and descending. We went through farms, forest trails (glorious, iridescent green, mountain ash) and bushland.

We passed fields of cows and horses and saw colourful beetles and lizards crossing our path.

The rain that was forecast for yesterday did not eventuate today. Au contraire - it was a lovely blue sky with plenty of sunshine and temperatures up into the mid 20s.

We have crossed from the region of the Haute-Loire to the department of Lozere. 

Phone calls in French
I (Lyn) have been needing to make phone calls each day to confirm accommodation. They go something like this. I raise myself to my full height, take 3 very deep breaths, say out loud in a convincing voice: I can do this - and proceed to dial the number. None of this is helped by Geoff laughing in the background and telling me just to get on with it. After my set little spiel of introducing myself and giving the reason for my call, I cower beneath a fusillade of rapid fire French that I can't understand a word of and that seems to go on for much longer than necessary.  By the tone, the person seems to be saying - Sorry we don't have a booking under that name and I'm sorry to say that all the accommodation in the area is booked, too. You will need to sleep rough tonight under the trees but please don't freeze to death because we don't have time to clean up the mess. I now know that this means: All good. We then end with 3 repetitions of: See you soon / goodbye. Done . . . for another day. 

We have really gone up market tonight. We have got sheets and towels – what a treat!

Have just returned from dinner which was included in the tariff. They placed us with a French pilgrim who is traveling by cycle. Pierre didn't have a word of English so it was hard going. He is from Le Puy. 

They cooked and served the local specialty which again was a sausage dish with potatoes and cheese - La Truffade. We have had this four times (and sausages three times) in our first week but it is delicious and hearty. 

Interesting the way they serve the cheese course before the final dessert. We took a good wedge of the three different cheeses and then offered it to Pierre who refrained because he had had heart surgery two years ago. This made us think we had a heart attack sitting on our plates. 

For the entree we had a salad with something like a loaf that was full of prunes. The dessert was also filled with prunes. They must be catering to constipated pilgrims. It has taken me three days to get my (Geoff's) constitution into stable condition but it took only one meal to lose my equilibrium. I bounded up the stairs three at a time to our room before I could say 'Bonne Nuit'. 

C'est la vie

Geoff & Lyn

Day 2 St Privat d'Allier to La Clauze

Today has been challenging. We walked for 26 kms but it might as well have been 36 because of the terrain and the hot sun.  Most of the Camino was either uphill for long stretches or downhill via very narrow, steep, stony tracks. That said, we have had a fabulous day. 

We are experiencing a notable difference with this Camino. We're not sure whether it's because of a little experience (this being our 3rd) or for some other, as yet unknown, reason but we are finding that we can reach that silent still place within, that lends itself to spiritual contemplation, more readily. We're not as focussed on physical matters, such as sore feet or shoulders, though they are still very much present, but more welcoming of all the serendipitous experiences and surprising gifts that come our way. 

We've had some significant encounters with strangers who seem like friends by the time we part.  One such encounter was with a young Israeli Jewish woman I (Lyn) had a long conversation with over breakfast in our Lyon hostel. The wide-ranging conversation ended with her asking if we would please pray for her friend's critically ill baby on our Camino. Today, we have stopped at each of the numerous stone crosses en route to pause for little while, to place a small stone from our pocket onto the pile from pilgrims from all over the world and to pray for strangers, family, friends and our ABC community. 

We walked for an hour with Daniel, a Frenchman, today and have just had a drink with him here, as we happen to be staying in the same gite tonight. He was wonderfully encouraging with my ga-ga baby French and we had loads of laughs. Then, later up in the mountains, as we were soaking our heads under a cold tap, a young mum, two tiny daughters and later her husband, came up to the tap to do some washing. She had a little English and we chatted for quite a while. They were taking a month to walk part of the Camino with their pet donkey carrying some of their gear (& the kids).  We also greatly enjoyed meeting three other strangers over what turned out to be a lengthy roadside lunch of delicious mushroom omelette (containing about 8 local varieties of mushroom, one only millimetres long). They were enjoying a very slow-paced Camino of just a few kms each day. It's surprising how well you can get by with very broken French and even more broken English. 

Dinner tonight was a convivial affair with four     Frenchmen, Geoff et moi around the big farmhouse table. There was lots of laughter and they were trying very hard to include us but it wasn't easy for them or us. We were reminded, as we have been on so many occasions, of how isolating it is not to have the language. We were served traditional regional fare again which was pork sausage (yes . . . again) and a special type of potato/cheese gratin. 

We have experienced the wonderful simplicity of two wayside chapels today - both 12th century and one a cave. On several occasions today, we've turned to each other and thought how like NZ the scenery was. 

It's supposed to rain tomorrow afternoon - time to christen the ponchos for 2016. 

C'est la vie

Lyn & Geoff

P.S. Photos from this day are in a Day 2 photo album on Geoff 's Facebook Page. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Day 1 Le Puy to St Privat d'Allier

We went to the 7am mass at the cathedral this morning which is often called the 'Pilgrims Mass'. Most attending were pilgrims, for after the mass the young priest gathered us around in front of a picture of Saint Jacque. There must have been 50+ pilgrims starting off today. The priest asked where everyone was from - most were from France and Germany but there was a small handful from Australia and New Zealand. He prayed a pilgrim's blessing in French, German and English. We were given a beautiful pilgrim's prayer on a small laminated card plus a small medal from the Cathedral.

Pilgrims poured out and headed for the road out of town. We tried to remember the pilgrim proverb that begins: "Start your walk like an old man..." Don't race off like a hairy goat and collect a hoof full of blisters and pull your muscles in the process.

We reckoned that the average age of the pilgrims at the mass and on the road today was 65. Most would be retirees. We have talked with two couples from France who are newly retired and are planning to take the next 3+ plus months to walk all the way to Santiago (1400 kilometres) and then on to Finisterre on the coast.

The road rose steeply out of Le Puy today. It took only 20 minutes to get out into the countryside. This is the transition today from urban life to country scenes and smells. While many were bunched to begin with and several were walking in groups, it didn't take long for there to be a thinning out and with this a quietening. Such beautiful sounds of birds today, a range of terrain and a huge variety of crops. Lots of hay being cut today.

We walked 23 kilometres which was a good distance to get back into the Camino rhythm of waking, packing, walking, lunching, walking, settling into accommodation, showering, washing and drying clothes, eating dinner and sleeping. The routine, though simple and predictable, is never boring with the fascinating people you meet along the way from all around the world, the wonderful scenery, the space for inner contemplation and for marriage enrichment.

Our accommodation here at St Privat d'Allier in a private room comes with dinner and breakfast included. Looking forward to meeting more walkers over dinner.

Photos from today's walk will be posted on Geoff's Facebook page.

Geoff & Lyn

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lyon to Le Puy 25 May

We got to the train station in Lyon in good time this morning  only to find that many of the trains were on strike as part of a European shut down. We managed to get to our first stop where we were to change trains but they put us on the bus. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we had a wonderful trip through the gorges and beautiful camping areas of the Loire River.

After finding and getting ensconced in our comfortable  accommodation we ventured into the city of Le Puy, walked the cobbled streets of the old part and enjoyed the tremendous colour of the buildings and windows.

 The people who run our accommodation recommended a restaurant which we visited  for lunch. It was so small we overlooked it.  It's the first time we've had a meal with French knickers  and doilies pegged on clotheslines across the ceiling-very quaint indeed!  The food was the local specialty and absolutely delicious.

We visited the cathedral, visited and climbed inside the great statue of the Virgin Mary and then climbed The Saint Michaels Church which is pictured above and is a nine century building on top of a volcanic outcrop. It  was certainly worth the climb and is a beautiful old church.

In the late afternoon we lingered around the centre of the town which is called Le Plot. We lost the plot several times today.

It is not very warm and many of the locals are wearing heavy coats. We encountered some showers of showers this morning but this afternoon it turned out to be bright and sunny.

It has been more difficult than we thought writing a blog on our phone but especially uploading photos. If you would like to see some of the photos we have taken you can check them out our Facebook pages.

Geoff and Lyn Pound

Monday, May 23, 2016

Arrived in Lyon France

After 24 hours plus with touchdowns in Kuala Lumpur and Dubai it was good to make it to Lyon in France.

We are staying in a guesthouse called Le Flaneur.  When you come in from the street you get such a sense of invitation and welcome. There is an enormous dining room come lounge with sinks, washing machines  and cooking facilities up one end. Further down there are lots of large sized dining tables which people were using when we arrived last night to play cards and enjoy some conviviality.  This communal space also has a reception bar which doubles as a place from which people can buy some refreshments which includes three beer taps.

 We slept in a uni sex dormitory with 16 people and the snoring and farting throughout the night sounded a little like a symphony! Sometimes however the percussion dominated! At times it sounded like Tchaikovsky's 1612 overture!

 We both slept quite well but we are suffering from jetlag. When the person underneath me arrived in from the night at 2 AM and stumbled around that was the end of my peaceful slumber for the night!

Le Flaneur  means the Wanderer. It was useful to get to our hostel from the train station by Google map instruction. Put the name and address into the search and Siri tells you when to go left and right.

Being a wanderer means being less certain of your destination-browsing, lounging or generally mooching and enjoying the surprises along the way.

 Something to think about as we explore Lyon today.

 Happy wandering to you today where ever you are.

Geoff & Lyn Pound

P.S. 'Not all who wander are lost'. J Tolkien

Friday, May 20, 2016

Packing for the Camino and Going Light

Several people have asked us what we're taking when walking the Camino Le Puy.

When we go touring, airlines will allow us to take 30 kilos or 66 pounds so we throw lots of clothes and other paraphernalia into our suitcases. Usually we end up lugging great weights and not using much of it.

When we go on walking holidays we aim to go light. We carry no more than 6 kilos or 13 pounds, including the weight of our packs and two full bottles of water (the heaviest items). One benefit of going light is that our packs go inside the plane as carry-on luggage. Furthermore, there’s no waiting to collect the bags from the baggage claim area of the airports.

Going light involves every item being scrutinised and needing a persuasive debate to get a ‘Yes’. It also means buying the lightest of everything, including our sleeping sheet, poncho and evening sandals. Our towel is like a rolled up chamois, the sort we use to wash the car.

We don’t make a fashion statement on a walk as we take only one set of day (walking) clothes and one set of evening clothes. Washing most of our day clothes every afternoon means they need to be of the fast drying kind.

Having done a few of these walking holidays, we have our trusty checklist which only needs a tweak each year as we review last time’s effort and consider the unique requirements of the next trip. As the Camino Le Puy in France is quite hilly in comparison to the camino routes in Spain, we are taking a light walking pole each this year.

We put each item or bundles of items (toiletries, medicines etc.) into labeled, clear, waterproof plastic bags which in turn go into a couple of plastic rubbish bags in the main body of the pack. This keeps the items dry and makes them quickly accessible.

There are some items we forget and other articles we wish we had (like a nice big fluffy towel and shaving gear) but we get by and look forward to life’s luxuries upon our return. In addition to water, we take enough food to get us through each day. In contrast to the Spanish routes where you pass cafes and supermarkets many times a day, the Camino Le Puy has less of these amenities, meaning that we need to carry enough food to last throughout the day.

It helps our sense of wellbeing to go as light as possible. The sight of pilgrims staggering under heavy packs is not a good look. Post offices along the way do great business with pilgrims shedding their load and sending their unnecessary clothes and equipment home.

If the camino spirit is to have a lasting influence, the greatest challenge is not just to carry small packs for the length of your walk but to live lightly upon your return.

Geoff & Lyn Pound

Top Image: We collected our grandchildren from school yesterday and had an afternoon tea together. Ava (left) and Lily (right) have no trouble carrying our packs even though they are without water bottles and food. Molly (centre) thinks our walking poles are like skis.

Second Image: Pack with water bottles along with sunhat.

Postscript: Every person's checklist will be personally tailored to requirements but we have found this book to be a helpful resource: 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Why Walk the Camino?

On the night before we walked the Camino Frances in 2013 we gathered in the dining room of our pilgrim hostel, L'Esprit du Chemin (pictured above) in St Jean Pied de Port. There was a wonderful conviviality as we enjoyed wine and olives before dinner. We were welcomed by our hosts, Arno and Huberta, and then Huberta said, "I have an imaginary ball of wool. I am going to throw it to someone and before you throw it to someone else, you have to tell us your name, where you are from and why you are walking the Camino."

What a night! A German woman said she had just lost her job and she was doing the Camino to think about the next chapter of her life. Two Dutch brothers in their seventies said that they had lots of illness in their family and they were making this a walk of prayer. They had some stones to lay on La Cruz de Ferro, (pictured below), a tradition in which pilgrims often write the name of a person on a stone and they place it under this huge iron cross as they offer a prayer. One person said he was not doing it for any religious reasons. Every person had a different reason for their walk.

When we introduced ourselves we said that we enjoyed walking, a pilgrimage seemed one of the slowest forms of travel and that for many years we had been captivated by the idea of walking a camino. We hoped that as we walked we would discover more about the reasons why we were doing the Camino Frances.

As we look to walk the Camino Le Puy this year, we are confronted afresh by the question: "Why walk the Camino?"

A fascinating article this month on the BBC website entitled, 'The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking', informs us that May is Walking Month, that walking brings holistic benefits and that many of the great novelists found that walking is a wonderful aid to creativity.

For us it is our annual marriage enrichment and a time to be unplugged from our work and familiar surroundings. Leaving home, going light and being immersed in a new environment gives us some distance on our lives and the hope of gaining some fresh perspectives.

Seasoned pilgrim, Lucy Ridsdale, defines a pilgrimage as 'a long journey on foot undertaken with spiritual intent'. Hopefully this long journey on foot will give us a total workout-physically, mentally and spiritually.

Geoff & Lyn Pound

Camino Le Puy on the Map

Our plan is to fly into the city of Lyon, France.

After a couple of days tasting the gastronomical delights and seeing the sights we plan to take a train to the city of Le Puy where we intend to stay a day and a night.

Then our intention is to start walking (following the dotted light green line on the map) from Le Puy and head towards St Jean Pied [de Port] at the foothills of the Pyrenees.

This is a useful map which displays many Camino routes (there are more than 25). There is not such thing as walking the Camino but when people talk like this they are usually referring to the Camino Frances (St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago or parts of this).

Describing the Le Puy Camino, the Confraternity of St James says:

Terrain.  Very varied but fairly strenuous and rarely flat, starting in the volcanic Velay region, with constant ups and downs, passing through the mountainous Aubrac plateau (at 1300 metres) before descending to the abbey at Conques.  Continues through the causse (hilly limestone scrubland) to Cahors and then through undulating farmland to Moissac and on to the Basque country in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

The Camino Le Puy is about 750 kilometres in length so to get our total we'll add a few more kilometres for the days when we get lost and a few more for when our accommodation is off the beaten track.

This web page gives a good idea of the different stages and the kilometres between each.

Geoff & Lyn Pound

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Pilgrim Credential

Our Pilgrim Credentials have arrived!

We ordered ours from The Australian friends of the Camino but we could have purchased them at a Camino office in France or Spain. These passports are for pilgrims wishing to make a journey on one of the many Camino routes on foot, bike or horseback to Santiago de Compostela.

The credential serves as a certificate of progress and completion and is needed to obtain the Compostela at the conclusion of one's journey in Santiago.

We received a Compostela when we walked the Camino Frances in 2013. The Compostela looks a little like a university degree. It is written in Latin and it states that the person named therein has come out of a pious (religious, spiritual) motivation to the Cathedral in Santiago to revere the remains of St. James. If you don't state in Santiago that you have done the walk for spiritual or religious reasons they usually give you a Certificate of Completion.

In addition to acquiring the Compostela at the Pilgrim's Office in Santiago, this Pilgrim Passport is handy for giving access to pilgrim accommodation (refugios/albergues) which offer (usually cheaper) accommodation and hospitality along the Camino.

Like a passport this credential contains lots of blank pages on which you ask for a stamp (sello) at a municipality office or the place where you are staying. The Australian Friends of the Camino have given us our first one.

If walking, the pilgrim is required to obtain two sellos daily from a point 100 kilometres from Santiago e.g. from Sarria on the Camino Frances. If cycling or riding a horse, the requirement is 200 kilometres.

Whether you are trying to score 'Brownie points' from God, get 'fly-buy points' from the Catholic Church or simply have an enjoyable walk, a credential with lots of stamps (pictured) provides you with a lasting record of the towns and the places where you have stayed.

Geoff & Lyn Pound

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Notes from Walking the Camino Le Puy to St Jean Pied de Port

Welcome to this new blog which will serve as our platform for posting photos from our walk from Le Puy to St Jean Pied de Port (where we started our walk across Spain to Santiago and Finisterre on the west coast in 2013).

We are unsure of wifi availability and wifi strength so we're not promising daily posts.

If you'd like to join us virtually on this journey stay posted to this blog.

Geoff & Lyn Pound