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

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Day 22, 16 June, Montréal-du-Gers to Manciet 28.2 kms

It was a great delight and surprise to look out of our gite at breakfast this morning and see the Pyrenees in the distance. 

Breakfast this morning was a happy and hearty affair. With one person from the Ukraine, one from Switzerland, one from Germany, two from France and two from Australia, we had an engaging conversation in German, French and English. We talked about our destination today. Two were going about 16 kms, we were going 28 kms and two very hearty lads were attempting 43 kms. 

The two who were doing 40+ kms said that they eat very little on the way (unlike us!). They stop for a coffee and one of them nibbles on some sausage he keeps in his pocket. 

Breakfast this morning was typical: bowls of coffee, loads of bread with lashings of butter and a delicious choice of jam, yoghurt and cereal. 

Sven, a young Swiss guy from 100 kms north of Zurich, has walked all the way from his front door and is heading to Santiago and then to Finisterre and Muxia on the western coast of Spain. 

We said 'goodbye' to Anita Dann who had been wonderfully hospitable as the owner of her 'Gite Compostela'. 

After descending from the village, most of the terrain was fairly flat, in fact the flattest that we have encountered the whole of our walk thus far.

In the morning the sun shone and the track was firm under foot so we were able to cover lots of ground quickly. It was a different story when the thunder struck and the rain pelted down and for most of the afternoon we had our ponchos on. 

We walked for the first couple of hours on a pleasant track under a canopy of trees and surrounded by bush. 

Later we walked from one farm to another for the rest of the way. We passed through scores of vineyards, fields of wheat and newly planted corn.

In the early morning we love the sounds of the birds, including the metronomic call of the cuckoos. Today as we walked, we belted out a rendition of the song, 'Morning has Broken' that Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) would have been proud of, such was our wonder and joy at the newness and freshness of the day. 

We stopped around 10 am at a gite for a welcome hot chocolate drink and at midday, when we arrived at Eauze, it was still cold so we deviated from our usual picnic baguette. A hot slice of pizza and some delectable flan hit the spot and we were off full of energy for the last 12 kms of our day.  

We are continually struck by the simplicity of what we are doing and the delight we discover in the ordinary things of life. It reminds us of the discovery of Harold Fry when starting out on his pilgrimage:

"When he dug his teeth into his sandwiches, the nuttiness of the cheese and the sweetness of the bread exploded on to his taste buds with such vigour it was as if he had never eaten before."
(The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry)

We arrived in Manciet at 3.30pm. We are staying at a gite named 'Chez Mathieu'. Mathieu was doing some cleaning but his mother received us, gave us some cool drinks and showed us around. The house is a 600 year old converted boulangerie (bakery) with the original oven still in the kitchen and dining room. 

After walking in the rain on a cold day it was lovely to have a hot shower and rest before dinner. 

C'est la Vie

Geoff and Lyn Pound 

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Day 21, June 15: La Romieu to Montréal-du-Gers - 30.2 kms

The converted convent dorm was strangely tranquil last night. All seemed to have enjoyed a good night's sleep. As intimated,  threats and enforced mantras, re an aforementioned snorer, work. Perhaps, too, the spectre of his cruel, cruel wife standing over him with a cane (almost used the previous night in our converted schoolroom) did the trick. 

We woke to breakfast all laid out on long tables by our host which we could have whenever desired. Each space was set with a basket of goodies. A welcome & different touch was apples. 

Our walking today was long but very enjoyable and we were relieved not to get lost at the end of the day, like yesterday. We found ourselves lost in the middle of the day, instead. We had stopped for a couple of hours at a town, Condom, and enjoyed visiting the cathedral and wandering around the square where a market was in full swing. 

When it was time to go, our Camino markers were very difficult to find and several people we inquired of had absolutely no idea. After much wandering around, we eventually discovered how to get out and soon were out in the wonderful French countryside again. 

We passed through few little villages today, so had long stretches of being alone in nature, with plenty of silence that was conducive to contemplation. That's when we didn't have to concentrate hard whilst slip-sliding through mud, of which there was still plenty. 

Our gite tonight is run by a seasoned Camino pilgrim who is kindness personified. Dinner was not only delicious but great fun with a Ukrainian, two French, a German, a Swiss and us. We were swapping experiences of other Caminos we'd done, or hoped to do, and it was wonderful getting other people's perspectives. 

C'est la Vie

Geoff & Lyn

Day 20, 14/6/2016 Castet-Arrouy to La Romieu, 29.8 kms

Emerged this morning from our hostel which formerly was the local primary school. We received some positive report cards which included the following line:

Snoring: Geoffrey showed great restraint last night after he wrote 100 times on the blackboard: "I will not snore in the dormitory tonight."

We were dismissed from breakfast at 7.15am and we hit the road. 

The track was clear and firm under foot. Sky overcast. Rabbits abounding in the crops. Lots of household vegetables growing in the fields plus coriander that was smelling strong. 

After two and a half hours we arrived at the medieval town of Lectoure. There was a wonderful atmosphere in the 13th century cathedral, and other buildings in the historic centre adjacent to the square were intriguing. The  cakes from the patisserie were 'divine' - we bought two, wolfed them down & promptly bought the same again.  

For much of the afternoon we walked in torrential rain, strong winds and hail at times. Then half an hour later the sun would shine brightly to the point that we are burnt tonight. 

The rain made the track excessively muddy and slippery. It was treacherous at times and some at dinner reported some falls. 

Lovely views of the coloured fields against the grey thunder clouds. 

After missing a vital marker we got lost, adding another 30 minutes to our journey . . . which felt like hours, at the end of our walking day, as we tried to figure out in which direction to point our noses. 

We are in an ex-convent tonight which stopped being so 40 years ago, was for the next few decades a retreat for nuns and for the last 10 years has been a gite for travelers. Happy to be in an old convent tonight but we wouldn't want to get into the habit. La Romieu is a gorgeous little village, dominated by a huge abbey. 

Lots of people arriving at the same time meant a lengthy time to register, shower, wash and hang our clothes and scrub the mud from our boots. 

We cooked up a storm in the kitchen and are putting our feet up for rest and recuperation. 

C'est la Vie

Geoff and Lyn Pound

P.S. Photos on Geoff and Lyn's Facebook pages. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Day 19, Mon June 13: Espalais to Castet-Arrouy - 23.5 kms

The gite last night was delightfully alternative - saris for curtains - and volunteers that were Camino pilgrims themselves and could anticipate our every need. One woman from Paris had taken two weeks of her holidays to volunteer at the gite.  We much appreciated their kindness and, after a convivial breakfast time, we were sent on our way with bear-hugs all round. 

We certainly copped the full gamut of weather possibilities today from starting out in heavy rain to gale-force headwinds to light hail and, would you believe, to sunshine just in time for drying our clothes. 

The first village out was one on the list of the most beautiful villages in France, yet again. We loved wandering around the main square and marvelling at the configuration of roofs and the structure of the medieval buildings. 

We are staying in a 'gite communal' tonight (as opposed to a private one), so we fend for ourselves  in the communal kitchen. It's in a very old converted school building with school class photos everywhere, including above our beds. We're in a large 'classroom' with two other French women and, surprise, surprise, our Camino friend from Kentucky who loves mud! Since meeting her, we have been trying our darndest to love mud, too, but we wouldn't pretend to be there yet. I guess it would pay to fall in love with it quicker as, apparently, it's going to rain until Saturday and we'll no doubt be rounding many a corner to find yet more 'boue' (boo!). 

Over dinner, we had a great conversation with a young French couple who had just spent 5 months in NZ. They adored it and we're only too happy to rave on about all their fantastic experiences, while we quietly purred away.  

We love the different sense of camaraderie you get in the gite communals, as you often end up chatting  whilst drying the dishes or washing clothes together. 

We try to finish our day with the much loved night prayer from the NZ Prayer Book and especially appreciate the lines:
What has been done has been done;
What has not been done, has not been done;
Let it be. 
Bon Courage

Geoff & Lyn

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Day 18, 12 June: Durfort-Lacapelette to Espalais, 34.5 kms

Had a deep sleep last night in our converted pigeon loft. Woke with a flutter and it seemed we walked rather pigeon-toed this morning.

Our kind, gentle gite host had made such an effort to make us feel comfortable with so many extra unexpected touches (like flowers in the room & beautiful soap in the bathroom) - we felt blessed. 

Our path took us through lots of orchards and vineyards so we must be getting near Gascony (The French Tuscany). 

We reached Moissac near midday. It seemed a bit run down but we wanted to take some time to explore this town because it was the 2nd most important sacred site for the medieval pilgrims on this route after Conques, with its centre being the abbey. Unfortunately the much loved cloisters were shut and we were unable to visit. 

We struck the Sunday markets in Moissac and in one other village today which sparked them up - usually Sundays are super-quiet with all the shops shut. 

It was fascinating to follow a canal out of Moissac and see some holiday travelers in their boats. 

Lots of extremely steep terrain today and this with a 34 kms distance meant we were on our hooves for 11.5 hours. A shortage of signposts made it difficult today especially in picking up the Camino after spending time in a town like Moissac. 

When we arrived at our gite in Espalais, dinner was almost ready to be served. We hadn't expected a meal so this was a pleasant surprise. It is a large, rambling home and we shared a delicious pasta meal with several French people and a woman from Montreal. Lots of talk and jokes about the Montreal accent - like the French spoken 300 years ago, apparently. 

We will sleep well tonight. 

C'est la Vie

Geoff & Lyn

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Day 17, June 11: Montcuq - Durfort-Lacapelette - 26.1 kms

We were told to make sure we pronounced the 'q' for the name of the place we left today, Montcuq, because otherwise we would be saying the French for 'my arse'. Never let it be said that we asked a local for clear directions to 'my arse'.  Apparently, a bawdy TV skit was created around this town's name that has become famous and increased the tourism stakes of this little town considerably.  

Last night in our gite of converted stables it was rather noisy, as a couple of young colts in the adjoining stall were obviously relishing the chance to roll in the hay, whinnying and neighing to their heart's content. 

I had told Geoff that is was essential he have the mantra running through his mind: I will not snore and  cause a stampede. And it worked! Plus, no nightmares. 

We bolted out of our stable for breakfast,  enjoyed our oats with a couple from dinner last night who made a very good effort to communicate and we were soon cantering down the highway with the bit between our teeth, blinkered against all distractions. 

We must have climbed up and down around 5 very steep slopes today - one had a rope rail for us to cling to and another stakes at the side for us to hold. It was a case of poncho on, poncho off as the weather decided what to do. Yes there were stretches of mud, but mostly it was kind underfoot. 

We climbed high up the hillside to have our picnic lunch at the little town Lauzerte, classified as one of the most beautiful in France. After some time spent exploring the place, we couldn't agree more with this classification.  

The afternoon's walk was very challenging, but we eventually made it, exhausted, to our gite at 5:30 pm. We are sleeping in a converted pigeon loft tonight and are sharing it with a Kiwi woman from Nelson and two very friendly French guys. We have just enjoyed a hilarious dinner time together, sharing food and stories. 

Today we saw fields of what looked like bluegrass, which took us way back to the mid 80s when we had a stint in Kentucky. 

This Camino is by far the most physically rigorous of the three we've walked, but we are absolutely loving it and are seeking to live fully into each day. 


Geoff & Lyn

Friday, June 10, 2016

DAY 16: Fri 10/6 Cahors – Montcuq 32.3 kms

We ended our stay in Cahors by going out to dinner with my brother who lives on London and his partner, Vlada. They just happened to be in the area at exactly the right time for us (!). It was very special as we don't get to see them very often. 
Our day began with around 100 deep steps up the side of the sheer cliff that took us out of Cahors. We walked through a wide range of terrain but, for the last couple of hours, it was white mud that clung to our boots and caused us to lose traction - it was like walking on ice.  

By midday we experienced thunderstorms so on with the ponchos for the rest of the afternoon. 

It took a while to find our gite tonight and when we inquired for directions at a supermarket they said that the gite had closed yesterday. They called the tourist office and they confirmed it. Anyway, we decided to try and get there to see for ourselves and we were delighted to be very warmly welcomed and told that, yes, they had been closed yesterday, but only for the day. Were we ever relieved!

We're staying in converted stables tonight and our horse's name is 'Caramel', the name above our 'bedroom'! There  are lots of touches of what the little screened off 'rooms' used to be five years ago and they've pulled off a charming renovation. 

Dinner with 6 other French people this evening wasn't as much fun as usual. We have found that usually a lot of effort has gone into making us feel included, but tonight there was none at all and my limited French didn't go far enough. Still, it was very good to feel, acutely, that sense of awkwardness & isolation that so many people feel back home when they don't have the language. Our host was extremely inclusive but she wasn't present for the meal. 

C'est la vie

Geoff and Lyn

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Day 15, 9/6/2016, Second Rest Day in Cahors

Another lazy start to the day. We encountered a full table of French pilgrims at breakfast who were starting their walk today. 

Saw more of the sights on our river walk around the entire city, including the 14th century Pont Valentre, the Maison de l'Eau (an old house on the edge of the fast flowing Lot River) and many old buildings in the historic quarter (the building where we are staying is 900 years old). 

There were several men fishing in the river and we photographed one man holding up a huge fish before releasing it. 

Gardens are a feature of Cahors, especially in the month of June when flowers are on full display. There are medallions on the pavement that take you on a tour of the 'Secret Gardens of Cahors'. One garden is full of herbs judged to have medicinal value in medieval times, another has plants and trees that are noted in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. A different garden we visited this morning had a peace theme and was full of white roses and delicious fragrance. Another had flower beds on the theme of the different senses - flowers to smell, leaves to touch and plants with an assortment of berries that you could taste. 

In these couple of rest days in Cahors we've been doing lots more thinking on the difference between being a pilgrim and a tourist. 

The Japanese writer, Kosuke Koyama first got us thinking about this through his talks we heard in Dunedin and his book, 'Pilgrim or Tourist'. We wonder whether it is a matter of either/or as he infers. People often state pilgrimage in glowing terms while being a tourist is frequently disparaged. For instance a sign at the entrance of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem reads:
We are hoping that:
If you enter here as a tourist, you would exit as a pilgrim.
If you enter here as a pilgrim, you would exit as a holier one.
Certainly the pilgrim perspective can help us to be better tourists. 

The pilgrim perspective is one that displays an openness to God however strong or tentative our faith might be. This openness is expressed in pilgrim prayers as in the blessing we received at the Pilgrim's Service at the Le Puy cathedral at the start of our walk:

"Be for them
Shade in the heat of the day 
Light in the darkness of the night
Relief in tiredness,
So that they may come safely, 
Under your protection, 
To the end of their journey. "

The pilgrim seeks a different kind of seeing - to see beauty in the ordinary, to see freshness in the commonplace and everyday things of life. 

Such a vision is best achieved by slowing down and cutting back our pace. Koyama again encourages such a slowing down in his book, 'Three Mile an Hour God'. He says "Walking is the proper speed and the proper posture that can prepare people to meditate ...But that which is holy must be approached slowly."

The 'slow travel' movement is also discouraging the fast tourism by which people fly into a city, dart around to see the 15 'must sees' as indicated by the brochures and then fly out. Instead they are encouraging people to stay put for a while as you gradually radiate out and discover what people do, where they buy, what they eat and to be open to the surprising, serendipitous experiences that come to you that we won't find listed in any tourist book. 

The pilgrim perspective also encourages new attitudes. In one of her many fascinating blogs, seasoned pilgrim, Lucy Ridsdale, wrote about this:

"I read a Spanish saying recorded in one of the logbooks (Porto la Reina?) of a hostel: El turista exige; el peregrino agradece. ‘The tourist demands; the pilgrim gives thanks.’ So that sparked my thinking on entitlement and gratitude, as ways of being in the world, as distinctions that shed a kind of light on what we’re facing, all of us, us all. On our planet. Now. So I’m playing at being a pilgrim, and finding a way from entitlement to gratitude."

Lucy lives in Perth and wrote a Masters degree on walking and pilgrimage. She earthed it in her walking of the Bibblemun Track in Western Australia. She entitled her thesis: 'From Entitlement to Gratitude'. 

We love the idea of moving from entitlement to gratitude, whether a tourist or a pilgrim.

El turista exige; el peregrino agradece.

Geoff & Lyn Pound 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Day 14, 8/6/2016, Wednesday, First Rest Day in Cahors

We had planned for a couple of days in Cahors to rest so our start was slow with a later breakfast at our gite. Early walkers had already fled the coop when we arrived in the kitchen/dining room but at the table we had breakfast with three German women who were starting their Camino this morning from Cahors. 

The owners of the gite aim to make their place like a home so we had a few extra options for breakfast including muesli, brioche and a variety of teas and yoghurt. 

Wednesday is market day so the area in front of the nearby cathedral was filled with stalls laden with fresh vegetables and fruit, meats, cheeses, spices,  flowers and clothes. A few musicians were in operation to enhance the wonderful ambience of the market. 

We enjoyed sitting in the medieval cathedral and having a look at the early parts as well as the updates over the centuries, including some contemporary stained glass. 

In the afternoon it was sweltering so we did the French thing and had a siesta, caught up on some more washing and got around the old part of the city to see more sights. There is a lovely atmosphere about the city with more local families than we have seen in other towns, plus lots of tourists and pilgrims drifting in from the mid-afternoon.  

Our gite is in a superb location being smack in the middle of the historic part of the town, only a stone's throw from the river with the cathedral and market halls a similar distance in other directions. 

To some extent, our bodies feel ready to keep walking on but the rest will do us good and will freshen us up for the rest of our journey. 

C'est la Vie

Geoff & Lyn Pound

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Day 13, June 7: Bach to Cahors - 28 kms

After a great night's sleep in an unforgettably hospitable gite, we tucked into the usual breakfast, but this time our host sang a lusty pilgrim song to us, a specific blessing from her gite to the day's travellers. 
We loved the satirical pilgrim postcards on sale - like the one of pilgrims dozing in a field with the caption - Deep Meditation. 

The heavy early morning mist hung low as we started out but we welcomed the cool getaway and were happy the sun didn't appear until 11 am. Much of the terrain was easy underfoot today but we are only too aware of not getting blasé - we meet people in almost every gite who are nursing injuries, the latest being a big strong guy from Melbourne who slipped inside a shop and now has a serious ankle injury.  

We are getting used to the way all of the towns or villages we have stayed in are either perched high up a steep hillside or lying low in a valley. This means that we always have a steep ascent or descent at either end of the day's walk. When you're full of energy in the mornings, this doesn't pose too much of a problem, but it's another matter at the end of the day when you're hot & tired. It's been around 98% humidity the last couple of days and we're needing to drink around 3 litres of water per day. It never ceases to astound us, with the cumulative effects of long distance walking, as to how the body regenerates itself overnight. You can go to bed utterly exhausted thinking that you'll never be able to do it all again the next day, but you can and you do. 

The dominant fragrance today was hay drying in the sun and for sound it was of raucously croaking frogs from the numerous ponds.  

Random thoughts:
We love the way Caminos are such levellers of people - no-one asks anyone what they do, as back home, where jobs can categorise. No one seems to need that information - we are all fellow travellers - refreshing indeed. 

We're quietly amused by a hand gesture that we get in response to where we're from (Wow - you've come such a long way!), or to something tough - the sideways flapping of the hand held at neck height. 

It's been a mental challenge to see a sign that says 5 kms to go to your destination only to walk 3 kms and find a sign that says 5 kms to go! We are trying to approach the signage with good humour; as the Camino saying goes, if you just put one foot in front of the other, you'll eventually get to Santiago. 

Bon Courage

Geoff & Lyn