Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lyon Sat. Oct. 16

We had nothing to do today and all day to do it. We had the most leisurely or lazy morning enjoying tea and a book in bed then headed out into the wet, cold and rainy day with the intention of touring the old city of Lyon. The weather sure wasn't favourable to sightseeing. A good walk took us across a bridge and the river to the old city where we needed a cafe and hot chocolate to warm up. My ankle was hindering my already limited stride so when we discovered that we could take a furnicular up the huge hill to see the cathedral we were all over that.

The cathedral is like a gigantic inverted elephant with its huge thick legs pointing up into the sky. The cathedral looked out over the city of Lyon, a truly impressive sight - red roofs for miles and miles. After the cathedral we walked over to the Roman ruins. Just such a weird sight to have their magnificently restored Roman amphitheatre and ruins right in the heart of this area.

It was still wet and cold when we came back down and started to retrace our steps back to the hotel. We passed a huge square where there was another strike protest but everything seemed relatively in control and peaceful. We ended up at another Italian pizza restaurant and then back to the hotel where we repacked and watched a Germany cooking show - just like Chopped. Couldn't understand the commentary but, hey, it's a food show and food is a universal language and all the food looked great.

Moissac to Toulouse Thu. Oct. 14, 2010

We have finished walking for this year and for this half of our Chemin Le Puy. We've walked half as far as last year, only about 420-450 kms, and for half as many days, only 17, but our bodies feel no different than when we finished the complete Camino Frances. We're tired and aching and mentally relieved to be done. At the same time it definitely feels unfinished. Part of being mentally and physically finished is because of our starting expectations. With limited time this year we had planned to walk only to Moissac and so that's what we were mentally geared up for, what we worked towards and anticipated. I'm sure if we had initially set out to end up in St. Jean Pied de Port we would have just put on our boots and packs again today at 7:30am and started walking.

As it was, we gave Julia our mefix, extra snacks, a whistle and our love and then we did put on our boots and packs at 7:30am but it was to head out and catch a bus. The potential train strike is now in fact an actuality so we needed to catch a bus. Julia walked us to the gare and we had a very tearful goodbye. She was desolate and we felt like deserters. It's amazing how well the three of us have fit together over the last eleven days. We been together pretty well 24/7 for that time. We've shared our fatigue, jokes, challenges, food, friendship, stories and sarcasm. A cutting example of the latter was when we were leaving Lauzerte and we passed Le Maison des Retraites and Julia pointed out, "Oh, Karen and Dayton, here's the gite you should have stayed at"! I thought it was a retreat but she informed me that it was a retirement home for us old folks.

As Julia headed out into the dark, we waited for the bus. We had to take a bus to Montaubon and then transfer to a train for Toulouse. Surprisingly, when we got to the train station there were conductors waving us quickly into and through the train station, across the tracks and onto the waiting train. So that part of our trip went okay. In Toulouse, it was a lot more confusing. Everyone was lining up at the ticket office to try to make arrangements to travel and no one really had any definite answers about which trains were still running or would be running the next day. I made the mistake of taking one clerk's advice and decided to wait until later in the day to see if the rapid trains were going to run. If I had just purchased tickets on the regular trains we could have gotten to Lyon via Montpelier in about three hours. As it was, by the time I purchased our tickets all those trains were completely sold out and we were lucky to get tickets for Lyon via Marseilles. The bad news was it was about eight hours on the train with a couple of hours layover in between; the good news - we would get a scenic train tour of the Mediterranean coast. Also the train travel was relatively comfortable and I had my ebook so quite content. I have to give a shout out to the ticket clerks. They kept their cool on what must have been an extremely hectic day. They helped one frantic traveller after another, fluctuating from French to English or Spanish or German and did everything they could to get people on trains to wherever they needed to go.

The strike was quite evident all around us in Toulouse. There were protests at the train station and riot police at the ready everywhere. When we got to our Hotel Victor Hugo, the concierge, a former pilgrim and kindred soul, commiserated with our train ticket woes and, almost proudly, stated that, while the French can't win a championship in football (soccer over here), they are the world champions of strikes. On our walking tour of Toulouse we passed a couple of schools, a lycee and an art school. French students are quite political and they were adding their demonstrations to the protest. The strike centers on proposed legislation which would raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 which isn't making anyone happy. Older workers resent having to work longer and students worry about the lack of jobs for the youth.

We just counted ourselves lucky that we could still get on any train and that we had a chance to get to Lyon in good time to catch our flight to return home. A few days later, we may not have been so fortunate.

By the way, I did get my McDonalds comfort fries at the Marseilles train station.

Day 17 Lauzerte to Moissac Wed. Oct 13 2010

So often the days and the towns and the paths just merge together in one's impressions and memories. Dayton has an incredible memory for geographic detail. He can recall where the path was paved, where it was rough and rocky, which came first - a farm field or a river walk. On the other hand, I'm hopeless. I need photographic evidence and journal entries to recall where we went, when we went and where we stayed and where we turned in and when we were on the road. Ergo - my blog. The entire point of being on a pilgrimage is to live simply and to be in the moment but sometimes during the walk I just follow the leader and rather than 'be in the moment' I'm often 'lost in the moment'. I keep losing touch with one of my primary goals - to pay attention.

This was the morning that Valentine and I were at breakfast early and were talking about our children. She reminded me of Sainte Rita, the patron saint of hopeless and desperate causes and encouraged me to pray to Sainte Rita to ask for help for some of the things that are worrisome for me. I'm anxious that, now that my children have completed their Masters degrees, they find a viable and satisfying job and career. I'm anxious that, now that my mother has moved out of her home and into an apartment, she is able to sell her house and lessen that financial burden. Following Valentine's spiritual advice, I added a few prayerful moments to my walking meditation.

Sometimes the camino adds extra kilometres to the route just to take the walkers away from a busy auto route. Today we walked an extra two or three kilometres through a non-descript field just to avoid a half a kilometer along a main road. Not sure I needed to be spared that. We had also been warned that when you see your first sign indicating you were in Moissac you really had another three kilometres to walk. Good to know. Coming into Moissac was our first instance of commercial and city life; streets, traffic, industry and noise. As we walked the three kilometres into the centre of Moissac, I was excited to see a McDonalds sign. Now McDonalds holds no particular appeal to me at home but here it was a beacon of comfort and I was on the lookout for the promised golden arches. Never did find them. McDonalds must have been off the GR65 and I don't veer from the GR65 - not even for McDonalds.

We did find the tourist information center beside the beautiful abbey and then went on to find our chambre d'hote, Ultreia. This gite d'etape with chambres was run by an Irish couple who had walked their own pilgrimage a few years ago and opened their gite with the intention of making the experience of other pilgrims a good one. They definitely added to our camino. We were greeted immediately with the offer of food and drink and a good chat. Julia was in the gite and Dayton and I had booked a room to ourselves. Before dinner, we headed back up to the abbey to hear the nuns chant vespers. The nuns voices were so pure and beautiful. Didn't have a clue what they were singing and chanting but it was a nice sound nonetheless.There was a little boy, about 6 years old, who sat silently beside one of the nuns following the service in a huge hymn book. After the service, it was this youngster who proudly stamped our credenciales.

Back at the gite, we had a simple but hearty dinner of soup, green beans, carrots, boiled potatoes, chicken in wine sauce for the non-vegetarians and a pasta with veggies and chevre cheese for me. Dessert was ice cream with peaches and a raspberry coulis and a biscuit. And for the first time, tea and coffee were offered after dinner. Wonderful. I'm not saying we didn't eat well on our Camino Frances in Spain but we certainly did not have the variety that we have had in France and, other than potatoes and soggy white asparagus, we certainly did not have vegetables. This is good, really good.

Day 16 Lascabanes to Lauzerte Tue. Oct. 12, 1210

When we walked the Camino Frances last year, we always started walking around 6:30am just as the sun was rising. It was May and the days were lengthening and we loved to take advantage of the peaceful silence of the early morning. Now, in October, on Le Chemin Le Puy, the daylight comes much later so we wait for it, indulging in a light breakfast and leisurely cup of tea or coffee and usually head out after 7:30 or even 8:00am. Not so Valentine. Our lovely New Caledonia lady walks at a much slower pace than her travelling companion, Jocelyne, so they have developed their own routine. Valentine has an early breakfast and heads out into the dark with her headlamp on. Jocelyne leaves an hour or so later and they meet up later in the morning. There are usually several phone calls back and forth to keep in touch. By late in the day their pace in a little bit more in sync. It is really ideal to have a walking companion whose pace matches your own. In that sense, Dayton and I are not ideal walking companions. My stride is too short so it's difficult for him to inch along with me. We tend to walk several meters apart, Dayton path finding and leading the way. Julia fits in with us really well. Sometimes she'll stride out and keep up with Dayton but often is content to settle back with me. And sometimes all three of us are spread out lost in our thoughts. It was a beautifully clear and sunny day as we walked from Lascabanes to Lauzerte. The only problem was the mud caking on our boots. Jocelyne had walked the first couple of hours with us until we got to Montcuq where we went in search of an epicerie for fruit and drinks and Jocelyne went in search of Valentine. This should have been an easy day but I just don't find any days EASY, not when it's hot, not when I'm carrying a pack, not when it's muddy and my boots weigh 3kgs each, and not when I'm walking 25 kms. Not that I'm whining at all. We took a lunch break after Montlauzan and walked a fairly sheltered path into Lauzerte. It was going into Lauzerte that we were surprised by a 'supermarket' - a cross between a dollar store, a grocery store and a Zellers. Shampoo and wine were at the top of the shopping list and the the usual food for the next day's lunch - banana, apple, cheese and bread. A short walk up the hill (of course) and we found our gite, a long, low salmon coloured brick building. Being greeted at the open door of a gite by a friendly face and someone telling you to drop your pack and sit and have a cool drink is so wonderful. Once again we have found a wonderful gite; a friendly helpful hospitalero, free computer and internet access, big clean rooms with ensuite showers and washrooms and great food. Michel, the owner, helped us book a gite in Moissac and tried to find us the best way to visit Rocomadour. It turns out there is no best way. The trains are probably not running because as Michel says, "It's France". Julia, Dayton and I walked up to the lovely medieval city. It was lovely with a beautiful big centre square but once again everything was closed up and deserted. The only signs of life were the sounds of children playing in the schoolyard. It seemed an odd juxtaposition; the joyful sounds of children playing and the silence of the empty square. Dinner at Lauzerte was another marvel. Just the potatoes au gratin, made with deliciously creamy Gruyere cheese, were enough to make me rethink my French Fry addiction. I'm not saying they were good but tomorrows 25km probably won't be enough to wear off the four servings I indulged in. There were at least six courses served starting with an aperitif and appetizers. Apparently that downing that potent aperitif was imperative! The second course was not going to be served until everyone had finished their drink.Then we had soup and a creamy meat infused salad and bread and the potatoes and a pork meat course. There was the de riguer cheese tray, grapes and a mousse dessert. It was a very lively group at the table and conversations were going side to side, across the table and down the table, in English, French and German. Whew! We waddled away from the table with a few extra kgs under our belt and some good memories.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Day 15 Cahors to Lascabanes Mon. Oct. 11, 2010

Well today we found out when the cafes are open - 8:00am! As we walked out of town through the slowly awakening city streets, we found the cafes quite busy with morning coffee drinkers, leisurely taking time for their caffeine boost before they head off to work. The way out of town took us across the river via a beautiful three towered bridge and to the foot of an imposing cliff. And yes, we began our steep climb up the rocky steps of the cliff which was called the 'passage sportif'. It was very slow going as the steps were slick, wet and slippery and really, really deep so it was quite a stretch and a struggle for my short stride. After we reached the top and were catching our breathe, Dayton took out his Alison Raju guide book and NOW read the advice that says "if it is wet, or if your packs are too heavy, then take the road not the 'passage sportif". Might have been a good idea to read that at the bottom of the cliff! The rest of the day was on and off light rain, fairly flat terrain so it should have been easy going but.........mud! The mud of the paths would cake our boots so that it was like walking on four inch platform heels and carrying an extra four pounds of weight on our feet. Julia and I were both complaining of shin splints and Dayton was coughing. Not looking good. It was slick and wet all day and we were averaging not much more than 3kms an hour. Pitifully slow. One thing that isn't slow is the way the French drive. There seems to be a tendency to drive all out, pedal to the metal and all. This time the wet roads took their toll as we noticed a car overturned on the side of the road and the emergency crews working at the scene. The gite in Lascabanes, Le Nid de Anges, was a five star gite. There was an opportunity to go to mass before dinner but we decided to stay in the lounge area, write our journals, massage our shin splints and share a very nice bottle of red wine. I personally found that to be a very spiritual release. That Cecile, our hostess, was a very dedicated, talented perfectionist had already been evident by how clean and neatly organized her gite was. There were shelves of items for purchase on the honour system; chocolate bars, soaps, fruits and postcards. Posted signs informed us of the 'house rules' - where to put muddy boots, where to put used sheets and pillowcases. The dining room was set up with a variety of teas and cookies. Very welcoming. Dinner was a marvel. We had a wonderful soup, followed by a bulgar wheat vegetarian entree for the vegetarians (doh) and a chicken fricasse that the meat lovers raved over. The apple cobbler with a raspberry coulis for dessert was wonderful. This was one of the gites we'd like to return to just for the food.

Day 14 Vaylats to Cahors Sun. Oct. 10, 2010

If ever there was an easier day on a 'camino' this would come close. We had petit dejeuner at 7am and were packed up and looking for our way out of town by 8:15am. Wisely we trusted Dayton's research and instincts and found the right path. We soon stopped to put on rain gear but it was more of a spritzing of rain so not a problem. The trail was level but rocky. We were in Cahors by 2:30pm. We followed a steep paved road into town and over a bridge and came across a pilgrims' information centre. What a godsend! The pilgrims' centre was manned by a very helpful gracious lady who served us cookies and cold drinks and who called ahead to reserve us a space at the gite Jeunes de Quercy. This was our first truly shared gite experience so far. We shared a very cramped room with Julia and Fleme, a Belgium fellow we had met in Vaylats. It was Sunday and it was afternoon - ergo - everything was closed up tight. Julia, Dayton and I ended up going to a restaurant around 6pm and had to drink tea and wine for an hour to kill time until food could be served. It was another pizza night and it was great. At the gite, I was surprised to meet up with Jocelyne again. Jocelyne and Valentine were the two ladies from New Caledonia whom we met our first night in St. Privat. When we had met them, it was around 5pm and I was in my 'day is done and it's time for wine' mode and these ladies were just taking a quiche break before heading out for another 10 kms or so. They hefted their humongous packs onto their packs and set out. I thought they would have been many days ahead of us by the time we got to Cahors but they had taken a variant route to go an extra two days north to Rocomadour and then two days back to the main G65 route. Their guide books had been off quite a bit on the mileage and facilities available. What was listed as 27kms turned out to be more like 37km sand the 29kms the second day was 40kms. Jocelyne had finally called 'foul' and took a taxi into Cahors. Valentine was still walking. (She eventually threw in the towel after 11 hours walking and she too called a taxi to finish up the day.) In my mind, there's nothing worse than expecting to walk 25 kms and finding out it's 27 or 30 or more. I think the writers of these guide books have a moral responsibility to be accurate or at least over estimate so that we can have the joyful relief of finding out that we're done earlier than expected. All of our 'camino pod' was at this gite; Ann Marie, Brigitte, Jocelyne and Valentine but it soon became clear that the pod was breaking up. Ann Marie and Fleme had declared the next day a 'rest day' and were going to spend the day in Cahors at the cafes and going to the cinema. Brigitte was going to get a train to Toulouse. Brigitte had heard about the potential train strike and wanted to ensure that she was in Toulouse in time to get her plane back to Montreal. We were warned about the impending storms heading our way and wondered what our plan should be. What to do? Walk.

Day 13 Cajarc to Vaylats Sat. October 9, 2010

Our proprietress, Madame Celine showed up at 7:30am armed with baquettes for our breakfast and the invoice for our night's lodging. We were off at 7:45am and met Ann Marie as we were leaving town. Meeting up with Ann Marie is always a good sign because she always knows where the route is.

We played leap frog with her all day. We walked for half an hour before we hit the morning's steep climb - 50 minutes up a rocky path. We took one rest and drink break and then had lunch in Limogne en Quercy. We had our picnic lunch on the patio of a pizza shop. We didn't worry about taking advantage of their patio as the restaurant was closed and the sign indicated that it was only open three nights a week; Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9:30pm until 11:30pm. Seriously! As I've mentioned, businesses, shops, restaurants and grocery stores all close down in the afternoon. We were fortunate enough to arrive at the tourist office in Limogne en Quercy and make reservation at the monastery in Vaylats just before they shut down for the afternoon too. We've discovered that most towns have tourist offices and that most of them are closed most of the time. That might be a slight exaggeration but not much of one.

This was another hot, sweaty, thirsty and long day. We weren't moving very quickly and our water bottles were empty. The few little villages we passed through had 'rien', nothing; no epiceries, no cafes and no potable water to be found. Our guide book said there was an nice restaurant in Bach, just three or four kilometers from our destination but that it was not open on weekends. Well, as we passed said restaurant, I saw some people sitting at tables on the patio and we were delightfully surprised to learn that it was open and the owner welcomed us up for some drinks, tonic with lemon - marvellous. Her restaurant had been featured on one of Jamie Oliver's cooking shows and she was still beaming with pride. That welcomed rest and the drinks gave us enough of a second wind to walk through the fields and laneways up to the monastery.

The monastery in Vaylats is still a very active convent of nuns. It was a huge complex of buildings. At dinner the dining hall was quite full of nuns, hospitaleros, pilgrims and visitors. It was a rather unassuming and unpromising start to the dinner. A very watery, 'maybe vegetarian' soup and large bowls of green beans with hard boiled eggs, and a marinated mystery meat salad were served to each table. Everyone was helping themselves to seconds and thirds, thinking this was the entire menu. Surprise! Large platters of pasta and bowls of a lamb stew were brought out and this course was followed by a large selections of cheeses and just when we thought we were finished, the hospitalero gave us all ice cream nutty buddies. Going to need a big morning climb to wear this one off.

Day 12 Figeac to Cajarc Friday October 8, 2010

We were up and out of the hotel at 7:45am to meet up with Julia. She had shared a room at the gite with the Montreal lady, Brigitte. We were on our way by 8:00am. Sometimes there's no rhyme or reason for what makes for a tough day but today was one of those really tough days. The terrain was not as difficult as what we've had to deal with lately but it was just a long and hot day. Everyone passed us; the Belgiums, Ann Marie, the French couple we'd met in Livenhac, and anyone else who was walking. We took several stops along the way; the first at the church in Faycelles where I indulged in a cold ice cream bar - I needed the calcium! A lunch break and a couple of short rest stops later and then slowly and painfully into Cajarc. Once again the first thing we did was stop at the first restaurant for a coke. Yeah! Finding our hotel d'chambre was a bit confusing. Our hotel d'chambre was 44 Tour de Ville which I thought was a street but the 'tour de ville' was in fact the centre circle of buildings in the centre of the town. We had a moment of trepidation when we first went in. It looked a little sketchy; old and dingy and the host fitted my impression of the house. It turned out our host was just filling in for his mother. We had the entire two bedroom apartment to ourselves; no one else lived there. Dayton and I went out for groceries and we made bruschetta, a salad and pasta with pesto sauce for dinner. With wine and bread it was nourishing and really tasty. An added bonus was getting our laundry done. Good for another couple of sweaty days.

Day 11 Livenhac to Figeac October 7, 2010

Don't need an alarm clock when your gite is beside the town church. Holy early morning church bells! Those chimes guarantee that even the deepest sleeper is 'up and at em' early. Those bells accounted for the fact that Julia, Dayton and I headed out just at the break of daylight. The morning was a little cool and there was a thin strand of gossamer fog floating just above and along the River Lot, nowhere else. Beautifully eerie. We hit the patisserie as we left town. Nothing like a chocolate croissant to stoke the energy for our usual 'good morning' climb and, for a camino and especially for this Chemin Le Puy, a less than killer day. We covered six kilometres to Montredon before 9:00am and had a brief stop in the church - free tea, water and muffins were set up in a little room by a side entrance. Very kind. By the next church in Saint Felix we stopped again and had lunch at a picnic area, then off again. We arrived in Figeac quite early, around 1:40pm, and sat outside the tourist office until it opened. Everything else was also closed at this time but the owner of a 'closing for the afternoon' restaurant sold us soft drinks to quench our thirst. As the days have been getting warmer, borderline hot, dehydration and rehydration is a major concern. We've consumed and replenished our water bottles a couple of times a day and still had a craving for cokes, perrier, lemonade or, Julia's favourite, Fanta orange. When the tourist office opened we were able to confirm our reservations at the Hotel Toulouse. Dayton and I have a room in the hotel and Julia is in the accompanying gite. This was not the best accommodations we've had; acceptable but not that great. The gite looked more inviting than the hotel. I headed out to find a computer, a task that involved a walking tour of Figeac. I found the local youth center where the computer and internet were free. Hmmm, this is the day I first noticed that tempermental left ankle starting to hint of impending tendinitis - just like last year. Figeac was quite a pretty town. The river flows through the centre of town - or what I thought was the centre of town and the little square in front of the tourist office was a friendly meeting place. Later Julia, Dayton and I went out to a great pizza restaurant for dinner. Interestingly all the restaurants we've been to in France have all been pizzarias. Go figure. Dayton had the most disgusting pizza ever. It was covered in ground beef and topped with a runny fried egg. Yuck.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pilgrims' Quest or Wanderlust

Pilgrims' quest or wanderlust, touristic curiosity or spiritual longing, self-actualization or rehabilitation, every pilgrim has a story. There are as many reasons to walk the camino as there are people walking it. We have met some wonderfully interesting people along this Chemin Le Puy each one or each couple have added something to our experience.

For two lovely ladies from New Caledonia, who describe themselves as 'very Catholic', this is a religious pilgrimage and their intention is to walk the Chemin Le Puy to St. Jean Pied de Port and then onto Santiago. Two months, 1800kms. Their packs are enormous, over 15 kgs each. Valentine is 70 years of age and sets out each morning before seven a.m., with her headlight on. Her friend Jocelyne starts out later and eventually they meet up later in the morning. The phone calls go back and forth quite often in between. (They obviously have a better phone plan than our Rogers plan.) When Valentine and I had a discussion about our children, I mentioned that my two have recently completed their Masters degrees and were still job searching. Valentine told me to pray to Sainte Rita, the patron saint of desperate causes. Now I don't think of my kids are desperate causes but I did pray to Sainte Rita as I walked along and every time I met up with Valentine she assured me she was praying for them too. Lo and behold, when I got home both had jobs!

The first week we walked we met many pilgrims who were on a short one or two week vacation and walking was just part of their 'holiday'. Our Norwegian couple were sandwiching it in between a week in Paris and a week in St. Tropez. Our Austrian couple were sandwiching walking the camino from Le Puy to Espalion with renting a car and touring the route in between and then finishing up walking from Leon in Spain to Santiago.

In Conques we met an injured pilgrim lady from Montreal. She had wrecked her ankle on the rough path into Conques and had been hold up there, on crutches, several days by the time we met her. Vivienne had been drummed out of her job of sixteen years by two antagonist co-workers and, with the time and money awarded her from winning a court case, Vivienne was seeking some answers about what her next steps in life were to be. She had planned to walk along the Chemin Le Puy and then travel to India to find an Ashram Yogi to teach her Kundalini Yoga and hopefully she would have an epiphany of self awareness, of who she was and what she should do with her life. A lot to ask of a walk don't ask, you don't get.

Another lovely Montreal lady was doing the camino her way - with a suitcase, a backpack transfer service and a bus ticket. Brigitte took her time, took days off to rest, walked when she felt like it and took transportation when she didn't feel like walking.

Vivienne wasn't the only one looking for self awareness and their place in this universe. Gudrun, a painter, perpetual student, free spirit and lost soul was still trying to find her place in this world. Beautifully prematurely grey, Gundrun couldn't tell you what she really did in life. She liked to paint but didn't have a career as an artist, had spent years of university study without ever graduating in any one area and didn't have a job or profession so she had difficulty describing herself - "maybe I'm just a woman". Where one can't find work or an occupation to suit them, others are on the route because they have been over-worked and burnt out. Ann-Marie was a social worker who, through the camino grapevine I learned, worked with delinquent, or disadvantaged (the camino gossip may not be accurate) youths and now was walking the camino with an indefinite deadline or destination and wondering about changing careers at this point. Fleme was a free spirit from Belgium. I'm not sure if he was a bon vivant, gentleman of the world or just unemployed. He had worked in the Gatineaux in Quebec canoeing, had walked in Nepal and other exotic places. He said he tried to keep himself distant from the towns and that it was much better to sleep in his tent on the hills overlooking, to walk only 10 kms a day so that he could take the time to really absorb what he was seeing and experiencing but then - he walked the 24 kms into Cahors at race speed, arrived two hours before we did and he was not sleeping on the hill overlooking the city but was sharing a room with us in the gite. Our friend Julia had undertaken her first camino last year, walking from Milan to Rome. She said she'd always been in a relationship and when she found herself unattached she decided to do something challenging with her new found independence. This year she was using the break from her psychology and medical studies to walk from Le Puy to Pamplona. I have often said how much I admire the women who do this on their own. I don't think I'd ever have the confidence let alone the competence to do this on my own - or the strength to carry ALL my own stuff. There are always quite a few retired people on the camino, people who now have the time and still the fitness to undertake and complete such a physical challenge. Whatever one's reasons, I'm convinced every person who finishes even part of this pilgrimage comes away with a major sense of peace and accomplishment.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Oct. 12 Expectations

I find a good way to stay happy and positive on a camino is to keep your expectations low and then you are rarely disappointed and often you find delight in the simplest amenities. - like having towels provided or even toilet paper. Ha. When you pay 5 Euros for petit dejeuner don't expect eggs benedict as the usual fare is the remnants of the baquette left over from dinner the night before and if they throw in the leftovers from the cheese tray or actually toast the bread it is a delightful bonus. Put your trust in the guidebooks but keep those expectations in check at the same time. Just because the route indicates that you are going through a couple of villages, don't expect to find an epicerie (small grocery store) and even if there is one, don't expect to find it open. The shop hours here are very erratic - at least to us. They seem to close from noon to 5pm, close Saturday afternoon and most are closed from Sunday noon to Monday noon. The other day we enjoyed our picnic lunch on the patio of a pizzaria without disturbing the owners. The pizzaria is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9:30 to 11:30pm. Seriously, six hours a week. How does anyone make a living? Restaurants have different hours too. You can rarely get any food served from 2pm until after 7pm. Then again, when you least expect it you come across an epicerie that is stocked with cold lemonade and fresh cheese and baguettes or you find that as you pass that restaurant which the book says is closed on Sunday is actually open and the proprietor is just falling all over you to serve you cold drinks and it's such a treat. Don't expect the listed mileages to be accurate either and then you'll never be disappointed to find that that 27 kms is really 37kms. Our lady friends from New Caledonia (South Pacific) took a variant route from Figeac to Rocomadour. They expected two, twenty-seven km days to get there and almost the same to continue to Cahors. It turned out each day was closer to if not more than 40kms and with their heavy packs and slow pace they were walking more than 11-12 hours a day. So... add a few kms to the amount posted and then if you see that beautiful village appear in the distant earlier than expected, you are so so so happy. The demi pensionne meals have been quite adequate, not haute cuisine but substantial. Then the night in the Gite Le Nid des Anges, we were treated to the best meal ever. Carrot leek soup, bulgar wheat and chicken fricasse and the best apple crumble with a raspberry coulis. The next night in Lauzerte we had an amazing six course meal; apperitif, soup, salad, entree with the best potatoes au gratin ever, cheese and fig course and then dessert. Now that exceeds any and all expectations. Marvellous!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Conques to Livenhac - Day 10, October 6, 2010

Boy were we misled. Everyone told us that after Conques the chemin is so much flatter and easier. Those must have been the pilgrims who ended their walk in Conques. This was a truly brutal day. Up and down and up and up. We took some time in the morning to take some pictures of Conques and then wound our way out of town through the curvy narrow streets. We started with a 45 minute steep steep climb and that just set the pace for the rest of the day. It took us three hours to do the first 10km and with the heat and sun we were exhausted and dehydrated. There was one place where the markings of the GR65 were very ambiguous. The GR65 markings directed us back towards a village called Nolinhac but then we saw a faded wooden marking directed us towards Decazville - the correct way. Later in the morning Julia missed that wooden sign - but more of that later.

Of course there was a steep, rocky descent into the village of Decazville - beyond brutal. We were so hot and so thirsty and then, lo and blessedly behold, there at the bottom of the hill was a grungy snack bar and it was open! We thought it was a slice of heaven. Dayton ordered a couple of cokes and Perrier and a microwaved cheeseburger and I had fries (frozen not fresh cut but now was not the time to be picky) and we were ecstatic. Then on again in the heat to Livenhac.

We couldn't find the Chambre d'hotes where we had planned to stay but it turned out that the communal gite was perfect. It was big, clean with lots of rooms so we didn't have to share and there was an epicerie and patisserie right beside it. We loaded up on cheese, tomatoes and wine. Julia showed up exhausted about two hours after us. We had thought she was in front of us but, hours earlier, she had missed an obscure sign and had taken a loop back towards Conques. Imagine how depressing to walk for hours and find yourself back near the start. There is a wonderfully experienced pelerin, Ann Marie, on the route and when she met up with Julia she set her straight. Julia has been putting her faith in Dayton's path finding skills and walking with us ever since.

We shared a good meal of bread, tomatoes, cheese and some meat and ended up sharing the room. Then headed out the next morning as the church bells rang and rang, heading out for Figeac. Another hot brutal day.

Estaing to Conques - Day 9 October 5, 2010

After getting rained out yesterday, it was encouraging to wake up to dry weather. Once again my French is less than 100 percent. Dayton and I got up for the 7:15am breakfast only to find out that that was the time for 'matins', morning prayers. We were the only pelerins who made it to that service - go figure - the others understood French.

The day turned out to be gloriously warm and sunny. Julia, our young German friend, passed us early in the day breezing briskly by as she listened to her iPod. I'm not sure that even an upbeat tune on my iPod would have helped me pick up my pace. Actually, it's not that my pace is slow, it's that it's SHORT. However, we were surprised to catch up with Julia at the epicerie in Golinhac and had lunch together and then we decided to bust it out to Conques. Julia motivated us early on and we encouraged her the last 10 kms. There was a painfully long and steep descent into Conques which is really hard on the knees and toes but oh my! what an amazing sight Conques is.

Conques is just a magical city - it made me think of the old movie Brigadoon where a mythical town appears out of the mist every century or so. It looked just that surreal. We stayed at the Abbey there having booked a room with WC and shower. We were greeted by the most friendly hospitaleros and offered juice and tea. Such a welcoming treat. The Abbey is big and such a maze of stairs and corridors that it was a feat just to find our way to the dining hall to enjoy a friendly communal meal with the other pilgrims. For me the meal itself was a little sparse as their idea of vegetarian was salmon so I went a wee bit hungry but that's the daily breaks for a vegetarian here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hearing Eternity Espalion to Estaing Day 8, October 4, 2010

I'd like to amend my last blog about how in the silence and solitude of a camino one begins to truly hear and understand eternity. It's not in the silence and solitude that I've come to understand eternity but rather in the endless climbs and brutal descents. They just don't stop. Gasping for air, legs of lead, thirsty and exhausted, we keep praying for some flat terrain and, failing that, a diet coke. Hydration is problem because the day's supply of water is consumed early in the day, it is that hot at the moment. The end of our first week of walking had us saying goodbye to many of our fellow pilgrims who had finished this etape of their pilgrimage. On the Monday starting our second week, October 4th we were promised rain and boy did we get it. We started out at 7:30am and within minutes it was sprinkling a bit so we stopped to put on our raincoats. We had a brutal uphill climb to start, very difficult rocky path. Calling the path steep doesn't begin to describe it justly. By the time we reached the upper plateau, the rain was torrential and the thunder and lightening were beginning to cause us more than a little concern. We struggled into our new hunchback ponchos and they were wonderful. It wasn't cold and we could stay dry from head to - well not toe, but at least to ankles. Here we'd been praying for the end of that climb and now we had to cross that open plateau in the lightening. Soon the path headed down through the woods. The water and mud was rushing and gushing down the hill. We were tip-toeing side to side; boots, socks and feet soaked. The ponchos protected us from the rain but not from sweat. We were still soaked inside. Coming out of the woods onto a flatter road, we came upon a lovely church. Our lively Belgium couple, merrily walking through the rain, caught up to us. We followed the road into Estaing where we found a cafe and a warming cup of tea and coffee. We thought we'd wait out the rain before going onto Golinhac but saner heads prevailed. Ann Marie showed up and said she was staying at the gite, Communitie Saint Jacques, and before long so were we. Soon Julia and Maryise decided to follow suit. This was our first real communal gite but Dayton and I were still lucky enough to get one of the rooms to ourselves. We played the snoring card. Because we called this day a rainout (actually it was the lightening that was the deciding factor in quitting for the day), we busted out 37 kms the next day going from Estaing to Conques. We walked most of the day with our young German friend Julia and we motivated one another all day up and down every one of those blessed/blasted hills. Conques is a reward unto itself. It is so beautiful, medieval and magical that it reminded me of the mythical village of Brigadoon which just appears out of no where every so many years. I half expected Conques to disappear in the mist. Everyone said that there was one big climb out of Conques and then it was an easy 24km to Livenhac en Haut. We have lived to say that is a lie. It was another brutal day of those hills. We thought Julia had gone on before us so we walked all day on our own and walked is a euphemism for dragged our butts. Finally we found ourselves at a gite communal in Livenhac and collapsed. About two and a half hours later Julia arrived and collapsed too. She had misread a sign and did a circuit back towards Conques. Luckily she met up with another pilgrim who set her straight. I think she now looking forward to walking today and tomorrow too with us old folks.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Oct.4 Dans le silence et la solitude, on n'entends de plus que l'eternité.

The sentiment above has a common thread for all caminos I think. The quiet moments of thought as you walk along the way may not be profound but they are meditative and healing all the same. Many other commonalities thread through different caminos. A camino makes friends and seals friendships. We met two ladies, Rosa from Venezuela and Denise from France who met ten years ago at the end of their Camino Frances and they have been writing to one another ever since and now are walking together to celebrate their ten year frienship. There are the six ladies of Brittany who have started their Camino Le Puy. They intend to walk 150kms every year for the next ten years until they get to Santiago. They are having a wonderful and fun time together. And we ourselves have made many new friends and from many countries: Angela and Wolfgang from Austria; Julia, a young med student from Bavaria who speaks perfect English, Paul and Kari from Denmark, and our new French pilgrim friends Ann-Marie and Maris.

We have discovered many differences on this camino too. There are more short term walkers, people who come and walk only for a week or two. Yesterday was the end of our second week and most of our new group are finished for now. Many French tend to do this camino in stages - étapes. We are also at the end of the season so it is less busy. Most places accept and advise that you make reservations which is different from the Camino Frances and also changes the way you face the day. It takes away the worry, when other pilgrims pass you, of losing a bed for the night and I feel more comfortable taking time for breaks. Yesterday we stopped in Saint Come d'Olt for lunch at a restaurant with Angela and Wolfgang and a couple of French ladies who were celebrating the end of this étape for them. We knew we had a room booked so we could afford the luxury of a leisurely lunch. The entire shape of our day is different this time. We do not usually bother to get up until 6:30am. and then have breakfast with our demi-pensionne (dinner and breakfast included). It's also darker these days so we also want to wait until daylight to walk. Another thing that is different, especially with the demi-pensionne ( almost always a private room with a bath) is the cost - way way more than last year. The difficulty of this route is also much harder than the Camino Frances. This has been steeply up and down everyday, all day! The extreme climbs and descents were never more evident than today when we were in a torrential rain, thunder and lightening storm. We came into Estaing down a steep path which was a virtual mudslide. Our new ponchos may have kept our packs dry but they didn't prevent the dampness from sweating or any protection from the lightening - that's why we quit after only 12 kms. Maybe tomorrow will be safer.

Some things are still the same though; the joy and relief when you find that first cafe or patisserie/bakery in the morning. That welcomed stop is always appreciated because what else is always the same in any camino is that is hard, really hard. A pilgrimage implies penance and an acceptance of suffering and a pilgrimage delivers as promised. And finally, wet is wet; it's always wet and Gortex is not a perfect product. Would that it were because then I would not have to go back to the gite now to stuff my boots with newspaper and wring out my socks.

Log Blog

Internet access is not readily available here so I will quickly outline our progress so far.

Sunday Sept. 26 - Leon to Le Puy by train

1. Monday, Sept. 27 - Le Puy to St. Privat - Gite à Ms. Vachon 23.5 km FOG, SUN, TOUGH

2. Tuesday, Sept. 28 - to Saugues - Gite à la Ferme Brigitte 20 km FOG, COOL, TOUGH

3. Wednesday, Sept. 29 -to Les Faux -Hotel L'Oustal de Parent 29 km MISTY,WARM ,TOUGH

4. Thursday, Sept. 30 -to Aumont Aubrac - Les Sentiers Fleuris 20 km SUN, WARM,TOUGH

5. Friday, Oct. 1 -to Nasbinals - Gite de Mont d'Aurbral equestrian 27km FOG, SUN,TOUGH

6. Saturday, Oct. 2 - to Saint Chely - Gite Lepadou Bas 20km, SUN, TOUGH

7. Sunday, Oct. 3 - to Espalion - Hotel Moderne 24km WIND ,TOUGH

8. Monday, Oct. 4 - to Estaing - Catholique Gite Saint Jacques 12km RAIN, TOUGH

9. Tuesday, Oct 5 - to Conques- Communitie St. Jacques 37km HOT SUNNY, TOUGH

10. Wed. Oct 6 - to Livinhac le Haut - Gite d'etappe Communal 24 HOT, SUNNY, TOUGH

11. Thu. Oct 7 - to Figeac - Hotel Le Toulouse 23 km HOT, SUNNY, TOUGH

12. Fri. Oct 8 - to Cajarc - Chambre d'hotes Celine Pons 31km, HOT, SUNNY, TOUGH

13. Sat. Oct 9 - to Vaylats - Monastere des Filles de Jesus 33km, HOT, SUNNY, TOUGH

14. Sun. Oct 10 - to Cahors - Foyer de Jeune Quercy 24km, WARM, SPRITZING RAIN

15. Mon. Oct 11 - to Lascabanes - Gite d'etape Le" Nid des Anges 23 km RAIN, MUD

16. Tue. Oct 12 - to Lauzerte - Gite Chambre d'hotes Les Figuiers 24 km SUN,HOT, MUD

17. Wed. Oct 13 - to Moissac - Gite Chambre d'hotes Ultreia 28-29 km HOT, SUNNY

18. Thu. Oct 14 - to Toulouse - Hotel Victor Hugo - by bus and train - 3-4 hours

19. Fri. Oct 15 - to Lyon - Hotel Novotel Part Dieu- by trains via Marseilles - 11 hours