Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29 Seviac to Manciet 27km

Le Petit Dejeuner @ La Ferme du Soleil

We left our lovable gregarious hostess at La Ferme du Soleil at 7:45am and walked along the road bordering the vineyards and the bright sun beaming down on us as we played Dodge'em with the cars flying by. In France there are no speed limits posted as it is understood that there are only two speeds fast and faster . Then it was a lovely on a generously shaded path hrough the forest into Eauze. We thought we had lost the signs of the camino but Dayton assured me that we were on the right path because we were walking uphill towards a church - uphill and a church - has to be right.
Now to tour Eauze, have lunch and another 12kms this afternoon to Manciet. Lunch was a lovely stop at an outdoor restaurant; Dayton got the Plat du Jour and they made me fries. Perfect.

It took two and a half hours to do the 11km into Manciet; sometimes it's just hard and slow. Manciet looked like it had given up trying but our gite, which from the outside did not look like it would still be standing int the morning turned out to be surprising comfortable. It was run by a good looking young man who cooked us a very good and plentiful meal, enough for a family of six. We had the usual vegetable soup, a platter of butter boiled potatoes and peas with onions, about 3lbs of sausage for Dayton, a salad of tomatoes and crudities and a very elaborate 'deconstructed dessert. Breakfast the next morning was just as bountiful.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28 Condom to Seviac

Condom to Montreal de Gers 18km. Here before noon. Hot sunny and great day. Time to rest up and enjoy the village.
I've mentioned that all pilgims are unique but there are still sterotypes: the purist pilgrim like our Geneva man, the pilgrim social butterfly like Norwegian Desiree, the pampered pilgrim with their reservations and chambres d'hotes for two, the extreme pilgrims who walk 40-60kms a day and collect caminos like boy scout badges and now we have a new category - the Ultra pilgrim.
Today we passed a group of runners, running from Le Puy to St. Jean Pied de Port in 12 days, running 65kms a day! It's like a Camino Survivor game because after 8 days their numbers are down to 16 from the original 23 who started out. A bit pampered too though because they have a suport team and sport veicles to check on them throughout the day and to set up refreshment and snack wayside stands.
We spent the afternoon as pilgrim tourists. Lunch in Montreal where the two choices were a Michelin rate 5star restaurant that would break the bank or a truck stop. We did the truck stop.
Then we toured an archeological site of an ancient Roman villa before going to our gite and enjoying a lazy afternoon in the sun.
A bientot

April 27 Lectour to Condom 30kms

Daniel (Lectoure Host) Toasting Local Armagnac

Le petit dejeuner provided by Daniel at our stay in Lectour was wonderful; fresh homemade bread and fig confiture, yogurt; kumquats and cherries from his garden and cheese. A good start to a long hot day. We walked most of the day beside wheat fields and the only challenges were not the terrain which was relatively flat but the sore feet from mean miserable boots. We managed to avoid every little town which promised an opportunity to have lunch so I was really happy to arrive in Condom and find a lovely cafe for lunch. Good thing too because our gite that night does not do vegetarian and, being too tired and achy to walk back into town to find a restaurant. I just shared some of Dayton's wine and bread.

We were in a real gite this time with dorms of bunkbed and, because I was part of a couple, I ended up in the boys dorm. I was already unhappy about the food situation and the fact that there was no hot water for a shower and then a group of young kids showed up. One of the good things about sharing a dorm with a bunch of young boys (ages 10-12 or so) is that after they are fed and run around the yard playing loud boisterous games for a couple of hours, they sleep very well. Not a peep out of them all night.

April 26 St. Antoine to Lectour

The rain that was promised yesterday was threatening again but all the clouds burned off by mid-morning and we had another hot sunny day. The first several kms were along country farm roads with the only stop a roadside stand where a farmer had left out some water, juice and hardboiled eggs. Dayton threw a Euro in the bucket and an egg in his pocket and he had his lunch. The 30kms were just long hot and sweaty. I,m still sticking with my plan not to whine but my left foot has not bought into the plan - it is crabby.
You meet such interesting characters on the camino. One of the most colourful was Desiree from Norway. Desiree is that person who has never met a stranger. She is as colourful in her outfit as her welcome/ lime-green and cream patterned leggings and shirt with a matching mini-skirt and thick hiking socks over Croc sandals a vision. Just before noon today we came across her in the Centre Ville of Castet-Arroux. Desiree immediately spotted us and asked us to join her as she had just ordered a snack. We wanted to go into the catedral first but she said she'd come in with us and sing for us in her 'quite ordinary voice'. Her voice was not quite ordinary but was surprisingly extraordinary and her song echoed beautifully throughout the church. After that we sat with her while she had her 'snack' - massive platter of salads, tabouleh, couscous, pat├ęs, cold meats, brie and roquefort cheeses and a baquette. Dayton was positively salivating in envy.

The other interesting pilgrim we came across was dressed in full ancient pilgrim regalia; leggings, a tunic, a staff and a flowing large black cape. he cut quite a figure. From Geneva, he was walking with his family of wife and three young children and this was their fourth year on the camino walking in etapes to Santiago. I did get a sense of the pilgrim purist in this guy and a bit of a condescending attitude towards those who made reservations in comfortable chambre d'hotes with demi-pensionne, of those who competively tracked the number of kilometres a day or who noted their blisters, shin splints and aches and pains. Oops, scored a hat trick with us on that one. This a good time to remember that the pilgrimage is individualistic; one does what one can and how one can. This is not the place to be judgemental.
One of the benefits of using a chambre d'hote is that often you stay with a family and you get to spend more time talking to them - in French or English or Spanish or any combo thereof - and that's always a good experience;


Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday April 25 Moissac to St.Antoine

Renaud et Roseanne - La Ferme de Villeneuve

Historically the first day of every one of our treks has been in seriously inclement weather; everything from torrential storms to blizzards but today that pattern was broken. At 8am, with an Irish hug and a European double cheek air kiss; we left our gite, Ultreia and with a quick walk over the bridge we were out of Moissac. The damp breezy morning air held a promise of rain but that didn't dampen our spirits. We started off on a flat gravel paved path bordered by the canal on one side and lined with towering Poplars on the other side. After 3kms. there was a sign indicating a variant, a high mountain scenic route. We looked up at the mountain mist and judiciously and indulgent continued along the flat canal route.

Since today was a holiday, Easter Sunday, we had the path almost to ourselves save for a few cyclists and a grandpere and his grandson fishing.It wasn't long before teh enthusiastic bounce in my step faded and I settled into my characteristic plod. My pack was manageable at first as we discovered that if Dayton hung his Crocs outside his back then he could carry more of my stuff. Dayton is my sherpa, my pathfinder and my hero.

It pays to pay attention on the camino or you will miss the signs. We were chatting so much that we almost missed the sign that indicated we were to leave the canal path and head into the countryside.We crossed the La Garonne river and before long passed fields of crops carefully protected by plastic. At first I thought they were fields of white asparagus like in Spain, but soon we learned they were strawberries. I asked how much for a pint but the lady selling the strawberries generously said they were free for us. Imagine the bliss of walking along a French country road with the sun beating down on us, savouring the taste of freshly picked strawberries and the juice staining our lips and fingers.

It was as good a day as you could hope for on a camino but still not without its trials. By the time we had finished 22kms our toes and feet were aching and I had a very painful pressure spot on the top of one foot from my new boots. We took a rest and padded the spot and soldiered on.

At our gite, La Ferme de Villeneuve, we were greeted by our hosts Roseanne and Renaud. Dayton immediately recognized them as a couple we had met last October in Lauzerte. Our stay there has been like a wonder. La Ferme is a magnificent and massive old farm,
house that is still under renovations and promises to be the place where pilgrims will be pampered. To be continued

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Pilgrims Have Landed

Our Hosts - Aideen, Rom & 'Bono'

I am not all that comfortable flying. The flight from London to Toronto was an eye opener and a stomach dropper. I gasped and clenched with every single drop and lift of turbulence. The flight lasted 40 minutes and my stomach landed after about 80 minutes afterwards. The last time I was on a ride like that was on Thunder Mountain in Disneyland and it has been my determined intention to never repeat that hair raising experience. In Toronto I immediately headed for the Relay shops and bought motion sickness bands. As I said I'm less than an intrepid flyer. Every time the flight attendants give the 'in flight safety procedures' I watch the choreographed two fingered pointed instructions and can only recall Courtney revising Jerry Seinfeld's bit "you're going to die, you're going to die and I'll be saving myself using this secret exit."

Fortunately everything did go as planned. We had a few four and three hour layovers but all flights and trains departed and arrived on time, our checked baggage arrived when and where it was supposed to and we got to our gite in Moissac right before dinner. It was very comforting to be greeted by the familiar faces our hosts at our gite, Ultreia. Ultreia is where we finished up last year. I'm thinking that the 30 kms we have to walk tomorrow will not be enough to wear off tonight's meal, especially the chocolate cupcake smothered in hot chocolate sauce accompanied by pears and ice cream.It's going to take way more than 30kms. We are now off to the garden to visit and drink some more wine. Let the suffering on the pilgrimage begin!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Camino Countdown - April 22, 2011

I must have a subconsious 'failure to commit' because it's 36 hours to departure and I'm nowhere near ready. If ever I had one iota of a Type A personality, now would be a good time for it to kick in. Alas and alack, nope not one iota. My checklist is printed off and totally unscathed; not a check mark on it yet. Well if it weren't for the last minute nothing would ever get done so......time to get at it.

1. Camino Training: - If I can count my one 20km walk from Simcoe to Port Dover and back plus three times around Springbank Park, then I can check this one off.

2. Hiking boots broken in: - See above.

3. Camino haircut: - Done, just hoping it's a real wash and wear style. No hair dryer!

4. Spanish lessons: - Hablas muy despacio por favor.

5. Bulked up: - Done and done! Counting on my hiking pants being comfortable by the Pyrenees.

6. Packing: - Still vacillating: stylish new merino Icebreaker hoodie vs serviceable well- worn Joe Fresh hoodie and dorky vs grungy long sleeve shirt.

7. Meds: - Excited to have my pharmacist personally compound an anti-inflammatory cream for the inevitable tendinitis and shin splints.

8. Recipes: - As hospitaleros in Estella we'll be responsible for feeding up to 32 pilgrims each evening and probably the local priest. I struggle to feed 2 retirees each day at home. However, we only need recipes for one hearty meal as we get new pilgrims each day.

9. eBook: - Books downloaded and ready to read. If only my oh so patient librarian technician, Melinda, would accompany us to remind me how to access them. My technical memory is wiped clean every single evening.

10. Check or Carry-on: Almost done. Carry on has all the things we can't do without and can't replace easily, if at all. Now just have to resist any temptation to throw in last minute 'just in case' items.

There is still a sense of disbelief that we are about to travel for 24 hours, rest in Moissac for the night and then start walking - 500kms give or take.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Camino Haiku April 11, 2011

Why am I walking, Pilgrim's quest or wanderlust? Time alone will tell.

"This is going to be good"! - Monday, April 11, 2011

My intent throughout these Camino walks is to stay positive and not whine but sometimes that's pretty tough. Not meaning to brag but I think whining is one area in which I can really excel. My backpack is too heavy, my boots are soaked from the rain, mud is packed four inches thick on the soles of my boots, there hasn't been a cafe stop in hours, the guidebook is incorrect and what do you mean we have another 8 kms to go, I'm hot and out of drinking water, there's no hot water for a shower and there's nothing for a vegetarian to eat. The list can go on and on and on. But you have to dig deep to find that positive attitude that gets you through each day and also stops your walking partner from wanting to throttle you or worse desert you. When the going gets tough, the tough pull up their big girl underpants and get on with it. So I try to keep those negative and whining thoughts to myself and find a personal positive mantra to motivate me. I think this camino's mantra will be 'this is going to be good'. When I was teaching high school dance, I would have these wild choreographic ideas directing the dancers to run, spin, drop and roll, cross and leap and 'don't collide'! Expecting the worst, I would warn them that my idea could be more chaos theory than creative artistry. Then I took company class with David Earle, modern dancer and one of the founders of the Toronto Dance Theatre. David would outline his complicated choreographic patterns and then, instead of foreshadowing impending disaster, he would just rub his hands together and declare "this is going to be good"! That simple phrase and attitude really resonated with me. So now I'm going to channel that positive spirit for our upcoming Camino. Rather than worrying that we will be arriving in France on Easter Sunday and everything will assuredly be closed; that we will follow up over 24 hours of travelling with a 29km walk our first day, or that my new boots are still not broken in and my pack is still too heavy, I will just chant my little mantra, "this is going to be good, this is going to be good, this is going to be good".

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Advice Freely Offered - Monday, April 10, 2011

Walking the Camino doesn't make one an expert on walking or backpacking but that doesn't stop any of us Camino graduates from offering advice. Preparing for a camino you actively seek advice, walking you discover what works best for you and then afterwards there is a good Samaritan urge to share. That urge to share can be quite passionate and exuberant. Recently a couple of 'Camino wannabes' were treated full force to this passionate exuberance. Dayton has taken to joining a group of Camino veterans who meet informally every Friday at a coffee shop at a North London mall. On one recent Friday, a lady hesitantly approached the group to inquire if this was indeed the Camino group that someone had directed her to seek out for advice on her upcoming Camino. This simple request provoked a communal 'pounce'. Everyone encouraged her to sit down, join the group and she was soon innundated with well-meaning advice about sleeping bags and silk liners, Mefix versus duct tape, hiking poles and backpacks, guidebooks and maps,and on and on and on. I'm sure the information was overwhelming but one thing was for blatantly obvious; walking a Camino was a life reaffirming experience. In a typical 'six degrees of separation' scenario, it turns out that this lady and her husband were friends of my Spanish teacher and they knew another lady who was heading out on her first Camino. Dayton and I invited them all to our house for some 'one-on-one' advice. In anticipation of their arrival, we started to lay out all our maps, journals, guide and camino books, posters, hiking gear, books, DVD's and, of course, wine and tapas. By the time we got to the point of hanging our new Camino artwork (watercolours, lithographs and prints), it was disturbingly evident how ridiculously obsessive about the Camino we had become. Shamelessly we just embraced it. We had a wonderful evening sharing our stories and experiences while enjoying their eagerness and the excitement of their planning. And we definitely left them with our best planning tip - follow the tapas and red wine.

Le Chemin le Puy - Part II April 10, 2011

Last October 13th, when Dayton and I, after walking 17 days and about 420kms along the pilgrim route, Le Chemin le Puy, arrived at Ultreia, our gite in the city of Moissac, we were so ready and so thankful to be done walking. The Chemin le Puy is a spectacular walk but it is also spectacularly challenging. We may both have released a sigh of relief but it was not necessarily a sigh of accomplishment or, more specifically, of completion. I think there was definitely a mutual, if unspoken, consent that we still had unfinished business, and that before long we would return to finish the second half of this pilgrimage. Well that 'before long' is now less than two weeks away. We are returning to Moissac, France to continue and to complete our Le Chemin le Puy. As obsessively as we planned our first Camino journey, we have casually and somewhat haphazardly booked this one. The process this time seemed to be as mindless or instinctive as our first was mindful. Where before nothing was taken for granted or left to chance, this time the entire plan was basically left to chance. A couple of months ago, as we were heading into another weekend blizzard, our winter-wearied brains motivated us to plan our next trip. It says something about this past Canadian winter that walking 450kms over rugged terrain carrying a backpack started to seem like a good idea. After returning last fall, Dayton took the hospitalero training course and was looking forward to putting this training to use. We decided we would send off an application for the year 2011 and just see what would come of it. Dayton filled out the application form, I translated it into Spanish, my Spanish teacher edited it (and by editing I mean she re-translated the entire thing), and we emailed it off. I anticipated a rather lengthly impatient wait. Surprisingly, the next morning we received a placement at the parochial Alberque San Miguel in Estella from May 15-31. We decided to allot ourselves three weeks to complete our Chemin le Puy first. The next day we booked our flights and it was a done deal. With flights booked and our placement set, we really need to get obsessive with our research and planning, only this time it isn't about what to take (less!), it's about what to cook. The Alberque San Miquel accommodates about 32 pilgrims (16 sets of bunk beds) and offers a communal evening meal and breakfast. We need to perfect some 'one pot dinners' to make in the 'one butt kitchen'.