The End

On day five of the Camino I was very tired. One toe or another hurt, the bottom of my right foot killed me, sometimes my left or right knee was in pain. After three or four hours, despite being in beautiful country, I was tired and bored and dreading the next four hours so I started to sing. There was no one around and maybe I kept a boar or two away. I went through all of the songs I could think of from the rock and roll days: Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, etc. When I ran out of songs, I turned to Broadway plays. I’ve always loved a good musical and I’ve retained many songs in my memory bank. I sang from The Sound of Music-The hills are alive with the sound of music-then My Fair Lady-All I want is a room somewhere-Hello Dolly-Well, well, hello Dolly. It probably kept me going for a couple of hours. Then I played the music on my iPhone. The last hour it was just me though, trudging on, sometimes with Maurice to keep me going.

 

The last two days of our walk we were nearing Spain, Pays Basque country, where most of the buildings are white with the reddish trim like this one. I developed an infection in my big toe. I was told at one gite by the owner that I should have gotten shoes one size larger. I wish I known this before I started the walk but I did carry on through five days. I finally decided to skip the sixth day which was to be the longest and Maurice told me at the end of it that it was a good thing I didn’t go, that he had a hard time finishing it himself.  By the end of that day I also began a sort of flu-y illness with fever, chills and aching so I was glad not to be out trying to go up and down hills but still disappointed. The spirit was willing but the feet were weak. I hitched a ride with the very nice man who took the luggage to the next stop. I didn’t feel like eating dinner that night either and was disappointed when Maurice told me I missed the male owner singing. The men in Pays Basque are known for their singing. The next day one of the hikers told me he sang like a chicken so maybe I was lucky. The next day was our last one when we were both supposed to walk into the ancient city of St Jean Pied de Port, the last stop before entering into Spain. I was so disappointed that I would not be entering as millions of pilgrims had done for centuries but the nice driver was there again and besides going off on to little roads to see if we could see Maurice which we didn’t, we went through the main gate entering the city via a little road.

 Here it is. Not that beautiful but pickled in history as they say.

 The cobbled street heading down. You can see the hills in the background where the next walk will go though.

Another gate in the wall.

One of the ancient doors that lined the street as it went down a steep hill. We also passed the office where documents were stamped showing you had arrived. You could get them stamped at each gite. We never got one as we didn’t start in the city that had them.

Here is one of the documents getting stamped. Each place has its own personal stamp as you can see.

Many of the doors had carvings up above giving information about their history. I thought this was one of the better ones.

This looks staged but I saw the bag, shoes and walking stick just resting there after, I assume, a long walk. There were several places set up like dorms with group sleeping arrangements and inexpensive meals for students and the like. We stayed in a hotel the last night with a/c and no surprises. Anyway, I thought this photo just about said it all about ending the walk.

We took a taxi back to the city we started in and picked up our car feeling strange to be in traffic again like we had been in a different country. It was really an experience, maybe not spiritual for us, but a look at France from the angle of a walker among cows and sheep, forest, mountains, hills and fields and occasionally other hikers. I won’t be doing it again on another part of the Camino but Maurice is already planning to do so.

Amount traveled by foot:

Barcelonne du Gers to Miramont: 23 km

Miramont to Sensacq a Larreule: 23 km

Larreule to Maslacq: 26.5 km

Maslacq to Navarrenx: 22 km

Mavarrenc to Aroue: 18 km

Aroue to Ostabat: 25 km

Ostabat to Saint Jean Pied de Port 22.5,km

Which is almost 100 miles!

The Camino

The French call it le Chemin. We started seeing the same people as we hiked either from the gite the night before or at stops to sit or drink. There was a group of three ladies walking much faster than we did laughing and talking a mile a minute. One of them always wore shorts, even on the day we got heavy rain and wind. On our very first night at our gite we met a man we would see over and over, sometimes on the road or in our gite. We used a company to carry our bags to each gite. I knew I wouldn’t be one of those with a huge bag on my back. There were a few places to get fresh water but toilets were rare.  I am not a camper and don’t like the whole potty in the forest thing but had to a few times. Most of the meals we had each night were what Maurice called “gite food”, not the best but filling. There were always big tables for the hikers at dinner so we got to know each other.

There were symbols of the pilgrims everywhere. This was on the side of a church. The scallop shell represents Saint James as those that made it all the way to his burial site brought back a shell to prove they had made it.

There were churches everwhere and lots of little places set up for pilgrims too.

Lots of roses and crosses.

There were signs everywhere, especially in villages. Mostly we depended on the red and white ones for directions but still managed to lose our way a few times.

Spring flowers were everywhere, especially these white daisies.

The Way

So, here I am on the Camino de Santiago, two days out from where the trail ends before you enter Spain. It has been extremely hard. Walking six miles a day at home didn’t come close to preparing me for this. Maurice has finished a lot of marathons so, no matter what, he finishes. Me, not so much. On our first day it was in the 90’s and the heat was really getting to me. We got to the last village for the day but had to walk 3 kilometers more to get to our gite (which is a home or farm with rooms to rent). We turned at the sign which said it was 800 meters further on which seemed like miles. Then we got to the farm/gite and it was at the top of a high hill. I started crying, something I seldom do, and Maurice came and took my hand and somehow got me up that hill. The owner told me I should have called, she would have come and got me. They served a huge dinner later and sat at the table while we ate. I found out that all of the gite owners did this. I was so tired that I just wanted to eat and go to bed but  had to sit there politely. They served us a wonferful salad plate and then cassoulet, a heavy dish made with their own ducks. Then fresh strawberries. I was asleep by 9 PM.
This is how a lot of the Camino looked. By the way, we were in the southwest part of France the whole time. Many trails went through thick forests, through small villages here and there, sometimes we were beside a road with occasional traffic. We rarely were beside heavy traffic.

Since it was going to be in the 90’s again we started walking at 6:30 which is how I got this shot of a cow at dawn. There was a calf too but it doesn’t show here.

There were roses blooming in every village and in front of every house. I liked the rustic patina of this house and the climbing pink roses.

I liked the roof of this building made of chisled rocks.

You can see some of the rolling hills that we climbed or went down. Going downhill was the hardest for me. I should have gotten some of those walking poles so many of the hikers use but I didn’t just for one week being cheap.

Cute colt along the way. We didn’t see many horses, mostly cows.

Walking

Maurice and I try to walk just about every day. Here are some things I’ve seen since we got back to our beach place.

I love seeing red poppies in the Spring. I usee to see a lot more in Provence, fields of them, and maybe I will find a field full of poppies (coquelicot in French) here but, in the meantime, one or two brighten my day.

Friday is the big market day in our village. We bought some fish for lunch. I always like looking at all of the varieties and the lovely patterens you see.

Paella to go.

Roasted chicken for sale. I don’t buy it if it’s been sitting as it isn’t juicy enough for me.

 Maurice and I kept seeing hikers here and there in France doing the famous Camino de Santiago, also known as Saint James way. It is the name of pilgrimage routes to the shrine of James, the Apostle in northwestern Spain. Many follow the routes as a form of spiritual growth and the path goes through many towns with churches or cathedrals where pilgrims often spent the night. It is one of the most important Christian pilgrimages done and is now on the UNESCO list as a world heritage site. It is done by the religious or by those who love to hike or just for the challenge. All of this to inform you that Maurice and I are doing a small portion of it, the part seen on the map starting at Air-sur-l’Adour almost all the way to Spain at St-Jean-de-Port. If you have seen the movie, The Way, this is where the journey starts by a father whose son died on The Way.  It’s a pretty good movie and gives you an idea of what it is like. So, we are using a company that will take our suitcase to each stop so we don’t have to carry everything in a backpack. Some of the days will be really long and I hope we are in good enough shape to do it. I guess, if we are near a road or highway we can call for a taxi. We will see. I’m hoping our daily walks will make it easier. I will write about it of course when we return. You can follow me on Instagram at Linda Pennington-Mathieu or on Facebook at Linda Mathieu where it will be mostly in real time.