Saturday, May 31, 2008

Crossing the Pyrenees -Wow

I have just had two magical days. Left SJPP yesterday morning for the uphill climb to Orisson, the first stage of crossing the Pyrenees. After days of rainy walking, this day dawned sunny. The climb passed through beautiful mountain countryside, reminding me very much of home. The first grunt out of SJPP was very steep, but then it became less steep until a sign saying there was 4km to Orisson, when the gradient increased. I was pleased to find that after weeks of walking I was able to take it in my stride, just kept going at my rhythm, and before morning tea time I had arrived at Orisson. That was after stopping to enjoy the view of eagles swooping about in the sky, alongside a young Spaniard. How absolutely magnificent. I tried not to feel guilty as others kept going past Orisson the whole way over the mountains. A lemonade on the terrace enjoying the view in the sunshine certainly helped with getting over the guilt feelings!

In the evening after dinner the most amazing rainbow I have ever seen crossed the sky over the mountains, with a faint double also visible. There was a Canadian father and his daughter nearby enjoying their first evening on the Camino: what a special moment to share. Lyne and I sang a little towards the mountains.

Today for the main part of the climb and the Pyrenees crossing, the weather could not have been more ideal. It was sunny but not too hot. And the views were just spectacular. We were all just so lucky to walk in such conditions. It clouded over a little as we reached the highest point, about 1400m, but stayed calm and warm enough. Then as I descended the Abbey appeared in the valley below, below a hillside covered in trees.

Tonight I am staying in the big dormitory here at the Abbey, that can take 120! So I am not sure how much sleep will be had, but I have seen a photo of inside the building itself and it is magnificent, with stone walls and a high rounded ceiling. Have booked for the pilgrim´s meal at 7pm and there is a Mass and pilgrim´s blessing at 8pm. So I am in Spain... a new part of the adventure begins.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

St Jean Pied de Port

It has been lovely the last few days getting closer to the Pyrenees, getting occasional glimpses of them. I really enjoyed an evening at Aroue in the gite communal with about ten others. It was raining most of the afternoon and we all stayed inside. I got some laundry done and dried in ther dryer so that was good! But in the evening it cleared, and some of us walked to the church, which had some interesting modern stained glass as well as a twelfth century portal over a door. Then in the porch I sat and watched as the mountains emerged from the clouds, and the last sun of the day moved along them. I found that quite magical, and hauled all the others outside into the cold to look!

Next day there was quite a bit of rain again, but amazingly it cleared very quickly to give an afternoon of brilliant blue skies with white wispy clouds. At the gite there was a big terrace and lots of outdoor seating, so everyone was outside sitting in the sunshine enjoying the views. It was also the first day to meet some of those who have walked two other paths through France. In my room were three other ladies, one of whom had started in Bretagne, and the other two had taken the Vezelay route. They met in Bordeaux and became a threesome. The woman from Bretagne was an inspiration as she has very sore feet now but shows untold determination. One of the other women has very limited sight and is being unobtrusively supported by her friend.

Yesterday I walked from Ostabat to St Jean Pied de Port. There has been quite a bit of rain lately so the beginning of the track was quite muddy. I was tempted to change onto the road which was more direct and shorter, but am pleased I resisted that thought. The Chemin took a tranqil path through the countryside, passing through a few villages. It was a time to be thankful for all the places I have had the opportunity to walk over the last six weeks on the Chemin.

When I arrived at the Porte de St Jacques, it was a proud moment for me. I am not sure exactly how far I have walked, as figures vary, but somewhere around 750km. I got someone to take a photo of me at the gate. They were glad to oblige, then wished me "Happy Holidays". If they only knew how hard it was some days!!!!!!!

I am staying in Esprit du Chemin for two nights and it is lovely there. Last night there was a mixture of people who have been walking for a while, and others who are just beginning or re-starting. A lovely German woman was in my room and she is climbing for Orisson, part way up the mountain, now. She asked me to ring and reconfirm her reservation as my French was so good. It has been funny lately as a few people have used me for translation! After six weeks talking to many French people in the gites, my French has improved.

Anyhow, the sun is shining and I am going to go walkabout in SJPP. Next time you hear from me I will hopefully be in Spain!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Getting close to Spain!

I feel like I am getting near to a big plughole that is about to scoop me up and deposit me in Spain! But it won't actually be like that: I have a big mountain pass ahead of me to climb. Today we saw the line of the Pyrenees for a while from Arthez. Had lunch on some seats near the church overlooking the magnificent and somewhat scary view of how steeply they arose from lower down. Fortunately I have managed to reserve at Orisson, part way up the climb, so that should make life a little easier. I am also having a rest day in St Jean Pied de Port which I need; so that is great. I am at Esprit du Chemin there: they keep a proportion of their beds each day for people walking through from Ostabat so I qualify for that.

This week getting accommodation was very hard as several big groups seemed to be around at the same time. I got the last bed in Arzacq: it was a single room, not very expensive, but with my very own shower, toilet and basin - what luxury! Last night I was in the gite in the village of Uzan, in a house opposite a farm that ran it. Unlike NZ, the farms had their houses clustered in this village - there were cows in a barn right next to the kitchen- but then the various fields are scattered about. They had 32 cows, half of which were milked, and the other half were young ones. The husband is busy ploughing and planting at present, something we have seen a lot of in this area.

I had to carry my food to Uzan, as there are no shops there. I was still hungry. Then today my pack felt like it weighed a ton. I discovered tonight that I had more food that had slipped to the bottom that I had forgotten I had!

Weather has been pretty good for walking lately, neither too hot nor cold, nor wet. But it did rain all morning today; though it was warm enough. Then it cleared at lunchtime for a sunshine view of the Pyrenees. I wonder what the weather will be like for the climb!

Tonight I am in a very rural gite again at Cambarrat, and it is just lovely here. My Quebecois friends, Lyne and Denis, are also here, and we are climbing the mountain the same day and staying at Orisson together. I have booked for my next few days - Navarrenx, Oroue, Ostabat then two days in SJPP before the climb.
Dinnertime -catch you again!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In Aire sur l'Adour

Well, I am a slow poke compared to many others, but I am gradually getting closer to Spain! Today marks five weeks since I left Le Puy.

From Eauze I moved to Nogoro; which has easily been the least inspiring town I have stayed in. No real heart to it, after staying in so many towns that still have their medieval squares at their heart. Plus I stayed at an odd gite, that was in a beautiful house, but the service didn't "feel right". Only an English couple and me there and they agreed. Could be a great gite run by someone else. (First two from England I have met- and I can add them to my English speakers score to make eight in five weeks!)

Last night I stayed in the countryside at gite duBarry. They are building a new gite, and meanwhile we found ourselves in a house. It was very relaxing there and we all felt very much 'at home.' I was with some new people, and three I have walked with often now, including Lyne and Denis from Quebec. We had a lovely meal with lots of scrummy veges.

Today I have arrived in Aire sur l'Adour after quite a short walk. There are a lot of pilgrims on the road in this area now, including lots of groups. I am staying in a lovely new gite set up by two former pilgrims, but Lyne and Denis found it hard to get a place; and the lady in the Tourist Office stayed for 20 minutes of her lunch hour ringing around to find them a place. My next job is to go and use the telephone cabine to try and make some more reservations, but I keep getting answerphones, which is tricky as they can't ring me back. (In another life I would definitely buy a portable phone in Paris to do this trek!)

There is a welcoming place set up for pilgrims in the Cathedral here so am about to go along there too; plus they have a blessing of pilgrims at 6pm. As we walked this morning we passed a little place that someone had set up for us to rest at. These efforts are always appreciated as you walk.

I am very well, though the mossies that are thriving in the muddy places under the trees seem to find me far too quickly! I hope to be in Spain by May 30th, but not sure what impact tight accommodation will have. Until next time!

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Well, well, well, ain't I doing well with the internet lately! There was quite a thunderstorm yesterday evening, followed by rain all this morning. But it was quite light rain, and it wasn't cold, and I quite enjoyed it! I stayed in the Relais St Jacques last night - in Montreal-du-Gers - with several others I have come to know quite well lately. My French has stopped improving as there are two Quebecois who have been practising their English with me, and who I look to for a translation when I don't understand. There was just one hard working lady doing most of the work where we stayed... as well as demi-pension for all of us, she serves a midday meal in the restaurant, so she doesn't get much of a break.

This morning we walked through lovely vineyards early on, getting greener quite quickly. A trifle muddy in places, but I have walked in worse! Then we got onto an old railway route where they have lifted the rails, so it was less muddy. I loved the peacefulness there under the trees, listening to the raindrops fall. (Would have been lovely shade on a hot afternoon!)

Had lunch under a kind of medieval arcade I have seen in a few places now. There was also a large school group sheltering, about 11- 12 years old. I relished the fact I never had to teach them!

Have had a slight recurrence of the ankle problem I had at home, but know how to stretch so need to do it. Also got a homeopathic product from the pharmacy. Was worried about how to explain what I wanted, but one of my French speaking buddies did the job for me!

It is supposed to be really wet here this weekend, then warm up to be quite hot. Oh joy! Who knows what will happen...
Time to go exploring again!

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Bizzare as it may appear to all you English speakers out there, I have now reached a place called Condom - and it raises no smirks here as the French have an entirely different word for the same product! There is a magnificent Cathedral just up the hill a bit, but for the time being I am ensconced in an internet cafe, out of the rain which is lightly falling. There has been hardly any rain recently, so it makes a change, and I am sure will be very much welcomed by all the local farmers who have seedlings of melons all planted.

I am well into the south of France now, and ever since Moissac have been seeing lots of cultivation. There are huge fields of wheat with their ears developing well, and fields of all kinds of vegetables; as well as orchards and a few vineyards. It has been warm some days, but not too bad.

I have had quite a few short (16-20 km) days lately. Where the choice is between a long haul of 30+km, or two shorter sections, I opt for the shorter sections - so I guess my progress has slowed a little. But many of the places I have stayed have been towns/ villages with signs of their medieval past still evident, including of course their hill-top positions, which require a climb! Last night I stayed in La Romieu, where there is a huge old Collegiale Church that was tied up with a Cardinal and lots of intrigue many centuries ago. The gite was in an old convent, and the dormitory was superb, high ceilings, lots of big windows and hence light, and beautiful gardens with roses - which were quite a feature of the whole town.

The night before I was in Lectoure, right across the street from a thermal complex where they had massaging spa pools - trouble was of course I had no swimsuit! The woman running that gite has walked the Camino herself, and reminded me a lot of Diane S from NP for those who know her. The night before I was in Miradoux, in the home of an elderly woman called Therese who has cared for pilgrims very generously for a long time now.

OK time to get out of here and go exploring! It is always easy to walk in sandles, without the big pack on!

Friday, May 09, 2008


Today I am having a "rest day" here in Moissac, where there is an old abbey building and cloister. I went to Lauds this morning and heard the nuns sing the office - quite a heavenly sound. I have just explored the cloister which has all sorts of sculpture. (Pilgrim price here too - cheaper- but all those kilometres of walking is a hard way to earn it!)
Yesterday was quite hilly to start with, and leaving Lauzerte was leaving the Lot catchment behind. Here in Moissac I will pass the confluence of the Garonne and the Tarn when I depart in the morning. Moissac is very much "on the flat" which is not something I have become used to. Tomorrow the path leaves by the Canal du Midi so it will be a "flat day" for a change.
I am staying two nights in a gite run by a lovely Irish couple, which is great as I can speak English for a change. They have a baby and yesterday evening I told the baby all about New Zealand while the parents cooked dinner. They had two Kiwis stay here just a few days ago, so the baby will be well educated about New Zealand!
Ok time to explore a little more. Happy Birthday Maureen if you don't get my postcard on time - I am going to post it soon! This afternoon I am looking forward to indulging my feet in the "foot spa" that they have at the gite!

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Today I had a shorter walk to Lauzerte, a village that has an abundance of medieval buildings. I had grown a bit used to the flatter tracks of the past few days and wasn't quite prepared for a few climbs, even though they were much easier ones that I met earlier on the Chemin! (I know enough French: I should have known that 'Mont' in the name of a village meant a climb!)
Mud was there in a few places today, but it was not as pervasive or as clinging as yesterday's. There was quite a lot of bush shelter on the path, but when the sun came out I could tell from its heat that I have arrived more in the south of France.
A lot of wheat is grown in this area and it looked wonderful as the wind blew through it. With ploughing done on some fields, and wheat and other crops in other fields, it was a fascinating patchwork.
I arrived near 1pm without having eaten as the track was a bit muddy, then I saw the village of Lauzerte loom high on a hill above me. My heart sank a little. But then I discovered a restaurant right near the corner, and had the pelerin's menu. The climb up the gite then became quite simple!
The gite is one some others recommended to me, Les Figuiers, and the welcome was very warm. As there are a lot of people on the road who started May 1, the place is full, and as a woman on her own I have been privileged to be given a bed in the house itslef with my own toilet. It is not the first time I have been spoiled like this either! I can't speak highly enough of the welcome in so many gites.
Lauzerte village has many restored medieval buildings, and was well worth some time exploring; and the lemonade in the cafe in the Square was pretty good too! The view from the top over the countryside was amazing.Tomorrow I go to Moissac where I am staying two nights in a gite run by an Irish couple. Longer walk again tomorrow to get there.
Catch you again soon I hope!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

In Montcuq

Time seems to be passing quickly, and I am heading south. Stayed a night in Vaylats in a convent; and there was an elderly Swiss couple there who are walking the Camino to celebrate their 52nd year of marriage! And they are here again in this gite tonight. Quite something. He carries most of the gear and she carries a smaller amount.

Next day was a longish walk to Cahors where the whole dream of doing this started really. It was a very hot afternoon and I ran out of water. In the amazing fashion of this Camino, someone ran after me to give me some fresh cool water that a local had given them. The kindness was even more restorative than the water.

Next day I only walked 5.5 km as the further gite was full; but Domaine de Mathieux was a superb place to stay, surrounded by trees. And it was raining anyhow so I was quite glad to be out of it! Today has been overcast etc but perfect conditions for walking; except for the think mud this afternoon!

On Thursday I reach Moissac and stay there two nights in a gite run by an Irish couple. He was able to spell my surname!
OK gotta go. Am well and meeting lots of friendly people and staying in many very welcoming gites.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Limogne en-Quercy

Well, I am getting in the groove here now, and can hardly believe I have been walking nearly three weeks! Someone told me that the walking got easier after Conques...... and they were right except for one thing...... it is the day after the day after Conques when it gets easier! Out of Conques is a big ascent that follows the rule of the Chemin from Le Puy: for every descent there is an equal and opposite ascent. I have had this rule in my mind for some time now, but almost cracked up laughing when a French person started saying much the same thing in the gite last night.

From Conques I had two long days of about 25km to reach Figeac. First of these days I enjoyed the climb out of Conques, and the view back over it, then it began to rain incessantly. Not so much fun, (especially as I had a little stomach problem and couldn't clean up. Enough said!) But the welcome at the gite in Livinhac en Haut was superb, and the lady there helped eveyone get their stuff dry and clean as needed after the rain. And the local parish had a welcome for pilgrims with drinks and nibbles that was very warm and friendly. And the camping place came and picked us up in a car to take us to dinner to avoid the rain. Such kindness, and I would have to say I have experienced a lot of it in the gites. Staying in them has been a wonderful experience in itself.

Next was Figeac, a lovely old city to wander around. En route this day I met some lovely people; and many of them I shared the evening with in the gite, but others have gone on ahead more quickly. You seem to build quick friendships with other walkers, and I sometimes feel sad when I know some are walking faster and I won't see them again.

From Figeac it was some 30km to Cajarc which I felt was too much for me, so I broke the journey at a camping ground where I had a chalet to myself, and a very comfortable bed to sit on and view the spring showers with my feet up. What luxury! Then I hit Cajarc yesterday after a day of peaceful walking in easy terrain with lots of trees and good weather. The gite Le Pelerin was very well run and friendly. Today was another lovely peaceful, warm day of walking and I am now in Limogne en-Quercy. So you Kiwis will all have to search for a good map!!!

My French is going ahead by leaps and bounds as I get to talk to so many other walkers in the gites.
OK until next time! I should hit Cahors on Sunday, three weeks after leaving Le Puy. It was Cahors where I met so many walkers two years ago that I got this idea!!!