Part Deux 1.1 Le Puy to Cahors

“Like the dust that settles all around me, I must find a new home, the ways and holes that used to give me shelter are all as one to me now”

Hello to all: more apologies, I’m seriously in arrears in posting entries to this blog, and I’ll try to get caught up.  Today was a red letter day; I effectively completed the Via Podiensis which is roughly 750Kms from Le Puy (466 miles). I walked, with blistered feet, into The Porte St. Jacques in St. Jean Pied de Port, the last village before the Spanish border. 

I’ve now walked roughly 1,100Kms (683.5 miles) across France from Geneva. This does not include the number of times I missed the turn, got lost or generally screwed up on the route. Someone said that getting lost is the best way to end up in a place you’ve never been: I can confirm this to be a totally accurate statement. 

Anyway, I’ll now try to get back on track, hunting and pecking on my iPhone key pad. If the grammer gets really bad, I’ll have to blame it on all my Camino buddies and our celebration of the end of the Via Podiensis, and the Armangnac.  

Anyway, back to the walk: after my incredibly social day walking into Conques, I had a rather lonely day walking to Livinhac Le Haut. As beautiful as Conques was, the walk to Livinhac was long, boring and quite uninspiring on a hot, hot day. I took the variant route to avoid the town of Decazeville and I did not see any other pilgrim all day.  At one point I got exasperated with the route and flagged down a motorist to get directions. Unlike in Paris, the folks here try to be so helpful that the motorist gave me specific directions for the next 15 kilometers. This would have been very useful, but unfortunately, it was all in French and I lost him on the second ‘droite’. 

Anyway, I finally crossed the river Lot in the late afternoon and stumbled into the campsite in search of loggings for the night. I got the last chalet/ mini mobile home. Being the last, you can imagine how horrid, dirty and grimy this place was, I was just too tired to care. I do remember the nasty, drunk little campsite manager with bad teeth who was terribly abusive towards his wife: I should have punched him on the nose. 

Not wanting to eat anything that came out of this dirty, snack bar campsite kitchen, I made my way into town where I dined at the only restaurant that was open. I saw a fellow pilgrim, Guy, from Québec, and asked him to join me for dinner.

Couldn’t get out of Livinhac fast enough; left early and marched to Figeac in the cool of the morning reaching it by lunchtime. Figeac is a lovely old town with a rather unique cathedral. Saw several pilgrim friends from the past few days and treated myself to an excellent bottle of AOC Cahors Malbec. I’ve found excellent wines, usually for under €10.00,  to be a very good value when compared to California wine prices. 

The next day it was on to Cajarc. By this time I felt pretty confident about my route finding abilities, which meant I was overdue for the mother of all blunders. At the morning beer break, I met an older Dutch couple, Sophie and Bert, who were doing a bike tour. They had cycled all over the world and had some terrific stories to tell. Anyway, on hearing my South African connection they told me of a South African couple, Gavin and Lillian, who were running a superior B&B in Cajarc and recommended that I call them to arrange for accommodations for that evening. I called, but alas, the inn was booked: Lillian offered to find me a place for the night and invited me for a BBQ. Fantastic, I was sorted out for the evening plus I was going to get a good old South African BBQ, a very welcome change from French cuisine. 

Sophie & Bert at the morning beer break. 

I confidently strode out with good pace anticipating an arrival in Cajarc a little after 2:00pm. What I wasn’t aware of was that there were two variant routes which did not go through Cajarc. The Cele variant used the same white and red trail indicators as the standard route. I was flying through lush forests looking forward to a pleasant evening. I walked into Boussac and did a map check thinking that I had about an hour to go to Cajarc. Nope, couldn’t find Boussac anywhere on my map. Some other pilgrims walked by and I asked them if they knew where we were. It turned out that I was miles off the planned route and going through the Cele Valley. Oh no! Getting back on track to Cajarc was a major challenge as I had to follow regular roads for about 10 miles to get back to the planned route. What a blunder!  Anyway I arrived at the hotel in Cajarc after 7:00pm quickly showered and made the BBQ by 8:00pm. All I can say is that meeting Gavin and Lillian and having that BBQ was well worth the slog to rectify my route. I’m now a little more conscious of the variant routes. 

The white and red route marker in the Cele Valley. 

The next day was another long solo trek to Varaire. Got a room at a better-than-average B&B run by a Dutch couple. While en route came across a colorful kiosk set upon the meadow by some enterprising former hippies to sell drinks at fairly inflated prices. Who cares about the price, I’ll have two Panaches as I’m hot and dying of thirst. 

The rest of the day were the usual pretty sights meadows, forests etc. 

Now it was on to Cahors, roughly the mid point of the 750 Kms of the Via Podiensis. The walk to Cahors was long and not terribly spectacular. Whoever planned the GR65 (the Chemin de St Jacque de Compostella) must have been a masochist: towards the end of the day one expects to see the destination in the distance, however, this seldom happens, and then one thinks that one still has a way to go; then suddenly one comes over a hillock and ‘boom’ the town is right in front of you.

Rain and drizzle had been threatening all day but nothing to worry about. However, just before crossing the bridge into Cahors, the heavens opened up and it rained cats and dogs for about an hour. I had no time to get my poncho on, so I got thoroughly drenched. I was very happy to get to my hotel to dry out. 

The river Lot with its bridge the next day without the rain. 

(At the time of writing this last piece I’m actually in Pamplona, Spain, sitting in the Cafe Irunya which was made famous by Hemingway.)

Part Deux 1.0 Le Puy to Cahors

It’s been a long time since I’ve rock and rolled, it’s been a long time since I did that stroll”

Hello to all. Huge apologies to all for getting so behind on this blog. I’m now in Condom, yes it’s an actual French town not a latex body suit. Yesterday I took a break in the forest to have a little picnic and I snapped this selfie. 

The fortunate thing is that Apple has not yet developed the scratch and sniff app. 

A number of folks have commented on my photographs: all I can say is that the iPhone 7plus camera is good, actually great, but it still fails to capture the true beauty of France. You’ll just have to visit for yourselves and I hope some of you might walk a stretch or two. 

Since Le Puy, I’ve walked alone for most of the time. Being one of the faster walkers, I find getting a later start (nineish) works well as I catch up to other pilgrims and have a chat for a while before moving on. 

On the morning that I left Le Puy I went to the pilgrim mass at the cathedral. The mass was performed by the bishop. About 80 pilgrims attended, so it was good to get a sampling of who was on the way. I’d estimate 70% were in the 65 plus age group. I had heard that about 175 pilgrims per day were leaving Le Puy, however, one does not get the impression that so many people are on the road. Many folks walk the Camino in stages over many years. 

After walking for a while, one gets to meet groups of pilgrims over multiple days, so although walking alone, one never feels alone. Many of these pilgrims are very interesting people with great stories that are shared over lunches and dinners together. 

Leaving Le Puy I passed many pilgrims. At the lunch break I met an older, very distinguished looking fellow whom I had noticed at mass. We chatted briefly. Later that day, I caught up with him again at St. Privât-d’Allier. The conversation at the second meeting is always more in depth and people share more. This fellow was an 81 year old Parisienne and a former merchant seaman, he looked like a capitan. This fellow was an incredibly quick walker given any age. We had a good talk and he offered to pay for my beer: still having a way to go that day, I paid for his coffee and headed to  Monistrol d’Allier. 

Several people had warned of the descent into Monistol being long, steep and somewhat dangerous. It was, particularly as exhaustion sets in at the end of a long, long day. 

That evening I had a hot dinner date. She ordered the salmon tartar, but the restaurant refused to serve her as they said she was getting fat. Anyway, she quietly sat opposite me while I ate my salad. What a cool kat. 

The next day it was another long hike to Le Villeret. During the lunch break in Saugues I chatted with a boisterous group of Belgium hikers. Later that day we all ended up in the same Gite and had a wonderful evening with much wine being consumed. Henri, a lovely man and former aerospace engineer, lives near Spa, my favorite F1 racetrack. He invited me to come and stay when I come to Spa to watch the race. 

Maik, the Swiss marathon running student, was a day ahead of me and sent me a text recommending this particular Gite. I booked it, not understand that I’d be sleeping in a wooden box in the garden. The box was made to look like a carriage. 

The next morning the temperature had dropped to 3 degrees centigrade. Needless to say I froze my arse off as my sleeping bag was not rated down to this temperature. 

However, that morning, although cold, was sunny: I could see my shadow for once. No rain for several more hours although it did rain a little later that day. 

Maik, that 23 year old marathon running scoundrel sent me a text saying that he had reached Aumont-Aubrac, an easy 40 plus kilometer walk from Villeret. No Problemo! If Maik could do it, so could a dyslexic 26 year old. I got to Aumont that evening half dead. It was long, it was up and down and difficult, but the old dog crawled into town: made it, still got what it takes!

Saw some pretty sights that day:

Two of three mares with their foals:

And Floria, who set up a little refreshment stand 5kms outside Aumont to rehydrate weary pilgrims, like myself, for a couple of Euros. 

And finally, only 1,475 kms to Compostella! Making progress. 

That evening I stayed at a Gite called Ferme de Barry. This was my first experience of staying in a dormitory with people I had not previously met. Five of us were in this dorm which had the tiniest of bathrooms. That night the one follow snored so loudly, that even with earplugs I could feel the vibrations of his snores come through my pillow. It was like listening to a powered subwoofer. Needless to say, I did not sleep a wink that night. To add insult to injury, because of the angle of the beds, a woman accused me of making that ungodly racket all night long. I was pissed! That was my last dormitory experience with strangers. 

Veronique and Stefan were also in the dormitory that night and that tortured evening bonded us and we saw each other on the walk many times over the next several days. 

The next day was a shorter hike to Nasbinals across a high, open plateau. Not the kind a countryside which captivates me. 

I ended up walking with a Swiss girl, Suzanne, from close to Lucerne. Walking with Suzanne is a bit of an overstatement: this girl could walk! It was a struggle keeping up with her pace, but it made the boring countryside pass by quickly. 

Along the way we met Peter the Piper. Peter is a psychotherapist from Philly who plays the recorder as goes along. He was quite well known by the passing band of pilgrims. Had a drink with Peter in Nasbinals: a very interesting fellow. 

I got into Nasbinal, no Gite for me, I checked into a two star French hotel so that I could get a good night’s sleep. 

I also found out that I had caught up to Maik and Pixie and a German couple, Tobi and Sarah. They were staying at a Gite and invited me to dinner. I gladly accepted and said that I would provide the wine. The dinner was lovely and I also met several other pilgrims. 

One pilgrim in particular stands out: Jean Claude, from Mont St. Michel, had an incredibly tragic story of the loss of many members of his family. As he told us his story, he teared-up and all the girls were in tears. Jean Claude walks about 4000 kms a year trying to come to terms with his loss. 

During dinner we were also joined by a reporter, Carole, from a Swiss TV station, which was going to do an 8 minute feature on Pixie and Maik and their perspective on the Camino. 

The next day I walked with the group while Carole was filming Maik and Pixie. 

Tobi and Sarah got engaged and planned to walk from Stuttgart to Compostella. If every there was a test for compatibility, this would be it. Both are planning to be teachers. Tobi, a chemistry major, and I had some good conversations about science. Based on this couple, I have to retract my earlier statements about how focused and closed the German pilgrims are. This couple was totally delightful and open. 

We walked through Aubrac, a stunningly beautiful place turned into a tourist trap. 

And St. Chely d’Aubrac, which is even more stunning but not touristy. 

That evening, we were all booked into a Gite in Lestrade. To my horror, the snorer from Aumont was also at this Gite. As the rooms were assigned, I conveyed to the lady that there was no way in hell that I would share a room with this subwoofer-snorer again. Thankfully, she assigned Maik and me to our own room.  I tipped her accordingly. 

Leaving the next morning, a heavy fog had set in. 

The route to Espalion was very pretty

Espalion is on the River Lot and is a beautiful place. I hadn’t booked a place for the night, however, I saw Judy from Houston, whom I had met a few day earlier. Judy told me that she had just cancelled her Hotel in favor of a Bed&Breakfast and that the proprietor was coming to pick her up shortly. When the lady arrived, I asked if she had room at the inn for an additional pilgrim. Oui! I got my pack, jumped in the car and she took Judy and me up to her B&B high up above the town. I lucked out and got a really nice suite to myself: luxury for 65 Euro including breakfast. 

After a luxurious sleep and an excellent breakfast I left the B&B, headed down into town did a little shopping (bread, cheese, salami and a bar of dark chocolate) and looked to pick up the white and red signs which are the route markers for the GR65. Many times getting out of town is quite stressful due to the uncertainty of finding the right route. I ran into Judy from Houston and together we figured out the route to Golinhac via Estaing and crossed the bridge. 

Got to Estaing in time for an early lunch; being a long weekend, the place was pretty crowded as it is a truly spectacular village. 

Wasted about an hour trying to find the route onward from Estaing. Had to retrace my steps back to the last route marker I had remembered seeing: the route to Golinhac was counter intuitive. 

Anyway, by now it was 2:00pm the weather was hot and the route to Golinhac was long with lots of elevation changes. This was a tough day, the climb up to Golinhac was taxing, arriving after 6:00pm, I crawled into the campsite and got a room in a mobile home. 

Dinner however was fun as I caught up with Veronique, a retired headmistress and her brother Stefan, a banker. Other pilgrims who I knew were also there and we all commiserated as to what a horrid, hot trek that day was. 

The next morning it was on to Conques with great anticipation. Everyone was saying how great a village Conques was and that getting accommodation would be tough. I jumped into and was lucky to get a studio apartment for the night. On the way down from Golinhac I passed a German couple, Werner and Brigitte Schad, who are dairy farmers in the Stuttgart area. They were absolutely delightful, open and sharing people. Werner told me all about his farm and his plans. As good natured as they were, Werner and Brigitte were dealing with the tragic loss of their only child, Daniel and Daniel’s best friend Emmanuel, in a car crash about a year ago.  The two boys were doing apprenticeships at the Stihl plant and were progressing very well and the parents were incredibly proud of their boys. The cause of the car accident is still poorly understood, which leaves the parents still searching for answers. I ran into Werner and Brigitte for many days after that and we had a wonderful Camino friendship. I hope we will stay in touch. 

Further along I met John and Andrea Corfe who are from Cape Town, South Africa. We had a wonderful walk and talk and didn’t notice the kilometers speeding by as we got caught up on all things Cape Town. Furthermore, John runs the Porsche dealership and is into adventure bikes, so we had lots to talk about. This is the one day that I wished the walk was longer. We got into Conques and continued to chat for a while in a cafe. Again, I hope we will stay in touch. They are a terrific couple. 

Both couples were staying at the St. Foy Abbey and were there for dinner. 

I went off to find my studio apartment which was quite a challenge through the ancient streets of Conques. It turned out that I was the first ever guest at this apartment, which was very tastefully appointed, Reva would have loved it. 

That evening I had dinner with an Australian couple, Toby a doctor and his wife Lizzie a nurse. They were interesting and adventurous and had traveled the world. Go to interesting places one meets interesting people. 

Conques is fantastic: check it out. 

Le Puy-en-Velay

“I’m just beginning to see now that I’m on my way, it doesn’t matter to me chasing the clouds away.”

Made it! The Via Gebennensis is done. If I go home now, at least I’ll have a modicum of success.  Checked into a rickety hotel, but I got a room with a view over the roofs of Le Puy, simple but perfect. 

That evening I met up with Maik to celebrate our arrival. We went to a nice looking restaurant and, since we had no reservation, they asked if we would share a table. Sure, why not. We had an excellent meal, an excellent bottle of local wine and excellent rapport with the older couple we were sharing the table with. So much so that they invited us to stay at their holiday house outside of Moissac when we get there. The common thread was rugby, Jacque was a prop and played in a league that traveled on occasion, one time to the US where he played a club in LA. 

We had heard that the city had put on a son et lumière show at five locations around town. So we went to the cathedral. The light show and music were incredibly well done and very moving. These picture cannot capture the beauty, but you might get a little taste of it. 

The next day I slept late, worked on this blog and wandered around town looking at the various sights. I had never heard much about Le Puy, I don’t know why, but this place is a must-see destination. Le Puy is a UNESCO world heritage site: go check it out. 
That evening several pilgrims whom we had met along the way arrived in town, including Pixie, the Arquette sisters, Rosanna and Patricia, and several others. Each time you meet up with pilgrims who you’ve seen several times along the way it’s a joyous event which usually ends in a meal together. So it did this time. 

Everyone brought their best stories to the table. Rosanna had a story about a couple, whom we all knew but who shall remain nameless, who had ‘relations’ in a Gite a couple of nights earlier. Rosanna being in the room right next door with paper thin walls, gave a detailed reenactment of all the noises and headboard thumping worthy of the scene in When Harry Met Sally. I think half the restaurant ordered what Rosanna was having. It was hilarious. 

Rosanna is in the reddish sweater. 

The next day I took a second rest day, but I must say, I was feeling a little antsy and wished I was on the road again.  I climbed up to St. Michel d’Aiguilhe.

It was built in 969: quite an impressive piece of engineering for that time. Below are a couple of pictures of when it was lit up under the son et lumière. Too beautiful for words. 

Araules to Le Puy-en-Velay

“But it’s been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise, I consider it a challenge before the whole human race, and I ain’t gonna lose.”

This was the day to walk into Le Puy. This was the last day of the Via Gebennensis, the 350 Km from Geneva: this was the first critical milestone. 

Maik and I decided to double stint the day and go all the way to Le Puy. Pixie and Madeau decided to only go as far as St. Julien-Chapteuil and cover the stretch in the more normal two days. 

We all left Araules at the same time. Maik, who runs marathons, took off like a scalded cat and we soon lost sight of him. Madeau also pressed on. As it was likely to be the last day that I’d see Pixie, I walked with her while she was having problems with her boots. 

I can’t thank Pixie enough for all the help she gave me along the way. She planned the days’ walk, called ahead and reserved accommodations. Effectively, she was the leader of a loose pack of pilgrims: we called her our Hospitality Manager. She was also constantly translating conversations from French so that I would be included. Not speaking much French is a bit of a challenge in these parts because so few French people speak a second language; even the Germans were having problems. So Pixie, thank you so very, very much for helping me and showing me the ropes on the Camino. 

The walk to St Julien was really pretty. The Haut Loire region has a number of dormant Vulcanos. 

Once we reached St. Julien we climbed up to the impressive cathedral on a top of hill. Pixie and Madeau, whom we had caught up with, wanted to picnic up by the cathedral: I on the other hand, had spotted a brasserie and planned to go there for lunch. So we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. 

The only lunch available was the ‘plat de jour’. It was a three course lunch; a salad, a tasty meat dish (I have no idea if it was beef, pork or some other animal, however it had a lot of bones and it wasn’t chicken. The French will eat every part of a carcass and slap a good sauce on it and voila, lunch is served) and a cheese plate. 

The walk to Le Puy took much longer than I had anticipated, however, I made a few friends along the way by offering handfuls of grass from my side of the fence. 

The scenery was lovely, which is standard for France, and Le Puy was finally in sight; crossed the Loire and climbed up to the absolutely magnificent cathedral were Maik met me with a warm beer (it had been cold, but the walk in took quite a while).

Montfaucon to Araules

“Six saintly shrouded men move across the lawn slowly, the seventh walks in front with a cross held in high hand.”

I left the Montfaucon gite with the goal of getting to Araules quickly. I caught up to Maik shortly outside the village. This was the penultimate day before Le Puy. Like racehorses once they’ve rounded the curve, we figuratively had the bit between our teeth. Pixie had booked us into a private residence in Araules that catered to pilgrims for a donation. 

Maik and I were fast, per my ‘Map My Fitness’ app, we were averaging 3.5 miles an hour or better over rolling terrain. 

Maik is a 23 year old student at the highly regarded ETH University in Zurich studying some area of bio engineering. One of the questions he was looking to answer was whether he should continue his studies in the highly complex field of bio engineering or to become a teacher. I hope that during our walk and talk he answered his own question. The Camino seems to teach that whenever you’re tired and there’s a fork in the road, the correct branch of the fork takes you higher: seldom is it the easier way out. For Maik, with a tremendous aptitude for math, I hope he takes the harder fork. However, whatever he choses, he’ll be a success, as he’s a seriously nice and multitalented guy. 

Along the way we came across a splendid example of a Gallic rooster, a paper factory repurposed as a hostel and sundry other sights. 

Maik and I reached Araules by lunch time. The place was like a ghost town, nobody around. We found a little shop, which to our surprise, was actually open. We went in but no one was there. After many a loud shout of ‘bonjour’, finally a very old and frail woman came out to serve us. Fortunately for us, there was also a little bar attached to the shop so we could while-away some time rehydrating after the walk in brilliant weather. 

We eventually found our hosts; Pixie and Madeau arrived and we went through the daily routine of washing and drying of hiking clothes. 

Pixie and Maik hanging the laundry. 

Supper that evening, we all thought, was a little on the meager side given our ravenous appetites after hiking for a day. We were also invited to go to the pretty church up the road were a Rosary was being said for a seriously ill person.  It was a contemplative and pleasant experience: I hope it helped the ill individual.

St. Sauveur en Rue to Montfaucon en Velay

“In a tree by the brook there’s a songbird that sings. Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgivings.”

Pixie and Madeau, a fellow pilgrim, left the campsite early to attack the climb over the pass to Les Setoux, a Nordic ski area in winter. I took care of some cleanup and some constitutional duties and left about forty minutes later.

On the climb up through the forest I saw a fellow with a red windbreaker. I tried catching up to him but he was going way too quickly. However, whenever there was some doubt as to which fork in the path to take, I took the same fork as he did.

Finally he stopped for a bio-break and I caught up to him. Bernard was his name, his pack was almost empty as he was doing a scouting trip for a circuit tour he was leading the next day.

A couple of Camino lessons: never try to keep up with someone who is not carrying a load, and two, never follow someone unless you know where they are going.

Bernhard was doing a circuit, I almost followed him around in a big circle through the forest. Fortunately, we crested the col together and walked down to the village of Les Setoux where we bought each other a couple of beers.

Bernhardt feeding a pony some grass along the way. 

I passed the girls and was speeding on ahead in glorious sunshine and through spectacular forests and meadows 

 Then I came upon the Garden of Eden, but for the apple tree and the snake. A spot with a pristine brook, lush grass, beautiful trees, birds chirping up a cacophony, idyllic in every sense. I lay down in the grass, took my boots off and contemplated what a lucky dog I was to be in this spot.

 I waited for quite a while hoping others would catch-up to me, they didn’t so I walked on a few more miles to Montfaucon. Pixie had booked us into a large Gite, Le Jarden du Mirandou.   I ended up sharing a room with a young Swiss student called Maik. 

St. Julien Molin Molette to St. Sauveur en Rue

“I’ve been lost now for days uncounted, and it’s months since I’ve seen home”

At this time the days start merging into a routine. I figure you’re not really lost if you can find your spot on a map, but when the whole map that you’re following gives you no real perspective of where you are, apart from being somewhere in southern France, you might as well be lost. It’s now been almost a month since I left home and I certainly miss it; but the show must go on. The first interim goal is just days away. 

The daily routine is to get up, pack your pack, carbo load at breakfast, walk for most of the day, reach your planned destination, shower, wash your clothes, figure out how to dry your clothes by the next morning, eat dinner, sleep and repeat the next day and the next and the next. 

During breakfast that morning in a little cafe we met a fellow pilgrim, Christoff, a teacher from Paris, who was walking to Rome. I asked him why he was doing it, to which he eloquently responded, “for the mind, for the body, for the soul, for the art and for the nature.” I thought that was a pretty succinct answer, I would add to that by saying, “for the characters one meets.”  Christoff was certainly one of those characters whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, although our encounter was brief. 

We reached Bourg-Argental just before lunch. It had been drizzling a little, but by this time we were quite used to it. The most notable item was seeing a road sign with ‘Le Puy 74km’. At last we were getting close to our destination, although our walking route would be considerably longer than the direct highway.  Knowing that we were on the home stretch was incredibly encouraging.

As usual we were plodding down lovely country lanes and saw a herd of long haired, bison like cattle. 

The day dragged on, Pixie had boot problems which slowed her down a lot. Nevertheless, she soldiered on with no complaint. We were happy to finally get to the campsite Pixie had booked and we scored a large, comfortable, two roomed caravan. This campsite was a class act compared to the shit-hole, hippy campsite of the previous evening. 

We stopped at this site as the biggest elevation gain section was to be tackled the next morning: better to do it at the beginning of the day than when you’re dog tired at the end of the day. 

Clonas to St. Julien Molin Molette

“A storm is threatening my very life today, if I don’t get some shelter, oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away”

Jeanine walked with Pixie and me to make sure we got back to the Coquille San Jacque trail marker. Matilda, the German pilgrim had already left without as much as a good bye to us. It’s strange that in general there is a real fraternity amongst pilgrims. Part of the unwritten code is that pilgrims look out for each other. It appears that the code was never translated to High German. From my limited observations, and painting with an awfully broad brush, my view is that the German pilgrims are the most unfriendly and closed bunch of folks. The French, the Italians, the Austrians and the Swiss are all open, sharing and have a good sense of humor. The Germans are insular, selfish and not funny in the least. One pilgrim put it this way, “the Germans are too planned, to focused and too regimented.”  That’s good to keep your Porsche running well, but an awfully bad state of affairs in a come-what-may situation on the Camino. I hope to run into some drunk, friendly, happy-go-lucky Germans in the next stage to prove me all wrong. 
Jeanine and Pixie at the Coquille San Jacques marker:

On our walk to Chavanay in the drizzle, Pixie opened up about her future. The banter at dinner the previous evening must have gotten to her. She has definitely got her eye laser focused on a guy she has known for over a decade. By the sounds of things he is a really good fellow: I hope they will be happy one day soon and have a huge family (that’s what she’d like).

We recrossed the Rhone which is quite substantial north and south st this point:

We trudged on: you need to understand that the Camino is not a walk in the park, it’s more like a job, you walk 6 or 7 or more hours a day.  Although it does have it’s coffee breaks like picking cherries from a tree along the path:

And like a job, it has its stresses and strains, particularly when the weather pounds you like a high stress deadline. That afternoon the rain from Spain fell mainly on our plain. We got pelted with heavy rain which turned to pea sized hail. We scurried under some netting covering an orchard so that we’d be protected from golf ball sized hail if it came to that. We even had a funnel cloud. 

Like all storms, it came to an end and we plodded on in the mud to St. Julien. Like most afternoons, this trip took longer than expected with far greater elevation changes. We where pretty exhausted when we got to the ‘Hippy’ campsite shortly before 7:00 pm. Pixie had booked us into this camp site which was still being prepared for the high season. Along the way we asked a lady for directions to the campsite. The lady gave us the directions and also gave Pixie pasta, fruit and other supplies so we could prepare a meal for the evening, as the stores closed at 7:00pm. Rather than cook, I went into the village to get a couple of pizzas. 

The  ‘hippy’ campsite was cheap and funky, not one that I’d like to stay at again 

Moissieu sur Dolon to a Clonas sur Vareze

“Riders on the storm, into this house we’re born, into this world we’re thrown”

At breakfast, Hugues told us that a powerful storm would hit at 2:00 pm. Getting  an early start, we thought we could easily get to the place Pixie had booked with a family in Clonas before the storm hit. While hiking through the woods a fellow passed by on his bike and told us that a storm was coming this afternoon and that we should take care. Wow, people are taking this storm seriously, must be bad: better hurry up!

We walked several miles in intermittent light drizzle. The sky looked grey, a storm is a-coming. We came upon a meadow with several parked cars; what’s going on here? A few hundred yards further on we came across about a dozen folks under a clump of trees setting up to have a picnic. “St. Jacque de Compostelle” one guy shouted out to us. “Oui” we shouted back. The next thing was that we were invited like guests of honor at this picnic. The group were volunteers from St. Romain de Surieu doing maintenance on the St. Jacque’s route. We were plied with wine, cheese, sausages, charcuterie, bread and chocolate. Once Pixie explained to them that I was from California and spoke no French, I got a big thumbs-up from the crew and another celebratory round of wine and delicacies. Everyone wanted to know why I was walking the Camino. Pixie explained that I was just doing it for fun and that I was a bon vivant. A bon vivant! Well, this resulted in more celebration, another couple of rounds of wine and food, and a hell of a good time was had by all, especially me. 

We bid the group adieu, shouldered our packs and moved on. Pixie joked that I’d probably walk twice as far today in my slightly inebriated state. 

The storm threatened all day long but the dark skies never really delivered. 

As I mentioned a hundred times already we walked through beautiful forests and landscapes. 

For one or other reason the day dragged on and getting to Clonas took us longer than expected. The last several miles were on tarmac, which is always a drag as it pounds the feet even more. 

Damp and tired we arrived at the house of our hosts, Jeanine and Jean-Pierre who had prepared a fantastic meal. Matilda, a fellow pilgrim who had walked from Passau in eastern Germany was also staying there. We had a fun conversation over dinner including the idea of screening applicants along the Camino to find a suitable spouse for Pixie. 

Breakfast the next morning: the box with the heart on it is where one places one’s donativo. There is no set fee, pilgrims pay according to their means. Some pilgrims have no money and will on occasion provide a service to the host family. On average people pay €20 to €30 for the night, including dinner and breakfast. 

La Cote St. Andre to a Moissieu sur Dolon

“In restless dreams I walk alone, narrow streets of cobbled stone.”

Yes, a glorious day at last! After a long, hard day yesterday, Gertrud decided she needed a rest day. I met two guys at breakfast, Urs and Uve. Walking out of town with Uwe we ran into a tiny, young girl whom Uve had met back in Charly. Her name is Laetitia. We chatted for a short while before moving ahead with our longer strides. 

The morning’s walk was fantastic, through lovely landscapes and along streams. 

By lunchtime I’d met up with Uve again as we got to a village at the top of a hill. I needed some fluids as I was out of water. Everything in the village was closed except for the sparsely stocked Boulanger. I bought the only two beers he had and asked when the bar down the street would reopen after the lunch break. He told me the bar was closed permanently: another victim of the dying French countryside. 

I had intended to give a can of beer to Uve, but he had disappeared in the village. Moving on I ran into Urs from Bern taking a rest break. We sat on the grass chatting about Ueli Steck, whom Urs knew personally, and his tragic death on Nuptse ten days earlier. Before us was the grand panorama of the Alps. I drank Uve’s beer as my pack was heavy enough. 

By mid afternoon, I reached Revel-Tourdan and was thinking about finding a place for the night. Again, nothing in the village was open except for the Boulanger: bought a savory pastery and moved on. I was getting a little worried about finding accommodations for the night. I stopped by a barley field admiring the view. 

I then saw a turquoise cap bobbing along the path through the field. It was Laetitia! This tiny girl from this morning had caught up. If one had called central casting and asked for a ‘Pixie’, they would have sent Laetitia. Pixie, as I started calling her, asked if I was sorted out with a place for the night, saying ‘no’, she said she’d call the Chateau where she had booked to see if they could squeeze me in: no problem. 

Pixie and I walked on for at least another six or seven miles before getting to the rather imposing Chateau de Bresson. We chatted along the way, Pixie told me that three years earlier she had walked from Budapest to Geneva by herself. She looked so young, I figured she was a teenager when she took on that challenge: not quite, she was in her late twenties then.  

Anyway, we got to the Chateau as the wind was blowing up a storm. By the driveway through the woods there was a half-eaten raven lying there, just head and wings remained. A little creepy I thought to myself at the time. 

Anyway, we met Hugues de Luzy de Polissac, a proper French Comte (Lord), heir to the Chateau, which had been in his family since the fourteen hundreds. Before that, the Chateau had been a Roman fort. 

Hugues welcomed us in and told us we were the only two pilgrims for the night. He took us to the attic level up some massive staircase. At the top there were a series of rooms, each with two or three beds which were set aside specifically for pilgrims. I chose the only room with a crucifix, not that I’m religious, but just in case. Pixie chose a nice bright room down the corridor, but it gets very dark at night. 

Anyway, Hugues cooked us a fantastic, restaurant quality meal ( he enjoys cooking and he’s good at it).

After dinner, Hugues announced that he had an early morning meeting and would be going to his other house where he actually lives. He’d also be taking Come, his large Bernese Shepard. So, Pixie and I were the sole inhabitants that night. 

Pixie asked me if I had noticed the dead sparrow on one of the grand staircase landings. I hadn’t, but this place was really creepy with centuries old paintings and decorations, including a pram draped with lace on one of the landings. Furthermore, there were half open doors leading to dark rooms with who knows what was in them.  Due to a hot-water plumbing problem the only bathroom we could use was on the ground floor, many levels below us. 

I acted all cool and mucho, but was relieved when Pixie asked if she could bring her sleeping bag into my room as she was too scared to be alone in her original room: no problemo, there was a extra bed! I took the added precaution of locking all the doors I could. 

Anyway, dawn finally broke, there were no ghosts, screams or the sound of footfalls during the night. We had survived!

We had a good breakfast with spectacular cheeses. Hugues provides the Chateau, dinner and breakfast on a donation only basis. Pilgrims just pay what they can afford and put their contribution in a little box. For the haunted house experience, my donation was generous, not because I liked it, but because we survived it!