Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And the Hiking Begins….

Dscn8284bAugust 12: Late in the night, my neighbors trickled into their beds and promptly went to sleep. The next morning, when I was ready to get up and get going, they were still all fast asleep so I left them that way. I sneaked downstairs and took a shower—presumably my last one for quite some time—and grabbed breakfast which consisted of cereal and bread. Bread, if you didn’t know it, is a staple of the French diet. They can’t have a meal without bread. They have entire shops dedicated to break—not unlike Starbucks in Seattle with one on every block. Maybe even two on some blocks. People walk around with bread in their packs, in their hands. It’s always a hard bread that I find difficult to chew. I think they might even play a form of baseball using their bread as a bat.
The other folks eating breakfast were all French, although one of them spoke a little bit of English. Mostly, I just felt left out of the conversation, which was fine by me. *shrug*
I headed back to my room and my bed to pack up all of my worldly possessions and finally my neighbors had woken from their slumber. Two of them were German who also spoke no French, but they did speak English so I could talk to them. The third person was French, but he also knew English. A room full of English-speaking people! That couldn’t have been coincidence…. I suspect the girl who checked me in assigned English-speaking people to that room.
One of the Germans said something in French and asked me if I understood it. “Not a word,” I told him.
“Wow,” he commented, “you really are in trouble.”
Uh, thanks…. “So what did it mean?”
“Let me ask you further down the trail and see if you’ve figured it out.”
That was less than helpful. =) The two Germans left for breakfast and I continued chatting with the French fellow who taught me a few words in French, such as how to say “United States” when people asked where I was from. (I have no idea how to write United States in French—I wrote it down phonetically so I could correctly say the words later, but the French guy told me it’s not unlike saying United States in Spanish (Estadios Unidos) and dropping the last syllable of each word (esta uni). He also taught me “Good luck!” so I could wish people “Good luck!” when I saw them on the trail. In five minutes, I single-handedly doubled my French vocabulary. =)
Dscn8287bThen I went in search of an Internet café which I saw the day before to let Amanda and my mom know that I had made it to Le Puy okay and would be starting my hike soon. Except that the Internet café was closed on Sundays. Curses! Foiled! I ended up walking to the tourist office and I noticed they had a computer available free to use, but they asked people limit themselves to using it for only 10 minutes at a time. That was plenty for me!
Until I sat down and tried to type. I know foreign keyboards can be a challenge—I’ve typed on many a Latin American keyboard and fumbled my way through it—but the French keyboard confounded them all! These people actually switched around the letters of the keyboard! And it type a number, I had to use the SHIFT key! The symbols I never use—no shift key required. But oh, for people who want to type a number, they make you work at it. Dates, times—I found myself chasing that SHIFT key all over the place. I barely managed to type two sentences before my ten minutes were up.
I wandered back to the cathedral and figured I’d sit in on mass. I was out here for cultural experiences, and I’d never been to a mass before, and I knew one was about to start. So I marched in and took a seat. I didn’t really think I’d enjoy the experience, but that wasn’t the point. I wanted a new experience. So off to mass I went. =)
It started off with a procession of folks, including one person swinging incense around all over the place. A little while later, all of the kids were sent to the back of the cathedral. Why segregate the children? This was the Catholic church we’re talking about here! Fortunately, though, it all seemed to turn out well when the kids came back out later in the progress carrying candles towards the front and left them there. I have to admit, they were pretty adorable. One kid waved to everyone he passed, marching to the front like he was the grand marshal of a parade. Another boy waved to his parents, obviously proud of his part in the proceedings. Then the kids left their candles up front and they all scattered back to their parents.
There was a lot of talk—none of which I understood since it was all in French, but honestly, I didn’t understand most of the English-language preaching going on in the states. So it wasn’t really a whole lot different, and I found myself nodding off and itching for something more entertaining like I did in church as a kid. In fact, the kids seemed pretty itchy for something more exciting stuff to happen as well.
They had everyone stand up, sit down, stand up again, sit down again, stand up again, blah, blah, blah…. Then everyone stood up and started kissing. WHAT THE HELL?! I looked around in panic. Why was everyone kissing? I didn’t want to kiss anyone. I didn’t want anyone kissing me? Oh, those French…. I should have guessed…. Had I known I was supposed to kiss all my neighbors, I would have squeezed myself next to the cutest girls I could find. The guy next to me must have sensed my discomfort (or found me repulsive), because he stuck out his hand for a handshake. Thank GOD! Praise the Lord! A handshake will do just fine! I can do that. =) I shook his hand, and that of an older lady behind me.
Dscn8296bWhen they passed around baskets to collect money, I threw in all of the change in my pocket. 1.10 euros. Less weight for me to carry. =)
Then they started with the whole communion thing where everyone marched up to the front to be fed stale bread. I didn’t really want to participate—I just wanted to watch the proceedings, not to participate in them. Anyhow, I already shook the hands of two strangers nearby! Wasn’t that enough already? I guess not….
Near the end of the service, the kids came back up and retrieved their candles and ran up with them to the front of the church, but I couldn’t see very well what they did with them after that. When the service was finally over, I officially started my hike a little after 12:00, local time. =)
I didn’t get more than five minutes down the trail before I took my first detour. I had seen the impressive, volcanic summit the day before I wanted to hike to the type. Since then, I learned it was called Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe, and it cost 3 euros to enter. So I detoured, paid the price, and climbed the steep hillside path. It didn’t take anywhere near as long as I thought it would and the views from the top were spectacular. The summit was crowed with a 10th century chapel dedicated to St. Micheal—it really amazes me how old some of these places are. In the tenth century they were building this chapel! The first person knows to hike from Le Puy to Santiago did so over a thousand years ago! This kind of history basically doesn’t exist in the United States. The New World hadn’t even been discovered when these places were built. They were already hundreds of years old when Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
I couldn’t read any of the information signs since they were all in French and everything I learned was from a partially-English brochure I got at the entrance.
I returned to the trail, but I didn’t go for another five minutes before I detoured off trail again to go back to the tourist office and pick up a sandwich at a small shop. Except that they were closed. Curses! Everything was closed for lunch. It was going to take some time to get used to “French time.”
The rest of the day, I took no more details and stayed on path, each step taking me closer to Santiago. The trail climbed steeply over roads out of Le Puy, eventually heading off onto dirt roads with almost no traffic at all. I only traveled 22 kilometers that first day, but managed to go through several towns so small that you’d miss them if you blinked including: St. Christophe-sur-Dolaison, Tallode, Liac (where I had to scare off two mean dogs by shouting them down in English and waving my trekking pole at them), Lic, Ramourouscle, Montbonnet, and Le Chier.
That’s a lot of little towns for such a short distance. =) Most of them had absolutely no facilities, and probably wouldn’t show up on any quality map.
Le Chier did have a water faucet in town, however, and I filled up with water there and camped in a meadow near some trees outside of town. I only passed two Camino hikers the whole day, but I figured most of them left Le Puy much earlier in the day than I did. Three times I ran into herds of cattle on the roads, and I stood aside as the traffic jam passed.
The hike itself, so far, was largely uneventful.
Don't forget--if you haven't already--sponsor me in the WTA's Hike-a-Thon! =)

I take my first steps along the Camino. You can
see the cathedral behind me in the distance.
But, of course, a side-trip to Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe was in order!
The view from the top was pretty good—you can see the statue
covered in scaffolding which where were I first spotted this
summit from!
Inside the cathedral, after mass was over.
This is the first official marking I saw for the Camino. I think the
guy in the corner is supposed to be St. James, and the yellow
sign with an arrow shows that Santiago is over 1,500 km away. =)
The trail is generally blazed with white and red horizontal
stripes. If there’s a turn in the trail, another white line
under it is included indicating the direction. In this case,
it says, “Turn right here!”
If you try to take a wrong turn, you’ll see a red and white
stripe set in the form of an X. It means, “You’re going the
wrong way! Turn back right now!” (I deliberately went the
wrong way to get this photo.) The yellow X, I assume,
means the same thing but for a different trail that is overlapping
the Camino.
This is a pilgrimage trail, so I guess it’s no surprise
that you’ll find crosses like this ALL OVER the friggin’ trail. =)
The “tail” end of a herd of cattle, apparently also
walking to Santiago. =) Any wildlife larger than me gets the
Home, sweet, home for the night. =)


kilroy said...

Catholic arobics! We know the mass well and we were a little lost during the Irish mass we attended. We purposely went to one in Irish instead of English. For the future, if you aren't Catholic you aren't suppose to go to Communion.

tiggermama said...

Etats-Unis. Bon chance!!

And have fun out there!