Friday, September 21, 2012

Day 11: The Hot Spell Finally Breaks!

Dscn9985bAugust 22: In the morning, while packing up camp, I stuffed my fleece jacket into my backpack and the collar ripped a bit where it attached to the rest of the pack. The tear wasn’t more than two inches or so, and I since I planned to hike into town this afternoon and find lodging, I considered waiting to fix the tear until I got into town. In a proper chair, with good lighting, when the air was hot and I didn’t feel like hiking anyhow. But I knew the tear would likely get bigger if I didn’t fix it immediately and the required fix could get much more difficult. Grudgingly, I pulled out my little sewing kit from my pack and started working on a repair.

The repair was straight-forward, but it did slow my starting hike time by about 20 minutes to do the repair and repack everything into the backpack again.

Early in the morning, I met my first trail angels! There were three of them, and they set up a table with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and water along with a few snacks. I wasn’t big on any of the hot drinks, I already had plenty of water (and their water wasn’t any colder than mine), so I settled for a couple of cookies. I had been given snacks by the group who were surveying pilgrims, but that seemed more like a bribe. These were genuine trail angels, sitting out by the side of the trail offering comfort to pilgrims and asking for nothing in return. Apparently, they did this every morning—at least during the busy season. Only one of them knew a little English, and I told him in the United States, we call people like them “trail angels.” I wasn’t sure if they’d consider that sacrilege—I was hiking a pilgrim trail, after all, with a certain religious bent to it. Perhaps calling people “angels” would be considered in poor taste?

I don’t think the guy that spoke English really understood what I was talking about, though, and he kind of nodded like he didn’t understand what I said but would go along with it anyhow. (I do that to people speaking French all the time!)

I waved goodbye and continued my trek.

Then I sprained my ankle. When I did it, I cried out loudly. It hurt and I knew it was going to hurt for awhile. The ground was relatively flat and not challenging at all, but I must have hit a small rock or something and BAM! My left ankle took the brunt of my inattention. I leaned heavily on my trekking pole and right foot, tenderly put my left foot back on the ground, and took a few small steps. It hurt, but I’ve done worse. Five minutes of walking on it, and it wouldn’t hurt quite so bad anymore. At least not until I stopped and started again. I limped on.

The day was significantly cooler this afternoon since wall-to-wall clouds filled the sky. No direct sunlight on anything. In fact, some of the clouds looked like they could even send out rain. It was still quite warm, but I had my doubts that the temperature even broke into the 90s for the first time in the better part of a week.

Dscn9986bThe clouds did manage to squeeze out a few drops of rain, and I pulled out my umbrella in case it became necessary, but the few sprinkles the clouds kicked out didn’t amount to much of anything and I never used the umbrella, and the only moisture on me when I walked into the town of Cajors was sweat.

Cajors is a pretty little town surrounded on three sides by the River Lot. I was sick of the River Lot. I first saw it a week before in Saint-Come d’Olt, and the trail was largely following it downstream. I’d been following this river for hundreds of kilometers, and every time I saw it, it was a little bit lower in elevation. Elevation I knew I’d have to make up later by the time I hit the Pyrenees. And every time I hit a new low in elevation, I knew the temperature would be that much higher. I wanted to get back up in the mountains where the air was cooler.

I crossed one of the bridges into town where a welcome center had been established for pilgrims. I went in and the nice fellow manning the fort stamped my credential, offered me a some sort of fruit-flavored drink, and asked if I had lodging in town. I didn’t, I told him, but I pulled out my book with lodging options and pointed to the one I wanted to check out. He pulled out a map of the town and circled where on the map it was located. I then told him of my backup location in case the first location was full, and he circled that location a few blocks away. I thanked him and headed into town.
I had trouble finding the first location. I found the street it was located on well enough, and followed the entire length of it looking for the hotel, but inexplicably missed the hotel. I walked back along the length of the short street and once again came up empty handed. I looked up the specific address and once again started walking along its length, but this time watching the numbers on the doorways carefully. Odds on one side of the street, evens on the other. Numbers getting larger as it gets away from the main street through town.

And there it was. No signs marked the doorway or windows, and I wondered if I had the right location. I walked up to the window in the door to look through and see if it might really be a hotel when I finally noticed a small little plaque, about one inch tall, nailed into the side of the door jam with the name of the establishment. How the heck is anyone supposed to find this place with that kind of signage?

The door was locked, so I knocked on it and a man answered the door. I asked if he had room for a pilgrim, and he told me they were already full.

Damn.

Dscn9987bI left and went in search of my backup location, and once again I found myself walking the entire length of the street without finding any signs marking the gite. And once again, I looked up the exact address, then followed the street again in the search for the establishment. From the direction I walked, the numbers got smaller, then they got too small. I passed it. I looked at the last door I passed, and the number was too large. There should be an invisible door somewhere between these two I was now between where the gite was located, but I saw nothing. No door. No windows. No nothing.

What the heck was wrong with this town?

I walked back up to the welcome center for pilgrims.

“You’re back?” the fellow said, somewhat surprised to see me again.

“Yes, I told him. They’re full.” Technically, I didn’t know that the gite was full, but I didn’t want to run around looking for addresses that didn’t exist and didn’t really want to get into that.

We looked at other lodging options, and I asked about a hotel about a kilometer away near the other end of town. I didn’t want to walk that far and find out they were full, so the guy called them on the phone and asked if there was room. There was, and he made a reservation for me at the Hotel-Restaurant Le Melchior.

I followed the trail through trail towards the train station—the hotel was located near the train station—and along the way I noticed another hotel that promised “free wi-fi” which intrigued me. I asked about wi-fi at the hotel I was heading to, and they had it, but only available in the bar of the hotel. If this hotel had wi-fi available right in my room, I might ditch that reservation and take this hotel instead.

I walked in and asked about a room. Yes, they one one available. “With wi-fi?” I asked. Ah, but no, their wi-fi network was currently down, but they had a computer I could get on to get onto the Internet.

I didn’t want a computer. I had a computer. I wanted wi-fi, with an American-styled keyboard and all my favorite programs and without other guests looking over my shoulder waiting for their turn at the computer.

Dscn9991b“No thank you,” I said, and I left, back on the hunt for the Hotel-Restaurant Le Melchior. I found it another block or two up the street. The girl working the restaurant didn’t know a word of English, but she called in back to another girl who did know English, greeted me with a smile—which at the time, surprised me—and who checked me into my room.

I took a shower and cleaned up, then grabbed my laptop and headed down to the restaurant to get online. It seemed wrong just to sit around the bar surfing the web and not ordering anything, so I ordered a Coke as I surfed. With ice. An hour later, I ordered another one.

The staff changed, and the new guy behind the bar tried to talk to me in French, and I told him I didn’t know French—just English and a little bit of Spanish. He knew some English, though, and asked me point blank why I was even in France if I didn’t know French. “I didn’t realize that knowing French was a requirement to being in France,” I answered, somewhat annoyed.

“What do you do when you have to talk to someone?” he persisted.

“I hope I bump into people like you who know English,” I relied.

“But not everyone knows English,” he persisted.

“Yeah, I know that,” I told him. “But I still seemed to be getting along just fine.”

By now, I was ready for dinner, and I asked him if I could order a sandwich. If there’s one thing I know restaurants in France have, it’s ham and cheese sandwiches. He came back a couple of minutes later. “We don’t have anymore bread,” he told me.

I was stunned. A French restaurant? Without any bread? Did hell just freeze over? Was that a pig I saw flying overhead?

“Later,” he told me, “we’ll get more.”

Eventually, I finished with the Internet and decided to eat dinner somewhere else. I didn’t much like this guy, and they didn’t even have bread. I could do better somewhere else.

Dscn9992bI walked to the main street running through town and saw a restaurant bustling with customers, and looked at their menu with delicious pictures of pizzas and hamburgers and steaks and all things good, deciding to eat there.

I sat down at a table on the sidewalk and within seconds, a waiter arrived with a menu. When I asked if he knew English, I was surprised when his English turned out to be absolutely awesome. He spoke with an accent I didn’t recognize, but it was quite good and I was pleased that he knew more than “a little” English like most French people who say they know English.

He recommended I get a hamburger—they’re really good, he insisted—and the picture of it on their menu certainly looked good, so I ordered their hamburger. He listed off several different sauces I could get with it, the final option being BBQ, and I said I’d go for the BBQ.

“I knew you were going to select that,” he told me.

I was a little disappointed that I was so predictable. “How did you know?” I asked.

“You’re American, right?”

“Yes.”

“Americans invented the BBQ. You all like BBQ.”

Well, I guess that was true enough, and I hadn’t had any BBQ anything since I left the United States.

“Well, it is pretty good stuff,” I told him. =)

He left me with a basket of bread to munch on while I waited for the rest of my order.

The burger, let me say, was absolutely delicious. The fries that came with it were okay, but the waiter was right: They knew how to make a good hamburger.

I lingered for a couple of hours reading my Kindle and relaxing in the twilight hours before paying the bill and heading back to my room for the night.

Dscn0013b
Some old ruins.

Dscn0026b
I included this photo in my blog entry only because it’s the
only one I have that you can really tell it sprinkled a little bit.
The road really makes that apparent here. But even on the road,
you can still see dry spots because it never actually sprinkled much.
I didn’t even use my umbrella.

Dscn0040b
The bridge into Cajors.

Dscn0042b
The small pilgrim welcome center at the end of the bridge.
You can see the guy running it helping a pilgrim out front.

Dscn0047b
The trail leaves town over the River Lot on this magnificent bridge,
but I wouldn’t cross it until tomorrow.

Dscn0050b
A close-up view of one of the towers of the
bridge leaving town. It’s a pedestrian only bridge.
I’m also a little surprised at the staircase leading
up the tower. There aren’t any guardrails on the
narrow staircase to catch you if you fall! Back
in medieval times, such safety features (I suppose)
weren’t considered important. =)

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ok, am I missing something or was that STOP sign in english???

Anonymous said...

I was going to mention that same thing!!!! Arret would have not surprised me but s-t-o-p.... WOW!!!!

Wendy

Kristin aka Trekkie Gal said...

Funny! I was thinking the same thing. At first, I just thought "Oh look, stop signs in France look the same as they do here." But then I realized that they look EXACTLY the same, word and all. Very strange. :)

Ryan said...

Oh, yes, I got so used to the English-language stop signs, I kind of forgot about them. =) ALL of the stop signs in France said "Stop". I guess that makes it a French word too?

Not only that, but it seems like all of the stop signs in Spain also say "Stop". I'm not really sure why.... It does seem kid of strange...

-- Ryan

Karolina Śmiech said...

ALL stop signs throughout Europe say "STOP". It is a universal word, everyone understands it. This way the meaning is clear to everyone, no matter the nationality. Just imagine you were driving abroad and didn't quite understand the meaning of the sing - this sort of calls for an accident, doesn't it?

Ryan said...

Well, I can tell you... in Mexico, all stop signs say "Alto"! ;o)

-- Ryan