Monday, September 3, 2012

Day 4: Dartmoor Dreams

Dscn8815bAugust 15: I titled this blog post Dartmoor Dreams because much of the terrain today reminded me a lot of Dartmoor. For those of you reading this that are letterboxers, you probably know a little about Dartmoor. The rest of you, well, probably don’t. =) It didn’t start with a lot of promise—I slept next to a busy highway and a specially constructed tunnel for Camino hikers was built to go under it. Which is probably a huge improvement in playing a real-life game of Frogger, but the tunnel was an ugly hole that had been graffitied to death. Once I got through that, however, and away from the highway, the trail followed old dirt roads and small trails through rolling hills, few trees, over tors, and farmland as far as the eye can see. Beautiful terrain!
Early in the morning, I caught up with a cute German girl hiking alone. Being German, of course, she knew English. Invariably, anyone I met who spoke English were either German or Belgium, and she was no exception. I’m not sure how to spell her name, but it sounded something like Eedit, so that’s what I’m going to call her here. She was an English and French teacher back in Germany, on holiday for a couple of weeks (Europeans go on “holiday,” they don’t go on “vacation”) trying out the Camino to see if she liked it. So far, she reported, she likes it great, and perhaps she’ll do the rest of it next year.
What I found immediately interesting about her, however, were her feet. She was hiking in sandals. I’ve seen this before, but it’s still pretty rare for me to see people hiking any long distance in sandals. I think it’s a little bit crazy, but if it works, I say let them go for it. People think I’m a little bit crazy just for doing my walks and I’m okay with that. I think they might even be right. =)
But the thing I absolutely loved about her feet—even more than the fact that she was clearly eclectic because she wore sandals, was that she had painted her toenails in the not-to-distant past, and a few of the toes were wrapped up in tape from blisters or hot spots. They looked very amusing to me. Carefully applied red nail polish—a girl’s gotta look her best! And by golly, if you’re hiking in sandals without socks, people are going to see your toenails! But the dirt and grime and tape around some of the toes kind of takes away from the pretty nail polish. The contrast really amused me. =)
We talked and walked for a little while, and at one point she stops me and tells me that I’ll never make it to Santiago with my pack set up like it was.
“And how’s that?” I asked, out of curiosity.
Dscn8818b“The heavy stuff,” she told me, “should be at the bottom of the pack.” She went on a little more, but I finally cut her off. I’m not sure how she could even identify how I had packed my backpack—it’s not like it was made of see-through material or anything. And while I do have a few heavier items near the top of my pack, they were items like my snack bag with apples that I would be eating throughout the day. My heaviest items that I didn’t need throughout the day were closer to the bottom of my pack, and my laptop (which doesn’t really fit in my horizontally in the first place) I had vertically as close to my back as I can. I do kind of know what I’m doing, and although my pack looks bright and usual, I was a little surprised it also made me look like such a novice hiker. I wasn’t wearing two packs, after all. And my hiking shoes were obviously more sturdy than her sandals!
“Before you go any further,” I told her, “I should tell you—this isn’t my first long-distance hike.”
I told her about the Pacific Crest Trail, running from Mexico to Canada and ran for something like over 4,000 kilometers. I didn’t mention the distance in miles—she’s from Germany and probably couldn’t relate well to miles, so off the cuff I figured it must be something a little over 4,000 kilometers from near sea level to snow-covered peaks.
“And I managed to get by fine,” I concluded. “I think I’ll be okay here.” =)
I neglected to mention the laptop I was carrying. Honestly, I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’m carrying an actual, honest-to-goodness laptop on a backpacking trip. At least it was hidden in my pack and when people seem surprised at the size or weight of my pack, I tell them I’m camping out most of the time so I need a tent (nobody who learns English as a second language seems to have a good concept of the difference between a tarp and a tent, so I just tell them I have a tent), a stove to cook with, a cooking pot, etc. “It adds a lot,” I’d tell them. So does the laptop, but I don’t tell them that part. =)
But still, regardless of the unnecessary weight in my pack, I knew I’d get by fine, and I tried to assure her of that, and she seemed convinced and let it drop. I was still a little amused that she assumed I was some newbie hiker who’d never done any serious hiking before, though. I did tell her it was my first time hiking in Europe, though, and perhaps she assumed I meant it was the first time I did any long-distance hike not realizing that there are long-distance hikes in America as well.
Eventually we walked apart, going at our own paces, and I tightened the strap on my hat. It was a beautiful day out, but it was a heck of a windy one as well.
In the town of Nasbinals, I lost the trail markers, but I started noticing white arrows painted onto the street at the last couple I had seen and thought maybe through town, I was supposed to follow the white arrows instead. I followed them a little ways until I started leaving town on a road, but the normal markers I followed didn’t return and I started to get a little suspicious that it was the wrong direction. It didn’t feel right to me.
I sat down and pulled out my guidebook, which has nothing for maps of towns, but it does have a written description of the trail through town and reading the description, I knew exactly where I turned wrong. Stupid white arrows. I have no idea who put them there or what purpose they served, but they definitely had nothing to do with the Camino. The couple of places where it matched up with the Camino must have been a coincidence.
Dscn8824bSo I hiked about five minute back into town, turned right, and headed out of town on the correct road which was confirmed when I saw a real trail marker a few minutes later. At least I didn’t go more than five minutes in the wrong direction! I might have taken a wrong turn, but I didn’t take it for very long!
Once I left town, I was back in the Dartmoor-like scenery, miles and miles of endless farms through rolling hills. I really liked this hiking.
Late in the afternoon, as I started approaching the town of Aubrac, ugly clouds started coming in and I decided to look for lodging. I didn’t know if rain was in the forecast or not, but it certainly looked like storm clouds blowing in and anyhow, I needed a shower after camping out the last three days. On the AT or PCT, not showering for three night is normal. On the Camino, where most people find hostels each night, it is unusual, and I really didn’t want to out-smell everyone else on the trail.
My book of lodging options described a place: Chambre et table d’hotes La Colonie-Espicerie Bio for 36 euros. The thing that really stood out for me, though: It had wi-fi. It took me a little while to figure this out. It was the first time I looked at this book (being the first time I wanted lodging since I bought the book in Le Puy), and it was all in French. It had little icons by each place giving the gist of the amenities. Some were pretty obvious, like a horseshoe (which, presumably, meant they could handle horses for those who rode them). One of the icons was the @ symbol, and another one looked like a wand, and either one of them, I thought, could have been a signal for wi-fi being available. In fact, both icons represented Internet access, although the @ symbol meant that there was an Internet access point (basically, they have a computer you can get on to get into the Internet) while the wand meant wi-fi was available (but you needed a device to connect to it). I wanted the wand—a French computer with a French keyboard wouldn’t get me very far!
So I sat the edge of Aubrac, flipping through my French-English dictionary, watching the storm clouds rolling in with some concern, trying to figure out what all of these icons meant and which of the lodging options I should try first, finally settling on this Chambre et table d’hotes La Colonie-Espicerie Bio place.
Aubrac isn’t a very big town, so it was with some frustration that I walked completely in circles around the town—TWICE—in about ten minutes and couldn’t find this place. What the heck?
I pulled out the guide again, thinking maybe I should just try to nab anything I could find, when I looked at the listing again and noticed something written in French in blue, italic type at the very end of the listing. Hmmmm… I wonder that could mean?
I pulled out the French-English dictionary and looked up one of the words, which meant “shutters.” Shutters? What the heck could that mean? I looked up another word which meant “yellow.” Ah-ha! Yellow shutters! The establishment has yellow shutters! I looked up another unfamiliar word which meant “in the heart of” and pieced together the sentence meaning “in the heart of Aubrac, look for the building with the yellow shutters.” Well, NOW I should be able to find this place!
Dscn8827bI took another loop through the heart of the town looking for buildings with yellow shutters. Nothing.
ARGH!
Okay, then, screw it! I saw a sign for a gite on one of my loops. I’d just go there. According to my book, it was a measly 8.50 euros. No wi-fi, but at least I’d finally be indoors. I walked to the sign I saw, which had an arrow pointing down an alley, and I followed the alley down and around until it came back out at the center of town—but never saw the gite.
What the heck is wrong with me? Can I not find any lodging at all in this town?! The storm clouds continued getting darker and angrier with each passing minute. I noticed a cute girl coming up from behind me with a large pack on and trekking poles—obviously another hiker—and she started asking me something in French which I couldn’t understand.
“Do you know English?” I asked.
“A zittle beet,” she told me, in heavily accented English. I had to concentrate hard to understand the words through her accent, but at least I could understand her words. In French, I didn’t understand one word. =)
She asked if I knew were the gite was—she followed a sign out and wound up in the same place I was. “Well, that’s kind of the same way I got here,” I admitted.
We went back to the sign and tried again. I was happy to follow her around—at least she knew French and could ask for directions from the locals. And honestly, I could think of worst things in life than following around cute girls all afternoon. =)
We went back to the gite sign and followed the arrow around, keeping a sharp lookout for the gite, but once again wound up where we started again.
“I’m glad you’re having trouble with this too,” I told the girl. “I thought it was just my lack of French-ness that was causing me problems. It’s a little comforting to know that even a French person can’t find this place too.” =)
The girl asked a couple of people for directions, and once again we faced the sign with the arrow pointing down an alley to the supposed gite. This time, we figured out where we went wrong—we missed a small sign posted to the door of a tall tower which was the gite. The sign was in French—I couldn’t understand anything it said—but the girl translated for me that we had to find a restaurant where they would check us in. So once again, we were out wandering the town, now looking for a restaurant.
Dscn8838bThe girl asked another local guy standing on the street, and he pointed us in a direction, and we went that way, but didn’t find the restaurant. We made yet another loop through town, but still couldn’t find the darned restaurant. I swear, for a town that was all of about four square blocks, I’ve never felt so lost in my life.
A few sprinkles started coming down—the angry clouds were reaching a boiling point—and the girl headed under a giant umbrella on the patio of a restaurant. Not the restaurant we were looking for, but a different one, and the rain let loose in a torrential downpour. I was a little amazed—I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen such a pounding rainfall. Giant drops exploded on the ground, on the roofs, echoing throughout the streets. One building with a roof of those metal waffle sheets looked like a wall of water was pouring off of it within seconds.
“So how long do we stand here?” I asked the girl.
“Until the rain stops,” she answered.
Hmm….. I hoped that wouldn’t take too long, and within 10 or 15 minutes, the rain petered out.
“Wow,” I told her. “That was kind of amazing.”
We started walking down the street again, in search of the restaurant, when I noticed a sign for the original lodging I was looking for that seemed to indicate it was off to the left at the edge of town. Hmm… maybe the directions to look in the “heart” of town I took a little too literally. Perhaps I should have expanded my search? The girl started walking in that direction anyhow—the one street we hadn’t checked out since the locals she asked directions from never pointed us in that direction—when I spotted the restaurant we were looking for. It was much fancier than we expected for a gite. I think that threw us both off, and she started heading indoors.
I looked down the street, though, and thought I saw a building with yellow shutters in the distance. “I’m going to look over here first,” I told her, hoping to nab the lodging with wi-fi if I could. At least if they were full, I knew were to go to see about the gite.
I found the building with the yellow shutters, at the edge of town. Which, to be fair, was only a couple of blocks from the “heart” of the town, but still, I was a little miffed that the directions in my book threw me off by so much.
Dscn8839bThe proprietor of the establishment said there was one room left, a rather large one, but it was mine if I wanted it, and I took it. He had me take off my shoes and put my backpack in a plastic bag before I was allowed to up to to the room. Perhaps he thought I was muddy and wet from the downpour, but I was actually quite clean and dry since I waited out the downpour under the giant umbrella.
The room was enormous and the floor felt more like ropes decoratively laid out in patterns than an actual carpet. It even hurt to walk on a little, although my feet were already tender from all the walking I’d been doing. It seemed like an usual choice for flooring, and something that would be absolutely impossible to clean if anyone ever tracked mud onto it.
The first thing I did was take a shower and wash my clothes in the sink. The place did have wi-fi, but it was only available from the lobby, so I grabbed my laptop and headed downstairs to the lobby where I got online.
The man running the place asked if I’d like dinner, but I turned him down when he told me it would cost 16 euros. That seemed like a lot of money for just one meal.
“Is it just the cost?” he asked me.
“Yeah, well…..” I shrugged. “Yes.”
“You are my guest! You will eat with us!”
“Oh, no thanks… I’m okay,” I told him.
“No, you eat for free!”
“Really?” I asked. “You don’t have to do that!”
“I am your host, and you can eat for free.”
Well… okay, then… Seemed kind of rude to say no now.
Dscn8841bAt the appointed time, all of the guests went down to the dining room for dinner. I recognized the two girls who were riding horses along the trail, but those were the only two I recognized. As it turns out, a couple of Americans were also in the hotel and had stayed there the previous two nights as well. I can’t imagine how lost they must have gotten in town if they still hadn’t found their way out of it yet. =) They were also the first Americans I had met since I started my pilgrimage, but they were only doing a short section before jumping ahead and doing the Spanish section.
I sat with the other Americans—they were happy to actually have someone they could talk to since they didn’t know any French either. I wondered if perhaps part of the reason I was invited to dinner for free was so these Americans would have the company of another American. This would have been their third night at the dinner table and they probably didn’t get a lot to talk about until I came along.
My host, our server, poured everyone a glass of wine. Which I didn’t really want, but the guy had already invited me to eat for free and it seemed like it would be rude to say no, so I let him pour me a glass of red wine, then sipped it slowly trying not to make any faces that would suggest I didn’t like wine. =)
Once I finished the glass, I poured some water into it and kept water in it the rest of the evening.
The meal came out over several courses. I’m not sure how many courses there were—it just coming and coming for nearly two hours. It was fun to talk and all, but I was a little disappointed it took nearly two hours just to eat dinner. These French people—they do like to linger about their food, don’t they? Now I understood why the meal would normally cost 16 euros. There was a lot of effort put into this meal! (Still, I’d have been perfectly happy with a proverbial Happy Meal.)
It rained on and off for the rest of the evening and throughout the night—a perfect time to be indoors.
Dscn8877b
It looks a lot like Dartmoor….
Dscn8888b
I found this motorcycle seemingly abandoned in the
middle of nowhere on the trail. Did it break down?
Run out of gas? I have no idea!
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The trail crosses this river over this old bridge.
Dscn8918b
Eedit’s hiking shoes….
This picture still makes me laugh. =)
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Saw this little fellow outside of a store in
Nasbinals.
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Another cross on side of the trail.
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A statue of a Union soldier in France?
Wait a minute….
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You can’t really see it well in this photo, but look at that building
on the left. Just behind it, mostly hidden, is a shorter building with
an aluminum corrugated roof. The rain is coming off that in sheets! 
Dscn8969b
My self-portrait for the day. See me in the reflection of the mirror? =)
The room was too big to use a flash to light up the whole room and
it was too dark to take a short exposure, so I rested the
camera on the back of a chair to steady it enough for this
shot of my room. It’s still a little blurry, though, but
a heck of a lot better than my hand-held attempts! =)

3 comments:

tiggermama said...

believe it or not, you probably spell her name Edith, given how your pronouncing it. i'm so glad you're having fun. Thought of you hiking around France while i was hiking around NH this weekend.

Rabid Quilter from CA said...

Beautiful, Ryan! Love reading your postings once again.

~~Doublesaj & Old Blue~~

Eric Schroyer said...

It is so great reading your stories and viewing your spectacular pictures. Feels like you've brought us all there in your bag with you. Love the abandoned Motorcycle picture. Wonder if anyone found an abandoned little plush moose in the western United States and posted a picture of it on their blog... Happy hiking and keep the stories and pictures coming

Eric (chill E)