Friday, September 28, 2012

Day 14: The German Pianists

Dscn0241bAugust 25: I took my time leaving the hotel. With only 19 kilometers (barely over 10 miles) to Auvillar, I had no reason to rush. The chance of rain overnight never developed, but the clouds looked dark and stormy and certainly could start throwing out rain at any moment. In theory, I could have gotten an early start and tried to get in as many miles before the rain started as I could, but I didn’t feel like it. It seemed all but certain it would rain on me, and whether I walked for five miles or ten miles in the rain, it didn’t make much of a difference. No matter what, though, I planned to have a dry place to crash at the end of the day.

Because of the rain, I wrote out the major landmarks and mile markers on a small sheet of paper that I put in a ZipLock and stuffed in my pocket. I didn’t want to pull out my guidebooks to track my progress when it was raining, so I created my own abbreviated cheat sheet instead.

I followed the trail for perhaps a kilometer—not very far out of town—before it fell alongside with a canal towpath. Completely flat and utterly scenic. I had no complaints. An alternate route left the towpath and headed up into the mountains then came back down again, but I didn’t know anyone who planned to do that. It seemed like an unnecessary hardship. The canal towpath was wonderful—only a fool would leave it voluntarily.

And most of the day, I followed the towpath. The only places where the trail wasn’t completely flat was at the occasional lock where the trail would climb and over a road, then down the other side to the lower water level on the other side. But even those only involved all of about 20 feet of elevation gain and loss.

About halfway to Auvillar, the rain finally started. It was a light rain, barely a sprinkle, and I pulled out my umbrella to keep my head dry.

Eventually the trail left the towpath and headed to the hilltop city of Auvillar—a short but steep climb—where I walked into the tourist office to get some information about lodging. The rain had finally stopped, but I didn’t want to run around town looking for places with space still available. After how well it worked out in Cajors, I liked the idea of having someone call around for a available space. And the girl in the tourist office was kind enough to help me in this regard. She ended up directing me to a location that was, quite literally, across the street. “Just knock on the door really loud,” she told me.

While in the tourist office, I noticed that they had a stamp sitting out on a table, and they were kind enough to stamp my credential. At long last, I finally learned that the tourist offices always had stamps, and after that, I’d stop in every tourist office I passed that was open to get the tampon. My credential would start filling up a lot faster from this day onward!

I walked across the street and knocked on the door loudly, as instructed, and a young, cute girl answered the door. I asked, in French, if she knew English, and she did, but then quickly ran off to “get someone.” I assumed she must have been another hiker staying at the location, but I hadn’t seen her before.

Dscn0244bThe proprietor of the establishment, an older woman with a big smile, came in and welcomed me and badly accented English—the kind that I had to concentrate very hard to understand what she said—but she seemed excited that I had arrived and I couldn’t help but like her. She had me follow her up the stairs—a creaky,uneven, wooden staircase where I could see holes through some of the joints into the floor before. It looked like the kind of a staircase out of a horror movie, and woman explained to me that the building was constructed in the 15th century. I didn’t ask if it was haunted, but I hoped it was. Everything about the place looked 15th century. Even the walls seemed like they were thrown up haphazardly, never quite vertical. In many places, I could see through the small cracks in the thin floorboards.

After going up two floors, she paused to point out the bathroom and shower, then we climbed one more floor to the top floor. The room had three beds, all of which were empty, and I picked one in the corner and set my stuff down.

She left me, and I opened my backpack and pulled out a change of clothes and headed down to the shower.

The shower was also a bathtub, and I had an immediate urge to take a bath instead. I don’t usually do baths very often, but a soak in hot water seemed like just the way to heal my achy muscles.
After the bath, I took my laptop downstairs to get on their wi-fi connection, and the other proprietor, who also spoke poor, heavily-accented English, told me that the place was filled with professional pianists from Germany, and that I was invited to a free concert they’d be having that evening. I was sure I was misunderstanding him, but that’s what I heard coming from him. I thanked him and said I’d be happy to attend, not entirely sure what I was promising to attend.

While working on a blog entry, I heard a piano playing, and whoever it was, they definitely knew what they were doing. They weren’t playing Chopsticks—that’s for sure!

A little after 7:00, I heard another piano playing from outside, and I wandered out where the concert had already started. Several rows of chairs had been set up for the citizens of Auviller to watch. One of the fellows introduced each person who was to play, in French, and the only words I understood were the names of the composers. Beethoven! I thought. I heard the name Beethoven! He must be playing Beethoven! One of the girls played Chopin. Another person played Shubert. That’s about all I knew of the pieces that were played.

This went on for an hour or so, until they had all taken their turns and the concert came to an end. The proprietor told me she was going to go in and start dinner, and that I was welcome to join them for dinner. Normally, they didn’t cook dinner for their guests, but this was a special occasion. I went in and offered to help.
Dscn0250b“You young people are always volunteering to help,” she told me, and gave me the task to break up some old, stale bread into smaller pieces. I wasn’t sure what it would be used for, but I didn’t ask and just followed directions.

The rest of the pianists came in several minutes later and they started helping with various tasks as well, and it was the first time I really talked to any of them and learned their story. They were, in fact, all Germans. So were the proprietors, and so German became the primary language used this particular evening. Except when some of them turned to English for my benefit.

The few words I’d learned in French did nothing to help me when I was in a room full of Germans.
I finished breaking the bread and took a seat, hoping to get somewhat close to the cute girl that originally answered the door for me. Not just because she was cute either—but she also spoke very good English. She wandered over to one side of the dinner table, and I picked a seat at that end, not entirely sure if she’d sit next to me or not but I figured I would likely be close enough to have someone to talk to. She walked around me and took the seat next to me. Yes!

The other cute, young girl took the seat at the head of the table on the other side of me. She too spoke English very well, so I was happy to have her on the other side of me. And I wondered how much of that was coincidence. It seemed like the better people spoke English, the closer they were located to me. Those who didn’t know English at all sat at the far end of the table. Or maybe I’m just a chick magnet and the girls were drawn to me like a moth to a flame. =)

The two girls came from different parts of Germany and spoke with distinctly different accents. The one on the left seemed like she had a British accent. Not like a native British speaker, but had an accent like that was where she learned it. The girl on the right had an accent, but it didn’t sound like a British accent. An American accent? So I asked about why their accents sounded so different—was one of them taught English by an Englishman and the other learned from an American or something?
They didn’t think that was the reason, though. No, more likely, they told me, it was because one of them spoke ‘high German’ while the other normally spoke ‘low German.’ I’m not really sure what the difference between the two are, but they described the low German as a ‘lazy’ way of talking while the high German was tended to sound more “formal” and precise. Kind of like the British English, I suppose, and maybe that’s why she sounded like she had a British kind of accent?
It was all a fascinating discussion, and they taught me how to say “Good morning!” in both high German and low German. But now if I meet someone from Germany, I’m not really sure which one I should open with. Hmmm…
They told me that they were told that it’s considered rude to pour your own wine in France, so one of the girls had a wine bottle and started pouring wine for everyone. I didn’t really want any wine—not my favorite drink—but I let her pour me a little. “Just a little!” I said, with my fingers an inch apart from each other. She poured half a cup—ugh!

Then she gave me the wine bottle, and I poured her a glass of wine.
It took me close to ten minutes to finish the glass of wine, sipping it slowly and trying hard not to make faces that would give away how much I didn’t like it, but I finally finished the glass and was proud of the accomplishment.

I continued eating dinner—the chunks of bread I made were poured into a soup—and one of the girls grabbed the wine bottle and poured me another glass. Crap! Are they trying to get me drunk?
I returned the favor and poured her a glass too.

Once again I finished the glass of wine, and this time I smartly poured water into the glass as soon as I was done. No refills for me!

Where I failed, however, was when I drank all the water and forgot to refill my glass with more water. I wound up with a third glass of wine, much to my disappointment. Good grief, I thought, maybe they are trying to get me drunk!

I was perfectly happy to fill their glasses whenever they got low, though. =)

The dinner came out as several courses—I lost count. I’m not sure if it was because I was having too much fun talking to everyone to keep track of if the alcohol played a roll in my memory lapse—and lasted for two or three hours.

One of the other women, who was originally from Tokyo but now lived in Germany, brought out a “French for Americans” book she had. It was given to her as a gift, but since she didn’t speak English well and certainly couldn’t sound out words written in phonetic English, she just found the book funny more than helpful. All the Germans thought the book was hilarious because it had pronunciations for French words, but to them, none of the pronunciations sounded correct. So they had me try some of the words.

“How would you say this one?” one man asked. And I’d sound it out, not even sure what the word actually meant.

He nodded his head in approval. “You totally have it!” he exclaimed, seemingly surprised. “It really does work for Americans!”

After dinner was finally over, the Germans started playing a game of 6-person ping-pong. I didn’t even know you could play ping-pong with six people, and I watched them, fascinated, as one person would take a swing at the ball then rush around to the other side of the table to wait for their turn to return the ball. At one point, of the girls rushing around the table tripped on a carpet and crashed quite hard to the ground. She picked herself up and dusted herself off, but I had to comment to her that I’d heard of people suffering “ping-pong injuries,” but could never figure out how someone could really hurt themselves playing such a simple game. I know better now. =)

And finally, the party broke up. Everyone went back to their rooms for the night and we all went to sleep. No other hikers arrived so I had the room all to myself, and all of the rooms below me were filled with German concert pianists. In France. I never had so much fun. =)

Once the rain started, I started taking photos from
under the umbrella. (I deliberately let the umbrella
show up in this photo, though.)

A bridge across the canal.

Near the end of the canal walk, the trail crossed to the other side
where it wasn’t paved.

Even in France, I know a nuclear power plant when I see one!
But it’s a little unnerving to see so much “smoke” coming
up out of them!

After the canal towpath, it was a road walk the rest of the way into Auviller.

A church in Espalais.

A short but steep climb into Auviller. (This part actually isn’t very steep.)

The central square in Auviller.

Looking out from the central square.

The clock tower in Auviller.

My room for the night! =)

The whole town turned out for the piano concert!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Day 13: Outwitted by a Shopping Cart!

Dscn0141bAugust 24: I walked into the hilltop town of Lauzerte pretty early in the morning. In the United States, you’ll usually find towns down in valleys and near rivers or oceans. A lot of the small towns in France, however, are on hilltops—the better to defend against invasions. Lauzerte is probably no longer in any danger of invasion, except, perhaps, of the tourist variety. The town is absolutely beautiful!

Near the base, just before the long, steep climb to the top of the city, I saw a large building with lots of shopping carts out front that suggested it might be a supermarket. And I’m always excited whenever I find a place large enough to have shopping carts because that means it’s larger than the typical shop with a lot more options available.

I have to say, however, the shopping carts in France are annoying me. I can see the shopping carts, but I’ll be darned if I can figure out how to actually use one. They’re all locked into each other, and I’ve never been able to separate one of the carts from the rest. I’ve quietly watched other people walking around with their carts, and it appears that you have to slip in a euro coin or two to unlock them. I’m not entirely sure, but I think when you return the cart, it releases the coins again to you. Kind of like a deposit that you get back when you’re done using the cart. It might even be a good idea—maybe it’ll help avoid all those lonely shopping carts that wind up miles away from where they started.

I’ve thought about putting in some coins to get the shopping cart, but I never had the correct change on me to make it work. It’s very frustrating because I don’t want to walk around with my heavy pack. A shopping cart would be great! I could throw my pack in it, wander around the store, and all is good.
But since I’ve never managed to successfully free a shopping cart, I wound up walking around with the pack on my back and using a smaller basket with a handle that I could lug around like luggage. The basket isn’t big enough to hold my pack, though.

In the store, a woman accidentally backed into me and turned around, saying, “Sorry!”

I was stunned. She said sorry! In English!

“You speak English!” I exclaimed.

And indeed she did. She was an American, after all. She’d been living in France for the last ten years, though.

“Then why did you apologize for bumping into me in English?” I asked. “Did I look American or something?”

No, she just hadn’t learned French. I was a little disappointed to hear this. Living in France for the last ten years and she didn’t even know how to say sorry in French yet? She said she hasn’t learned French because she was older and it’s difficult for older people to pick up new languages. Yeah, maybe it is more difficult, but foreign languages ARE hard! It doesn’t matter what age you are! And frankly, after ten years, she could have been 90 and been speaking French pretty darned well if she really had made an effort.

And I found myself a little annoyed with her. It seems disgraceful to me to live in a country and not bother to learn the local language. Oh, yes, I know, I’ve been in France for a couple of weeks and I can’t have a conversation in French to save my life, but a few important differences: I’d only been in the country for a couple of weeks! Hardly enough time to master an entirely new language. I was also going to be leaving the country in another couple of weeks. I wasn’t living in France—I was just a mere visitor. And finally, I actually was learning some French in my travels. Not a whole lot, admittedly, but if I learned just one new word every day, I’d know close to 4,000 words after ten years! One word a day for my duration in France might get me 30 words.

But all the same, it was exciting to talk to an honest-to-goodness American. It was only the second time since I started my hike that I bumped into an American.
We parted ways and I continued looking around for various groceries. I purchased my goods, setting off the alarm when I tried to take the basket through the checkout line. Oops. I guess because I didn’t feed a coin into the basket, they didn’t want anyone walking out of the building with those.
Checking out at grocery stores has become something of a chore for me. I hate it. The main reason being because the stores like to charge 5 cents per plastic bag that you use. What this means is that they never put your groceries in bags unless you explicitly ask for them. And frankly, I don’t really want the plastic bags anyhow. I just need to get them outside so I can repackage the goods out of cardboard boxes and into ZipLock bags, eat and drink whatever goods I bought for my late-morning lunch, and put everything in my pack and get going. So basically, I just need something to carry my groceries outside! I don’t want to pay for a bunch of plastic bags that I would use, quite literally, for about one minute.

And they won’t let me take the basket outside.

And I haven’t been able to “free” a shopping cart.

So when it comes time to check out, things get “messy.” I start throwing everything into my backpack all willy-nilly and without any order. Then the checker finishes ringing everything up, so it’s time to pay, and I’ll hand over my credit card which they’ll swipe as I franticly stuff food that doesn’t fit into my pack. Then they want me to sign the slip, so I let go of my pack to sign it, then my pack falls over and everything I stuffed in so willy-nilly falls out.

I return the slip and the pen, and the checker hands me a receipt—and where the heck do I put that? So I stuff it in a pocket, then franticly try to stuff all the food back into my backpack.

In the meantime, the checker is waiting for me to finish. He can’t even start scanning the goods for the next person because then their food would get mixed up with my food. So they wait patiently for me to get all my food into my pack, which puts a lot of stress on me to hurry up and get out of their way. Invariably, I knock my trekking pole over, which makes a large clattering sound, and an audience starts building around me, watching the fumbling American with his groceries.

Eventually, I get most of the groceries into my pack. The last few items I figure I can carry out by hand. I retrieve my trekking pole, put on my pack, and walk outdoors, then look for a place to sit down and unpack my franticly-loaded pack for repacking properly.

Dscn0147bSo I don’t much like the whole checkout process—but the problem could be solved, easily, if they were just willing to give out plastic bags for free, allowed me to use the basket to carry my groceries out, or had a grocery cart I could actually outsmart.

Eventually, though, I finally make it outside. There’s nowhere to sit, except on the ground next to the building. No chairs or tables to sit down or rest or relax. So I sit down, because by now I’m tired of standing anyhow, and eat the food and drink the beverage I acquired that’s heavy and bulky and was meant for immediate consumption. Then I repack whatever other food I bought that needs to be repacked.

An hour after I arrive, I’m finally ready to continue to hike.

Up the hill to the top of Lauzerte, a beautiful little town that I only see for about five minutes because just as soon as I reach the top, I’m heading down the other side and back out of town. No sense wasting time by sitting around—I’d already wasted an hour at the supermarket!

Late in the afternoon, the trail went into another town with about five houses and a restaurant/hotel called Aube-Nouvelle. I stopped there to rest and get out from under the heat of the brutal mid-day sun. I ordered a salad and a Coke. The salad was lovely, and so was the Coke. And I lingered for a few hours reading my Kindle and killing time.

But then it was time to keep hiking. I paid my bill and continued on.

My plan was to find a place to camp just before the town of Moissac. I’d have done a solid 20 miles of hiking, and my guidebook showed a water source at Chapelle d’Espis. My plan was to bulk up with water there, then stop at the next good place to camp for the night.

A kilometer or so past the chapel, there was an orchard, and I seriously considered camping in the orchard. The weather forecast did include a slight chance of rain—about 20 or 30%—so I needed somewhere I could set up my tarp, and the trees of the orchard were perfect for that, and the ground under the trees were clear of thick vegetation. The only thing that held me back was that the ground look rock solid without even any grasses to dull the hardened ground. And if it did rain, there was a good chance that the ground would turn to mud. I can find something better than this, I thought. I’ve always been able to find great little places to camp. No reason to stop at a mediocre location, at best.
And anyhow, I had a Plan B. My map showed the trail getting off the paved road just before Moissac and crossing a small stream over a footbridge. If push came to shove, I could probably set up camp there. It was a little further away than I wanted, but it would do.

Dscn0150bAs I walked passed the orchard, more houses started popping up along the road, and I first started getting an idea that maybe I had made a mistake. Maybe I should have taken the orchard when I had the chance, because there weren’t anymore orchards as I got closer to Moissac. Just more houses and more people.

But! I still had Plan B! Plan B would save me!
Until I arrived at the creek crossing, and I saw that someone’s backyard was backed right into it and in plain view. Even worse, several people were in the backyard sitting around chatting. There was no way I could stealth camp there and not get caught. I continued walking, praying for anything at this point. I stealth camped my way through the Florida Keys. Certainly I could stealth camp somewhere in or near Moissac.

Eventually I started getting into the heart of the city. Individual houses were now gone—just wall-to-wall buildings lining the streets with an occasional alleyway to get behind some of them. I did pass one place that looked like it had been gutted by a fire and was seemingly unoccupied, but I didn’t want to set up camp in a condemned building either.

I had planned to stop hiking nearly an hour earlier, and now I was in the middle of town, the sun had set, and it was quickly starting to get dark. Why didn’t you stop at the orchard! I thought to myself. Because you thought the ground was too hard?! *rolling eyes*

In town, I decided that looking for paid lodging would be my Plan C. I kept my eyes open for any signs for hotels or gites, and still, I saw nothing. In fact, some of the streets I walked on looked like they might even be considered the “bad” part of town with lots of graffiti and run-down buildings.
Then I lost the trail markers. They were there one block, and not there the next. I did see a strange symbol, new to me, that I had followed for over a kilometer that seemed to overlap the GR 65, but I didn’t really know what it was for. Without being able to find anymore GR 65 blazes, I started following the other strange symbols instead. It seemed to be going in the right direction in the heart of the town, and I knew the trail did go there.

I arrived at the Abbey Church of Saint Pierre, a huge an impressive building I admired from the outside. With darkness approaching, though, I didn’t even bother to try poking my head in. I needed to find a place to stop!

The strange symbols led me away from the Abbey, which I followed for about two minutes before my internal alarm bells started sounding off. The direction just felt wrong to me. They led me to the downtown area well enough, but my gut was telling me they led out of town in the wrong direction. I sat down and pulled out my guidebook, which conveniently had a written description for how to follow the trail out of town from if you were facing the main entrance to the abbey. I walked back to the abbey, now ignoring the strange symbols I had been following, and started following the written directions in my guidebook which, not surprisingly, took me out of town in an entirely different direction. And I also started picking up the GR 65 blazes again. YES! At least I was definitely back on the trail again!

A few blocks later, the trail passed by the Hotel-Restaurant du Luxembourg. Lodging! I walked in, praying they had a room available, which they did for 49 euros. A bargain under the circumstances! (But still, it was about 49 euros more than I had originally planned to spend for the night!)
I headed up to my room, dropped all my possessions, and jumped in the shower. Since I had one, I figured, I may was well make good use of it. =)

Very steep trail in some sections!

Someone had a nice view from a balloon!

The hilltop town of Lauzerte in the distance.

Hey, wait a minute… that looks suspiciously like a supermarket!

The town plaza at the top of Lauzerte.

Some cheerful hiker graffiti. =)


Looking back at Lauzerte over a field of dying sunflowers.

I’m not really sure how people are supposed to get into this structure…

A small church along the way…

The inside had some pretty simple decorations.

A fruit stand for pilgrims.

My lunch stop for the afternoon.

In places where intersections aren’t well-marked
with blazes, hikers make their own.


Chapelle d’Espis

Pilgrims walking into Moissac.

I didn’t even know Playboy had a European Tour!!!!

This is the strange symbol I started following when
I lost track of the GR 65 blazes.

Abbey church of Saint Pierre.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Day 12: Unexpected Surprises

Dscn0052bAugust 23: In the morning, I packed up my bags and headed downstairs. If the waiter from the day before was working in the morning, I planned to skip breakfast. Or at least not eat there. I still didn’t like him any better after a good night’s sleep. But there was no sight of him—just the nice girl who spoke English that checked me into my room the day before. So I sat at a table along the sidewalk there for breakfast and quickly checked my e-mail and Atlas Quest before starting the day’s hike.

For breakfast, the girl served—unsurprisingly—an assortment of breads and she offered me the choice of coffee, tea, or chocolate. There’s not as much variety as you might expect when it comes to French foods, unless you count several different types of bread as “variety.” I passed on the drinks, which seemed to shock the girl. I suspect I might have been the first person to ever turn her down on that. She asked if there was anything else she could get instead such as orange juice, and I agreed to orange juice. I like orange juice. I’d be happy to drink orange juice. =)

Finished, I walked out of town. I passed a couple of largish people who looked decked out in hiking gear, but they stood around on the sidewalk like they were waiting for a ride. I nodded politely when I passed them, then headed out of town on the remarkably, ancient bridge crossing the River Lot. The trail climbed steeply out of town, gaining altitude before it eventually leveled off to a more comfortable pace. The temperature, even so early in the morning, was distinctly warm. The clouds weren’t so thick today to keep the sun away and weather forecasts once again showed mid-90s for the next several days.

Several miles out of town, I caught up with some hikers, two of which I recognized as the ones I passed on the street while leaving Cajors. They introduced themselves, and they were French Canadians. I wouldn’t say that there are a lot of French Canadians on the trail, but they certainly outnumber any other North Americans by a wide margin, and a large portion of them know English which allows me to talk to them.

In this case, I didn’t ask the most obvious question of all—how did they get ahead of me after I passed them in town and never stopped to rest? It was obvious to me that they had taken a taxi up the steep climb out of Cajors then started walking on the more moderate section of the trail. My first confirmed case of “yellow blazing.” (An AT term for hikers the skip sections by hitchhiking—the yellow lines in the middle of the road being “yellow blazes.”)

That’s okay, though. These people never claimed to be walking from Le Puy to Santiago. In fact, they were only doing a short section from Conques to Moissac. (Not counting the small parts they skipped when the terrain looked a little too rough for them.) I also found out that they started in Conques the same day that I started in Le Puy. They definitely aren’t out to set any speed records, but they seemed like a happy couple having a good time. I was also happy to see them out hiking at all. They were both on the hefty side, and you don’t see that many people with so much weight committing to such vigorous exercise. So if they wanted to cheat by getting a ride around the steepest sections of the trail, I was ready to let them and applaud them for just being out there in the first place. Especially on a hot day such as this one!

I took another long lunch break. I planned for a four-hour break, but started getting restless after about three hours. Some clouds started rolling in providing shade and knowing rain was in the forecast ahead, I decided to cut my break early and continue on.

Dscn0054bJust outside of the town of Montcuq, a variant route presented itself. It was a couple of kilometers shorter than the main route, but it followed a much less busy road than the main route into Montcuq. When I call it a “busy” road, it’s all relative. A fast-moving car would buzz by every couple of minutes, but it was still much busier than most of the road walks and I didn’t much like it. Really, the only reason to stay on the main track and not go for the variant is if you needed some sort of lodging or supplies in Montcuq—neither of which I needed. So I went for the variant.

The variant and main track merged again on the other side of Montcuq, and I followed the trail to the next good campsite I could find a couple of kilometers later. I camped off in a meadow with only a thin line of trees and brush separating the meadow from the trail.

The first thing I usually do upon throwing out my groundsheet is to sit down and take off my shoes and socks and massage my feet. It feels absolutely wonderful. I suppose most people get excited whenever their feet are rubbed, but let me tell you, you really appreciate it after hiking 33 kilometers (over 20 miles) in a single day. It’s like scratching a deep-seated itch that never really goes away, but oh, wow, does it feel so incredibly awesome to scratch.

Which is when I first felt a bump on the back of my heal. A bump I wasn’t familiar with. I twisted my foot to see what was the matter and I had a blister! I hadn’t felt a hot spot there or any inkling a blister was forming, but I got my first trail blister and immediate named it Saint Jacques. =)
I pulled out my little first aid kit, grabbed the safety pin, and popped the blister, squeezing out the fluid. No problem! Good as new!

Shortly afterwards, I saw a dog walk into the meadow from other side. Then another. And another. I figured the owner was right behind them, taking them on a little walk, but no owner followed the three dogs out of the woods and then I realized—they were strays. They immediately saw me across the meadow and headed in my direction, and I quickly started organizing my gear into a single, central pile that I could protect. I didn’t want the dogs running off with my food or anything! At least the didn’t appear threatening. More like curious. They seemed as surprised to see me in their meadow as I was to see them.

One dog came right up to me, wagging its tale, adorable as could be, but I didn’t want to encourage it by petting it so I just watched. The other two dogs kept their distance a bit more, curious about this intruder in their meadow. They sniffed around for a minute or two, then wandered off again. I usually see stray animals in cities. I was more than a little surprised to find these three miles from the nearest town and wondered where they came from.

Near sunset, a couple of locals out for a walk went down the trail, and I thought they’d miss my campsite from through the trees, but at the last second, the woman caught something from my camp out of the corner of her eye and jumped a little with surprise.

“Bonjour!” I said, knowing she had spotted me. I was planning to let them pass without bringing any attention to myself.

Dscn0059bShe said something in French, something I didn’t understand, and I asked if she spoke English.

“A little,” she told me, then asked if I was hiking to Saint Jacques.

“Oui,” I told her. She asked where I was from. “The United States,” I answered, in French.

She asked if I had eaten yet, because if not, I was welcome to walk over to their house which wasn’t far away and they’d feed me dinner.

I was tempted. In fact, I hadn’t eaten yet and I would have loved to have eaten dinner with them, but I already had my stuff spread out all over the place and didn’t feel much like packing it all up again. And the sun had just set. By the time I walked to their house and ate dinner, it would be quite dark. Presumably, they’d probably let me camp in their yard or, if luck were really good, have a spare room for me to sleep in.

But all of my gear was already spread out and I felt really lazy. I just didn’t want to pack everything up, so I answered that, “Yes, I had already eaten dinner, but thanks for the offer!” Had she asked me an hour earlier, though, I’d probably have gone with them. It was a nice offer.

She explained that they had hiked the trail a few years earlier so had a soft spot for pilgrims already. Before leaving, she said, “You found a nice place to camp!” and give me a thumbs up.

“Yes, it’s a very nice place,” I agreed. =)

They left, and I wrote in my journal, ate dinner, brushed my teeth, and headed to sleep.


I stopped here for a quick snack break. =)



I’m a little curious why so many snails crawled up this
post to apparently die. (And it has a left turn symbol.
The yellow blaze is for another trail in the area
that happens to overlap the Camino at this point.)

I started seeing my first fields of sunflowers today. These
don’t look especially bright and cheerful, though. These seem
like sad sunflowers…

I was looking at these plants thinking, “What the heck are those!”
The leaves are HUGE! It looked like no crop I’ve ever found
in a supermarket before. Then I started thinking what kind of
salad would use such large leaves when it hit me—tobacco leaves.
This isn’t a crop for eating. This is a crop for smoking!
(Needless to say, where I grew up, you don’t see a lot
of this being grown. I bet Amanda would have recognized it
immediately, though!)


This seems to be a man-made lake. I’m not really sure why it was made, though.

A modest little chapel.

The inside of a modest little chapel.

Most chapels had a logbook like this one in it, but this
chapel had bundles of post-it type of notes on it.
I’m not really sure what those were about or what people
wrote on them. Prayers? Hopes? Dreams and wishes?
I just don’t know. =)

A little water for the road. It’s always nice to replace warm 90 degree water
with fresh, cool water from underground. =)

Sunset is coming—gotta find a place to camp!

Yep, this will do. =) The trail is just behind the trees on the left.

Everybody, meet Saint Jacques—my first blister of the trail. =)