Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Day 16: Sleeping With the Dead

Dscn0410bAugust 27: In the morning, Maria wanted coffee. She didn’t carry a stove, but by now knew I had one and asked to use it for her coffee. In theory, I didn’t really mind. In practice, I found it kind of annoying since it slowed me down. I don’t like cooking meals for breakfast because I want to get up and start hiking as early as possible when the temperatures are cooler and more comfortable. I didn’t really want to mess around with a stove so early in the morning.

Then, as she ripped open her packet of coffee, she realized that it wasn’t actually coffee at all, but soup. So she ended up making a soup breakfast by accident instead. Ooops. I actually found this pretty amusing and it almost make up for my annoyance at getting a later start than necessary.
In the first town of the day, Marsolan, Maria went on a hunt for coffee. A sign walking into town pointed down a street where there was supposed to be a small market, although the hours on the sign suggested it would be about 10 minutes before they opened. No problem. We walked over to the church to admire it and fill up with water at a facet in front. I didn’t need anything from the market so I volunteered to watch her bag and wait while she got her coffee fix.

She returned about five minutes later saying that the store was closed on Mondays. And today was Monday. Still no coffee for Maria.

We continued hiking, and Maria was considerably slower today than the day before which she blamed on her lack of coffee.

It wasn’t until we reached the bustling town of Condom—no, that is not a typo, that’s actually the name of the town—where we went to a supermarket and Maria finally got her coffee fix. I did do some shopping here picking up cereal and items for lunch including a sandwich an a liter of milk. I didn’t really want an entire liter of milk, but that was the smallest size I could find available. Maria, thoughtfully, but me a liter of Coke during her shopping spree. It was a surprisingly nice gesture on her part. The day before I had mentioned wanting a cold Coke more-or-less in passing. Unfortunately, the large bottle of Coke she bought me wasn’t cold. Only the cans were refrigerated. The Coke was room temperature, and I already had a liter of milk I needed to down. So I packed the Coke in my backpack to drink later and downed the milk immediately.

Dscn0413bI also bought a very small bottle of a lemonade-flavored water. I think that’s what it was supposed to be. I only wanted a small bottle with a twist-off cap to pour denatured alcohol into. I didn’t care about what was in the bottle, and this lemonade-flavored water was the smallest bottle I could find to fit my purposes. I’d been having trouble with the stupid child-proof cap that came on the bottle that my denatured alcohol was sold in and I was tired of it. I wanted to transfer the fuel to an easy-to-open bottle. I wasn’t worried about children getting into it, after all!

So I bought this water, and figured I may as well drink the contents since I had purchased it, but as soon as I opened it, it fizzed a lot and I didn’t feel like drinking any sort of carbonated beverage. I asked Maria if she wanted to drink it, and she said so, so I started to pour it out in the planter and Maria jumped up, “Stop! What are you doing?”

“You didn’t want it,” I told her, “and I only wanted the bottle—not the contents. So I’m pouring it out.”

She couldn’t stand to see the contents poured out like that, however, and poured the rest into her own bottle of water. Once my bottle was emptied, I poured the contents of the denatured alcohol into it. It wasn’t quite large enough to hold all of my denatured alcohol, but at least I would no longer have to struggle with the child-proof cap every day. Now I could just struggle with it once every week or two whenever the smaller bottle ran out. =)

We took a relatively long lunch break in Condom—a solid 30 kilometers from where we started the day, and it was still only lunch! We walked into the center of town and laid back in the shade next to the church to beat the heat of the day. I popped open the warm bottle of Coke to start drinking so I wouldn’t have to carry it so far. Frankly, I kind of wanted to throw it away completely, but I figured that might hurt Maria’s feelings. But I certainly didn’t want to carry it very far, so I decided to try drinking it all before I left town. When I popped open the cap, the soda exploded everywhere, which Maria found hilariously funny. I guess the short walk from the supermarket to the center of town was enough to shake up the bottle to make quite a mess. Oops. =) Once the fizzing stopped and I cleaned my hands of the fizzing soda, it took me nearly two hours to finish off since I had already filled up from the milk.

The city of Condom was where the condom was first invented and tested. (Not true.) English speakers everywhere like to get their photos taken at the town’s entrance. (Completely true, but the Camino doesn’t enter town along the road so we miss that little photo op.) The French probably think that English-speaking people are crazy anyhow, but apparently there is a nearby river that, in English, means nothing, but in French is the word that describes the action that condoms are used for. (Really!) Those silly French…

In the church, there was a guy manning a table with information about the Camino and a stamp—my first church stamp since Le Puy. He also told Maria of an alternate route for the Camino that was shorter. It used to be the main path the Camino followed, but it had been rerouted a few years back and was no longer marked. Well, perhaps there were some old markers that were still visible, but basically, you couldn’t count on them. He gave her a small sheet with written directions about how to follow the old path, though.

I looked at the route on the map and saw three problems with the old route. First, it didn’t really look all that much shorter. The two routes looked almost identical in length. Maria said it was 22 kilometers shorter—that’s a lot shorter—and I simply didn’t believe it. More likely, I think the old route misses 22 kilometers of the new route. But if the old route was 20 kilometers, then it would be two kilometers shorter, and just looking at a map, they’d still look like they were more-or-less the same distance. In any case, I wasn’t convinced that the old route would cut off much distance.
Dscn0425bAnother problem was that the old route looked like it followed on or near much bigger routes than the new route took. Frankly, I’d prefer walking a few extra kilometers if it meant I could stay on backroads with dirt paths than near busy highways.

And finally, none of my guidebooks had any information about the old route in it. I wouldn’t know where I could restock water, where to find lodging or which towns had shops or restaurants. If I went the old route, I would, almost literally, be going blind. I found that I liked knowing when I could get more water and when a town with a restaurant was coming up.

At the tourist office in Condom, I asked the girl manning the desk there about the weather forecast for overnight and the next day. She seemed surprised by the question, but confidently predicted that it would be the same as today. I didn’t much like her forecast, though. First, I doubted that the weather would be exactly the same two days in a row. Second, I was a little concerned that she hadn’t even bothered to look up an actual weather forecast. Did she really look at one earlier and remember it, or is she just assuming that the weather doesn’t change much from day to day? I was a leery, but I didn’t see that there was anything I could do about it.

Maria, though, who was hiking 4,000 kilometers from Budapest to Lisbon and beyond, wanted to take every shortcut she could find, so none of these problems concerned her. As long as the route was shorter, she was going for it.

So we parted ways at Pont d’Artigues, an old Roman bridge that crossed over the River Osse. She planned to camp right at the bridge—and it was a lovely campsite, but I wanted to push on a bit further. I was about to leave when she pulled out a bag of beef ravioli. She had bought it at the supermarket that afternoon knowing I had a stove to cook, and she assumed we’d be camping together again that night. My walking away with the stove hadn’t been in her plans.

Since it didn’t really matter if I stopped to eat dinner here at the bridge or further ahead where I wanted to camp, I went ahead and stopped and cooked up the ravioli. I like ravioli anyhow and hadn’t even known it would be on the menu. =) Another Maria surprise. She really needs to make her own soda can stove, though. She certainly seemed pretty fond of mine!

When dinner was finished, I cleaned up my pot and repacked my backpack. It was kind of sad parting ways. She’d been my longest hiking companion since I started the hike—basically two full days—and it had been nice having a hiking partner around. We hugged, then she went back to her tent and I continued hiking. I really needed more water anyhow, and my plan had been to hike to the next water source then look for a place to camp. That was still my plan.

I arrived at the next water source, the Eglise de Routges, the oldest church in the region, a little after sunset. A water faucet was near the entrance of the church and cemetery. Earlier in the day, Maria told me that all cemeteries had water faucets so people could water flowers and such, and showed two cemeteries along the route that did indeed have water faucets that had not been marked in any of my guidebooks. This particular one had been marked in my guidebook, and I wondered if the ones that weren’t were actually safe to drink or not. Just because the cemetery had water didn’t mean it was potable water! After all, flowers don’t care if water is potable or not. But since apparently Maria had been drinking from cemetery water sources all the way from Budapest and didn’t get sick, maybe there was something to her theory. None of the sources said the water wasn’t potable—but nor did they say it was safe to drink either.

Dscn0436bSince my guidebook listed this water source, I wasn’t too concerned. And anyhow, I really needed water at this point, and beggars can’t be choosers.

I arrived quite a bit later than I had expected because of the stop to cook dinner with Maria. The sun had set several minutes before I even arrived at the church and cemetery and it was quickly getting dark. And I decided that rather than continue on to find a place to camp, I’d just set up camp directly in the cemetery. It was nice and grassy, at the top of a hill in the middle of friggin’ nowhere so it seemed unlikely that anyone would stumble upon my unusual campsite. The area was surrounded with vineyards as far as the eye could see—all except this small church and the small, adjacent cemetery.

And, truth be told, I kind of liked the idea of camping in a cemetery. I feel a certain kind of comfort with the dead. I absolutely loath the “modern cemeteries” that are manicured to death and nobody is ever allowed to have fun on. You’re supposed to be somber and spectral and silent and still. And let me tell you, if the dead in those kind of cemeteries could talk, I’m absolutely convinced they’ll tell you that they’re absolutely bored to DEATH! Just because they’re dead, why would they no longer want to see their grandchildren playing hike-and-seek, even if it’s in their graveyard? Why wouldn’t they want to hear people laugh or be happy? Good grief, being enclosed in a tiny box six feet underground where the most exciting thing to happen each week is having a lawn mower roll over you—that’s my idea of hell right there.

Consequently, I don’t feel like the dead would mind if I camped in their cemetery. The dead people’s relatives might, but the dead people—even if they could talk—I don’t think they’d mind. They’d probably enjoy a little lively company once in awhile. (But all the same, I would walk to the back of the church and well away from the cemetery to take a leak. Peeing on graves in a cemetery is something I think that would bother the dead—if they could talk. And I’ll also say that for drinking a liter of milk, followed by a liter of Coke, and more-or-less a liter or so of water, I didn’t have much liquid coming out. I lost most of my fluids through sweat!) And since there were absolutely no houses around and the sun had already set, the changes of a loved one visiting their buried dead and catching me camping there seemed slim. So by golly, I was going to camp with the dead.
Even better, it was a full moon (not really), and Friday the 13th (not really), so it should be fun! (Which really is true.)

As the sky drew darker, I wrote in my journal. Then I had time to chat with the dead. Of course, they didn’t chat back. Which is okay by me. That would have really freaked me out if they did! So it was more of a one-sided conversation, but I figured they’d been bored to tears in their little boxes and probably liked to listen to a foreigner that didn’t speak their local language. =) I asked if they’d like to hear a rousing rendition of The Cremation of Sam McGee. None of them objected, so I took that as a yes, and recited it to the dead. None of the French people on the trail could appreciate it, and the dead probably didn’t understand it any better, but I know they enjoyed the show. It was probably the most exciting thing that happened to them all year.

Then I headed off to sleep. It was late and I had another long day of hiking in the morning!

This sign kind of amused me. At first I thought it was for a four-star
hotel (hotels in France are rated between 1 to 4 stars),
but when I looked closer, I saw it’s actually rated as four grasshoppers.
I’m not sure I’d go bragging about how many grasshoppers your
hotel has!

The trail passed field after field of sad, dead and dying
sunflowers. People had carved happy faces and hearts
into the ones bordering the trail which looked oddly out
of place with the said, wilted look, so I carved a
sad face into one of them. Kind of looks like
something from a horror movie, I think! =) That’s
one sunflower I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley…


Another balloon sighting in the early morning hours. This is the third
day I’ve seen hot air balloons on my hike!

The long road into Condom…

Inside the cathedral in Condom.

The entry way above the door fascinated me the
most about the cathedral. The details are amazing!

One of these people is an imposter! (Hint: It’s not the guy on the right.)

Pont d’Artigues, an ancient Roman bridge.

When I left the bridge, sunset was fast approaching!

When I arrived at the cemetery, it was already getting dark, so this
was the only half-decent photo I got. You can see my campsite
peaking out from behind the grave, though. =)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it is better to be sleeping with the dead in a cemetery rather than sleeping with the fishes!