Today was a day full of surprises. The first unwelcome surprise is that the chemin out of Estaing is a very steep climb in the woods. I would guess at least 300 metres vertical. I have to stop at least ten times to catch my breath on the way up, in the rain and the cold. There has been so much rain that the path, one person wide, is a busy stream, running downhill past me.There is no surprise that it is cold and raining. It was cold and raining when I went to bed and I slept fitfully with two blankets. I was however, alone in my little cubicle, so I could spread out my gear. In the morning I eat some yogurt and a banana that I bought yesterday and share some tea that Aurele and Jean-Louis have made.
I gear up, wearing my fleece, my rain jacket and my rain pants – yes, it is raining that hard – and off I go across the river Lot on the huge four-arch bridge and start to follow the signage. There is an immediate hard left turn followed by the climb. After I have finally reached the top of this very steep long climb, there is, happily, a paved road and I follow the signs, the red over white rectangle marking for a GR (grande randonée). Perhaps half an hour later I meet a family of four, two adults, two children, who turn out to be a couple with two of their grand-children.
The next and much more unwelcome surprise is that I am not going where I think I am going. As we walk he asks me where I am headed today and I tell him “Golinhac”. He says; “But this is not the way to Golinhac. We are heading for Campuac”. It turns out that I am on GR 6, not GR 65, miles out of my way and I have no idea where I went wrong. I did not realize that there was a junction. And since it is pissing down rain, this is not a good time to pull out my guidebook and see. As I stand there dumbfounded, he asks me what will I do. I tell him that I will go on, then see what I can figure out to get to where I intend to be. After a few minutes of walking together, he asks if I have booked a bed in Golinhac. I tell him that I have not. He then suggests that I walk with them as far as Campuac, which I agree to do. What else am I going to do? I am effectively lost in this wet cold hilly wilderness.
The little girl walks with me. I have told them that I am Canadian and she, Cassandre Fouques Duparc, wants to practice her English and, like most kids, is not shy about another language. She is actually pretty good. (Her mother is a translator). She tells me that she is 11 and the boy, who is her cousin Victor Vasseur and taller, is 10. The two adults are not their parents, but their grandparents, Arlette and Daniel.
At one point we come across a little hamlet where there is a man doing something rural and Daniel stops to talk with him. It isn’t raining at the moment. The discussion is friendly and animated and has to do something with Daniel knowing someone or is related somehow to someone here and it all ends up with us being invited into Jean Radalié’s “cave”, his wine cellar which is at road level and we are invited to have a little wine for the road. It’s only just past 11, but the sun is over the yard-arm somewhere. Arlette has a rosé, Daniel and Jean and I have some red wine, from a barrel marked 18-4-12, which means the wine is 6 days old. And it is just fine. At this point Daniel asks me if I would like to stay where they are staying overnight, at the gite of a friend in Campuac. Yes I would – these are kind and friendly folk – so he calls and makes the arrangement. We are so appreciative of Jean’s wine-making efforts that Jean offers a little taste of a fortified wine, Aperitif Ratafia, which he has made. This is also just fine and just what we need as the skies open up again and off we go. Just before we leave a whole herd of cows walks by us on the road. The kids are delighted.
Yesterday I noticed walking into Estaing that the sign was bilingual, French and – I am guessing here – langue d’Oc. I seize the moment here and ask Jean if he speaks langue d’Oc. He laughs and tells me, in French; “Yes, but you won’t understand a word”. The he launches into the ancient local language and he’s right. None of us understands a word. But I find it fascinating that an old local language is still being spoken here.
The path veers off the road after a few minutes and we descend in another steep brook to where it joins a larger stream which is surging over the path, about 15 feet wide, muddy and no way to avoid walking through it. Daniel tries to walk over the place where the water drops rapidly away, but it does not look safe and if he slips he will be 50 feet downstream and way downhill. About ten feet above that, it’s fast but flat, so I test with my poles, discover that it is less than a foot deep and walk smartly across. I figure less time in the water is less water in the boots. And it works pretty well. My boots and lower pants are soaked but my feet feel dry. (It’s an illusion, which I will discover later when I take my boots off.) I have a photo but am failing photo insertion. So you will get to see it later when I am less tired.
After another arduous climb, we stop for something to eat in a farmyard. Yes, the path here, just as in Spain, goes through people’s property. We share what we have, some bread, sausage, cheese. It’s not much but it hits the spot. Again the trail descends into a ravine with rushing water at the bottom, but it is narrow enough that we can jump it. Of course, the descent is followed immediately by another hard ascent. I am getting tired of this … and I am getting tired. At last we see a sign for Campuac and Cassandre shouts out; “We are here!” Well, it turns out that we ARE in Campuac, where the only bar is For Sale, and the friend’s gite is about 2 km the other side, out in the country. So we walk and walk … and walk.
Just before we arrive here, we meet with two pilgrims, brothers Pierre and Jacques Vuillet, who Daniel tells me are friends. They are coming to the same gite, where they will meet their brother Guy, who is bringing all three wives by car to meet the pilgrim pair. They started from their home, just this side of the Swiss border from Geneva and intend to walk to Santiago.
At one point the rain turns to hail. As if it hasn’t been miserable enough! At least it is mostly level and all paved, but I sure am glad when we turn in to a long country lane. It is the gite d’etape du Barthas and Mimi, the hospitaliere, makes me feel like part of the extended family. It is Victor, the 10-year-old, who stamps my pilgrim passport.
Cassandre has borrowed my book and after reading about 40 pages (her mother is a translator) with a very serious voice pronounces it “super”. That warms the cockles of my heart. At dinner I promise them that I will send three copies; one for Cassandre, one for Victor and one for Daniel and Arlette.
It is sunny for a little bit, then back to rain … and always cold. I see a newspaper headline that reads “the weather makes a mockery of springtime”. I would agree.
I tell Mimi and Daniel that I feel very lucky that I got lost today. and ended up here with this family. Daniel tells me that it is St. Jacques who got me lost today. I can scarcely argue.
We have an excellent dinner, starting with an aperitif, then quiche and salad, sausage with baby peas and carrots, cheese plate, creme brulee, all accompanied by red wine. After dinner people want to take photos. Mimi, the hospitaliere, stands next to me (she is about 3 inches taller than me when I’m sitting) and holds my hand. I love it. It is like being an honoured member of the family – such love.
I go to bed, warm, dry and full of good food and red wine, hopeful that my clothes and my boots will be dry in the morning. It is raining and blowing as I go to sleep.