There is a fierce cold wind this morning, but at least it isn’t raining. Daniel asks me if I would like to go with them today. They are heading towards Conques, but plan to do it in two easy stages, 13 km today and 9 km tomorrow, which will give them … and me … most of the day tomorrow in Conques for sight-seeing. It will also put me back on the GR 65.
We have a French country breakfast – coffee with hot milk, orange juice, baguettes with butter and a variety of home-made jams. Mimi is a resourceful cook, as well as a superb host. When we leave I hold her face in mine and tell her how lucky I am to have gotten lost yesterday and to have been brought here to meet her and share her hospitality. We do the mandatory three kisses and off we go.
The “we” is a larger group than I expect. It includes not only Daniel and Arlette and the two kids, but also the three brothers and their wives, so there are 11 of us. The path today is much easier than yesterday’s (It would be hard put to be more difficult), not so steep and mostly on small country lanes with perhaps two cars every hour. The call of “voiture, voiture” rings out and everyone crowds the side of the road. Interestingly, almost all the pilgrims walk on the right side, not the left. Perhaps it’s because the road is really only one car wide, so they stay on the side nearest the driver.
The wind diminishes and it gets warm. Off with the fleece and later off with the rain jacket.
Sometimes the group is small and dense but more often we break up in small groups, either chatting or just walking together. I learn that the two brothers will walk on, while Guy, the oldest brother, along with the three sisters-in-law, will walk to Conques, visit there for a day, then Guy will get a ride back to Campuac to pick up his car and return for the ladies.
When we go off the road, it is usually a path down the side of a ravine to the brook below (although these brooks are dangerous, they are so full and fast) then across on a footbridge and inevitably up the other side of the ravine. I had rather naively expected that after we came down off the Massif Central, the way would be fairly flat. Wrong.
I have been told about the Appalachian Trail in the US that there was never a hill that the folks who laid it out would rather go around rather than over and that certainly holds true here. The GR 65 seems to go over every hill that it can find, which means that there are a lot of stunning vistas, accompanied by a lot of equally stunning climbs and descents. Here is one explanation: this pilgrim path from Le Puy was lost for hundreds of years.
In the 1970s, when the camino started to become popular, the folks in France, bless their hearts, decided to simply declare that an existing hiking trail, the GR 65, was the Chemin de St. Jacques. But while the pilgrims look for the most available direct route, hikers, with different motivation, want to see the sights, so their path goes over everything and avoids villages to boot. So we get to take the most scenic, circuitous route possible. I do not have any qualms about taking the road if I can see that I will end up in the same place. I enjoy the scenic views as much as anyone, but not at the expense of my legs and lungs.
My concern last year about the condition of my heart has been put to rest. If anything were going to bring on a cardiac crisis, these hills would do it. I have learned to take much shorter, slower steps and to stop for a rest whenever my breathing gets too fast and deep, say one deep suck of air with every step. At the same time I can hear Cassandre singing – SINGING! – as I plod wearily up the slopes. Oh for just a little of her energy.
As we pass one old homestead, I discover the origin of the roofline so familiar in Quebec, the steep roof and the shallow part near the eave, used to let the snow slide off the roof and be thrown clear of the walls of the home. It’s the same here, but with stone tiles rather than the red metal so often seen in Quebec. This homestead has 1791 carved over the doorway and near it on the same piece of wall there is an old arch, the entry into a farmyard. The keystone has 1316 carved into it, barely visible, it is so worn by age.
Think about it. That’s almost 700 years ago, or more than 35 generations ago. To write that, one needs scientific notation (grand-parents x 35). At about noon we stop for lunch. This is the first place that we have seen for food since we left this morning. In this aspect, this is very unlike the camino in Spain. There, there were frequent places to stop for sustenance. Not so much here.
We only have about three km to go, but there is consensus for lunch. In addition, I am flying blind. I don’t know where I am going but I do know that Daniel has called ahead and reserved a bed for me, so I am sticking with him. Lunch is a generous slice of hot cooked ham in a tasty sauce, pasta, bread and wine on the side – all for 10 Euros each.
We finally get underway again. The fleece goes back on, since it has gotten colder again. Only three km on and we arrive at the gite Volets Bleues (blue shutters) in Sénergues.
As we are walking this morning, one of the brother’s wives gives me a little lesson in pronunciation. I probably learned this in French but, if so, I have forgotten. At the end of a word such as Sénergues, the “u’ is not pronounced but it has an impact on how the “g” is pronounced. Without the “u”, the “g” is soft as in the second “g” in garage, so Sénerges would be pronounced “Saynergh”. With the “u”, the “g” is hard, so Sénergues is pronounced “Saynerg”. There may be a test later.
I am installed in a room with four beds, by myself for the moment. My benefactors are next door. My room has a spectacular view. The room quickly fills with three men, two French and a Flemish-speaking Belgian from Antwerp, from where he has walked for the past seven weeks. He plans to go to Santiago, another nine weeks, for a total of four months on the road. I feel like a piker with my planned 750 km.
The gite is full and now people arriving are told they have to go to Conques, about 9 kms farther. I am seeing that there are a lot of people on this section of the chemin and having a daily reservation is a really good idea. Daniel has already told me that they have a reservation at the monastery in Conques and would I like to join them. They are very companionable and kind, and the kids are fun so; “Yes I would”. He will see what he can do about that.
I am not actually concerned about getting a bed in Conques. If the gites are full, there are always hotels and one only has to pay enough to get a room (I hope). He manages to reserve me a bed before dinner.
Dinner is, of course, excellent. A vegetable soup followed by a type of thick hamburger patty of a huge bed of lettuce. I discover that this is the appetizer! A dinner of sausage, baked potato and baked tomato follows, ending up with a soft rich custard in a tall glass. Good thing I am walking or I would be gaining weight every day.
As I go to bed the wind is howling outside and our hosts tell us that the forecast is for rain tomorrow. We shall see. Everything I have is now dry, so I can brave the elements.