9 May Espalais to Castet-Arrouy

I don’t want to leave this wonderful loving environment. Eventually after a long bittersweet goodbye, I am on my way at 9:30. I am so tempted to stay for another day. I did say I don’t want to leave. I expect to walk about 25 kilometres today, to a gite in Castet-Arrouy operated by Clement, a protege of Vincent’s. It is quite a story in itself. Vincent answers the phone one day and connects with a total stranger on the other end of the line. It is Clement, who wants to find out about running a gite. Vincent invites him to his place and they meet. Clement is a tall well-built young man who has, as Vincent quickly finds out, a big dream and not much idea of how to implement it.

Vincent asks him how he will find a gite to operate. Clement tells him that he will walk on the chemin and something will happen. This is the equivalent of wanting some milk and carrying out a three-legged stool to the middle of a field and waiting for a cow to come to be milked. It’s possible, but there needs to be an alternate plan.

Vincent challenges him to write down his values and how running a gite will honour them. The next day Vincent invites Clement to come work with him for a week to see if this is really a good and sustainable idea. At the end of a very challenging week, Clement leaves with a pretty good business plan and over the next few months, finds an available building and starts to work. Now it is running and that is where I am going today.

The walk is mostly on road, rolling hill country, and it is sunny and gets hot. I stop after 10 kilometres for a lunch break where I find Pierre and Marie (you will remember him, he’s the big guitar player). Lunch for me is a beer, copious glasses of water and a 12″ sandwich of real bread with ham, cheese and tomato. Lunch costs just over five Euros, including the beer. Pierre and Marie tell me they are stopping at Clement’s gite as well. I am very pleased. They are delightful companions.

I head out for Miradoux, where I am told I must stop at Chez Thereze for a drink. I am hot and tired when I arrive. It’s about 20 kilometres already and it is hot. My clothes have been soaked with sweat since this morning and I have noticed that my pulse has been about 120 for the past couple of hours. Some of that is effort, a lot of it is the body trying to keep itself cool.

Chez Thereze turns out to be not a restaurant or a bar, but a kitchen where Thereze gives pilgrims drinks, food, cheese, whatever they need – always free. There is no way to pay for this. She looks after pilgrims. Thereze is a short chunky woman, a year younger than me, walks with a sailor’s roll (it’s her hips) and is a force in the region. She is a friend of Vincent’s, of Clement and I will find out later a friend of Philippe, where I will spend the night tomorrow. I ask if she can make mocha and I have to describe what that is (chocolate, coffee, milk, all hot – delicious). She has never heard of it but puts it all together for me. This is all before I find out that this is not a paying establishment.

I am sitting here really tired, hot sweaty, having walked for just over 6 hours and I ask here if it is possible to call a taxi to carry me the last 5 kilometres. She immediately responds; “No, I will get my car and take you. It’s only a few minutes.” And that is what she does. When we arrive in Castet she asks me if I would like to see the church before going to the gite. I am in her car – of course I would like to see the church. We walk in, it’s a very pleasant smallish church, lots of colour – nice. Then she starts to sing. It is a sublime transformation. Her superb voice fills the church, which has near-perfect acoustics. She is simply a wonderful singer, without shyness or braggadocio.

I am reminded of an experience that Carroll and I had in Cyprus some 40-odd years ago. I had taken her to Bellapais Abbey, the ruined abbey that Lawrence Durrell wrote about in Bitter Lemons. We walk in to the roofless structure, just stone walls crumbling about us and we are just leaving, a little disappointed, when four young men come in. I think they were German, Carroll thinks they were English, so I let her have this one. They start to sing in Gregorian chant, and the place reverts to what it might have been like hundreds of years before. It is another transformation, like the one happening here in this little church.

She stops and the church goes back to being a nice little church. Back in the car, off to the gite where I meet Clement. His gite is called, in French of course, “The Hare and the Tortoise”. I think that the name has to do with his eagerness to start the gite and Vincent’s good advice which slowed him down. Of course, with this name, I have to tell the story about my unfortunate experience with turning turtle off the bench. It’s a delicious irony to be here. Nicolas is here, camping with his tent in a field. At 6:45 Pierre and Marie come in. I had given them up for lost, so I am delighted to see them here.

We have dinner in the garden – well, it’s a small field – behind the gite. Clement barbecues sausage and, I think, zucchini, and serves it with an enormous bowl of pasta. We sit, a few of us, talking as it gets dark and the candles get lit. The red wine keeps coming and the conversation keeps vivid. My French gets worse as I get tired but better with the wine.

Shortly after ten the red wine, the conversation and my endurance all fail at the same time. Off to bed, another longish walk, about 21 kilometres, tomorrow.

One thought on “9 May Espalais to Castet-Arrouy

  1. Dear Guy,
    I just read your blog and the way you encountered Le Par’Chemin, Vincent and Sylvie… I feel touched as I know them, I know their story and I know the magic place they invested their energies in…

    Vincent had been my HR manager and become a friend after he told me about his Par’Chemin project.

    In June 2011, I went to a burn-out and my first idea – as I needed silence and solitude – was to ask Vincent if I could come to Espalais, have a “private” room to stay alone, read, write, paint and so on. He came to pick me up in Toulouse. He was alone but not quite… Standing nearby was a small lady and she could have been someone also waiting for a passenger. However, I immediately felt there was something when she approached and Vincent introduced me to Sylvie, “a friend”. At that time my intuition told me that Love was present between these two human beings.
    When I arrived in Espalais, I had a “coup de foudre” for the place. I had my “private room” but I finally spent most of my time under the roof, welcoming Pilgrims, cooking on the small “rolling kitchen” or in the big kitchen. At that time, Vincent had placed three tables in a row, telling me about his dream of a “huge, thick table”…

    During my 10-day stay, Vincent put me on the Camino and I stopped at Therese in Miradoux… then walked another day to Lectoure and of course, has been bitten by the “Santiago trail” virus!

    I came back to Switzerland – where I live – but a couple of weeks later, was back to Le Par’Chemin with my partner… And THE TABLE was there!!! It is a marvellous place indeed.
    In 2012, I left from Le Puy-en-Velay and stopped in Conques where my partner picked me up and drove us down to Espalais.
    This year, I will take my mom with me and we will walk from Figeac to Espalais, of course 🙂

    Sorry for my long comment but I just wanted to share with you and all the people who might read your blog that, definitely, Le Par’Chemin, Vincent and Sylvie are a living example of friendship, human warmth and love.

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