I spend a restless night in the Gite. The bed is comfortable, but the room is warm and close and extremely dark. I have clearly not finished with jet lag yet, since I am wide awake at 2 AM, but cannot turn on a light since there are three other people sleeping here. So I lie here, thinking about all kinds of things. I get up a couple of times, walk into a wall in the dark and use the convenient bathroom. I must remember to get out my tiny headlamp and have it available at night. Lots of little etiquette things to remember when walking with a pack and sleeping with others. I doze on and off and eventually it is 7 AM and there are stirrings in the other beds. I get up, test my blood glucose – it’s fine and head downstairs for breakfast.
Breakfast is coffee with hot milk (separately), oranges sliced into sections and baguettes with butter and a homemade jam made from blackberries. People are very quiet, not the bonhomie of last night but a mental preparation for the day. I tell them that I may see them in a few days, since I will be one day ahead of them but plan to stop for a rest day after four days walking.
Vincente calls a cab for me and it arrives at 8:30. I pay my bill here – it’s 33 Euros ($43) for dinner (with red wine), accommodation and breakfast, a bargain in my view. Since I have the technology with me, I am tracking my expenses for this trip. People often ask me what it cost for my walk on the camino and I can’t tell them. This time I am better prepared.
I wish those remaining; “Bon chemin” and off we go, just me and the driver, who tells me in almost accent-less English; “I don’t speak English”. It is one of the baggage transport taxis and the driver evidently knows the route, which is very curvy, extremely well. The weather is low overcast, and so misty the driver has to use the wipers. It is also cold. He drives it competently and about 30 kph faster than I would, right on the edge of control.
As we approach and then leave Nasbinal, the countryside is littered with boulders, some as large as trucks. All the fields are lined with stone walls. It looks like the result of decades of hard work, clearing the fields of stones and, every spring, new ones start to emerge from the ground. It is probably the residue from an old glacier as the ice receded about 10,000 years ago.
We start to see snow in the trees, then more and more as we climb until the roads are edged with banks of snow and the surface is slushy and quite slippery. My driver gets very cautious here. We have climbed into the cloud cover, so visibility is about 100 metres and it is COLD. The fields are completely snow-covered and the pilgrims we pass are bundled up against the cold and the wind. They, perhaps 50 in total over many kilometres, are all walking on the road since the hiking path is impassable with snow. Frankly, I am happy to bypass this section, which I walked last year. Last year it was much warmer here with no snow. I am told that snow cover is normal for this time of year here. We pass the Col d’Aubrac at 1372 metres and start down the 600 metre drop into St. Chely d’Aubrac. It is a steep and windy descent, not quite but almost switchback. When I walked this section last year with Francine from Besançon it was warm enough that we were able to lie down and sleep just beside the path. Not this year.
On arrival in St. Chely d’Aubrac (I have to use the full name because there is another St. Chely d’Apcher just north of Aumont-Aubrac) I find that the gite here does not open until 3 PM. It’s just after 9 AM so I have six hours to kill. I leave my backpack – I am assured that it is safe – and walk into the village, find an open restaurant, order grande crème and a croissant, plug in my iPad and start writing.
Two small groups of pilgrims have come in, had their coffee or hot chocolate and have departed for farther down the road. My plan is to walk about 70 kms over the next four days, then take a rest day in Conques. After that, 100 kms in five days to Rocamadour and another rest day. Rocamadour is off route, but I really want to see this town built on a cliff over a river. The images I have seen of it have been stunning and friends who have been there tell me it’s worth the detour.
Today is my oldest son’s, Francis’s, birthday. Happy birthday, Francis. He practices law in Thunder Bay with his wife and they live just outside Kakabeka Falls. Both Thunder Bay and Kakabeka Falls are a little too urban for their tastes. Carroll and I visited them about six weeks ago. They were in very good spirits, since he had just gotten very good news from the neurosurgeon who operated on him for a broken neck, which had gone undetected for six months, until he started having mobility problems. He was being treated for concussion which, while present, was not the main problem. He was able to take off the collar which he had been wearing for three months and resume something like a normal life, including driving and being able to see down the front of his body.
As I was travelling south yesterday, I noted that the countryside was much like parts Ontario, except that the houses are all stucco, grey to beige to yellow and all the roofs are red tile … and the occasional chateau on the hilltops. As we got closer to Aumont-Aubrac the roof tile colours changed from red to dark grey or black.
Here is St. Chely d’Aubrac it is raining lightly, continues cold … and that is the forecast for the next few days. I see a lot of rain pants being worn, so I think that I will try mine out tomorrow.
It is just after 1. I am now in the gite. I am told by Sylvie, who operates this warm and very clean gite d’étape, that it has been raining here for two weeks steadily with more to come. The rain is heavier now. The boots have to stay outside under a wide porch awning, so I am glad of my little boot identifiers. I note that someone has exactly the same boots as mine.
I am in a room with three beds. One has been occupied by a man who has walked from Lyon and intends to walk to Santiago (or, as they call it in France, St. Jacques). He is reclusive, I don’t even find out his name. There are many people here, but he speaks to no-one, joins no conversation, reads books from the plentiful supply here. The other is a German named Guido, dark, lean, talkative. I have showered, washed all my clothes and they are drying. I asked if there was a sechoir (dryer) and was told there was. It turns out to be a collapsible drying rack, next to a ceramic heat source. Since there are a lot of clothes hanging here, they are going to take a long time to dry – hopefully by morning. It ends up with two drying racks, because everyone has lots of wet clothes from the weather.
We do not have wi-fi here, although we have free use of their computer, which is on-line. The downside is that it has, no surprise, a French keyboard with key locations different from those I am used to. I walk downhill into the village where there is WiFi and use Skype to talk .. and see … my daughter, granddaughter, sister-in-law, her son Paul and grandson Craig. The technology is, for me, simply staggering. I am sitting in a remote village in France, they are in a car near Toronto and we can speak to and see each other in real time. I also take the opportunity to send my blog about Vichy France.
People have kept coming in here, all very wet, so we are now about 18 people, from France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Australia and Canada. There is an animated conversation at the table, where we wait for dinner, in German. I join it for a while, then lose track of the drift of the conversation. I am looking forward to dinner. If the smell is any indication, it’s going to be good.
And it is good. A pureed pea soup, followed by rice with a really good pork curry, flavourful and so much that we cannot eat it all. A cheese plate follow, then dessert, a custard with pieces of meringue on top and what tastes like maple syrup at the bottom.
One of the arrivals, a Dutchman named Henk, tells me that he and three others walked on the chemin in the high country and it was deadly, very dangerous, snow up to their knees and they could see nothing but snowfields. When the path finally crossed a road, they took the road all the way to here.
He also told me that there is a pilgrim, a couple of days back, a 92-year-old Frenchman carrying a 12-kilo backpack. I guess I will never get to be the oldest walker on the path!