29 April Descazeville to Chaunac

This morning I wake up in my bunk to the sound of breakfast in the adjoining room. It is 7:30, the room is full of people getting ready for their day. I get Jean, our young and very helpful host, to call ahead for me so that now I have confirmed quarters for the next three nights. Today I have a bed in a rural gite in Chaunac, tomorrow in another just outside Figeac and the next day in a chambre d’hote about 20 kms in the direction of Rocamadour.

This is a diversion from the GR 65 towards St. Jean Pied de Port which I am making because I specifically want to see Rocamadour. It is a very popular tourist attraction and from what I have seen of photos, it is no surprise why. It appears to be built into the cliffs overlooking the river.

Just after I start off today, on the apparently inevitable long climb out of Descazeville, I meet three of the people from last evening who tell me that they are staying in Chaunac today as well. We walk together for a bit, but I have to walk at a pace that I can maintain, so much of the time I walk alone, but always in sight of them, ahead or behind. The chemin is hilly, sometimes dry, sometimes very wet in the woods, so I have to take great care when walking the wet, slippery descents. The views when we are on top of the hills, are breathtaking – or perhaps that’s just me trying to catch my breath. After two hours for four kilometres I arrive in Livinhac le Haut a few minutes ahead of my companions and spot a bench in the tiny town square where there is another pilgrim sitting.

I join him and we talk – in English, which is very unusual. He is 69, from Vichy and spent three years in London where he learned English. Last year he started the chemin in Le Puy with his sister, a year older than him and very close. They got as far as Descazeville where her cancer and her diabetes made it impossible for her to continue. They returned home where she has since died. Now he has returned and is walking alone, in her memory. He tells me that he needs to have both knees replaced but wants to complete the walk to Santiago before he has this done. We bid each other “bon chemin” as he leaves.

The three from last evening arrive. They turn out to be two sisters, Annie from Lyon and Odile from Albertville, with Bernard from Lyon as well. Bernard is 60, the two sisters perhaps a little younger. We buy provisions in the tiny stores for lunch and for dinner, have a draft beer with a touch of peach syrup – this is new for me and I quite like it – and have a picnic lunch on a bench in the square as the town shuts down for its afternoon nap. We share our food and plan to do the same for dinner this evening. The gite we are heading for does not offer dinner.

Based on our experience from this morning,we decide to walk on the road to Chaunac. We are hoping to avoid the mud and the hills. We succeed in one of these. There is no mud, but the road climbs steadily, not steeply but consistently, practically all the way for the next four kilometres all the way to Chaunac. I cannot imagine what the chemin is like. We see the sign for Chaunac (it’s about 600 meters off the road) at the same time as we see the exit from the chemin here. It is muddy.

The gite is an isolated farmhouse on what appears to be a working farm. There is no-one here when we arrive just after two, but there is a handprinted sign welcoming us by name and telling us where to sleep. Each of the sleeping spaces exits directly outdoors. The beds are clean and there are pillows and blankets. That has been consistent in the gites so far this year. It is a nice touch.

We take off our boots and sit in the garden under a mature chestnut tree. When the sun is out, as it is now, it is just perfect. In the shade one needs the fleece. Bernard makes coffee using the truly ancient gas stove (it has an external tank sitting on the floor and one uses a match to light the burner).

I have a sleep for about 45 minutes, which is enough to rejuvenate me. Afterwards I sit outside and make my notes for the day. I also copy all my photos from my camera to my iPad. It allows me to see them better and it’s good security if I lose one or the other device. What I have lost, I discover (or fail to discover) is my little headlamp, so I will have to acquire a small flashlight when I can find an open store. That is one of the really exciting parts of this journey. Which stores will be open when?

The weather in the late afternoon is beautiful but cool. A huge thunderstorm rolls past us to the east, making a superb and menacing display. An hour later, another rolls over us, bringing marble-sized hail but little rain. This is a good thing, since my clothes are still on the line drying.

Supper is another shared experience. Since there is no dinner here, we have brought our own supplies. Besides us, there are four other people for dinner, a Swiss couple, who have walked from Geneva, and two French guys. The Swiss woman, from the German-speaking region of Switzerland, makes a big pot of pasta and potatoes. I have brought cauliflower, carrots, zucchini and onions, which I boil up in a big pot. Sausage and ham magically appear as do two bottles of red wine. There is lots of bread and even dessert! It is like the loaves and fishes – a little bit from each and we can’t finish all the food. We do, however, finish the wine with despatch.

At some point in the evening I tell the gathering about my Hike for Hospice. I have to explain the idea of palliative care, since not everyone has heard of a hospice. This is tricky for me in French, but we manage. They all think it’s a great idea when they understand it … and I tell them about a donation of 50 Euros that a dear friend in Germany, Ginette Parent from the Berlin area, has made to a German children’s hospice as part of my hike. If you are reading this and have not yet donated, I can remind you that at least two people will benefit from the donation: the person in the hospice and the donor.

It’s off to bed before 9, because it is cold, there is no diversion and we have a long walk, about 21 kms, tomorrow. Annie and Odile finish tomorrow at Figeac. Bernard will continue on a different route for another month. I am going to a place, La Cassagnole, a few kms south of Figeac. It is where Jean could find me accommodation.

You may notice that I sometimes post several blogs at the same time. That is because I am not always able to get wireless connections here. This is still a remote and very hilly part of France. So when I do get wireless I post everything that I have written since the last successful connection.

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