21 May Arthez to Sauvelade

We are up early. The other two want an early breakfast because they intend to walk to Navarranxe today, almost 30 kilometres. So it’s breakfast at 7. By the time I get down, the ladies are done and preparing to leave. I have my coffee with hot milk and eat my bread with butter and an apricot jam (this is a pretty standard breakfast here) and say good-bye to them. It is raining, lightly but steadily, so it is rain gear again today. It is also colder than yesterday.

Yesterday I found the combination of rain pants with the fleece too hot, so today I am trying a different combination; long johns, pants, fleece and rain jacket. This way my body will stay warm and the legs may get wet but they will be warm from the walking. This works – almost.

The weather is the first part of the story today. It is cold, wet, blustery and the clouds are skimming by just overhead. Eddy has given me a good route to get to the road heading south and he says to just stay on D9 until I get to Sauvelade. I take him at his word, but neglect to do the obvious thing and crosscheck against my guide maps. The D9 doesn’t actually go to Sauvelade. The rain is steady and the wind is cold, probably in the single digits. As long as I keep walking, I’m okay. I need to turn off at a crossroad which I fail to do. Then I keep walking close to an hour until I reach a small village and ask someone. I figure that I am less than 20 minutes away. I am really, really wrong.

I am on the wrong road and it is at least 90 minutes from here. Back a little bit, down a steep hill, about a half-hour walk to the wrecked car place, then it’s either straight ahead or to the left, she can’t recall exactly or I just don’t get it right. I get to the wrecked car parts place, which is closed and there is no indication of what to do. Nothing at all. And there is no traffic either. I am wet and tired and I am starting to get cold.

Eventually a car comes along and I flag the driver down. I am hoping for a sweet young thing but I get the next best – a helpful young guy. He is driving a clapped-out car and he doesn’t look too reputable either, but he is very helpful. Not knowledgeable, just helpful. I tell him that I am trying to get to the Abbaye Sauvelade. He’s a local, he thinks he knows where it is and is happy to drive me.

For the next 45 minutes we drive over these narrow winding hilly roads. I am totally lost and I think he is too. We see a Postal van and figure that we have found the answer. No, the lady in the Poste van doesn’t know where it is. Then we spot a sign for another gite and again figure that they will know where the gite I want is. But there is no-one home. By this time I am not only soaked, I am getting very cold. Finally we spot a sign for the GR65, then follow the signs to the Abbaye. The gite can’t be far now.

That’s when we discover that the gite is physically in a wall of the Abbaye. I give my saviour 20 Euros, although he doesn’t ask for money, which he accepts and thanks me and drives away. It is worth every penny. I was lost, off the chemin so there was little prospect of someone knowledgeable coming along and my psychological state didn’t bear examining.
There are a bunch of very wet, very cold pilgrims here, crammed into an anteroom of the gite, which doesn’t open until 3:30. That’s two hours away. The place looks like a Chinese laundry, clothes hanging everywhere. However, next to the gite is a little bar which, incredibly enough, is open. It is run by the same busy lady, Maryline, who operates the gite.

She is severely overworked today but she’s in good humour, which is a good thing since the pelerins are a little grumpy (for pilgrims). What I am quite amazed at is my lassitude. I just want to sit, do nothing and get warm and dry.

I ask for something – anything – hot and she brings me a grande creme, followed by a plate of pasta, with some mystery meat, bony, in a black – I am not kidding; it’s black – sauce. It tastes a LOT better than it looks. I find out later that it is chevreuil, or wild roe deer and is considered a delicacy. They just have to do something about the colour of the sauce.

We finally get assigned our rooms. I am in a room for four. At the moment I have one roommate, a Belgian guy, Jean-Pierre. He is a big quiet bear of a man and, like most of the pilgrims, probably retired. Today’s problem is how to get everything – anything – dry. My boots, which had not completely dried from yesterday, are soaked. Even my socks are soaked.

The really good news is that they have a dryer, so I arrange for everything I have on to get pitched in the dryer. I don’t particularly care if it is clean, but I care that it is dry. The boots I tip up on a chair next to a radiator and hope that they will be dry by morning. The leather gloves, which help keep my wonky finger warm, are soaked so they are sitting on top of the radiator. Not good for the gloves but I need them dry.

It is later in the day. I am warm, fed and dry and in MUCH better humour than I was a few hours ago. Getting wet, cold and lost is not my idea of a complete good time, but I am now content. Maryline has been very kind. She likes the book and wants to know if she can buy this copy. I tell her no, but she can get one on the Internet. And I will send her a copy for the gite.

A couple of young Germans come in, Manuela from Munich and Hans from the Augsburg area (I think). Manuela reminds me a lot of my daughter-in-law TJ, both physically – she is tall, lean, and in her approach. She speaks good English very quietly.

At dinner, served at 8 PM by the same very busy folks, we sit at two tables. At mine are the Germans, my Belgian roommate and six French from the Alsace, Strasbourg and Colmar. One of the French couples tells me that they are coming to Canada in September to visit relatives in Montreal and will be visiting Ottawa as well. It occurs to me that I could do something about this.

I find out that the whole enterprise is a family thing. This is a communal gite, run by the municipality and the staff is Maryline, assisted by her son, her daughter and a pretty friend of the son’s – another Fanny. I get photos of me with the various ladies. There is a lot of laughter and shy; “Oh, non, pas moi”, going on. But Hans takes the photos with my camera. Maryline asks me if I can send her the photos and I tell her that I will. Now I have to figure out how. But not tonight. It has been an exhausting day and I am looking forward to my nice dry warm bed.

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