The Walking Witch

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles
Friday 31 October

Snoring. That’s the problem with hostels… Perhaps I’ll get a better sleep tonight. Perhaps.

I was up early, as we had to be out of the hostel by 8am. It was going to be a long day. Eight hours walking, I was told and mostly uphill. 27.4km. I had met a charming Dutch man the previous evening when I returned to the hotel, and we had had a very interesting conversation – he was waiting for me to finish packing, to walk together, but I was too long trying to stuff my too many things into my pack, so he said he would see me on the road. There were only two of us left in the hostel, a young Brazilian guy, who was in a similar situation to me, he too tying to stuff too many things into his pack. I asked if he minded if we walked together.

We soon set off along the cobbled streets of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, I was a little sad to leave, as it was such a delightful town, but excited to be starting the walking part of my Camino… even if my bag was way too heavy. We weren’t on the road long when we met a group of three Irishmen and an 83 year old Canadian who was beginning his tenth Camino. He could have passed for a man in his sixties. We soon joined up, and along the way met a few others. Soon our walking speeds spread us out a little, and the youngest Irish guy was far in front, while one lagged behind, so there were four of us walking together. An Irish farmer in his 50’s, the 83 year old retired school inspector from Canada, the 34 year old Brazilian graphic designer, and me. We talked, and walked, and talked some more. The landscape was beautiful, the morning was crisp – green pastures, cows, sheep, mountains. The company was interesting and the conversation was stimulating as we moved from subject to subject. We were all happily taking it rather slowly, as the path was a little steep, and the incline was constant, and we were enjoying both the walk and the company. Eventually we caught up with the younger Irish guy who had met an Italian and another man whom we all refereed to as ‘Jesus’, as he had a strange mystical arura about him. He had walked from Lourdes, and slept in churches – he handed a postcard of the Virgin to the Brazilian, and then they all sped on ahead.

As it was quite season and I had been told there was nothing open along the way, I had bought supplies for lunch, but the others hadn’t been informed, but not to worry, I had plenty for all. Our map indicated a Virgin Mary statue on the side of the hill – she had a magnificent view, a perfect place for a picnic. I had bread and three cheeses, a bottle of red which I had decanted into a plastic container, and a bunch of radishes. We enjoyed our leisurely lunch, then began walking again. We were a little concerned that the slower Irish man hadn’t passed us.

It took us several hours to reach the summit before we started descending, and was getting rather late, but we were not concerned, as we were all enjoying ourselves. We met a Swedish couple who passed us, and who had news of the slower Irish man. He had found the walk too difficult, and was having trouble breathing, and had asked them for help. They had called someone in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and arranged for him to return. If he was feeling better he said he may get a bus to Pamplona, and try again from there.

By this time we were all feeling very tired, we still hadn’t crossed the border into Spain. The light was turning to twilight. We trudged on, and eventually we saw the border… A strange wooden framed doorway, with ropes hanging down, not unlike the streamer fly protector in old fashioned fish and chip shops in Australia… all connected to an electric fence. Odd and not that impressive, as my idea of a border should be. There was no changing of the guards, no pomp and ceremony, no stamps in my passport. I did however take the obligatory photo of one foot in each country. We continued downhill, as the light descended into darkness and the path became steeper and steeper. I sped ahead, as I like to walk downhill fast, but soon felt my toes becoming hotter and hotter. Time to stop for some preventative blister measurements. I got out my moleskin, and my new friends soon joined me, and we all descended on Roncesvalles together. I was dressed in my all black merino ninja outfit, and had added a black brimmed hat for my walk. I commented that it was 31 October…. all hallowed’s eve. Our Canadian friend commented that I was dressed quite appropriately, and looked like a witch… So I entered the villages yelling “‘trick or treat?’. It was rather late… 7pm, but we had had an enjoyable day and walk. We went to the local restaurant with a pilgrims menu and asked what time it was served. 7pm was the reply… But we all needed a shower and to put our packs down, and decided to return at 8.30 for the slightly more expensive, regular menu.

We found our way to the municipal hostel in Roncesvalles, a beautiful old stone building. On the way I met the Dutch man, who said he had been worried about us, but I said we were fine and had an enjoyable day. Inside the old stone hostel had been renovated into a modern hostel with sleeping pods divided into four, two up, two down bunk beds. We were all allocated one pod, and I was given a top bunk. I returned to the check in counter and asked for a bottom bunk in the next pod… They begrudgingly complied, and I was sharing with three Spanish women, and hopefully I had a better chance of a snore free night.

We unpacked, showered, and myself and two others went to the laundry to do some washing. I had wanted to go to the Pilgrims mass at 8pm, but by the time we got there, they had already closed the doors… I was not going to be blessed yet again (although I knew I already was). We headed back to the Resturant, and they offered us the pilgrims menu, even though it was officially finished. I chose a salad, and trout. Both were excellent, accompanied by Spanish wine and bread. We were then given fruit salad for dessert. All for 9€. Excellent value. I like Spain. The hostel closed it’s doors at 10 pm, and the Resturant staff asked us were we staying there, as it was now ten minutes to… Two of us rushed back, and they were just closing the doors… We said to please keep them open, as our friends were following…and we had an old man with us! They obliged, but reluctantly. We then wished each other goodnight and retired to our bunks.

Gap Day

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
Thursday 30 October

The rustling of early pilgrims woke me at 5.30, but I managed to pull back the covers until the ‘official’ wake up time of 6.30. We were supposed to be out the door at 8am, but the hostlier said I could stay until the cleaners arrived.

I began my day wandering the near empty streets, photographing some of the wonderful typography carved into the lintels above every doorway. Basque names and dates, some as early as the 17th Century. A type nerd’s idea of heaven. Most of the shops were still closed, but it was nice to window shop and see the Basque linens, and artisan delicatessens and produce stores. I then walked up to the top of the Citadel for sweeping views of the surrounding countryside.

However, I did have chores to do. I took my washing to the pilgrims office where they had a washing machine, bought some supplies for tomorrow’s walk, as apparently there are no shops on the way, and stored my bike until I can find another solution. Then I went for lunch. There were plenty of options, and as it’s school holidays in France, everywhere was busy. I choose a lovely little place overlooking the river, and opted for the menu, as they are such good value. Tomatoes stuffed with Tuna, followed by Guinea Fowl with vichyssoise, and a pastry thing for dessert. It was ok, not bad, but not spectacular but the surroundings were pleasant.

I then went through the exercise of trying to sort out what to pack and send away, or what to take walking with me, a little stressful, and I’m sure I’ll have regrets, wanting what I have sent away, and wishing I’d sent some of the things I’m carrying. I decided to ditch the tent… hopefully that isn’t a decision I’ll regret. The post office staff were wonderfully helpful, even to the point of sitting on the floor with me trying to stuff things into the standard size boxes. I returned feeling more relaxed, knowing I had less to carry and that I had more time to consider the fate of my bicycle.

I had confirmed earlier that the Pilgrims’ mass was at 7pm tonight, so went to the church at a quarter to, to find it all but empty. I knew it was the quiet season, but only three others, I wondered if it would still go ahead… I was also feeling a little conspicuous, as I don’t know the service in French, and it’s been some time since I’ve been to a Catholic mass… Would I stand or kneel at the appropriate times? Then they started to switch the lights off… So, it wasn’t on. One of the other pilgrims was the person in the bunk close to mine – he spoke English, and said that the mass had been at 6pm this evening and we had been given the incorrect time, again. So I was not to have a Pilgrims blessing. We decided to go and eat, and he said he had eaten at a very nice place for lunch, so we went there. It was excellent. We shared an octopus salad for an entree, and I had sole with mushrooms. He had some kind of game bird which he gave me a taste of, which was very good. So my last meal in France for this part of my trip was not disappointing. I was blessed after all.

We returned to the hostel, and I cracked open the (sadly only) half bottle of Champagne to share with my dinner partner. I, again was the last to go to bed. Hopefully the rustling won’t start too early tomorrow.

Cycle Path Psychopath part 21- I Made It! Anyone Want to Buy a Bike?

Saint Palais to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
Wednesday 29 October

Today’s ride was a short one, only 33.44 km clocked up by the time I arrived, so I took my time and enjoyed the scenery. I had planned to have lunch when I arrived in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, but my stomach is still on summer time… So had to stop for bread and cheese at 11.30. The hills weren’t as bad as I was expecting, I did get off an push a couple of times, but nothing compared the the wrong turn hill a few days ago. Cows, and sheep and green pastures, and the warm sunshine – a true delight.

I took a short detour to visit the church at Saint-Jean-Le-Vieux, with a very interesting graveyard that had many Basque symbols on the headstones, one of which looked like a kind of swastika, a common symbol in Hindu Bali where I live. Later I met a woman wearing a necklace with the same symbol, and asked her about it – it is called a lauburu or Basque cross, and she said it represents the four elements.

Arriving in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port was like arriving into a magical medieval fairyland. Cobbled streets leading up and around the walled city, shops full of pilgrim paraphernalia, scollop shells nailed to every door… I couldn’t wait to explore. I first went to the pilgrims office and a very kindly gentleman with very little English helped me with maps of the route, and booking into a pilgrims hostel for the next two nights, I had tried to ask for a private room, but he said there were none. He also offered some suggestions of where to try and sell my bike, as now I will be walking.

I went to the hostel with an American woman, she went downstairs and claimed a bed, so I did the same, then she went to shower. About 20 mins later a woman came in screaming that they were not open yet and we had to pack everything up. I packed up, but explained to her that we had been sent there by the Pilgrim’s office – she said they weren’t open until after 2pm. We had both arrived after 2. She soon calmed down, and then was actually quite helpful. Showing us to a dorm upstairs. There were perhaps twenty beds, but at that time only three of us. Unfortunately as the day progressed more and more people started to arrive – it was going to be a full house. I hope my earplugs are up to it.

I then went to the two suggested bike shops to try to sell my bike, but one wasn’t interested, saying it wasn’t a good bike – I argued that it had got me from Paris! The other was overstocked, and also not interested. Plan B. I asked at the Pilgrims office if I could store it there, and yes, that would be no problem, for no charge. So I will try and advertise on some French websites, and see if I can somehow arrange to sell it. Or Plan C, worse case scenario, return to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port at the end of my walk and try and figure out something then – Anyone want to buy a bike? Only four weeks old, still under guarantee. Good price.

The American woman had asked if I wanted to join her for dinner – so we went out to a nearby resturant. She was leaving early the next morning, so wanted an early night. She told me there was a pilgrims blessing at the church at 8pm that was very nice, and worth going to. It was just on 8, so I went, but the church was locked – I later learnt that it’s every night at 6.30pm, so I’ll go tomorrow. A blessing couldn’t hurt, perhaps it will help sell my bike.

Well I made it! Today completes the first part of my trip – I will begin walking in a couple of days. Since leaving Orleans where I installed my bike distance monitor, I have clocked up 888.05 km. If I add the official distances from the towns between Paris to Orleans, that’s an extra 132 km (I actually did more going around roundabout those few extra times and taking wrong exits) – which means I have cycled more than 1,000 km! It was mostly easy, and one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve done. I think I will crack open a bottle of Champagne tomorrow before I start my 780km to walk to Santiago.

No Hills Today!

Saint Palais
Tuesday 28 October

Despite the fact that I’d had a very restful sleep, I awoke tired, and in need of a rest day. It was only about 30km to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (without wrong turns that is), the final destination for my bike ride, but today I couldn’t face a hill… and wanted to prolong my time in France with my bike. My host was going away this evening, so another night staying with her was not possible. I’m glad I made the effort to get to Saint Palais yesterday, otherwise I would have missed out on our meeting. She called the local Pilgrims’ Hostel for me to arrange a bed, but said they were not open until 2pm. This was fine, as I could easily amuse myself until then riding around the small town.

My peddles had developed a squeak, so stopped at a store that sold farm machinery, where they oiled them for me, and sent me on my way. I stopped at a cafe for a coffee, and as it had just turned midday, they asked if I would like lunch. I said after coffee, perhaps, as I had not read the menu, and was unsure if they had anything for me. The menu had a salad with some sort of meat, or Quiche Lorraine for entree. I tried to translate the meat, but each handwritten board had a different spelling, all of which Google translate didn’t recognise. I then tried the regular internet, with ‘did you mean… ‘ spelling option, and it translated as gizzards, possibly duck, but possibly something else. It was duck. So I ordered the duck gizzard salad and mussels for main. Both were good. Sitting in the sun, enjoying the rest, the hour soon ticked on to three… so I moved my lazy a***, and went to find the Pilgrim’s hostel.

It was a lovely old building surrounding a courtyard garden. I took the option of a single room for 12€, including breakfast, rather than the possibility of snorers in the dorm. I spent the next couple of hours trying to come up with a plan to sell my bike in the next few days, and then went for a wander around the small town.

I had asked in the tourist information to recommend some restaurants, but when I read their menus, realised I wasn’t really hungry after my big lunch, so headed to the boulangerie where I had seen a queue earlier. They had run out of baguettes, hence, the queue – but they did have some other bread, so I bought that. I had also asked at the tourist information what the local cheese was, and they had said it was a sheep cheese (well, she actually said ‘sheet’ cheese, and then ‘baa’ to make sure I understood), Osau Inaty – so I went to the supermarket to get some. I also bought a bunch of radishes, then returned to the hostel. I looked in the kitchen, and the table as set for a large gathering (there had been an option of dinner). The lady said nine pilgrims were joining. As I was feeling a little antisocial, I retired to my room to eat in solitude.

Cycle Path Psychopath part 20 – Hills, Mountains, and a Lost River

Riviere-Saas-et-Gourby to Saint Palais
Monday 27 October

My generous and helpful host had called her friend who is a bit of a bike expert to take me to the local bike mechanic for the repairs needed to my wheel. Unfortunately, he later informed us they were closed today. My host said that after she walked the dogs she would take me back into Dax, where there was a Decathlon, the store I had originally bought my bike, and as it was would still be under guarantee, they would fix it.

We went to walk the dogs in the nearby forest and fields, it was a lovely crisp morning, and the sun was shining. I was a little concerned however, by the constant popping of guns… But they were in the distance. We passed the railway tracks, where every pylon had atop a huge stork’s nest, all along the tracks as far as you could see. It’s great that the French railways provide such a service to the local storks.

When she called Decathalon, my host was informed that only the frame was covered by the guarantee, but she said not to worry, and not say anything, she would so the talking… I said that wouldn’t be a problem with my non existent French. At Decathalon, they decided the damage was more than just a few spokes, and replaced the whole wheel. Happily, my host’s fast taking resulted in it not costing me anything. They were going to take about half and hour, so we left to run some errands. By the time we returned to her house, it was rather late, and I didn’t get on the road until after 12.30. I was a little concerned, as I had a long and hilly ride that day. She had offered a bed for another night, but I had made arrangements with another CouchSurfer in Saint Palais, and thought it too rude to change plans so late.

It was a very enjoyable ride, if a little hilly, to Sorde L’Abbey, about halfway along my journey today. Just before the turnoff point to go downhill to that small village, I swung around the mountain pass for a my first glimpse of the magnificent Pyrenees in the background. Commanding and impressive! I did however, start searching for the lowest point, which hopefully will be the one I’ll be climbing over in a few days time. I’d reached Sorde L’Abbey in good time, so felt confident that I would get to Saint Palais by 5.00 or 5.30pm, and sent a message to my host.

The road was flat for a few kilometers, and then only small hills. The map followed a small river, which I figured would be an easy flat ride. It probably was, but somehow, I lost the river, and ended up completely on the wrong road. It was getting later and later and as summer-time had ended I wanted to be sure I made it to Saint Palais before dark. The small roads were now starting to fill with huge farm equipment returning home for the evening. They were all traveling fairly slowly, and waved as I passed. I started to climb a big hill, that with each turn got steeper and steeper. I had to get off and push the bike, there seemed to be no end to this hill – I was hoping Saint Palais was just over it. I had almost reached the top, and could hear a large machine approaching. I pulled off the road, and the man driving the harvester called something out to me – I couldn’t hear, and if I could wouldn’t have understood. He turn off the engine, and asked “Saint Jacque de Compostelle?”, I said yes and he indicated that I was on the wrong road, and this road didn’t go to Saint Pails. He said to return to the last village, turn left then left again… And I would be on the right road. I was a little emotional, but very thankful for his help.

I returned to the village, and found the river, and yes, it was a fairly flat and straightforward journey… until I was nearing Saint Palais, were I again missed a turnoff. It was now dark, and although I had lights and all sorts of reflectors and glowing bits attached to my body, I don’t enjoy riding on roads at night, and there was no cycle path here. It didn’t take me long to find the right road, but I was now tired and sore. My host had had an appointment, and wasn’t going to arrive home until 7.30, but had left instructions to let myself in, and make myself at home.

I finally arrived at her home just before seven, unloaded my bike, and was in the shower when I heard her arrive. I dressed and went down stairs to be greeted by a big hug – Just what I needed! A beautiful home, which she had tastefully renovated herself – she shown me the before pictures, it was a major job! A warm and welcoming host – she made me a lovely dinner, with a tasty carrot and garlic salad, and special Basque cakes for dessert, as I was now in Basque Country. She was very proud of her heritage, and tried to explain to me a little of things Basque, including, some incomprehensible to me, Basque language – and I thought French was hard! I was falling asleep on her very comfortable couch as I was showing her my photos of Indonesia, so said goodnight and went to my bed.

Cycle Path Psychopath part 19 – The End of Summertime… And some Misadventure

Onesse-et-Laharie to Riviere-Saas-et-Gourby
Sunday 26 October

I awoke easily at 6.30 am, unusual. I had set my alarm for 7.30, and it was still cold, so snuggled back down into my sleeping bag, and checked my emails. By 8.30 I decided it was probably time to get up, as in reality (a place I don’t visit often) I had planned to be on the road by this time, but the overnight frost meant the tent was still damp… I showered, ate breakfast, packed up, and moved the tent into the sun… Then checked the time – 11am! What happened? I looked at my phone – 10am? I checked my iPad – 10am. I checked my bike computer – 11am, and again looked at my watch 11am. Was I in the Twilight Zone? What time was it? Then it dawned on me – Summer time had ended. My phone and iPad had updated automatically. Living in the tropics, where the length of days is more or less constant, it’s not something I consider anymore. As I had a long ride today, I was now worried I wouldn’t make it before dark. I stowed the tent, and quickly left.

The ride was easy, no need for Google, the maps were easy to follow as there was only one main road for most of the day. I tried to make up some limericks as I road, but couldn’t come up with anything decent that rhymed with Camino or Compostella… and ‘Sally’ and ‘Bali’ only rhyme if your say it in an American accent, and that wouldn’t do, so I gave up. I wondered what Adventure would happen to me today, and thought ‘I hope it’s good’.

I was CouchSurfing tonight, and as I stopped for lunch, my host called to say she would be home around d 4.30. I replied that would probably be the time I would arrive, as I wanted to visit a couple of churches in nearby Dax on the way.

From Dax to Riviere-Saas-et-Gourby, I used Google to navigate as the map was not clear, but Google decided to send me on a steep muddy forest path, which was actually quite lovely, but I had to push the bike for most of it. The bike started to make a funny noise – I checked, but couldn’t see any problem. I got onto a proper road again, and it seemed fine. Then when I was one and a half kilometers from my destination, the bike didn’t feel right – I looked down, and the back wheel was wobbling strangely. I dismounted, and looked – I had a flat tyre! A FLAT TYRE? I’ve never had a flat. Ever. And was just having smug thoughts that I was going to make it through France without one. I did however have a lesson how to fix a flat before I left home, but decided as I was so close to my hosts, I would just push the bike, and fix it there. I sent a message to my host, and she came to take my bags so I could unload, and not cause further damage (her car was too small for the bike). She said not to worry, as there was a man at home to fix the tyre. They can be useful sometimes.

I arrived, and her lovely husband quickly mended the puncture. We put the wheel back on, then I went for a spin to check it. Something was wrong. The wheel wobbled badly, and would not spin smoothly. He then checked, and I had broken several spokes. Bugger. I don’t have any spares, so will have to visit a bike shop tomorrow – they said there is one nearby. Hopefully it’s just a few spokes, and I haven’t bent the wheel. With only two to three days to go of my bike ride before I reach Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port where hopefully, I will sell my bike, and start my walk to Spain, it’s most inconvenient. But nothing to be done until tomorrow, so best just enjoy the evening.

And enjoy I did. What lovely hosts! Wonderful warm and generous company and conversation, good food and wine made for a relaxing and entertaining evening, but as Summertime has ended, so must my day. Bonne Nuit.

Cycle Path Psychopath part 18 – Duck Sleeves

Moustey to Onesse-et-Laharie
Saturday 25 October

I had an earlier start today, but was still the last to leave, and cycled along the road to Pissos. As I turned towards the church I passed the French man from last night and wished him Buen Camino! The church was open, so I parked my bike and went inside for a look. I came outside to photograph the church, and a gentleman stopped while I took the photo. I indicated to him to go ahead, but he replied in English that he had all day, as he lived there. He came over and asked where I was from, then spoke to me in Indonesian! He was well traveled and had picked up bits of several languages. He asked if I needed any help or a coffee… As he had been helped often on his travels, he wanted to reciprocate. I said I was fine, but he invited me to see his house that he said was actually older than the church, built in 1758, and was next door. He said the best part was the roof, as it had all the original beams, so we went to the attic for a look. It was fascinating. He then gave me a tour of the many rooms, and showed me a tree in the garden that was older than the house! It was a delightful detour, but I had to be on my way.

The ride to Labouheyre was mostly through pine plantations with large logs of cut pines piled on the sides of the road. The smell of fresh pine permeated the air. At Labouheyre I stopped for a three course menu that included a carafe of wine. For my entree I chose witlof and walnut salad with a Roquefort dressing, flowed by a duck dish. I was unsure exactly what the duck dish was, but Google translate came up with ‘duck sleeves’ – I was still unsure, but though perhaps wings. When the dish arrived, it wasn’t wings, but the upper part of the wings – the sleeves! The dessert I choose contained icecream… that much I knew, but Google’s version of the dish was ’denoted master of cutting icy glacier’ – a fancy way of saying two scoops of vanilla ice cream. It was rather delectable homemade ice cream with specks of vanilla seeds, obviously made by a denoted master!

The afternoons ride towards Onesse-et-Laharie, where I had booked a campsite, was perhaps the most boring of the trip so far – straight, flat roads though a bleak landscape of empty fields, dotted with a few straggling pines, alongside a busy highway. At least I wasn’t on the highway and didn’t have trucks to contend with, but had my own private road – boring, but stress free.

I arrived at the small camping ground, put up my tent, and went to buy some bread for dinner, as had had a large lunch. I wandered the village, but couldn’t find the boulangerie, but could smell bread… I soon saw someone walking out the door of what looked to be a house, with a baguette. I went inside, and the wonderful smell was overwhelming. I bought a lovely crisp warm fresh loaf, and returned to the campsite, opened the cheese, pored a glass of vin rouge, and settled in for the evening.

Cycle Path Psychopath part 17- The Magic Fountain

Le Barp to Moustey
Friday 24 October

Sometimes I can be a lazy pilgrim. I am a night owl, not a lark. Overnight the temperature dropped, and for the first time had my sleeping bag zipped up all the way, all night. I wasn’t getting out of bed until it warmed up. The others had left, or were ready to leave when I rose. We had been invited to the gentleman’s from the church house for coffee, but I had said I would not go early, but would drop in later. I had bought some eggs at the supermarket and cooked them for breakfast. It was my first time to have eggs for breakfast in France. In Indonesia they are hard to avoid… and I eat them almost every day. I was a welcome change from bread.

I eventually packed up and left about 11.30, went around to say goodbye, and rode towards Belin-Beliet, the next town on the map. On the way I passed two of the pilgrims from last night, and bid then Buen Camino. It was lunch time by the time I was in the small town, and as it was Friday, was hoping fish would be on the menu somewhere rather than the usual beef. I turned off the main road, and saw a small Resturant with a lunch menu. They had two choices for main – beef or something else… Google translate came up with ray, so it was fish. I parked my bike, and went in. I asked if they spoke English, and the very enthusiastic host, spoke very fluently. She asked me what bought me to her small town, and I said I was a pilgrim on St Jacque de Compostelle. She said I was the first one on a bike she had met. We had a very interesting conversation – she used to live in the Caribbean and work on boats, and was interested in my life in Indonesia. She asked had I visited the Templar churches nearby, apparently there are two. I said I had visited one… and described it, she said I should visit the other one too, although they are almost identical, the other one had a ‘magic fountain’ in the woods behind it. A magic fountain! Now that was worth seeing. It would be an hours detour return, but I had time for magic. She helped me search google maps for directions, but it couldn’t be found… a secret magic fountain. She then searched the internet for the coordinates, and we found it…

After another delicious three course lunch, I made my way to the Saint Pierre Church in nearby Mons. It was almost identical to the one in the forest I had visited the previous night, but surrounded by a small graveyard. I entered the gate, but the church was locked. I saw the small path into the forest, and followed it to the fountain. It was a small stone arch with an iron cross, and several small, recently made wooden crosses. The trees around were covered in candle wax. It was more like a spring than a fountain really, but it was magic!

I had to backtrack to Belin-Beliet, to find the road to Moustey, my destination for this evening. I had originally planned to stay at Saugnacq-et-Muret, as I had information about a pilgrims Gite there, but when I asked my fellow pilgrim to call, they were told the was nothing there, and to stay in Moustey where there was a commercial Gite, that had beds for pilgrims. I road on following the instructions to look out for the wagon wheels marking the turnoff. I arrived, paid, and was shown the place for pilgrims. I thought it was a little overpriced for the 17€ they asked but it was a commercial venture I guess. There was another Pilgrim camping, and turns out he was paying half as much as me for the use of the same facilities – I should have put up my tent, but I had already paid, unpacked and had occupied a bed.

He was German, and also riding a bike. I asked had he ridden from Germany? He said he had ridden from Germany, up to Norway, back down, was going to Santiago de Compostella, then onto Portugal. He was in his fourth month of the trip, and had ridden today from Bordeaux. He said his budget for France was 15€ a day, as he was heating up some pasta with instant sauce. My budget for lunch is that. I guess if you live in Europe, you don’t have to indulge every day. He was then rather dismissive and didn’t want to talk any more, I guess after four months you get sick of the same conversation. I was impressed however… and he had a really nice bike.

I went up to the village of Moustey to visit the two churches that are side by side, and look very similar, I don’t know why, and couldn’t find any information on the subject. Nearby is a marker to Compostella… Only 1,000km to go!

Another pilgrim arrived, and it was the French man from the previous evening who had no English. He is in his late 60’s, and didn’t seem the fittest of men, but said he had walked 38 km that day… Slightly less than I had cycled (he had left before I got up!). That is impressive!

I was cooking some pasta for dinner, as had a had a big lunch only wanted a simple meal, and offered to make some for him, but he said he would go up to the village to a resturant. About half an hour latter he returned saying everything was shut, but he had bought some supplies form the local shop. We started a conversation, but both agreed it was too hard… But I do like to talk, so opened Google translate, and we were able to chat. I showed him some photos of Indonesia, and he told me about a trip he had had to China, and we ended up having a pleasant evening together, with only a few words of each other’s language.

Cycle Path Psychopath part 16 – A Pilgrim Party with the Templars

Bordeaux to Le Barp
Thursday 23 October

My host had to leave early, so I packed up and also had an early start. I considered checking into a hotel, so would have a bit more time to discover Bordeaux, but decided I was more in the mood for quiet country roads, rather than the delights of a cultural city, so started towards Le Barp.

It was a straightforward route out of the city to the next small town… Then I got a little off track and ended up in a forest, which was rather lovely. I continued down small roads and paths, getting smaller and smaller as I headed again into the countryside. Then my road turned to sand. Thick sand. Thick sand that was impossible to ride a bike through. Google said it was a further 4 km down this path. I got off and pushed, my fastest rate was 4km per hour… If would take an hour of pushing the bike through the sand… Then after about a kilometer the road became firm again. I happily road on to Le Barp. On the way I saw another pilgrim on foot, he was also heading to Le Barp, and asked my to buy him some supplies, as he would probably arrive after the shops closed.

Tonight I was staying in a municipal Gite, open to pilgrims. My host had called ahead for directions and instructions. I had directions from the church and the code to get in. I went to the church and there was a workman installing a plaque, and an man looking on nodding. I said bonjour, and they asked if I needed help. I indicate that I was just looking at the church. They then saw my shell, and said there was a place for pilgrims to stay here – I said I had the code, but was just looking for my instructions of how to get there… The man said to follow him, as he drove around the corner. He asked if I would like a stamp in my Credencial, I said I would so followed him to his house. I wasn’t sure if he was the priest, but then his wife came out, but he seemed associated with the church in some way. They offered me coffee and biscuits, and I sat down for a chat – he had some English. He knew quit a lot of the history of the local area, and asked if I would like to visit an ancient Templar church, and explained the history of the Templar knights in the area, indicating that were still alive and well. I said I would be very interested, and he said he would come by the hostel later, and whoever was there was also invited for a tour.

I road back to the hostel, entered the code, and there was another pilgrim already there, a French man with hardly any English, we had a difficult, but friendly conversation, and he told me there was a young girl, also on her way, so we would be four tonight – a full house! I went to the supermarket for some supplies, and when I returned everyone had arrived. I told them about the offer to see the Templar church, but only the girl was interested. The others said they would wait for us for dinner.

The gentleman arrived and first took us to the birthplace of a former queen of France, married to one of the Henry’s, but all that remained was a small hill, and a rather kitsch statue. He said that during WWII, the Germans were convinced that the hill concealed treasure, so ordered the locals to dig it away, so really, it was just half a hill, with a nearby pile of sand. There was no treasure.

I was asking the fellow pilgrim about the origins of her unusual name, Quitterie – She said it was French, but our friend had also never heard it. She said it was actually a Saints name, form this very area. As she said this – she exclaimed and pointed to the street sign – we were in Rue Saint Quitterie!

We then went to the 10th Century Templar church – it was dusk in the forest, and the light surrounding the simple rounded building was lovely. We entered the darkened church, it was cold the only light was from the stained glass windows. The gentleman handed us candles, and the three of us made a procession to the alter and placed candles all around the church in front of all the statues, it was rather spooky and mystical – fitting for this secretive order.

Returning to the hostel, I showered and the others were preparing for dinner. I had been under the impression we would all go into town for dinner together, but the group had pooled their snacks of bread and fruit. I said I need a proper meal, so would cook if anyone would partake – they were all happy to eat. We had melon and some duck pate to start (not together), I opened a bottle of wine to share… and cooked up lentils with vegetables I had leftover. It was fun and relaxing to be in the company of other pilgrims, and we all had stories to share.

Cycle Path Psychopath part 15 – Beer in Bordeaux

Saint-Martin-Lacaussade to Bordeaux
Wednesday 22 October

It was market day in Blaye when I arrived with some time to spare before I caught the ferry across to Lamarque, so I went to explore. The first stall had about ten varieties of oysters, some as big as my hand… and another with mushrooms bigger than dinner plates, and the cheeses…. it was a wondrous collection of fresh produce. As I pushed my bike through the stalls, many people stopped and asked ‘Saint Jacque de Compostelle?’… I was well and truly on the pilgrims path here!

The ferry ride, was an option that would cut about 20km from my days journey, and took me through vineyards and chateaus, rather than, I was told, a boring industrial landscape. It was not cheating, as I’ve done well over 20km getting lost! I rode my bike onto the ferry for the twenty minute journey. On the other side, my maps, and google all directed me straight ahead, but there was a perfectly good path that ran along the river, which hopefully would take me to Bordeaux, so I took that instead. After about 8km, it came to a dead, so I backtracked for about 100m where there was a road leading up to some vineyards. I had a delightful few hours riding around the vineyards going from chateau to chateau in the Margaux area, one of the famous regions of Bordeaux. It was a little early for lunch, and I was hoping for a Resturant lunch today, so I continued on.

At one point I saw a small lake filled with ducks, but as I approached, saw the ducks were not real, but decoys… and soon saw two hunters with their guns. It was hunting season. I waved and made sure they saw me. Waved, not flapped.

I was starting to get hungry, but no Resturant in sight, in fact not much but fields, and the odd vineyard, so pulled off the road for some bread and cheese.

I was soon entering the suburbs of Bordeaux, which wasn’t the most pleasant of rides – strips of factories, and car yards. I was unprepared for how big and spread out Bordeaux was, and was a little overwhelmed. Eventually I rejoined the riverfront, and things started to improve as I approached the centre of the city. The sun was shinning, and as it was ‘childrens’ day’ – Wednesday afternoon, many families were out enjoying the esplanade along the river. There were skateboard rinks, BMX bikes, scooters, and a fountain the bubbled out from the path, creating a mist every few minuets. The city center behind was a marvelous sight – the centre of Bordeaux is a UNESCO World Heritage site, I was again overwhelmed (but in a better way).

I was CouchSurfing again tonight, so called my host to let her know I’d arrived. She wasn’t going to be home until 7pm, but gave me her address to meet her later, and made some suggestions for things to do in the meantime. Unfortunately I didn’t have anywhere to leave my loaded bike safely, but had a very pleasant ride around the streets window shopping in the numerous small boutiques. I looked at churches, public squares, the opera house, fountains, and spent a lovely hour in the public gardens. After my initial apprehension, I was beginning to enjoy being in the big city of Bordeaux… a change from the small villages I’d been staying in.

Around seven, I headed to the area my host lived, and found a small park with a free exchange library booth – a small glass doored shelf with instructions to take or leave a free book. Not sitting for long, a woman came up to me, sitting beside me and handed me a book. It was a heavy volume old encyclopedia in French. I said I don’t speak French, but she was an English teacher, and was very interested in my trip. We chatted until my host called to say she was home. I declined the offer of the heavy volume.

Another fantastic home – a huge old apartment with a lovely large backyard to store my bike. My host apologized that she had a class that evening, and could go and have a drink with me now, but that would be the extent of her hosting. She and her boyfriend and I headed to a local bar. He had done the Camino a few months ago, and was very interested in my trip. We were in Bordeaux, so I asked for a glass of wine, but it was a beer bar! They had hundreds of varieties of beer – I asked for something local and was served a rather nice stout. My host ordered a few snacks, and then it was time for her to leave. I thought I would go out and eat somewhere, but my host had only one set of keys, and said she would be home very late… So she took me back to her place. I was rather hungry, but was tired, so just showered and went to bed.