The start of the first real walking day for us was not ideal. It was drizzling and windy when we stepped out the door at 9:30am and the sky just looked ugly all around. Before leaving the the cover of the hotel, we already stopped to add more waterproofing from the rain. Right on cue, Melanie asked her annual question “Tell me, why are we doing this again?” For the first time, I wondered myself. Jerry just looked terrified.
The first few kilometers until the wonderful little village of Grabels was basically still suburban Montpellier. It was a nice walk but still too much in civilization for us. Almost all of that section was along roads, including some very busy ones. Once we hit Grabels though, every thing changed.
The rain had stopped at this point so Melanie tempted fate took off her rain coat when we stopped in front of the impressive village church. I had already shed mine because of the heat building up inside. While waiting, I saw a sign on the rectory door and started to translate it. The sign said that the village and church welcomes pilgrims who pass by and prays for them every Sunday. That brightened up the day right away. Just a moment later, our whole Camino reached its highlight. We can stop walking already. A woman and her daughter passed us and as usual, we said “bonjour”. Separately, I smiled at the three or four year old daughter and said hello to her too. In reply, I received the most angelic and adorable smile and “bonjour” that is possible. She would have melted the heart of Satan himself.
After Grabels, the route was almost exclusively along dirt or rocky paths all the way to the outskirts of the small old town of Montarnaud. Unfortunately, some portions of the route more resembled streams, rivers, lakes or mud pits. It was not difficult today to find our way past the obstacles but I’m hoping that it does not get any worse.
For those following us, I should say that the trail markings are outstanding. I occasionally looked at my iPhone GPS for comfort or confirmation but that was not needed to navigate today. The red and white GR blazes were all that were required. On the one instance, where we missed a turn, we did see an “x” telling us that we messed up only 20m past the trail diversion. We knew right away to turn back and get on the trail again.
I should also note that the people marking the trail appear to have done an excellent job so far to keep us walking on green paths as much as possible without going overboard and turning a 15km distance into a 30km trail with zig-zags up past every tree or blade of grass just for the “green” of it. They have also recently changed the section of today’s trail between Grabels and Bel-Air. Still, we just followed the blazes and had no issue, other than the soggy trails. They were likely just as wet or worse on the old trail anyway.
(^I don’t think that Henry’s family likes Germans.)
Today’s accommodation is at our first gîte. These are the French equivalents of the small, family-run Spanish albergues or hostels. This one is the Gîte Gallière which is basically a two bedroom, one bath apartment with five beds in the living room, two more in one bedroom and a queen-sized bed in the other bedroom. When we arrived at 2:00pm, no one answered the door or doorbell. I called but had a challenging conversation with the elderly woman who seemed to believe that I could understand her French if only she could speak faster and quieter. I had trouble communicating that we had reservations and just arrived but as I started to give up hope that I could get through, the woman surprised us by coming out the door on the lower level to greet us – while still talking on the phone to me.
The woman explained that her daughter ran the gîte but was not home at the moment. She suggested that we go up and make ourselves at home. We did just that but were unsure if we could use the beds in the bedrooms or were confined to the living room cots. I had two uncomplaining but unhappy roommates until the woman came in a while later and explained that the bedroom beds were €20 but the common rooms beds were only €15. Jerry and Melanie literally ran to chope the spaces (Singapore style reserving) in the bedrooms.
Later we met our lovely hostess, Nathalie, who helped us with a recommendation and reservations for dinner and confirmation that food will be available in the village where we stay tomorrow. Apparently we are still in the low season and restaurants are not normally open in April there. Fortunately, the hotel where we just reserved does have a small restaurant for guests.
So far, so good. One full day is done and about thirty more to go. Everything would have been perfect so far, with a little less rain and if only the restaurant two nights ago had whisky for Jerry (the only thing they had was Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker Red Label which Jerry says don’t count). Come to think of it, last night’s meal was in a burger joint and they didn’t even have wine. Jerry may be a teetotaler by the time we’ve finished with him. (Edited to add: I spoke to soon. The gîte does not have wi-fi so we looked for a place in the village. We found a good wi-if connection in a well-stocked bar.)