Some days, everything just falls into place. Some days, everything just falls and breaks. Guess which day we had?
Actually, I did have a fall yesterday evening but it was more comical than anything else. I just ended up with a huge bruise on my ego. Coming down to dinner, I was walking down the old wooden stairs with socks on but no shoes. Up until that point, I followed the hostess’ lead and left my Keen sandals downstairs and my walking shoes outside in the storeroom. On the second stair from the top, my foot slipped off the edge of the step. Both feet shot up and my torso acknowledged gravity. I managed to grab the banister which slowed down the process but didn’t solve the quantum mechanics of me sliding down the stairs feet first, all the way to the bottom step. I kept myself straight (and as dumb as) as a rod so that I could feel every step with my heels, calves, thighs, butt and back. Strangely, I held my head up, pretending I was on the luge in the Winter Olympics. I wasn’t fast but they only took off 20 points for style.
My poor French also paid off this morning in one way and caused a problem in another. Our hosts only speak French and they expect me to speak it as well. I tried. On the bad said, Nicole asked me what time we walked breakfast and we asked if 7:00am would be okay. She said that was fine but went into some speech about today’s walk and the distance. I said that we would start walking around 7:30am and that was fine. She asked what time I said and I repeated that we would leave at “seven and 30 minutes”. She seemed happy and said something about seeing us at “seven and a half”. By the time we figured their might be a problem, we were already back in our room and so she was in hers. We set the alarm for a 7:00am breakfast and she wandered into the kitchen at 7:25am. I’m not positive how I messed that up.
^looking back down at our accommodations last night
I am a little more sure how I messed up the story when we benefited though. Nicole asked us what we wanted for breakfast in the morning, coffee, tea…? I said that Melanie drinks coffee but I only drink water (d’eau suelement). Well that can’t be right. When she did make breakfast, Melanie had her coffee (served in an enormous bowl?!) and there was juice, toast, yogurt, jam and butter too. This is all we could expect. The next think I know is that she fried three eggs, just for me, and none for Melanie. Eggs? Two days in a row? The world has gone mad but I’m happy. I shared one egg with Melanie which Nicole thought odd but I was a combination of confused and happy, sort of “confappy” until I figured it out around the seventh kilometer. Nicole must have heard “des oeufs” (eggs) instead of “d’eau” (water). We win although I must have sounded pushy to her.
We did actually walk today too. The weather forecast was for a hot, partly cloudy morning followed by heavy thunder showers with a potential for flash floods from noon to 2:00pm then back to hot and partly cloudy later in the afternoon. The host who is a farmer, Michel, looked at the sky and said the same thing. The Belgian bicyclists we met later said the same thing. We believed it. We wondered about the forest tracks in those conditions and it was always in the back of our minds.
^Looking over towards Marciac
The walk started with a healthy steep 80m climb up to the top on the hill behind the farmhouse to where the hamlet of Monlezun sits along side the ruins of a castle. From there, we had an excellent view of the valley and its road all the way to Marciac, 6km away. Wait, what?!? There was a road in the valley to Marciac?!?!? The trails went twisting down the other side of the hill then up and down through farm tracks most of the way to Marciac. At one point, the trail stopped at a freshly plowed field and with a brief look, we could not see where we were supposed to go. Seconds later, the farmer pulled up in his huge tractor and motioned us to follow him. He then drove straight across his field and the tractor’s wheels gave us a path, albeit a bumpy one, to walk on to the other side where the familiar red and white blazes waited for us. How cool is that?
Near the outskirts of the small village of Marciac, we had a strange encounter with a couple of bicycling Belgian pilgrims coming towards us. They asked where we were heading and we said St. Jean Pied de Port. They asked if we were lost. No, I pointed out the GR blaze right next to us. “Oh”, he asked, “did you just come over to see the chapel?” “Huh? What chapel? What are you talking about?”. He pointed in the direction we were going and said that there was the direction to St. Jean. I agreed and I pointed behind me and said that Montpellier, where we started, is 500km back behind us. “Oh”, he said, “I thought you were doing the Le Puy route”. I could be wrong but that route is at least a day and a half walk away from here. We definitely didn’t accidentally stray off it to Marciac.
Still with the Belgians, we asked where he was headed to and he said Lourdes although they might only make it to Tarbes today before the rain and then have to finish by train. I didn’t have the heart to tell him. He was going the wrong way. He was heading east on a muddy farm trail on a fully loaded bike that often had to be pushed by hand. If he wanted to get to Tarbes, 41km away in two hours, he needed to get onto a road heading south-south-west quickly. They seemed like nice folks though so we wished them luck and courage.
If you are following us, consider staying in Marciac. We really liked the Lamouet but Marciac looks like a really cool old village. The center of the village reminds me a lot of Revel but without all the suburb and urban growth around it. You can easily imagine like in the village, 100, 200 or 300 years ago. We walked around it a good bit and tried to get into the church but a funeral was going on. We explained that we were ex-colleagues of the deceased who have walked for 500 kilometers to be there but they kicked us out anyway. How where we to know that the dead woman was a cloistered nun? Actually, we saw the people gathering for a funeral and decided not to interrupt in our muddy gear but that isn’t near as good a story, right?
We had another bit of climbing hills on forest and farm paths for 5km before we crossed the L’Arros River. At that point, we made a decision. It was close to noon and the clouds seemed to be forming for the expected thunderstorms and flash floods. Melanie is still weak from her recent health issues so we took a bearing for Maubourguet and went as straight for it as the roads would allow. The roads were mostly flat except one very steep 100m climb and descent down the other side. They were also very quiet as we only saw about five cars on the 7km section before the limits of Maubourguet. This route saved us about 3km but more importantly, kept us out of muddy forest trails that could become streams in a storm.
^Looking back down at Marciac
Here was the problem with that plan though. The rain never came. AccuWeather was wrong. The farmer was wrong. The Belgians were wrong. It actually stayed mostly sunny, muggy, hot, humid and shadeless into town. Maybe we should have followed the trail but who knows.
When we did get into the town of Maubourguet, we headed straight for the Hotel de France. We liked their hotel in Auch so much, we had to come back. It looked on the map to be right in the center of the action with bars, restaurants and shops nearby. Besides, we weren’t keen on a gîte tonight and we had not made reservations for the chambres d’hôtes outside of the center of town. We arrived at 2:30pm and had a little surprise. The Hotel de France looked like a bit of a dive from outside and a small one at that. The door was also locked with a notice that said they would open at 5:30pm. Huh? We called the numbers we had and woke up the owner. He said to have a beer at a bar and he would come within 45 minutes. Now, this is true Ritz-Carlton-like service! As promised, he got there in 30 minutes and checked us into room 6. Rooms 1 through 5 were also available but didn’t have balconies. Rooms 7 through 200 were yet to be built. The owner told us the code to get in and out of the front door because he was going back home for the night. He looked relieved when we said we didn’t want the 8:30am breakfast so we paid, he said goodbye and wished us well on our walk. We are the only people in the building until someone wakes him up again tomorrow.
Before leaving, the owner also mentioned that today was a holiday so every restaurant, grocery store, etc. is closed for the day. We did find one bakery and bought everything they had that looked like it had had some nutritional value. Dinner tonight was a ham sandwich on a baguette, a cumin chicken sandwich on soft chewless bagel and a croque monsieur sandwich, and an apricot beignet. All were cold as ice. Yummy. The bars did stay open though so we enjoyed another beer. Life isn’t all that bad. At least not until we look at tomorrow’s walk. Only 23km but no place to eat in the gîte. We have to bring our food with us and there may not be anyplace to buy anything tomorrow, being the day after a holiday and all. Wish us luck. The alternative is walking an additional 15km. We’ll figure it out.
We are now 522.2km from Montpellier. It seems like only last year….
p.s. sorry for the dearth of photos but we had our heads down and feet churning today, except in lovely Marciac where I was just too awed to remember to take photos.