I need to sleep on it but I think France has won. It has beaten us. It has demoralized us completely. It has found the right combination of a variety of obstacles that are just too much. We’re not quitting the walk but for the first time in 4,200km of Caminos, we just skipped 8km and I don’t think we are going back in the morning to cover that distance. It’s just not worth it and that sucks.
Last night, we had a surprisingly good sleep after our sandwich dinner. I know people get by on much less but it’s hard for me to walk 25km on an empty stomach. Everything was closed in Maubourguet, including the hotel, because of the celebration day of the end of World War II in Europe. The actual date is 8 May but they celebrated on Monday, 7 May, I assumed for the same reason that Americans celebrate holidays on a Friday or Monday.
Guess what. They also celebrate the holiday on 8 May too so every damn business is also closed in Morlaàs today. All four hotels, all restaurants, all stores, everything is closed. After wandering around the town for a while, we found a hotel that, like last night, let us in as the only occupants after a bit of begging. Again, there is no staff around. This is the third time that this has happened in 25 days of walking! There is a small pilgrim gîte that our friends found nearby but it is now full. It also turns out that there was a single carry-out pizza parlor open because they do a roaring trade on holidays. We only found out that that place was really open at 6:00pm. So, we are lucky, I guess and shouldn’t complain. We have a bed and something of a dinner.
Remember though that 1 May was also a holiday for Labour Day and the same thing happened then. Also, in two days time, it is Ascension Thursday and that is also a holiday. Four holidays in ten days when the country shuts down. That it too much for is.
Also, we are trying to go to Lourdes (by bus!j after we finish our walk next Monday. We have to get back to Paris on the 19th to fly to Singapore early on the 20th. Sadly, France is in the middle of a three month train strike where trains don’t move two out of every five days. As a result, we have to leave Lourdes two days earlier than we hoped or needed to.
Finally, the challenging logistics of this walk make it much harder than it needs to be. Originally, we planned to walk 23km today to Anoye. They have only a gîte there with 10 places but there is no place to eat in that village. We can cook at the gîte but where do we buy supplies when everything is closed for two days? To solve this, we planned our own, shorter route today using rarely travelled backroads and some tracks and got to Anoye in only 20km. This allowed us to continue past Anoye but the next bed (is supposed to be) a further 15km further in Morlaàs, making it a 35km day and too much for us, particularly with Melanie congested and weaker than normal.
We did continue past Anoye and made a beeline for the main road (D7) to the south and then west towards Morlaàs until we reached some houses. At that point, we needed to stop, still 8km short of Morlaàs and the several hotels there (we thought). We knocked on a few doors to ask for help calling a taxi but no one would answer our knocking / doorbell. We tried hitchhiking but there were few cars – the holiday, of course – and none stopped. Melanie suggested we head up a side street to a farm to ask and I should have listened to her sooner.
No one answered the “cow bell” at the farmhouse but as we were leaving, a woman walked out of the back paddock. We called out to her and asked for help calling a taxi. This woman did exactly as Jesus instructed. She helped two strangers in trouble. Despite being in the middle of her chores, she immediately invited us into her house, found a taxi driver in Morlaàs and convinced him to pick us up. She gave us water and offered coffee as well. She had to return to her chores before the taxi could eventually get there but she left us in the care of her lovely 82 year old mother-in-law. The conversation we had with the mother-in-law and her 90 year old husband was in French, of course, and memorable in its comical attempts to communicate.
The taxi ride itself was very pleasant but €30 for 8km seems a lot. The taxi driver was kind enough to tell us the Hotel de France (again!?!) was closed and he called another to find out that it was closed as well. He dropped us of in front of a third hotel but only their bar was open. Worse still, he dropped us off right in front of Les and Peter, the two Brits we walked with a few days ago. Caught! That hotel only had a bar open and the rooms and restaurant were closed. A kind gentleman there directed us across town to the gîte and near there, we found the closed but, partially openable Hotel Le Bourgneuf. Again, being the only occupants means we have great wi-fi with no one else taking up the bandwidth.
Regarding the walk, as noted, we used mostly our own trail on backroads but also occasionally on the Camino or other trails. The roads were so quiet that we counted only four cars passing us all day outside of a village. It was more direct than the Camino route but hilly as well. The longest dirt trail, 1km, was a little muddy but completely passable. Almost as soon as we left today, it started drizzling despite the weather forecast of clouds until noon then thunderstorms. It looked like all-day rain, which helped plan our route, so we put on all the rain gear. Oddly, it stopped 30 minutes later. Although it looked threatening the rest of the day, we never got heavy showers or any more rain at all.
One other thing of note on the walk today, as well as over the course of the past month, is the memorials in every single village, no matter the size. These memorials stand tribute to the young men from the village who gave their lives during WWI, WWII and other wars. Some of the inscriptions are heartbreaking. In a village of 30 houses, you may see 15 names. Some families gave two or three sons to fight for liberty. Other people mentioned may have dies in wars in Indonesia-China, Algeria, Lebanon, etc. with all these reminders of lost youth, why are there still wars?
In summary, if we can find a taxi tomorrow at 7:30am, and it willing to take us 8km back to La Lande de Haut, and I am willing to pay €30 again, and it is not raining, we MIGHT walk every kilometer but at the moment, I’m not in the mood.
That sounds like a lot to ask anyone to struggle through for a hike, Michael. Getting sleeping arrangements made for the upcoming Le Puy has been a struggle with each place having unique requirements with arrhes issues, confirmations, “complets”, etc. I’m so hoping to not run into anyone like your German this time, as have run into those people before. I love France, but with the endless business closings, the train strikes, and the unpredictability involved in getting basic needs met, this may well me my last trip to France. I so hope that tomorrow goes easier for you both and that at least in Lourdes there are some good things.
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Thanks Beth. All Caminos have had their unique challenges but this one is really getting to me. Many of the French people we have met have been so loving, caring and helpful but something still seems wrong with the systems and infrastructure. Hotels and restaurants “close” for public holiday?!?!?! I just don’t understand the concept or logic.
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That’s day didn’t sound like a lot of laughs. Hope today is a vast improvement and you managed to go back for the 8km. You’ll be kicking yourselves all the way to the end if you don’t, you know. 😊
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We did this camino in May of 2017. It is beautiful, but I can relate to your logistics problems. We really needed to plan daily or a day or two ahead to be sure of food and lodging. It never occurred to me that anything is wrong with the system, I just thought it was fairly untravelled and a low time of year, with lots of villages only lived in on summer weekends probably. We are not purists, so used a few transports along the way. We walked from Mauburget to Morlaas, but then took the bus to Pau. We also occasionally used a 3-5 mile taxi occasionally to make a day just a bit shorter. Anyway, the blog is fun to see and remember our trip.