Melanie and I are celebrating. It’s her half-birthday (six months to 10 November, don’t forget!). Today is also the last public holiday in France for at least two weeks. We will be gone before they close the country again!
Today started out as a lovely day for walking, cool and overcast. The weather forecast was again for rain about mid-day but we have stopped believing it. We seem to get light showers in the late evenings or nights but, touch wood, nothing serious while walking for a while. Almost as soon as we left the chambre d’hôte this morning, we bumped into French Steve who had already walked from Lescar. He is obviously an early riser. He stopped in the only cafe open between Lescar and Oloron today, which was 200m from our accommodation. We didn’t need to stop but obviously the cafe’s owner forgot that today was Ascension Thursday.
We were told that we had 700m of climbing today, spread over the day, and the first steep 130m was just as we were leaving Artiguelouve. It was on a great forest track so I was happy. The drop down the other side into the valley was a little more tricky with slippery mud but we would have worse later. There were about 3km of roads bordering farms before entering the proud little village of Lacommande. I say “proud” because everything in the village seemed to have a tourist sign on it, explaining why the wall, church, garden, tree, sidewalk, etc., was so special. They weren’t proud enough of their village though to open a cafe on a public holiday.
The next 8km was entirely in the forest although we occasionally crossed small roads or logger’s roads. That was the marked trail as well as our plan but as always, plans change, particularly in France. At the start, the trail was very nice and the muddy bits were easily passed by without slowing us down too much. There were decent climbs and descents. As the trails got deeper in the forest though, there were at least two sections of a few hundred meters each that were in bad shape. We had our choice of walking in sloppy, wet mud that might sink us in up to our ankles or a very gooey, slippery clay mud that would not sink us but certainly tried hard to drop us on our butts.
About 60% through those otherwise lovely trails, we came to a crossroad with an odd sight. There was a huge tractor parked there with massive tires which were covered in chains for traction. Next to it was a large pile of muddy logs. Across the road was the continuation of our trail or what was left of it. The trail was wide and extremely muddy as if a tractor had been dragging logs through the wet dirt to churn up a good quagmire. We stared at the mess for a few minutes. It was impossible to tell how far the trail was in such bad shape but getting past the first 50m looked like a Herculean task. We decided to turn left on the road and get out that way. It meant that all of the rest of the trail for us was on road and only the final 2.6km was on the marked trail. We actually walked longer than if we had been of the marked trail but it looked worth it.
One benefit of of going off trail was that a few hundred meters down the road, we had an excellent view of the Pyrenees. This was only the second day that we have been able to see their snow-capped peaks. A second benefit of taking the road – or it could also be a curse – happen just as our road path and the marked Camino came together. Melanie was walking ahead of me because I had stopped to use the “lavatree”. As I got to the merge point of the trails, there was German Pete waving to me from the marked trail. I got caught taking the road! The good thing though was that we got to walk with him one last time and to say goodbye. He, like everyone else we have met this past two weeks, is going onward to the Col de Somport and Puente la Reina. We first met Pete in Castres where we said goodbye to Jerry, Alain, Daniel and Anne-Marie so he, along with Les and Peter were the as close to a pilgrim family as we had. By the way, Pete told us the trail immediately after the tractor was very difficult and he fell once, as evidenced by the mud up and Dow his left side. He said it did get much better after the first kilometer or two though.
The final walk into Oloron was marked by a few things. First, the view from the last hill is really cool, showing the old town on the hill on the other side of the river. Also, despite being a good sized town of 11,000 citizens, they still have the small town mindset to close every darn store, restaurant and office on a public holiday. Well, not everything. We were told that one bistro would be open so we rushed there for an early dinner before the crowds bought all the food. We also found a laundromat that was open – they seem immune to holidays. Finally, there are some really old and gorgeous buildings here, none from first century Roman times but still, really interesting architecture. Finally, the receptionist from our hotel was actually at the desk when we arrived around 3:30pm. We were amazed. We haven’t seen him since then and we do hope to see him tomorrow because we haven’t paid for the room yet. He did not know how to operate the system to check us in so he just handed us a key and said he would see us later. Maybe this will be the best value hotel we have stayed in in France.