Today’s walk started lovely and worked its way downward. It’s okay though. Altogether, it was a nice day with lovely highlights and limited negatives.
I should have mentioned yesterday that Oloron-Sainte-Marie seems to be the first village we have come to that has a serious Camino vibe to it. Because two of the big five French Caminos pass through here, and the three others pass close to here, everyone know what the pilgrims are doing. We also have seen quite a number of other pilgrims hobbling around the city with blistered feet, looking for food, supply stores or pharmacies. It may not be St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port but we are getting close. I just wonder though where all the other pilgrims came from. We knew most of the (few) people that seemed to come here via the Arles route and that route is much more popular than the Piémont which is the route we will changed over to today. I am glad they didn’t end up on the Piémont to L’Hôpital-Saint-Blaise because there are only eight beds in this town.
^Pete, the Vegetarian German pilgrim who we entered Oloron with.
After checking out of the Hotel de la Paix, we started heading for the center of town then the cathedral. After turning down the breakfast option at the hotel (€17 for two), I had promised Melanie that we would not leave Oloron before she had at least a coffee and croissant (€6 for two) . Guess who we ran into only 100m away from the hotel? English Les and Peter were walking the wrong way from their intended direction of the Col de Somport. They were searching for coffee too and they said they couldn’t find any near the gîte or towards Somport. I’m happy we bumped into them so we could say our goodbyes but they were adding distance to an already long stage for themselves. We parted, heading towards the main road from the bridge to the church and got some poor directions from a man we saw eating a pastry as he walked. By the time we found the barge directed to, Les and Peter were there with coffee and a some pastries. We had to say goodbye again!
^Brits Les & Peter
After breakfast, we walked up to the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also on our route. Unfortunately, the doors were all locked up so we weren’t going to see the inside. As I was taking a photo of the impressive main door, a sacristan opened them from inside. We got in! Melanie ran after French Steve who we met as he was leaving and told him it was open. Meanwhile, I got stamps for our credentials. After a brief visit, we started today’s walk. That said, we had still not moved a full kilometer by this time but already consumed more than an hour of the day.
The route to Saint-Blaise was a bit of hopping from village to village. The first village, Moumour was 6km away along what has to be the busiest, tiny country back road in France. It was about one and a half car widths wide, two way, heavily pot-holed, had no path for walkers on the side and we had about ten cars a minute passing us in one direction or the other. We were happy to get off it and into Moumour. We were happier when we found a small store in front of the village church there that sold some dried fruit and sodas. They refused to sell Melanie her second coffee of the day and it took me a minute to figure out why. The nice woman who runs the place gives the coffee away for free to pilgrims – with cookies too!
The next 4km to Orin was through a beautiful forest trail. Why can’t they all be like that? We passed by their church and looked for the free coffee but apparently they don’t love pilgrims there as much as in Moumour.
The next 4km to Aren and their lovely chateau was on another country lane but a lot quieter and now hotter as the sun was starting to beat down on us. Additionally, when we turned around on this stretch, we had some fantastic views of the Pyrénées to the south. We could easily pick out the Col de Somport pass where our friends will be going over in two days.
The next 2km to the uniquely named village Préchacq-Josbaig was as grueling as it gets. It was on a straight country road without a leaf for shade or a fart of a breeze. By the time we got there, we had to sit for a bit. We could only find a couple of benches but they were all sunbathing when we passed. We found a bus stop with a curb behind it in the shade so we settled on that for a few minutes of rest.
It was 2km of farm roads past Préchacq-Josbaig where things got interesting. The the last 6km was all in the forest on trails that varied greatly in footing and altitude. There was not significant hills or valleys, only lots of 50m up and downs. While the earlier trails in the day were very walkable, almost perfect, several long sections of this last part were nearly impassable, including the first 100m. The gooey clay mud took turns with the sloppy black wet mud in trying to trip us up. Several times on the steeper parts, we were sliding all around. If I had known that it was that messy, I probably would have taken the road as it would have been about the same distance. Unfortunately, after that first portion downhill, we would not have been able to turn around and go back through the mess without taking a mud bath.
One cool thing about this last forest trail though was that we emerged from the forest less than 50m from the church of Saint Blaise. This village, which now has 80 citizens, was founded about a thousand years ago to take care of pilgrims heading to Santiago through the forest between the Basque Country and La Béarn. Because the place was called St. Blaise, after the Armenian merger and saint, many people in France made a pilgrimage to this village if they needed prayers for their throats. If you didn’t know that St. Blaise was the patron saint of throats, then you didn’t grow up in the 1960’s in Baltimore and attend a Catholic grade school. Every year we got to hear the story of this saint in early February and we would attend a special mass to get our throats blessed. Our parents and teachers didn’t want to deal with kids who were choking on fish bones or who had strep throat. After St. Mary, St. Joseph and a couple of the apostles, St. Blaise was THE saint of my childhood. It was such a serious event that I thought getting your throat blessed was one of the holy sacraments. And here we are now in his “hôpital”.
I know I can’t post this tonight as the tiny hamlet does not seem to have reached the internet age yet but, as always….