Walking in The Pyrenees is Not a Walk in the Park.
“…being struck by the vast magnitude of the landscape around me and feeling swallowed by a beautiful sense of insignificance which makes me realise none of it really matters at all. “
It’s been a bit of a roller coaster these past few days. Emotions, like the mountains, have been pretty up and down. I’ll find myself going from irritation to determination to sheer happiness to utter abandon. And then, after all that, being struck by the vast magnitude of the landscape around me and feeling swallowed by a beautiful sense of insignificance which makes me realise none of it really matters at all. Philosophical I know.
Now, we’ve finally come to our rest day and had time to catch up with sleep and come to terms with the enormity of what we’ve done so far. 100km in 4 days. Wow. But it has been taxing and my raw shredded feet have paid the price for it. My blisters are humongous and my foot is quite swollen so looks like I won’t be walking tomorrow and am going to have to catch up with the boys a in a few days. It’s a pain and I’m not best pleased but it’s better than not being able to complete the walk at all or all going bat-shit crazy waiting in the little town of St. Jean Pied du Port together. Lovely as it is here, beautifully quaint and ridiculously French, I can feel us all getting restless and I know it’s time for the boys to move on.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been less than a week; we’ve already met so many amazing people and seen some beautiful sights. Home seems so far away now. Mind you, so does the Mediterranean Coast.
I started the first day in a bit of a grump, unsure why exactly, but all was remedied less than an hour into the trail when we bumped into a distressed looking French girl named Jud who had locked her keys in her car. She asked us if we could help and so we tentatively pulled out first a tent pole and then a walking stick to try and hook the car door open through the small slit in the window. After Craig had unsuccessfully waved a tent pole around the car, I managed to wedge my arm through and ease down the window with a walking pole. Jud was so grateful to us for breaking into her car that she rewarded us with a bottle of delicious French Rose which we literally couldn’t refuse (we did try). I don’t think she realised how much extra weight a bottle of wine would add to our packs, but nevertheless it made a decent accompaniment to that nights bland polenta and corned beef combo.
The other excitement of the day was Doug slicing his knee open. At the next town we asked for directions to a pharmacy and ended up with French people almost fighting each other to try and help him.
The second day was equally eventful. The day was hot and we had to stop in the midday heat to bathe and siesta by a lake. We also met lots of fellow walkers including a Belgian girl named Ailse, a peculiar but lovely Spanish man named Jose-Miel who was clothed head to toe in black, and two French musicians who played for us atop a mountain and fed us cheese fondue, wine and Basque delicacies under the stars.
We slept that evening by a barn with running water taps, tables and even a flushing toilet. Having not put my tent up before dark as I was determined to sleep under the starts, the storm that we could see brewing in the sky forced me to sleep in the barn instead. I couldn’t get to sleep however for a strange beeping noise. It sounded like a phone or electronic device of some sort but the beeping would cease every time I started searching for its source. A good 20 minutes of shining my head torch around the barn later, I discovered a tiny wide-eyed frog perched in the corner.
Day 3 was tough. We got lost twice in the morning and when we stopped for lunch we found that the one shop in town was shut. Hungry and grumpy we sat in a restaurant around the corner and spent an inordinate amount on food. As it was the only open restaurant we did bump into many a fellow walker including two French lads who we’d seen a couple of times already, an Australian man called John and, bizarrely, Doug’s old school teacher who was leading his students on a D of E trip.
After lunch I wasn’t in the mood to carry on walking. My feet hurt and we had a steep 45 degree ascent to climb that afternoon only to be greeted by rain and midges at the top.
The next morning I woke up to a frog in my tent. Doug joked that I’m becoming the frog whisperer. We packed up and plodded on. My feet hurt again and I was grumpy and slow. I finally took some painkillers at the top of the next ascent and practically slid down the grassy descent on my bum. That was pretty funny and lifted my spirits. Luckily the camera missed out on that one as it was far from graceful. We were meant to wild camp somewhere before town but the promise of Basque cider and a rest tomorrow pushed us all on and we made it to St. Jean Pied du Port that evening, one whole day ahead of schedule.