The Dordogne River

The Dordogne River

Le Rogue-Gagnac

Le Rogue-Gagnac

One of the 1000

One of the 1000


On the days we decided to have our packs transported for us to our next stop, we would just leave the backpacks by the door, some times inside and sometimes outside, of wherever we had spent the night.  We would walk the 15 to 18 miles to our next stop, and there would be our packs, again sometimes indoors and sometimes out.  While in some cases anybody could have searched through them or stolen the whole pack with ease, but no such thing ever happened.

Then we fly into San Francisco, we were met by Sara, who was kind enough to offer to pick us up, and the three of us went to dinner at Nido’s Kitchen, a Mexican restaurant at 4th & Oak in Oakland.  We came out of the restaurant to find that the back window of Sara’s car had been smashed out, and Monica’s backpack was the only thing stolen.  How sad, nobody was ever more attached to their backpack than Monica.  If it was a choice between saving me or the backpack, it would have been a tough decision.  An hour back in the good old US of A and we are victimized.  What time is the next bus to France?

I called OPD to make a report for the Insurance claim, and identified myself as OPD retired, and the Dispatcher apologized as there were no units available, as they were all out on 245PC’s (Penal code for Assault with deadly weapon).  She suggested that I just relax, get a good night’s sleep and make the report online the next morning.  Thanks for the call, and good night.

Just thinking, we have walked 1200 miles plus a lot of training miles, and I am feeling pretty proud of myself – it is a personal best.  But HEY!  I am a Marine, I am OPD, I have done marathons and triathalons, I have bicycled the length of California, and circled the Mojave Desert by bike, and backpacked all the major mountain ranges of Calif., so why would I expect less?  Before I get too smug and self congratulatory, I think of Monica.  Monica wasn’t in the military, wasn’t a Cop, hadn’t bicycled, ran, or backpacked.  Her qualifications were being a successfully self-employed Mother of four (don’t sell those qualifications short).  Shoulder to shoulder, step for step, Monica was with me for all of those miles; and I have no doubt when I take my last step, that Monica has the courage, the innner-strength, the determination to go further.  I thank God for one amazing lady. Incidentally, yesterday she was at REI shopping for a new backpack.  Lord, give me strength.

Our last days in France were spent exploring the area of the Dordogne River.  It is advertised as having a thousand and one Castles and Chateaus, it really seems too.  It also has several villages that border the river and are built into the limestone cliffs. A fascinating area that we could have easily enjoyed for a longer time.

Euros & waitresses

Euros paper bills start at 5 Euro, smaller than that is in coins.  So, we are in this very small village, and she and a Australian Pilgrim wanted to see the medieval church. At the door of the church, the interior of which was pitch black, was a box that for one Euro would light up the church. But, between the three of us we didn’t have a one euro coin.  So,with we holding the door open to let a bit of light in, both Monica and the other women went around the inside of the church using their cell phones flashlights.  We just went to Lourdes, and I need 4 or 5 euros to park, again no coins, I have euro bills and a credit card but no coins. After petitioning a number of pedestrians, I got enough coins to park. Inside the Shrine Monica wants to light a candle, expected no coins for thr candle, no problem they have a cashiers office.  They are French, so the office is closed for lunch.  Want a bottle to take holy water from the grotto at Lourdes, no problem, you just need two euros.  And the machines don’t take random coins to equal the fee, only the single proper coin.  I’m now wondering if it is financially easier to be a Buddist?

Now for waitresses, at the Basque restaurant high in the Pyrenees, the waitress only spoke Basque. She came to our table and began reciting the days menu in Basque.  Listen we didn’t get French, forget Basque.   So, she gave us her notepad with the days specials and went away, written of course in Basque.  Food in almost any language we can figure out, so we ordered and all went perfect.

tonite our waitress treats us as if we are from a tribe of Amazon Indians who have never seen the civilized world until we now parachute into her Gascogne hotel & restaurant.  Very pleasant and well meaning, and does not speak English,  she wants to give us a detailed description of every item on the menu. She keeps running back and forth from our table to the next room to consult with her adult English speaking son. Finally he comes to our table to also explain that his family cooks only local products and all dishes are homemade. Then we learn that his mother also speaks Spanish, so now the four of us are trying to understand our order in three languages (actually four languages as my Spanish is Latino, but it worked fine in Spain.)  then the son says we should order dessert with our first order as it is homemade and takes 15 minutes.  So we order his recommended chocolate cake, but Monica says put a scoop of ice cream on it.  He looks mystified and says the ice cream only comes in two scoops.  How can that be, you scoop out the ice cream one scoop at a time, give us one scoop.  No, not possible the ice cream only comes in two scoops.  They only served three couples for dinner.  We sat down at 8 PM and finished and left at 11 P M., and Monica sent her entree back and didn’t eat the replacement.  Once again we were characters in a comedy play.  Well, the show must go on. . . and I’m sure it will.

Now the road tour

Spent two days in San Sebastion, then headed east up into the Pyrenees.  The first night we ended up in a small village that is on the Camino Frances route to Santiago.  When we walked it, we didn’t stop here for the night,but continued on past.  The village is a church, a small store, two Albergues, and a bar cafe.  We also found a very comfortable Casa Rural for the night.  The cafe was the only food in the village so we shared the Pilgrim dinner with about ten Pilgrims.  Interestingly, two of the Pilgrims were Frenchmen who remembered us from the French side, so we had a reunion at the dinner.  The other Pilgrims seemed more reserved and private than we remembered the people on our Camino Frances.  There was also a woman staying at the Casa Rural nursing shin splints, who was a professor from Yuba City. A bit naive about hiking the Camino.

Yesterday we continued northeast into the higher portion of the Pyrenees.  The peaks reach up to 2500 meters, and have a forest skirt of evergreen & deciduous trees, which are now showing their fall colors. It was one of the most spectacular drives we have ever taken.  There were a large number of Eagles soaring on the up drafts of wind.  Mother Nature had painted a very spellbinding scene. We stopped for lunch in a small village, and we were the only non- locals.  Again a great meal, all of which came from the local surroundings.  I had beef cheeks and Monica had rabbit. We also shared a dish of Migas.  It is made mostly of toasted bread crumbs, definitely an old tradional dish, which we have had a number of times in Portugal, but I always thought it kind of blah, but the Basques did it with the breadcrumbs and wild mushrooms.  I loved it!

Today we stopped at Lourdes, it was raining so not too crowded.  It was surprising how large an area the shrine covers, the grotto is small, but covering it is an enormous cathedral, and another church above that, plus other chapels and service areas.

we have continued north, and are now at a crossroad that we hiked a week ago.  We are working our way to Paris and the flight home.

it is amazing that driving in a small village or town can become so confusing.  What with spokes of alley-like narrow streets, crazy drivers (crazier than us), and roulette wheel roundabouts.  It was easier walking and following the yellow arrows.image imageimageimageimage

Pierced my disguise. . .

It is uncanny how we seem to become comic relief for wherever fate takes us.  Tonite Monica and I are sitting in a tapa bar enjoying a glass of wine and a ration of Serrano ham.  All very normal, seemingly no more no less than any of the other patrons.  Although with my beret I do project a rather roguish Basque mountaineer image.  But, then again it may only appear as a meek mild mannered sheep herder.  How strange the mind, because in my mind I see myself as a flamboyant notorious French vintner, who is bottling smuggled rotgut wine from Algiers, and bottling it at his chateau, we’ll it isn’t exactly a chateau, it is actually a seedy third floor room of a condemned hostel.  Or again I could be a has been French Apache’ dancer who suffered serious brain damage from a collision with a lamp post, now accompanied by his nurse, Monica, who in a previous life was a member of an obscure order of Nuns, and an Andalusian gypsy pickpocket – now retired.

The delusion was shattered when a party of six entered the bar, and the older woman of the party walked straight over to me and asked where I was from, while Ithought I should tell her Condom, France, I answered San Francisco.  She turned and told her husband, who then announced to the entire bar that we were from San Francisco, California.  He then told us that fifty years ago he had had a Irish coffee at the Yerba  Buena cafe.  He then launched into a spirited history of the Spanish, and that while his family had only been in Spain for 750 years, man had been in Spain for 30,000 yrs, and the U.S. Had only been around for less than 300 yrs., and all the cities and streets in California had Spanish names – so there.  With that we resumed our roles as Peregrinos and walked out.

Pilgrim or Wandering Fool?

Pilgrim or Wandering Fool?


And the beat goes on . . .

After walking 400 miles, it seems the hardest climb was getting our packs to the third floor of the St. Jean Pied de Port hotel.  What no Medieval elevators?  A very funny incident as we were going into the church for mass; I was wearing a beret, and looking quite Basque if I do say so, when I was stopped by a group of Oriental tourist, who wanted their picture taken with a local, so I posed for photos with them. Then I told them that I was American, and they and everybody watching almost fell down with laughter.

It is with mixed feelings of accomplishment and relief to come to the end of the trek, but to finish in St. Jean, where you see so many people just arriving at the start of the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela, leaves you with strange feeling.  Maybe we should give them a send-off speech?  No, everybody has to find their own answers and learn the lessons of the Camino on their own.

After we had left St. Jean we met a young girl from England on the train (the train was obviously going away from St. Jean).  She had a pack and very clean brand new boots, and Monica ask if she was going to walk the Camino and where she was starting. She said she had planned to meet friends and walk with them, but had no idea where they were.  She then ask where we thought was the best place on the Camino and maybe she should start from there.  Then she ask if Sarria (the last town you can walk from and still meet the 100km requirement for a credential in Santiago) was a nice town? Here was a kid that didn’t have a clue, she was still on the train when we got off.

We are now in San Sebastion, Spain, the Basque foodie capital (Pamplona is the actual Capital of the Basque Country).  San Sebastion has more Michelin star restaurants than Paris.  We have found one, after exhaustive tastings of course, It is a four star pintxos & rationes bar in the old town, named “Atari.” imageimageimageimage

Is this the end?

We stayed in a  farm Gite 2 nights ago, the meal was pathetic and the owner, who looked just like Monica’s father, sang and got everybody singing.  With his routine he could have been Hubert.  Yesterday the hike into St. Jean Pied de Port, had a couple of small hills and one long climb, but now after 400 miles we had no problems, the Basque Country is great hiking country. We stopped at a small village and had a nice lunch, so we arrived in good shape.  St. Jean like most touristy places has gotten busier since we were here last.  The problem now is how do we get out of town.  Apparently they had a landslide from heavy rains, and it took out the train tracks. They replaced the train with a bus that only comes once a day, but maybe not on Sunday?  By French law, businesses have to be closed on Sunday, and either Sat. Or Mon.  It most villages there is nothing open on Mondays. With the exception of a pizza parlor (if the village is big enough to have one) .  So, today was wash everything, clean and wax our boots, and try to leave town tomorrow. Headed for Biarritz.imageimageimageimageimage

We are here!

imageimageimageimageimageIt is hard to believe that we are only about 35 kms from St Jean Pied d e Port. So many experiences, so many miles, the time is blurred. Individual days and the various happenings pop in and out of the walk. Hundreds of photos to bring back the experiences.
We walked across the bridge in the photo and looked down on huge fish feeding in the river. We saw photos in a sports store of local fishing and the catches were awesome, some relative of our pike and Muskie.

It is now Thurs. and after a day of roller coasting up and down the hills,with a final steep down a creek bed and back up to the village of Ostabat. Today was a walk in Basque Country, a lot of small farms all very neat with all the houses painted red & white. We are staying on a farm that has rooms and also a Gite. The owners have family in SanFrancisco and Pacifica, so they got out their photo albums to introduce us to their family. Sorry, I don’t remember seeing any of them when I’ve been in the City.
Today had several strenuous uphill, long and steep, but we made good time. In fact, where we stayed last night with the group of French hikers, they were up and gone by 7:30, we didn’t get going until 8:30, and we caught up with them 2 1/2 hrs down the way,and they are staying with us again tonight, and we got here two hours before them. We walked for a while and shared lunch with a woman from Norway. She has also done the Camino France. It was interesting learning about Norway.
It is a beautiful afternoon, we have showered, washed our clothes, and sitting outside having a beer. There are two French ladies singing the Pilgrims chant – Ultreia! Ultreia means Onward, and in older times was the pilgrim greeting, now replaced with “Bon Chimen,” or “Buon Camino.”
As we look out over several rows of hills each one increasing in elevation with the peaks of the true Pyrenees towering in the back. A beautiful area.

Border crossing

imageimageimageimageimageToday we got to the Basque Country, so are now in the foothills of the Pyrenees. For the two earlier days it was relatively level, except entering and leaving the villages, but we would walk for hours (miles) on tractor roads through nothing but fields of corn, for as far as we could see. Walking 25-28 Kms a day and seeing nothing but corn fields – left us a maize’d.
Tonite we are in a Gite, with a group of 18 Older French. This Gite is known for its dinner, but what would you expect from the Basque. Last night we went to a Pilgrim service at the church, followed by a social after. We met the young priest(speaks English) again told us learn French. We have decided the French think the Chimen of St. Jacques is only French, so they don’t consider anybody else. Over the last two days we have not had wifi but it has been our usual comedy of errors. The errors are ours, if the French visit the U.S. Very few, if anybody would speak French to them, so I don’t want to insult them for not speaking English, I wouldn’t speak French to them. The difference is I would find another way to communicate. We have two guides and ask locals, but for the most part you have to take the info with question. 5kms is probably going to be 10 Kms., level will be a lot of climbing.
We came out of a period of walking through the woods today, and there was a small bar. We stopped for a beer, and the owner was an interesting personality, picture a Basque used pâté’ salesman. Yes, he did sell us a packaged foie gras. Thankfully, he was out of encyclopedias to sell us. At one dinner In a Gite we met a bicyclist from Provence, who was in the French Coast Guard but was assigned to our Coast Guard in North Carolina. Several days ago we met another Pilgrim, whose wife gave up at Conques, and we again met him on the route today. There are so many interesting people and stories along the Way.