My last post on the Chemin du Puy left us in the magical village of Conques. I had four days of walking left, but in some ways, it felt like Conques was a sort of ending to my pilgrimage. I think it was because so many other people I’d met had ended their pilgrimages there. I was still walking, but I didn’t have many days left, either. The end felt very, very near.
I’m going to write about the next three days in this (one) post, and we’ll see how it goes. This is partly to get finished writing these recaps, but it’s also because these days seemed to blend together for me. There was a lot of rain, and when it was raining I wasn’t really enjoying the walk. I just wanted to get to my destination.
And I ended up sticking with the same small group of pilgrims, too. This was nice in some ways- I didn’t have to meet new people every day and struggle to communicate in French (well, I was still speaking French with the people I did stick with, but at least they knew that I wasn’t fluent so I didn’t feel much pressure). And, as it always is on the Camino or the Chemin, it’s so nice to arrive in a town and see familiar faces. I was included in the little group, and I never felt lonely.
But, also, I never really felt entirely comfortable in my group. I was with Paul Andre and Chantal, the French Canadian couple with the super strong accents that were really difficult for even the French to understand. Walking with them was Therese, a woman in her 60’s who could almost be considered as someone who lives on the Camino. I never got her full story, but others told me that she didn’t have a permanent home, and was walking big chunks of every year on some Camino route. She was very rough around the edges and I never quite warmed up to her, and I do think a lot of that was due to the fact that we couldn’t communicate easily. And rounding out the group was Marie-Lou, another woman in her 60’s who was walking solo and who sort of ended up in the group around the same time as I did.
I sort of haphazardly ended up with them, and part of this was because I was just tired. Not tired from the walking, but tired from the mental strain that communicating in French is for me. I can still be a little shy when meeting new people, but meeting new people and speaking in a foreign language can make me feel even more timid and drained. So staying in the same places with people I already knew felt like a relief.
But, you know, there were a lot of lessons in this for me. I’ll get to this in the next post, but my last day on the Chemin had me in an entirely new group of people and it was… really special. It made me wonder what would have happened if I had made my own plans after Conques instead of sticking with people I already knew because it was easy. And to that end, there were a few times I was a little disappointed in myself. There was a day where I’d had a particular gîte in mind that I wanted to stay in, but I ended up in a different one because I let Therese include me in a reservation she was making. Our gîte was just okay; the other ended up being pretty fantastic (from what other pilgrims told me). I was a little hard on myself for that decision- just because I didn’t like making phone calls in French, I let someone else do the work for me but it meant that I didn’t stay where I really wanted to.
Anyway, despite these days being just ‘okay’- not bad but not outstanding, either- there were some remarkable moments. Here they are:
Day 11: Conques to Livinhac, 23km
We all had breakfast in Conques: everyone from the day before gathered in the hall for another typical breakfast of coffee and bread and butter and jam and yogurt. It seemed like everyone was lingering, and maybe we were. Half of us were continuing on the Camino, half were ending their pilgrimage. The kind pair of French women, the kind pair of French men (I wish I had learned/remembered their names!), Jerome, Mario, they were all finished with their Chemin.
I got up and gave them all hugs and Jerome was sitting in the corner with tears falling down his cheeks. I turned to Mario, and he gave me a long look. “Remember to follow what’s in your heart.” I nodded, and then I headed out; out of the Abbaye, down the winding roads of the village, past stone houses covered in vines, into the valley and then back up the other side of the mountain.
It was raining. I had to watch my footing very carefully as I climbed up and over slick stones and that climb went on for what felt like a long time. Near the top of the hill was a small chapel and I ducked inside, a quick reprieve from the rain. Conques was across the valley, in the distance, blurred by the rain. Already I felt far away.
Rain, rain, and more rain. Taking cover in churches was a theme of the day; I’m not sure how many churches I ducked into, but it was at least three or four. Each time, I would take my pack off, then my rain jacket, shake them out, put on a long sleeved shirt or fleece, and spend 10 minutes trying to dry off and get warm. And then back on with my wet things that had never really dried out, back into the rain.
I took a small detour that day, following me were Pierre, Therese, and Babette (a French woman who had just started in Conques). The detour was just a quick alternate route and I can’t exactly remember why we all chose to take it- maybe it was a bit shorter? Or more scenic? Or easier? In any case, I’d let the others know that I wanted to walk alone but they were never that far behind me. Later, Pierre told me that he was impressed with my sense of direction and being able to figure out where to go. “I don’t know if I could have done it myself,” he said.
I liked hearing this because in my regular life, I wouldn’t exactly say that I have a really good sense of direction. It’s about average, and gets much worse when I’m in cities and am dealing with streets on a grid. Everything looks the same and I get turned around easily. But when I’m walking, it’s a different story. I’ve gotten off track a couple of times on all of these walks, but I almost always have the sense that I’m going the wrong way when this happens. And otherwise, I don’t know what it is, I guess I’m just always looking for arrows and markers. And after awhile, I just get a sense of which way I need to be heading (I say this now, and I’m probably going to get horribly lost on my next long walk. Famous last words…)
The four of us all ended up stopping in the same church, about an hour from our destination. It was raining hard at this point: really hard. We were probably in that church for at least an hour, waiting for the rain to stop or at least slow down. I got too restless and left before the others did, and I promptly got soaked.
The town of Livinhac was really small; I didn’t stay in the gîte where I really wanted to be, and I went to bed early. Overall… not the best day on the Chemin. But I was still feeling strong and healthy and had friends around me, so not the worst day, either. Plus, you couldn’t beat the view from my bed:
Day 12, Livinhac to Figeac, 24km
Another morning of rain, and this was the point where I just got so fed up with being wet. I must have left at a very different time from everyone else because I was totally alone for so much of the day. I didn’t see many people as I walked, I didn’t see others as I stopped for a rest, and I got to Figeac much, much sooner than everyone else.
The highlight of this day was, well, some sort of Chemin magic. Seriously, I’m half wondering if it was all a dream or an illusion.
Here’s what happened: I’d been walking all morning in the rain. The previous day it had been raining, the day before that it was raining, the day before that it was raining. My clothes were all wet. All of them. I didn’t have a dry pair of socks, and the rest of my clothes weren’t dry, either: I always wash stuff at the end of every day’s walk but because the weather was so damp and cold, nothing was drying out. I’d been thinking about this as I walked, wishing so much that I could just put on a dry pair of socks but knowing that all my socks were wet and wondering what would happen the next day, if things didn’t dry out.
So I arrived in a small village and my guidebook said that there was a little area designated for pilgrims. This typically means that there might be an outdoor shelter of some sort, or a grouping of picnic tables or something like that. But what I found was totally different: it was a room in a building. The door was unlocked, the entire area was deserted. But I went into the room to check it out and it was pretty empty other than a table and a few chairs. But then I saw it- against one of the walls was a washer and dryer.
I looked around a couple of times, not really believing my eyes. A washing machine and a dryer? For pilgrims? In some random room in a tiny and quiet village? Was this real?
So I did the only thing I could think to do: I took off my pack and dug through and found all of my wet clothing and threw it into the dryer. I took off my socks and my long-sleeved shirt that had gotten wet and I put in a few coins and for the next hour I sat there, eating my sandwich and waiting as my clothing dried.
Seriously, how does this kind of stuff happen on the Camino/Chemin? I don’t have answers, but I do know that things like this happen all the time. The thing I’d wanted most that morning was dry clothing, and it was like the Chemin said, “Okay, I get it, I’ll help you out.”
So I left my little rest stop with a big smile on my face. The rain had stopped and the clouds had parted and there I was, strolling along with warm, dry socks on my feet.
Figeac was okay: I stayed in a great gîte with a wonderful communal dinner, but I for some reason I didn’t like being in a larger city and the noise and the movement and all the people felt like it was too much for me. Nassim ended his Chemin here- we all met before dinner for goodbye drinks.
Day 13: Figeac to Cajarc, 32km
No rain (finally!), mostly gray skies. A really good and solid day of walking. I had my “Camino legs” that day, and I was moving fast and the 30+ kilometers felt easy. I bumped into people as I moved through the day: Marie Lou at a rest stop, later Pierre and Stephanie and a Swiss man at another rest stop, but mostly it was a solo day of good walking.
Cajarc was a small town and I stayed in the municipal gîte with Therese and Paul Andre and Chantal and Marie Lou. Pierre and Stephanie were there, too. The place was vey basic and didn’t offer a communal dinner, so a few of us went out to a pizza place. I was in a room with Therese and Marie Lou and despite there being only three of us, it smelled distinctly of dirty, wet clothing. And feet. The room smelled like feet. I fell asleep feeling like I was okay that my Chemin was going to be ending soon.
That’s the recap, but there’s still one day left, and it was definitely a day of adventure. Stay tuned.