Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Day 30. Etsaut to Col du Somport (17 kms)

30 April, 2011

Much ado about nothing!

The Federation of Grandes Randonnees has declassified most of the last section of the Chemin d'Arles in France, from Bedous to Somport, and recommended that walkers take a bus to avoid walking along a dangerous section of the highway.

The French take this warning very seriously. They paint a picture of trucks whizzing by every second, spewing out diesel fumes. I heard about crazy Spanish drivers "who take a siesta and then weave back and forth across the road half asleep".

It may be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I stll remember the French driver in Caen who backed up along the autoroute when he missed his turnoff.

As it turned out, walking along the highway was quite feasible. There were some narrow sections where there was little space between the white line and the barrier or a cliff, and there was one place where a nice grassy field would have offered an escape from a truck hurtling towards me but for the electric fence which kept me out. Be squashed or be fried! But for the most part, it was easy going, and today, only one truck passed by.

As we climb steadily, the temperature drops. New vistas open to snow-capped mountains. On the peaks above, the rock strata twist and turn. The road hugs the cliff on one side of the valley, while high above, the old railway, an engineering marvel, is supported on its embankment by tall Roman arches. Farms dot the hills on the other side, and cattle laze and graze on the steep slopes. Perhaps they develop one leg longer than the other.

The road winds around a huge cliff which juts down into the valley. The railway tunnels straight through.

Now we leave the highway to take the old road into Spain. Here, we are certainly treading where the pilgrims trod. We climb steadily up the leafy trail. Clumps of gentians cluster around the rocks. Waterfalls carve creek beds across the ancient road. Below are the moss-covered rusty rails of the old line. Far below is the highway.

At last, we cross the frontier into Spain. Fortunately, I have an extensive Spanish vocabulary which should serve me well. It comprises "cafe con lecce", "vino tinto", and "cerveza". I just used the last, and it worked.

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