Trudge, trudge, splatter, splatter.
It really doesn't matter,
If my old Tilley hat is soaked with rain,
And my knees and back are wracked with pain,
At last I am on the road again,
And have left behind the Pilgrims' Bane.
I was not sorry to leave Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. It is the pilgrims' base camp where they gather and regroup before making the jump across the Pyrennees. Some have arrived from the French caminos; many are starting afresh. They arrive each day in their hundreds and look for rooms and gites and meals. And the commercants are ready for them, raising their prices and lowering the quality. At least, that has been my experience.
On a similar theme, as I walk, I find myself veering more and more to the left of the political road as I see the aftermath of rampant capitalism. If bigger enterprises weren't so intent on driving little enterprises out of business in the interest of bigger profits, then little towns and little villages would survive and men and women would have jobs. Of course, bigger enterprises will always be driven by greed, so Big Government needs to control Big Business to protect little business and little people. That's my philosophy, anyway.
As I left my miserable little garret this morning, I saw the pilgrims marching down the cobbled stones on the rue de la Citadel, heavily cloaked in the heavy rain, heading off to cross the Pyrennees. I didn't envy them. It would not be pleasant up there. Me, I was off to the coast along the valleys.
Not that it was all that pleasant for me, either. I wasn't high up on exposed slopes, but I was in the rain, more or less all day. I had bought a map and a little guide giving details of accommodation, but they soon got wet and were impossible to use.
O spare a thought for this poor old sod,
Whose map has become a sodden wad,
And who looks in vain for a friendly God
To stop the rain with Aaron's rod,
But only the cows will give a nod.
They then continue to chew their fod.
I know that I will not become Poet Laureate, but I hope one day for inclusion in Palgrave's Golden Treasury of Gibberish, or the Oxford Book of Excruciating Verse.
I battled the traffic for the first few kilometres out of town, and then followed the minor roads, and soon found myself in a broad open valley with vines on every slope. This was the first wine-growing country I had seen. And of course the sheep were everywhere, or had been. I passed two troops, flocking through a village, and without a dog to manage them. Instead, they followed their shepherd, as if he were the Pied Piper. Many of the sheep were stumbling along on three legs, and I've noticed them doing the same thing in the fields. Their hooves must get plugged up with mud or crud.
I walked through village after village, stitched together with threads of white stone houses, but as I climbed higher, I left civilization behind, and the waters raged on every side. Rivers and brooks and tumbling cataracts were all in full spate. It was raining today, but there must have been heavier rains a few days ago, because the road was washed away in places. Even today, enough water was coursing down these channels to solve California's drought problem. Drift a little too far to the right on this section of the road and you'd come to a soggy end. I am surprised it was still open.
I passed through the col and then down into a large open valley. From the village of Bidarray, open fields stretch out on all sides to the surrounding hilltops, rather like, but on a smaller scale, little towns in the Rocky Mountains.
I am staying at the local gite which gave me a ticket to get a walker's or pilgrim's meal at the hotel nearby, where I enjoyed a fine sausages and lentils meal. (We are far enough away from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to get value for money). After my desert, I was telling the server that I was tempted to have a coffee, but that I wanted to sleep tonight, when the man at the neighbouring table turned to me and said,
Vous parlez tres bien Francais, Monsieur, avec un petit accent qui est charmant.
I didn't tell him that this was the same reply that I gave every night to the server so I'd had lots of practice. Instead, I accepted his kind words, with thanks, and floated back to the gite, buoyed up by the compliment and the quart de rouge, which, since we were far enough away from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, was more like three-eighths of a litre. And so to bed.