Experiments road sign, France (2015-08)

Walking Home, week 22: Wisdom


Day 148 – to La Rochelle

With a heavy heart I say goodbye to Sophie and Oléron. La Rochelle, or more specifically, Biarritz and the end of my march are awaiting me. We use the morning to explore the citadel and the market in Château. I buy a local fresh cheese, jongée on the market. My hostess hands me a packed lunch, takes me the port in Boyardville and upon parting invites me to return any time.
The hours before the departure of my boat – just in case I’ve reserved a ticket – I spend mostly on the beach. Crowds of tourists around me photograph like crazy Fort Boyard a few hundred meters off the coast. In France, the TV show of the same name has been incredibly successfull for 25 years.
On the boat I choose a seat on the left in the rear of the lower deck. Water splashes into my face time and time again. It’s like the sea was kissing me. Bisous .
As in Royan I have not been able to find a couchsurfing spot in La Rochelle. But La Rochelle has a youth hostel. And because I got a membership card in Luxembourg, the night with breakfast in the six-bed dorm costs me only € 17.50. I check in for three nights.

Day 149 – La Rochelle

After breakfast I set out to explore the city. Without a plan, I roam around for a few hours.
In the early afternoon, just outside the city center, an old woman with a German shepherd, walks to me as I photograph the Porte Royale. If I was a journalist or rather a photographer. I have to laugh looking at my little Olympus camera with the broken scree. ¨No. I’m just a traveler,¨ I reply.
She tells a little of her own travel experiences, she has lived in Germany, the USA, Canada and Algeria, and before we say our goodbyes gives me an advice: ¨When your back aches, raise your head like a proud queen.¨

Day 150 – La Rochelle

The guests of the hostel in La Rochelle are a wild mix. Groups of students share the house with cyclists, solo travelers of all ages and families. In the breakfast room I make friends with a couple of women. They have come here from different French cities. Some with their children. They could never afford a holiday at a hotel.
While my new acquaintances get ready to conquer the city and the beach, I get comfortable in the reception area to bring my diary up to date.
Because I do not work as fast as I would like, I finally decide to treat myself to yet another vacation day.

Day 151 – La Rochelle

I spend the day pretty much like the previous one: breakfast, chat with the ladies, write, afternoon walk somewhere to find a little treat, a microwave meal from Carrefour for dinner.

Day 152 – to Benon

Four nights in one place is my maximum. So in the late morning I’m on my way, along the Canal de Rompsay, towards Niort. But then I change my mind and decide, instead of going to Niort, to only walk to Mauzé-sur-le-Mignon before turning South to Biarritz. That should be enough to form a nice bow for the ¨h¨.
Benon has a camping municipal . Made for me. I am the only camper in the large château garden. Only a couple of teenagers are hanging out here, enjoying their last days of summer holidays. I set up my tent near the large reception and sanitary block and wait for the administrator. A drizzle comes down every now and again. In the Proxi supermarket next to the campsite I note with pleasure that there is a microwave and that hot coffee is sold here as early as 7am.
The campsite administrator collects € 3.62 for the night and offers me to stay in the reception and sanitary block. It is a little cold at night, right?
It does not take much to convince me. I move my stuff to the reception area, leave the tent set up inside the building to dry for a while, eat my hot dinner (canned ravioli) and go to bed at ten.
Around midnight I hear noises outside the window and on the other side of the building.
The teens are back!
By the window a girl is talking on her phone. In the sanitary block a couple of boys are wrangling with each other. The door on that side is not locked. Is it irrational that I’m a little afraid of these kids?
The fear is unfounded.
I listen to them for a quarter-hour. Eventually the boys come to the front to get the girl off her phone. They use their cell phones to shine light into the lobby. After they have done this a few times, I get up and am standing in the window frame as they light the window up with their small lights.
Not a minute later, the group has run off, and I does not return.

Day 153 – to the Ferme des 3 Soleils

I reach Mauzé-sur-le-Mignon exactly at the right time to buy a baguette for lunch in the boulangerie. Half a baguette with paté and 358km left until the end of the journey.
Tonight there is no a campsite anywhere near. Even the websites that I Jean-Michel had recommended, yield no results. So the perfect evening to get to know a few locals.
A few kilometers outside Courant I notice a sign ¨La Ferme des 3 Soleils¨. Why not?
I turn onto the side road and ten minutes later stand before the modernized old, small farm-house. On the other side of the road a donkey tries to convince a pony to join him under the shelter instead of standing in the blazing sun.
Even after I ring the little bell by the door several times, no one answers. But I hear people talking. So I walk around the house and at least get the attention of the Chihuahua and the two Labradors in the kennel.
Back at the gate the owner has finally seen me as well. Sarah thinks for a moment, asks if I would prefer to stay close to the house and finally shows me a spot underneath the swing, next to the chicken coop for my tent. I have to share it only with one chicken. The gray hen is the birthday gift for one of Sarah’s sons and the rest of the group does not accept her, yet, as one of their own. But she keeps trying to make contact through the fence, just to be ignored or picked.
One by one I meet the family: Sarah’s husband, Sebastien, the beekeeper, their parents (all four of them) and the 3 ¨suns¨, Sarah and Sebastien’s 3 sons.
As luck would have it, I have arrived in time for the middle one’s birthday party. And I’m invited. There are gifts and cake, cider for the toast and casserole for dinner, afterwards tea, of course, sweetened with honey from own production.
And then there’s a gift for me: I am invited to stay in a spare room. The invitation to help the next morning before sunrise to move some hives, however, I reject gratefully.

Day 154 – to Bordeaux

In the morning, I am moving my tent to dry in the sun, Sarah is hanging the first basket of laundry of the day to dry, our conversation is turns to the tattoo on my arm. Five years ago I had the reminder put there:

Nothing is either good or bad. – Just thinking makes it so.

Sarah thinks for a moment and asks how old I am.
¨35,¨ I reply with a smile, knowing that no one thinks I was as old as that.
But that’s not her point. Sarah says that I am the fourth 35-year-old she has met this year with a similar message. In the spring and summer she had been through a difficult phase and was now reorganizing her life and her priorities. She disappears briefly into the house and upon return hands me two books: ¨Wild¨ by Cheryl Strayed and ¨The Power of Now¨ by Eckhart Tolle. The first tells the story of a woman who one day, without any experience, packs her backpack to hike 1,000 kilometers through the California wilderness. The second is a guide to happiness *.
I ask my host about her age.
She is 42.
In the past three years, she is the fourth 42-year-old person, I consciously encounter.
She reminds me that every seven years there is a fundamental change in life. 35 and 42 are both multiples of seven. Coincidence?
In the afternoon I reach Saint-Jean-d’Angély. In the tourist office, I am at first only interested in learning about accommodation options, but then a lot more in perhaps shortening my walk with a train or bus towards Pons or Bordeaux.
Lucky me: A regional train in both cities.
The lady at the tourist office is trying to call the pilgrims’ hostel in Pons for me. Unsuccessfully. The pilgrim’s hostel is run by the city and managed by the local tourist office. The tourist office in Pons is closed on the weekend. I jot down the number and try a few more times while waiting for the train. At the same time I ask the hostel in Bordeaux for a bed for tonight.
The hostel is the only one to reply: only one bed in the female dorm remains for tonight.
This is the decision made for me: I secure my bed and buy a ticket to Bordeaux.

* For those who as a matter of principle do not read self-help stuff: The secret of happiness lies in the ability to live in the now, not to wallow in the past or hope for the future. The book is nevertheless worth reading.

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