Day 155 – Bordeaux
At the moment sightseeing in Bordeaux is the least of my concerns. The city is only a train ride from Biarritz. I may come back for a few days when it’s done. At the moment I have only one thought in my head: get my blog up to date. Not to seek confirmation of what I have achieved. It is just that for me the website is still the most important factor in realizing life as a nomad.
When I think of what great plans I had at the beginning of the trip, all the things I wanted to document and share I am overcome with the bad conscience of inadequacy. In reality, walking has been my job for the past five months. Eight hours a day. Two nights in one place are my weekend, exploring a city my holiday. I would probably feel better looking at my blog, if instead of spending my evenings repeatedly discussing similar topics with my hosts or campground neighbors I had worked on my self-marketing. But what a boring trip this would have been! After all I am still not into hiking. The conversations, the laughter, the learning, the sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing life stories are the fuel that gets me through the workday.
The diary is now the only part of my website I have not given up.
I get up at half past eight, alone in a double room. Sometime during the night I heard someone crawling in the bed above me. But when I get up, she’s already gone. Because I have booked at such short notice, I have to change rooms. Moreover, between eleven and three the rooms are blocked for cleaning.
I eat my breakfast, get my luggage from room 213 and find a small desk in the lobby.
Most of the other hostel guests are foreign students who quartered here shortly before the semester begins while searching for a permanent place to live. And so I’m not the only one who doesn’t leave the building before late afternoon.
I explore the neighbourhood for a few minutes, buy a tomato to spice up my dinner in the Spar market. There is a small kitchen in the hostel. I cook some pasta, I fry it with a can of paté and the tomato. An onion and some garlic would be nice. But it also works without.
In room 212, I meet one of my three roommates for tonight: a young French woman with braids. She says that she had just been in Spain at a music festival. Everybody there had gotten along wonderfully and had supported each other. Arrival in France, where she had trouble to find someone at the train station to keep an eye on her suitcase for a few minutes, had been like a culture shock. But we soon agree that every person has in their own hands to be better. And maybe the world thus becomes little by little a better place. It certainly won’t happen other way round.
Day 156 – Bordeaux
I decide to stay another night in order to tell the story in my blog, at least to the point at which I arrive in La Rochelle. Luckily I do not even have to move, but get to stay in room 212.
I once more retreat to my little desk and work until the afternoon. My French roommate runs past me and greets in accent-free German: “I thought you were going to leave today?”
So I guess she is not French after all.
I had noticed before that the German Erasmus students seem to be in the majority here. Some are accompanied by their parents. Others quickly form groups to support each other in finding a room. Dinner – I treat myself to another variantion of pasta with tomato sauce – in the cafeteria is the best time to observe group behavior. A couple of chairs next to me a very tall young, blond man with a neat beard, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and an accurate surfer outfit tells a captivated audience of his fashion label that began as uni project and now continues with its own boutique and online shop. The listener talks in return about the clips that he produces and edits. Finally, one pulls out a MacBook and they show each other their websites. At the next table a fairly large group of German students enjoy all sorts of French specialties, which they have bought in the supermarket. La vie en France!
Back in the room I meet one of my roommates for tonight. She is Chinese, fluid in both French and English, but for fear of thieves does not dare to leave the room with her things in it.
Day 157 – to Le Barp
The blog almost up to date I set out to complete the last 200 km. On the way out of town I stock up one last time on a few cans of paté in the Casino supermarché .
Behind Le House a man with a dog chats me up from over the fence just before a roundabout. If I was on the road to Compostella? I know that indeed one of the Ways of St. James to Spain passes here and secretly hope that this time I can take advantage of the pilgrims’ hostels. But I answer his question truthfully with a no. He still invites me one on a Coke on his terrace.
Xavier is excited when I show him my map. He himself once traversed France on bike and loves to be independent. We talk for a while about what happiness means and freedom. Just after three I get back on the road with another Coke can in my bag . Xavier’s invitation to camp in his garden, I politely decline. I want to arrive in Biarritz before the new week begins. For this I must cover at least 30 km today.
According to several online sources Le Barp is a stop on the road to Compostella. The village website reveals that the mairie is even managing a hostel for pilgrims. I reach Le Barp at six and find a sign pointing into the direction of the pilgrims’ hostel at the turnoff to the church. I follow and find the small house barricaded. The neighbor tells me that I have to get the key code from the mairie .
Which, however, at this time is no longer open to the public.
In the parking lot behind the city hall I see a bank. I’m exhausted. I sit down and drink my Coke.
After a few minutes two women in their forties arrive outside the building. They have just lit cigarettes, when I approach them.
“I’m on a pilgrimage and searching for shelter for the night. Do you know how I can reach the person responsible for the gîte ?”
One of the women just blankly stares at me. The other gives me a frienly smile and offers to look inside for the phone number.
I thank them both and retreat to my bank.
After a while, the woman resurfaces from the mairie , a small piece of paper in her hand. It holds the key code for the hostel and the phone number of the person responsible.
Twenty minutes later I have moved in. Half the time I have spent trying to open the door, because I just can’t manage to find the right combination of entering the code, turning the knob and pushing against the door.
Eventually, however, I am inside my little house: to the left the spacious living room with TV, fireplace, garden view; straight up the small kitchen and to the right toilet, bathroom (with bath tub) and two rooms. Everything is a bit run down, the roof leaks, the furniture has probably been collected from donations. But it is clean and warm and because guests pay as much as they can or want – Donativo – extremely budget friendly.
I decide on the couch in the living room, roll out my sleeping bag, eat half a baguette with paté and go to sleep when the sun goes down. 157 km to Biarritz.
Day 158 – to Sanguinet
The ideal route proposed by Google Maps runs from Le Barp almost entirely in a straight line, parallel to the main road. That seems a little boring to me. So I come up with a route that leads first to the west and into the pine forests of Gascony and country. This proves to be a good idea. Until I leave Salles.
On the outskirts of the village, at about 2 pm I find a spot in the shade of a tree and eat my usual lunch: half a baguette with paté . On the other side of the garden fence a little girl is watching me furtively. I have run out of water. So I get up and just want to ask the girl to fetch her mother, when the latter already walks up to me, her hands sticky with pie dough.
Without much hesitation, she invites me to accompany her to the house. She hands me a bottle of mineral water to fill my own bottle and offers me a coffee. To that I can never say no.
I sit and drink coffee while my hostess continues preparing an apple pie. We chat and the conversation turns to my route for the afternoon. Without looking, where the path woild lead me or how long it is, I had decided to reach Ychoux tonight. My hostess opens her eyes wide with astonishment: That would be another 30 km. Through the forest. Without another village or farm along the way.
Good thing we are talking about this now!
I let myself be convinced to instead continue West to Sanguinet. This is actually the nearest village. And there are numerous campsites. But going there means I will not get one step closer to Biarritz this afternoon.
The route is lonely and abandoned. How abandoned it is I learn after one and a half hours: I had thought that the three, four thin trees that had been blocking the narrow path, were victims of the storms of the past few weeks. In an area of this size, it is not difficult to imagine that the forest workers cannot keep up.
But now, a few hundred meters before the turn onto a wide forest road, two intertwined pine trees are blocking the path, the stumps at a sufficient distance, that even I understand that they have been put here on purpose. Fearlessly I take off my backpack and try to climb over the trees, as I have done the last three, four times. But the branches and needles are so tight that I have to give up soon.
To the left the path is bounded by a ditch, to the right by dense undergrowth. I could go back and look for another way, loose another one and a half hours. I could go down into the ditch and hope that I do not sink my feet into water and mud. Or I could see if I can after all make it through the undergrowth.
A few meters back I find a way through the narrow strip of woods, onto a grassy landscape. The grass is up to my thighs and mixed with thick weeds. I carry the trolley on the back and my blue backpack on the front, slowly feel my way forward with the sticks. I scratch my right knee on a bramble, almost stumble into nettles because the ground is so uneven. But finally I step out onto the wide forest road.
From here on things do not really get better, but at least there are no more obstacles to climb over. Instead, the road turns into a sandpit in which I advance only slowly with my little cart.
It’s after six when I reach Sanguinet. On Google Maps I’ve picked out a camp site on the way south. But again there is an obstacle to overcome: this time in the form of a local resident who denies me access to a path, marked as public on Google Maps. Her daughter is a little less buttoned up and not only advises me on a detour, but also tells me where to find a camping municipal .
137 km to Biarritz.
Day 159 – to Saint-Paul-en-Born
After breakfast the day continues much as it had ended yesterday. Maybe I should have known beforehand that the closer I get to the sea, the sandier the soil gets. Would I have decided to stay on the boring, dead-straight main road?
The perspective that it will finally be over in four days is what drives me on.
I make Saint-Paul-en-Born my goal for the day. Just outsite I find a campsite. A pitch here is 17 euro per night. Even though the season ended last week.
On the website of Saint-Paul, I find out that there is a pilgrims’ hostel operated by the village. In order not to challenge my luck too much, I call the mairie , before I set out on the last two kilometers there.
The small gîte pelerin is located right next to the mairie . The Mayor shows me around: toilet, shower, small dining kitchen, bedroom with bunk beds. His assistant hands me the book and a Converse Allstar, repurposed as piggybank. I listen to their restaurant recommendations, although I already know I will be eating half a baguette with paté .
In the night a rustling noise wakes me. I go into the kitchen, in the assumption that I may have left the window open. Instead, I see my food bag wiggle. A few nudges and a little mouse falls in the direction of the gap between pantry and fridge. The poor thing could have feasted on the opened pack of crackers or the barely wrapped bread. Instead, it has only managed to tear a corner off the packaging of a cereal bar. Admittedly, these are delicious muesli bars: chocolate and peanut. But the rodent did not even have time to take a bite.
102 km to Biarritz.
Day 160 – to Vielle-Saint-Giron
In addition to the usual half a baguette with honey I eat the opened muesli bar for breakfast.
The walk in the morning is sandy. Only at about midday I hit tarred roads again.
In Bias I stop at a bakery. I buy bread for the remaining two days and spend my lunch break here.
In Saint-Julien-en-Born, outside a bar a young man chats me up. He had passed me on his bike, all smiles a few minutes prior. So I let him chat me up and accept his invitation for a beer. Gianni eagerly asks me all about my trip and tips for such a long hike. Over a Grimbergen I willingly share my knowledge.
Finally, I note that I have to get going, if I want to fulfill my quota of at least 30 km today. The Italian has to head into the same direction and we walk together for another hour. At his house, he thinks for a moment and then hands me a bag of prunes: “For a change from the bread and paté .”
I stay on the main road for the rest of the day. After more than 35 km I find a pitch on a campsite outside Vielle-Saint-Girons.
64 km to Biarritz.
Day 161 – to Capbreton
The proximity to the sea also has a big advantage: It is not cold at night. The temperatures remain relatively warm at 15 degrees or more. After ann enjoyable night I am still greeted by one of my nightmares: A fat gray-brown spider has built her cotton candy-like web in my tent cover. I take a few deep breaths, squeeze through the smallest possible opening in the inner tent and jump out. I fetch the spider with a stick and throw it as far from the tent as I can manage.
After this terrible start the rest of the day is harmless, albeit extremely long. I follow the D652 and the D79 to Capbreton. It is the first – and only – time on my journey that I walk more than 40 km in one day. When I reach the campsite, I am nearly fainting. Only after a few cups of ice cold water I am able to discuss about the price with the receptionist: 13 Euro is not even among the top five most expensive campsites I’vestayed in but around here I would have liked a Pilgrims discount.
25 km to Biarritz.
Day 162 – to Biarritz
When I break my tent for the last time, a cyclist with large panniers approaches me and asks if he could have my pitch in the sun. We talk briefly about our travels. He is headed to Compostella. I want to get to Biarritz. He congratulated me. I wish him all the best.
My route leads along the ¨Velodyssey¨ bike path, which is also part of the Voie du Littoral , a part of St. James. I smile at every person I pass. “Bonjour!” Most people greet back cheerfully. Some with a “Bon camino!”. The greeting to the Compostella bound pilgrims.
But I do not correct them. Yes, I have a good journey.
At this point I do not even use my hiking sticks anymore. The will finally arrive, keeps pushing me forward.
Then Google Maps once again reveals its darker side. To shorten the route by a few kilometers, it directs me onto a forest road, which soon turns into a sandbox, which is bounded on the right and left by prickly bushes and eventually drops steeply to ascent just as steeply a moment later, to drop again to ascent. I slide. I stumble. I fight. I eventually regain solid ground under my feet.
At the port of Bayonne it’s hot when I smother a can of paté onto half a baguette one last time. I have to turn inland for a few kilometers inland to find the bridge over the Adour. In Anglet drivers honk at me along the multi-lane road, as if I were crazy to walk here. I turn onto the side streets and for one last time refill my water bottle at a public drinking fountain.
And then I’m in Biarritz.
To commemorate the fact there is merely the exit sign of Anglet. No opportunity for a triumphant photo: me and Biarritz. Instead I cross the city until I find her once more: la mer .
Somewhere on the other side is New York, five months, one week and one day behind me Berlin. I sip a granita and for a while watch the people around me, now, in the late afternoon, ahead of an approaching strom leaving the beach. I have nowhere to go. I have arrived at my destination. I am here.