Friday, May 30, 2014


    As we go down Col d'Ispeguy, tears run down my cheeks. It would be more romantic to say that I am crying for leaving my mother country and not knowing if I'll ever see it in several years... but in fact the origin of my tears is the speed at which we are descending the eight French kilometers down the Col, speed which I will not say so as not to worry our respective parents. 

    Already from the first meters of descent think we think that everything is different in France: the rocky landscapes, the flowers, the traffic signs, the opening hours of the tourist offices (the latter we will never get used to, and at least the first few days it will be impossible to find detailed maps of the areas in time to take advantage of them). Luckily, the terrible prices we expected, do not bother our purse; if anything, fruit and vegetables are more expensive, but the pasta and tinned beans are cheaper. As I mentioned somewhere in this blog, we try not to consume animal products, so that the budget is much cheaper. 

     Another small difference with Spain is that in France there is no civil guard. Among other things, this fact makes it easy to find shelter at night. Although in theory free camping is forbidden in France, in fact it is a common practice among travelers and fishermen, always with a little common sense, a little hidden from nosy people, which means looking for a place where little sunlight reflects off the tent so nobody notices us. However, the first days we are still victims of fear of them and so the first night camping in an abandoned road just off the Saint-Etienne de Baigorri road, which had been previously been discovered by a group of women with loose bowels. Disgusting, but we have to sleep somewhere. The next morning we concluded that the problem was not the place, but the hard asphalt on which we had to set up the tent. The next day, when the sun is low on the horizon, we are faced with the same problem for camping. Our Spanish eyes, used to the ancestral fear of the green uniform, see no appropriate place. We had been told that in France it is sometimes possible that the owner of a house and garden will let you camp on the lawn. Against the wishes of Gabi, I approach a couple who have just said good bye to a few friends, and look okay. Half an hour later, we are installed in the backyard of Lionel and Annemarie, despite their insistence that we sleep inside the house, in a small guest room. They turn out to be an exceptional couple, who care for us lovingly the time we spend with them, and prepare us dinner and breakfast that make you  recover from the effort you made when you were born.

     Since we left Logroño we are undoing St. James Way, or better said the roads, which are numerous in France: Logroño, Jaca, Pamplona, Pau, Auch, Moissac, Figeac, Conques ... We have a lot of time to travel, no concrete destination and are open to any advice  people give us. In a way,  in the same way St. James Way was patterned, by the art in the villages where it passed, the pursuit of art, culture and history are shaping our own way. 

     In a village near Oloron, Pierre, Stèphanie, their children, a dog, two cats, chickens, ducks and a  newly rescued sparrow await us. We spend four days and three nights with them to recharge our batteries. Awkward silences are unthinkable with them, they let us know a bit about local French ecology and invite us to try their tandem. When we leave, we know that we are leaving some great friends in that beautiful house, decorated by Stèphanie, who we will meet sometime again in the future. 

    At their recommendation, we travel towards Marciac, where a Dutch family  live. They have spent fourteen years travelling in a horse drawn carriage. With them we also have a great time, but not weather-wise as showers are beginning to fall over France. We find that our good luck is still with us. As if a guardian angel was watching over us, whenever we have problems, there is always someone nearby who can help us. In this case, the morning that we wake up beside the carriage, the kickstand on Gabi bike does not want to continue the journey. The two screws that were anchored to the frame and are stuck inside, so that a "Russian solution" is necessary. Sometimes we joke that there are three ways to solve mechanical problems: the African, the Russian and the German. The German is the cleanest, technical and aesthetic; the African, rudimentary; the Russian, strong and definitive. Andre opts for the latter, carving a line around the broken screws to remove them and enlarging the holes to change the small damaged German screws for another pair of big strong screws. Problem solved. Still Gabi becomes infatuated with a wooden stick that allegedly be used as kickstand (which would be the African solution), but rather uses to tie up bandanas and dry socks. 

     We baptize the road to Pau as a type 6-60: 6 km per hour uphill, 60 km per hour downhill. For three days the road is never flat, it is marked by steep hills. So much that, almost without realizing it, the odometer marks 8,848 meters of total cumulative altitude, so we climbed our first Everest in France! And we do it gladly. What most amazes us about France (apart from the vast amount of animal pate squashed on the roads) is the beauty of small towns, each one is special. We were in love with the French Basque country, but if there is a town which we have loved, it has to be Laas. On the way to the village there are numerous posters announcing the musical Transhumance festival of international importance. When we got to the square of the little town, we found strange contraptions to know the position of the sun, the stars, the moon, when Easter falls... and a pole where the distance is marked to  the major world capitals with an inscription in the center that reads: "Vous êtes ici: le center du monde". Lionel and Annemarie tell us that we have passed through the village with the most worrisome megalomania of France. Proof of this is that the mayor wants to make the county of Laas a principality and proclaim himself as prince of Laas. There has to be a little bit of everything in the world. Vive la France! 

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