Santiago de Compostela IX Day 84 (Captieux-Roquefort) 35 km

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

We have a pleasant breakfast while we chat with Madame; at the corner we buy sandwiches.
We head back to the abandoned railroad line. Soon outside of Captieux, it becomes even better for walking. Apparently this district doesn’t have the European connections that Captieux has, because they don’t have a concrete bicycle super highway. The old railroad trail is unpaved which makes for much better walking.

We walk through the Parc Naturel Régional des Landes de Gascogne, Europe’s largest production forest/natural park, first planted in the 19th century. After about 13 km we enter the department of Landes, which around here reminds us of Holland (or the Netherlands as the Dutch government has just decided). Flat, sandy, windy with production pine forests and cornfields.

This goes on for mile after mile on this our second (and last ever) 35 km day.
Desmond entertains. I hear why the Mitford sisters called the Queen Mother “Cake”, how Martha Stewart has the gardeners on her estate in Ann Arbor, (or is it Bar Harbor?) sieve pine needles and spread them on all the paths for a soft and fresh-smelling walk.
I’ve heard these stories every year since we started walking but they never grow stale.
There’s new stories too, like the one of the Earl of Beauchamp’s young male friend who would wear everyone’s pearls at country weekends because he had the perfect skin for restoring them...
We have a puzzle as well. Who was the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots? Was it Margaret Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII or was it Marie of Guise? It turns out it was the latter. Marie was Margaret’s daughter in law, which is why Elizabeth and Mary were first cousins “once removed”.

We have lunch in the lovely town of Bourriot which is the first sign of human habitation in two days!

An elderly gentlemen drives up and offers to drive us to the Chapel of Violotte. I feel superstitious about refusing something the camino is offering us, but that is not where we want to go. We have to meet up with our backpacks in Roquefort and still have miles to go!
It is a 35 km walk today which means we walk nonstop from 9 to almost 6. But we feel much better than during our 35 km walk last week. We’re obviously in better shape!

We are very warmly welcomed at our hotel and we gratefully lie down and look at our email.
I am delighted with a video from my friends SB and DMcD! They have filmed some exercises for me to do for my Achilles Tendon after reading here about my worries! In one take. It’s interesting the way the camino takes care of one.

Dinner was quite excellent - a pumpkin soup with bleu d’auvergne sprinkled on it,
The mashed carrots had orange juice in it. And they have a jam made with apricots and olive oil which is quite delicious! (I must be trying to widen my reader base by talking about food, have you noticed?)

Santiago de Compostela IX Day 83 (Bazas-Captieux) 18 km

Tuesday October 1, 2019

We have a lavish Logis breakfast with scrambled eggs and sausages!

It’s a short walk today - 18 km - but very boring. We follow an abandoned railroad track all day, one that has been converted into a bicycle path.
It is level, it is straight, it is flat.
This is the true essence of the camino. All one can do is walk - one step at a time. All the rest - the amazing sights, the interesting meetings, the spiritual insights, the inspiring conversations - don’t get one to Santiago! Only walking does.

In Captieux we are in time to eat lunch! We hesitate after having had such an excellent breakfast but it is one of the few times in our almost 1700 km of walking that this opportunity has presented itself so we decide to go for it! I have a delicious green salad with chicken, a piece of beef with fries, and a dessert, with wine - all for 14€!
This way we can skip dinner.

We get to Villa Capsylvania, drop onto our beds and don’t get off them for the next 16 hours. Tomorrow is a long day. We will need to be rested!

Santiago de Compostela IX Day 82 (La Reole-Bazas) 28 km

Monday September 30, 2019

In the morning we discover that the walk to Bazas is 38 km instead of the 28 km that Greenlife/Caminoway told us. This is absolutely out of the question! We look at the map and see that the camino has been incorporated in a Grande Randonee. Some districts find it easier to simply attach shell stickers to GR signs rather than maintain the pilgrims paths. We consult with our host and decide to just follow the road to Bazas which is indeed 28 km.
We have another look at the magnificent priory before crossing the Garonne.

There is some traffic - people in a hurry. Some will move into the center of the road, some will move and slow down but there are always drivers who insist on owning their side of the road and will hurtle close by, annoying Desmond, who is in front, to no end. Fortunately, most of the time we’re on our own.

The disadvantage of walking along a road is that one has to either walk on asphalt, which is hard on feet, knees and shins, or one must pick one’s way along the shoulder which may be sloped, may have high grass or may be very uneven. At one point I actually trip in a hole and fall flat on my face. According to Des I did an excellent roll. In any case, I get off quite unscathed, thank God! It must be all those years of taking ice skating lessons!
Now that we’re no longer talking about health issues, we can talk about where we have been this last week. Perigueux, where we started, is in the middle of the historic Perigord, which has been called the department of the Dordogne since the revolution. Both names are used interchangeably. When we crossed the Dordogne River, we left the Dordogne and entered Lot and Gironde or possibly Garonne. It’s almost impossible to find a decent map showing the departments. We are also in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, we have passed through the Forêts Landaises, though we are not yet in the department of Landes. And we also seem to be in Gascony. Then there are the wine regions we have either passed through or passed by: Bordeaux, Entre deux Mers, Duras, Bergerac...
All very confusing.

We arrive in Bazas in good time and visit the magnificent cathedral (one of the great ones, according to Desmond) and have a beer on the square before retiring to the Domaine de Fompeyre, our luxury hotel with lovely but cold outside pool!

Santiago de Compostela IX Day 81 (Saint Ferme-La Reole) 21 km

Sunday September 29, 2019

A short day today - only 21 km - through pleasant wine country.

We cross the valley of the Dropt and walk into La Reole early in the afternoon. M. and Mme are at home and welcome us into their beautifully restored and furnished townhouse in the historic center.

When we ask if we can wash some clothes, Monsieur does a load of laundry for us. We’re welcome to sit in the garden where Mme scoots over so I can put my feet up!

At five, Mme recommends a concert in the historic Prieurie de Saint Pierre. We have time to look around the priory before going inside to enjoy a lovely concert of baroque music in the ancient church.

After the concert we find a pizzeria, great after so many days of French cooking!

Santiago de Compostela IX Day 79 (Mussidan-Saint Foy) 35 km

Friday September 27, 2019

After ten hours of sleep all aches and pains have vanished! Always a miracle.
Our friendly taxi driver Erik brings us to Mussidan where we buy sandwiches, get a stamp for our credencial and then hit the road at 8h30 am.
Somewhere since yesterday I have made the fateful decision to take the road of faith and not the road of fear. I accept Des’s assertion that aches and pains are part of growing older and of this type of ridiculous exertion.
No wonder my tendon growls when I put on my shoe. But I choose to ignore it and take an ibuprofen to make it stop complaining.

We’re walking 35 km today, it is without backpacks but still. It means 9 hours of walking not counting stops along the way. Much too long!

During the long day we get really bored and tired.

Tired of the whole thing. Why in heaven’s name are we doing this?
We curse every little detour to walk through another little pretty river valley, every extra kilometer out of our way to go by yet another 12th century church. We have seen so many of them these past 1000 km, so many 10th century abbeys, 17th century chateaux, and 15th century lavoirs. We’re sick of them!
But is that possible? Can one ever tire of France?
Yes! Tired of the chateaux, churches and abbeys. Of the ghost villages with the shops and cafe’s that have closed for good, of the lovely tourist towns with their brave little tourist information offices where people sit looking at screens, desperately trying to promote their link to some long-forgotten hero like Georges Sand, or Richard the Lionhearted while all the closed hotels and restaurants attest to the fact that no one is interested...
And tired of a breakfast of french bread and jam, and while we’re at it, tired of foie gras and magret de canard as well!
But most of all we’re tired of trudging along!

After all those hours everything hurts - I’m hoping I haven’t strained the knee that caused us not to walk two years ago or yes, the tendon that almost floored me last year. Our feet burn, Des’ heels ache, he’s even developing blisters on his hand from handling the pilgrim’s staff.

But we do finally drop down from the highlands into the valley of the Dordogne, another of the great French rivers, which we cross to enter the town of Saint Foy.
The church is open so we go in. What are we looking for, I wonder. We don’t sit down to worship in any form. Maybe it’s the quiet and the dark after the day on the road.

We continue to our hotel - ugly moderne with black laminate floors and bright bright LED spotlights but comfortable.
We order dinner but we’re too tired to eat. We even leave half our carafe of wine!

Santiago de Compostela IX Day 78 (Saint Astier-Mussidan) 25 km

Thursday September 26, 2019

It’s a lovely fall day. It’s been a while since we walked in the fall and we enjoy the light, the smells and especially the silence of autumn. Morning mists, berries in the hedges, no wind.
We’re moving westward again. Tomorrow we turn south.

Most of the day we walk through the forests above the River Isle - along muddy logging roads.
In Mussidan we call for a taxi at the number given to us by Greenlife/Caminoway. We’re going to sleep in Saint Astier again since Mussidan is full. Once again, my fears were groundless. The taxi company was expecting our call, the taxi comes to pick us up at the Eglise St George at the time they said he would and we had a very pleasant drive with Erik, who could tell us a lot about the area - and the ride was paid for!

There are some clouds on the horizon, however. Some alarm bells are going off which I anxiously try to silence. During today’s walk my heel has started bothering me. This was what almost ended our walk last year. I never did quite believe that diagnosis of just a skin infection! My skin is taut and smooth thanks to my compression socks - no, this is definitely my Achilles Tendon!
Desmond, too is complaining of pain in his heels and his ankles are red and swollen...

Dinner again at La Palombiere, again excellent, but I can’t stop worrying. And tomorrow we will be walking 35 km, 10 more than we would like!

Santiago de Compostela IX Day 77 (Perigueux-Saint Astier) 24 km

Wednesday September 25, 2019

Our first day of walking starts in pouring rain but soon the skies clear. The church we wanted to see, St Ėtienne de la Cite, is closed for repairs so we head out of town.


Just outside of Perigeuex we come upon the magnificent Abbaye de la Chancelade, parts of which date back to the 10th century.

We follow the path up along the hills above the river Isle through endless forest until just before Saint Astier where we follow the river at bicycle path level. Saint Astier is lovely and our guest house room looks out on the the river and the old bridge.

Dinner at La Palombiere is excellent - salade de gesiers and magret de canard...

Santiago de Compostela IX - Getting there

Tuesday September 24, 2019

We’re off!
Once again neighbor Aagje Romijn is up to wish us a good camino.

It’s a long day of train travel with many transfers: Utrecht-Rotterdam, Rotterdam-Paris GdN, Paris GdN-Paris Mp, Paris Mp-Bordeaux, Bordeaux-Perigueux. All goes smoothly, we do have an interesting incident on the train from Paris, however. The train number has been changed, our assigned coach and seat numbers no longer exist. The conductor tells us to sit anywhere, which we do.
Sure enough, as I expected, someone soon comes along who does have tickets with these seat numbers. I explain in my best high school French what the conductor said but he keeps maintaining that we’re in his seat so we graciously move. As I return from the washroom I see that someone else has aproached Desmond waving their ticket for our new seat.
Desmond doesn’t bother with high school French, having lost it. He answers in English clearly and loudly, saying that the numbers have been changed and that the conductor told us to sit here. Now the other person is at a disadvantage, now other people in the area come to the aid of Desmond and it is the other person who moves off to find another seat. The entire camino so far I’ve been doing all the talking - busy proving/improving my French! Not necessary! Desmond can probably be just as effective, maybe even more so, in English!
I will remember this...

In Perigeux we walk to the hotel. I’m wondering/worrying whether there will be a reservation for us. What if Greenlife/Caminoway absconded with our money? What if they screwed up the reservation? All useless worry. Everything turns out to be perfectly organized.
We leave our stuff and walk into the beautiful old town for our first French meal of the season.
Foie gras and confit de canard with a bottle of almost local Bergerac, but first a Pineau des Charentes as aperitif!

The Camino 2019 - update

September 30, 2019 La Reole

We have walked 5 days now and I finally get around to posting. For one thing, we’ve been very busy. With days of seven, eight, even nine hours of walking, not counting breaks, I’ve been too tired to write anything.

Also today is the first day that I am fairly confident that we can do this and that our expedition will probably not end in the next few days in disappointment and tears.

This year’s start has been fairly difficult. First of all, there was the fact that we outsourced all the planning, booking and transporting of luggage this year. This saved a lot of work in advance but brought a surprising amount of stress with it during the first few days. During the long trip down from Holland there was plenty of opportunity to worry. Is the organization bona fide? Where did I find them? Did I actually do any research on the internet? Are they reliable? Will they be expecting us at the hotel in Perigueux? What will we do if they don’t? Will the baggage transfer work? Will our bags be in Saint Astier tomorrow? What is our backup plan if they’re not?
This is the curse of the experienced traveller. One has heard of so many things going wrong, one has experienced it oneself, perhaps, so that is hard to sit back and enjoy the ride. I keep telling myself that it’s alright to be alert but worry is pointless but it is hard work.

More difficult to ignore have been the health issues. While we no longer have to carry our 9 kilo backpacks, many of the day walks are longer than we would like - as much as 35 km when up until now we have preferred not to walk more than 24 km a day. In these first few days of walking we experience all sorts of aches and pains. We’ve had these in other years but we’re ten years older now. Even as I write ten years my spell check suggests “tendonitis”!

We’ve listened to travelers who were active on the camino but caused irreparable damage to themselves and now hang out in refugios cooking and cleaning for those who can still walk. We heard from friend SB how she damaged her tendons on the first day of her walk in Alaska and ended up wearing an unpleasant boot for half a year.
Every pain could be an alarm signal which one ignores at ones peril!

On the other hand, Desmond - an active runner - reassures me that sports at our age always bring aches and pains, which usually go away.
I remember staying with my very sportif friend D McD this summer and seeing the family-size jar of Ibuprofin on his bathroom counter... I think of the quarter of a million people who do the camino every year, many of whom are decades older than I am.

To my surprise, I realize that it is all a matter of having faith! So I have ignored the pains, even the irritated Achilles heel that protests whenever I put on my walking shoes. I have taken a paracetamol or an ibuprofin to relieve me of my worries, and I am now sitting in the magical garden of our wonderful Chambres d’Hotes “Arts et Remparts” in La Reole - 131 km down the road from where we started.

Santiago de Compostela 2019 - Season 9

We're preparing for another stretch along the camino from Utrecht to Santiago de Compostela - Desmond, mentally, on board the Queen Mary 2 heading for Europe while I go over our itinerary with the organization we have hired to help us prepare this year,
They have set out the route, reserved the hotels and will take care of transporting the backpacks from hotel to hotel.
Ah, the joys of traveling in style!

I've bought compression socks, thanks for the tip, Suzanne Barnes, and have spoken to my GP about stopping blood pressure medication on the road. All to avoid a repeat of the dramatic physical problems I incurred last year. I've walked miles in my new Meindl shoes - through Holland, New York City and Colorado, and I'm confident we will make it.

This year we plan to walk some 380 km through Aquitaine from Perigueux to legendary Saint Jean Pied de Port. There we will cross the Pyrenees into Basque country and will cover some 75 km of Spain to end our year's journey in Pamplona.