extract from a travel journal GR10 in Atlantic Pyrenees

ImageImageImageImageGR10 facing me along the way to high peaks …

I invite you to read parts of my journal, which I’ll publish day by day, so here’s a first taste of it :

The ride to Hendaye, with a switching in Bayonne, proved agreeable and once on the train to Bayonne I overheard a conversation of a professor teaching at some university which really scared me by his violent language towards some hosts he slept with (all male). Relating his story to other male passengers, no English natives I could tell by their accent, he clearly thought he had the upper hand? I wasn’t the only one overhearing this conversation though, and raised my voice just before stepping out at Hendaye, to a couple of French passengers who had also sensed the open violence and danger of this gloomy character. It plunged me again into a slightly lethargic and depressive state; the violence in homosexual societies, whether they’d be lesbian or gay, is scary…everywhere.

I won’t forget the face of this publicly dangerous creature, and will not hesitate to have him followed if ever I meet him. “Shower bashing” is a term that comes back to mind, while he explained how the host who didn’t want to give in to his ‘way of payment’ and who was submitted to it anyhow. We call it plain rape.

Hendaye is beautiful with its’ dotted small boats at anchor, at bay from Atlantic coastal weather, calling up views from Berthe Morrisot’s hand ; did she ever travel to these parts I wonder? It took me three hours to get from the railway station to a camping where the owner at 23.00 hrs refused to give me a tent placement at less than 31€. I decided, tired as I was, not to look any further for a decent commercial proposal, people whom I asked road indications systematically drove me further from the required destiny, hence I continued another 15 minutes to the bottom of the hill, where I found a little bar still open. Starved as I didn’t eat all day, I managed to get a meal still, and the young folks were so friendly to offer me a ride the next morning to start off my quite ambitious hiking tour of the GR10 (first quarter, covering 285 kms or a 190 miles which were crossed in 13 days; little was I to know how many loops and extra miles I’d need to cover to come to a destination undefined!).

 Friday July 19th

 Although sleeping on the beach as an ordinary SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe = French term for bag people) didn’t really appeal to me, I woke up to a beautiful morning after having caught up with little sleep, preparation of my voyage having coincided with looking for work at home. Short nights are a writers’ doom, and they’ve been my allotment for as far as I can remember having discovered this talent. The only good part I will continue to remember are the toilets destined for disabled people. They were clean, open to all, very ingeniously conceived, and I acknowledge Hendaye can look at its’ label of future bathing resort for the disabled, with bright eyes.

Around 9.00 hrs I was on my feet to start climbing, and although I had chosen this way (GR10 from West to East) being preferable for its’ scenery as well as the moderate sloping at the beginning of it, a statement I quickly had to review, I managed to get in the 8 hours of walking at a decent going. The magnificent scenery literally lifted me up from the morose state of mind, that traffic jams and a congested society with too many frustrated and dangerous individuals, had propelled me into. Yet, here also the tourists preferred Spanish Venta’s over hiking, walling as it were my expanding fantasy. I kept myself going by mentally reshaping the merchandising which wasn’t what it could be, with cheap display of articles -all at bottom price of course- from the entire planet. Who are these people who can’t live without shopping nor traffic jams, and looking for parking spots as a pastime one would think. I was so happy to be saved from it by just happily walking my way. A slender young Basque, running his shop at the end of the road, drew me a map with the wording ‘for my love’ as he appreciated my appearance and gave me a 0.10 cent sugar candy for free. He restored my belief in human nature, as all the other people around had been staring at me with the indiscreet looks of one’s pet when you prepare your food. I guess it was my skinny appearance rather than my dust-covered and sweaty face, which made him crack. He asked me to please come to the festival the upcoming weekend and spoke of Larrun; I kept on dreaming of what might be a start of a possibly happy romance all day, and reached Sare in an almost euphoric state, thinking I might have found the ‘real knight’!. If you’re interested in knowing whether I did, keep on reading!

Obtaining good food would prove to become a real challenge throughout the journey. Affordable food and decent water, even though governments basically continue to make believe that water is not sparse! Plenty on hand you say? I invite you to read further into the journey, and you’ll find some different statements… .Thus as I was walking on a low budget! 150€ with some extra’s paid for by credit card, (the total journey cost me approximately 250€, not including travel and gear), I really had to watch carefully not to take the wrong steps so to speak.

A small annotation as to the state of my income, is not misplaced here : as I didn’t find a job, and had been without one for almost a month, my future remained for the least uncertain, and how to make ends meet, this sword of Damocles above the heads of more citizens these days, leads to the always returning question : How does one see through the month, when the end of the month’s balance in the middle of the month is equal to that of the previous month’s start, close to zero ? The question would play me parts throughout my journey, but on the road I was, and walking was the only way to control stress, keep eyes and ears open to what I wanted to pursue: assess the state of ecological health of the Atlantic Pyrenees, and specifically the development (read territorial changes) of the various botanical biotopes, which I didn’t know on this side of the Pyrenees, but suspected to suffer equally from lack of water resource. Basically what I found out after these thirteen days of marching, is that the different levels (hill, mountain, sub-alpine, wherein various plants and trees develop, changed. Interesting work is being done on this, which I could have found on the web had I stayed home!)

(www.opcc-ctp.org/etudes/memoire_M2_CDUQUESNE.pdf)

I am sure the student won’t mind I refer to her work here.

Back to basics. Survival didn’t yet appeal to me, but I should have known better, knowing myself only half yet sticking to my plan as a mule, which was to accomplish the route set out in the TopoGuide I carried all along, and which covers the first quarter of the GR10, le Pays Basque et le Bearn.

The pitch of the day: Coming downhill from the pass ‘Col des Trois Fontaines’ I ran into a poor old Dutch Sheppard dog and his owner whom I saw throwing stones at the animal to get him out of a whole where he had dug his already partly cut off nose (she told me later a veterinarian had done such for tests that finally were never taken), and from which he refused to come out again, despite the stone attack. Both animal and owner were desperate in front of the situation of drought which started to show itself, and seeing myself in the dogs’ eye, I gave him what little water I had left. Poor me, as I carried with Pierre, Elisabeth’s son who had joined us on his motorbike !– you’d never believe how these people traverse the tiny stone dry and cracked steeply sloping paths -, the animal weighing over 110 pounds, for only some five yards after which we were both exhausted. The dog was now in bad shape, his hind legs too old to continue, but the owner told me she would manage now to get him downhill, as her husband would join them. (She kept calling him on her mobile and I couldn’t help laughing to myself, seeing the ignorance and dedication of that woman wanting to get her dog walking). In continuing my way downhill I met Pierre again who came running uphill to fetch his motorbike which he had left at the dog’s dugout. After losing my way due to lack of good indications (was it on purpose, I wonder?) I finally joined Elisabeth and her husband on the parking, where he had difficulty in getting his jeep out of the dried up mud where it was parked. I still ignore how they managed to get the animal to the jeep, but thank them for having brought me to the camping, after a ride compared to which Paris-Dakar is peanuts! Brave people…

There is more to come on Saturday 20th !

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