Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saugnac et Muret-Labouheyre

It was Marie-France I think who said that the Landes could be 'a bit tiring' due to all the pines. I smiled and told her that it would be no problem because I love pines. The picture to the left is the most famous pine in Norway used for decades and decades upon decades as the basis of the logo of the leading Norwegian brand of matches.
The 'real' tree hails a few hours sailing down south along the coast from my hometown on a island called Grønøy - Green Isle - in Meløy Commune. Pines in the mountains southeast of my home are beautiful beyond belief - forcing those who see it to realize it's not the beauty of the pine; but the midnight sun in the background that makes the image. The harsh arctic climate bends and stunts their growth making the trees into glorious mega-bonzais shaped by the hand of The Great Gardener.

Marie-France smiled and said well then or somesuch. Whether she actually thought it all would be good, or simply gave up warning me due to our communicationdifficulties is hard to say. But no doubt my love for these beautiful trees made the beginning of my pilgrimage hard and harder still.

Walking through the Landes my love for pines  became like a sore in my mind and soul. Their beautiful smell, strong and poignant when I was passing the many pickup-points (like above), was like a taunt to my sensibilities. How can death smell so sweet? The oldest pine [Old Tjikko] found is close to 10 000 years old. The oldest pine I found killed in the Landes was about 60. Murdered in infancy.

Tears would well in my eyes. I would talk to them. Touch them. Hug them. Write little poems like 

What an honour it would be;
to be the friend of a tree.

And while it's pretty with the illusion of a gate in the end; the endless industrial fields of pines could enrage me. It reminds me of our world today, of what we do to the people. Streamlining them, fooling them into believing they are the pinnacles of individuality in the age of authenticity; when even punks and hippies and philosophers are just copies out of the same 10 or 15 molds ("archetypes").

The sociologist in me do realize we're easier to manage like this; that it's probably better for everybody. But it's an affront to the soul and I promise you! Jesus is fucking crying.

It might be some sort of double standard: But this does not upset me in the least. I even find it somewhat beautiful. I know it's not an ideal way to nurture the fruits of the soil, that the method demands huge quantities of unnecessary fertilisers and poisons and blablabla. 

But hey, nobodys perfect. Especially not I.

Not I in the least.

Jaques and Jaquelines refugio was about the only place I was looking forward to visiting before reaching St.Jean Pied-de-Port. Trying to research a bit before the trip (a task I was pretty unsuccessful at) this place kept coming up as one of the truly great places along the road.

Jaques and Jaqueline walked the camino a few years ago and it changed their lives - and afterwards they opened up their home to pilgrims. Presbyterians (I might be wrong), religious people... I was disappointed to find what in essence was just another private 15€ Albergue.

When I finally found the place and rang their bell Jaques first question was why I hadn't called. I guess I should have spoken truth and said that I like to trust in God and I find the French custom of reserving your bed in the Refugio to be an affront to The Way and Saint Jaques (San Tiago, Sankt Jacob, St. James) - but didn't want to start a discussion, I wanted a bed. I really wanted a bed, and just said I don't have a phone. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Belin Beliet-Saugnac et Muret

While days can be pretty hot for a northerner; nights - it turns out - can be quite cold. I awoke that night freezing and with pain in my back, being unused to sleeping on the ground. A hundred sit-ups later I wasn't freezing anymore - but very very awake. A bottle of wine and many many words in my notebook later I got a few hours sleep extra.

Belin-Beliet turns out to be quite big. The printout from Gradingnan indicating there would be a refugio there didn't mention that it (Belin-Beliet) actually was a commune and not, as I assumed, the village I'd found the last night.

An hours walk, perhaps a bit less, perhaps a bit more, from my campsite I find part two of the city. No refugio here either - not that I would have taken in this early in the morning. I locate the Tourist Information - the only one I'll find before Dax; but it's only open like a couple of months a year and definitely not in the end of April. I have more luck with the local café - new owners serve me with the enthusiasm typical of new owners and I get both an excellent cup of café latte and the opportunity to take my morning dump in a real toilet.

It's one o'clock by the time I reach this nice little church. It starts raining while I'm having my lunch; and when I start walking I realise that the poncho I took from the lost&found in Gradingnan on the insistence of Lilian is made for dwarfs or something (no, no, you don't have to buy a poncho - we have one at the refugio! :) Oh, well.

I'm pretty sure there was supposed to be a refugio somewhere here; I hadn't really planned to walk much further. There is a privatelooking home with a sign saying "Gite" just across the road. I do wonder for a second what exactly a "Gite" is; perhaps its French for pension or somesuch - but I'm sure somebody would have mentioned that Gites are some sort of Refugio in my week in Bordeaux if it was possible to sleep and rest in them.

So I walk on.

It turns out to be a very long day indeed - these French "towns" and "villages" are really quite huge. About half  an hour/hour before the place I'd planned to stop the next day I took 15 minutes in a ditch. I was completely finished. My feet were incredibly painfull, I had no energy left, and I was seriously regretting not taking in to that 47€ 4 star hotel next to the campingplace that was closed that I had hoped to sleep that night. A nice lady stopped her car and asked if I needed help. Somewhere to sleep, perhaps? But sent her on her way with my thanks and my blessings. I'm one stubborn motherfucker and I kept my vows. All of them.

A bit outside Saugnac I found my 12,5euro place to sleep. It was called Atelier - Gite Saugnac. Didn't look much like a private home at all, rather it looked a bit like a summer camp/summerschool. And while I'm still - to this day - not sure that "Gite" means somewhere papa can put his head down and call home - I was starting to suspect that a Gite is somewhere you indeed can sleep. ( claims it means "cottage").

Really not that bad. Private rooms; bath shared with one other (unoccupied) room. No shops or bars around so I buy both dinner and breakfast. Generous servings and healthy food. The guy, who don't speak English at all, like all French, do see how much I'm suffering and gets me an extra bread, a map for tomorrow and a Guidebook published by the Landes Friends of the Camino! (In French, but still.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ville du Barp-Belin Beliet

He was from Normandy; and I happily declared that we were cousins. He'd walked all the way from home with his donkey, and he had some terrible burns on his hands and nose - so terrible I wasn't really sure if it was sunburns or some strange skindecease. I had two bottles of 50+ and offered him one of them. But he declined. Ton-Ton ("uncle" who camino-rumors tells gave up somewhere round the Spanish border) wryly said "he's already a goner".

 I was a bit hesitant to ask him if I could have his picture. Having walked already for a couple of months I was pretty sure he was sick of getting his picture taken. But no, no problem at all.

He wanted to learn the Norwegian word for donkey ("esel") - and he knew about 20 or 30 different words for the lovely animal. We didn't share much in the way of language - but pilgrims manage, they always do. When I indicated I'd heard donkeys are about the smartest animals around and much, much, much smarter than horses he readily agreed and seemed to conclude I was an OK sort of fellow.

He was incredibly chatty and whenever I saw him he was always talking with someone.

I made a slow start that day. I needed contactlenses; my old pair was wearing out, the rest of my lenses was sent back home by that Icelandic volcano. The only lenses I found in Bordeaux was expensive and of the wrong brand and for some reason I was sure I would find something better on the camino - proving I need neither be drunk nor stoned to make bad decisions. 

I'd seen a optician in town; but she didn't open until 10 o'clock. No matter, yesterday had been a hard day. I got me some food, a pair of lightweight farmersandals and possibly a new bottle of wine. The optician does not sell contacts - but has a quite good selection of unfashionable spectacles.

Mackerel in tomato is a Norwegian breakfast classic. One of my favourites as a child and a sureshot to this day. But this one here proves we know nothing, absolutely nothing of the art of making canned mackerel in tomato - and the French' reputation as gourmands is in no way exaggerated. 

The typical French camino-arrow. They love to put this shit up at straight roads and to leave no indication of where you're supposed to go at crossroads. (Hey, man! There are roadsigns here - no need for yellow arrows. What do you mean nobody told you you were supposed to have guidebooks, maps, working knowledge of French and a GPS? Stoopid Norwegian.)

Note how the arrow is really bendy and ambiguous like a sarcastic doublejointed chinese trapese artist.

For some reason I was under the impression that deVille was some sorth of fireplace-brand. A internetsearch gives me only cars, porn and watches. Doesn't matter. I found it a funny word, a funny brand. De Ville with my very very bad French translates to something like 'the village' - but at the same time it's quite close to devil.

Is the village the devil? Uhm, I really need to talk to someone soon. Almost two weeks without proper comunication is starting to take it's toll. I don't need to speak Norwegian - someone with a vocabulary of more than 500 English words and a personality even remotly close to someone I could be friends with in the "real" world would be quite pleasant.

A nice example of the typical arcitechture of the area.

I couldn't find the refugio rumored to be in Belin-Beliet so I slept somewhere in the woods that night. Had I only had the precense of mind to take a picture of my camp. Ja, ja like my people say.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gradignan-Ville du Barp

My first day as a walking pilgrim I'm up at approximately 5 in the AM - but since I neglected to go to the store the previous night I have to wait til almost 8 o'clock to head out so I can stop by the store. One last picture of the Gradignan pilgrim and then I'm off.

I love walking in the mornings. The temperature is very pleasant. I only have a vague notion of what the day will be like - although I'm not completely unprepared as I've already stocked up on 50+ sunblock. The sign in the background (yes, I was trying to get that, but as with about 90% of my pictures I failed to get what I wanted) is an ad for the same mall my butt-ugly donativo t-shirt is trying to promote.

First proper camino roadsign. Happy feeling. Being an ardent opposer of proper preparations I wasn't really sure until this moment that I actually was walking the Tours route to St.Jean Pied-de-Port.

The t-shirt (or the colour of it atleast) - and my face smeared with 50+.

I don't know it yet, but I already lost my way. It's 9:45 in the morning and I've been walking for less than two hours. French roadmarkings are illogical and slightly insane. One road going north into the woods, one asphalt road going straight west. One yellow arrow meticiously placed so it points exactly betwixt the two alternatives.

Having to guess I choose what seems to be the scenic route; my compass seems to agree. And while I'm guessing that compass sent me the wrong way more often than the right - I'm pretty sure I'd still be in France somewhere had I traveled without it.

I don't know it yet: But you are supposed to have a map and a guidebook and a mobile telephone and atleast a rudimentary understanding of the french language and preferably a handheld GPS.

I use the same GPS as my great grandfather used when he was a fisherman - back when GPS still meant God Please Save me/us.

The first part of my straying atleast was very pretty. Later on it mostly looks like this. As usual I'm unable to take pictures of the interesting things - the huge fucking loggingtrucks raping the "national park". Why would I want a picture of something so ugly? I'm just outside of Bordeaux - I'm sure it will pass. I mean, damn it! I'm going into what seems to be Europe's biggest national park! This is going to be SO great!

Hmmm... This road seems to be turning more and more to the east. I haven't seen a yellow arrow in several hours. Hmmm... I might have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Should I go back? ... Nah, I'm sure I'll get back on the camino somewhere soon.

So, anyways, I've walked for about six hours - which would be about 24 kilometres, about 1-2 clicks more than I was supposed to. The day turned out to be quite hot and I've drunk all my water. But its all good! I found a gas-station and bought me another litre of water and I found the road to Ville du Barp! Only 18 clicks to go!

I guess I should have taken a picture of the Ville du Barp roadsign. But hey! If I was good at decisionmaking I wouldn't even be here in the first place, right? And anyways I do love so that they have voluntary gymnastics in France. In Norway you have to pay some hefty fines for not participating - and if you just, you know, do the civil disobedience thing, the deathsquads come and give you a neckshot if the first two beatings doesn't help your "maladjusted attitude".

That's what I love about the internet: it really shows people that a different life is possible! A life without mandatory gymnastics!

Walking by the road I'm soon realizing that French drivers are all insane. I walk on the left side on the road as I am supposed to - but the road is rather narrow (but you know, I'd rather take a picture of this suffering forrest) and when cars coming from behind on the right side are overtaking/passing eachoter their not really afraid of hitting the guy with the backpack. 20 centimeters is apparently considered good clearance here.

The only solution is to look back whenever you hear a car from behind and just get the fuck out of their way if their passing eachother.

Out of the woods. Less dangerous. More hot. Running out of water. I'm sure there will be a bar or a gas station or maybe even a graveyard soon. One of Marie-France's last words to me was that I always could be sure to find water at graveyards.

I didn't think about it at the time, just smiled and thanked her for the advice. But why would one even need to know that??? I'm starting to learn. No graveyard though; so I drink this amazing bottle of Saint-Emilion 2007. It's a bit to hot... but really - a great wine; and if your thirsty enough even hot coca-cola will taste great.

About 4-5 clicks from Ville du Barp I'm entering suburbia. A man of African decent is mowing his lawn; as I am passing he runs up to me and offers me some water. I have two glasses of ice cold bottled water with him, his and his whitetrash-looking wife and stepdaugther. It's almost always the downtrodden who will help you. My brain is pretty much cooked, I'm exhausted and a littlebit drunk (as mentioned I had to dig into my winesupply to stay hydrated and to get some weight off my back) and I've simply not realized yet how fast the camino is.

I should have asked him if I could put my tent up in his yard. I'm sure his hospitality would have included just about all my hearts desires. But I didn't.

And if I had; I wouldn't have met this great man (more about him tomorrow). The refugio only had 4 beds and there were 7 pilgrims in Ville du Barp that night. I'd never put up my tent before and after struggling with it for a few minutes he (I'm sad to say I don't remember your name my friend) and Quebecan-guy helped me. Under normal conditions I'm confident my mensa-lvl IQ would have sorted the mystery out (its really quite simple it turns out) but really - at this point I was soooo mindfucked by my first caminoday my mind was reeling.

Quebecan-guy. He was really angry about something. I'm quite sure it wasn't me - just, youknow, society, the injustice of the world and such. He refused to speak English. I never met him again. I do hope he had a great camino and resolved some of those bitter angerissues of his.

And he did help me to put up the tent. I'm sure he really is a great guy.

Once I get around to it I'll put up one of those great googlemaps stating that the whole of the Landes is a national park. They should be sued by every national park in the world; but I guess it's not a copyrighted term. Suffice to say: my mind was so destroyed by the day I took an evening stroll through town. When that backpacks off you hardly feel your blisters you know.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stuck in Bordeaux day VII

So, when Britain decided to play rough with the Icelanders over that moneything; and acctually started using terrorist laws against the Icelandic civillians (making it impossible for Icelandic students, workers, tourists in the British Isles to withdraw money) the Icelanders struck back by cursing the English.

Subsequently a volcano erupted and closed Britain for airtraffic for some time.

Now, in Oslo Airport the nice British Airways clerk checked my luggage in all the way to Bordeaux; which apparently is´nt exactly legal, with the result that my luggage was caugth by the Icelandic curse while I was not.

British Airways neglected to tell me of whatever rights I might have had until 5 days later on the 19th of april; enabling me to go shopping at the 20th and to finally leave Bordeaux where I´d been relying on the kindness of strangers for almost a week on the 21th of april.

Following is my shopping for the camino - allthough you should note that I was given 2 t-shirts, a nailclipper and a defect rainponcho by the refugio - and that I was wearing boots, socks, pants, a woolen sweater, a sportssweater and a goretex jacket when I traveled. Added to this list should also have been woolen underwear (the full body type) but such items aparently does not exist in France. (But really, it was no problem, when I awoke shivering in my tent I´d just take a few situps and go back to sleep. No inconvenience at all.)

A ´spork´ (spoon, fork and knife in one) -- 2€
A Trousse 1er se tu (the piratepants?) -- 10,95€
A trek rando lig 45+ (socks) -- 9,95€
A randonnee clai 43+ (socks) -- 12,50€
2XL Tigre (headlight?) -- 14,95€
A McKinley Grand Canyon 55L backpack -- 69,95€
-- 120,30€
Nurofen (200mg Ibuprofene) -- 2,90€
Nurofen gel tube (5% Ibuprofene) -- 5,50€
Compeed (blisterbandaids) -- 7,50€
Toothpaste -- 4,90€
Toothbrush -- 3,20€
-- 24€
Charger Universal -- 35,90€
S15 Ultralight xl vert (sleepingbag) -- 39,90€
M100 (?) -- 4,90€
T2 Ultralight pro (tent/bivuac) -- 99,90€
Serviette Compacte (towel) --9,90€
C.Quechua 100 Colors (?) -- 5,00€
Couteau Suisse 13 functions (swiss armyknife) -- 15,90€
HL Quechua 300 (?) -- 19,90€
Pack 2 boxer actizen (underwear) -- 14,90
-- 210,30€

Alltogether Brithish Airways owe me 390,50€ - pluss a hefty donation to the Refugio at Priorie de Cayac for taking care of me while BA took their own good time to inform me that I acctualy could, you know, just buy the stuff and get going on my great adventure.