Just as I had finished my blog post from before, I got a message from Katherine stating that she was only sixteen kilometers behind me, and that Ludo was back on the trail, close behind as he’d decided to skip some kilometers as if he’d kept walking. I was happy to hear the news, but I realized that I’d changed already from the last time I’d seen them. I’d accepted that I could just not see them again, true, but I was also in a walking mindset.
As much as I wanted to see them both again, to hug and laugh and drink wine, a part of me knew that I wouldn’t be waiting for them unless I needed a day of rest. It was a strange realization, and I contemplated whether this change was good or bad. The more I thought about how the Camino worked, the more I was sure that this development was a good thing.
And to think I’d loathed this notion just a week prior.
I still thought about them as I continued to walk. I was glad Ludo had continued the trek. There had been a small part of me that knew there was a possibility he would simply not come back, despite if Kath and I were to bug him mercilessly. It was a slight relief to know he was determined to finish what he started. And I was happy that Kath would receive him first. She had a quality of welcome and comfort one could envy beyond thought.
The next day was hot, and I had set my sights on going hard. I wanted to go the distance, twenty-seven kilometers, since I’d felt I’d gone a bit easy the last few days. The couple I stayed with, who were from England (it was simply wonderful to speak in English fast and normal), said that it was quite possible, and that it was quite the popular trek from their gite.
The heat killed the idea sooner than I thought it would.
By 3pm, I was shuffling my feet, shoulders slumped in defeat. Whenever I got up from a rest and put my pack on my back, my head would sing “Hello darkness my old friend…”
It was time to stop.
It happened to be that someone else had decided to give up early that day, too, as the gite held another lady I’d seen a week or so prior at another gite. Her name was Andrea, she was from Holland, and she was thankful to speak English as she didn’t know French that well.
She told me about the art project she was doing while she walked the Camino, wherein she had picked up sixty-one stones to carry with her along the trail. Each stone had a name attached, the person having told her a feeling they wanted to share or a wish for themselves in the future. She painted that feeling onto the stone, then individually wrapped them to protect them from chipping. Every morning, she randomly picks a stone to set somewhere along the trail. When the setting is right, she’ll take a picture, document the GPS coordinates, then will attach a haiku she came up with during the day when she posts the picture later that night.
From there, we began to discuss different types of future art projects, coming up with different ways to make them interactive with the world. It felt wonderful to talk art. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it until we were deep into thinking about sending messages in bottles around the world to be tracked so everyone could see how far it went.
We lounged in the sun, bouncing ideas that could connect us all with art and technology.
I was enjoying these kinds of conversations.
The night before, I’d drank wine with a college student from Holland, and we’d talked for hours about religion and politics, which sounds like a terrible idea, but it came about because religion history was her major, and she’d taken a couple of years of art history as well. We talked about feminism, as she was enamored with me walking the trek alone (she was walking with her dad, walking a couple of weeks each year until they reach Santiago). We considered life through the eyes of those who couldn’t seem to see past their greed.
Andrea and I continued to stay at the same gites for the next few nights. Her leg was giving her some grief, so she was laying back from walking twenty-seven to thirty-five kilometers a day, only doing ten to fifteen instead. I didn’t complain as I’d craved the creativity in my life again, and it spurred my thought processes on writing all over again, reminding me why I had quit my job to walk for two and a half months, and then to go around Europe/UK.
When I got to Moissac around 12:30pm, I ran into Aina randomly as she walked by. I offered her some of my wine, so she sat and we chatted since she had stopped walking the day prior. She said the feeling was odd, and she didn’t want to leave just yet. She had unfinished business. I felt lucky to know I didn’t have to stop walking, and I again was happy that Ludo had kept to the trail after he had left. I couldn’t imagine that dreadful feeling after coming this far, physically and mentally.
Aina was already planning her trip for next year in her head, you could tell.
I stayed at a gite called La Petite Lumiere, as I’d been suggested, despite the large hill I’d have to climb to get to it. The view itself was worth the climb, and I wondered if there would be anything I’d see and not smile at that point. Every struggle I made during the day, the pain in my feet, sometimes legs, it was always rewarded in another way.
I’m curious if this is something that is frequently done in what is considered “normal” life, but we are too enclosed by the media and how society runs, especially by businesses, to really notice what we’re given with our dues. I often try to remind myself that not all suffering can gather that goodness in the end, but a part of me disagrees. There was always something good in hindsight.
It reminds me of the blinds that go around horse’s eyes so they focus only on the route they are told to see.
Andrea and I were staying in a small yurt to my delight. It was supposed to rain that night, so I was excited to sleep outside on a nice mattress as well as hear the music the rain brought. We had arrived at a decent hour, too, so we were able to shower, wash clothes, and ultimately enjoy a good portion of the day before dinner.
We were both a bit worried about where we would stay the next night as it was getting difficult to find gites as time continued. While looking through our guidebooks, comparing notes, our host, Ann, said that it was most likely due to the fact that August 15 was a French holiday, and people were taking time off to celebrate, or were full of those visiting towns for the holiday. When we couldn’t find anything, Ann went through a list in her head of people who could possibly help out. She had the number of a gite owner that had set up space for pilgrims, but never attached his number to anything as he wanted the pilgrims to find him as they needed. Nothing was open, but he should be.
Ann promised me that we’d get along famously since he was a musician, and very laid back. Andrea’s and my personalities would fit well within their atmosphere.
Soon, it was dinner, and it was, of course, delicious, as all French food went. I officially decided that all French people could discuss food for the rest of their lives if the food was consistently this delicious. I had couscous for the first time, and dessert had dark chocolate ice cream.
The world needs dark chocolate ice cream in and on everything.
When the guests noticed I had my ukulele, they cheered for me to play as entertainment. I was embarrassed, but secretly pleased. I was feeling more comfortable with playing in public, and had already added a few more songs to my book as I’d gotten internet randomly on the trek. It felt great to perform, and the applause and compliments were beginning to feel more real, rather than forced. I was beginning to believe in my capabilities, slowly-but-surely.
They requested I sing Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World (very popular), so I looked it up on my phone and told them I’d be stopping ever-so-often to scroll along since I wasn’t sure of all the notes.
Halfway through the song, really feeling it, I got a mail notification from Kath. All I could read was “Woohoo, we made it to Moissac!” as I was singing “What a wonderful world” to the rest of the audience. My heart was laughing in merriment at the timing.
When I got a moment to read the email, Kath said they were spending an extra day in Moissac since they’d gotten there so late (it was just past 9pm). They wanted me to stick around as well, but after thinking of how much I’d gone through to find the gite, and that Ann had taken a favor from her pocket to make sure we were safe the next day, I had to decline. Sad, I said I’d come to visit so I could at least hug them, even if it was for a small while as their gite locked down after 10:30pm.
After an encore with the dinner table (I couldn’t say no when they all began to chant ‘uk-u-le-le!’), I made my way to their gite in the night. I only had about forty-five minutes, but I figured a hug and a quick chat to explain why I had to keep walking would do us well. Plus, I’m very partial to hugs.
When I got to the gite, it was 10pm. I walked into the gite and did a glance around, but Katherine wasn’t around. She’d said Ludo was at a pizza place, but I thought perhaps he would have been back by then. I tried calling their names softly. The two people I saw didn’t recognize the names, which made sense since they’d rolled in when most people are finishing supper.
I sighed and figured I’d wait for five more minutes, then walk back, thinking the epic reunion fell rather flat.
That’s when Ludo walked through the door, and I heard his intake of surprise.
I lept up to give him a hug, which, of course, knocked him back a bit because all of my “I AM SO HAPPY TO SEE YOU” hugs tend to do that. He thought I was staying at their gite because he hadn’t been involved in the emails with Kath and I, and as I began to explain why I was there, he had to remind me to slow down several times because my excitement was causing my speech to come out at miles a second. The request made me laugh in delight. I realized it had been quite some time since I’d talked to a French person.
I got myself a glass of water (I was officially sweaty and hot–it was 90 outside) and we went outside to a picnic table to talk until they closed the doors. Katherine was completely asleep, so we left her where she was, and since we couldn’t go for a walk, we took the only option left. He asked what I’d done since we parted, and I gave him a quick run through, quickly skipping over my dramatic night after leaving him. He talked a bit about his family reunion, and that his chest was still something of a mystery as the doctor couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with him, either. She’d given him a prescription of sorts and the okay to continue on the Camino. He said it flared back up right away on that Monday when he’d gotten back on the trail, and he decided that meant it was a pain he was supposed to deal with while he made his way.
We kept talking until I realized it was 12am, well past the locked door hours. We were both tired, but it had felt so good to catch up. He was debating leaving tomorrow a bit later just to keep walking, but he wanted to write since he already had so many more things to get out of his head. I reminded him that the weather was supposed to be rainy and stormy, so staying a day may be a good idea.
I had no idea how much that idea would have been good for me later on.
As we hugged goodbye, he told me to email him where I was at each day when I landed, to which I teased, “Oh, it’s okay to start bugging you again?” I was smiling again because I was thinking about how good it felt to hug him and have it still feel the same way since we’d last hugged. Sometimes, when I thought of that hug, I wondered if I’d imagined how good it was. It was nice to know I hadn’t been wrong.
Some people just give good hugs, and I find it important to keep note when you find a good hugger.
I left and while I walked down the streets, I realized how stupid I really was because now I was walking the streets of a French town in the middle of the night with only my ukulele, phone, and passport pouch. I cringed at the face I knew my father would be making when he found out this information, and I mentally hit myself over the head at not thinking properly when I left my gite.
I was alive at the end. It’s okay, dad.
I woke up twice after the middle of the night. Once, it was when the storm started, and I realized that my shoes weren’t 100% protected on the shelf next to the front door of the gite, so I ran through the rain to place them underneath the patio properly. The next time was when the thunder started. As I was smiling and thinking of home, where a good thunderstorm is relished in, Andrea wasn’t quite as keen on what nature was proclaiming so loudly. For her own comfort, she took to the gite’s couch in the living room.
I stayed to enjoy the sounds and think of home.
I wasn’t thinking about how it would continue into the next morning. Which it did. Intensely.
By 9am, Andrea and I were soaked, through and through, small swimming pools in each of our shoes. I said that we should patent the sensation of water in shoes, as, for the moment, it felt wonderful to be walking on water like Jesus.
The smiles ended for me soon after that, however, when we got to the mountain after Moissac and I was told we shouldn’t go up due to the massive amounts of rain.
I argued. A lot. I wanted to try it, even if the water was coming down in sheets, covering the mud and rocks in such a way that would sweep me aside. I just wanted to try.
We were stuck beneath a roof of an abandoned house with four other French people, two of which were experienced hikers. “There is no possible way,” they told me. “It is not possible to pass. You will have to go the variant.” A local nearby, overhearing our conversation, looked at me and simply shook his head and said something. “He says it is too dangerous.”
The variant was a paved path walking along a canal. In comparison to what I had been doing the past few weeks, it was as if they’d told an experience skier to stop playing on the black diamonds and only use the bunny hills.
I was upset, to the point where I considered walking back to Moissac just so I could attempt it the next day. But the thought of walking back also killed me. I was in a lose-lose situation, and I got the slightest feeling of how Ludo had felt when he had to leave the trek early due to his chest pain. It didn’t feel right, not doing the proper trail, like I was cheating.
Within an hour of walking away from the scene, having decided to stop being a baby and continue walking along the easiest path of a lifetime, the rain slowed and the sun looked as if it would eventually shine later in the afternoon. I hoped that Ludo and Katherine would be able to do the mountain the next day to make up for the fact that I couldn’t. The thought made me feel a little better.
We made it to our destination in the early afternoon, and I was simply exhausted. Between only getting a few hours of sleep the night before, a morning filled with cold rain, an evening filled with some more rain and even some hail, I wasn’t even sure if I could eat dinner properly, where we had to walk uphill for three hundred meters. I saw myself as terrible company as the only thoughts I could get through my head were moving my feet and making sure my fork got to my mouth properly.
I slept hard, not even using my ear plugs. I know I slept hard because when I checked my fitbit in the morning, it said I only had moved 42 steps, when I usually move enough for it to claim I’d gone at least 300 steps.
The gite we stayed at was simple, and I enjoyed it because, while not filled with trinkets, the corners of the rooms held all sorts of instruments. I counted three guitars, a piano, a trumpet… I ate breakfast feeling still tired, but glad I was in such a musically filled atmosphere. By the end, one of the ladies that I’d stayed with in a previous gite was mentioning that I played the ukulele to our hosts, Steff and Kris. They both said something, and the woman said something about me being “enchanting”, to which I started getting nervous because I knew that Steff would ask me to play, and she was speaking too highly of my skills.
Steff grabbed his guitar and played us a song he wrote about sunflowers, and it was absolutely beautiful and fun to listen to. He told me I could play along with him, and I declined with, “I am not that good!” He asked me to play a song after he was done, and I was so nervous at a proper musician listening to me play, I knew I fumbled everything I played. He and his girlfriend complimented me and thanked me for playing, the table clapping. I was red for probably during the whole situation, despite his assurance and smiles.
Later that day, while eating lunch, another young lady saw I played and got super excited as she had her own ukulele. Everyone around us called for a song, and I played much easier, no screw ups. I then begged for the young lady who said she also played to use Navi for a song as well. She refused, but I said, “I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing someone else play yet!”
She played a mean version of Creep by Radiohead.
I told her to look up Amanda Palmer.
I thought more about how I’d been so confident in my abilities until I realized someone who knew what they were doing came into the picture. Of course it is easy to show off your skills when you know no one else can really compare it to anything else. While people aren’t dumb and can hear good music when they hear it, there is still that knowledge that someone who does music for a living is looking a bit deeper into what is being played than the normal listener.
I hoped that by the next time I passed by Steff’s gite, I’d be able to play with him in his Sunflower song.
I knew that I’d be thanking both Katherine and Ludo in person when I saw them next, too. They had started off my self-esteem in playing for others, and the thought of playing for them again made me smile.