The Pyrenean Traverse, Day 15: À l’aise

A buzzing sound above our heads has kept us awake all night. We must have put up our tent underneath a wasp’s nest, but besides the buzzing sound we find no further proof of that.

Today we are toning it down a bit. The 21 miles (35km) of yesterday have left their mark. My heels are hypersensitive and they probably are a bit inflamed. And my whole little toe has wrapped itself in a thick, juicy blister. Wim did not manage to come out of the fight unharmed either. He has some troubles with his back and his heels also suffer from his heavy backpack.

So not too many miles today. Just following our nose and sleeping at the place where we decide that we do not want to continue walking anymore. And everything between here and there: nice and easy. Or “à l’aise”, like the French say so beautifully.

We “wash” ourselves with deodorant. Wim uses the public toilets of the institute, which researches the biodiversity of the fauna and flora of the Pyrenees. At least, that is what the sign in front of the building says. At a water source we fill our drinking bottles. The source is located in a beautiful park, where almost every inhabitant of Bagnères De Bigorre walks his dog. However, there is not a single poo to be found in the park.

When we finally arrive in the village center, we take our intention to do everything “à la aise” to heart. Wim installs himself on a bench while I get some raisin rolls and bread at the bakery. We immediately indulge ourselves to those yummy raisin rolls. I go to the tourist office to get some information about the GR78, the route that we want to follow from now on. But they have never heard of a trail named GR78. I explain that the route is also called the “Voie de Piémont” what does seem to ring a bell. They give me detailed directions from here to Lourdes. I explain that we come from Lourdes and we need the description in the other direction. The lady is struck dumb. Apparently she has never seen anyone walk the other way.

Together with Wim I make a detour to a supermarket to buy some rations. At a newsagent we quickly open a newspaper to check the weather forecasts. And that does not look pomising. Nothing but rain for the next five days…

It is already way past ten o’clock when we leave the village with well-filled backpacks. An hour later we reach the top of a mountain, where we get a view of the flat French countryside. We decide to have our picnic already. Because for now the weather is still dry. But the baguette is not yet fully digested or the first raindrops are already falling down. We quickly pack our backpacks again, put the rain cover over them and hit the road.

We walk over small undulating asphalt roads, which take us slowly towards the forest. The rain is getting worse, but the foliage keeps us relatively dry. The fact that rain and wind have caused havoc over here can be seen by the many trees that have fallen on the path, where we once have to crawl over and then crawl under again.

Our drinking bottles are empty again, so Wim filters some water from a river. It does not bother us that it ends up slightly green in the bottles. We just drink from it, because we are so thirsty. But when Wim is starting to feel dizzy and has trouble focusing, we decide to pour the water away. You know, just in case.

The foliage does not manage to keep us dry anymore. In addition, a storm is on our heels. We speed up and race to the village of Bourg De Bigorre. Through the rain we walk towards the hotel of which we saw some advertising panels when entering the village.

According to the opening hours at the door, the hotel should be open, but we hear no sound. Wim knocks on several doors, but nobody opens. After a while the rain really starts to pour. We do not count three seconds between the lightning flashes and the thunder that goes with them. That is why we go in the direction of a B&B that we thought we had seen earlier. Fortunately there is someone there. Without even talking about room rates, our wet backpacks are already stored inside and we have taken off our muddy shoes.

We are warmly escorted to our room. It looks fantastic. We use the facilities to wash our clothes. In his enthusiasm Wim accidentally washes both his boxers, so he has no longer any dry underwear left. In a good marriage you should share everything, but I do not suggest he borrows one of my dry panties. When we have hung up all our laundry and we smell like roses again, we go (I with and Wim without underwear) to the restaurant of the hotel that is now suddenly open. Since today everything is “à l’aise” I am also exempt from cooking tonight. For a few euros we get a plate of charcuterie with bread, then pork steaks with fries and a portion of bread pudding to finish the feast. There are no vegetables on the plate. The French apparently are no fans of greenery.

There is a TV in a corner of the restaurant. When the weather report comes up we listen carefully. But we better did not do that. Heavy storms are predicted for tomorrow. Not something to look forward to… In the pouring rain we walk back to our B&B. We get in bed early again. All night the rain is tapping on the window. I doubt Wim’s boxers will be dry in the morning…

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