The Pyrenean Traverse, Day 16: Wet feet

At eight o’clock we are expected at the breakfast table. We arrive right on time. In contrast to Burgundian Belgium, In France you should not expect more than just a coffee and a baguette with some jam from breakfast. But against all odds we are treated with some yogurt and we even get a slice of homemade cake. We eat everything till the last crumb.

Under my rain jacket I put on my freshly washed but still wet clothes. It rains continuously when we are standing fully packed in the starting blocks. Our host wishes us courage and good luck, which we can certainly use in this sad weather. Without thinking too much about it, the backpacks go on our backs and we start our 16 miles (25km) freestyle.

The first part we walk on a motorway. The forest trails are completely washed away and can not be hiked. Walking on asphalt is a bit duller, but with the mind set to zero the miles digest pretty quickly. We chat about everything and nothing. Despite the weather, the atmosphere is surprisingly good. After 4 miles (6km) we take a break in a bus shelter to eat an apple. We are glad that we can sit sheltered from the rain for a while.

The next 4 miles (6km) we continue walking on the same motorway. Fortunately not a lot of cars pass here and it walks pretty pleasantly given the circumstances. I suddenly experience the same weird feeling in my head that Wim had yesterday. Strange … We have eaten and drunk enough. It can not be a drop in blood pressure. The feeling disappears after a while and we do not worry too much about it.


For the second half of the trip we leave the asphalt road. We climb through a forest. The higher we climb, the harder it rains. However, the water drops do not cool us down. The effort makes us sweat like two out-of-control oxen. It does not take long before our rain clothing is as wet at the inside as it is on the outside. Our rain pants stick to our – now obviously very muscular – buttocks.

During the descent, the mist lays a mysterious veil over the path. It all looks so fairytale-like that I am sure that somewhere in this forest a witch must live. The rain has made the rocks particularly slippery, so we have to look carefully at every step we take. We eventually arrive in Labastide without serious accidents. Just like all the other villages that we came through today, Labastide is entirely built of gray-colored sad houses. Apart from a few barking stray dogs, there is no living soul to be seen. We find some shelter under a roof, where we take in some energy for the last part of the hike.

My diesel engine is slow to start after this last break, but from now on it is only descending. When we arrive at the bottom of the valley we see in the distance that a lot of people are walking around. Finally, a village that is not extinct … But when we come closer we notice that all the fuzz is nothing to be happy about. The river La Neste has broken its banks. Some houses are already flooded. Everyone is on the phone. They are probably informing their friends and family to come home urgently, to save what can be saved and then to leave again as quickly as possible.

There is no panic. However, complete desperation can be read from everybody’s faces. It really touches my heart to see the suffering of these people. A family is loading the car. Everyone probably has to be evacuated here today, because the river flows dangerously fast and the water level continues to rise.

Wim and I continue our way. We can still hear how wildly the river flows until far into the forest. I can not begin to imagine how I would feel if this would happen to our house. My aches and pains from hiking pale besides this misery. I have seen images of floods on television so often, but seeing them happen right in front of your eyes is shocking. Our hearts and thoughts therefore go out to all affected French families. We hope that nature will soon become a bit calmer, so that everyone can start rebuilding their lives …

The last few miles we are remarkably quiet. We can not get the images of the flood out of our heads. An approaching thunderstorm brings us back to reality. We hurry to the pilgrims’ hostel in the village of Montsérié. The door is open, so we let ourselves in. We find nothing but luxury in the lodge. There are two fully equipped kitchens, two living rooms with tables, chairs, couches and even a television. There are a few small and some larger bedrooms as well. We choose a small one with just two beds, of which we lay the mattresses on the floor so that we can lie next to each other (we’re on our honeymoon, you know).

We have this entire pilgrim’s castle for ourselves. I take a hot shower. While Wim is also freshening up I try to make our dining table as nice and cozy as possible. I even found a candle somewhere …! We eat instant vegetable soup, risotto with mushrooms from a bag and a slice of brioche bread for dessert. This five star dinner was well hidden in our backpacks. Not bad, right?

While the rain keeps pouring down, Wim maps out the route for tomorrow. We can only hope that the people living on the banks of La Neste have found a safe haven in the meantime … When we see the images on TV of a completely flooded Lourdes, where only two days ago we walked through with dry feet, we can not believe our eyes. The code is also “orange” along the banks of La Garonne. We have to cross that river tomorrow to continue our route to the village of Fos. In three days we have to arrive there to continue the GR10 trail. From there on, the high mountains should be a little safer again. Let’s just hope that instead of the snow it will not be the floods throwing a spanner in the works this time …

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