The Pyrenean Traverse, Day 18: Code red

Just before eight o’clock we take place in the modest restaurant of our equally modest hotel. The manager is still busy preparing breakfast for his guests. He alows us to sit down at the only table for two persons in the room. It is placed in some kind of niche with a large stained glass window behind it on which a pilgrim is depicted who is on his way to Santiago de Compostela. Our host is convinced that we are pilgrims as well, so he thinks he is doing us a great favor by giving us this special place in his restaurant. It is the nicest place in the rather uninspiring restaurant, so we are not complaining.

He quickly puts a carafe of orange juice on our table. It has a somewhat strange yellowish color. A few white and brown spots on the glass slightly reduce our appetite. I pour two glasses and take a few big sips. I shudder. It turns out it is not orange juice, but sparkling lemonade of which the bubbles are long gone. On the half empty carafe I notice a yellow line on the level to where it was filled. That lemonade must have been sitting in this carafe for quite some days… At home we would probably complain about it, but over here we think it all fits the French charm. Just like the black baked butter croissants do, of which the top layer is clearly scraped off because too black. The second croissant I eat is stone-hard and has already been heated up at least twice. They are probably the leftovers from yesterday’s guests. Charming, like I said… We eat everything, and even the second basket of bread returns empty to the kitchen. We remain sitting under our stained glass window for a long time and laugh out loud when we hear a “ping”, followed by a certain “scraping sound”. Again, a bit too long in the oven. Hopefully the guests who get these croissants will find it just as charming as we do…

We check out and point out to the manager that the dirty laundry we were allowed to leave for him yesterday has not been done. Wim had laid out everything in a pile at the agreed place, but this morning we found it there completely untouched. We are not mad about it, but the result is that all my dirty clothes now smell like (Wim’s) socks. Somewhat less charming …

We descend from the village and are happy with the blue sky, even though we know that it will rain again this afternoon. At least we have had that little bit of sun. About four kilometers further we arrive in the village of Loures-Barousse. Wim goes to get some raisin rolls at the lokal bakery, while I ask the pharmacist for a quick fix for the stabbing muscle pain in my thigh. I get some ointments and bandages, while I start a conversation with the pharmacist. I explain that we are planning to hike to the village of Fos to get back on the GR10 again. “How so,” she reacts indignantly, “that village does not exist anymore. Haven’t you heard?” “Euhm, no”, I answer with a questioning voice. “The village has been completely swept away by the floods,” she explains. I can not believe my ears. She turns her computer screen towards me and shows me the horrible images of what is left of the village. I am speechless. Two days ago I called the manager of the gîte in Fos, who told me that we could continue our trip from the village because the snow had melted enough. And now this … ?!

I pay the bill and walk out. As I cross the street, I shout to Wim that I have bad news. My words have not arrived the other side of the street yet or I feel an exruciating pain in my leg. “Auwch”, I yell as I stumble towards Wim. While biting the pain I tell the story about Fos and I explain to Wim that we can not cross the Garonne. All bridges have flooded and are closed here. Just to be sure, I call our contact person in Fos again. The man tells me that his cottage is not affected by the floods, but the trembling in his voice says more than a thousand words. It is impossible to come to Fos, the man explains me sighingly. Nothing is left of the village. When I wish him and his family and friends a lot of strength his voice cracks. Mine too. I put the phone down and stare in front of me. “Unbelievable”, I whisper to Wim. I keep repeating the word a few times. It is the only word I can think of, after this emotional telephone conversation.

While sitting on a brick wall, ambulances, fire trucks and other emergency services with flickering lights and loud sirens drive in and out. They are the tangible proof that this unfortunately is not a dream … Wim asks a firefighter if the situation in Fos is really that bad. Crestfallen, he shakes his head. No Fos. And no GR10. But how bad is that in comparison with the suffering that these people have to endure …? We realize that our problems are relative and decide to have a coffee in a bar to look for a new solution. After all, we are stuck in this village. We can not cross the Garonne. And going back makes no sense either.

I’m limping my way to the bar. Standing on my leg has become almost impossible. In the bar we are confronted with the images of what is happening at less than five kilometers (3 miles) away from us. Everyone in the bar is talking about just one thing. While a heartbreaking crying woman is being interviewed, the emergency services continue to drive by. Never in my life have I seen so many ambulances and fire trucks. I start to worry. Our dream to reach the Mediterranean Sea is constantly being put to the test. Not only because of the vagaries of nature, but also because my leg no longer wants to carry me. Without showing it to Wim, I shed a little tear. I suggest that if we have to end our journey, we could stay in this village for a few days to help the people here. Wim nods and squeezes my hand.

But let’s not anticipate the facts. We certainly are not giving up on our dream just yet…! I call my mother to reassure her that we are safe. During the short conversation, another two fire trucks and three ambulances drive by. It all feels so unreal. My mother whispers comforting words. They help.

Two English friends of a colleague of Wim live a bit further from here. We were planning to walk to them today and spend the night over there. But because that is not going to happen in the given circumstances, Wim gives Rob and Carol a call. Their village is located on higher altitude. They therefore have not had problems with the floodings. They want to come and pick us up with the car in the village where we are stuck. So an hour later Rob arrives to rescue us. On the way to his house we see the havoc wreaked by the Garonne. We drive past Saint Béat, where trees, caravans and even cows have crashed against the bridge. I want to take a picture of all the debris along the road, but I do not do it. I do not know exactly why not. Out of respect, perhaps, for the two people who have lost their lives through the floods.

When we arrive at Rob’s house we get two kisses from Carol. They feel so heart-warming, in the shadow of all the worries people have here. We had expected a couch to sleep on, or even just a dry floor to put our sleeping mattresses on. But instead we get half a house completely at our disposal. Apparently they have a gîte, where we can calmly recover from all our devestating impressions. It is a beautiful gîte and we feel right at home. To rest my leg, I put two pillows underneath it. Wim lays a blanket on top of me. From this comfortable position, we watch TV the rest of the afternoon. My thoughts wander several times during the movie. That this honeymoon already is an unforgettable experience is the least we can say.

At half past eight we are invited to have dinner with Rob and Carol. Thanks to them and DJ, a colleague of Wim, we are well taken care of. What tomorrow will bring is a giant question mark. But that is OK. Let us just enjoy today. Let us enjoy each other. And let us most importantly realize that nothing is self-evident. Not even a dry house …

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