The Pyrenean Traverse, Day 19: High and dry

The room smelled delicious when we joined Rob and Carol at the dinner table last night. Their daughter Lauren happily added a seat when the juicy pork was put on the plates with a lot of love. Next to it, Carol scooped a large spoonful of rice with peas. The cooked carrots and cauliflower that completed the dish reminded of my mother’s cooking. And that’s exacly what it is, because staying with Rob and Carol feels like coming home. For dessert we were served charlotte. Do not worry. Charlotte is not the name of their second daughter, but it is the name of a dish based on finger biscuits, whipped cream and fruit.

After a delicious supper and an almost equally great night’s sleep, Carol drops us off right on the spot where Rob came to pick us up yesterday. At our very first steps it starts to drip again. We do not pay much attention to it. In the meantime we are used to the bad weather. At the pharmacist in the village, I get some medication, which yesterday a doctor prescribed me for the stinging pain in my thigh. Hopefully the medication and the padding bandages can make the difference. The pharmacist recognizes me from yesterday and says she is happy that we did not continue our way. She had thought about us all day, she says. Outside we see a big group of local students, armed with shovels and scrub brushes, to help their neighbours out of the mud.

To get out of the village we have to cross a bridge, which is still blocked for vehicles. The flood has broken large pieces of asphalt out of the road just before the bridge. But the bridge itself still looks intact. We should be able to cross it on foot.

On the other side of the bridge we are witnessing the havoc wreaked by the Garonne. We see a boat that probably has served yesterday in saving people. At about one meter height, a line is marked on the facades of the houses. A few hours ago the water must have stood up till here. Freezers, seats, gas boilers, playground equipment and other large and small pieces of furniture are scattered along the road. Everything looks pitch-black from the mud. We see people trying to scrub their homes clean, but I doubt they will ever get the black stains off the walls and floors again.

We do not take pictures of the houses. We do not think it is very respectful. After all, we do not need a photo to carry these images with us forever. Because this is not just a disaster that we witnessed up close. This is a life experience. One that is haunting and will never be erased from my memory again.

At the end of the road we climb a few meters higher. It does not mean much, but it is a world of difference. Here the water could not do any damage and as if by mircale the people were spared. A few meters further, there never even seems to have been any disaster at all. And so with every step we take, we leave the havoc with all the emotions that go with it little by little behind us.

The route we take from here I can not call anything else but boring. Going through the forest is impossible. The paths have been washed away or they are too swampy to cross. That is why we have to follow asphalt roads. For my painful leg, these easily accessible roads are pobably not even such a bad choice.

During lunch it starts to rain harder again. I put the rain cover over my backpack, and wrap myself in a raincoat and rain pants. We long for the sun, but we do not feel entitled to complain. So we try to be as cheerful as possible and make jokes among each other. But I immediately stop laughing when I suddenly feel a few sharp stings in my leg. “Damn,” I curse little elegantly. I get angry with my leg, which does not really make sense. Should we not be allies and cooperate in friendship on this hike? The last few kilometers to the village of Aspet I feel no pain anymore. Maybe it was just a final convulsion?

When we walked past all those flooded houses this morning, no affected resident hesitated to wish us “bonjour”. Something that I found particularly striking. In the evening we are both lost in thoughts. We feel how the region is licking her wounds. But also how she collects courage to rebuild herself. Something that she will succeed in perfectly. I do not doubt that for a second. Because although you will not find it in any dictionary, resilience is for certain synonymous with mountain people …

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