The Pyrenean Traverse, Day 12: Vive la Belgique!

Courageously I set off in the morning wearing only a pair of shorts and a small top. The weather forecast looks very promising and I feel ready for the sun…! Wim is not too sure the sun will be coming out today and keeps his long pants warmly wrapped around his knees. He laughs at me as I am covered in goose bumps while hiking underneath a thick white cloud cover during the first few hours.

Wim has done his utmost to map out a pleasant route for today. We only have to cross the asphalt for a short while and then we can take an ascending cart track through the woods. The path will eventually join the asphalt again, but those few kilometers through the forest alleviate the asphalt torture.

However, it turns out there is hardly any alleviation. First of all, the climb takes much longer than expected. Secondly, the road has a sudden dead end. And thirdly, the alternative path that we eventually found also has a dead end. We take the risk to go off track and walk straight down, steeply through the forest. We are soon welcomed by bushes and thorns that make our jungle adventure a real blood battle. Maybe those shorts were not such a good idea after all…

After a lot of “ouches” and “owies”, we finally arrive back on the asphalt. Wim feels a little guilty that he forced me through this thorny wilderness, but I do not mind it that much. It’s all part of the adventure! We continue our way over a quietly paved country road. We walk past large, beautiful farms that all carry blue shutters along the windows.

On the banks of a river we eat canned mackerel fillets with some pieces of bread. It is our typical hiking lunch. A farmer is curious what we are doing out here. He waves from a distance, but does not say a word.

With full stomachs we follow a path along the river. It is a hustle and bustle high up in the trees. We hear an orchestra of birds singing in all possible keys, that it almost seems as if we have just walked into the set of Jurassic Parc. The swampy path becomes narrower and narrower. The mud makes the path so slippery that you would almost consider tying your crampons to your hiking boots.

During a next break – after we have to go a bit off road along riverbeds, cow pastures and electric fences – Wim tells me that we still have 9km left to the planned bivouac place. It is a huge disappointment. I expected we would only have 3 to 4 remaining kilometers to go. It crushes me mentally. Every step hurts. Wim tries to cheer me up by promising a barbecue once we reach our destination. It is very sweet of him of course, but a barbecue in the middle of nowhere … Sure. It would be quite naïve to believe it.

Half an hour later I am still not completely recovered from my mental dip. We pass a ruin of a hotel where workers are sitting outside. “Vous avez soif”, (are you thirsty) they ask. Well, a little water would not hurt, I answer in French. Immediately they offer two comfortable chairs and two big pints of beer. Not the water we were expecting. But then again, who is complaining …?

It comes as a surprise when we find out that those nice people are Flemish, just like us. They are working very hard to turn a dilapidated hotel into a modern restaurant. Before we know it we get a second pint of beer. After the third we are invited to have dinner with our fellow countrymen and spend the night in the ruins of the former hotel.

The couple serves us tons of meat, that hasve been – you never guessed it – grilled on the barbecue! Who would have thought Wim could actually keep his promise. I eat two sausages and one sirloin steak. Wim manages to eat even four sausages. What a feast! It is an evening to remember.

We lay our sleeping mats somewhere on the first floor of the hotel. Gently we hear the rain tapping on the newly installed roof tiles. I try to catch a glimpse of the stars through the windows that have not been installed yet. Although I do not see any of them falling, I secretly make a wish.

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