Past Posts

Into a Lava Tube: Isla Floreana, Galapagos Islands

Isla Floreana
The Post Office

After visiting the famous post office box, where we left a postcard addressed to ourselves, and picked up several addressed to Albuquerque residents, some of us visited a lava tube. Larry and Margaret backed out after the first two ladders down, but Linda, Ed, Kent, and I continued with Paola and Juan Carlo to the end of the tube, where we waded in darkness in cold salt water that came above our knees.

Paola in the lava tube

I’ll admit, I found it a bit scary.  I don’t really like dark holes in the ground.  But it was an interesting experience, and climbing out was easier than going down when my Teva sandals slipped on the gravel.

I was surprised and happy to see the bright light of day pouring down from the opening, sooner than I’d expected it.

We also had the opportunity to swim at the beach near the “post office,” but the water over the brown sand was murky, and as I was about to wade in I spied numerous sting-rays swimming in clusters along the water’s edge.  I decided to wait for a better opportunity to swim!

Sting Rays at Post Office Beach

We also saw Numerous turtle tracks on the beach.

Turtle tracks, Post Office Beach

Galapagos!

February 2, 2020

Sunrise first morning in Galapagos

Written after our first day in the Galapagos.

I’m lying on the bed in our air-conditioned room, taking a few minutes to write. We have been here less than 24 hours, and already I am loving these islands.

We have just returned from a walk over lava at Sullivan’s Bay, which, as our guide Paola said, was mostly about landscape, but we also saw penguins: the first a juvénile perched alone in a rocky cove, and later many swimming near the rocks where we landed and the sandy beach from which we returned.

Galapagos penguin

The lava was varied, with some organic-looking curving swirls and balls, and rope-like twisted forms.

Other bits were jagged and sharp, and cracked with sometimes deep fissures, oxidized red. Large and small red cinder cones from older eruptions loomed in the background.

We were transported between boat and shore via Zodiacs.

The water is crystal clear and turquoise blue.

I awoke before 6 this morning to see a glowing sky behind mountains. I grabbed the camera, and dashed out in my Mexican dress. In just minutes the sky had faded.

Some of us sat on the sun deck as the sun rose. A frigate bird perched on the roof, and sharks circled in the water with surgeon fish. I tried doing some yoga stretches, and realized how stiff and out of shape I am.

We will meet shortly to learn about the Galapagos finches. There are other boats anchored here. An Xploration catamaran and a much larger Silver Sea cruise ship. Kent tells me that several others have since come. We are still quite close to the main island of Santa Cruz, which our guide Paola’s home.

Yesterday

I snapped pictures of a few islands as we flew over them, including the airport and Mosquera Island — a interesting spit Of sand and black rock, where we were to walk later.

After Paola met us at the airport, we took a bus to a pier, then Zodiac to our ship Galaxy, where we were given our cabins, and served lunch.

After a bit of rest, the first expedition was a snorkel trip. I think we were all a bit nervous. I know it has been several years since Kent and I have snorkeled. We first had to find masks and fins that fit, and I had to struggle to get into my bathing suit.

But once in the water, it all comeback to me. There was a bit of swell as we swam along a rocky edge. I saw surgeon fish, parrot fish, and a Moorish Idol. And many others. Kent spied a shark, and others a spotted eagle ray. I relaxed among the beauty of the fish, but eventually., as the sunlight came at lower angles and clouds also loomed, I was ready to get out, and managed to navigate the ladder into the boat without too much difficulty after removing my fins in the water.

Getting fins for first snorkel

We were greeted in the Zodiacs with outdoor towels, and back on the ship, with hot sweet tea.

Our first challenge successfully completed!

A bit later, dressed in dry clothes, we walked on Mosquera Island, after a wet landing in surging waves that made it even later than we’d expected. I had a plastic bag over camera with big lens.

We saw many sea lions, pelicans, and black iguanas, all of which seemed quite unafraid.

Wet landing and departure

The sun was dipping low as we braved rough seas again, back to the boat. I was so tired at dinner, I could hardly stay awake.

I slept long and soundly, rocked in the cradle of the sea.

Adventuring in Quito

February 1, 2020

Basilica, Quito

February 1, 2020

On our free day in Quito, we decided to walk from the hotel to the Mercado Artisanal and the Basilica. With help of a map and saved images from Google maps, we made it just fine.

We had fun at the market, chatting with vendors, and buying more than we had anticipated. We were especially captivated by a flute player, and ended up meeting another fan — an Ecuadoran woman who lives in Florida.

The Basilica is a gothic-styled structure, much more recent than the more prevalent 16th-century churches in Spanish Mission style. The draw here was to climb the bell tower via a series of metal ladders high above the roof. At the half-way point I hesitated, especially as the wind picked up, but as two guys with full-sized backpacks headed up, I decided I could be brave, so I followed them up, reaching the platform at the top, panting and shaking. Best not to look down!

The views were spectacular. Getting back down the same way, including descending a ladder beneath the pitched roof and crossing a wooden catwalk that stretched over the inner vault, was almost as challenging.

Next we climbed another series of steps and tiny circular metal stairs to the top of one of the two main towers.

Once back on terrafirma, we walked steeply up, then down—a long steep street to the Old Town, where we had a light lunch in a charming old dining room upstairs in what had once been a colonial house (La Colonial). There was a party going on in an adjacent room, with very loud music. I kept hoping they would soon be done. We could see that the guests had finished eating, and were now dancing around the table. I peeked in as we were leaving, and they waved for me to join in the merriment, so I danced a couple of rounds about the table with them. Kent snapped a picture.

We are now boarding the flight to the Galapagos, via Guayaquil, and can expect to have no internet for the next 7 days, so you will be reading this perhaps a week from today. yes!

Virgin de Quito

The Amazing Amazon

January 30, 2020

piranha

In some ways I’ve felt trapped in an oppressively warm, unbearably humid, claustrophobic cocoon of green vegetation and brown, sticky mud for the past two days. This is a place very different from the dry, open desert of New Mexico.

Yet, I’ve also found connections in the lives of the indigenous people of the rain forest, and those of the indigenous people of the desert in their connection to the land and their struggles to survive as an alien culture has imposed itself upon them.

For the first time I no have seen how cacao grows, and have seen firsthand the pods depicted, perhaps a thousand years ago, in a petroglyph carved on the walls of Chaco Canyon. The people of the desert and those of the rainforest shared a connection, also evidenced by the presence of macaw feathers in the northern pueblos.

We have walked on sometimes slippery trails, and been shown amazing plants with medicinal properties. We have seen colonies of ants who talk to each other, and squirrel monkeys who leap from tree to tree on thin swinging branches, sometimes with babies clinging to their backs.

Christina at home visit showing us harvesting from the forest

We floated in silent canoes on a small lake in darkness, no light but brilliant stars reflected in the still water, and the fairy-like lights of fireflies glowing in the heavy air and on the vegetation on the water. We were silent, but the night surrounded us with an almost deafening symphony of sounds all playing at once like an avant guard composition.

Winchell showing us a plant similar to curare
Sunset, Yarina Lodge

We’ve had siestas each afternoon during the hottest part of the day, but I have never sweat so much and been so consistently hot for so long. In other tropical places, I’ve had air-conditioned rooms in which to recover. Here, there are none.

Tonight, our last before we take a plane back to Quito, there is thunder, lightning, and rain.

The days have been packed with experiences and information. Alfredo, who spent a year living with a remote indigenous tribe that wore no clothes, has been an excellent guide, assisted by Winchell,a local guide.

We’ve been well-cared for, the food has been simple, but delicious, with some unusual touches — why haven’t I taken pictures?—the beds comfortable—but it has still been physically taxing, getting in and out of boats while wearing uncomfortable life jackets and carrying binoculars, cameras, water, and rain jackets.

I’m looking forward to two nights in Quito, cooler temperatures, and clean clothes, before our flight to the Galapagos on Saturday.

Into the Amazon

Rain forest

Day 3, Monday, 27 January 2020

Rainforest from plane

We left Quito in fog and rain early this morning, boarding a plane that took us in a very short flight, up over invisible mountains(where a volcano is currently exploding) and down into a hot, humid rainforest and the Francisco de Orellana Aeropuerto in the village of Coca.

From the plane we could see where swathes of forest had been cut to grow palms for oil.

Some of us accompanied Alfredo to a street of shops to buy rain ponchos we will give to school children, and Kent and I purchased a small bottle of

Detan insect repellent.

After trying on tall rubber boots to make sure they would fit, we boarded a large motorized canoe, which took us from the junction of the Napo and Coca Rivers to our home for the next three nights—Yarina Lodge.

Yarina Lodge

After lunch, we had siestas until 4:30 pm, when we donned our rubber boots to walk on a sometimes muddy, sometimes rooty trail into the forest.

Very large earthworm

◦ It was slow-going because there were so many of us, but we did encounter some interesting flora and fauna, including a spiny-trunked « torture tree.,» a drago’s blood tree, a monkey cup bright red fungus, a variet of mahogany tree, an enormous earthworm, some Caciques, a relatively rarely-sighted blue cotinga, and squirrel monkeys.

Tonight we sleep in little screened cabins under mosquito nets. It was so hot and humid, I could barely get into my clothes after our siesta, but it has cooled enough that I’ll be able to sleep.

Mosquito net

Tomorrow we have a full day of walks and boat rides.

First Day in Ecuador

January 25, 2020


After our flights from San Francisco and Dallas, a long wait through immigration, and a fairly long, convoluted taxi ride in the dark, we finally gratefully dropped into our bed at our Quito hotel sometime between 1 and 2 am.

Cathedral in Qutto


We were not very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at our 8:30 am breakfast or at the get acquainted trip overview that followed. The guidelines for behavior included, “No discussion of USA politics.” Probably a good idea.


Our trip leader Alfredo is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He led us through a two- hour walk of the historic center of Quito, which included an interview with a former gang member who turned his life around, although at the cost of almost losing his life.


We also met and were able to ask questions of a 43-year-old street-corner prostitute, whose working name is Daniela. She is married and the mother of a son in his final year of a university engineering program and of a 13-year-old daughter. Her children do not know about her work, although her husband does. They need the money. She earns $13 per client, whom she takes to a nearby “official” hotel. The hotel takes $3 and she keeps $10. Alfredo paid her for the time she spent taking with us. There Is much more she told us. She seemed like a nice person. Another very made-up woman nearby in high heels and short tight skirt smiled and waved at me. I felt sad.

Alfredo with former gang member Javier


Later, near our hotel, we met a young couple who were Venezuelan refugees. They had walked for two months through Colombia to reach Ecuador and were hoping to get to Guayaquil.
They were gaunt and weather-beaten.


During our walk through the old city we visited the gold-encrusted interior of the Jesuit La Compania de Jesus church that combines Baroque and Mudejar design elements. The church is now a museum except for Sunday mass. Huge vases of white flowers were being arranged on the altar this Saturday afternoon.


We enjoyed a lovely lunch in an old house on La Ronda street, where we were welcomed with hugs and speeches and toasts, and given descriptions of the delicious foods and drinks were were given. I especially loved the delicate small empanadas, one chicken and one cheese, served with two lovely sauces. There was also a dessert of Tomate de arbol (Tamarillo) with cinnamon.


Tomorrow early we head for the equator, the center of the world.

Day 23. Toulouse! October 14, 2019. We arrived in Toulouse about 2 pm.  39,210 steps (some after our arrival).

Toulouse, sunset over the Garonne

We were walking in the woods along the canal, then minutes later were on a shiny metro train jammed with people, and suddenly found ourselves in the middle of bustling Toulouse, where less than an hour before we’d been in a place with no shops, restaurants, or restrooms! Culture shock!  We’d emerged into the 21st century!  

With increasing wind and black clouds, we left the Canal du Midi perhaps 6 km short of the last lock (Bayard) near the Toulouse train station. We had walked much of that route last year, and were ready to be done.

Our Hotel Wilson Square is basic, but comfortable, and our room has windows on two sides. The staff at the Réception has been friendly and helpful.

After cleaning up and putting on clean clothes, we headed to the Basilica Saint Sernin to pay our respects and get a final stamp on our credentials from the Pilgrim Office. While there we encountered Jean from our gite in Saint Gervais, who had arrived yesterday.

We toured the crypt, which we must have done last year, with its series of altars, tombs, and relics which I found curious and without meaning to me, although I knelt at the one dedicated to St. Jacques Major, “our Jimmy” as our friend Margaret Brasuel calls him. I also was happy to see the statue of my pilgrimage companion St. Roch in one dark corner, with a single candle at his feet.

St. Roch

We sat together in silence (not everyone coming and going in that huge Romanesque basilica was silent) for a very long time. I had a lot to think about, not least about the history of the organized church, and what it had to do with my experience of the divine (quite little) and with what Jesus taught and meant — I somehow don’t think he had grand buildings and relics of saints or wealth and political power in mind. But it was an impressive space where worshippers had gathered and carried out traditions for over 1000 years, and I felt and honored the presence of those traditions.

Saint Sernin

We walked down the Rue du Taur, taking a quick look inside l’Eglise de Notre Dame, and sat in the expensive Le Florida cafe on the impressive square facing the Capitolium, where we decided on small coffees accompanied by “boules” of ice cream to celebrate our arrival.

We later walked to the Garonne to wait for the sunset, which was pretty much swallowed up by low clouds. We had dinner at Aloy Thai across the street from the hotel, and we couldn’t stay awake any longer.

A word about the last day’s walking. We followed a hilly path from Ayguesvives to Montigiscard, and then rejoined the Canal. We enjoyed seeing a few boats, and passed two or three locks, none of which had toilets or drinking water. A lockside cafe was closed up tight, whether for the season or because it was Monday there was no indication. We stopped there, sat at one of many tables and chairs, and ate the sandwiches we’d carried for a day and a half.

Sunrise, last day

Just after that last (Castanet) lock we had to detour to the other side of the canal, where we took a rough path eventually past many boats that seemed to be permanent dwellings— not posh — more like the trailer camp we’d come upon much earlier on the walk. Later we saw abandoned boats, covered in autumn leaves.

Autumnal Abandoned Boat
Will it make it through?
Yes!

There were many runners and cyclists, and few bushes to hide behind for a bush toilet.

At last, after skirting a yacht basin and high rise complex of dwellings, which had a couple of closed businesses, including a pizza place, we reached a small path to the Metro station. The Toulouse map we’d received at the tourist office in Port Lauragais enabled us to find this unsigned path.

Suddenly, our Camino came to an end. A kind man pulling a suitcase helped us buy our tickets from the machine, and showed us where to get off on the Metro map. Even as our Camino was ending, the kindness of strangers continued.

Our hotel was just steps from the Jean Jaurès Métro stop, as we made our rather dazed way to the hotel door, assaulted by the noise and numbers of people and vehicles, Burger King, and food shops and restaurants lining the streets, all open and busy. Such a shock after the quiet and deserted Canal.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Today, we slept in until after 8am, found coffee and croissants at a very busy Starbucks, made a few other stops, and had lunch at the Imperiale upstairs from the Marche Victor Hugo (where i delighted in looking at all the displays of food).

The lunch (cassoulet for me) was more food than I could eat. We returned to the hotel for a nap, then paid a long visit to the tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas at the Dominican Couvent des Jacobins, a place dear to my heart that I’d first visited with Ed in 1999. We spent at least 45 minutes in that lovely, quiet, soaring space that is now enhanced by an art installation of colored lights that I did not find intrusive.

Couvent des Jacobins
Couvent des Jacobins
Tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas

This evening we enjoyed a picnic from the grocery store in our room.

Tomorrow, late morning, we catch our train to Barcelona.

Days 21-22. Saturday 12, and Sunday, 13 October 2019. Les Casses to Port Lauragais, and on to Ayguesvives, 38,411 steps second day

Sunrise, Les Casses

We said good-bye to Isabelle, set out on the way back to the Chemin as she directed, but ended up at the the Cathar Fort, instead, which was quite moving. Many men, women and children chose to be burned to death here in 1211, rather than to renounce their faith.

When we reached the Rigole, not by shortcut, we soon saw the German sisters, who had left after us, ahead of us.

We encountered them later, as they took a break, then lost sight of them as we took a shorter alternate route, which involved about 6 km of gentle, but numerous and sometimes long ups and downs on small roads in sometimes heavy wind.

At last we joined the main Chemin at Montferrand, part-way up a hill where we stopped to eat the ham and bread sandwiches Isabelle had provided for us. We then descended to join the Canal du Midi, at the Écluse or Lock de Ocean, where we watched a boat pass through.

I was excited to reach this historic canal, which we would follow for the remainder of our walk into Toulouse.

However, as we rose from our bench at Montferrand, I felt a sharp pain in the metatarsal arch of my left foot, and could only hobble very slowly.

Canal du Midi

I took off my boot at the lock, and massaged and wiggled the foot and toes, which helped somewhat. We ended up following Google maps to the Relais FastHotel, which turned to take us a very long way around to the left by road. We looked down on a tangle of roads and parking lots, all designed for cars and trucks, of course. We were separated from the hotel, which we couldn’t see well, by a loose fence , a ditch, and a lot of brush, so we had no choice but to keep walking in a long loop to a driveway far past the hotel, into which we finally made our way, with me limping quite badly.

The hotel was fine, with a basic small room with bath. We managed to stay awake after showers and explore the area a bit. There was a helpful tourist office with a shop selling all kinds of delectable local produce, none of which we could carry, of course.

We later had a nice dinner in the Dinee Restaurant.

I took Ibuprofen to ease the pain in my foot and left knee. Fortunately, all felt much better in the morning, and except for a twinge now and the, the foot was good, although the left knee grew more painful as the day wore on.

The first half of the walk was truly enjoyable, as we made our way from lock to lock along the tree-lined path beside the water. We encountered a few walkers, many cyclists, some rowers,a few larger boats, and many mallard ducks.

By noon we’d reached the lock near Gardouch, which didn’t even appear on our MiamMiamDoDo map. A large restaurant right near this busy intersection was closed until ‘printemps 2020,” but a pizza place would soon be open half a km away in the town center.

We had a lovely lunch at Pizza Gauloise, after which increasing fierce wind picked up. It was after 4 pm by the time we’d finally followed our way via helpful signs to the Gite Saint Jacques in a remote corner of Ayguesvives the end of a 20 plus km day.

Along the canal

We learned we’d been erroneously informed that there would be no store open that Sunday afternoon, but in fact there was! However, we had soup packets to use up, and bread and croissants from the bakery in Gardouch, plus sandwiches we’d purchased the night before.

The German sisters were also at the gite, and we enjoyed visiting with them as we added hot water to our soup packets, and they prepared a nice-looking meal of squash, onions, and walnuts they found in the woods.

They, too, will be in Toulouse tomorrow. Meanwhile, foot feels OK, but left knee still hurts.

I hope a good night’s rest will make all better for tomorrow, our last day of walking!

Of note: there are occasional public restrooms and drinking water at the locks on the canal.

Toilets! Water!
Benches!

I just received an email from my friend Roz informing me of the death of the wonderful author-illustrator Mordecai Gerstein whose The Man who walked Between the Towers received the Caldecott award from one of the committees on which I had served.

On This weekend of walking I thought much about long-time friend Karen Nystrom, whose memorial service I was missing, as well as the many folks I pray for as I walk.

It’s hard to believe we will finish this Chemin tomorrow in lovely Toulouse on our 23rd day of walking.

Day 20, Dourgne-Revel-Les Casses, Friday 11 October. A bus ride and walk along La Rigole 29,817 steps, 17 km

Abbaye d’ en Calcat

We stood in the chill beautiful morning yesterday at the bus stop on the highway at the entrance to En-Calcat Abbey in Dourgne. Five-minutes after the appointed time, we were relieved to see the big beautiful bus round the bend and pull up beside us. We settled back into plush seats, our packs beside us, and gazed out the window as beautiful hills, fields and charming villages flashed by. Time had speeded up. Twenty minutes later we were again on our feet in Revel, trying to figure out where we were.

We purchased a sandwich and two chocolate croissants at one shop, then picked up the red and white marks, heading to the path along La Rigole, a curvy small canal built to feed water into the Canal du Midi.

A young student helped us find the right direction to the town center, where we delighted in the old covered market, and were overwhelmed by finding a boulangerie, café or shop at every turn, all open!

covered market, Revel

We followed the Rigole all day, until we turned off to Les Casses, where for over a km we climbed upward on a country road to reach our night’s destination Isabelle Bosc’s La Passeur-Elle.

The ruins of a Cathar Fort loomed above one side of the road.

The walk along the Rigole was pleasant and uneventful. It was difficult to get photos with the stark contrast between sunlight, shadow, and reflecting light on water.

La Rigole

At one point the canal bordered a field divided by a double row of plane trees. As we sat on adjoining rocks for a break, a beautiful fox ran across the row of trees. The first we’d seen—probably the first in the wild I’d ever seen.

Plane tree avenue where we saw the fox

We stopped briefly at a restaurant just before a small lake, where we were in time to get salad and a beer before

Closing, and were informed it was just three km to Isabelle’s place.

Isabelle was warm and welcoming. A pilgrim herself, she knew just what pilgrims needed. There was a sort of « mud room » downstairs, with benches, where we left our packs. There was an adjacent toilet and shower, and next door an « atelier » or workshop, with a small kitchen, a fridge with some beer and other drinks, and a comfy couch.

Upstairs in an airy room were 4 single beds with bright yellow sheets. There was a toilet with small sink down the hall, and a little room with a chair, desk, and Compostelle posters and information, along with the « Livre d’Or » or guest book. We had dinner that night with Isabelle and her mother-in-law « Bonne Mama » and Bonne Mama’s husband. Two German sisters,very young, shared our room, but cooked separately in the kitchen.

We were able to wash a few clothes, which dried quickly in fierce wind and sun.

We had intermittent strong gusts of wind that came from the southeast as we walked, sometimes almost blowing us over.

All and all it was a pleasant day in which everything went as planned, with no unhappy surprises. We are definitely out of the mountains now, in farming country, but the little villages nevertheless lack shops of any kind.

Entrance to the gite

Days 18 and 19, Wednesday, October 9, 2019, Boissezon to Castres: A Day of Surprises. 8.8 iPhone miles, some without packs. And Thursday, October 10, Castres to En Calcat Abbey, Dourgne. 15.8 iPhone miles.

First, we woke from a comfy sleep in our big bed to find rain pouring down on the glass roof over the stairway. So, we took our time getting ready and tidying up the gite.

The rain had let up by the time we headed out the door about 8:45. I decided we should take the road to Noailhac, mostly to avoid what looked unnecessary hills, but also to save time and avoid wet, muddy trails.

We tried out the coin-operated bread dispensing machine along our route through Noailhac, putting in 1 Euro and receiving in exchange a perfectly fine pain au chocolate, which we stuck under Kent’s pack cover to share later.

Kent at the bread dispenser in Noaihilac

Before we exited Noailhac, the rain returned in full force. We decided to take another road shortcut.

We passed an amazing chateau, and then as we neared its second gate I spied an enormous spread of lavender and white flowers covering the grass within the gates. I thought at first they were crocuses, but they are not. Does anyone know what they are?

chateau
Flowers covering the ground . Cyclamen many of you answered!

Does anyone know what these are?

A while later, as we sat on a stone bench beside the road to eat our croissant, a man wearing nice leather hiking boots ambled by, and spoke to us in English.

We asked about the possibility of catching a bus from a nearby town. He wasn’t sure of bus schedules, but pointed out another road on our map that would get us to Castres without highway walking.

We debated briefly. The sky seemed lighter, so we took the suggested road, which had a few significant climbs. Perhaps an hour had passed, and the gentleman appeared in his car. Would we like a lift to Castres? Yes, please!

In perhaps 15 minutes, we were speeding along a major highway lined with big box stores, the likes of which we hadn’t seen on the entire trip.

Alain, it turned his name was, drove us into the town center to the tourist office, which for some « special reason » was closed for the day. « We are sure you’ll understand, » or something to that effect, it said in French. Sure! I told Alain he was a Camino angel,and that we would find our way from there. We had him call Madeleine, with whom we thought we had beds reserved, and again got no answer.

Castres reflections

We thanked him, and headed into the Eglise to consider our options. Lunch at a nice restaurant, since the Goya Museum and most businesses were closed for lunch. O Victoria was right around the corner. We feasted on an appetizer of canard in pastry, a main entry of poulet with a broccoli sauce, and a dessert of pear tarte, finished off with small coffees.

Lunch at O Victoria

With the help of Google maps, we made our way to Madeleine’s address, and anxiously waited for an answer to the doorbell, which was long in coming. Ah! A noise within, and a beaming, small, white-haired woman welcomed us in.

Our accommodation was in a large attic divided into 2 or 3 sections, low-ceilinged, with cushioning on the beams between the sections to soften head-bumping.

Madeleine did not speak English, so I did my best with French, and with both of us using translation helps, we managed. It was very good for me—I later told her that if I stayed longer, I’d soon be much better at French.

We spent the next hour or more sitting at her kitchen table, lining up places to stay for the next nights—something I’d hoped the tourist office could do. It turned out my Friday booking was going to be too far for us to walk at well-over 30 km — not too far for some, but for us, yes.

So, instead of changing the reservation, she pulled out a bus schedule that will take us a bit over 15 km in 20 minutes, saving us about four hours of walking.

By the time we’d finished, we had only an hour before the Goya Museum closed. It was a 20 minute walk, so by the time we got there, we had only half an hour to spend, but we paid our entry fee and enjoyed the too short visit.

On the way back, we passed a flower shop. We were going to buy some fresh flowers, but the young woman in the shop was constructing a beautiful arrangement of dried flowers. I asked for another like it, which she made, wrapped in red paper and tied with a bow.

Madeleine was a pilgrim herself, and had walked from her home to Santiago in 2005—I suspect after the death of her Italian husband.

She had invited us to have dinner with her. She kept bringing out one dish after another, each of which we thought would be the main course. There was a casserole made with cabbage, potatoes and cheese, which would have been enough. She wasn’t sure we understood choux, but I remembered the song from a beginning French class, and soon we were both hilariously singing, “Savez vous planter Les choux?”

Linnea and Madeleine with her Apple tart

The bed in the attic room was a bit short for Kent and small for the 2 of us, but I slept OK after awhile. Kent not so well.

I was truly sorry to say good-bye to Madeleine, who wanted to send us off with even more food, after a breakfast with toast, butter, jam, and pain au chocolat—more than I could eat, so we went off with part of a croissant and pieces of pear tart, as we’ll as sandwiches we hadn’t eaten the day before.

She wanted 15 Euros each for bed and said dinner was “donativo”— we insisted she take 70, which she didn’t want to accept, but was only slightly more than we’d been paying for so much less.

There was lots of road-walking, some hills, and a few interesting small villages. We ate lunch in a bus shelter at an intersection of country roads.

More flowers

We were in farming country now. No longer in the mountain forests. We reached the peaceful Oasis of En Calcat via a couple of other nerve-wracking highways. We were warmly welcomed, and have spent a pleasant evening, enjoying our simple room with its own bath, a vespers service, and silent dinner with other guests.

Bridge on outskirts of Castres
Old barn
Via Tolosana sign

Walking on the outskirts of Castres had us going along the edges of some busy roads—not at all pleasant, although there were some lovely corners of quietness, including one with another house with yard full of those wonderful flowers. This time I got a closer look.

There were two other pilgrims, a couple from Vancouver, Canada, but we barely had time to talk with them.

I was also able to book our train tickets to Barcelona and one last hotel for the walk. We have yet to decide on our last two nights in Toulouse.

Four more days of walking, at least three of them mostly along canals—no more big hills!

En Calcat Abbey at twilight