• Kate Williams

On the Road

And off it, but mostly on it. A largely Tarmacadam trail today, from pretty whitewash-and-painted-shutters St Jean de Luz in France, to Irun, the first town over the Spanish border. Either I got up late or very few pilgrims walk this section; I wandered lonely as a cloud all day, my backpack heavy as the low-slung cumuli nimbus that obscured the sky and charged the air with moisture. The humidity was dictatorial in its oppressiveness. I was tempted to stop and search my bag for the rock I felt sure Ignacio had slipped in before I left home. Not half an hour out of St Jean I began to regret so many of my choices: bringing make up, ditto conditioner (at least if I got lost my rescuers would be able to see my hair shining from afar), not splashing out on a more expensive backpack and, at one point, coming at all. Maybe I just wasn't cut out for this kind of thing anymore..

It wasn't made any easier by the signage. The Camino is traditionally marked by yellow conch shells indicating the road to take, where to turn etc. In Spain, these are larger-than-life, loud, bright, brash and unmissable, like the Spanish themselves. In genteel France, they are small, subtle, tasteful and unobtrusive. While I would defer to Gallic sensibilities on pretty much any other matter, guess which is easier to follow! On top of that, many of them were badly faded and in need of an upgrade. It was like a particularly fiendish treasure hunt and I wasn't in the mood for riddles. Not for the first time I regretted not having invested in prescription sunnies; these people are not helping the aged!

After a few wrong turnings and a bit of soul searching, I arrived in equally pretty whitewashed-and-painted-shutters Urrugne around 10:30, where I stopped for a coffee and cognac. The alcohol was required on realising I had only knocked off a fifth of the camino, rather than the third I had imagined. My attempts in French to get the two beverages mixed together, a la Spanish carajillo, were met with a blank look and a separate glass. Clearly the French have too high a regard for either to contemplate such barbarity.

Eventually, I found my pace (that of a crippled tortoise) and the km started to fall away. I staggered through tiny, colourful Basque hamlets, up wooded slopes and to a final rise, from the crest of which the bay of Irun was revealed far below. From there it was literally all downhill to the border. As I crossed, a celestial hand seemed to reach down and turn the volume up. I was home again. That aside, it was actually nice to be back where I speak the language; I never like not understanding everything.

Mind you, Euskera sounds like a language that wizards speak.

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