Hiking the Camino de Santiago – Week 1
I was supposed to come to Le Puy-en-Velay yesterday hitchhiking, but it was a total failure.
I only managed to go as far as 9 km from home in 3 hours, with 4 cars.
I can’t remember ever having such a hard time hitching.
Anyway, I decided to turn around and take a train.
I wake up early this morning so I can go to the mass for pilgrims.
There’s one everyday at 7am where pilgrims get blessed.
The last time I attended a mass was in 2007 when I was wwoofing in South Korea
It’s definitely a different way to start a long trail, but the ceremonial aspect is quite fitting.
There’s a metal gate opening on the floor and you can go down the cathedral’s stairs and start your walk with a beautiful view of Le Puy (especially this morning in the mist)
It’s a pretty spectacular way to start and it definitely feels like the start of an adventure.
I’m pretty stoked with the weather.
It’s a beautiful autumn day.
The trail today is easy and nice.
As I’m also collecting data for an hiking app, I have to make a loop for an alternate, where I end up re-hiking 6 km I walked a few hours ago.
Which makes for a strange first day.
I was in Le Puy last year in November to hike the Stevenson Trail and the autumn colors were at their peak.
It’s funny to see how just a month can make a big difference, because its pretty green right now.
I spend most of the day having a strong déjà vu feeling, as I have hiked this section last year on my thru-hike across France.
I was going against the flow and it was quite funny to see all the pilgrims telling me I was going in the wrong direction.
I notice that there are a lot of dry toilets along the trail that were not here last year.
A good thing considering the amount of hikers.
Hopefully that will prevent from having toilet paper (or worse) all over the trail.
I don’t know if all the trail is that way, but if that’s the case, you could do the entire trail without ever pooping in the woods.
I bump into a guy selling energy cakes on the trail and we chat for a bit.
He tells me that during the walking season (April-September), he sees 350 people per day on trail. And still 100 now.
That is crazy.
Today I’m walking through Gévaudan, which is famous in France because of a “monster” that killed a lot of people in the 14th century, the Beast of Gévaudan.
It was a mystery that captivated France for a long time, until it was finally killed at a time when nobody cared anymore.
Turned out to be a giant wolf (or more likely a bunch of them)
There’s a cool movie about it, Brotherhood of the wolf.
From my hike last year I remember a free hut that would be great for the night.
I’m pushing a bit harder and make it there just when it gets dark.
Boy it was a cold night in the hut!
And it’s freezing cold pretty much till 10am.
Then it gets really warm and nice.
All the pilgrims I talked to so far are all section hikers.
Which makes sense I guess, considering the time of year.
At the same time, if you stay in gîtes every night, you don’t really care as much that it’s cold or wet.
So it actually can be a good time to hike it.
After leaving the hut, I already change counties and regions.
From Haute-Loire, in Auvergne, I am now in Lozerre, Occitanie.
I didn’t realise I’d leave Auvergne so soon and I’m already regretting not getting any local cheeses (Auvergne has some of the best cheeses in France).
It’s another very easy and nice day.
The scenery changes at the end of the day for a very barren landcape, with just some big rocks popping up from time to time.
And a lot of cows.
After pitching my tent I realise I lost my headlamp.
I was charging it at lunchtime and must have forgotten it on a picnic table.
There’s less and less daylight and I need it to hike in the mornings and pretty much as soon as I am in my tent.
I’ll see if I can get one sent somewhere on the trail.
Wow, that was another very cold night.
I have enough stuff to keep me warm at night, but getting out of the sleeping bag is hard.
And packing a wet freezing tent is one of my least favourite things when hiking.
But, it’s another sunny day!
I walk all morning in the same kind of desolate landscapes, going through some cool hamlets.
Then it gets a bit more lush, with some nice forests.
Though there’s a fair amount of roadwalking today.
Because of the cold, my batteries have been dying really quick, so I need to charge everything tonight.
I look up a few places in Saint-Côme but there are all full!
Then I try the covent, where pilgrims can stay and seems pretty big.
But they don’t answer, so I show up to see a sign saying the schedule for bookings and arrivals is quite strict.
That looks like a mission to make a booking anywhere…
I heard a lot of horror stories of pilgrims racing for beds, having to wake up at 4am to make sure they arrive first somewhere, but I never thought that would be the case in October.
I wasn’t planning on staying every night in a gîte, but every now and then.
But now I’m seriously reconsidering.
Having to do this much planning while hiking is just not for me.
Anyway, arriving in Saint-Côme, I’m hoping to get a pizza in a restaurant and charge my stuff for a couple of hours.
But all the restaurants in town are closed.
Luckily I find a pilgrim shelter that has a plug.
I even spotted a nice camping spot by the church, so I won’t have to walk in the dark after town looking for one.
I leave town after making a stop at the bakery for breakfast and head towards Espalion, the biggest town on trail so far.
I meet a gentleman in his 60s, telling me that he had to stop hiking two days ago because his back hurts too much.
He seems very sad when telling that he’s giving up altogether and won’t try again to make it to Santiago, which was a dream of his.
I decide to book a gîte and I have to be there before 7pm, which seems a bit early.
I was shooting more for 8pm.
I then make it to the very beautiful village of Estaing.
There’s been a lot of very pretty vilages and hamlets so far and that’s always something I really enjoy when hiking in France.
After hiking fast for a while so I can make it to the gîte, I decide that this is not fun and call the gîte to cancel so I can walk at my pace.
My batteries are low, but I can do another day with it.
I didn’t realise there would be so much planning involved in staying in gîtes at this time of year.
Not quite sure why you can’t show up at 8pm at most places either…
In the afternoon I meet two nice young hikers and we walk for a few hours together.
One of them is actually from the same area as me.
It’s nice to have good company for a while.
We split in Golinhac where they decide to stay and sleep in a rock.
You read that right.
I keep hiking another hour so I won’t have the same problem than today and can arrive at a gîte in time.
Another easy one.
I arrive in Conques for lunchtime and this place is absolutely stunning.
For some reason I thought it was a city, but it’s not.
It’s a little village that is absolutely gorgeous.
I’ve seen a lot of beautiful villages on my hikes in France but this is the most stunning one.
It’s also where a lot of walkers stop.
People who have a two week vacation and want to do a section of the Camino usually stop here.
And it is indeed much quieter after!
I don’t see a single pilgrim in the afternoon.
I also realise that I haven’t yet met someone going to Santiago.
Everybody is section-hiking at this time of year.
Anyway, I make it to the gîte, where I’m alone!
It’s surprising considering how complicated it’s been to book a place so far.
But apparently it was full yesterday, go figure.
The place is beautiful and much better than what I imagined gîtes look like.
But I guess this one is particularly nice and I shouldn’t get used to it.
I buy some cheese and a beer from the owner and he stays chatting for quite a bit.
He tells me about the area and how Decazeville had a bad rep on trail and how people usually try to avoid it.
And because the trail actually goes around town, it is a big loss for the town’s economy, especially considering it already lost two thirds (that’s insane!) of its population due to the local mining industry shutting down.
They’ve been trying to redevelop the town and attract pilgrims, but it hasn’t been very successful.
I was planning to go anyway, as there’s an alternate created by the locals going through town, so I’ll see for myself.
It’s a pretty boring day today.
A lot of roadwalk, no cool villages.
In the evening I make it to Figeac and I was wondering all day if I should stay here for the night or keep hiking a bit further.
I find a gîte where you can camp for 5€ so I decide to stay and visit the city.
It’s actually a really nice one.
I also meet at the gîte my first pilgrim also going to Santiago. We have a beer after dinner.
From Figeac and around, you have three options.
You can follow the main Camino on the GR 65, the Celé alternate, or the Rocamadour alternate.
As I need the data for the hiking app, I’ll be doing the three of them, starting with the GR 65.
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