5 May: St Jean to Helette

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We made it to 100km today!

Around the 15km mark the boys were busy composing a blog post. It was mostly to do with their desire to see a bear and the excitement of finding a snake and squashed frog and mice, and a red squirrel initially mistaken for a possum, and a gazillion geckos and enormous worms, and butterflies dancing together, and hearing a cuckoo, and most of all the 23 large birds (eagles? hawks? vultures?) that soared silently over us. I thought I would add a bit about the amazing 360* panoramic vistas – wherever we looked, north south east west, there were mountains. The views were so impossibly beautiful that we couldn’t help but sing the hills are alive which morphed into How Great Thou Art – at the tops of our voices. We barely noticed we were climbing and the little hiccups of instructions not matching signs were soon put right with the help of map and compass.

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Then we descended to Irissary where we were to get lunch and hoped to fill our now-empty water bottles.
But everything was shut.
Never mind, we’d done 18km and only had four to go – we’d be at our destination in an hour, by 2 at the absolute latest if we kept stopping to take pictures like we had been.
Only we didn’t arrive until 4:15 and those four hours were as hard as the morning’s five had been awe-inspiring.
The problem was a simple one. Our written instructions said things like “turn left to Mandos area” – useful if you know where Mandos is! We didn’t. Or my favourite one: lowering and raising toboggan, top, turn left onto a mile to the bottom of the descent Etchartea. That’s where we got really lost. While we had been eating our lunch which ended up consisting of a handful of peanuts and some chocolate breakfast cereal, I had spied an old lady in the church graveyard. Hoping she could at least point the right direction to Etchartea, I felt confident when she gave very detailed instructions not once, but four times. I came away fairly certain (quite a statement when you don’t speak more French than bonjour, merci, pardon, baguette and voila!) we had to go to a bridge (pont) and we’d see a house (maison) with a balcony (balkon) and go up a hill (cote) and lots of “ah gosh” which her hands helped to explain meant something about turn left. We did all that and it was just as she said – the only problem was that after about 3km we realised we had not seen a direction marker since – oh, I don’t know, just before the church! We backtracked somewhat and stopped a passing motorist to find out where we were. I am grateful to him and the three kids he was taking somewhere for giving us quarter of an hour of their time, trying to put us right. We followed his instructions, but when we got to an “ah gosh” by the maison he had pointed to, we spied a marker to the right and decided to ignore the spoken instructions that we weren’t even certain were well translated and follow the sign. Our happiness at being back on the trail lasted only for the 2km we covered before discovering we were going the wrong way!!! Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and while never found the toboggan thingy, we could see where we should have walked.
Then we had to “follow the road ignoring roads to right and left” – which one would you have chosen?

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We, of course, went the wrong way, asked a man in his yard, who turned us around and told us in the only English of the day, “Not far – by car!”

By now, our parched mouths made us think frequently of charity: water. When an elderly gentleman filled our bottles with cool fresh water, we understood a little more what a gift it will be to those who get a water source at the end of this!
We still had a long way to go and by the end of the day had covered 30km. Although the boys had been keen to blog when they were being wowed by mountains and big black birds soaring above us, their enthusiasm had waned by the time we trudged into Helette’s main square and even the ten pack of icecreams we shared and the pottles of potato salad only recharged them enough to do washing and journal entries!

Destination: Helette
Distance: 30km
Cumulative Total: 114km
886km to go
Cold foggy start (needed fleeces, gloves and scarves) through to HOT
Dinner: couscous and nasty stew out of a tin (we’d have eaten at a bar if one had been open – but after being concerned that we would not be able to buy anything, we were most grateful the wee grocer was open. We had prayed “give us this day our daily bread” and we bought the last three baguettes so we would be sure of having lunch tomorrow!)

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7 thoughts on “5 May: St Jean to Helette

  1. 100KM! A great effort and a great story of perseverance and determination. I am really impressed, not just with the Giant strides you are making but the positive way you are tackling the obstacles! Ah gosh = a gauche (to the left!)

  2. Grrr to WordPress for making commenting so difficult! Well done to the three of you for a mammoth effort! Getting nervous for when T, ER and I join you next week….

  3. Your boys are absolute heroes. What a day! I think there are both eagles and vultures in that region. Amazing to see them!

  4. Ooh a tough day. It ‘s great to be back reading your great posts Rach. Take care and all the best finding your way around.

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