9 May: Espelette to Amaiur-Maya

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Good-bye France, Hola again Spain!
Leaving France we said goodbye to French men in berets – some stereotypes are real and we have certainly met many black-bereted Frenchmen in this week.
Another stereotype which we thought we had disproved on previous trips to France was brought to life in this Basque region. After our previous encounters we had decided it was quite unfair to say French people expect everyone to speak French. We have since discovered it just might be a matter of location. Almost without exception when we have greeted and excused ourselves in French and then asked – in French – “Do you speak English?” we have been lectured in response something along the lines of, “You are in France, you cannot expect to speak anything else, we speak French here and you should too if you want to communicate with us.” If the lecture has been absent we have been given The Look that says even more than the tellings off. That said, once we drag out a map and even one word of French (ici?), people are most helpful and reply in rapid-fire French as if the lecture must certainly have imparted to us a sudden ability to understand!

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France and hiking trails. Our limited experience of the GR8 leads us to conclude that it is incredibly well-marked and can be followed without any other instructions or guide. The camino trails (La Voie de la Nive and the Baztan) on the other hand, could do with more comprehensive marking. We are not alone in losing the way – a French couple sharing the albergue we are in tonight got lost three times yesterday – and they were able to ask for instructions along the way! We haven’t fared so badly in comparison.
The countryside in this region is a dream – pastoral scenes, soaring mountains, trickling rivers….all just delightful. A setting most conducive to walking and thinking.
Today’s main thought was prompted by our morning reading. According to Common Prayer, Columba of Iona said, “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.” What did Columba mean? What *is* joy really?
I wondered whether rejoicing our way up the climb was joy. I’m not sure – I did feel filled with a deep content and peace, but I think that’s different.
By Columba’s definition (the echo of God’s life in us), was it joy to choose to be grateful when we discovered our lodgings to be grotty? How does joy figure when you’re missing your husband, when you want to know how the kids in India are doing but you can’t find out for almost another week, when the kids who are here are missing their siblings more than they realised they would?
Even with the gift of hours to contemplate, I got to the top of the last climb epiphany-less. A cuckoo’s call coming across the valley had accompanied us up the biggest hill. I wondered if there was any lesson in that – if there was, I couldn’t find it! If there were answers in the church we visited first thing this morning we had overlooked them there, too.
Maybe the answer is at the monastery we decided not to stay at tonight – we had been advised it is a fantastic place, and when we reached it we were very tempted to stop for the day; it looked absolutely gorgeous. But we knew if we stopped there tonight, we would not make it to Pamplona at the same time as Rob and the girls so we attacked the hill and ended up in accommodation that feels like a makeshift secondhand furniture store (and smells like it too).
We gave thanks for the beds – and I promptly sat down on one to show the kids that they weren’t *that* bad.
We gave thanks for the showers and I explained to the boys that they didn’t have to touch the mould and that they would come out cleaner than if there wasn’t one (and I ignored their protests and enforced use of the facility!)
We gave thanks that in the absence of a kitchen, there were no dishes to do.
We gave thanks for the light breeze to dry the washing – and for the lines and pegs to hang it up with.
We gave thanks for the awesome views, for the strength to walk, for much-needed muscle cream, for being back in Spain following yellow arrows, for the wonderful memories accumulated in France…..
As for joy…maybe we’ll understand that a little more fully tomorrow.

Distance: 26.8km
Cumulative Distance: 228km
772km to go
Weather: mostly overcast
Dinner: leftover dry muesli, half a packet of chips, donut, bread and butter with a hunk of chorizo – very nutritious! (the best we could do with no kitchen, nowhere to purchase anything, and our dehydrated food that we had made at home and sent ahead, lost somewhere in the French postal system)

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