The car turned on to a small side road and then, somewhat strangely, reversed back and came towards us. It slowed to a stop beside us while the passenger wound down her window and asked us something.
“Espelette,” I answered. Hardly surprisingly, she figured we don’t speak French and offered with the help of mime to take us there.
Mrs Strava, our pet name for the lady in my phone, who (sometimes annoyingly) keeps telling us how far we’ve walked, how long it has taken and how slow the previous kilometre was, had just told us we had completed 29km, so we didn’t mind getting ourselves out of this lost pickle in a vehicle. Plus, we had to be at the Town Hall to pay for our beds by 6pm and we had only a few minutes, so this offer seemed like a divine apppointment! In we clambered and the car took off in the direction from which we had just walked!
“Did we look that lost?” I enquired.
“Yes,” the lady gently smiled back.
We know the exact moment that it happened. We had just crossed a little bridge and our instructions said to turn left. There was even a photo with an arrow. A marker on a post by the path pointed somewhere between where we thought we should be going and a path straight ahead. Having been following the markers successfully all day, we hesitated at this apparent ambiguity. Fortuitously, a couple out walking crested the ridge just at the moment we were deciding to go left, and so I decided to ask them. Espelette was on the path straight ahead they insisted. They didn’t know the Voie du Baztan, but Espelette was definitely where they had just come from. So we ignored our gut instincts and decided locals must surely know better than we would. There was a lesson for us on that path (other than don’t always listen to the natives!!) Huge puddles of stagnant water blocked the way and Micki observed, “People would be drinking this in some places. This is what we’re walking for.” It was a sobering thought.
Not long after Levi had expressed his view that we might actually be on the wrong path after all, a mountain biker passed us at an intersection. He confirmed Espelette was “ah gosh”! Almost immediately a farmer appeared from the right, followed by his flock of sheep so we asked again – no harm in making sure. Straight on up the winding road.
At the next inevitable intersection we had no idea where to go. A hay-making-farmer driving a huge tractor soon happened to finish his day’s work and drove to the edge of the field. That was invitation enough for me to stride on over, map in hand. Unfortunately he could not pinpoint our position, but he did point us towards Espelette and we took off up the hill, pretty certain we didn’t have a hope of arriving on time. That was when the miracle car appeared.
Until then it had actually been an uneventful walk. Leaving the cathedral, we joined half of Bayonne walking, running, cycling or rollerblading along the riverside path on this national holiday (celebrating/commemorating French victory over Germans). A signposted “deviation” had added a couple of kilometres, but the path was easy to follow, even if it was less interesting than the previous days. Or maybe it was just that it was hot and our bodies felt tired despite the flat walking. Various aches accompanied us for portions of the path, appearing without warning, and vanishing again just as unexpectedly. The river, a slow-moving thick-looking affair, sat beside us most of the way. According to our guide, there was a wide range of vegetation – all sorts of hedges and maples and alders and elms and ash – but to our tired eyes, there were just trees. That said, the poplars were a pretty picture:
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful – we are so aware that every step we are able to take is a blessing, we experienced precious conversation over breakfast this morning with our hosts, the sun shone down on us, and organ and bells sent us on our way – it has been a good day. But it is valid to acknowledge that our bodies are tired, they felt sluggish today, they ached on and off (nothing major, just little niggles), the sun sapped what energy we had and at the end of the day, we probably won’t remember this as one of the favourite walking days, even though we did make the 200km mark!
Cumulative Distance: 201km
799km to go
Dinner: bolognese pasties, potato salad, couscous salad, cherry tomatoes and Italian mozarella