France 2004


June 30th, 2004

Wednesday - St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Phagalcette

Street in front of our gite. St. Jacques gate. Verdant pastures of the western low lands. Putting the cows out to pasture. Bon and companion. The trail climbs over fern covered hills. The descent into Estérencuby. Evening, looking down our our gîte in Phagalcette. The hills that we would cross in the morning.

Leaving the gîte about seven, we walked the town to locate the GR10 and some food. Except for a baguette and a tasty ham and cheese sandwich at a bakery, and a cup of coffee outside the gates, it was difficult to find supplies as everything was closed.

We were off a little after eight, uncertain of our direction. We were told to take the road to Caro (the C is pronounced S) leaving by the northeast St. Jacques gate. We hoped to find food at Caro, but there were no stores.

After looping through the town, we followed the road for a stretch, then around a hill where it turned down a muddy dirt forest road. This led down to a creek with rocks for crossing and bent to the right, following a road with stone walls on one side - you felt that it was hundreds of years old. This led to Ahadoa - a group of old farm buildings. As we left Ahadoa I took a wrong turn to the left, misreading a marker. We quickly found the error and backtracked, following two dogs and a farmer moving cows into a pasture. The dogs, actively herding the cows, were confused by our following into pasture and gave us a couple of barks as well. They took the cows well up into the pasture as the farmer waited at the gate. We had to navigate through the cows to continue on the trail.

The trail climbed up along a fence, leaving it to cross a pasture and following a higher fence on our left. Then at an ambiguous place, we lost the path. With the benefit of the trail book’s narrative, we went uphill finding a GR10 post mark. We passed through a gate and then climbed up steeply and over two stiles some distance apart. The trail continued a climb through steep hills of ferns on a farm road. At the top were views in both directions with the steep hill angles reminding of us of the road to Saorge in the Alpes-Maritimes.

The downhill was easier, following a dirt road that twisted and turned with views of the mountains to the right. We could see Estérencuby long before arriving as the trail descended precipitously above the village. As with the nearby towns, it looked quite affluent with white stucco buildings accented by red roofs and shutters (the typical colors of Basque buildings). We walked into town crossing an inviting stream with a restaurant on the opposite bank. We asked a passing car for an alimention, but settled for a farm cheese place 100 meters down the road. Unfortunately, it was not open. We tried another vacation spot across the stream and the restaurant we had passed with the same result. We opted to continue on to a gîte advertised by a small sign on the path. We were on a steep road and the going was slow. It wound up the hill which Bon's book claimed was 2 kilometers but seemed more like 2 miles! No gîte but more signs. Finally the trail left the road for a brief steep climb up to another road which was more level on a high plateau. Here we encountered a British couple with a flat tire on their rental car which was being repaired by a local farmer. After a chat we took a left fork which led to the gîte we had been trying to locate.

Madam welcomed us and sold us some cheese. With that, our baguette and some trail mix we began our repast as we chatted with a Frenchman who had hiked the Pyrenees for many years - a pleasant fellow.

As we ate, more and more people arrived: a Spanish man followed by a British man and his son, George, then a British couple with a French woman - who we later learned lived near each other in London (they had been in the restaurant the prior night). A Canadian arrived later.

After showers and washing clothes, we relaxed at some picnic tables with everyone, sharing guide books and chatting as a couple played chess and I typed my diary. It clouded over and got even a little chilly but pleasant with the company.

Dinner at the gîte included bacon in tomato sauce, another course of mutton bones with meat and noodles, cheese with jam and bread, ice cream and cookies! It was accompanied by large bottles of red wine. We sat across from the British couple who told us of their travels to India - Goa.

After dinner, as it was clearing in the east, we all went outside and walked separately around the gîte. The evening light on the mountain was spectacular - we felt very fortunate. To bed about 11:00 p.m.

Copyright 2005 Donald R. Chauncey - All rights reserved