Day 5 – L’Hopital Sainte-Blaise to Mauleon-Licharre

Last night I get into the tiny room at the auberge and sit arranging my stuff carefully at the base of one of the 4 bunks. Eight of us are sleeping in a room no bigger than a kidney. In the bed to my right, his arm about 4 foot from my sleeping neck, is the soldier. He has a knife next to him. Not like my pocket knife. You could gut a horse with it. By day he walks in full camo, with a camo rucksack that weighs a ton. He’s completely bald and covered in tats. He carries a six foot wooden staff like Gandalf. He walks the Camino up and down repenting for whatever he successfully and inevitably did to the baddies back in the day. He could be one of those many people that would be a serial killer if he hadn’t found God. As I sit on the bunk he looks at me – piercing dark eyes. “La Camino” he says. “Beaucoup d’amour, beaucoup des surprises, beaucoup des voitures.” I mishear his first phrase. It’s an ancient poetic mishearing based slightly on bad grammar. “Beaucoup de mort” is what I hear. Love and death are very close in French. Lots of death. Lots of surprise death! I don’t want surprise death, crazy eyed bald camo guy!!!

He’s actually a lovely guy, Christian. Extremely self contained which is good as I’m doing the same when I can. It’s rare he talks to anyone. He observed me for ages before he spoke, and I felt the sting of his disapproval as I got swept into social talky stuff last night. It wasn’t even a conversation. It was a sound-game. One speak two speak three speak all laugh. Repeat. I got out quickly.

Yeah. I’m not liking people at the moment mostly. Certainly people who aren’t considering things. I got annoyed at the young couple for only drinking mineral water. I got annoyed that they are the first English speakers, through no fault of their own. I regretted that I showed them I spoke English as then they could natter at me. I might pretend to be Hungarian with basic English from now on until I get busted. I’m fractious, basically. I can’t rest easily in close proximity to that many people. I throw out socially until I’m done, then recharge behind a closed door. There was only one loo in the gite so I couldn’t even sit in there. I had nowhere to relax in the evening as I struggle to relax in company. I just hated them all quietly and efficiently, was terribly pleasant to their faces, slept terribly and woke up in the morning covered in bites.

I left at dawn, saying farewell to the beautiful Unesco church at L’Hôpital Sainte-Blaise.

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Early start turned out to be a fantastic idea. The first couple of hours were cool and then the clouds burnt through into a roasting heat. Even though it was a short day I was fucked when I arrived at Mauleon. But the views were astonishing on the way.

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I decided to take a photo of every single trail marking, which I’ll put up somewhere when I have the time. I did it to train myself not to miss them. But I didn’t realise it would be such a day and such views. God it was glorious. If only my body didn’t hurt so much I’d be in heaven. Although as Marie said, “If it was easy, there’d be no point.”

There were two phone numbers offering rest for pilgrims in Mauleon-Licharre. The Alberge, and a private house a kilometre from the centre. They were the same price, so I called the private house. Apart from the soldier I was first into town. “Do you have any pilgrims staying?” I asked. “No.” “Wonderful. I’d like to stay.” And i went to chez Mme M. Big house, lively host, and nobody else staying – ensuite shower and breakfast. All for €10 with my credencial. Bargain. “Good old Catholics”, I find myself thinking. “Let’s leave all the burning in the past where it happened.” We talk for ages. I tell her about last night. How thrilled I am to have a place of my own. I need time alone to recuperate. I can’t handle another auberge. I’m so glad to find a room with a door I can close. “Trente cinq” she replies.

She wants €35 Euro. We stand and look at each other. “That’s too much,” I tell her, genuinely shocked after my heart was sold. She’s intractable. I show her my printout from a week ago. “€10 nuit + petit dej.” “No longer,” she says.

So I have to go to the auberge. And now she wants to take €5 for her trouble. I remain courteous. “Let me make a phone call.” She nods and goes out into her garden. I make a phone call and have a huge stinking poo in her loo. I give her her five smiling and head back to the auberge. “Good Camino” she says as I leave. “Goodbye,” I reply. We both mean “Rot in hell.”

Now I’m in the auberge with the soldier and the two elderly ladies. I’m off to do some shopping. I’m going to have to learn to hold my space with strangers. Dormitories. I have hated them since I was 8.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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