Around 8.00am the sun crested a nearby mountain and my hotel room lit up. Shortly after 9.00am when I left the hotel the air was still and the temperature around 17 degrees. Bersezio was just a couple of kilometres away. A sign said it lay at 1625 metres. From there it was a gentle climb to Argentera at 1700 metres.

I’d only been walking for about 20 minutes when a man in a ute pulled up and asked me if I was a pilgrim. When I said yes he lifted from his chest a cross/sword of St James worn on a chain around his neck. He told me he had done the walk to Santiago de Compostela using a route through Arles, one which I intend to use, in part. The St James cross is a well known symbol of the Camino. I have one clipped to the headband of my hat. Galicia province in Spain, of which Santiago de Compostela is the capital, is famous for its Santiago tart, an almond based pastry served as a sweet. It is dusted with icing sugar in such a way as to leave an outline of the cross on it.

From Bersezio I made my way to Argentera which was deathly quiet. It wasn’t until I was half way through town that I noticed someone for the first time, three men doing some stone masonry. As I was leaving Argentera I noticed a man cutting grass with a wipper-snipper (the much loved garden tool used in preference to a lawn mower) and for no reason apparent to me, stopped work, walked towards his ute lifting his protective mask as he did so. It was then that I realised it was the same man I had spoken with earlier. He went to the cabin of his ute, got out something, came up to me and handed me a disc with the most recognizable symbol of the Camino on it. This is the outline of a scallop shell in yellow on a blue background. I put it in the headband of my hat, but will later sew it onto my pack. It is quite big and in my hat band I looked a bit like the Mad Hatter.

After Argentera I did some very serious climbing through a series of ten U-turns. Over not a very long distance I probably climbed more than 250 metres. Then came the sign ‘Francia 1 km’. A little beyond this sign was a restaurant/bar. I stopped just before it, sat on a grassy area, and being the sentimentalist I am, had my last meal in Italy. The view I had of the mountain in front of me was like a green mat on which someone had thrown dollops of white paint. I was at 2,000 metres and the compressed snow at this height strongly resists the urging of the sun to melt.

While I was eating, a woman pulled at the restaurant carpark, came over to me and began a conversation about a musical project she had developed and hoped to take on the road in July. A moving orchestral piece. If I understood correctly, she had previously done one from Burgos, a large city through which the Camino Frances passes, to St Jean Pied de Port, where many people, including myself three times, start their Camino. I gave her a copy of my flyer and I got Josette’s email details and those for the proposed tour which translate as ‘music and peace’. Don’t you just love the way people’s paths cross, as mine did today on two occasions.

It didn’t take long after lunch to reach France. There was a sign. That was it. As I looked down into the L’Ubaye Valley the sky was darkening as storm clouds gathered. From the French border it was downhill all the way, literally and in some senses, figuratively. I was on the outskirts of Larche when the rain started. I made it to some cover. I had a choice: go back 100 metres to an albergue or press on to Meyronnes in the rain. I decided to walk on. In a way I thought it would be fun. The rain was only light and I hadn’t experienced any rain walking for over a month. Also, there is a sense of defiance by walking in the rain.

There were some spectacular land formations as I descended the valley. I saw dozens of small, short legged, light brown furry animals with bushy tails playing on the patches of unmelted snow and occasionally darting into a nearby burrow. My destination was Meyronnes but when I arrived, tired and cold there was no hotel and I definitely was not going to pitch a tent. I had no choice but to keep walking. When I reached La Condamine-Chatelard I’d covered a little over 30 kms since setting out today. I found a room at the Hotel Midi, one of the oldest hotels in the universe. There was nothing in this town. The fact that it had a hotel was very surprising.

My decision to stay at this hotel reinforced an important lesson for me, one that I didn’t note before walking in the door. That is, take time, even a minute, to think through the consequences. I was so fixated on getting off my feet I did not consider how I was going to pay for it. I had paid cash at my last two hotels. There was no ATM on today’s travels. I was running low on money and two of the three credit cards I am carrying I had not been able to use because I didn’t have PIN’s for them. So I worried about this all night, needlessly as it turned out. As I was leaving I handed one of the two ‘unusable’ cards to the woman in charge and said “No PIN,
sign”. She didn’t seem at all fussed. After a short time out rolled the script for me to sign. In Italy the same card had been rejected by many places because I could not supply a PIN when all that is needed, as I saw today, is to leave the card in the slot and after a while it bypasses the PIN requirement. (Because I am posting this blog a day late I am able to tell you the end to this story.)

Today I ended up doing about 8km more than planned and my dodgy right leg was telling me it was very, very unhappy. I’ll see what tomorrow brings. Dressing down the presidential administration and the american people who allowed it to run roughshod over their rights, the green day of 2005 is a pretty far cry from the dookie-hucking jokesters of a decade prior