Via Podiensis Day 26-27 Aire-sur-l’Adour – Arzacq-Arraziguet – Arthez-de-Bearn

Eager to break the back of this walk, yesterday myself and pilgrim Paul did a 34km stage to reach Arzacq. St-Jean seems so close now – today, on the way to Arthez, we caught our first glimpse of the jagged, snowy peaks of the Pyrenees. For me, though, there was a price to pay for the previous day’s excesses.

Daily Costs (2 days)

€2.00 – donativo coffees
€15.00 – gite + breakfast Arzacq
€10.00 – groceries in Arzacq
€10.00 – gite Arthez
€10.50 – beers in Arthez
€6.00 – Voltarol gel
€6.00 – groceries in Arthez

Practicalities

Much can happen in a day on the Camino. I was exhausted yesterday evening, so tonight I’ve got two day’s worth to tell. Where should I start..? Hmmm, why not with a little controversy..?

Over the last two days there’s been much discussion about the accuracy – or otherwise – of the guidebooks. People I’ve met tend to walk with either the Miam Miam Dodo, the Michelin guide, or the Cicerone book by Alison Raju. My copy of the Michelin guidebook is dated 2014 – you’d assume this would be pretty accurate. Not so, it appears. I’ve looked at the latest 2016 version on other folks’ cellphones, and some stage distances and distances between towns read quite differently.

Users of the Cicerone guide have also said to me they find the distances slightly confusing at times. I’m not suggesting these guides are miles out…perhaps it’s just pilgrim-talk. Today, though, I covered what the Michelin guide told me was a 28.5km stage. I walked with a French pilgrim, Patrick, who’s measuring distances with a personal GPS device. He made today’s distance 34km – a whopping 5km of difference!

I looked at my Moves app, though, and that suggested around 17.1 miles – indeed around the 28km mark. I’m confused. I suppose it doesn’t matter too much, the odd kilometre here and there. If you are intending to do this walk, buy the most up-to-date guidebook you can…I believe the GR65 gets rerouted every few years – this probably adds or subtracts a few kilometres from the quoted distances.

Anyway. The walk to Arzarq was fairly uninteresting for the most part. It stretched for hours across huge tracts of flat agricultural land with nothing much to see or photograph. Relief came when we finally reached the halfway point at the village of Miramont. There the old church stands in the shadow of a huge futuristic water tower. It’s a scene taken straight out of science-fiction. On the second part of the walk the landscape became more wooded and interesting, and we were subject to the most incredible, drenching downpour yet. That night, at the big communal gite in Arzacq, my left shin ached more than usual…

This morning I discovered the pain hadn’t subsided. A dull ache became a fairly nasty pain – I limped most of the stage, feeling quite despondent. Once again though, in my hour of need, the Camino stepped in. My saviour Patrick provided me with anti-inflammatory gel, ibuprofen and a tonne of moral support and good conversation. In fact we raced through the last 10km. Thank you Patrick! I rewarded us with huge beers at the end of the walk.

So, yeah, I’m glad to be here but now have worries about my leg. I looked up ‘shin splints’ online as the most likely candidate – pains along the shinbone that occur after too much exercise, especially running or walking. The French call it ‘tendonite’ – in my gite tonight there’s a young Belgian laid up for a few days with a similar thing. I should have taken my rest day in Aire-sur-l’Adour perhaps… Ah well, I’m armed with ibuprofen, anti-inflammatory gels and the intention to rest up a whole day. “One must listen to one’s body” – I’ve heard it over and over.

Pilgrim’s Reflections

Upon first sight of the Pyrenees I actually became a little emotional. To have walked so many hundreds of kilometres, and now the reward! The cloud cleared occasionally to reveal the peaks running in a line along the horizon. Even in June snow can be seen on their flanks – someone told me the other day the pass to Roncesvalles has been closed recently due to bad weather. I can’t wait to get among these beautiful, rugged ranges – though now it seems wait I must.

Sometimes the company you keep really makes a day. My first trail companion was Olive from Ireland, a lovely lady who’d come all the way to walk with a friend from previous treks. Then, of course, there was Patrick. Patrick belongs to the breed of person forever positive, forever smiling, forever cheerful. And it’s amazing how much in common you have with people once you start getting under the surface. Patrick and me share the same boyish enthusiasm about travel, living life, taking chances and feeling alive. How different each day can be on this wonderful path to Santiago.

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