In 1648 the Camino Francés de Santiano de Compostela was an extensive web of paths across France through the Pyrenees and westward along northern Spain to Santiago. I’ve walked the southern French path which passes through St Jean Pied de Port, Ostabat, Oloron, St Bertrand de Comminges and other outposts.
This excerpt from Pyrenees Pilgrimage describes entering Ostabat at dusk with no place to stay.
Steady on my way, onward through darkening twilight, I found the pilgrim church at Ostabat. There was a time, back in 1350 when twenty or more hostels provided shelter for pilgrims. Visitors would first stop by the church, give thanks for their safe passage and seek a place to bed down for the night. But Ostabat’s chapel doors were locked. A group of men smoked and drank a pastis on a nearby bar terrace. I asked them about the route to the farm at Arhansus where I’d arranged a room for the night. Smirking slightly –how could they not, confronted by a sweating middle-aged American women stooped under a pack, so alien from their gender divided culture: women toiling at home, men relaxing in public — they waved me further along the GR-65 path, toward the two -lane paved road heading south.
Ostabat behind me, I soldiered onward towards the farm, which Madam of the farmstead had told me during our phone call lay a couple of kilometers past the village of Arhansus. Suddenly, I was aware of a car trolling behind me. A grizzled guy in a white work-van rolled down the window and asked if I wanted a lift. “Arhansus is ten kilometers more.” Then, he pointed to the ridge in the distance, saying, “That’s the farm you’re looking for, way over there. You’ll never get there by nightfall.” Was he taunting me, I wondered? “No, thanks, I don’t need a ride,” I told him and hitched my pack higher on my shoulders. He wasn’t really menacing, I decided, as he drove off and I walked onward. Surely, he was just trying to be helpful.
During dinner at Etchegoyhen farm, the other guests, a quartet of conservative middle class travelers on a driving tour, launched a quasi-fascist commentary on what was wrong with France (the immigrants) and how to fix France (kick the immigrants out). The host egged them on and if the stuffed heads of wild animals that adorned the walls were any indication, he was a card carrying member of the French equivalent of the National Rifle Association.
Excerpt from chapter 3, Pyrenees Pilgrimage by L Peat O’Neil, ©2010