12 June 2012

Camino de Santiago Day 2: Gradignan - St Paul les Dax

We got some much needed rest and did not wake up once -- I guess we were tired after our adventure at Gatwick. We ate some breakfast (yogurt, biscuits, and bread which we had purchased the night before) and waved goodbye to Gerard and Maripol. It took us almost an hour and a half to leave in the morning - we vowed to improve this!

We waited until the last minute before putting our rainproofs on. We were trying to be optimistic. It turned out to rain non-stop for the entire 9 hours we spent on the bikes. It was quite warm though, and for most of the day the rain was misty rather than heavy droplets - still gets you wet but not as bothersome to ride in.

We headed out on the D1010 from Gradignan which was quite busy, but then we realised it was rush hour and we were still quite close to Bordeaux. We didnt pass any pilgrims so figured there might be a trail somewhere, but it's not that well signposted in France and we had our gpx route, so we stuck to that. It turned out to be the official road route of the Camino most of the time anyway.

Sign for the Camino
The first town we went through was Le Barp, still on the early side of morning. This was where Gerard and Maripol were planning on stopping tonight! It gave us a real appreciation for how much more distance we'd cover on the bike.

Soon after Le Barp, we entered the Gascogne national park, which we cycled through for most of the rest of the day. There were lots of pine trees and beautiful roads, but at sometimes quite dull, with 10km of straight, flat road surrounded by identical looking pine trees. On one such section we saw two pilgrims walking alongside the road. They were the only pilgrims we'd see this day, but it was exciting to feel that we weren't the only one travelling on this route to Santiago, more than 1,000km away.

Straight, flat roads
We made sure to get some croissants and assorted goodies before the boulangeries shut. Cheap, yummy, and good fuel for pedalling - pretty much the perfect bike touring snack!

It continued to rain. Non stop. Heavy at times. Sometimes with a crosswind, often with a headwind. This actually was probably a good thing as we had a lot of km to cover and the rain meant we didn't stop very much.

About 110km into the route we went through L'Esperon, which was one of the places we thought we might stop if we couldn't make it all the way to Dax. It was too early for that, so we pressed on to Taller (also a prospective stopping point). We stopped just before Taller to try and call the albergue in St Paul les Dax and make sure we'd be able to stay there. They didn't speak any English but Alberto was able to communicate to them in rudimentary French and we ascertained (we hoped) that it wouldn't be a problem for two pèlerins a vèlo to stay the night.

More rain. And wind. Honestly, more than I can ever remember cycling in. After our phone chat, we thought we'd follow the road that was signposted for Dax -- big mistake. The D947 was full of traffic, including lots of big trucks. With the rain and low visibility, it really was not a nice road to be on. I remembered that I had read advice on a forum advising pilgrims to avoid the D947 which seems like a very tempting option. That would have been useful to remember a few minutes earlier!

Alberto re-routed us to the D140 and we pressed on to St Paul les Dax under the rain. Luckily had no trouble finding the albergue, which was across the road from the church. We arrived at the church and a french lady who was there showing some people the church told us it was across the road.

The albergue consisted of two rooms - one with a kitchennette/dining table and a bunk bed, and another with several bunk beds. The showers and toilets were located in a separate building very close by. When we got there, two cyclists had just arrived, Paul and Claude (both in their 60s!). A younger guy, Leo (20 years old) told us that the hospitalero had gone to do some shopping and would be back soon.

Albergue in St Paul les Dax
A few minutes later, Pierre arrived. He had pretty good Spanish so we were able to communicate pretty well with him. He had bought food for us and also said that we could pick some lettuce from a little vegetable patch next to the albergue! We talked with Pierre for a while and asked him about other albergues on the route that were similar to his. He was really nice and kind, offering all kinds of advice, before heading home for the evening.

We walked to the supermarket to pick up some ingredients for dinner and some French wine. When we returned, the other guys were making some instant noodles, but soon one of the guys, who apparently is a chef or else really loves to cook, decided to cook the pasta we had brought with tomatoes that were already in the albergue -- I don't think he could bear to see us use a bottled sauce.

So in the end we all ate the spaghetti and tomato sauce together, with salad from the garden and a homemade mustard vinaigrette made by Leo. Conversation was difficult as only Leo spoke any English and of course our French is pretty nonexistent, but it was a pleasant meal and a really nice atmosphere. Leo told us that he normally sleeps in his tent, but last night had had an encounter with a forest pig where the pig tried to get into the tent in the middle of the night! Adter that he was a little freaked out so he was staying for one night in an albergue -- it was donativo (pay what you want/are able to) anyway. Leo had started from his home in Brittany and had walked for a month already. The cyclists told us of their plan that once they reach Santiago, they will turn around and cycle home!

Our dining companions
Alberto and I slept in the main room with the one bunk bed, which the hospitalero had given to us so that I could have some privacy. We went to bed knowing that this would likely be our last night of intimate dinners with our few fellow pilgrims as were were heading to the major starting point of the camino, St Jean Pied de Port, the following day.

The stats for day 2:

  • Odometer: 153 km
  • Moving time: 7h39m
  • Stopped time: 1h05m
  • Moving average: 20.1 kph
  • Overall average: 17.5 kph
  • Max speed: 37.2 kph

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