The following morning, we climb up the rest of the hill which is not that steep but there is no way we could have walked a mile further (and also 600 meters – 1900 feet, up).
There is no rain when we get to the top but it gets cloudy fast and before long, it starts to rain, the pines on the side of the road are covered with cobwebs which look like jewels because of the sparkling rain drops.
Lunch is a special moment as we bought tomatoes the day before – yummm, the taste of fresh produce in your sandwich!
While we enjoy this rare delicacy (baguette with prosciutto, mayo and tomatoes), a couple of hikers step out of the fog. They are thru-hikers that left Banyuls 50 days ago and are doing the GR10 from West to East. They do not seem to mind the rain and ask if there is a lot of road walking until Hendaye. We will understand why later on in the day…
The GR10 continues on a mountain road and suddenly out of the fog comes a flock of sheep, that we part Moise’s style. I am always wary of sheep, as they often have a guardian angel also called Patou… Those massive dogs think they are sheep as well but with larger and sharper teeth and will do anything to defend their flock even harmless hikers. Thankfully, no patous here.
There is a road going around the top of the mountain but we decide to follow the GR10 and summit Munhoa (1021 meters- 3349 feet) despite threatening skies. The view is breathtaking and we can see a big fluffy blanket of clouds with peaks piercing through here and there. We are not the only people braving the nasty weather and there are some horses as well grazing next to a big weather antenna.
The path down is very steep but the views are gorgeous – I feel like I am on top of the world with the clouds under my feet. It reminds me of the trail descending Katahdin, narrow edge and beautiful panorama. Mid-way through, we make a wrong turn and walk through nasty terrain with high ferns and cow patties before turning back 30 minutes later on the right trail. The rest of the day will be dull road walking until St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, painful for the feet and boring for the soul.
A quick Monaco before arriving in the middle of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port rush hour – super tiny when you are used to NYC or Paris but quite overwhelming when arriving from the mountains. We find shelter in a supermarket (Hi fruits! Hi vegetables!). The goal is to find a laundromat and then a shower. Wandering through town, I finally get to see the famous starting point for El Camino Royal. The center is full of tourists but also backpackers, you can see the ones doing the Camino because they wear a shell on their backpacks to show they are pilgrims. The town is full of Albergues but they are all full, a huge line turns out to be pilgrims waiting for their credenciales. It looks like a bit like a Pilgrim Disneyland and we want out, as soon as possible to the quietness of the mountains. But first, laundry time!
I strip of all my clothes and only keep my shorts and my rain jacket: everything else, in the washing machine! While R is watching our stuff and relaxes on the steps of this tiniest laundromat ever, I walk around and come back with free wine from a local wine testing and some authentic delicious saucisson. I then sit on the porch, saucisson and knife in hand, barefeet and very dirty. Quite a sight for the clean and nicely dressed tourists. All the hikers and pilgrims that could look like me are already in their albergues.
We decide to share the only working drier with an American – since there is no room/tent/bathroom for people that might fully undress in the laundromat to put their clothes back on, a kind lady helps holding a towel around me so I can put my clothes on again in a tiny corner of the room.
Exiting town, we find the camping site – fulled of RVs and large 4-5 people tents. There is the occasional small tent with cyclists, hikers and pilgrims. SHOWER TIME! R is making a fruit salad in the sink and when it is his turn to take a shower, I watch over our stuff and chat with a fellow hiker from German. He is doing el Camino and only stays in campings or albergues. He thinks we are crazy to sleep outside every day. Or at least that’s what I get from our conversation since his English is very poor and his French non-existent.
We leave town with clean clothes, and smelling of soap. Almost human again! It is almost dark though and the GR10 goes through a few small cities before making his way back up into the mountains. We did not want to pitch our tents in the camping but now we must hurry to find a field or a forest. We decide to ask someone if maybe we can pitch in his garden, we can see him relaxing in his living room and there is a big dog in front of the door.
He agrees to let us pitch our tents in his garden and even offers us a shower before mentioning that he has two farms he is refurbishing if we want to spend the night there. We would have to sleep on the ground but would be sheltered from the weather and even have electricity. Wow, that is so nice of him! He even picks up his keys and drive us there even if it is ten minutes walking distance. He opens the gate, shows us around those two farms from the 19th century and even find some old gymnastic mats which will be perfect to put under our sleeping pads for added comfort. He leaves us the keys and go back home. This trail makes me realize how generous people can be and that you might be surprised of what people can do when you are not afraid to ask for help. This trail-angel made our day!
Disclaimer: I did this trip in September