Gone with the wind: to St Engrace

We fall asleep peacefully but around midnight, the weather suddenly changes. We had decided to set up only one tent since on a bald hilltop, mine wouldn’t stand a chance. Little we knew that the wind would pick up that night to hurricane proportions. The wind is so strong that the tent is almost totally flattened to the ground and only stays up because I have my arms up holding the thin fabric and hoops. On his side of the tent, R is sleeping peacefully earplugs in and not hearing my “Maybe we should find another spot!” cries. It took about 20 minutes of me repeating “I am still holding the roof, the tent is going to collapse, we need to move!”. Finally realizing the gravity of the situation, he wakes up. Everything is packed within minutes, tent included and we run away from the windy hilltop. Looks like the sheep were smarter than us, they are all gone!

We cannot continue along the GR10 or go back. It either goes up along an exposed ridge or goes down steep slopes. There is a gravel road going north and through a forest, hopefully there will be some protected flat ground to set up camp. We walk for 10-15 minutes looking for a decent spot to sleep (I considered cowboy camping at this point) before reaching a curve in the road with a large patch of grass. The wind is still howling above our heads but we are in some kind of ditch and it does not reach us. Tent up, somewhat over the gravel and we immediately pass out.

The wind is still going strong in the morning. I hope B is doing well under his fallen log!

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Still windy up there

We start the hike up again, fighting to stay upright as we gradually go over the ridge. We are paying for the crazy hiking finale from yesterday. We finally reach another gravel road where some sheep are hanging out, hiding from the wind. Every time the road turns on the exposed side of the hill, it is another slap in the face. When we get to the top of the mountain the sky looks threatening and we put our rain jackets on. Thunderstorms are forecasted this afternoon and there is a gite at St Engrace where we hope to find shelter if the weather is too bad. We stop for lunch next to a small cabin where a few minutes later, a shepherd and his dog stops and chat with us for a while. He says that if the weather is bad, we can stay at some of the shepherd’s houses down the road. Hopefully, we will have reach the bottom of the valley and the Enfer bridge (Hell Bridge in French) before thunderstorm hit.

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I am the tiny green dot on the ridge

The weather clears up a bit and we make our way down the valley with some sun and countless blackberry bushes that make R stop at every turn to satisfy his hiker hunger. The trick is not to get thorns in your hands when picking them up which does not work very well for him… We run into a young woman travelling solo (not many of them out there on the GR10) with a large backpack and two goats! Sadly, we do not have the time to chat as she is slowly making her way uphill but E who will run into her later asked her where she was headed and she gave him this straightforward answer: “I walk”.

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Kakuetta canyon

More road walking as we make our way down to the bottom of the valley, the sun is high and relentlessly heating on our necks and backs. We find another grassy spot on the of side of the road to take a nap. We finally reach the Enfer bridge, the water below has amazing colors! It looks deep and so tempting! But there is no easy access to the water and we are still worried of the forecasted afternoon thunderstorms. As we reach St Engrace, we pass the entrance for La Verna Cave right below La Pierre St Martin which is one of the largest chamber in a show cave in the world. They were able to fly a hot air balloon in 2003! I have dreamed of going there for a while so if we decide to stay a bit here, maybe I will take the chance and go for a visit.

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Seriously though??!

St Engrace! Finally! The village is lovely and situated on an old section of El Camino. The church is very old but well renovated, surrounded by old Basque tombstones. We spot B making himself comfortable under the church porch: the pilgrim’s way. At the local hostel/restaurant/bar, we drink our Monaco of the day before heading for the showers at the back of the building. We decide to pitch tent again since the garden seems protected from the wind but decide to treat ourselves to dinner and breakfast.

E finally arrives to the hostel, followed by a couple doing a small weekend section of the GR10. There are also two other people going to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on El Camino. The skies finally open and it is the start of a long downpour. Thankfully we are all inside… or not, as a poor drenched Englishman enters the hostel twenty minutes later. Poor Lance!

We have quite a nice gathering for dinner with salad, Provencal style tomatoes and a blueberry tart, yassssss! I get lucky and eat Marine’s basque cake which she doesn’t like. There is unlimited access to the wine and we are all starting to get a little (well, quite) tipsy! B joins us for the post-dinner Patxaran (sloe-flavored liquor commonly drunk in Navarre and Basque country) and we decide to go to the church to check it out or as E said “SO nice to invite us over, B!”. The church is open all night: when you press a button, a beautiful music starts and the lights turns on to reveal the inside of this very old church.

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Church selfie courtesy of Marine
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B hosting us

Time to go to bed and it’s raining again. The people sleeping in the hostel mention we should sleep inside as there is enough room but we decide against it. The garden it is! It turns out they will all sleep poorly: when you put ten people in one room, things get ugly fast! Meanwhile, B, R and I  have a very restful sleep outside.

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Small day due to the crazy extra hike the day before

Disclaimer: I did this trip in September 2016

 

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