Experiences from others
Walking in the pyrenees from 2008 and sooner
15 June 2006 Chalet des Cortalets to Mines de Batére
I returned to Chalet des Cortalets at mid-day after conquering the full 2784 metres of mystic Canigou and only sweet Marie was left to greet me. The French hikers had gone back to their home town near Paris and I had no idea which way René and Christa had gone. I assumed the young couple were heading home to Switzerland.
All these people are hikers that I had met along the way and shared the fabulous dinner table on the previous evening.
I packed my picnic lunch that the Chalet prepared for me and farewelled Marie, a young girl from Quebec City who was getting a lift to Perpignan. It was just after 1-pm, a little late start for a four and half hour journey to Mines de Batére, but the track out of the Chalet was a wide unsealed road accessible to normal vehicles and it was mostly down hill; I did not anticipate any difficulties other than my usual snail’s pace. So I prodded on.
I saw no one since I left the Chalet, not a single car passed on the dry gravel road that wound along the mountain side. It began to bug me. I stopped and had a pee at the side of the road deliberately. It’s the trick I play in the Pyrenees when I want to see another human being – which normally works! As soon as I squat down, someone pops out from nowhere… But not today , not even a field mouse came out. It seemed all France went into afternoon hibernation.
The fatigue set in and I was making a very slow progress. Sprinting up and down Canigou in the morning began to take its toll on my body. Two hours into my supposedly 4.5 hour journey, I was at Ras del Prat-Cabrera eating lunch and I still had 10 kilometres to Mines de Batére with one mountain pass to climb.
The GR trail abandoned the gravel road and veered off onto a beaten track and from there it was once again me, the simmering sun, skies, thickets of wild brambles, whispering trees of the forest and, of course, more mountains. There was a large, round, grassy clearing in the middle of the deep forest. The filtered sunbeams flickered down onto the ground that was partly covered in the brown fallen leaves. I saw a shaggy white dog in the distance. ‘Swish-swash’ ‘Swish-swash’ the leaves on the ground rustled under my feet. The dog’s head quickly turned towards my direction and it immediately ran towards me. The yapping echoed among the trees. I saw a man somewhere between 45 and 50 years of age, standing at the edge of clearing under the canopy of thick green foliage. He commanded his dog to halt.
The dog obeyed and wagged its tail. “Don’t worry, she is gentle” he assured me.
The man was lean and rugged like Canigou. A Chestnut coloured horse and a snow white horse on the long leash trod on the grassy ground. The sunbeams fell on their manes like the falling star dust. And the star dust swirled in the soft breeze. The man and his dog, horses, the whispering leaves and heavenly tranquillity of the deep forest; all these things made up one life. It’s the spirit of being that replenishes my soul in the mountains…
It is like air to my lungs.
I walked for a further three hours; down the gullies and the mountain ridges, cursing many ups and downs that the guide book did not mention. I scrambled up to the top of col de la Cirére where I finally saw the signpost pointing to Batére. As I made a descent over the green undulating meadow among the sheep and cows dodging their huge wet dungs, I saw a run down gîte d’etape on the wayside. It was in total ruin with no roof…
My heart sank.
I would love to have a nice shower and change of clothes! -was my simple wish. Down the path into the entrance to the village I saw another derelict house that displayed the gîte sign. The house was desolate and appeared abandoned. My heart sank for the second time. The air temperature dropped and the sky was fading to milky grey. The dusk sets in rapidly in the shadow of the mountains. Another gîte with a brand new Peugeot parked outside but the house was locked-up and “Interdit” signs posted everywhere. Yet again there was no sign of human habitat.
I began to think Batére is a ghost town, no people, no shops and no gîte! What am I going to do? Where should I sleep tonight?
My watch said just after 7-pm. I walked on the sealed road winding down the hill valley for another 500 metres and when I turned around the final hairpin, I saw a restaurant.
‘Bet it is closed, too’ I did not get fooled this time. But then I saw a dark slim figure quickly moving towards me. It was René smiling from ear to ear; raising up his arms open wide ready to greet me…
he was on the road waiting for me! I had no idea René and Christa would be here. They just popped out from the genie’s bottle.
“So did you climb Canigou?” René was dying to know.
“Oui! bien sûr!” I was so proud of my own achievement.
“I will show you the photos that I took on the summit of Canigou”
“Well done! Thought you could do it!”
René had those magnetic smiling eyes that hide wisdom of the mountains. But of course he can not hide them too long. Look how quickly he captured people’s hearts and gain the trust of the wise old French hikers. The refuge was under a serious renovation, bits and pieces of wood and building materials scattered all over the place. The kitchen and bar were chaotic with large packing boxes, some unopened and some half open. Annie, madam of the refuge, told us that she bought the refuge a month ago.
It had a very bad reputation; many people by-passed Batére – She explains puffing the cigarette. I had a nice shower, changed into clean warm clothes – yes, my wish has been granted – and strolled out to the yard where Marco (the workman who had been helping Annie with the renovation) was barbecuing vegetables.
Mushrooms, capsicums, aubergines and courgettes sizzled on the hot plate over the naked flame whilst René, Annie and Christa made a large make-shift table out of off cuts of timbers. The mixed barbecue vegetables, fresh garlic paste, crusty bread, a large bowl of salad and a cask red wine (in France?) on the table, and then Marco and his builder friend carried the red hot sheet of slate straight from the fire and placed it in the middle of the make shift table where we all sat around.
Thin slices of duck and pork (like bacons) sizzled and spat fat on the ‘Hot Rock BBQ’.
René was enjoying the great atmosphere and meal. Christa and I were totally lost in glory – not a word came out of our mouth that was overfilled with delicious food. Who needs words when you know what others are thinking? Annie still puffed her cigarette like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland and the builders drank beer and began eating duck without cooking on the hot plate. It was a carefree family dinner that I would always remember for the rest of my life.
The lightning flashed in the distance and we talked about tomorrow’s weather. Eating and chatting continued well into the night until we could no longer stand upright.
“Why the Pyrenees?” “Why do you walk the Pyrenees, Hiroko?” How many people had asked me this question?
Now you have the answers. It is the people, friendship, and it is the love for the mountains that we kindred spirits share. The most amazing thing happens when you are least expecting it. It happened at the night in Batére, the graveyard of gîtes.
Hiroko Clarke 2006
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