Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cevennes to Carcassonne

This stretch has been the most tedious in whole France! Why? First of all because it was hot, hot, hot. As I had already noticed before hiking in Southern France in the height of summer is not really the smartest idea. Most of this stretch is way below 1,000 m and the sun was relentless. The only thing that brought a little bit of relief was the wind, although it was of a strange kind. One minute you are caught in a strong gust that nearly rips your tent apart - and then there is nothing for a quarter of an hour. No constant subtle breeze but unpredictable gusts.

The trail wasn't really exciting. There was a lot of road walking which is unusual. So far I have encountered much less road walking in France than on comparable trails in Germany. But now all of a sudden there are long stretches on country roads. Not really bad as there is hardly any traffic on these roads but painful for your feet especially when your shoes are falling apart and there is no more padding left... But the other alternative if not much better: if you are not routed on country roads you have to fight your way through heavily overgrown trails. Not many people hike this stretch of the GR 7 and therefore the trails are not very well maintained. Especially troublesome are blackberry bushes that stick to everything and are a real problem if you are carrying a delicate Silnylon backpack. At least I am reminded of why gaiters are really useful... the rest of my legs is full of cuts and scratches. And the damn blackberries aren't even ripe yet!

Apricot tree
Which brings me to a more positive topic: fruit on the trail! Apricots are ripe now and an apricot tree is one of my favourite sights along the trail! But now I have discovered the peach trees and it is difficult to day which is better. But eating sun warm juicy fruit is one of the best experiences for a hungry hiker. I am also passing an endless amounts of vineyards but the grapes are far from ripe. But maybe by the time I get to Spain?...

The villages along the trail are quite interesting as well. I hit Lodeve right at the one night when they had a big music festival going on. As soon I realised that I gave up all hopes of a nice Nero day in a gite: of course everything was fully booked and I met a desperate pilgrim who couldn't find any accommodation. Thank God for my tent! Whereas she had to take a long expensive ride to an even more expensive hotel I just hiked on and pitched my tent in the next forest.
Camping in an orchard

Camping has become rather difficult and rather uncomfortable. The ground is rock hard with stones everywhere. And of course all the vegetation is only out there to stick needles into you. On my last night I encountered even more adversaries: I had left my underpants outside the tent to dry them. In the morning I just grabbed them and just wanted to put them on - when about 20 huge ants fell out and scurried away all over my tent and inside my sleeping bag. After that incident I was awake.

Lamalou Les Bains was a lovely spa town with gorgeous old villas - and plenty of reconvalescents. Every other person on the street was missing a limb or had terrible burns. I was most happy about the Lidl supermarket and bought way to much chocolate that only melts in the sun.

I couldn't wait to get to Carcassonne where I had two resupply packages. But would they really be there? I had never used poste restante in France before and it had been rather difficult to find out if and how it works. Therefore I was rather nervous when I entered the main post office and asked for my poste restante. The clerk took my passport and disappeared - only to reappear without any package. No mail under my name. My heart plummeted. Luckily I asked him specifically for parcels now. That seemed to be a different matter and he disappeared a second time - and reappeared with one parcel. That was at least a start. I told him that there should be two parcels and he disappeared a third time - and reappeared with my second parcel. Now I was a happy hiker again, especially since I was also able to buy maps for the next section in the bookstore nearby.

Carcassonne
As I had not been able to find a CS host in Carcassonne I had booked myself into the youth hostel and there my luck continued. Despite holiday season I had a dorm room for myself. I decided to splurge on the hostel washing machine instead of hand washing my clothes but the machine was broke and did not spin. I told the receptionist who did not believe me but put on a second washing cycle for free. Didn't work either. She finally washed them a third time in the staff only machine and I guess my dirty hiker clothes really deserved the three washes.

Carcassonne is a really beautiful mediaeval city, but I was hot and tired. I decided to spend a rest day mostly lying on my bed and thoroughly enjoyed it. I even found a bottle of wine on the hostel's few food shelf. I have to make a mental note to take more rest days! I still managed to mail stuff away, do my resupply and replace broken gear. Tomorrow I will head out again and I will probably be levitating along the trail in my new shoes...

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