Friday, 4 October 2013

A hike through Southern Europe: The big rain

I left Toulon with a mixed forecast: Several days of warm weather followed by the big rain, two days of incessant precipitation. I wasn't looking forward to it. Right now I am trying to move fast South to get into the dry Mediterranean climate. Although the first short German part has been really nice the subsequent 750 km in France have not been that great. Don't get me  wrong: the route isn't a catastrophe and still quite pleasant, but so far it has definitely not been the greatest hike I have ever done.

First of all the landscape is rather mediocre. Except for the occasional highlight like the cities of Metz and Dijon or the precipices in Burgundy the landscape is rather boring. Rolling hills and plenty of cows and lots of little half deserted villages. Although some villages were quite nice they mostly look rather desolate, especially in fog and rain. As more and more people move to the cities these little villages die. Most of the shops have long closed and the old houses are boarded up. What is left is huge farms with industrial looking barns and stables.But my biggest problem is the route surface. A surprisingly high percentage is on pavement. I would guess that about half the trail is on roads. There is no or hardly any traffic, but my feet are suffering from the hard surface leading to more aches and pains. 1,000 km is usually not quite the end of my shoes' life, but here I can't wait to get a new pair soon.

On the plus side there is free wayside fruit and much warmer weather than expected. Actually due to the high humidity but still pleasant temperatures I have come close to dehydration several times. I sweat a lot but don't realise it due to the pleasant temperatures. I even sweat at night because my winter quilt is way too warm. If it then starts raining like today I am in for a sauna trip. So far my equipment has been total overkill. I am carrying way too many clothes and I could have done with a lighter quilt and sleeping pad. But I guess that'll change soon.

Today the big rain started and with it the dilemma how to protect myself against it. Without a rain jacket I get soaked from outside, with a rain jacket I get soaked from inside. I was soon fed up and pondering my options. (Hiking in European civilisation you have options, hiking one of the American wilderness trails you have only one option: continue hiking.....) Soon I realised I just wanted to get out of the rain and rest my hurting feet. But where?

Right now I am just hiking with my GPS and 1: 100.000 maps and unfortunately neither shows campgrounds, hostels or shelters. By pure coincidence I stumbled across a private campground in the morning. It was cheap, nice and completely empty, but the prospect of staying a whole rainy day in my leaking tent or the bathrooms made me carry on. A quick internet research indicated that the next village had a gite which alas was nowhere to be seen when I got there one hour later. It was still early in the day and I decided to hike on and hope for a shelter. But unfortunately these shelters are by far not as frequent in France than in Germany and they never materialise when you need one. Another hour in the rain brought me to the next village's sports ground - with a nice roof. If anything else failed I would camp under that roof and hope there is no football practice Friday evening. More internet research revealed affordable chambres d'hotes in the village. I called and enquired in my best bad French about a room. I was told the guest house is closed. After more awkward enquires and explanations from my side I was just told to come and "something would come up".

I had no idea what could come up and what to do exactly but I walked another half hour in the rain into the village and called the same number again. "J'arrive" - "I am coming" I was told and for sure 5 minutes later a lady in a car materialised and solved the riddle. The village did not only have chambres d'hotes, but also a gite d'etape and the lady worked in the town hall and was responsible for both. Why the gite was not shown on my map or showed up on the internet will always be a mystery to me. The municipal gite turned out to be paradise. It was huge with three dorms, hot showers and a kitchen. But best of all it only cost 9,22 €! I was all alone the whole afternoon and only in the evening a father with two kids showed up but with three dorms we each have our own room.

My culinary expedition into Arfeuilles was less successful. There is only one bar/restaurant. The advertised pizza was not available because it has to be  pre-ordered 24 hours in advance. No other food. After long discussions I was told no good now but dinner only after 7 pm. I was desperate for something non-pasta and non-couscous and returned after 7 pm. There was only one menu that could not be negotiated and only one guest. I got a sandwich, scrambled eggs, cheese, bread and at least a nice desert. Still better than Couscous with nothing.

The forecast for tomorrow varies depending on the website. Either even worse rain than today or sunny with showers. I hope for the latter..


martenhogeweg said...

Buy an umbrella. It is great for reading the map or checking your GPS and makes a break for lunch much more comfortable. I walked the E9 from France to Tallinn with an umbrella and had much rain in Niedersacksen, no problem.


German Tourist said...

I have bought an umbrella and it helps a lot, although it is pretty useless in high winds.