Fra(i)ncia I – Ghosts & Angels

So in Luijk I went to the Jacobschurch and even the stamp that I got there was fucking ugly. Honestly this city.. Finally took the train to the most southern point of Belgium that I could reach, a little village called Couvin. Now Ive been here before, 5 years ago I basically did the same thing. Because I meant to visit the same places this time around (Lucy her campsite, friends that I met along the way) and it seemed only logical to follow the same route book. Its going to be interesting to see how things have changed and how this will affect my journey. 
It felt like things now really got going, crossing the border from the Netherlands actually makes you feel like youre on your way and just the fact that people speak a different language makes it all the more adventurous and satisfying.

On the way to Couvin I had a little part where I had to take the bus and there was a wasp there, probably the last of his kind this time of year but that didnt keep him from stinging me in my back. Fuck you wasp! I let it out of the bus anyway at the next stop, see Im kindhearted like that and I dont hold any grudges is one way of looking at it, you can also think that I left the little fucker outside so he could have a slow and painful death out in the cold, you decide. Off to a great start anyway! HMM!

Last time I was here I could barely speak any French and I knew only that the French word for sleep was dormir. I said ‘dormir’ to the nearest old person in that town and he drove me up to his little retirement cottage up in the hills and pressed a couple of beers in my hand..eeehhhh, somehow I dont think Im going to be as lucky this time around. Not to mention the guy is probably living in the cottage himself now. His name was Jacques, this is appropriate because Santiago or Saint James is called St. Jacques in French. I ate a sandwich and walked around town a little bit. Yea not that lucky this time, youre all grown and full of bravado now you little shit, handle your own shit this time around!

So the tent it was and I found a nice camp spot next to a river and a soccer field. It did stay reasonably dry and Ive noticed that I was dealing with more of a land climate instead of abominable, unpredictable, sea climate that Im used to in the Netherlands. That being said, next day was slightly more wet and I had to take shelter a couple of times. Got some water from a school that was closing and managed to buy my favorite brand of tobacco right on the French border in Bruly. It wasnt as cold as I thought and I contemplated sleeping in a dugout near the school but ended up choosing the tent again. The next day was full blown get-rekt storm. I decided to do a little stretch to the small village of Rocroix, I remember there being a gite (hostel of sorts in French) especially made for pilgrims. I stayed there last time and just as I got my hopes up of drying some of this bullshit I was carrying around, they were closed and I could just hear cosmic forces laughing at my suicidal ass.

The ladies at the Office du Tourisme were nice enough to point me to a commercial gite that was expensive as hell and just outside of town, I walked over there and they were closed as well. I went back to the Office de Tourisme where the lady said that I could sleep on the rampart of Rocroix (it was an old fort town), I admired her sense of epicness and just as I was about to go there they got a call from 1 of the volunteers. I should wait, a volunteer is coming to open up the pilgrim gite especially for me! I guess the guy admired my sense of epicness as well because he didnt charge me anything. Normally it would have cost me 10 € and Im not going to lie, as a Dutch person I love me my discounts! He arrived and it was the sweetest old man you’ve ever seen. White beard and mustache, friendly eyes with an easy-going demeanor about him, he took me to the gite which consisted of a little kitchen/sitting area, a few showers and about 10 bunkbeds. He turned on all the heating and showed me around and I gave him all the thanks that I had. It was more than sufficient. Lucy picked a bed she liked and I took a shower. I went to the store and prepared myself a nice meal. How quickly fortunes can change I wondered. This would have either been the worst or the best night of the trip so far like it was now. With a full belly I had a great sleep and all my stuff was dry in the morning.

The next day it was still drizzling in the morning but it cleared up during the day and even the sun popped out through the clouds at some point. I remember last time I was walking this route I walked the completely wrong direction and I was forced to have my first wildcamping experience, terrified for the gendarmerie and preparations at -10 (no water/food/internet). I slept out in a field only to be greeted by a nice farmer that I helped with some minor tasks even though I didnt speak the language. How different things were this time around. I walked the right way and made good time. In the evening I went to look for a camp spot, thought I’d found one but it was compromised by some drunk youth that started yelling at me from a distance. I relocated to an even better spot under an old mining monument in a park, my tent just low enough to sneak behind some bushes out of sight. There was even water close by and because the sun was out, I charged my powerbank with my solar panel.

The next day I was woken up by a dog that just wouldnt stop barking at me and Lucy, the yard which was his domain, was bordering the park and he found himself defending his territory. Slightly alerted wake up I packed my tent quickly and left before he alerted more people to my present. Je suis un fantôme. 

The road was very nice and sunny weather, even more so than the last day. I walked until I saw a church that had pinot noir fields next to it. The next time you drink a pinot noir I want you to think about me taking a piss in one of the fields. I ran into town and there was only 1 bar open, had a hamburger there that was crappy by all means but still better than nothing.

Next up was Signy l’Abbaye, a once important town that had a big abbey but that was long ago. Last time here I met with a German pilgrim that I walked with for over a month until I found Lucy. Good company but I prefer a dog to be honest. Germans do the camino like they do World Wars and thats without mercy..

The weather was shifting again and I could notice a pattern emerging here. 1 day of rain, 3 days of dry weather slowly deteriorating into rain again. In Signy l’Abbaye they changed the campsite into a soccer field but the nice people pointed me in the right direction, another 5km to the nearest campsite called, located in La Venerie. As soon as I walked on the campsite there were a couple of people standing around. I asked them if they spoke English and a guy holding a machete (that I didnt notice at first) said he did. He translated for me and the lady owner of the campsite gave me a discount of 5 € per night. Pretty cheap so I took the deal (not that I had a choice lol).

That evening Im sitting in the campsite restaurant, doing a little writing and the guy who held the machete comes in with his entire family (without the machete xD). His name was JP and he offered me some wine which I declined and he offered to put me in one of the chalet cottages instead of sleeping in my tent WHICH I didnt decline obviously. He was the nicest guy and he kept watch over me in the following days. After dinner he showed me around. The price didnt change as well and it was good to find another Angel so soon after my miraculous rescue by Bernard a couple of days earlier. The chalet itself could house about 8 people and had a nice sitting area and a little kitchen. 
The next day I had a bit of a resting day since the weather was shit anyway (~4:1 ratio) and I worked on the website and did a little writing.

The weather cleared up the next day and I paid JP a visit to say goodbye, he made some food and we talked about life and God and mannnn is it awkward to hear a French person to tell you about their sexual escapades in broken English. Its whatever, 70 year old blue eyed/dark skinned from Guadeloup, still beasting and getting his dick wet, what a legend.

We said our goodbye’s and I went on my merry way, bless this man and the campsite!

5 years ago I went to this old lady in Signy l’Abbaye to get a stamp and I assumed she must have passed away in the meantime but when I went to her house she was still as (sparsely) alive as 5 years ago. She didnt remember me but she did have a very nice stamp of the town for me. Another one for the pokedex!

Revitalized by all these great unexpected things and a great rest I decided not to stay at this hunting lodge that was semi-open(?) just 7km out of Signy l’Abbaye and decided to keep on going.

Even doing a night walk through a forest.

je suis le seul fantôme ici!

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