Pyrenees Tales: From Manchester to Borce 2013 Thursday November 7, 2013

“Excuse me I need help.” I think it was obvious. I don’t know how my face appeared but I felt the sudden sweat, the dizziness and nausea I occasionally experience when I don’t eat. I don’t eat when I’m stressed. I was stressed with the pressure of arrangements, plans, insurance and walking routes for the Pyrenees. I suspect a pallor of chalk, grey, or green.

She tried to help by removing my jacket but feeling hot was not the problem. The previous day I think I’d had a sandwich and nothing more. No breakfast, no dinner, and no breakfast again on this dreadful early morning which entailed a four o’clock alarm call. Just get on the flight, get on the flight, everything will be fine, keep going…

I couldn’t do it and nearly collapsed at the airport. They called the medics and then an ambulance. Same old story, just as it was about three years ago when I was nearly killed on a motorway and the medic wanted me in hospital for my blood pressure. Police officers were beside the ambulance this time and I wondered if they suspected me of carrying drugs in my bowels. They seemed disinterested and I wasn’t sure if that was a professional act or not.

So there I was at A and E around seven in the morning when I should have been on my flight to Toulouse. Back home I considered my options. The Pyrenees are hard work and I thought two weeks in Scotland might be a better plan. It might, with the joy of independent travel when you drive around at will. But the weather hadn’t been good, if it were there would be appalling summer midges, so I wasn’t keen on the idea.

Back at the airport to collect my rucksack I was advised at the Jet2 desk there was another flight the next day which I could have for no extra charge. I’d already phoned Jet2 and they’d given me no such opportunity. Talk to the manager at the desk – a nice lady called Fleur – and purely by chance, the damage is thoroughly limited. I lost a day but it made little difference to my plans. She said I could ask to see her when I arrived at the airport the next morning, which I did, and I was whisked through the fast lane and secure corridors to arrive at the departure gate without enduring Hieronymus Bosch crowds. It was dreadful. It was wonderful. Even with breakfast I felt ill again with only minimal jostling against the hordes at such a time in the morning.

Toulouse airport is quite small. I didn’t wait long to recover my rucksack, get the bus into town, then found the energy for a frantic dash to a supermarket I knew sold methylated spirits, then catch the train to Oloron Saint Marie without a ticket: more queues, I had no choice. Five minutes later and my plans would be ruined. Installed on the train a pleasant mother asked me if I was in a hurry after I requested confirmation: “pour Oloron Saint Marie?” Her daughter was enjoying laptop photographs of herself riding, feeding and tending to a horse she clearly loved. “C’est tres important pour la nuit, pour mon vacances” I said clumsily but effectively: I wouldn’t express it like that in English but the gist of it was entirely satisfactory.

At Oloron I tried hitching out to Etsaut for about forty minutes but know from experience it’s not a hitch friendly place. Trying too hard, trying too hard…I decided to relax and wait for the bus which entailed two or three hours of boredom but no more stress. Two British women arrived at the stop and I heard one say to the other “yes, it’s her” without looking at a third English speaking and older woman who was evidently upset. It was quite obvious: she wanted some company and to continue a previous conversation but the younger ladies didn’t like her. She departed the bus at one of the villages in the Aspe valley. It seemed residential as opposed to a tourist location.

My book said there was a small cheap hotel at Etsaut. There isn’t. It was August, but surprisingly and depressingly quiet with boarded shutters everywhere and a basic shop I remembered from five years ago. There’s a small and cheap hostel but the dormitories were crowded and outside in the yard an appallingly loud donkey kept braying like he was being whipped.

Up to Borce, about thirty minutes walk up the other side of the valley, I looked for a quiet field where I might camp unobtrusively. No such field. I knew there was a hostel and went there instead. Next I needed food and walked down to the bar at the end of the street but they only had snacks. They did however have passable fruit, vegetables and provisions including vegetarian tinned lentils and noodles. I had this with salad and the company of just two people in the tiny kitchen: he was British, they lived in Canada, she had been born in the Pyrenees.

My room, blissfully, was empty apart from me and the scattered content of my rucksack. I’d made it. Now my Pyrenees Walking 2013 would begin the next morning.