Day 0: I am back on the trail, aiming to complete a thru-hike across the Spanish Pyrenees. I flew from Goa to Doha to Barcelona, where, due to some hiccup with my train ticket, I ended up crashing at my first AirBnB place. My hosts Andreina and Fernando were simply amazing and they put together a nice Venezuelan arepas dinner for me. The next day I caught my train from Barcelona-Sants to Irun, a town on the Atlantic coast. I caught a bus to Playa Del Hondarribia and walked it to a campsite near a lighthouse. This is where the GR11 trail begins and will eventually lead me to the Mediterranean. I see the familiar red and white trail marker that helped me thru-hike across the GR5 back in 2009. Here’s a link to when that adventure began:
I am carrying a Nexus 5 and will be blogging this journey from the phone, so forgive me for the typos and errors. Tomorrow is going to be a long walk for the first day. I’d like to head out early. Let’s see how it goes.
Aug 15 2009
It’s my last day on the trail, and I have mixed feelings. It was only four hours to Nice, two hours on a trail and two hours on road. When I saw the Mediterranean from a distance, I started beaming. I can’t exactly describe the joy, but I was feeling a little giddy. The Mediterranean is beautiful. I must say this is an incredible way to end this long journey. I’ve walked around 1500 miles across Europe, and I am mildly surprised that I made it, because I’m feeling a little numb. Must be all the feelings I’ve bottled up somewhere…I don’t know.
When I got to the center of Nice though I started freaking out a bit. The place was just crowded with tourists, like roaches. I made it all the way to the beach, and just hung around a bit. I really wanted to get the hell out of there. After the mountains, this was too much humanity for me to take. So I rushed to the train station to buy a ticket to Lausanne. After calling my parents, I called Ruth and left a message – I must have sounded weird. I called Romeer, and I told him I was on my way back to Lausanne.
I grabbed some Thai food and got into the train, and after I successfully squeezed my backpack into the overhead compartment, I turned around and started laughing. Getting onto the train was the French girl I bumped into and had dinner with a week ago at a refuge in Maljasset. She started laughing too when she saw me, because once again I didn’t know any French, and she didn’t know any English.
Even though I had a little mental freak-out in Nice, I felt better now. I thought there was no better way to end the GR5 trip than with a fellow GR5-er on my train ride back to Lausanne, even though we didn’t sit next to each other. She got off at Lyon and she asked the man next to me if he would be kind enough to translate something she wanted to tell me.
After she got off the train, the man smiled at me, raised an eyebrow and nodded in her direction.
Aug 14 2009
The guide says that at some point on the trail today I should be able to see the Mediterranean, but, because of the hazy weather, I couldn’t see much. I passed through the town of Levens and sat down at a bench and ate a sandwich. It was a gorgeous day and I could already feel the Mediterranean effect. The French say that they have everything and, after walking through the country, I must agree with them. Great mountains, great sea, great wine, great cheese and because they have five different countries at their border, they enjoy a blend of cultures at their border towns. Here in Levens, I could see and feel the Italian influence. I’ve heard only good things about the hikes in Italy, and my mind wanders from time to time about making future plans for Italy. Let’s see.
Even though I’m a day away from Nice, the hikes are still long, and it takes me seven hours to get to Aspremont. It’s a small town and there are no gites, refuges or campsites. I enquire at the only hotel and find out that they’re full. C’est complet, the man tells me. So I’ve resigned to wild camp it somewhere if I can. It looked like there was not a lot of forest in the area, so I crossed my fingers, well, not literally.
While I was grabbing a bite to eat at a restaurant, a family sitting nearby was curious about my trip and the wife was really amazed that I had walked the whole GR5. They told me that I was in luck today, because they were leaving the hotel a day early, and said I could take their room for the night. The husband walked over to the hotel and spoke to the manager and came back with the key. It’s all taken care of, he tells me – crazy how these things work out.
Slept in a really, I mean really, nice bed.
Aug 13 2009
Thought I escaped the rocky trail nightmare, but the GR5 decided to throw all the rocks it could at me. I fell down twice and broke my hiking stick on my second fall. It was all a blur. I was just happy it didn’t draw any blood or leave me with scraped knees. Good thing I had another hiking stick; they come in pairs.
Later, I bumped into a French man hiking on his own, and we hiked for several hours together. He and his wife were on vacation, and while she pampered herself at some posh hotel in Nice, he was hiking and wild camping it on the GR5. She doesn’t like to hike, so we have to comprise, he tells me. Even though he was spending just a week on the trail and was on his way to meet his wife in Nice, he sounded like he already missed her. Well, at least he had me for company!
We walked through seven cols, the highest number of cols I’ve walked through in a single day – the trail never gets any easier. Had to walk for three hours in shards of rocks, and then over boulders. I started to limp a little, favoring my left knee, and I was glad I decided to head to Nice.
When we got to Utelle, I found the gite and discovered I had the whole place to myself. Yeah! My French friend decided to keep going. He wanted to get to Nice early and surprise his wife. He left with a smile on his face.
Aug 12 2009
So I guess the summer vacation is over here in France, because there’s not a lot of people on the trail now. The hike is on a rugged path today that was once used by mules back in the day or used by people with mules. The Mercantour part of the trail is really rocky and my left knee is not liking it so much. The walk down from Serre to St. Sauveur sur Tinee is a 500-meter drop full of rocks and by the time I got to St. Sauveur sur Tinee I was exhausted. I stopped to eat something and struck up a conversation with this French guy. He and his girlfriend were walking the GR5, and his girlfriend was having issues with her boots. She had a ton of blisters. New boots, he tells me and shakes his head. I shake my head too. I’ve been there, and I know what that’s like.
I got to St. Dalmas after another three hours and found my campsite, and decided to grab a pizza. The restaurant was also an Artisan Glacier where they made their sorbets from scratch, so I couldn’t pass that up.
At this point of the trail, I had planned to take the GR52 to Menton, instead of the GR5 to Nice. After assessing my knee situation, I decided to stick to the GR5. I started with the GR5, might as well end with the GR5 at Nice.
Fell asleep thinking of sorbets.
Aug 11 2009
This was the longest day of my life on the trail. The hike to Refuge de Longon passed through five different cols. It was a nine and half hour day, but with stops for lunch and rest breaks, it took me around eleven hours to get to the refuge. On the way I saw some very interesting limestone formations and there were signs everywhere asking hikers not to touch the rocks that towered over the area. If I had to describe them to anyone, I’d say that they looked like giant malformed penises. I think I’ve watched “Superbad” too many times.
On the way down to the Col Des Moulines I tweaked my left knee a bit. I’ve been pushing hard these days and trying to the hike faster up hills and I can feel it now. I’ve obviously pushed my body hard so far, and I feel I need a break, but I don’t want to lose momentum. I know if I stop for a few days, I may just, uh, stop.
Aug 10 2009
Today, as I walked from Bousieyas to St. Dalmas Le Salvage, a stormy battle was fought above me, a fierce struggle between good and evil, and after a few hours, good prevailed and I basked in its warmth. I was soaked to the bone, but it didn’t matter. Everything around me looked like new, like old faded clothes after a rinse.
I reached the town of St. Etienne de Tinee and stopped at some place to grab a bite to eat. There were a ton of bikers in town, and wanted to get moving, because they were peeling down the street and the motorcycles were so noisy.
The last two hours to Auron were terrible. The trail was uphill and crazy steep and when I got to Auron, I had to walk around to look for the campsite. The tourist office was a big help, when I finally found the tourist office, that is. These tourist offices need a bigger sign or something. I went around looking for a barbershop, but they were closed. I really need a haircut.
Aug 09 2009
I’ve had my fill of mountains, trees – basically all that nature has to offer out here. The “wow” factor has diminished, because I am seeing the same thing every day. So to keep myself motivated I’ve started racing people to the top. I think I’ve alarmed quite a few folks. I bump into the French couple with their daughter and pass them to get to the Pas De La Cavale. Even though I’ve reached the highest point on the trail, I still have to dip down to the valley and hike back up to the Col Des Fourches. Thanks to the rain last night, I have a wet tent, so I stop at some point to dry it out as well as some clothes that have been hanging from my backpack.
The French couple with their daughter (I think she’s just eleven years old) pass by and wave and get a head start up to the col. I think their daughter is trying to beat me to the top, because I beat them to Pas De Cavale, so I pack up my tent and clothes and try to race her to the top, but she beats me anyway. Her parents finally get to the top and together we head to our destination, a hamlet called Bousieyas. Of course, I speed downhill and get there before everybody. The French couple’s daughter isn’t too happy that I’ve beaten her to the gite at Bousieyas, but (like most kids) she soon forgets about it.
Sometimes you have to sacrifice a battle to win the war.
Aug 08 2009
Had to walk up to two cols today. I think from here on out the trail starts to get tougher every day. It has also been getting noticeably hotter too, so I’ve got my hat on with the flap to protect my neck, and I’m wearing gloves to stop my hands from turning into charcoal. Yeah, I’m 2500 meters closer to the sun when I get to a col.
Passed by another ruin on my to Col de Mallemort. I can’t imagine how people lived up here back in the day. I can’t imagine living without a movie theater nearby. No library? Good thing I’m doing this walk for only three and a half months.
It was a long walking day, but I got to Larche in good time and found my campsite outside of town on the GR5 trail, and managed to pitch my tent before it started to rain. Eh, I hate wet tent mornings.
Aug 07 2009
Passed a French couple hiking with their daughter while I made my way up to the Col Girardin. Today, I exit the Queyras National Park and start making my way into the Mercantour National Park. I walked by the Lac Miroir and the guide said that if the water stayed still I‘d see a perfect reflection of the mountains, and it was awesome, until I passed another lake that was unbelievably blue. Up ahead, I saw this French girl and I raced her up to the Col Girardin. The climb up was treacherous – very steep with lots of flaky stones. At the top, the French girl asked me something and I had to tell her I didn’t speak French, and she couldn’t speak English, so that put an end to our conversation. I did offer to take a picture of her with her camera, using my hands and the few French words I’ve learned so far. She was using a disposable camera; I hadn’t seen one of those in a while. The French couple with their daughter showed up, and soon a whole bunch of people showed up, and everyone was finding a place to sit to eat some lunch. I quickly ate some fruit and gobbled up a sandwich and headed back down towards La Barge. Because there’s no accommodation at La Barge, I had to take a detour to Maljasset. I was planning to crash at the refuge, run by the Club Alpin Francaise. When I got there, it was closed, so walked around and found a gite and managed to book a bed. After two hours, the French girl and the couple with their daughter showed up. I ended up sitting at the same table with them for dinner. I spent most of the time nodding and smiling while I listened to them babble away in French. Another lady sitting with us helped out and translated, but it was too much work for her.
The owner of the gite found out I was from Goa and told me I was the first Indian customer he’s had, and also the first person he’s met who was walking the entire GR5 trail, so he asked me to sign his guest book. And sign it, I did.