the real Camino

Looking for something else completely, a tiny red notebook fell out of a pile of papers. I opened it and discovered my Camino journal, from July 2012. It was only a few pages long — but I was surprised how much I enjoyed reading it. So I decided to “re-blog” it here, with a typed out, deciphered edition.

Monday 16 July —> Really First Day.

The night in Pamp(lona) was awful, 7-yr-old epileptic above me kept me awake till I moved to bench at 4am. Then got up at 7:20 (a grand ~2 hours of sleep) and walked 5km to the supermarket & back. Bus uneventful. Arrive RV (Roncesvalles) & decided to jump straight into walking as it was already 11am – 7.5h of walking to get to SJPP (St Jean Pied-de-Port). But got lost following an unmarked trail… +3km. Then decided to go back, get my sellio (stamp) at RV, try again. 2 more false starts (+1km!) then finally on my way. I had no idea how hideously steep the RV-Lepoeder section was – over 500m from 950m to 1450m, then back down to 850m at Orisson refuge where I am now – today’s kms:

5km + 7.75 + 8.09 + 4.87 + 1.09 = 26km

1:30 + 2:05 + 1:52 + 1:06 + 15min = 6:45h

I was so upset at the beginning about getting lost & adding an hour &4km to my already “tight” schedule. There may have been a couple of tears shed. But then I got my groove on and powered up that BITCH of a hill, as Camino’s slipped and slid down past me. one guy even called out “Bon Courage! C’est haut!” but fortunately I didn’t know just how high and steep it would be… Then once at the top, it was easy, had a light lunch (totes worth the 5km walk this AM, right?) and kept walking and walking… then just as the pain was getting too much to bear, around 25km, I found this refuge. No reservations no problem. So far only other people are 2 koreans, a lovely girl who has been so nice to talk to despite my predicition that I would speak to no-one. And 3 stamps today!

Tuesday 17 July

I slept a blissful 10+ hours — 9pm, out like a happy light. Must have been lots of people around but I snoozed blissfully. Woke up at 8 and didn’t start till 9am. Joyful happy jaunt to SJPP, paused for Orange/Carrefour/Sportshop/food then off again. Best feelings of being in countryside in July! Just like the Creuse when I was a kid on summer holidays. Wicked sunburn despite sunscreen and “tent” – love my Oxfam super-scarf so much! Need to apply screen every hour at least, twice in a 6-hour midday walk is pure stupidity really! Am in an “Expensive” 33 Euro hotel as no gîtes locally and my feet are very blistered. Everyone is nice. I’m so happy and tired and happy!

7.33 + 12.8 + 6.8 = 26.9km

01:45 + 2:46 + 1:38 = 6.09 h

It’s taken hours to work out the next two days of travel due to 2 different variations (4 possible routes). But I have decided to stick to my pace of 26km/day, if my legs hold out. Eating “Type A” has been ok (and economical too, helping me avoid temptation!) thus far. Supermarkets provide my staples: apples, carrots, babybel, crisps, “salades” (carrottes rapees, nicoise…), cereal bars, and a big tube of mayonnaise + any lingering veg/fruit I can find. Not sure how I am managing goodwise really, as 6h walk burns 1300 kcal (my normal daily intake!) and I’m not eating much more. Oh yes! Nuts and raisins help. Must get more tomorrow! Blister status: 1 on each little toe and 1 on the front sole of each foot. Yay. Also: Love my water bladder. I get my 2L/day easily. Thanks James.

view from my window = inspiration for his video game! [James used to play an iphone game where he would glide over rolling hills…]+ 3 stamps 🙂

Wed 18 July. The tough day…

Oh well it wasn’t ALL tough. But definitely the toughest. Started at 8:40, and had to stop a couple of times to deal with the blisters on my blisters, but covered 11km by 12pm (not great but not AWFUL). Then at Stele of Gibraltar met a lovely couple and ate lunch with them, felt really positive — I’d not taken the shortcut at Larribar and was rewarded by the view and their company. They told me to take the shortcut from Olaïby to Arone as the “LR” (long route) was wicked. Sadly I got lost due to lack of signage, and then ended up taking the long way. Tried to do a short cut, met scary dogs… no phone… had several crying huffy panicky moments – blisters were agony but had to pull my shit together and just fucking WALK. So I did for hours… got to the gîte just in time, last bed, and also cos I shamelessly hitch-hiked the last km, in time for food-shopping. Yay! The lady at the gîte was SO lovely and I gave her my Taiwanese coin, she seemed really pleased with it (best 1NT I ever spent!). Talked to some nice (if very french) people. Not sure how I want to play tomorrow, easy 20km to Navaneux or push 25km to Abbeye? I think Abbeye. Wanna push forward but also torn that am not “enjoying” where I am because of worrying where I should be… à suivre…

11.2km + 11km + 7? 8? = 29km

3:20 + 3:14 + 1:30 = 8h

Late night notes. When I was walking I thought of how this was like caring for a recalcitrant toddler — my mind is the adult and knows that this must be done, but then has to coax, push, ignore the complaints, the “but it hurts I’m tired NOOOOO” of my body. Taking care of blisters is like working with an animal — a stupid, wounded one at that. I’m TRYING to help! But the stupid things keep slipping and pinchng and biting and refusing to cooperate or even stay still. Gah. Blisters SUCK. I need a pharmacy. All of the above reminds me of the conversation we had re: Nalia [my friends’ infant daughter] crying in the car, with Juan. It’s against nature to do these things, at least my softy body thinks so, and I can’t talk to it to explain, so sadly it just has to suffer till it understands.

Thursday 18 July [actually 19] HURTY DAY

Today was easy walking but SO painful all pleasure was impossible. Just staring at the road and wincing as my feet popped and crackled. Like walking on 2 lumps of ice shitty nails. ANYWAY. Got to Nav. by 12:20 and went straight to bed, lovely 3h nap in comfy clean sheets and duvet. Showers were “rain” but I went to supermarket and cooked pasta + sauce with grilled courgette, hummous with carrots, tomatoes and a big mushroom. SO happy to have a nice big vegetarian meal with so many colours and textures! Sharing a room with a German-Kurdish dad and his sons, discovering I actually speak decent Deutsch still — I think being in Spain has unlocked my linguistic skills. 19.6km in 5h. Total so far: 101.5. Lost my Opinel [penknife], boo, so got a nice blue one to replace it. Yay!

Friday 19 July [20th July actually… I love how it doesn’t even matter] Redemption?

So today was hard work. The pain has moved from my blisters (soles are ok but toes still fucking burn) to my heel, ankle, and long-time trouble-maker, my right knee + tibia. Shin splints? So yes, the 15km from Navaneux to Sauvelade were limping, miserable hours. It rained a little, just enough to justify the dreaded poncho, for the first hour. Then I called mama and felt a bit better, but also even more stressed as I’m basically falling apart physically and she is (unintentionally) putting a lot of pressure on me. Then I called Madaca to discover there were no beds available – hence my current location in Sauvelade. It turned out to be a blessing of course, as all unexpected decisions along the Way. Firstly, I more than needed to STOP WALKING. Second, it’s peaceful and fairly comfy. Third, the people (oh so very clicheed, but the support people provide along the Way is truly touching), the people I met and spoke with gently encouraged me (by the rigourous french standards) to do as the couple a few nights ago suggested and skip the next couple of etapes. In fact, to leave with the bag carriers and go straight up to Nagaro. A few calls later and I was set up with a ride tomorrow morning, and a bed in Nagaro tomorrow night. I will rest up, then walk two short etapes on Sunday and Monday, then meet Mummy and do Montreal and Condom with her – either 15km a day, or more if we feel like it! Perfect. I only wish I could call her to tell her the news. Today I listened to my ipod for the first time, and “Just a Ride” came on and of course made me cry but also reminded me of my own fundamental beliefs. I am not a catholic pilgrim but I am having my own “Way”,

you can’t help it, so many hours of daily introspection, it’s almost like a retreat, I guess that’s the point after all… I also have had to tell my story so many times, it forces me to generalise, simplify, find a truth that can be summed up in a few lines. Something I usually hate doing but that does need to be done, at the end of the day. So I’m learning myself that I do this kind of work, live that kind of life, have these kind of hopes, dreams, plans and beliefs. That James and I are together and apart. That I am a drifter. Continental drifter…

Today’s walk…

15.04km in 3:30 hours. Total 116.5km.

Reading Dickens’ biography… la vie est belle, finalement.

Sunday 21… yes there’s a day missing…

Yesterday I went up to Aire sur l’Adour (now it’s too late you finally learn how to say it) by taxi with 2 Belgians who then gave me a lift to Nagaro. Michel and Raymond were older guys, who had been walking for a week. I had a nice convo with Michel in the taxi, but it was a 20-30min conversation with Raymond which I found really compelling and moving. He told me to be proud of being “selfish” because “Il est plus facile de se sacrifier que de se realiser” and with the added reminder that “certains se realisent dans le sacrifice”. We hugged and swapped email addresses, I really felt a strong connection with him. It’s funny how the people I meet can all bring encouragement, love and support to each other… well not all of them, but I feel like when humans are left to themselves in safe, mutually respectful space, they do genuinely care and help each other…

Anyway, after a night in Nagarro (well first an afternoon, heavy with the mistake of eating a HUGE plate of steak and fries and apple pie and ice cream and coke (WTF) that left me heavy and sleepy) where I shared a room with Martine (who talked wisely about trust and long distance relationships)… I walked 6km to Haget. It’s a bit dull, and the weather is so perfect, but I need my feet to heal so I can enjoy walking with Mummy. The people here are less mindful but nobody can be everything to everyone.

Today: 7.45km, not sure of the time, maybe 2:20? good speed thanks to my healing blisters.

Mon 23 July – total 138km,

GPS refused to start today, but it took me 3h to walk from le Haget to Eauze, which is about 15km. I got to the gîte at 11am, showered, went shopping, ate lunch and napped, all perfect. Then visited the Eauze archaeological museum which has a fantastic treasure trove on display. At the gîte a woman expressed surprise (which I am used to for a variety of reasons) because… I was wearing a dress, and she assumed I wasn’t a walker. WTF? She is def one of the retarded type [ROSIE, NOT COOL!]. I bet she snorers. But otherwise the gite and Eauze are very nice… Sadly it’s Monday, so nearly everything is shut. Am debating another Monaco [beer and grenadine and lemonade] as it’s going to be at least 2 more hours till Mummy gets here and we get dinner. Just realised time was CRAZY good compared to yesterday. Twice the distance in only 40 min more!

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After this my maman joined me on the walk so I didn’t have any introspective writing to re-discover.

Loved re-reading this. One day… I’ll be back.

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It’s not always easy to get myself to yoga. I didn’t want to go yesterday morning — it was 5:45am, James was in bed after waiting so many months to be together again, and I had slept really badly and did NOT want to get up. I also was grumpy because I knew I had to buy a 1-month pass even though I’d be banned from exercise for a week (more on this below) and then we’re going to Taiwan. But it’s so expensive to do Bikram it’s rarely not worth getting a pass.

Anyway, I went, precisely because it was my very last chance before my one-week ban commenced, and I felt meh-to-neutral all the way through. But on the last shavasana, I felt incredible. I think it’s a bit like a Rubik’s Cube or a videogame cheat code — you have to configure your body in 26 different postures, twice each, feeling crap, and then ta-dah! You feel good.

And if there was a fairly simple cheat code you could use whenever you want, to feel happy and well… you would be a fool not to use it at least a couple times a week!

Anyway — exercise ban. This morning I had an appointment to get my right knee’s common peroneal nerve injected with cortisone to try and improve my shin pain/nerve damage. It was pretty horrid, and then my leg went rather numb, but it’s wearing off now. I am reassured that my shin is aching which suggests they hit the right nerve. However despite me cajoling the specialist, the doctor and the nurse separately, they are adamant that I cannot exercise for a week and no, not even yoga.

My volunteer stint for Oxfam Trailwalker is in 10 days so I am trusting I’ll be ok to hike 11km by then. I certainly am cringing at the idea of not going to yoga for a week! But at least James and I can relax and enjoy a lazy Easter weekend.

On the 13th of March, my replacement at work will be starting! So I am very close to an end and there is bright light at the end of the tunnel. I’m a little nervous about how quickly work wants me to move on (my boss mentioned me potentially not bothering to come back from my holiday, but if he thinks I can do a complete handover in 8 business days he is quite deluded). But I’ll certainly be out of there by the end of May.

I have been debating blowing some of my savings to go back to Europe in June. I’d like to go visit my grandmother in the UK, and I would also like to walk a couple hundred more km on the Camino. It’s probably not a very wise idea but… it’s at the back of my mind. First and foremost I need to call Immigration and work out if it will affect my Australian citizenship eligibility though.

never on sunday

I woke up early today and lay in bed enjoying not having to get up, not having to work, and listening to the rain outside. Through various meandering trains of thought, I started thinking about non-latin alphabets, and remembered a weekend spent deciphering the Greek lyrics to Never on Sunday by Pink Martini. Nowadays of course it would be so easy. I would google the lyrics, google “Greek alphabet”, find a wealth of resources and quickly learn to read the lyrics out loud.

But this was in 2001. I was 18 and living by myself for the first time, after seven years of boarding school (the last two of which I had mostly spent living with my boyfriend Christophe). I had a small but perfect studio, Rue des Trois Baudus, in the beautiful town of Cahors in South-West France. I had no computer or internet of course. I spent a lot of time reading, writing in my journal, or listening to the half-dozen CDs I owned on my portable CD player over and over, making it virtually impossible for me to listen to them ever again voluntarily. These included Selmasongs by Björk, Big Calm by Morcheeba, The Joshua Tree by U2, Faut qu’ils s’activent by Tryo, Gran Turismo by The Cardigans, and Louise Attaque.

One of those albums was Sympathique by Pink Martini. I haven’t really listened to Pink Martini in the last 10 years, but at the time, I thought their eclecticism and melting pot of languages was just wonderful. All of France adored the song Sympathique (which I will still sing to myself these days, after all who can resist a song with the lyrics “je ne veux pas travailler“), but the entire album was full of different languages and styles — French, English, Spanish, Japanese, Greek. I was captivated by the beauty of the Greek song Never on Sunday/The Children of Piraeus (Ta Paidiá tou Peiraiá) in particular, and the liner notes conveniently presented both Greek lyrics and an English translation. But reading the English was nothing like understanding the song, as I wanted to really feel the full effect whenever I listened, and to be able to sing along, with emotion.

So I sat down next to my CD player, and pressing pause every 3 seconds, I listened to the pronunciation of each word over and over, compared it to what I was seeing on the page, looked at the English lyrics to work out what the meaning of each word was. I did this over and over until the Greek letters no longer looked abstract symbols, and I could sing along, first reading from my phonetic notes, then directly from the Greek, and finally understanding each word and not just the gist of the song. This took me through the entire afternoon, evening, and late into the night, but as an 18-year-old who only worked 20 hours a week at the local Carrefour, I had plenty of time.

For the rest of that year, I could sing Never on Sunday tunelessly, even without the CD playing. And today, after suddenly remembering this, I used my magical iPhone to pull up the song and play it for the first time in many years. I started to sing along — badly, most of the words forgotten — and then my voice broke and I started to cry. It was so evocative, a full 14 years later, also living by myself, on a warm but rainy weekend, suddenly remembering my 18-year-old self, staring out of the window at the soft grey sky, on the other side of the world. Memories of living Rue des Trois Baudus, funny things like the fried nems you could only get once a week, at the Wednesday market in front of the cathedral. The twin lens reflex camera my grandfather sent me and the black and white photos I took of the streets around my home.

I am very grateful to my mother for making that year possible. For indulging me, by paying rent that I naively assumed was her duty, as my mother, to pay, even though she had very little money of her own. For taking me to the supermarket every few weeks, which was always such a fun shopping trip together, and which meant parking down in the place and then carrying everything down the tiny dark passageway of the Rue des Trois Baudus, and up the stairs to my flat. For not resenting my keeping my meagre Carrefour salary for “fun things” like clothes and books and travel, rather than contributing to rent or food.

For allowing me to be alone, be independent, free of responsibilities. I didn’t truly understand what a luxury that was, but I did appreciate it, almost as much as I do now — my biggest luxury of all is having a place of my own where I can shut the rest of the world out, sing along to songs — badly, always — and enjoy a Saturday morning with nothing and nobody to shatter my peace. I hope the same things for you, mummy, now that you finally have your own little maisonette, alone with your dog, your study, your coffee and your red toaster.

Camino day 1: Roncesvalles to Orisson

As mentioned in my “Pre-Camino” post, I hardly slept and had walked 5km before I even got on the bus from Pamplona to Roncesvalles. When the first bus of the day got there, it was already 11:20 and I had some serious concerns about covering the 27km to St Jean-Pied-de-Port (SJPP) before dark. This was a ridiculous fear, I would come to realise over the next couple of days, because it doesn’t get dark till gone 8pm, but I had been caught in mountains after sunset in Taiwan before and it’s not a happy place to be.

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Anyway, due to this fear of stumbling blindly in the mountains at night, I decided I would set off immediately. The woman at the information office told me there were two paths to SJPP and that I could take either, as I wished. Standing at the point where the two paths diverged, one showed a climb of 500m over the space of about 1.5km, I thought I would take the other path, aware that my knees would be complaining.

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There were a lot of puddles and streams and boggy bits, and after a couple of kilometres I realised I hadn’t seen a single marker. Thanks to my Hash training, I was fairly used to going offtrail and hadn’t been that fussed, but when the path disappeared, I realised I was going to have to backtrack. I’d gone wrong somewhere.

So back I went to Roncesvalles, to the original starting point. 9km already walked, it was 12pm, and I wasn’t even a kilometre closer to my destination. I got a little tearful walking back as I was really anxious about time and fatigue. Thinking about that first day, I realise just how much I learned on the Camino about letting go of such silly anxieties, and about not beating myself up when making mistakes. I started on that journey extremely anxious about planning everything ahead — I came out of it two weeks later able to let go of this anxiety which has plagued me for many years.

Anyway, there I was, Camino Take #2. I was at the bottom of a mountain trail, and now I needed to get to the top. Had I known just how hard it would be I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it, because it was so steep, like CRAZY steep, that the people walking DOWN it were freaking out. For the majority of pilgrims, it would have been their first day too, and they would have come all the way from SJPP and have been very, very tired — the temptation to just lay down and roll down this trail must have been strong. Many of them told me as I went up that it was hard, hard work — ça monte! ça grimpe dûr! they told me, and I gritted my teeth and kept climbing.
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Eventually I reached the peak — the Col de Lepoeder, alt 1410m — and could turn around and see where I had come from. What a view!
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I was pretty pleased with myself:
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I stopped here for a brief lunch, then set off again, ever aware of the minutes ticking away. It felt fantastic to be going downhill, especially as everyone else was going uphill and looked hot, sweaty and exhausted. The views were incredible, and I wished, not for the last time, that I had something better than my dodgy phone camera to take pictures.
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(I only did a couple of self-portraits and some landscape snaps on the first day and then ran out of interest in taking pictures fairly soon thereafter, so I’m putting most of what I have up for this first day)
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I think my feet started to hurt around the time I crossed the Spain-France border. I was still only about halfway to SJPP but I’d already walked those 9 extra kms before getting started so I was starting to realise I was NOT going to make it to my destination — time wasn’t a problem, it was just that my feet were really sore.
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I stopped at the Vierge d’Orisson for a minute, trying not to panic, and in fact barely giving the poor virgin a second glance.

Then I set off again, keeping my mind focused on walking and walking alone — worrying would not get me to my destination any faster, and there was nowhere else to go but straight on. Then just as I was becoming so focused on the pain in my feet that I thought I might have to lay down in the road and pray for deliverance, I rounded a corner and was met with a sight for sore eyes (and feet): L’Auberge d’Orisson.
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The Auberge is quite pricy — 32 euros a night — but the nice lady informed me that they had a cheaper hostel (15E) down the road, just one more kilometre to go.
I had stopped my RunKeeper but I restarted it for this one last stage before the much-needed repose that was so close and yet so far… I’m surprised looking at the result that it was only 13 minutes — it felt like at least half an hour!
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(I know these RK screencaps aren’t very exciting for most people, but this is also written for me, in this blog about things that I did for me… so please bear with them. Plus they are the only visual record I have after my phone’s camera went batty).

And at this shell of a hostel I stopped, showered, changed, ate, watched the sunset and then rolled into bed at 9pm (a record for me) and slept 12 solid hours till 9am. One of the best sleeps of my entire, sleep-poor life.

Total distance covered: 5km in Pamplona + 21.75km on the trail = 26.75km

Sri Lanka! and summer 2012

When things get very quiet around here, you can bet it’s because my life has been very busy. Since I left Taiwan in June, events have been escalating in fun, quantity and importance! After our time in Madrid and Lisbon, James went back to Paris to await further MSF orders, and I nipped back to Ally and Juan’s for a couple of nights before heading to Pamplona and then Roncesvalles to begin my Long Walk home to France. I crossed the Pyrenees and headed North-East through the Basque country… I hope to write at least one blog post about my wonderful two weeks hiking 200km on the Camino/Chemin du Puy/Way of St James/Santiago de Compostella trail! I have a lot of pictures for this entire summer but need to extract them from their various locations first.
Mummy joined me the last 3 days and thus we do have photographic evidence:
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Then as soon as I arrived back to Cahors, I was packing again to catch a ride early the next morning to Grenoble, where I would be reuniting with dear friends from university to celebrate the beauty of the French Alps and also my 29th birthday. 
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Grenoble is gorgeous and really blew me away with its stunning setting, nestled in the raw mountains and teeming with the kind of architectural delights and atmosphere which is so lacking in, say, Taipei or Melbourne. We had SUCH a lovely time! Again, ideally I will blog about my time separately, including splashing in a mountain lake…
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…and a hike up in the Alps with Benjamin.
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After taking in as much of Grenoble as we could cram into 4 short days, Ben and I went to Lyon for an AirBnB rental. Our flat was a lovely place belonging to a musician, located within easy walking distance from everything. Ben and I sampled traditional Lyonnaise cooking and enjoyed the sights and sunshine — definitely a great holiday destination. Fingers crossed for an illustrated Lyon blog post!

Believe it or not, James just happened to sublet a place in Paris, so then from Lyon I took the TGV to Paris and jumped into his arms for an unexpected but much-appreciated extra week together! His friend’s apartment is located in the ultra-touristy but beautiful 6th arrondissement, with a disgustingly scenic view of the Notre Dame de Paris. Unfortunately I caught a horrid cold on my way up and promptly passed it on to James, so our romantic week in Paris was mostly spent indoors feeling rotten, but we had each other for company and at least looking out the window guaranteed that we felt like we were sight-seeing…

The only snapshot I have on hand of the view — night-time gloom!
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There isn’t much to say about Paris, however I spent a lot (TOO MUCH, some would be justified in saying) of time trying to gather together the elements for a suitable “tropical working wardrobe”, after a few phone conferences to Sri Lanka and then formally accepting the job lined up for me by my friend Emy here in Colombo! More on that in a minute…

James and I needed to vacate the premises by the Friday, so we hired a car and drove 6 hours down to the Lot, to stay (for free!) in a lovely holiday house next door to my mother’s — a stroke of luck indeed! We were both feeling better by then and managed to cram lots of hiking and adventures into our time there, as well as seeing my family for some hugs and kisses before we had to drive back up to Paris (via Orleans and Chartres) for me to catch my flight to Colombo. I definitely want to blog about some of the things we saw and did in the Lot and the Pyrenees — James’ motto is after all to “Convince Rosie To Do Something Dangerous At Least Once A Day”. 

Catching my flight was non-stop-fluster as we drove into Orly, discovered my flight was at Charles de Gaulle, then the train from Orly to CDG was interrupted for works, and then the flight itself was full of minor delays and events, stopping in Dubai and in the Maldives before Colombo (with a passenger trying to “smuggle” himself into Colombo meaning all kinds of hassle!). Before I knew it I was in Sri Lanka being picked up by Emy, with a shiny new stamp in my passport. I’m delighted because Immigration squeezed the entry stamp in between 3 others on an “old” page — I’m down to 5 free pages in my 32-page passport and still have a couple of years before it expires, so I’d like to maximise space!
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The hour-or-so drive back to where I am living in Colombo was my first taste of South-East Asian traffic. Sam, our lovely driver, is highly skilled at weaving through the cars and in all fairness never hit the brakes, but it was somewhat… intense! Peering nervously through the windscreen, I felt like I was watching my brother play Grand Theft Auto on his X-Box. I’m glad to say I am now getting used to it and have already abandoned my hitherto religious attachment to safety belts, just like everyone else here. 

So that’s the summary of the last 6 weeks! I will (AGAIN) write more about Sri Lanka — I kind of jumped straight into my job and haven’t had much time to really let things sink in. Despite today being Saturday, we had a meeting today from 9:30am to 2pm and then I stumbled home (or, to be honest, had the driver take me back to the luxury flat I have been allocated) and passed out on the couch. I am actually more jet-lagged than I had expected, and these early morning starts are of course “middle-of-the-night” starts for me. But when I am not yawning I am growing already increasingly attached to Colombo and the lovely Sri Lankans I have met; the company team, our drivers, the few interactions I have had with people in shops — everyone is really kind and friendly, even though I struggle a little with the local accent!

kittens kilometres and cassis

My mother has rescued three kittens. Our oversized deerhounds are mystified and occasionally terrified by them.

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The kittens are named Archer (a very handsome black kitten, utterly fearless but rather stupid), Lana (a gorgeous tabby kitten, my favourite), and Cyril Figgis (a rather ugly, shy black kitten with a bald patch).
Here they are investigating my brother’s bedroom (my bed).
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Raphael threatened Archer, so Lana pissed on my duvet. Bitch.
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Today Raph ran 3 km with me, then I followed another trail and ran another 7km by myself. The deerhounds, Bessie and Guiney, ran with me most of the way, but Bessie seems to have developed some sort of cancer in the last few weeks and is barely able to trot. She is swollen and looks more like a goat or a small cow, and I felt so sorry for her that I had to stop every kilometre or so and let her catch up with us. I dropped them off at the house at kilometre 7, and reached 10km sans dogs. I felt good when I got home, but tonight my shins are aching. I hope they feel better tomorrow.

Mummy and I went to visit my sister Polly’s house, a teensy little railway shack she is now the proud owner of.
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She’s right by the railway line, but there are only a couple of trains a day.
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It’s a little run-down but we grew up in a similar environment so it’s not that daunting. At least she has an outhouse!
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A few kilometres down the road is the beautiful Plan du Causse, a large lake that boasts plenty of summertime activities. We know that come winter it’s not so fun living out in the countryside, but still, nobody can complain about having a beautiful lake nearby.
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Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Being obsessed with running at the moment, I kept wishing I could speed off down these paths…
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And then as we drove back through Brive-la-Gaillarde (the nearest town), we stopped at the pet shop, as my mother cannot resist a pet shop. There was a puppy show on!
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Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
We also admired the Korean squirrels
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And the bunnies.
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I did take pictures yesterday of our eclectic collection of chickens, but I think that’s enough animals for today. We drove home discussing in depth what sort of dog I want, when I eventually get a dog, concluding that I wanted a short-haired, lean, medium-sized, not too skinny, non-purebreed dog, preferably adopted from a rescue shelter, who can run fast but isn’t a hunting dog. Easy! now all I need is to chose a country, career, house etc and I’m done.

first day back

I have to confess that I was very much put off by my first contact with France on this particular trip. Air France did very little to endear itself to me, and the flight attendant looking after my section made me want to commit genocide. Nobody feels great during a 30-hour transit experience, and I found myself silently crying as I made my way through Charles de Gaulle airport, wondering how and why I was back here when there are so many more welcoming places in the world (hello Melbourne!).

Eventually I got to Toulouse and as Mummy had sneaked her way into the luggage collection area (which I’m pretty sure is considered a felony in some places) she literally greeted me off the plane. We headed home via the Cahors Carrefour, where I spotted this fantastic poster for “Walker Texas Ranger” — sounds like an unmissable event.
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I came home, introduced my brother Raphael to the delight that is the show Archer, and passed out, glad to be with my family but otherwise cold and a little underwhelmed by my supposed home country.

However, today is a beautiful sunny day and it’s a lot easier to remember why it’s such a lovely place to live! I dragged Raphael out on a short jog after breakfast, and he almost threw up three times. He’s horribly unfit, but I am determined to make him my new running buddy (and the trails here are so easy and runnable after Taiwan! Exciiiiting!). Then David drove me down to meet my bank account manager in his little race car… It’s so much fun in that car, it’s like a very comfortable, very low-slung motorbike, and zooming around the bends is thrilling!
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Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
The windier it is, the more fun!
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It was lunchtime when I got home, and I was sitting outside in the sunshine, enjoying my food, when I realised that in front of me were many of my favourite things to eat. So I took a picture before it was all gone:
YUM
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Fresh crusty bread, with two kinds of cheese (Tomme Noire des Pyrenees, and Etorki which is a Basque sheep’s milk cheese). A crisp batavia salad fresh from the garden, covered in my own vinaigrette (wholegrain mustard, red wine vinegar, olive oil). Little sharp-but-sweet radishes. My much-adored carottes rapees with tomatoes. And last but not least, pate de pommes de terre made by my mother’s loving hands and smothered in creme fraiche. All of the above enjoyed with a bottle of San Pellegrino. I would be crazy to not love it here!