La Via Tolosana (France) & Camino Aragones (Spain): "The Arles Route" GR653

La Via Tolosana (France) & Camino Aragones (Spain): "The Arles Route" GR653
La Via Tolosana (France) & Camino Aragones (Spain): "The Arles Route" GR653


PLEASE READ: Our Camino For Alzheimer's Awareness will begin on World Azheimer's Day, September 21, 2018 in Lodève, France about 130 kms west of Arles (underlined on the map above and circled on the route profile at the bottom of the page). We plan to walk together just over 800 kms to Puente la Reina, Spain where Annemarie will determine her next steps. It is, however, Geoff's intention to continue onwards a further 700 kms towards Santiago de Compostela. To put this into perspective, the total distance is about the same as from Victoria to Santa Barbara, California. As usual, we will accept the journey as it unfolds and we are appreciative of any and all support. If you feel moved to contribute to the Alzheimer Society please click on either of the really obvious RED BUTTONS to the right or at the bottom of this page and you will be transferred to the Society's fund raising site. We are paying our own expenses and all money raised will go directly to the Alzheimer Society.

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Monday, November 5, 2018

Ètape 44: Santa Catalina - El Acebo, 30 kms, Sun then WINTER, -1

Do You Believe It Now?

I lingered a long time over a fabulous breakfast this morning generously provided by my hosts Carlos and Diana. They have been open for just a year after 7 years of renovating and preparing their quite amazing guest house Via Avis. So if you happen to be walking this way and want to try something a little bit special, this is the place. Definitely the best place I’ve stayed the past almost 7 weeks and my hosts were genuine and not yet jaded by the many pilgrims passing by on the Way.. My breakfast spot.

The oven. We talked for quite a time and as I hadn’t talked with anyone for quite a while it was a nice pleasure as I sipped my hot free leaf tea. I wish I was still there! 

You can see why I lingered, and I’m sure that it wasn’t the rain outside! In any event I left at 8:45. I know, hard to believe. I dragged my feet. All the way to the gate. But as happens most days, things clicked into place and the rain stopped after a couple of kilometres. I warmed up on my way to El Ganso.

This is the home of the cowboy bar, but it was too early to stop...

...and I was on a bit of a mission today. The weather forecast called for snow or rain at the top of Alto del Majón where the Cruz de Ferro sits at around 13:00. That was 18 kms away with a good climb at the end, so I knew that I’d have to step it up today to arrive, do what needed doing, and get off the top before the weather socked in.

This waymarker always catches my eye with its rainbow. I now have at least 3 photos of it.

It was easy to see that there was rain in the hills ahead, but still the unexpected sun continued to shine on me. For a time.

The adjacent mountains reveiled the snow that had fallen up higher overnight, but still the sun continued to shine. I was pretty pleased!

Arriving in pretty Rabinal where we had enjoyed a beautiful evening 5 years earlier I was tempted to stop for a break after 12 kms. However, the ever present sun and threatening clouds convinced me to press onwards to begin the climb. 

It was actually a real pleasure to climb again. After all the walking the past weeks the climb up was actually quite effortless. I can hardly feel my pack anymore and putting it on is like putting on a nice warm coat on a cold morning. I know that sounds odd, but eventually the body adapts and the endurance reaches a point where i find that I’m not tired at the end of these stages. 

Finally Foncebadon comes into view and I sense that I’ve beat the weather. It’s just another kilometre past to the Cruz.

The first thing I notice as I enter town is that part of the road in has been paved. Surprised! 

The next th8ng I notice as I cruise through town is that the whole place is undergoing a renovation. Wow! I guess they’ve finally realized that this is a brilliant stage point. Rob and I stayed here two years ago and except for a limited menu it was pretty wonderful. At least the beer was cold! This time I don’t stop. It’s taken me exactly 3 hours to get here and I can tell the weather is thinking about changing, so I push on. Then the Cruz comes into view.

Peregrinos come here day after day, year after year to place a stone or a favourite object under the cross. It’s a modern day tradition and for many it symbolizes the removal of the burdens they have carried as they’ve sacrificed on their pilgrimage. Unless you’ve come to this place and experienced the feeling of just being here, it might be difficult to take it all in. This was the first time I’d approached and arrived here by myself. I was completely alone for the half hour I spent there.

The stone I picked up in Ireland when we climbed Mount Errigal with Paul’s parents Joe and Geraldine and their climbing group. Up high in the clouds with the wind raging it seemed to me to be the perfect place to take a stone to the Cruz. For me it represents all those people who have supported someone with Alzheimer’s or had the disease. The chestnut I picked up early in France and it’s for my dear friend Louise who is fighting cancer and also for my close amigo Ken who recently lost his sister to cancer. The other stone is for my sister Kathy and I’ve carried it to the Cruz de Ferro twice now, and I still can’t bring myself to leave it here. Since Kathy’s diagnosis I’ve carried it with me for almost 3,800 kms of Camino and Henro. I guess I’ll just continue to carry it until I decide that there’s nothing more I can do to help. It’s become a talisman for me. 

I said that this is a special place for many. In 2013 I instinctively interacted with someone I’d never met before. A profound and very brief moment. We didn’t realize that both of us were the two involved until many months later when we were corresponding. We were actually introduced for the first time a couple of days later and have stayed in touch ever since. You were on my mind as I approached, and I wrote this for you today. 

A stone in my hand
I climb the Cruz de Ferro
Burden in my heart

I sincerely hope that with time the burden has eased for you and your family.

We can move on now:) As I walked away the air suddenly became quite cold so I stopped and put my pack cover on and pulled out my gloves and extra buff. It felt like snow in the air, and not two minutes later at 13:00 as predicted the snow began to fall. The trial already saturated quickly became a mess so I headed for the road and followed that with my light flashing to warn cars. Visibility closed in very quickly. The old albergue at Manjarin showed itself, but again I didn’t stop. 

The snow really came down heavily at times.

At some point when the Camino trail crossed the road I instinctively turned onto it again and was rewarded about a kilometre later with the sudden view down to El Acebo awash in snow. It’s a steep descent into the town and I picked it as my stopping point for two reasons. I’d always thought it looked like a cool place to stay.

And also because I thought that 1175 metres that it would be low enough to get me out of the snow for the next morning start. You can see how that worked out for me.

Annemarie is home now, but she’s been busy.

Loneliness : Yesterday Geoff wrote about the woman who did not want to talk to him on the trail…a very unusual experience, and he questioned the impression he was giving off. Also, with many fewer pilgrims on the trails now, and with limited accommodation choices, Geoff is experiencing some loneliness. He has experienced this before on other less travelled routes and dealt with it, but it is an uncommon experience on the Camino Frances. Both of these are common experiences for people which Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. The members of my support group regularly talk about feeling abandoned by their friends and family. They say that people frequently don’t know how to relate, and as a result they avoid contact. This leaves the person with Alzheimer’s and/or their caregiver isolated and lonely. Many support group members have indicated that their support group is the only place they have where they can talk about these challenges. 

In my small room tonight.

Now there are those of you who have questioned my suitability for walking a winter Camino. I mean, I acknowledge that I’ve made a few comments in the past about not liking winter very much, but then who does:) My friend Ken and I have been discussing this very possibility, walking a winter Camino, for a couple of years. I think I’ve put you doubters in your place now. I’ve walked through some pretty cold days with adequate amounts of snow to qualify for my Winter badge on this Camino! So I expect no further negativity in this regard again;)

Buen Camino!


  1. Hey, that’s a lovely blog today, and thanks for the shout-out at the end. You are doing a winter Camino, in a way, since it’s snowing; I would ignore the calendar in that regard. Our winter has already started. In fact, in Cree there are six seasons: spring, summer, and fall, and then early winter, winter, and late winter. I kid you not.

    I hadn’t thought about the woman who wouldn’t talk to you, or about loneliness, since you are meeting people, but that would be a factor in your walk, especially since you’re a very social person. Who knows what her problem was. On my first day, I tried to ask a fellow if we were close to Hontos (or however it’s called—the first village out of St. Jean) and he told me, in French, that he preferred to walk alone. I’ve never forgotten that rude response; he didn’t even wait to hear the question I wanted to ask. What can you do? Nothing.

    Have a great walk today!


  2. It sounds like it's been a very poignant stage today, Geoff - and part of a poignant journey. Wonderful stuff. And hey, if it's going to be freezing it may as well be snowing - more dramatic and memorable!! Glad you made it out of that warm and hospitable lodging. Buen camino, Neil

    PS. Indigenous tribes in much of Australia have six seasons too, although mostly to do with variations of 'summer' than winter.