Oct 1 – Nov 5, 2012

Chapter 1                        Arrival, The Dordogne


Monday I traveled all day and wound up in Bordeaux, France Tuesday apres-midi. As if traveling weren’t trying enough it took three hours to connect with Eric, the owner of the hotel where I’m booked the next four days. Wednesday & Thursday were pretty much spent shopping for a prepaid cell phone to serve me, and a van or station wagon to move around SW France for the next month.


I propose to test the spiritual state of the universe and our thin ice of culture to withstand the tremors of change promised ahead by all seers. Who better to send than a man named Sears?


A curious thing about change is that it’s invisible to those who fear it. They are blind and the least prepared to live through it – they panic, fight, blame, distract to maintain questionable beliefs in their stability and continuity.  Unfortunately the stories they construct about them selves and their world are convenient fictions bound to shatter when the bland sameness they’re built on dissolves. The question remains: how do you live when the rules are off, all the fences are down?


While waiting for Eric, I wandered into the Windy Morning kite & magic toy store to ask if I could leave my oversize suitcase until Eric arrived, and met English-speaking Benoit, with whom I became fast friends. Before long he was helping me find a van to buy and introduced me to 80-something Collette, who it turns out had a car she wanted to get rid of. Collette also knew of Thich Nhat Hanh who’s Plum Village I plan to visit next week.



Greetings Friends, Family & Oregonians.

I again picked a fairly appropriate Hotel Choiseul from, located on a quiet street off a main avenue near the old center of Bordeaux. Bus & trolley transportation is good, with an automated system of public bike rental, vending & drop-off all over. The city is walk able for younger people, but do several miles a day more than I ever expected, thanks to Aleve and Capsaicin. My sleep is going amazingly well with only intermittent jet lag during the day.


My room is on the first floor, has a tall window opening onto the airshaft, pedestal sink, a small desk, chair & dresser in less space than your bathroom (if you discount the foam platform bed alcove,) hall toilette is next door. The shower is something else! Fourth floor spiral walkup, which is on the 5th because French ground floor is zero - an empty attic room with a dormer window looking over rooftops and nothing but a mysteriously retrofitted, stylish shower unit that took five minutes to figure how to operate. Rue Huguerie is mixture of small, young owner boutiques and empty store fronts for rent. There is lots of reconstruction going on in the ancient buildings & narrow streets all over town . Main streets running through diverse ethnic neighborhoods are barely wide enough for busses to pass.




   Bordeaux breakfast and dinner at the Hotel Choiseul

Tuesday was made extra long by the hotel owner, Eric, missing when I arrived. I met Benoit at Windy Morning, the magic/novelty shop across the street where I sought to stash my huge suitcase until Eric showed up 3 hours later. Benoit does magic, speaks adequate English, knows of the Oregon Country Faire, consented to phone for me to van owners and agents who spoke only french. He introduced beautiful 80 year old Collette who was walking by & remembered she had a car she wanted to sell. (Collette also knows of Thich Nhat Hanh, says she thought he was in the US.) B also told me where the cell phone vendors were located. I ended with the afore mentioned pizza & vino dinner at Peppone Dal, a busy, cheerful Sicilian restaurant around the block - my 30 hour marathon that began 10 AM Monday in Eugene, Seattle, Amsterdam & Bordeaux. The BED the bed thebedthebed thebed!!!!!


Wednesday, I shopped phones & purchased a 40e mobile w/ some minutes from the French Poste office (voice=mail.) Several vans were found online, however, buying a car in France is not as simple as the US. One must file papers with the bureaucrats before you buy, after you buy, when you get insurance & vehicle inspection stickers. It takes several days, expensive for insurance and difficult without residence, so I gave up on buying & looked for appropriate rentals.


That evening I bought a heart shaped "coeur de neufchatel" cheese, un baguette de pain, and half bottle of Chateau Peychaud Bordeaux 2005 (for 3.80e !) for relaxing dinner in my room. The charcuterie also yielded a tuna can of Pate Basque Piquant (2.80e) for some future roadside feast. Breakfast was a trip back to the dreamy patisserie for a slice of gateau basque and a chocolate/almond croissant to go with Columbus Cafe latte. (gateau basque is fairly common here, it seems.) 

Bordeaux and Rue Hugerie

Thursday I walked & bussed many miles - visiting several van rental agencies with AVIS logos plastered over them. Finally got passed to a local outfit manned by Yvan Vouedec, a sixtyish faulty-english speaker who made a personal project of getting just the right car for me at the cheapest price. He finagled until he came up with a brand new Suzuki SX4, a Prius-sized city wagon from which he offered to remove the back seats, supply sleeping cushions, and charge 690e for the entire month. He came in carrying an Amnesty International book bag, explained his small local agency needed the business. I couldn't refuse. Tomorrow I pick up the modified car. (Note: it does have a CD player and air conditioning!)


Took time for lunch at Chez Fred in small Merignac neighborhood with a wonderful pickled fish on delicate potato salad, a rolled, baked Snapper fillet draped in hollandaize sauce, french string beans and rice. Dessert was a pot d'tirramisu and espresso. Yum!


Tonight I attended the Introduction to Bordeaux Wine & Cheese event offered through the Regional tourist bureau, where I previously got a helpful desk agent to call car agencies for me. Most of the wine tourists were french/english speakers from Montreal, including a petite Peruvian woman who just spent 27 days walking the Camino de Santiago del Compostello. Add that to the slightly overbearing, gregarious Israeli from San Diego who wrote a critical book on US national healthcare system, staying next door in the hotel - and you see how stumbling through uncertain language can lead to fantastic personal & cultural learning opportunities.


I may put off the Graves/Sauternia wine tour on Friday afternoon in order to get up to Plum Village on time. That will be another story.




Sunday,  Oct 7,  Plum Village:

These Buddhist are never boring. Got here late Friday after a harrowing drive through Bordeaux Friday night rush hour - yuk! They need real feeways instead of cowpaths!!


It was warm arriving here at 10 PM. Next morning, overcast but pleasant all day. Evening, a light rain started that continued through today. Every Sunday & Thursday are special dharma talk days, especially if Thich Nhat Hanh is on site. So today we saw 300 people from the other Hamlets, tourists and nearby residents, many of whom have practiced here, some of whom run hostels or gites for visiting pilgrims....


Thay (nickname for TNH, means teacher or coach) is the big draw bringing formal dinners, lots of visitors & gatherings. Wednesday is his 87th birthday so the Thursday day of mindfulness is going to be a huge celebration, as well (lucked out on being here this week!) Furthermore, Monday is "lazy day" when no formal practice is held, just meals, you can do anything you want - while practicing mindfulness! Many go to town and since I have a car, I'm very popular... Honestly, these Buddhists rarely work, and forget austerity. Maybe that's what the winter is for.



Tomorrow is TNH's birthday & Thursday is big gathering (already said that didn't I) Sleeping in my little car is tight and its been misting for several days. It'd be really difficult if it rained heavily for many days. Weather is Tshirt warm however and when it clears at night every star in the sky is visible.


Yesterday was lazy day and two couples and myself went to Eymet (a-may) where i visited a real estate office and found several nice stone farmhouses, renovated, for 250,000 euros. (1 euro=1.3dollars right now)

Friday i'm moving on to Bergerac and on up the Dordogne. Next week to Les Eysies, the caves & the Perigord region. Possibly visit Irene, East of Brive, and then head south through Cahors to Toulouse and the Canal du Midi. Week four will be be from Montpellier to Perpignan. Week five back to Biarritz, SnSebastian and finally depart Bordeaux airport.

At least that's my working plan for now.



Food is vegetarian that's amazing how delicious is can be without meat!!!! Every flavor & texture imaginable, squash, potato, tomato, olive, chard, nuts, fruit....not even much tofu or cheese. Filling & satisfying as well. The Plum Village cookbook would be worth owning.




Time marches on. I've had occasion to visit two nearby towns and the lovely countryside. It's a lot like Tuscany here, older & new estates hosting vineyards, situated between hilltop churches and tidy lowland farms. It's warm, whether raining or shine, even the evening is pleasant T-shirt weather. When the sky is clear you can see every star, like Bend. I would compare the terrain to the Loraine valley near Sweet Cheeks, without the tall evergreens (there are shorter pines.)


I just booked the van I was seeking, sight unseen, in Perigueux, the medium size town 50km north of here & will motor up on Friday after the retreat ends. An American friend from PV who leads canoe trips on the rivers hereabouts needs a ride there as well. If it works, I'll return the smaller one to Bordeaux and train back - hopeful having more space to live in the difficult weather ahead!


I have met many wonderful people already on this trip. Both in the wild and here, from Nederlands, England, Israel, South America & Canada. Also a couple interesting Ameriques. I checked out two properties nearby selling for ~250k eruos, but the gov't adds on a 6% transfer tax (here the RE Agent's get much less.) The props were old stone farm houses with 3/4 acre. One nicely redone with 3Br, beams & tile floors, the other more rustic w/ lots of barns, garages, outbuildings to build on. Here you can build almost anything without a permit if it is under 180 sq ft! Renting your outbuildings seems no problem, either.


Everywhere, I plan to survey real estate values and such. Next week I'm headed for La Vallee de la Vezere and the sweet little town of Les Eysies-de-Tayac and the caves! After I pick up the van.


bon jour, it's 4pm here now. We sure eat often.


Its Friday AM and we're all scurrying away to plane/train connections and quick goodbyes to our new friends, of whom I now have several with open doors when we cross their countries.


Jim Walker, an American canoe outfitter & I are heading out for Perigueux & maybe a new van for me. He's leading a canoe trips down the Vezere river near Lascaux where I am headed as well.


Greetings Friends & lovers,


I am traveling in the Dordogne region, and elsewhere in SW France, for five weeks to decide where & if I want to live here for extended periods of time. I will keep a residence in the US (Eugene) but consider buying a large place over here, as well. The purpose is to be able to offer travelers on their paths to personal & collective enlightenment a place to stay as we go. I invite your company.


I spent the first week getting a phone & van in Bordeaux, then the next week in retreat at Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village(s) not far from Bergerac. After up-sizing the van to one more comfortable for camping, I returned to one of my favorite areas, the Valley of the Vezere river between Montignac and Les Eyzies. There are numerous paleolithic habitation sites here that date back to 380,000 years ago, including many "painted" caves and the ultimate polychrome wonder of Lascaux (17,000BP.) I have an affinity for these sites and the current culture here is warm & inviting. The hills are built of limestone outcroppings which support many natural & man made caves, stone extensions & attached buildings. The fields support grazing and argiculture, very much resembling the flora & terrain of Lorane/Willamette Valley in Oregon. That people have been living here continuously for 380,000 years attests to its human compatibility.


I will travel from here to Cahors, Toulouse, Canal Du Midi to the Mediterranian at Montpellier, Bezier & Perpignan, then cross below the Pyrenees to the Basque country in the Southwest and Spain just across the border. I will try to visit friends in the beach/surfing town of Biarritz on the way back to the airport at Bordeaux by November 5...three more weeks from today. Maybe I won't hit everything but I plan to visit paleolithic caves &  check out local real estate along the way. Then return next spring for some serious estate shopping. If you'd like to join me, get in touch. The point is to share our adventures here on Earth while we can. When you die, no more adventures on Earth!


I will try to send these postcards as we travel. If you'd not care to get them, let me know.




             Thay’s 87th Birthday Party

       Some Friends @ Lower Hamlet, Plum Village


         Some Friends at Upper Hamlet, P.V.

          My Favorite Town, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac


               Hotel Cro-Magnon, Les Eysies

            Entrance to Le Grotte d’Combarelles


Chapter 2                      Notes from Cahors and Beyond


Wednesday Oct 17


We're having unusually high winds here since yesterday. The lights (& internet) keep blinking on & off. Weather is slightly warm and partly cloudy otherwise.  I hear (see TV) talk of the debates buy no details. Everybody here asks horrifically if Rmoney might win.


Some of the towns hereabouts are just drop dead gorgeous, the stonework amazing, charming & some nicely gardened. A little stiff perhaps, but the modesty of non-English speakers is lovely. Much of France seems in the 1950's, which isn't bad - just describes the modest technology, scale & human motivations prior to America's enormous push into Consumerism - more, bigger, faster, then throw it away and get a newer one. Being the largest economy & most powerful country in the world scares these Europeans when they think how shaky it might be.

I last wrote from Les Eyzies. Since then, I traveled further up the Dordogne to visit Irene & Thierry in their ancient stone farm house(s) in the ridge top pastures of Rilhac-Xaintrie.  Irene is a former Eugenean whom we know from Tango. Thierry is her high school sweetheart who reconnected a few years ago & brought Irene back to Paris & now, to R-X. Irene has fabulous French taste in cooking & decor. He’s retired from a French foreign aid agency supporting development in poor countries. Irene’s owned an old stone farm house there for 30 years, and while unlivable, Thierry bought a more renovated one next door while they contract to renovate the eighteenth century one. The farmers in the area take their milk to the local cheese factory where several really delicious varieties are made.


Irene cooked a wonderful French country dinner with bean soup starter, salmon & potatoes au gratin with 2 kinds of local cheese, a wild mushroom sauté, with chocolate drizzled pear and ice cream for desert. Aperitifs were fruit brandies & bubbly crema (champaign-like) An older, retired Britt friend, John Saunders was here and afterward insisted we sit through his fourth viewing of the 2011 Cannes Palme d'Or called "Untouchable." It was indeed wonderful - ballsy, heartsy, funny. Don't believe it's in US theaters yet but don't miss it if you have a chance to see it. It has been the most popular film in France this year.


Thursday Oct 18

Today I drove down to Cahors, the home of the legendary Malbec wines perched on a rock promontory above a horseshoe in the Lot River. I met Jeane at Plum Village, is French Canadien, has lived in France for 40 years, presently, Cahors.

[Cahors is pronounced  Ca-or   the H is silent but you still leave a space for it, gutteralize the R and skip the S, as normal.]


She introduced me to Mel, a Britt retired as a translator for their air force in China, and Christine, a French retired school teacher who just returned from a Christian retreat not 10 miles from ours at Plum Village. I spent Thursday night parked in their compound above the banks of the Lot after an evening discussing Obama/Rmoney, Buddhism & the Camion d’Saint Iago. Christine said there are many pilgrimage routes from far off that run to Pied du Port, one of them from Le Puy through Cahors.



Friday, 10/19.

Jean took me to a tasting at the city Malbec boutique. Sorry to say, I’m still partial to the cheaper stuff (w/ Merlot blended) for drinking solo - unless there’s some really good food to bounce off the mineral structured upper tier. I got lost leaving Cahors for 50 extra kilometers.


I drove through Toulouse at Friday rush hour! Aaarrgh! If they’re going to be a huge industrial city, they need real freeways and to get rid of those incessant traffic circles (point ronde.) The Canal du Midi connects here to the westerly Garonne River and runs east all the way to the Mediterranean. I spent the night outside a truck stop near Castelnaudary, a sweet canal town with a widened marina & lots of living barges tied to the banks. 


   Saturday, it was my mission to make it to Montpellier by evening but I got lost more than once trying to get out of Carcassonne on back roads following the canal that looked large & well marked on the map. I traveled for hours past strange looking vineyards w/ small, dark green leaves. Wanting to taste, I pulled into a small town of Homps (Fr pron: Ohm ) and found “Chevaliers de Malta” Alliance Minervois – a local cooperative wine shop. The AOC is Saint Chinian, Languedoc. I had crossed into the eastern part of southern France, the region Languedoc-Rousillon. Fabienne was tending the store and explained the Minervois varietals & poured a few tastes of the delicate white from Marsanne-Rousanne grapes, and then the big ticket red from Grenache, Syrah blends. Both delicious. We talked further about food paring and she gave me her recipe for doube de boef (sp?) recommended with Minervois reds. We discussed Oregon and then confessed to me that she was a writer, maybe. Her friend’s grandmother was an Arizona Apache who was taken in slavery to Mauritania (?) a French colony. She is helping her friend, who grew up

French, write that story! Go figure, Arizona Apache slaves in Languedoc.


Back on the road it was lunch hours (12-2 everyday.) Inspired by my meetings and depressed by my driving, when the town of La Croisade came up I pulled in to find a wonderful canal-side restaurant with large windowed dinning area, L’Auberge de la Croisade full of French people with expensive cars.


I splurged on the 19e two course chef’s choice & desert – with 2 wines & café came to 30e. OMG, to die for! I’ve never been so happy sitting canal side watching boats pass the crossing, dining on an incredible Terrine de lentils au Jarett de Porc (kind of ham) with Chantilly a la moutarde, salad and veggies [course 1] that was more incredible with the St Chinian red; then, course 2, a fish Filet de Lingue (cod?) in Coulis de Crabes (crab sauce!) and a side of polenta topped with carrot, beans, tomato in marinade-type sauce. The prize was a white wine of the AOC, Muscat sec, with the fish course. Forget all your prejudices about Muscat, folks. The sec was soft & burst in your mouth like a bouquet of yellow flowers, elevating the fish/crab thing clear to heaven. I savored each bite, mindfully, mixing a morsel of food with the various sauces and garnishes, and sipping the different wines.  After that I made my way, best I could, around Beziers right to the not-free way to Montpellier.


Saturday night in Montpellier is crowded. Some how I made it through the obligatory labyrinthine streets to popular center of town, the Place de la Comedia, a giant plaza surrounded my Marae, theaters, restaurants, brightly painted tram lines, the usual Saturday market & a special health faire – disappeared into the underground parking and emerged to the Touriste office where I was able to book a 38e hotel just two blocks off the square. There are two cinemas and dozens of restaurants on my street, full of young people, mostly Mediterraniens, and some tourists. There are also several colleges here, and the bohemian spirit most resembles San Francisco. It was noisy all night and I drove for an hour trying to find the secret passage to my hotel, without success. I parked underground again & walked.


Sunday AM, I am doing laundry and propose to head for the nearby coast and slowly drift toward Sete. I’ll let you know more later. If you ever drive in France, bring GPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Chapter 3         From les Plages Mediterranee


The Canal du Midi makes it to the Mediterranee just below Beziers; from Bordeaux & the Atlantic to the Med. in one long float. At the ocean, it does a left turn and heads north as an inland waterway intersecting the River Herault as it reaches the sea at Agde, on into the Bassin de Thau and the port of Sete, and so on up the coast, past Nimes to intersect with the Rhone. From there you can motor up the Rhone, connect with the Rhone-Rhine canal into Germany and the North Sea. Or take a Rhine canal to the Danube, where you can float all the way down to the Black Sea and Turkey! That’s some connection!


Sunday I left Montpellier for the sea beaches at Palavas. Just 10km from Mplr, now in the off season, resembles Miami Beach with the weather of Florence (Oregon!) These coast town, mostly built on sand spits with a central rocky butte, are  retirement centers for many oldsters from colder European climates like Germany & Holland. Many of the same are traveling with me in their Camping Cars (RV’s in US.)



Sunday was mild & partly Sunny when I reached Sete, a Maghreb influenced port with Venicean canals, a major shipping,

travel and fishing port. Plus, it backs to the Bassin de Thau, a 50 mile inland bay famous for it coquilles industry. Sete is the birthplace of Paul Valery, an artist/poet/scientist hero of Henry Miller - the local museum in his honor is also featuring a show of 1900 Fauvist Expression by Auguste Chabaud – tres bien. As you can see, the Exodus to Palestine/Israel started here, also!


The weather started blustery in Palavas, partly sunny in Sete, then rained fiercely at night, sunny again in Agde, Monday, then stormed again at night. Tuesday morning is mostly sunny again. Go figure. The temps, however, have been T-shirt mild, if windy. The surfers were out in Agde, though. Here’s my rolling home for now…look familiar?

I can’t get onto the French habit of eating & drinking a 3 or 4 course dinner after 7PM, just before bed, but no restaurant will serve before then (hastening the influx of kebab, pizza & MacDonald alternatives!) And you can just write Monday off your calendar because NOTHING is open: banks, offices, restaurants, nothing! Hence, I miss a lot of the classic foods I’d like to be enjoying (much the same is available for lunch, if you’re ready for serious eating by then, too.) In Sete I did enjoy a French style sea food pizza, and last night, found a delicious soup de poisson (poor man’s bouillabaisse) with crouton, rouille & cheese floated in it. Yum!


I’m sitting this morning in the square at Agde, a old Roman port along the Herault terminus, before heading inland to Narbonne. I am joined by Tina, a 50-ish German traveler found drenched in the rain along the coast. She’d been making her way toward Spain with an idea of wintering in the Canaries if she could find a boat. Her adventure ran aground when her bag was stolen & kicked off the boat for “not touching.” Rather naïve, searching for herself, but dependent on the goodwill of men, what do you expect? Compassionately, I offered her a floor to sleep with no touching and we traveled down the coast for two days. Wednesday night we split a huge fish couscous in Gruissan and her company is pleasant. She discovered the Capitainerie at almost every harbor, which provide toilettes & showers for traveling sailors, and work as well for car-campers. France favorably accepts the itinerate traveler - whereas America favors the homeowner, disparages the homeless.


I have little interest in the cities hereabouts, tho many preserve beautiful old-city cores, stonework and ancient history. But their modernity offers nothing new to living, promoting the sterile, fashionable consumption we know too well at home.


I have stopped at several vineyards along the way, meeting some beautiful people glad to show their excellent products. Last was a family operation near Peyriac-de-mer in the bone dry, white limestones near the bay Sigean. Honest, it looks like Greece here, including olive, lemon & almond trees along the roads.

Amandine (Amanda) poured the Chateau Fabre Cordon while mama, Monique, tamped down the crush on their recent vintage. I came away with their VDP d’Oc Grenache Blanc (!!!) 2011 and the AOC Corbieres rouge, Parfum d’Ete (Perfume of Summer) - a tasty 75% Grenache noir, 25% Syrah beauty – both for 12.50e. TDF.

Then Amandine shared some pomegranates from her tree. They also offer an on-site pierre calcaire (stone) Gite for rent with vignes & Corbieres mtn. views. It’s gratifying to see French revival of rural life with gites, eco-farming and local foods.


I dropped Tina on her way down the coast south, spent last night at a hostel in Perpignan and am now in the fashionable seaside resort of Collioure – resemblance to Sausalito. But more on that and pilgrimage, later.


Four  - The last quarter, Headed West


The good news is I have a GPS, sprung for a Novi 40 outside Narbonne. Bad news is there are so many detours in France, urban & rural, that one often is lost in spite of the best intentions of driver, maps & GPS.


The eastern coast of France Sud is heavily touristed, with a few old Roman ports on firm ground at the river outlets and newer, soulless vacation colonies sprouting along the many sand spits separating estuaries from the sea. In fall they are almost deserted, in winter dead. In summer they are too crowded to approach unless you’re frying from the heat. Collieure is astoundingly picturesque, a favorite painting location of Matisse. It resembles Sausalito, CA, the way it wraps around the harbor & backs up to the hills. In Banyuls the grapes are everywhere, beautiful, sparse.



The wines along the way have been as interesting as the people & terrain. I paid 7.80e for a Bordeaux 2009 that was both fruity & structured. And a passable Courbieres Vin de Pays for 1.48e. Guy Beyart in Thenac, AOC Bergerac, produces cherry/plum Cab Sauvignon & dry Sauvignon Blanc, showed me around his winery & tapped the two week old Blanc in the tub for an early taste. Chateau Felix is a family brand the 40-something Guy is carrying on even though it’s obviously not very profitable. Mechanical harvesters work the surrounding vineyards 24/7 during the harvest, and the flood of Australian & South American wines are killing their market.



I already told you about the Minervois; rouge of 60%Syrah, 30%Grenache, 10%Carignan; blanc is Marsanne-Rousanne. Along the coast in Collioures they make ‘em dry from Cab Sauv, Syrah, Carignan & sometimes Mouvedre - in Banyul all sweet and 17% alcohol from the same grapes. There’s no end to the delightful stuff at great prices, what ever you favor.



I left Banyuls, the end of my drive toward the Spanish border, just after poisson soup again on Saturday. Thinking I’d drive halfway across France Sud to Foix, avoiding the throughway, maybe visit 1.2 million year old habitation at Teutuval along the way. The vineyards looked enticing, built on bone dry, rocky soils on most every inch of available ground. The wind was blowing hard in the face the whole way, driving rain at times, uphill all the way. Trouble is Foix is a mountain town and they were expecting freezing weather & snow. The climb up the Mid-Pyrenees was amazing up sheer faces, massive jagged teeth topped with new snow in the distance.


I kept going through Tarbes to Pau on the west side of the grade, spent the night at a hotel/camper park in 34’ weather – the almost full moon was delightful. Now I am in Pays Basque, one major objective of this trip. More on that later….



Five – Pays Basque  10/27 – 29/12


I entered the Basque country Sunday at Hasparren, just as the entire town was getting out of church. Unfortunately, after church the town folded up until Monday except for the perennial bars and boullangerie. I had a glass of native cidre and headed out to the caves at Isturitz & Oxocelhaya.


Over millions of years, the river Arberoue carved out three levels of caves full of stalagmites, cathederal formations, human paintings and carvings – evidence of continuous habitation for at least 25,000 years. A large chamber possibly used for gathering, marketing & manufacturing during Arignacian & Magdalenian times, and the medieval era, too. I met Stella & Tom from Virginia while waiting for the mandatory 2PM resumption of French business. Stella is a cave nut, like myself, and speaks French well enough to understand the local guides which I often miss out on. They have been traveling France Sud visiting caves, too. I would run into them again the next day in St Jean Pied-de-Port.


The Church at Hasparren       

Hamlet Near Cambo         

View From The Caves          

The Basque farms are perfectly tidy & maintained, from the cattle & sheep pastures, vineyards & piment fields, to the identically painted houses and barns – tidy as Swiss chalets - white with the same shade of blood red trim (sangre de boef.) The Hotel Café du Trinquet in Cambo-de-Bains offered both food, internet & a place to sleep out of the mid-thirties cold. Cambo has been a hot spring health spa since 1609. The moon was full and everything else was perfect.


Monday I drove thru more beautiful countryside with green field, flowers in bloom and nary a leaf on the ground. It rains here frequently and everything is green, much like California if it had water. The hills wrap around small towns reminiscent of Mill Valley (without the tall woods.) The hills are manicured pastures & fields of their favorite pepper, the piment. The eponimous wine hereabouts is Irouleguy, both red & white, which go well with the other local foods - chicken, pork, lamb & piment. My lamb dinner had big red piments grilled to the top of the chops. The Irouleguy white was a perfect compliment. Along the way, I’ve had many versions of gateau basque, the traditional cherry filled pastry, each claiming to be more authentic than the others.




Finally, I reached St Jean Pied-de-Port, another of my cardinal destinations (which you might recognize from the movie

The Way.) From here Pilgrims from all over begin the fierce trek up the Pyrenees on their way to the church at Santiago de Compostela , 800 kilometers away. Trails from all over France & Europe lead here, others go more direct routes to StdC. I met Isabelle by chance while looking for a gite – the basic overnight room to let in town & country. Turned out she owned the Gite Azkorria on the ancient street that also holds the main reception for all the pelerins (peregrins, pilgrims) signing in for the trek from this point. I hung out at the reception to find out more about the whole process, and booked myself into her Gite for the night.


There is an association of checkpoints, assistance, refuges & stopovers for wandering pelerins and a system of marked, numbered trails all over Southern France and into Spain. On any of these back roads you find people packing along. The town has a different spirit because of the respect for sojourners than any other place I’ve been and people are here from everywhere in the world.


Gite Azkorria               

Isabelle & Monique at Azkorria             

The Completed Itinerary


In the Gite I shared a dorm room with Monique Verville, a truely amazing woman from French Quebec. She had walked from Geneva Switzerland, thru Le Puy to St Jean Pied-de-Port. She had also walked the entire Camino, says she just likes to walk, gives her plenty of time to think! Before retiring she was a computer application consultant.


Isabelle and her husband were both chef’s before they remodeled the ancient stone building into the modern, efficient hostel it is now – dorm rooms for 15e/night. If you’re going there, ask for directions. The wanderers are truly diverse – most just to see if they can do it, say they have done it, a kind of ecofad. No idea how many actually think of it as a spiritual journey, tho many hope to change their lives somehow. But the town has a different flavor than any other because of their devotional presence.


            Monique on her Way                              Rue de Pelerins                          Basque Hills


Monique headed back to Quebec. Briefly stopping in St Etienne, I headed for the Basque coast at St Jean de Luz.



Home Port  - 6 Bordeaux  11/3/12


St-Jean-de-Luz is a Basque fishing port from pre-historic times on the Golfe de Gascogne, south of Bayonne & Biarritz, on the Cote d’Argent (the Silver Coast!) It has a beautiful little bay leading to a small port right in the heart of town circled by restaurants, tourist shops & promenades. I spent the night near Hendaye Plage along with several other camping cars - areas the French often provide with automated toilettes for visitors & stay overs.


            Centre Ville St-Jean-de-Luz                                    Halloween Moon Over St. J dLuz           Stormy Cote d’Argent, Spain in Distance



I briefly visited San Sebastian, Spain which again proved impossible to navigate. But the Spanish milieu begs for more time & attention than I could give it, so I didn’t stay long, had tapas & beer in the port of San Pedro, then a nap and some computer work in the sun. I returned to St Jean for Halloween and paella – which the Basque waitress pronounced: pah-ay-la, took 25 minutes to prepare & cost 19 € (~$25.)  Next day I motored north to the fashionable, partying Biarritz for café as the wind and surfers picked up, then to Argent plage where a French surfing championship was taking place…on November 1! It rained hard. Beneath the plush top layer hereabouts lingers a still-Basque presence, graffiti wall slogans, patriotic pride. Bayonne (famous for the bayonet) was left behind. Stayed at Patrick’s in Capbreton/Hossegor, left my camping gear with him & headed for Bordeaux.





            Modest Hotel @ Anglet                      Surfers in for the Championhips                                  What they had to work with



Back in Bordeaux preparing for the flight back to Eugene – catching up on more food & wine before Monday. Had time to catch yet another Lascaux exhibit, this at the Science Museum, along the Garonne. I’m sorry to leave these many adventures but with winter setting in, home is always best. I leave you with a few pictures, without conclusion but plans to return in the Spring, possibly for the Cannes Fest again. I’ll have time to decide where the next milepost on the journey will be.



            Todd & Khan, Plum Village                                   Patrick & Buddies, Plum Ville                    Grape Harvesting, Thenac



La Roque Saint Christophe, near Montignac - shelter inhabited for at least 55,000 years