Cast of characters

I’ve been on the trail for 19 days. Not surprisingly, I’ve seen a lot of the same faces of other pilgrims over and over again. Sometimes we just acknowledge with a smile or a nod that we’ve seen each other before. Sometimes we have a brief conversation. Sometimes we see each other enough that we exchange names.

Here are a few characters from that last group:

Babar. Babar is the pilgrim with whom I’ve shared the trail the longest. He is French, from Normandy, in his late 50s. We walk at different paces. At first, I was faster, but lately, he’s been faster. Either way, we typically only see each other at long breaks or at the beginning or end of the day. It was pure coincidence that we ended up staying at a number of the same gîtes. Then I started freeloading off his research and booking wherever he was staying.

Babar is the only one using a trail name, so I’m respecting that and not using his real name here. As far as I know, Babar doesn’t speak any language other than French. I mentioned him in a previous post as the man who told everyone at the dinner table that I speak French très bien — which is more than a bit of an exaggeration.

Mark. Mark is Dutch and is in his late 60s. He walks at about the same pace as Babar, so the two of them are often together so that when I see one, I see the other. Mark takes my freeloading to another level. Because his French is pretty weak, he dials his phone, and then hands it to Babar to make the reservation. On the other hand, his English is quite good, and prefers to speak with me in English. Sometimes I end up the translator between Mark and Babar. Babar will say something in French that I’ll translate into English for Mark, or the other way around.

I may have seen Mark for the last time yesterday. This is not his first pilgrimage, and he’s made it all the way to Santiago de Compostela before. He decided to leave the Via Podiensis around where I spent last night and continue instead to the south to Lourdes. However, he volunteers for two weeks every year as a hospitalero in Spain, so it’s not crazy that I might see him again when I come back to finish the Camino.

Michel. Michel is Belgian, but not from the French-speaking part of Belgium, in spite of the spelling of his name. He’s in his early 60s. He speaks Dutch well enough that Mark and he often converse in Dutch, but he speaks in English with me.

Along with Babar and Mark, Michel was part of the three that offered me a bed in the mobile home they were sharing when I arrived in Cajarc and couldn’t find a place to stay.

Michel was keeping up with Babar and Mark for a while, but as it started getting hot here last week, Michel started shortening his stages. Then, a few days ago, Mark got a text from Michel saying he decided the heat was too much. He quit the trail and went back to Belgium.

I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the whole story. Michel, Mark, and Babar had a bad experience when they were at the dinner table of a gîte on a night when we weren’t all at the same place. A Frenchman in a foul mood decided to spout off about how many Belgians and Dutchmen were ruining the trail for the French. Mark was temporarily upset with the comments, but I feel as though Michel took it a lot more personally, especially since he helped the Frenchman find his way earlier in the day.

Thierry. Thierry is a Frenchman, late 50s if I had to guess, and unfortunately I’ve forgotten where in France he comes from. Not to be confused with my friend Thierry from Montpellier, this Thierry is the one who wanted to buy me a beer after I went to a bar for hours in Aumont-Aubrac and managed to come back to the room and go to bed without waking anyone up. Thierry spoke a little English, so we spoke in a confusing mix of French and English.

He never intended to go past Figeac, and when he reached it, he headed home. Babar got a text from him saying that all was well.

Ernst. Ernst is Swiss, early 70s, I think, from one of the German-speaking cantons. Like the others, his stages were about the same length as mine, and he ended up spending the night at a lot of the same places. Ernst doesn’t speak French at all, not even enough to say he doesn’t speak French. His English was excellent, so I chatted with him quite a bit.

Unfortunately, Ernst got some kind of pain deep in the heel of his foot that wasn’t going away. He took a van to get through his last stage to Figeac. The last time I saw him, it was early morning in Figeac, and as I was getting ready to start walking for the day, he was heading a different direction, apparently to the train station. We waved to one another, and that was it. I hope he’s feeling better

Jean-Pierre and Sandrine. Jean-Pierre and Sandrine are one of the few couples that I’ve seen several times. They’re French, late 50s to early 60s would be my guess. Both spoke some English, but mostly we spoke in French.

They, Mark, Babar, and I all arrived in Lauzerte before our gîtes started receiving guests, so we enjoyed some drinks together in the main square to pass the time. They showed us pictures of their son in his smart-looking French military uniform, indicating that they were proud of him but somewhat apprehensive given the situation in Ukraine. That seemed understandable.

Unfortunately, I heard that Sandrine got sick a few days after we saw them in Lauzerte. I think Jean-Pierre sent a text to Babar or Mark, but I heard somehow. If I remember correctly, they were intending to get to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port like me, but ended up going home from Moissac.

Anyway, that’s an introduction to some of the people I’ve met along the way so far. Although I’ve valued my solitude during the day when I’ve been walking, I’ve rarely been alone for too long when I’m not.