I couldn't sleep. My mind was filled with anxious thoughts. It often is. The only cure I know is to walk, to hike, to the hit the trails and adventure. I tossed and turned wrapping myself into a burrito of blankets until I had to get up. Like a zombie, I wandered to my office and tapped the keyboard of my computer. Bright light burst before my eyes, the dual monitors humming in satisfaction of momentarily blinding me. I rolled the chair back, sat down, and opened Lightroom.
I scanned through my photos until I settled on the catalog which contained my photos from my pilgrimage hike along the Le Puy route in France. I don't like unaccomplished goals and Le Puy is one of those. I hiked for 16 days, covering about 400km before I became ill. For two days on the trail I rushed from bush to bush pooping like a madman, then another two days in Moisaac where I couldn't get out of bed. What started as food poisoning (probably my fault - I knew I should have thrown away that stick of salami) somehow turned into a strong case of the flu. It took a good 5-7 days to shake it after I arrived home. (Note to reader: I now know the French word for diarrhea, if you ever need it)
My original goal was to hike the entire 1600km from Le Puy-en-Valle to Santiago de Compostella. I'm already planning on returned to complete this, hopefully, next year. Not only will I come with some diarrhea medicine this time, I will also be more prepared on the differences between the Le Puy portion and the Camino Frances (which, aside from day 1, isn't actually in France).
For a large portion of the hike, I walked alone. When I started in Le Puy there were ~30 other pilgrims who attended the morning mass and were heading off. Compare this to St. Jean Pied-de-Port which typically has 300-600, and more during peak times. I walked with Andrew, a fellow Australian on and off for a few days who was great company. Eventually, our schedules meant we drifted apart. I never saw him again.
Gites are quirky
Gites along the Le Puy route are often tiny, and barely more than a few beds in a converted loft space. My favorite gite was a few converted rooms above a barn complete with tractors and milking cows. The owners generally cook you dinner, and you sit around the family table with them. I really enjoyed this experience but did find it difficult to be part of the conversation as my French is very poor (sorry, Grandma!) Do yourself a favor and learn as much French as you can before completing the Le Puy route. Unlike the Camino Frances, where you can really get by without Spanish, knowing French will really help you on the Le Puy route. One aspect which I didn't enjoy was booking accommodation for the day ahead. I prefer the freedom of stopping where I please. Next time, I will wing it.
The first half is beautiful
The first half of the hike, until Conques, is simply breathtaking. There are pristine medieval towns everywhere. I took so many photos and didn't capture nearly enough of what I saw. There are definitely fewer cafes and bars along the way. Be prepared to carry some light food, like bread from the bakeries in larger towns. I think I stopped once a day at a cafe or bar. On the Camino Frances, it was two to three times. Breakfasts, in particular, were a problem. I like to leave early, around 7 am and hike for 1-2 hours before stopping for breakfast at around 9 am. Unfortunately, this doesn't work too well on the Le Puy. There were many days I didn't stop until midday.
So many people ask me why I go back to the Camino time and time again. The answer each time is different. The first time I returned was to take a more external journey after my internal journey. Returning to Le Puy is to complete my goal of hiking the entire way. Whatever your motivation is for hiking, traveling, or life in general, having a goal is important not just for the motivation, but to continue to grow. In the end, if we are not growing, we are stagnating. And that will never get you anywhere.