TRAVEL: BUSKING TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
After surviving a surreal Franco-Belgian pageant and a raging fever, our busking pilgrim rediscovers the joys of solitude ... apart from the odd chamois
Sunday 08 August 1999
Le Mont-Dore, and more Franco-Belgian friendship! Re-enactment of a (pseudo- ) historical visit by the Princess of Flanders in 1909. They're making it up. But it's an excuse for a parade. Band assembles 3pm. Met by furious "Lady-in-waiting": half an hour late. Never mind, so is everyone else. Ladies in belle-epoque dresses and parasols, Equerry in spats and Homburg, the Congolese Ambassador (leopard-skins and an assegai), the Royal Baby: a 14-stone rugby player in bonnet and nappies, on a 4x4 quad-bike disguised as a pram. With water cannon attached. It's anarchy. Lady-in-waiting shouts orders. Jean-Yves (lead trumpet) plays "You're not wearing knickers" (famous French folk-song); crowd joins in. Band marches, counter-marches, scatters as the Baby roars by. Equerry falls asleep - in the road. Jean-Yves plays "The last post".
Finally, the historic moment arrives. The Princess arrives in a litter, waves, gives Congolese Ambassador a chaste kiss. "Not like that!" shouts Lady-in-waiting, jumps on him. Non-chaste kiss! Jean-Yves plays "The stripper". "Shut him up!" shouts Equerry. Lady-in-waiting hurls herself on to Jean- Yves. Thunderous kiss. Band cheers wildly. It takes a water cannon to separate them. Now that's what I call Franco-Belgian friendship.
Over the Puy-de-Sancy again, in blazing sunshine. View from the top: roads, building-sites, ski-lifts, tourist hordes. I preferred the clouds. Down into beautiful countryside - Ngorongoro meets the Yorkshire Dales. Dry-stone walls, ancient villages, viaducts, crater lakes. But something's wrong. Weather, legs and rucksack all getting heavier. Passing a tiny campsite at noon on 28 July, it is suddenly all too much. Pitch tent, crash out, wake at sunset with a raging fever. Merde ... No doctor for 10 miles. Jungle medicine: aspirin and cold water. Shiver the night away. More aspirin, more water. Drop off at dawn. Wake at sunset feeling vaguely human. Better living through pharmaceuticals!
30 July-1 August
On to the best walking yet. A long, long ridge leading up into the Cantal mountains, southern massif of the Auvergne Volcanoes: Puy du Peyre-Arse, Roland's Cleft, Venus's Nipple. Names with tales to tell ...
Warm sun, scents of heather and thyme, falcons overhead, herds of horses below. Reach Buron d'Eylac: a stone bothy surrounded by sweeping 5,250ft ridges, perched above two valleys, manned by a grinning warden who goes parapenting (a cross between parachuting and hang-gliding) behind the house each evening. No sound but birdsong and cowbells. Fall asleep watching the moon.
Woken at dawn by chamois. Spend a day playing on the ridges. Then another. I could spend a year here. But Santiago beckons ...
For more information on the charity trombone walk, visit the website at www.netplaycafe.co.uk/bonewalk
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