Monday, October 23, 2017

GR653A Day 21: Mouriès - Arles!

Last day on the GR653A (Via Aurelia). My hostess Jeannine filled me up with toast and quince jelly, packed me up some almonds, raisins and oranges for the road and sent me off. She refused my offer of a donation to cover expenses, saying that if I wanted to, I could make a donation to the church instead. So I set off into the village, stopping by the church with the intention of immediately discharging this debt; but there was no "poor box" in view, only a box for donations toward the Christmas crêche. I wasn't sure that was quite her intention, so I decided to remain indebted to the Church for the time being and continued on my way. Mouriès is the olive capital of France, and in harvest season, many people were out spreading nets under their trees and picking olives. I had even considered offering to stop and help Jeannine with her crop, as there had been some discussion over the dinner table about who would be able to lend a hand on Monday, who on Tuesday, etc. I jokingly offered to stop and lend a hand, and Jeannine replied that I could stay another night if I did; in the end I decided against it, because I saw that if I could get to Arles today I would have enough time to go on to Montpellier within the week. However I imagine that it would be easy for pilgrims and wayfarers to find free lodgings and meals in this part of the world at this time of year, by simply offering to help with the olive harvest wherever there are families out picking their olives!

That's a lot of olives! 

I took a small paved country road from Mouriès to rejoin the GR653A, which then headed along a dirt track through the woods.

A new kind of danger sign!

This warning sign is not quite so scary

The region produces not only olives but Merino wool.

I took another minor detour to pass through the centre of the small town of Maussane-les-Alpilles, where I found nothing to distract me for any longer than the time it takes to eat a freshly baked pan au chocolat. From there the path plunged into the forest again, to emerge by a beautiful specimen of a windmill at Fontvieille.

I stopped to eat my lunch in the shade of the windmill, but it offered little shelter from the wind (not surprisingly) and so I didn't stay long. Once again today I was walking into a strong wind most of the day. So strong I couldn't keep my hat on, so I had the sun shining in my eyes in the afternoon as well! 
At Fontvieielle the GR653A Via Aurelia, coming from Italy via Menton, meets the GR653D or Via Dolmitia, arriving from Italy via Monginevro, and therefore crossing the Alps. There is supposed to be a marker at the spot where the two trails meet, but I must have missed it (and a great photo opportunity!). On this October day in 2017 I was unfortunately not joined by throngs of pilgrims arriving from across the Alps, but continued on my solitary way. And, oddly, the trail markings became not more but less frequent after the two trails converged, so that I took several wrong turns and would have lost my way entirely in a maze of pathways had I not had the GPS track on my phone. The route left the road and continued through shrubbery over a hill and past the ruins of a Roman aqueduct. 

It then became apparent why there was such a maze of pathways, littered with horseshoe prints and.... other signs of the recent passage of horses, as the trail passed through a large equestrian centre. From here the rest of the way to Arles is a bit of a disappointment; far from making a triumphal entrance on the final stretch, it simply follows the road, mostly right on the shoulder of route D17, though in one stretch a pathway has been blazed through the woods only a few metres from the roadside. I don't like walking by the roadside, even when there is plenty of space; I don't trust drivers. Most of them are probably just ordinary people, in too much of a hurry to get from one place to another to go on a Long Walk; but you never know when one might be drunk, or deranged, or simply have a heart attack while driving, through no fault of their own; so I never quite trust them to stay within the white lines. The number of automobile parts I step over when walking along the side of roads suggests that drivers go off the road more often than they would like to admit; and the amount of rubbish I wade through suggests they are bad people in general. If I can walk for an hour, or two, or three with the remains of my picnic lunch in my pocket, or backpack, before finding a garbage can in which to dispose of them, what possible trouble could it be for the driver of a car to keep his aluminum can, or plastic bottle, or cigarette box within his vehicle until he comes to a trash can? Surely less effort than it takes to roll down the window and throw it out? I don't understand. Then there are pieces of trash you find by the road that really make you wonder what the story behind them might be: a child's shoe. A pair of underpants. 

And so it is that route D17 brings the pilgrim ingloriously to the end of this trail, in the city of Arles; but it is not really an end, merely a waypoint, or a new beginning: here the GR653 itself begins, ready to take the pilgrim to Tolouse and from there to Col de Somport: the Pyrenees, and the Spanish border, 785 km down the road.

Mouriès - Arles 32.5 km

Ventimiglia - Arles 464 km - 20 days

Arles: the Roman Arena

Arles: the city hall

Arles: the Basilica

Arles: view of the Roman theatre from the window of my €25 room

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