Meet the Canal du Midi, the protagonist of our story for the next two days. We opened the shutters this morning and there it was, shining in the sun!
It took 12,000 men and women four years to construct the Canal du Midi, which together with the Canal de Garonne links the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Considered one of the greatest feats of engineering of the 17th century, it was built under the supervision of Pierre-Paul Riquet during the reign of Louis XIV, between 1666 and 1681. The watershed is located at Seuil de Naurouze, only a short distance from where we spent the night. Here the Rigolle, the artificial stream dug to bring water down from the Montagne Noire to feed the canal, flows into the Canal du Midi. The water on one side flows toward the Mediterranean; on the other, toward the Atlantic.
We followed the canal all day, walking along the former towpath, now a cycling and walking path. The monotony was interrupted occasionally by the spectacle of boats going through the locks, and by encounters with colourful characters such as Stephane, a Swiss/French pilgrim whom we encountered again at the pilgrim gîte in the evening, or a Sicilian man on a bicycle complete with a trailer containing two dogs and all his worldly possessions. He has been living on the street for 23 years, the last 12 of which in France, and has finally decided to head home to Marzano del Vallo, cycling to Genova in order to take the ferry to Sicily. But he'll have to sell one of the dogs, he says, because the trailer is too heavy with both of them in it. It was nice to have a conversation in Italian - though our new friend appeared to have forgotten quite a few words during his many years in France, and spoke Italian with a French rather than a Sicilian accent! He assured us that the world was soon going to run out of petrol, and that people like him, and us, would be the best prepared to survive in such an event!
The canal, the railway tracks and the motorway all proceed in parallel, so we called in at motorway rest areas to use the facilities and buy sandwiches. Aire de Lauragais is a rest area with a restaurant, souvenir shop, tourist information office and petrol station accessible by car, boat, or bicycle - or on foot!
There are locks every few kilometres along the canal, and we stopped by each of them for a rest, setting the rhythm of the day.
It was a very long day, but finally we came to Écluse de Sanglier, the locks where we were to leave the canal and follow the blue and yellow arrows to our lodgings in a pilgrim hostel operated by the Confraternity of St. Jacques de Compostelle. These are the best kind, because there is always a volunteer hospitalier on duty to welcome pilgrims and dispense cold drinks, hot soup and warm hospitality!
Le Segalà - Ayguesvives
(including sorties in pursuit of provisions)