April 10-11 — Arusha to Biarritz
Transitions between treks are all about transit and time. An interminable time in terminals and on planes (Air Ethiopia–good airlines) brought me to Paris, Charles de Gaulle early morning — the cheapest flight I could find from Kilimanjaro to Europe. Some transport brought me to city center and a direct confrontation with western modernity–a place where the electricity is never off. Clothes, gestures, patterns of movement and encounter were all suddenly familiar. As if to underline my return to the west and, more particular, that I was in Paris, I found myself on the metro standing next to a remarkably beautiful French couple making out. I still had a long day’s travel on the TGV to Biarritz for a couple of days recuperation before going over to St. Jean Pied-de-Port to commence of my walk of the Camino de Santiago. By early evening I found myself in a ridiculously perfect seaside town, catching the bus from the station to disembark at the public garden just as the intermission for the ballet took place. The square in front of the opera house was flooded with dance enthusiasts, bringing a certain buoyancy to the atmosphere. My hotel was across the square, and I soon found myself sitting outside the Bar Jean eating moules and frites washed down with cold local beer watching European evening behavior. It was familiar and happy, but also much different from what I have been living these last months in Nepal and Tanzania. Of course I was alone, but that solitude was heightened by that cultural distance. Still, this is a joyful (if affluent) place which does provoke a smile. I keep thinking of the end of Hemingway’s Sun Also Rises when Jake first goes to Bayonne and then San Sebastián, both towns very close to here. On my walk I will also see Burguete and Pamplona, so I’m on a sort of Sun Also Rises tour. I guess I’ll need to include some drunken nights in Paris to get a true feel for the book (given my trip in the snows of Kilimanjaro I guess I continue in his footsteps). Morning brought more delight, including a humorous pantomime with a man in the laundromat who helped me understand a fairly arcane system, followed by a stroll through les halles, the market. Apart from magnificent bread and cheese, what I found most striking was the simple care they take with their food. Everything was arranged and displayed with such care, marking out a different sense of time from life back in the US. People hurry to bring food to you, but its preparation is slow and careful. Spent the day wandering the town and the oceanfront. Hard to believe I was swimming in the Indian Ocean a little over a week ago. People are bathing in the Atlantic here, but it looks frigid.
T. Hugh Crawford