La chambre d’hôte Les Aloès, L’argentière
It’s on every traveler’s list of top ten worst nightmares. Your bus (train/plane/whatever) pulls into the station, drops you off with an “au revoir” (goodbye/ciao/whatever), and leaves you in a deserted parking lot with one bare streetlight casting a harsh glow in the immediate vicinity, or what would be a harsh glow if there was any other light in the area to speak of, and no one is around to tell you where Avenue de la Republique is. You see a street with a high wall running along one side and lots of stairs cut into its side directly opposite you. But stairs are not going to happen when you’re carrying your weight in baggage. So, you pick a direction — left, since you came from the right and hadn’t seen anything necessarily promising — and just start walking. You start and stop, start and stop, adjusting the somewhat broken rolling suitcase every twenty paces.
Intersection. Continue along this same road or turn right up a steep incline. You favor the incline. Unsurprisingly, even with the baggage, because there’s a sign that says “Gendarmerie” (“Police”/“Interpol”/whatever) pointing uphill. After five minutes of tugging and resting, tugging and resting, you realize you’re at the same place you started, except up the staircase you had seen. You almost decide to give up. But what exactly would you do then? This isn’t the movies — life goes on after decisions, even decisions to do nothing.
But wait — there’s a guy, just a bit older than you, walking towards something in his backyard, which you can barely see through the bushes. He’s in his pajamas, but you’re just slightly desperate at this point. Ah, he knows the street! …You were going in the right direction before. Back down the hill, really wanting to just kick the suitcase and let it roll down (and have it pop open, wouldn’t that be fun), and back along what is apparently the Avenue de la Republique. You’re looking for number 5. You’re at 51. This is Europe, which means you’ll have to go through every odd number between the two.
Cars pass twice or thrice, including an off-duty ambulance which pays you no heed. You lose track of the number of times you’ve stopped to readjust, or just rest. You pass two teenaged boys in a car who look at you like you’re insane — which, by the by, you are — before remembering their manners enough to say “bonsoir.” You round a bend…
…And you’re dazzled with brilliant light. Or rather, gently glowing lanterns, lights from inside a bar, and blue flashing Christmas lights that are more decorative than festive, but it sure seems brilliant. People look at you funny, of course, but there’s a sign above the bar/restaurant: “La Mine.” But that’s the name of the restaurant underneath the chambre d’hôte! You made it. You think.
And then, your luck changes. A guy sitting on the steps with his girlfriend (who by now is giggling hysterically at the sight of you, which I wouldn’t blame her for) tells you that it’s up the stairs to get to the chambre d’hôte, calls the owner, and helps said owner to carry your bags up two flights of stairs to your room. Matter of factly, but with a smile, he says “Yep, we have full baggage service here.” You’re shown to your room, told about breakfast, given your (very old-fashioned) key, and left to yourself.
So. What exactly am I doing here? When I look at myself in the mirror above the sink, not caring how long the cold water runs, so long as I can splash my exhausted, tear-streaked face until I’ve drowned somehow, I don’t know the answer to that question, and it scares me. But when I go out onto the balcony and look up to the lit steeple of the church and over to the palace of justice and down to the river and up to the hundreds of stars in the sky, I know that I’m here to help someone, or many someones, and that I will be helped in return. It doesn’t matter that I don’t yet know how any of this will happen.
Et donc. What have you figured out from this experience, from surviving it more or less in one piece? You’ve realized that you will never ever ever make a trek across a desert. And, if you can help it, you will never again travel alone to an unknown place. Unless, of course, you can fit everything in one backpack and one suitcase.
(Yep, second older entry. Third’s coming.)