Hand up who’s watched any of Sara Dhooma’s videos? I’ve been watching them for a few years and have been inspired by her solo globe trotting adventures. Sara has travelled, backpacked and walked in 75+ countries although her aim is not to collect destinations but rather to explore the most amazing landscapes on earth.
She has completed many of the worlds greatest treks including Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Everest Base Camp (Nepal), and the Milford Track (New Zealand), the Kalawa Hill Tribes (Myanmar), Ciudad Perdida (Colombia), and the Chilbo Mountains (North Korea). Her first big American long-distance trail was a 1,500-mile section on the Appalachian Trail in 2014 where she earned the trail name “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego“. She spent six epic months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 and she has also completed most of the Continental Divide Trail.
She has travelled and walked across the continents, including her last trip before lockdown to Antarctica. However, it was her original trail name that led her to the Camino de Santiago; other hikers confused her trail name and she felt she had to go and discover this walk for herself. Since that first visit along the Camino Frances she has now completed thousands of pilgrimage kilometres across Spain and Europe.
Like many of us, Sara has been at home (in Canada) during lockdown; I can only imagine how hard that must have been for such an explorer! But in September a window of opportunity opened for Sara to come back to Europe. She collected the papers she needed and her visa was approved; she planned to walk the Chemin de Vezelay to St Jean Pied de Port and from there make her way to Santiago de Compostela along the lesser walked routes.
I’ve followed Sara’s adventures over the years and more recently we became virtual friends on Facebook and the camino forum… so when I realised that she was going to be walking the Vezelay route (which passes close to home) I got in touch and asked if she’d like to stop off with us en-route and also perhaps I could walk a few days with her. We kept in touch as she walked through France and as she approached Perigueux we made plans. I met Sara (and Aileen another amazing pilgrim) early on a Wednesday morning and together we walked out of the city following the arrows. Aileen had been walking for months from her home near Hanover and Sara already had three weeks walking under her belt but even though this was my home-town and my day 1, it really did feel like I’d stepped onto the camino and was again following the arrows. It felt good!
We stopped at Chancelade Abbaye. Our first stop was for a cafe au lait, which sadly is not as good as a cafe con leche, but nonetheless very welcome. Today was the first time that I’ve manage to visited the Abbaye when it’s open so we were free to wander this 1000 year old church and grounds, and once we’d explored enough we set off again following more arrows.
We’d had grey skies leaving Perigueux but now we had blue. The sun was shining for us and we made good time. We’ve had a very hot summer here in SW France and for some reason this has made autumn even more glorious. The colours of the forest under that blue sky were fabulous and I’ve never walked this section of the camino before so it was as new to me as it was the other two. Life was good.
We walked and talked and talked and walked and I really felt as though I was walking with old friends. We lost the arrows at one section where there was some confusion with the markings but after checking we continued on as it looked like we would rejoin the trail further on. However, the reason for the confusion became clear as we approached an area where they’d been felling trees. The path was lost and we gingerly picked our way through the fallen branches and sawdust and debris. As we cleared this obstacle we faced another… a stream had clearly recently burst it’s banks and turned the remainder of the trail to sticky mud. There was nothing for it but to pick our way across to the little bridge. The other two did very well, I however chose badly and almost lost my shoes in the mud… but no harm done, my shoes survived and it gave us a good laugh!
We were making good time, we’d walked more than half of our days 26km so this was the perfect time to stop for a picnic lunch and hot coffees and a cold drinks from the bar. Once we’d rested it was onwards for us and the trail took us away from the forest and down towards the River Isle; first following a canal and then the river. I began to feel that I was on familiar territory. I know these roads and paths as we walk them often. We crossed the river where the Camino and the Voie Verte walking paths merged and we followed the river onwards towards our end at St Astier.
We approached the final bridge crossing into town and Sara danced her final bridge dance of the day and the skies darkened and we knew that rain was coming. We walked into the old town to St Astier’s ancient church… it celebrated it’s 1000th birthday a couple of years ago! This really is my backyard and I see these arrows every week… and how I love them! But sadly today the heavens opened so we ducked into the closest bar and I messaged my husband to come and collect us. No matter we thought, we can explore tomorrow morning.
Our plan was to stop in St Astier and return in the morning for the market and then walk from St Astier following a GR route to my home. There are a few options for camino routes in this area. We were planning to follow the GR towards Grignol Chateau and onwards picking up the camino near Douville and onwards to Bergerac. I think this gives pilgrims the best of both trails and Sara suggested that I could make a little booklet of all the possible options… which was a great idea! Anyway after our short morning walk we planned an afternoon of sight seeing at Beynac (the home of Richard the Lionheart) and Les Eyzies (where Cro Magnum man lived and where we can visit the prehistoric caves) and perhaps end our day at one of the many UNESCO villages and monuments that litter this glorious corner of France. After a day of being tourists we planned to walk on and I was thrilled at the idea of another week or two on the camino.
But that all changed at 8:00pm when President Macron informed us that France would enter a second lockdown. My camino was over before it had started but for Aileen and Sara this was a crushing blow. The only blessing was that they were home with us which made it so much easier to plan what next.
Aileen found a train that would take her back to Paris and then onwards to home. We drove her to the TGV station in Angouleme the following afternoon. Sara found a flight but if she was to leave before the weekend the flight prices were crazy, so we agreed it was best to wait a few days and let the rush subside so she is here with us now… discovering our little corner of France.
There’s been no sightseeing but we have been able to walk each day. The weather has been glorious and where possible Sara has come along to the supermarket or the pharmacy or any trip out of the house that we are legally allowed according to lockdown rules.
It’s been wonderful spending time with this inspirational young woman. I’m so sad for both her and Aileen that their journey’s were so abruptly ended but Sara is resolved to return and finish here camino when the world is safer! And if I’m lucky I’ll be able to walk along with her!
Stay safe pilgrims – we’ll see you soon!
p.s. Happy Halloween!
p.s. you can follow Sara’s adventures here : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5W6cSvPHVE-ETqr94B1_tQ