Let me preface this post by saying that I’m not quite sure how I’m in one piece right now–mentally, that is. I arrived yesterday in Perigueux after tearing up the Camino de Santiago from Sorges; 24 km in exactly 4 hours, non-stop, something any self-respecting backpacker would be proud of.
Originally, my plan was to see the city and its cathedral before finding a place for the night before the next stage to St. Astier, about 28 km down the road. While I was in the office of tourism planning my next move, I noticed some postcards featuring images from the legendary cave of –paintings created some 17,000 years ago by a group of masterful cavemen/women artists.
So I hitch-hiked about 35 km to a town called Thenon, where the elderly couple giving me ride dropped me off (to my relief, because Grandma could barely keep the car on the road). From there, Lascaux was another 10 km away. It was already pretty dark and common sense dictated that I settle in for the night before walking the next day, but apparently common sense was absent.
You only have to watch the first few seconds of this video to understand how crazy it was to walk in the dark. The video function of my camera isn’t great, but it was literally pitch-black. By no means am I a wimp, but within 1 km of leaving Thenon I was already regretting my choice. The road I followed was tiny and completely unlit–like most back roads in France–so the only time I saw light was when cars would go by. I didn’t have any near-miss incidents, but only because the moment I heard a car coming I would wave my walking stick like a madman so the driver would see me.
What really made the walk unbearable, however, was the noise. One side of the road followed fields, and the other side bordered a forest. Twice I heard branches snapping in the forest near the road and stopped, dead in my tracks, and banged my stick on the ground. And shouted, in the most menacing pitch I could muster, like the cavemen who made their homes in the limestone cliffs in the Val de Vezere.
Wouldn’t you know it, but I didn’t make it the full 10 km to Lascaux; after 6 km I entered a town called Auriac and decided to let my frazzled nerves rest for the night. After being on edge for an hour, my body was exhausted, and although I spent the night sleeping on stone I was just happy to be out of the woods (literally).
This morning I hitch-hiked my way to a pleasant village called Montignac with the intent of visiting nearby Lascaux, but after looking at the ticket prices to enter a replica of the original, I decided it wasn’t worth it.
Instead, I headed south along the river toward Roque St. Christophe, a labyrinthine limestone cliff that was once home to Paleolithic settlements in the region before being converted into a fortress starting in the 10th century.
Not only was it cheaper than entering faux-Lascaux, the Roque also featured breathtaking views of the valley, and had one of the best English-language guides I have read since entering France.
After hanging around the Roque for an hour, I started south toward Les Eyzies, about 10 km down the road. It was one of the most pleasant hikes I have made so far; perhaps only my walk through Val de Creuse can compare to the beauty of the countryside here.
Soon after leaving the village of Tursac, the road ascended the cliffs. Walking it was an awesome challenge, and the constant switchbacks and sudden turns provided sudden breathtaking vistas of the valley below. It didn’t seem like I had walked uphill for 5 km, but when I finally arrived in Les Eyies, that’s what the sign said!
To cap off an incredible day, I spent the last few hours of daylight lounging on a small bridge near the deluxe campsite I’m sleeping in for tonight. After spending last night in primal survival mode, I’m glad to leave the caveman stuff to the ones who used to live here during the last Ice Age. Tomorrow I will resume my journey on the Camino de Santiago, but today was an awesome way to break my routine of seeing Romanesque churches.
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