Still loving the blue skies and moderate temperatures here in Belgium! I was walking along on this sweet little country road, full of good cheer, admiring the flowering trees, confident with my favorite white and red trail markers by my side. "What could be better?" I asked myself.
Answer: being on the CORRECT country road, following the CORRECT white and red markers. Apparently, the GR5 had been intersected by another trail with the audacity to have the exact same markings. Now I ask you, is this playing fair?
After finally realizing the sun was in the wrong part of the sky, eventually finding the RIGHT white and red marks, and battling thorn bushes on the right trail (I preferred the flowering trees on the other), nearly an hour had been lost.
I decided to not let this ruin a beautiful day. I continued to move along at a decent pace, but was then lured in by this beautiful archway of trees, which led to a sweet little house. Time to make contact with locals. Dumping the water out of my spare bottle, I passed under the blossoms and interrupted a nice man working on his terrace. Sure, he said, he'd be happy to fill my bottle. And lucky me, it was the prized mineral water from Spa, free of charge! A few laughs later, I was on my way, doubly refreshed.
Today I covered at least 32 km (20 miles), walking from 8 am to 5:30 pm. I'm one tired hiker, especially since some hills are still in the picture. Remember, there's a loaded backpack slowing things down.
The route continued as in the past: meadows, happy cows, work horses on breaks (they are often used instead of equipment to haul cut timber from very hilly slopes), forests (but no longer the endless, neat rows of evergreens), and cute hamlets, villages and farms.
In the afternoon, as the trail approached a busy two-lane highway, I noticed many people milling around an area to my left. It turned out to be a huge site with stations of the cross and several chapels, all because of a special event that took place in 1933. An adolescent girl was visited by a Lady in white, who declared herself to be the virgin of the Poor. She also instructed her to drink from a small spring, which she gave healing powers. Thousands of people come here to pray and drink the water. I had never heard of "Our Lady of Banneux."
It's always a pleasure to meet southbound hikers, when we pass each other on the trail. This Belgium couple is enjoying 5 days on the GR5. They were able to correctly guess where I would be spending the night, since they had just left there.
My lodging is basically Bizarro Land. It's main redeeming quality is that it is directly on the GR5, which follows a residential street here in Ayeneux. The young host and his wife have turned this house (not their home) into a multifunction mess. On the main level are located two guest rooms, a bath, and the living room and kitchen, which serve as a chaotic office space for some business. The upstairs and the lower level are rented full time to groups of very talkative young men. He has roughly boarded up the stairwells so that the GR5 guests have privacy. The whole place is a bad example of DIY, with piles of buildings materials outside and slipshod work inside. Papers and junk are piled everywhere. Luckily, my room and the bath are clean, and the host is actually very friendly and helpful, so all is well. It's an experience.
Two more days of walking, and then a rest day. I'm ready for it. Some parts of the body are starting to complain on a regular basis.