On day seven we opted for a bit of a drive. Most everything we’ve seen so far has been a maximum of 45 minutes from our house. But today we visited Sainte-Marie-sur-Mer in the Camargue, an hour and a half away. We wanted to take the morning boat tour, so we got up early and were on the road at 8:00 a.m. For once, the weather forecast hadn’t been ideal, but we decided this wouldn’t deter us.
Remember what I was saying about the diversity of the landscapes in Provence? If you didn’t believe me before, the Camargue will convince you. It’s the largest river delta in Europe, the point where the Rhône river empties into the sea. As it’s comprised primarily of lakes and marshland, it’s not surprising that rice and sea salt are the region’s major exports. On land, however, the Camargue boasts its own indigenous breeds of bulls (identifiable by their horns, which point up, instead of forward, like Spanish bulls) white horses and more than 400 species of wild birds, amongst them flamingos (no kidding). Way to go, mother nature! Thanks for keeping us on our toes.
Onto the boat ride. I should start this by saying that I am not a fan of crowds. People who would ordinarily behave politely and display an effort not to disturb those around them just adopt a different mentality when part of a crowd. A man who would normally offer his seat to a woman with a baby in an uncrowded train will shove right past them when the car is getting full. This state of mind becomes heightened when the crowd is comprised of tourists, I find. Each day is a battle against their fellow travelers for the best parking spaces, the table by the window, the last beach chair… This doesn’t have an improving effect on their manners.
With that said, we took a seat on the nearly empty boat only to find, minutes later, that our fellow tour-goers were going to be a group of thirty or so very loud, very pushy Italians. They were even shoving each other to get to the best seats at the front of the boat. We eyed them warily. “If this two-hour cruise ends up with all of us stranded somewhere like on Gilligan’s Island, it will take about five minutes for me to go all ‘Lord of the Flies’ on these people,” I warned Johann. Then all thirty of them started singing. Loudly. Badly. With no thought to whether they were waking someone’s baby or drowning out the conversations of their fellow passengers. One of them even got out a harmonica and started to play.
“I’m thinking this might be a man-overboard situation,” I said to Johann. “Care to join me?”
“I was considering a harmonica-overboard situation,” he said. “Maybe they’ll all jump in after it.”
In the end, though, we just sat quietly in our seats and tried not to be annoyed when they stood up in front of us, blocking our view of the sights (this is why there are so few pictures). I did alert a member of the the crew when several started smoking and throwing their cigarette butts overboard, but this information was met with a very Gallic shrug by the twenty-something kid with a very obvious hangover trying to take a nap near the life preservers. “They’re outside,” he said listlessly, not even addressing the more serious issue of littering in a national park.
“How do you say ‘the sea is not your ashtray’ in Italian?” I asked Johann. “Let it go,” he replied. I complied, but couldn’t help grinning like a Cheshire cat when it started raining on them and those seats that they rushed for became the worst choice on deck. I also gave the smokers some very dirty looks as they shoved past us to disembark.
The day improved greatly after this. We had a typical Camarguese lunch of soupe de poissons served with croutons, grated cheese and rouille, a spicy spread made from garlic, pimento and chili pepper. This was followed by a savory stew substituting beef with bull (daube de toro, if you are ever in France and want to try it). Around this time the sun came out, so we spent the remainder of the afternoon baking on the largest remaining natural sand beach in the Mediterranean. Too full from lunch for the available surfboarding, kitesurfing, flysurfing, sailing, sea kayaking, and canoeing, we opted instead to concentrate on developing our sunburns (oh, my aching thighs!). Wish you were here!