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      August 2011 > Andalucia to Iceland part 10: Mountain Man & Wailing Woman
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Andalucia to Iceland part 10: Mountain Man & Wailing Woman

Atlantic PyreneesNow we are entering France. There are many ways to cross a border. The last time we crossed this one was on foot – and in the opposite direction, from France into Spain. Every now and then walking notes have to be updated, of course, and we were re-writing the notes for an Inntravel holiday that overlapped the two countries. We had climbed a long, steep valley out of France into the Pyrenees, with marmots whistling from their holes. It was a very climb and I spent it worrying about what vertiginous experience was awaiting me at the top. Part of the art of getting vertigo lies in the constant anticipation!

However, when we reached the summit we found ourselves on top of a wide plateau with no sense of drop at all. Delighted, I ran across the top, only to come to a screeching halt on the far edge. Far beneath me lay Spain, spread out like a map, miles below. It was like being in a plane.

As I peered gingerly over the edge, too frightened to lean out far enough to even see the downward path, a huge figure suddenly reared up out of the abyss. It was a French guide, leading a small group. He was built like a lumberjack and dressed only in boots  and a bright yellow lycra vest and matching very brief briefs, both bulging with muscle. I sidled up to him, to ask his opinion of the onward route.

“It’s just baby stuff!” he said. “Just go for it!”

Atlantic PyreneesLinda took a photo of us from behind, him towering over me, legs like gnarled oaks, slim hips and a great bulging back, rippling with muscles threatening to split his vest – and me, scarcely reaching up to his chest, timorously biting my nails and peering gingerly into the abyss. She labelled the photo ‘Mountain Man & Mountain Mouse’ and sent it to Inntravel. It became everybody’s screen-saver for a while, but is now (fortunately for me) lost in another abyss: that of the vast Inntravel photo archive.

So, on up through this green and pleasant land called France, taking only the back roads. France is so French. It sounds silly, but it’s true – as soon as you’re in France, you know you’re there. For me, it has a very definite identity: avenues of plane trees lead into old stone villages with louvred shutters of faded colours; there’s usually a rusty, disused petrol pump and a simple café with the cigar-shaped Tabac sign outside – all this often set on a river with willows trailing into the water.

Bottle of RicardAt the first campsite, in the Tarn area, the owner invites local producers of wine and pâté to present their wares on trestle tables. He sets up a stage and microphone and blasts jolly, fairground-style music at us campers until we all give in and troop over from our tents and caravans to sit in lines of chairs like at a school speech day. Mopping his brow and clearly nervous, the campsite owner gives us an animated talk on the Tarn and then, to the accompaniment of live accordion music, we are allowed to mingled as at a cocktail party, sampling pâté and wine, which the traders hope we will be tempted to buy. I start to stockpile – we’re going to be in Iceland for some time and I’ll want a change from puffin sandwiches – and begin to load the van with cans of confit of duck’s legs.

The musical theme continues as posters in another Tarn village promise an evening concert, and so we sip Pernod and white wine as we watch the sound system being set up on the terrace of a bar. Once the performance begins, Linda actually becomes the star attraction, as she can’t stop giggling – no one in the band can sing a note! A British ex-pat woman enthusiastically wails off-key in a folksy kind of way, and then proceeds to give a perfect demonstration of why the recorder should never have been handed out willy-nilly to millions of primary school children in Britain, thus stunting their musical growth. It’s a tricky instrument to play and this woman hasn’t got the hang of it. Linda is in fits now, and we have to leave.

A French village at sunset
Posted: 30/08/2011 10:45:36 by Peter Williamson, Inntravel | with 0 comments
Filed under: France, gastronomy, journey, Spain


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