Thursday, June 17, 2010

to life, along the carrot trails

If I thought I was to see red-haired children only on Irish soil, I was wrong.


We have just picked up our breakfast at the bakery (and it being rather late in the morning, the pain us chocloat is sold out; we have to settle for these – I love the pruneaux one, Ed prefers nature)...


...and are heading for an outside table at the village café bar so that I can have a satisfying café crème (which isn’t cream at all, but a milky espresso, though less milky than an American latte) along with the purchased baked goods and there they are, French speaking carrot tops.

I thought at first they were British transplants. The Languedoc region of France, demographically speaking, is on the upswing. The cities here are some of the fastest growing in Europe, in large part because of the invasion from the north, including from the British Isles. But no, these two have French grandparents. The immigrant theory is put to rest.

The late breakfast notwithstanding, we are ambitious today. We think we can do a hike to the highest of the peaks in this group of mountains – rising close to 4500 feet just above our village. (The Pyrenees further west of us are higher at around 10,000 feet; but we’re loath to get in the car at all given that we have trails just steps away.)

There are some puffy clouds near the summit, but the day seems otherwise perfect: sun dappled and not too hot. We have water, we have good shoes. We can start in the village square and continue along the road for just a wee bit, picking up the path to the summit just as we leave Sorede. Estimated hiking time to the top: 4 hours.

It’s not quite noon. Most people are thinking lunch thoughts. We head out.

Perhaps you expect me to write that we couldn’t find the trailhead? Not at all. We have no problem finding it, just at the side of a bench, as the book tells us. But, keeping to the trail is another matter. We lose it ten minutes into our hike.

We read that there are cows and donkeys roaming these mountains. Cow country means that there will be cow tracks. Misleading trails that take you the wrong way very quickly. We return to the last seen trail marker (a slash of yellow on a tree or a stone) again and again and get nowhere.

Discouraged, we take what must be a logging road and generally meander in an upward direction. We are one hour into a nothing hike. The views are pretty, but the summits are elusive.


But as we leave behind the farms and cherry trees and follow the logging road into the forest, we find another trail – a bright carrot orange this time, heading upwards into the woods.

Why not. A trail is a trail. Our pamphlet on hiking in this region has gotten us nowhere at all, but here we have a real slab of real orange paint and it heads up. Take it! A mountain is a mountain! (To this moment, we are not absolutely sure which mountain we hiked, though most certainly it was not the highest of the lot.)


It’s a rugged climb. The worthless book does mention that these hikes are radonnee sportive and so we are not surprised, but still, there are fallen branches to navigate and bramble to push out of the way. Wearing short pants feels pleasantly cool, but the legs definitely get whipped around today.


This time, the markings are good. When we lose the path, we are quick to find it again. At several intersecting points we are joined by another trail, but we stay with orange (which becomes brighter and redder further up; perhaps imitating a different varietal of carrot) and it does not fail us.

The hike is 100 % through a Mediterranean forest. The breeze is lost here, among the thicket. The buzz of flies leaves me feeling that we are in the dead of summer.


I can’t say that it’s a uniformly beautiful hike. It's not that the forest is uninteresting. Often times we see vegetation that is unique and quite thrilling to navigate. And every now and then, the path opens up to a comfortably wide track. You breathe a sigh of relief then. For a few minutes you convince yourself that you wont get lost.




But then it narrows and becomes more remote. And since this is the forest, we lack the views you come to appreciate on long mountain hikes. At one point there is a break in the trees and the view is quite pleasing, but a few paces further it disappears again behind the trees.


And now, three hours into the climb, we have come to the top.

But where are we? We know we are on a summit of sorts, or at least a ridge line. The trail appears to be heading down the other side, presumably to start up again at the next mountain. I’m not up for that. The markings are starting to confuse us again. A yellow paint stroke joins our path and then disappears. A lighter orange is back, along with our reddish carrot one. It’s easy to take a wrong turn. We build stone markers every time we have a choice of paths, but we could easily overlook these on our way back.

I suggest that this ridge be our summit for the day, even if it isn’t the one we originally set out to conquer.


We stop to eat lunch and it takes a while to find a space that hasn’t had many many cows there before us. Our baguette and cheese and tomato (and cherries for dessert) are delicious. The breeze is good up here and the flies, therefore, have blissfully dispersed. We are almost satisfied.

And after lunch, we are indeed satisfied, as we wonder along the ridge, off trail, and stumble across a cliff that clears the space for us and allows us the view that we’ve been missing.



Our return down the mountain is absolutely trouble free. As we emerge from the forest we see that the clouds are again playing with the mountains further west. Where we are, the skies are friendlier, with big patches of blue.


It is nearly six when we arrive back in the village.

I am half teasing when I ask – should we swim now? But Ed is enthusiastic about the idea.

We drive the ten minutes to Argiles sur Mer and turn a little south, to the tiny beach community of Le Racou.

It’s a small but quiet space of sand and blue water. At this evening hour, only the true beach lovers remain.




It’s too cool for me to swim, but Ed is utterly delighted. All that’s missing is a wave or two...- he tells me.

Calm waters. Me, I really like calm waters. I like it when hike trails continue without confusion, when the skies remain stable (we only had one bout of a dark cloud producing a two minute sprinkle), when the end of the day is capped by a good meal.

And so, I have to say, this day was a very very fine day indeed.

We stop at a pizza place where a guy is taking out lovely pizzas from a brick oven for customers who are wanting to eat at home. There are outside tables and we sit down at one. Slowly the place fills up. I order a tomato-mushroom-ham-emmental-oregano pizza and it is outstanding.


At the table next to ours, a group of French men and women are raising glasses in a toast. They accompany it with a short burst of song.

I can’t hear what it is they’re celebrating, but I’m thinking it’s probably life itself. I’ll join them. To life. And to the color orange.