Saturday, July 02, 2011

the mighty Dordogne, continued

We’re in Sarlat now – a medieval town, large, plenty crowded compared to the villages in the Languedoc or even along the Dordogne. But, the day is sunny and quite pleasant and we are eating nut ice cream (the Perigord walnut!) and caramel and salt ice cream at a cafĂ© facing the square, feeling quite content, in the way that one does when the more adventurous segment of the season is still vividly in one's mind.


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We have a three hour layover here and we've left our camping gear on a bench at the train station – a good two kilometers away from Sarlat proper. That’s chancy. Someone may take these duffle bags packed with the boat and camping gear. But, we’re riding on luck this trip and besides, Ed tells me – if we're lucky maybe somebody will take it. Fewer bags to carry. Except for the tent (one that we love, but it is the cheapest one possible from REI and we’ve had it for a while now), there is absolutely nothing of value in our bags. I guess I’d miss my t-shirt with the swallows. It has accompanied me on every single camping trip since I met Ed. (See last photo from yesterday’s post).

It is almost always jarring to be in a civilized place after paddling and camping, except this time, we never quite left a civilized circuit. Though we would often paddle for an hour at a time and not see a single person or habitation (especially the first day, when it was cloudy), it wouldn’t take long to reach a point where we could disembark and order a viennois pastry (anything made of croissant dough) along with a strong and delicious espresso.

Nonetheless, there was a delicious dip into ruggedness. Our second day on the river began with misty waters and a lazy idling in sleeping bags. You go wash up first. No you. Maybe I wont. You should.  Okay okay okay...


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Being well trained in the etiquette of mountain stream bathing, we lather up and rinse away from the water, but after, when I’m rid of soaps and such, I plunge my head into the river and watched the hair imitate the flow of the lily flowers we have encountered here. These:


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By ten (yes, that late!) we paddle on.


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But just a smidgen. Maybe a half hour. We reach La Roque, the very La Roque that appears to be the navel of all our comings and goings, separately and now together...


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...and we step out of the boat so that I can enjoy that very espresso and Ed can have his “mille fleurs” (Ed, it’s mille feuilles!).


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Back in the canoe. We pass the most noted medieval villages in this next stretch.


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You’ll think these views would become ho hum after a while.



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Not so. Not at all.



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Because it is a sunny day, this is the stretch where we encounter other canoists. I, of course reach my competitive zenith and paddle hard to get beyond the dawdlers. And we do pass them, one after the next, but it is perhaps because they don’t want to paddle hard. They are in it for the joy of being on the Dordogne.

And here’s the thing: the delightfulness of life is never more apparent, more felt than when you are watching the water speed over multi colored pebbles of a river bed. I know that Ed is not just doing me a favor by repeating the trip along the Dordogne. The thrill of being on the river is his and mine, for as many times as we get in the boat and push off from the banks.


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In the late afternoon, we pass three young adults paddling upriver in blown-up rafts.


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If I remember anything twenty years from now, it will surely be this small scene: the two in front are paddling lightly, the one in back is leaning back, reading a book. What could be better than that? A serene handful of minutes, with  family, or a friend, drifting past the lush colors of early summer... if you do not live for these gentle, humbling moments, then maybe now’s the time to push off with a paddle and watch the river world unfold before you.

We pause for lunch on a river bank. Yesterday’s cheese and bread, delicious as ever. Ed sits in the shade and reads, I sit in the sun and read and then we swim across the river together. And back again.

And then we paddle again. Through blazes of green and dark blue, quiet waters, choppy waters, all that, and sometimes I complain that we get too close to threatening branches and sometimes Ed reminds me that the river is warm and all things in our odd little boat are securely fastened to it, and so life continues.


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We arrive at the Coux beach at 5:20. Ten minutes early. A shame, really. Ten fewer minutes among swans and ripples of clear water.


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The “life is good” feeling gets put to the wayside as we lift the canoe and gear and carry it all the kilometer back to the rooms with restaurant (no, sorry, restaurant with rooms). If the canoe itself weighed little packed up and ready to cross the Atlantic, with camping gear and paddling paraphernalia it weighs many times that.  At least it is a pretty walk -- past fields of asparagus, corn and wildflowers.


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But I know I’ll be begging our proprietors for a ride the next day to the bus stop. That’s a hefty 2.5 kilometers of canoe carrying.

We finish our day at the restaurant, of course. We should have ordered what we loved best from the previous meals, but we’re feeling a tad experimental still and so we try this and that and it’s all good, sure, but sometimes repeating that which is best is not such a terrible idea.

Except that desserts in life are always most entertaining when they're fresh and distinct. Funny how that works.


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